by Sam E. Stone
One of the most succinct summaries of Jesus’ ministry is found in the closing verse of today’s lesson text: The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The events that had just occurred demonstrate this (Mark 9:14—10:34). Christ had healed a demon-possessed boy, continued to teach the 12, and tried to help a rich young ruler. He continued preparing the disciples for his coming death and resurrection that would follow this, their last journey to Jerusalem together.
The Request/ Mark 10:35-40
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were two of Christ’s earliest disciples (Mark 1:19). They approached him with a special request. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” They tried to get him to say “yes” before they told him what they wanted! This attempt sounds like a child trying to secure parental permission to take part in a questionable activity. Matthew explains that they made the request by having their mother present the idea to Jesus (Matthew 20:20).
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus knew what they wanted, of course, but their words would reveal to everyone their selfish desire for power and position. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Earlier Jesus had mentioned that the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones” (Matthew 19:28). James and John wanted to be sure they would have the chief seats of influence and authority when Christ began his earthly rule!
He asked them, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” To a Jew, “the cup” could be filled with either pleasure or sorrow (Psalm 16:5). “(Can you) be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” When coming events submerge and overwhelm them, would they be able to take it? In response to their quick affirmation, Jesus declared, “You will.” Both would eventually share Christ’s sufferings—James as a martyr (Acts 12:2) and John as an exile (Revelation 1:9).
“But,” Jesus went on, “to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.” J. W. McGarvey explains, “Future rewards are indeed meted out by the hand of Christ (2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10, 17, 26, 28), but they are not distributed according to caprice or favoritism, but according to the will of the Father and the rules which he has established. Jesus proceeds to set forth the principles by which places of honor are obtained in his kingdom.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. The other disciples were understandably upset by the power play of James and John. Perhaps they were thinking they should have the places of honor, not James and John! The disciples’ reaction was anger and jealousy; Jesus’ reacted in a different way. As he so often did, Jesus used their discussion as a teachable moment to focus on what his kingdom is really all about. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them.” Earthly rulers operate just this way. “Throwing their weight around” was standard practice.
“Not so with you.” That simple declaration marks the difference between Christ’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” A disciple of Jesus can be recognized by humble service, not by bossing others around. Jesus is the perfect example of this (Philippians 2:5-8).
“Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Rather than seeing how many people you can get to wait on you, see how many people you can help. The only person ever born who deserved recognition and honor from everyone was Jesus, and he did not insist upon it. He told them, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ’s sacrifice was counted by God as payment for the sins of the world (1 Timothy 2:6). All who accept him can be saved. We are released from bondage because he paid the price (Isaiah 53:12). He is the ideal example of a servant.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.