SELFISHNESS VS. SELF-LESS-NESS

Mark 10:35-45

BRIEF RECAP: Jesus had just finished expressing to the twelve that they were headed to Jerusalem (vv.33-34). There, He would be cruelly treated and condemned to death. But after three days, He would rise again! One would think this news, being the third time expressed to them, would be a solemn, self-searching moment, but it doesn’t appear to be that kind of moment.

Rather than self-reflection and preparation, we witness a very selfish and prideful request of Jesus from two of the three in the “inner circle” of the twelve, James and John! What was that request? What does it reveal about these two men and their mother (Matthew 20:20)? How did Jesus respond to them? We will seek the answers to these questions in this post.

[a]James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to [b]Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “[c]Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

FOCUS ONE: The request (35-37)

We read that James and John approach Jesus (came up to Him). This means that they took the initiative and “journeyed” toward Him. They were some distance from Jesus at the time this thought of self-glory came into fruition and therefore had to travel some distance to get in His immediate presence.

These two men believe that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to set up His kingdom; ironically, Jesus just predicted His coming death and resurrection! They do not understand the nature of what Jesus came to do and therefore petition Jesus to “do for us whatever we ask of you” (v. 36). Perhaps we can credit them with ignorance even after all Jesus spoke to them, but as Matthew Henry so eloquently put it: “It was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their master.” That is their first mistake. Rather than presuming upon Christ the fulfillment of our desires, we should be happy and at peace, trusting Him to accomplish what He desires!

Although these two men spoke out of ignorance regarding Christ’s purpose, that doesn’t relieve them of the subsequent guilt revolving around the issues that stem from their hearts (selfishness, pride, and arrogance).

Once again, in Mark’s gospel, we witness the patience of Jesus. Go back and look at everything we have studied in this book. It would be a great encouragement for your daily walk of faith to be reminded of how extraordinary the patience of Christ is! Not only His patience but His wisdom too! Jesus asks them to qualify what they are requesting of Him (v. 36). “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

FOCUS TWO: Jesus responds (38-40)

Jesus responds by telling them they don’t understand what they are asking Him for. “To ask for a place of honor in His glory was also a request to share His suffering since the one is a requisite to the other.” Such a statement seems to call for a negative response from the two men. “The cup was a common Jewish metaphor either for joy (Psalm 23:5) or for divine judgement against human sin (Psalm 75:7-8; Jeremiah 25:15-28).” Jesus was applying the metaphor to Himself because He was about to bear the wrath of God’s justice against sin as a “substitute” for sinners (v. 10:45).

It is impossible to miss the noticeable contrast between James and John seeking a place of honor in the kingdom, without any sacrifice, and Jesus humbly sacrificing Himself for others as their King!

They reply that “we are able” to drink the cup that Jesus was about to drink and be “baptized by the baptism with which I am baptized.” Still, they do not understand His words to them. Jesus responds to their answer by “agreeing” with them that they will indeed drink of the cup and be baptized in the same baptism that He is. What does Jesus mean by “baptism?” Baptism means to be immersed or submerged.

Both these figures, cup and baptism, are figures used in a different sense. “In following Him, they would share His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) even to death but not in a redemptive sense.” His prediction came true. James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2), whereas John, who endured many years of persecution and exile, was the last apostle to die (John 21:20-23; Revelation 1:9).”

Unlike His previous response to James and John, Jesus tells them they will NOT be sitting on His right and left (v. 40). Why? Because only the Father had the authority to assign such places of honor. Jesus unapologetically states, “this is not mine to give.” In His answer, we get a glimpse of the “trinity” (Jesus and the Father)! Matthew adds “the Father” in His account (Matthew 21:23).

We also should notice that such places in the kingdom have “already” been prepared by God for those He has chosen (v. 25). 

41 Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with [a]James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their [b]people in high position exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become [c]prominent among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [d]life as a ransom for many.”

FOCUS THREE: The indignant ten (41-45)

Jesus’ response contrasts how earthly rulers conduct themselves with how God’s followers conduct themselves. He taught them that those who follow Him would lead others in humility and love, not out of pride and lust for authority. Pride, power, arrogance, and selfishness contrasted with humility, selflessness, and mutual submission.

Again, we find another well-known area of misunderstanding regarding how the disciples think concerning their ministries. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be a slave of all” (v.43).

The contrast is not between “two ways of ruling,” but between ruling (good or bad) and serving. They are not to oppress those in their authority. They are not to exploit others. But, he should serve others by “doing nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).

After all, this is the reason Christ came to earth, and it is our divinely given example to follow (v. 45; Philippians 2:5-11). 

How can you apply what you learned in this study in your life of service to the King of kings?

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 152

GRIEF HAS ITS SEASON

Extended reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Devotional reading: Verse 4

“A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.”

It’s ok to grieve. You’re not alone and you’re not abnormal. You are a healthy person expressing deep anguish over the heart-rending loss of someone near and dear to you. The emotional turmoil you are facing is normal and healthy, but it needs to be worked through in a biblical way.

The writer of these lines is using sharp contrasts to express an important reality. From crying to laughing and grieving to dancing we can acknowledge a vast distance between the two.

None of them are forever. We may laugh and dance during the celebration of a wedding or graduation. But laughing and dancing is only for a season. Then, at some point in our earthly existence, we experience the death of someone we love and cherish.

Our laughter turns into crying and our dancing into grieving. Such things are inevitable BUT not insurmountable!

In these eight verses the writer directs our thoughts to a higher plane, a better place. He reminds us that God is in complete control of everything that happens, even the death of a spouse or other ones we love (v.14). He is the One who set the times for all these events.

I believe we grieve so deeply, not only because of our loss, but also because we do not understand the “full scope” of God’s eternal plans (v. 11). We cannot change what God has allowed, but we shouldn’t let those things we don’t understand drag us down and hold us there.

We can have hope and confidence in this: Just like our season of dancing at some point will turn into grieving, so too will our crying turn into laughter once again (v. 12-13).

GOING TO JERUSALEM

Mark 10:32-34

BRIEF INTRO:  This section of Mark ten is very important to the writing as a whole (context), and I want to take some time and “zoom” into it. I know we have heard these words repeatedly, that Jesus was going to Jerusalem where He would be delivered into the hands of men and be killed and rise again, but where repetition is in play, we need to look closer.

Jerusalem is mentioned several times in this gospel. The first couple is references regarding various people coming from Jerusalem (Mark 1:5; 3:8; 3:22; 7:1). The other three, the ones mentioned after the shift in Christ’s focus and travels, are found in the latter part of his writing (Mark 10:32-34; 11:1-27; 15:41). 

But Jerusalem is only one part of the picture that Christ highlighted for His disciples, as we will see in our first focus point.

33 saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be [a]handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will [b]hand Him over to the Gentiles.

FOCUS ONE: The backstory

Jerusalem is vital to the storyline because, geographically, that is the place the passion events will take place. But, other scriptures explain to His disciples what would transpire when they got there! 

Mark 9:9-12 is the first mention of Jesus’ suffering and death. At the Transfiguration, Jesus does not lay it out in great detail, as He does later, but He does tell Peter, James, and John that He “will suffer many things” and “the Son of man should rise from the dead.” Later, in Mark 9:31, Jesus instructs all of the disciples and tells them that He would be delivered into the hands of men, and they would kill Him, and He would rise again.

Mark 10:33-34 is the most complete statement of Jesus regarding what will happen to Him in Jerusalem. He tells them that “we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be (delivered) to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn Him to death, and will (deliver Him) to the Gentiles.” “They will mock Him and spit  upon Him and scourge Him and kill Him and three days later He will rise again.”

In Mark 12:1-11, we find Jesus using a parable to teach. This parable is about the nation of Israel rejecting Him and killing Him. Yes, the ones Jesus said He would be “delivered over to.” Don’t forget that the gentiles also played a part in this (10:33b).

 As this narrative keeps moving forward, we read about the Lord instituting “the Lord’s supper.” Mark 14:21-25 is where that is located and is a direct result of what is coming. It is a memorial for those who trust in Christ to “remember” what He bore on our behalf this day (suffering, death, bloodshed, and resurrection)!

And then, Just as Jesus told these men repeatedly, He is handed over to chief priests, Mark 14:45-53.

FOCUS TWO: Time is running out

Jesus graciously and patiently sought to prepare these twelve men for this event and its aftermath. But sadly, they missed the mark when it came to comprehending what Jesus was telling them. They didn’t get it, but I don’t believe we would have either. Most people cannot stay focused long enough to grasp hold of what matters in a sermon, lecture, or seminar. We are not disciplined enough to be focused. This holds true even today in churches all around the globe.

Here are a few of the disciples “didn’t get it verses:”

In Mark 4:10-13, Jesus is relaying His first parable. A parable is a rhetorical device used to explain the truth. Christ utilized this parable to teach these men that the way into the kingdom was by the gospel. Or, as stated elsewhere, “the foolishness of preaching.” This parable teaches that there is only one good ground that the gospel penetrates and produces fruit. All others will not provide gospel fruit. Many people may “hear” the gospel, but few will “accept” it and bear fruit (v. 20). Various reasons are given for this in the parable. They didn’t understand, and Jesus rebuked them.

Another place is in Mark 6: 34-37. The twelve had just come back from the mission Jesus sent them on (6:12). They did wonderful things by His power, and here we read that they do not comprehend who He is or His power and authority.

In Mark 6:52, Jesus walked on water. Sadly, we read, “they gained no insight from the incident because their heart was hardened.” Time and time again, we witness this sad truth. Here are a few others you can look up in your own study.

Mark 7:17-Regarding clean and unclean (The heart)

Mark 8 17-18 Leaven of Pharisees not understood (bread)

Mark 9:5-6-Transfiguration

Mark 9:32 -Regarding His death and resurrection 

Mark 10:35-Another evidence of a lack of understanding (James and John sit on the right and left)

After these, the events unfold much faster, and the time for preparation has ended!

34 And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him; and three days later He will rise from the dead.

FOCUS THREE: The school of experience

As mentioned earlier, these words give a more detailed account of what is about to happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. Those words should have struck a chord with those men. “Condemn,” “mock,” “spit upon,” “scourge,” and “kill” are words that should have awakened their minds and hearts to what is coming. But, as the following verses reveal, that didn’t appear to happen.

We will delve into that account in our next post, but for now, let’s try to grasp the seriousness of the hour. Their travels will shortly find them in Jerusalem (11:1). There, they will be overtaken by the speed at which things begin to transpire. No more prep time. Jesus will enter that city, marking the “official” presentation of Himself to the nation of Israel as the rightful Son of David! He arrived precisely at the time Daniel prophesied (Daniel 9:25-26)!

It won’t be much longer until “the Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him” (14:21). Many such writings come from the Psalms, but from Genesis 3:15 onward throughout Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, and others we read about all the things Jesus had spoken of! And better still, Jesus fulfilled every one of them; He is the only person that could!

It is then, amid all the turmoil, that these men will “get it.” Oh, there will be some setbacks, such as when they all flee the garden of Gethsemane after Judas betrays Jesus. Peter will deny Christ just as Christ told Him he would (14:30). But resurrection day comes, and these men are forever changed! The world will forevermore be changed because of their zeal for their messiah! They finally “get it!”

I hope and pray that the same can be said of us. I hope that the area of influence each of us has will be changed and will continue to be because of the life-transforming work of grace in our hearts. We, like the disciples of Jesus, should be forever changed! And that change should produce a zeal in our hearts that leads us to be faithful ministers of the gospel to those around us. 

How to enter the kingdom of God


Mark 10:13-31

BRIEF INTRO: 

“What must I do to be saved?” This is the million dollar question! From the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts eight, the jailer in Acts sixteen, and myriads of people ever since, that particular question has been asked time and time again. But that is not the issue in question in these scriptures. In this study, we will read about two different kinds of people. Those who are (like) the little children who came to Jesus in innocent trust; and those who are (like) the wealthy young man who trusted in his wealth and his righteousness.

Packed inside, the apparent contrast between the children and the rich young man is this question: How can I enter the kingdom of God? What does Mark want us to learn by sharing this account with us? 

13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He would touch them, but the disciples rebuked them14 But when Jesus saw this, He was (indignant) and said to them, “Allow the children to come to Me; do not [a]forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

FOCUS ONE: The little children (13-16)

So, what is going on in these scriptures? It appears that the parents, most likely, are bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. Perhaps some aunts and uncles are included in that group; we are not sure. The word “they” is not very specific in this case. We know from verse one that the crowds had gathered around Him as He entered the region and began to teach them. 

These children’s ages most likely ranged from being infants to others in their pre-teen years (paidia used in Marks account, Brephe used in Luke 18:15). They brought the children to Jesus because they wanted Him to lay His hands on them and place a blessing upon them. The disciples “rebuke” (forbid, censure) the parents for doing so. Perhaps they only desired to protect Jesus from potential trouble or more fatigue since they had just arrived in town. Still, Jesus was “indignant” (very displeased, angry)) that anyone would think that children are unimportant. Jesus tells them not to hinder the children from coming to Him. At this point, the story becomes fascinating!

There are two statements in these verses that define the main point:

  1. The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these (v. 14)
  2. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter at all (v. 15).

What characteristics is Jesus talking about? Is He saying only children will be in the kingdom of God? How does a person receive the kingdom of God as a child? 

The answer to those questions becomes more apparent when we think about children! After all, they are the objects of the lesson that Jesus seeks to communicate. And what characteristic is at the heart of childhood that Jesus emphasizes? Innocent, simple trust In Him! “God’s present spiritual rule in people’s lives belongs as a possession to such as these.” 

“It is not so much the innocence and humility of children (for children are not invariably either innocent or humble): it is rather the fact that children are unselfconscious, receptive, and content to be dependent on other’s care and bounty; it is in such a spirit that the kingdom must be received.”

Coming to Jesus as a person that recognizes and humbly acknowledges that you have nothing to give but simple trust in Him is the heart-work of God that makes people “kingdom ready!”

These words are instructive as well as soothing to our souls when we think about the innocence of children. BUT, I say again stronger, BUT, do not miss the next statement of Jesus. His warning must be heeded: “whoever DOES NOT receive the kingdom of God like these children shall not enter it at all.”

Our manner of approach to Christ MATTERS A LOT! 

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 2But he [a]was deeply dismayed by [b]these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

FOCUS TWO: The encounter with the rich young man (17-22)

He was self-righteous and selfish—he thought he could earn his way into Heaven. He trusted in himself while the children with simple faith trusted in Jesus! In this, we observe the obvious and rather instructive lesson of complete surrender!

The rich young man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him, an expression of respect for the “good teacher.” Jesus’ response seems abrupt. Calvin understands this to be “it’s as if He had said, ‘thou falsely calleth me a good master (teacher), unless thou acknowledges that I have come from God.” “In other words, Jesus is saying, before you address me with such a title, you had better think soberly about what the implications are, and especially what they are for you.”

He wants to know how to enter eternal life- Jesus knows he is referring to works, so He lays out the second table of the law before the man (Relating to others).

The man states that he kept it all from his youth (self-righteousness). Sometimes wealth and our own achievements can blind us to our needs. But to keep things in their proper order, and this mans thinking in line with the belief of his day, we need to realize that “it was a firm Jewish belief, based on Old Testament teaching, that the man who kept the law would live (Deuteronomy 30:15-16). So, that is why Jesus begins there. 

The man’s answer is a confident one. From youth “probably refers to the age of thirteen, when every Jewish boy became bar miswah (son of the commandment). At that point in a Jewish boy’s life, he became responsible to live by God’s commands.”

This is why he spoke sincerely. The problem was that he believed his obedience to the law was only an external matter, whereas the law also required inner obedience, which no person could comply with. He needed to understand his need before he could be helped

He needed to become like a little child and exercise simple innocent trust in Christ. He needed to acknowledge his pride and self-righteousness, cast it off, and turn to Jesus!

Jesus, with great love for him, pointed out the issue with his heart and told him what he needed to do (v. 21). He needed to humble himself and forsake the security that he clung to with his wealth, and the critical part here is “come follow me.”

At first, we wonder why Jesus would take such an approach to this man’s question about gaining eternal life. Many professing Christians would probably have started talking with him about God’s love and How he wants to bless everybody. They probably would have told him to “ask Jesus into his heart” and that he would be made right by doing so.

But Jesus used the law to help the young man realize his need (Galatians 3:24). The one thing that prevented this man from gaining eternal life was the security he had in his wealth. He didn’t want to surrender that and take hold of Christ by faith. By using the law Jesus sought to help the man realize and repent of his covetousness (Genesis 20:17).

“The only way to life is through the narrow gate of full surrender, and through that gate we may take, not what we want, but only what God allows.” Repentance and faith are what he needs, just like the rest of us! Sadly, he went away grieved, unwilling to part with his property.

This does not mean that everybody who comes to Jesus must give up everything they have. But it does mean that we need to be willing to!

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were even more astonished, and said to Him, “[a]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

FOCUS THREE: Jesus teaches the disciples (23-27)

As the disciples witness the sad exit of the young man unwilling to come to Christ and inherit eternal life, Jesus profoundly executes another teaching moment! “How hard it will be” for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. At this statement, the disciples exhibit amazement. Why? Honestly, it reflects their Jewish background, “which placed emphasis on the privileged position of the rich. To be wealthy was sure evidence of having the blessing of God.”

But Jesus, as always, and with incredible insight, seeks to penetrate through this false ideology by showing how such wealth and privilege could keep someone from putting their faith in the only means of salvation, namely the person of Christ! 

There is some encouragement in what Jesus is saying. Take notice that He says, “it is hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (v. 23) and again in verse twenty-four. He also states that “it is easier to go through the eye of a needle (v.25) than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. So where is the encouragement? It is found in the simple fact that Jesus does not say it is impossible!

So, what is the point Jesus is making? That salvation is a work of God, not man. Apart from His grace, it is impossible for anyone, especially a rich man, to enter God’s kingdom. Our efforts cannot save us. All our wealth cannot purchase salvation for us. What we cannot do for ourselves, God did for us in the person of Jesus Christ (v. 27; John 3:16)!

28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and have followed You.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms [lands], for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 [a]but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in [b]the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

FOCUS FOUR: Peter speaks up; “But we did all that” (v.28).

I can relate to Peter! I can picture myself at first shocked at Jesus’ statement and then utterly confounded at the reality that I did all that. The logical and very emotional response would be: “So what does that man do for me? I did all that you said.” But, Peter is most likely thinking in the material realm rather than the spiritual realm. A problem plagues them throughout their time with Christ pre-cross and through the resurrection.

Again, with great love and patience, Jesus responds to Peter’s statement without rebuke. Honestly, the response of Jesus is a bit hard to understand, at least in part. What does it mean that in this life, such people would receive those things forsaken for Christ a hundredfold? I don’t know anyone in church history who has had that happen except possibly Job.

The best answer may be “understood in the context of the new community into which the believer in Jesus comes. There [they] find multiplication of relationships, often closer and more spiritually meaningful than blood ties.” In other words, God takes nothing away that He does not restore in new and unique ways!

BUT, along with great blessings comes “persecutions” (v. 30). Wouldn’t we rather avoid this part? Ever hear the song with these words: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden?” That’s what we have going on in our text. No believer in Christ was ever promised a pain-free, persecution-free, problem-free life. He told us that as they persecuted Him, they will persecute those who follow Him (John 15:18). BUT, it will be worth it when we see Jesus, our savior! 

He laid aside temporarily more than we will ever be called to. He suffered more than we can fathom, and He did all that for “the joy set before Him.” Obedient unto the Father even unto death on a cross; a death that was for the “propitiation” for sinners like us, and through it reconciling us with Him so we can enjoy Him forever! It will be worth whatever we must leave behind in this life.

The Expositors Bible. Commentary, pg. 713

Blown away!

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4:10).

I can remember several moments in my life where I was “blown away” by something completely unexpected happening or being said in a particular situation.

An unexpected gift from a relative that went well beyond what I hoped for. A very complimentary job review and pay raise when the meeting was completely unexpected and the raise exceeding any others previously given. Surviving an accident in my truck when I rolled it over three times. My wonderful wife offering me forgiveness rather than harboring unforgiveness

What I mean when I use the expression “blown away” is that I was thoroughly impressed, overwhelmed, or excited by something. The things I mentioned earlier have done that, but all of them combined come nowhere close to what Jesus did for me!

Nothing blows me away more than God, the creator of everything, sending and giving His Son to be my substitute and there by satisfying His wrath against my sin.

God sending and giving His Son in this way for a vile, wretched sinner like me, while daily sinning against Him, is an amazing act of love that can never be matched.

Are you looking for love? Unbridled, unending, sacrificial love? There is only one place, one person in which you can find such love, His name is Jesus! Perhaps it’s time to stop “looking for love in all the wrong places” and look to Him. There is no greater expression of love than the cross of Christ.