January 22, 2017
Selective hearing. Most of the time, men are accused of the practice, as illustrated by this cartoon. Actually, I did some research, and found in the field of audio science, selective hearing is important to stress-relief. The selective hearing process is the ability of the brain to tune into sounds it wants to hear and tune out what it doesn’t want to hear, all at the same time. You do it all the time – with something as simple as sitting in a restaurant, you tune out the surrounding sounds to listen to conversation at your table. So, for example, when you say to your teenager, clean your room and we’ll go to the mall, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find her putting on her shoes – all she heard was something about the mall.
I would suggest this morning the disciples practiced selective hearing throughout Jesus’ ministry, but especially during the last three chapters in our study of the Gospel of Mark – perhaps for stress relief. After all, in those chapters, 8, 9 and 10, Jesus has been speaking over and over of His coming suffering. He’s on His way to Jerusalem to be killed. He’s preparing His disciples for His inevitable departure. This trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with them would be His last. It started in chapter 8 up in Caesarea Philippi, when, after Peter’s famous confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus says, you’re right, Peter. And now we’re going to Jerusalem where I’ll suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and I’ll be killed, but I will rise again after three days. But they never seemed to hear that. All they hear is going to Jerusalem – kingdom time.
He then went on to tell them that anyone who wishes to come after Him must also deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him. In the next chapter, chapter 9, after the Mount of Transfiguration, He told them about His coming betrayal and death again. And we read they didn’t understand – this talk about the Messiah suffering didn’t compute. So, they dismissed it – selective hearing – and did the next best thing. On the road from Philippi to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be crucified, they argue about which one of them was greatest. You see, after all three passion predictions, chapters 8, 9, and 10, there is some significant failure on the part on the disciples. First, Peter boasts he’ll prevent Jesus from going the cross. Then in the second prediction, while Jesus is talking about giving up His life, the disciples are promoting theirs.
So, Jesus begins reminding them, His kingdom is different from any kingdom on the planet. The structure is different, the values are different. The goals are different, the rewards are different. It’s a different kind of kingdom.
He starts by giving them an object lesson – you know, maybe words are too much for you guys, so I’ll give you a picture. He takes a child up in His arms, sets him before them, and says, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me.” Oh, okay Jesus, now we get it.
And the next thing you know, the disciples are rebuking parents for bringing their little children to Jesus so He could pray for and bless them. Selective hearing. After a discussion with a rich young ruler, Jesus tells them, “many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” Did they hear that? Apparently not.
You see, once again, a third time, He tells them of His coming passion. And once again, they’re worried about greatness. So again, He tells them about greatness in His kingdom. It’s not about regal splendor and stately majesty and tyrannical power and tangible wealth and sumptuous feasts and gilded jewels and fawning servants. It’s not about pomp and circumstance and robes and crowns and thrones and scepters and being carried around on a royal litter and being fanned by shirtless slaves and eating peeled grapes. It’s not about being served, it’s about serving. It’s not about greatness, it’s about humility. That’s His kingdom.
Now I suppose you might be tired hearing this. But I also suppose we may not be too different from the disciples. If we’re honest, many of us would voice the question of the disciples in chapter 9 – who’s the greatest, that is, how am I doing? Or maybe Peter’s question from last week – what’s in it for us? An undue self-focus has always been our problem. And so now, still in chapter 10, we need to be reminded again of the nature of the kingdom. Our text this morning is found in Mark 10:32-45. Let’s read it together.
This is now the third prediction of what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. Notice, it’s like reading a newspaper. Of course, I suppose you could say Mark just added these words to Jesus after the fact – after it all happened – many have suggested that. There’s no way, they say, Jesus could have known such detail. Or, you could just accept the fact Jesus was God and knew tomorrow as well as today. At the very least, He knew the OT prophecies of the suffering servant applied to Him. The fact is, verse 45 is a summary of Isaiah 53 – which Jesus undoubtedly knew. All that means, He knew of the precise sufferings that awaited Him. And He went anyway. He went voluntarily into suffering, calling it serving – to give His life as a ransom for us.
I won’t spend a lot of time on this third prediction, other than to note each time He talks about it, Jesus adds a little more detail. At first, back in chapter 8, we learn He would suffer at the hands of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders, that He would be killed, and raised again the third day. In chapter 9, He adds the additional detail that He would actually be delivered over into their hands, which spoke either of the betrayal to come at the hands of Judas, or the Sanhedrin handing Him over to the Gentiles.
Here, in chapter 10, He makes it even more clear, adding some vivid features. He says He will be delivered – the word is betrayed – to the chief priests and scribes – the Sanhedrin – that He will be condemned to die – that speaks of legal proceedings. It’s exactly what happens – the Sanhedrin could pass the death sentence, but they couldn’t carry it out. For that, they needed their Roman overlords.
So, He would then be handed over to the Gentiles – that is, Pilate and Herod – who would then mock and scourge and spit on Him. And then, He says they will kill Him. In Matthew’s Gospel, for the first time, Jesus says how – they will crucify Him. This was the Romans’ preferred method of capital punishment, reserved for the worst of criminals. Jesus knows this, and heads to Jerusalem anyway, with purpose. Notice verse 32, Jesus was walking on ahead – and they, that is the disciples, were amazed or astonished. Usually, people were amazed at His teaching, His healings, His demonic deliverances, His miracles. But here, they were amazed at His walking ahead – likely with purpose; He’s getting closer to Jerusalem and the Passover; He’s quickening His gait, knowing He was going to His death. They were amazed.
Others who followed were fearful – they can sense the tension in the air, perhaps getting some inkling of what awaited. At the very least, they knew of the rising religious opposition against Jesus. They were fearful. But He walked on ahead.
If you drop down to the next chapter, you’ll see we’re just about to the Triumphal Entry – which begins the passion week – the last week of Jesus’ life. We’ll discuss His suffering more in detail in the months to come. But let me say this again, Jesus knew what awaited Him. He knew of the horrible suffering He would endure, to include one of the most inhumane deaths ever practiced by humankind. And He went purposefully.
He knew. Is there any wonder He would sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me? It was the reason for which He came. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” One thing we’ll see is they didn’t take His life – He had the power to end the ordeal any time He wanted. But He came to give His life as a ransom. We then, too, knowing what awaited Him, should be astonished.
What I want us to focus on this morning is the event that precipitated more teaching on the nature of His kingdom in verses 35ff – namely, the disciples failure, once again, after this third passion prediction, to understand. And so Jesus give some further teaching – My kingdom is not like kingdoms of this world. The outline of the text will go like this:
- A Request for Greatness (35-40)
- A Command for Service (41-45)
One of my commentaries calls this section, “The Self-Serving Sons of Zebedee and the Self-Sacrificing Son of Man.” Let’s begin with this request for honor in those first few verses. Keep in mind Jesus has just finished His third passion prediction – meaning, He’s thinking of a cross, they’re thinking of a crown.
Mark tells us there was a crowd around. You see, they were on their way to Jerusalem – not only were Jesus’ followers there, but the roads were packed with pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. The city literally swelled to a couple million people this time each year. So, Jesus called His the Twelve to Himself – quietly, perhaps off the side of the road, and reminded them – I’m going to Jerusalem to die.
Next verse – verse 35 – James and John came to Jesus. This is the only place the two appear without Peter – that is two-thirds of the big three, the inner circle. Perhaps James and John saw an opening. You see, Peter had just asked, what’s in it for us? Peter, the first will be last, the last first. Sure doesn’t sound good for Peter. Maybe this was their chance to move up the ranks – selective hearing – the first will be last.
They approached Jesus and basically said, listen, since you’re going to Jerusalem to set up your kingdom, would you mind appointing us second in command? Unbelievable. Did they not hear what He just said? By the way, it was thought being on the right hand was the place of highest honor, on the left, second highest honor. Give us those seats.
Again, it’s got to be selective hearing – or incredibly hard hearts. It does seem the disciples never seemed to grasp the reality of His coming death and resurrection until after it happened. So maybe it’s true, they practiced selective hearing for stress management.
Let see some further details. Apparently, these two disciples, inner circle guys, James and John, came to Jesus and said first, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” In other words, Jesus, will you give us what we want, before we ask? Say yes, then we’ll tell you what we want. Who would do that, you know, besides your kids?
Now, Matthew adds some other details to this story. He tells us it was actually James and John’s mother who first approached Jesus with this request. It’s possible, very likely if you compare the resurrection accounts, that James and John’s mother, was also Mary’s sister. If true, that means she was Jesus’ aunt, and James and John were cousins. If so, and I think it is, she was using a little family pressure.
Further, Matthew says she came and bowed down. Isn’t that special. She had such respect and reverence for Him – in fact, the word bow down is the word proskuneo, which is often translated, worship. So, she came in worshipful respect. That is so special. By the way, while I’m at it this worshipping thing, Jesus, do you suppose, O Great One, that you might give me what I want? My worship is good, don’t you think? I bowed down, I raised my hands, I even shed a few tears, now, can I have what I want?
You ever do that? Use worship as a pretext for getting what you want? Kids do it all the time – when they come up, put their arms around you, tell you how wonderful you are, what’s the first thing you say? What do you want? But, do we ever do that with God? Here, Mrs. Zebedee starts by buttering Jesus up – like that would work.
Well, Jesus says to them, mom and sons, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Their response? Grant that in Your glorious kingdom, since, you know, we’re family, since you’re getting ready to set up your kingdom – why don’t we keep it in the family, grant that we sit on Your right and Your left – in the places of honor. How about it, cuz?
In other words, how about granting us the most important positions in the kingdom – how about lauding us with honor and power and prestige and recognition and fame and fortune? How about greatness – after all, that’s what a kingdom is all about, isn’t it? It’s what they thought – because they hadn’t heard a word Jesus had been telling them His entire ministry, especially the last three chapters. And it’s maybe a problem the church still struggles with – prestige, greatness, pride, how am I doing, who’s got the best church, the biggest church, the nicest church, the most people, the most money – who’s the greatest? Pride, position, competition is such a sordid sin.
Let me take a little aside here. We do think of Christian stars. Think of it this way. When you think about heaven, what do you think about? Streets of gold, mansions, pearly gates, all that stuff. What about people? I kind of have this picture in heaven we’re going to walk around, and there are going to be groups of people gathered around the stars. You know, there’ll be groups gathered around Peter and Paul and James and John. There’ll be groups around Moses and David and Elijah and Elisha. There’ll be others gathered around Billy Graham and John Piper and Tim Keller. There’ll be the Jonathan Edwards groups and John Calvin and John Wesley groups – living, of course, on opposite sides of heaven. And we’ll huddle around those people, you know, getting autographs and hearing great stories.
And while we might enjoy their stories, I have a feeling when we get there, it’s going to look a little different than we think. Because the ones in the seats at the right and the left may not be who we think. Peter eventually grew up. So did James and John, Moses and David – so have Billy and John and Tim. And I have a feeling if you ask them there, tell me your story – it’ll all be the same – it was all grace. Every bit of it. I don’t even deserve to be here – I wasn’t great – He alone is great – worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. And then we’ll hear the four living creatures say amen, and everyone will fall on their faces and worship.
James and John eventually grew up. They won’t be asking for greatness anymore. Peter grew up. He won’t be asking, what’s in it for me anymore. Even at the end of his life, He wrote these words:
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Peter finally got it. And thankfully, brothers and sisters, we’ll grow up – and we won’t be concerned about performance and greatness anymore. We’ll understand fully – it’s all grace.
Well, how about it, Jesus, will you grant my request? He answers, notice verse 38, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” The cup was an Old Testament Hebrew idiom which spoke of suffering. Are you able to endure the suffering I am about to endure? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I’m about to receive?” This is the first time baptism is used in this particular metaphorical way – to speak of Jesus’ coming suffering. Their arrogant answer was, of course we’re able – you bet. Were they?
Not at first. They deserted Him the very night of His betrayal. They hid behind locked doors after the crucifixion and before the resurrection. Even later, they quit and joined Peter on the Sea of Galilee – they went back to fishing for fish. Were they able? No – not by themselves.
But, later, after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit filled them to accomplish His purposes – the purposes of the kingdom, they were able. James was one of the first Christian martyrs – he was put to death by the sword at the command of Herod. Since then, there have been millions of Christian martyrs. Last year – 2016 – it’s estimated there were over 90,000 brothers and sisters put to death because of their faith. How did they do it? The presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
John, by the way, was the only one of the Twelve to not die a martyr’s death – but even he suffered exile to the Island of Patmos. Yes, Jesus said, you will drink My cup. Aren’t you glad, this morning, that the Christian life, from beginning to end – from your salvation to your glorification, isn’t dependent on you? Because you’d fail miserably – just like they did. But good news, they did drink the cup. And so can we.
But notice, Jesus said, to sit on my left and right is not for Me to determine. Those positions have already been prepared, Matthew tells us, by My Father. In the Trinity, each person has their function, their role. Here, it was the Father’s responsibility to assign those places of honor. And who knows who will be there. I have a feeling it might be someone we least expect. Maybe someone like Thomas Mitchell. He was a Methodist pastor, who, when he died, his obituary read: “Thomas Mitchell, an old soldier of Jesus Christ, a man of slender abilities as a preacher and who enjoyed only a very defective education.” Nice, huh? You wouldn’t expect to see him close to the throne, would you? And yet, a friend wrote this of Thomas Mitchell, “His earnest and loving work caused him to lead many people to Christ.” There are no stars in heaven – only faithful followers of Jesus who serve, who worship because they love Jesus.
Well, we’re out of time and we’re just getting to our second point, so it’ll have to serve as our conclusion. At this point in the story, the other ten are indignant that James and John had made such a request. Why – because they understood what the kingdom was about? Not likely – they were indignant because they’d been blindsided – they were gunning for those seats. So Jesus launches into more teaching on the nature of His kingdom – namely, that it is a kingdom where great people serve. Your request is greatness – my answer is service.
It’s the same thing He’s been saying for several chapters now – the disciples just hadn’t heard it yet. The kingdom of God operates in way diametrically opposed to the kingdoms of this world. In the world, greatness is determined by authority – by the number of people under you, the number of people you can tell what to do, the number of people who respect you, answer to you, serve you. Greatness is determined by your self-esteem, by the way others esteem you.
But in the kingdom, greatness is determined by how you serve – the greatest are servants, even more than that, the greatest among us act as slaves. Wow – it’s one thing to be a servant, but altogether different to be a slave – owned by another. I refuse to be a doormat, you say. Fine – you won’t be great.
Wait just a minute – everyone agrees we don’t have to be mistreated, right? Everyone? The example Jesus uses to encourage our service is His own – of giving His life as a ransom for many – of being delivered to the chief priests and scribes, of being handed over to the Gentiles. Of being mock and scourged and crucified. Do you suppose He was mistreated? You say, I have my rights, I have my needs, I have my emotional health to think about, I deserve a certain amount of respect. My counselor says I need to work on my self-esteem.
And Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor says, the greatest among you will be your slave – just as the greatest to ever walk this earth served, and being found in the form of a servant, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. A ransom was paid to buy back prisoners of war or to buy people out the slave market. Jesus Himself was the purchase price, paid to buy us from the dominion of Satan, where we’ve been held captive, as prisoners of war, to do his will. Further, we’ve been redeemed, bought out of the slave market of sin.
Now, notice it doesn’t say to whom the ransom was paid. In the third century, a church father named Origen suggested the ransom was paid to Satan, since he was the one who held captives in sin. Rightfully, most have rejected that understanding – as if God owed Satan anything.
It’s possible it’s just a figure of speech – that a ransom needed to be paid to free us – and to whom it was paid is not important. But others suggest, perhaps rightly, that if a ransom was paid to anyone, it was paid to God the Father Himself – to satisfy the demands of justice and turn His wrath rightly aimed toward us.
This is the clearest statement in this gospel so far as to why Jesus came. Why He would die. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. I mentioned earlier, and I close with this, most agree this is the purpose statement of the Gospel of Mark. Most agree is also a succinct summary of Isaiah 53, especially verses 10 and 11:
10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.