In our quest this week to understand the strange two-stage healing story in Mark 8:22-26, we’ve seen Peter and the disciples finally ‘get’ who Jesus is – sort of. He’s the Messiah, yet not the kind of Messiah they were expecting. While James and John were thinking of an earthly kingdom in which they could claim status (just like all the other earthly kingdoms), Jesus has a different sort of kingdom in mind.
Yesterday, we were left with the question: is the current generation of Jesus’ followers (i.e. you and I) any different? Here are my thoughts:
For a start, I don’t know about you, but I’m a slow learner with God. How many times do we make the same mistakes? How many times do we have to learn the same lessons, over and over again. As Henry Cloud says: ‘very rarely will people fail in a completely new way; the old ways are working just fine.’
And how often are we relationally inept towards God. I mean, we can be singing songs about Jesus suffering in our place, dying on the cross to bring us forgiveness – then a minute later we can whine that our life isn’t as comfortable as we’d like; that we’d like more money; a more important job; friends who aren’t as annoying…
And we get confused about the kingdom, too, don’t we? Even though we know Jesus is bringing in a spiritual kingdom, we can often end up forgetting that. We adopt the same blinkered view as the disciples, thinking in earthly, material terms. Maybe, like James and John, we look for status in the kingdom of God in the way the world chases status. Or we use Jesus as a means of getting the things the world is chasing.
And how often do we act all self-important? Seeking status through what we do in the church. Grasping for positions of power and thinking that we’ve done something to deserve a place of honour. Or even more generally, trying to gain importance at the expense of others in our marriage, our family, our workplace?
When we chase status and self-promotion instead of servanthood and self-sacrifice, things go horribly wrong. It’s the biggest cause of problems in human relationship, period. Whether it be between spouses, between work colleagues, or between nations. Putting ourselves ahead of others is a recipe for disaster.
But Jesus points us to a different way. And that’s what today’s part of the story is about.
Status through Servanthood
Because Mark highlights the cluelessness of the disciples in chapter 10 (see yesterday’s post) as a negative example in order to draw our attention to Jesus’ example; an alternative, superior model to follow. After chastising the disciples, and telling them they’re no better than the godless rulers of other kingdoms, he tells them there’s another way to live.Mk 10:42-44 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’
Do you get it? The rest of the world seeks shameless self-promotion; the rest of the world grasps at power and glory; the rest of the world looks after number one. Not so with you! We, Jesus’ disciples, are to be different. We gain status in God’s eyes not through being served, but through serving; through putting others first. That’s the way Jesus expects his followers to live. Are we prepared to do that?
That’s what he asked James and John, back in v38:10:38 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’
To ‘drink a cup’ in the OT is to share in an experience; baptism, too, was all about undergoing an initiation. So Jesus is asking them: are you really prepared to follow me? Do you really want to enter into my experience? Because it will involve suffering and self-sacrifice.
In fact, the cup Jesus was about to drink wasn’t one of victory and celebration – that would come later; in a short time he would drink the cup of God’s wrath poured out on sin. A cup of suffering.
And his followers would indeed drink that cup and be baptised, by suffering for his sake. And it’s probably also an allusion to the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Because it’s through communion and baptism that we symbolically affirm our allegiance to Jesus; our identification with him. And we commit ourselves to a life patterned after his. A life that embraces servanthood. A life that involves suffering and self-sacrifice. A life that shows the world there’s a different way to live.
But how do we do that?
Transformation through Sacrifice
This is the beauty of Jesus’ life and teaching. This is what makes Jesus different from every other historical, philosophical, and religious figure. He doesn’t just offer some good moral teaching like Confucius, or practical advice for relationship success like Oprah. He doesn’t just give a pattern-of-life to follow and emulate, like Buddha. He also brings the power to change.
What was it that turned the disciples from this bunch of clueless, selfish, status-seeking – let’s face it – normal people, into heroes of the faith? Into fearless witnesses prepared to lay down their lives to bring the gospel message to others? What was it that made it possible for them to live up to Jesus’ ideal? Clearly it wasn’t the power of Jesus’ words alone – he’d already told them the same lesson in chapter 9, and here they are again, failing to understand in the same way.
The final verse gives us a clue:10:45a ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…’
OK, so far we’ve made it to Buddha. An example to emulate. But it goes on:10:45b ‘and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
And there’s the difference. That word ransom. An exchange. Jesus’ life in place of our own. He bought our freedom.
So you see, through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, he gives us more than just an inspiring example to follow. More than just some teaching to obey. He gives his life as a ransom, to buy us back from slavery. And the Apostle Paul makes it clear in the book of Romans that we’ve been bought back from slavery to sin. From being slaves to our desire to do evil, so that we are free to obey God.Rom 6:18 ‘You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.’
This is the good news of the gospel, which we often forget to mention. Henry Cloud comments on this. He says if you drop into church on any given Sunday, the sermon will most likely boil down to these three points: God’s good, you’re not, try harder. And we wonder why people don’t change!
The gospel tells us yes, God is good; and no, we’re not good enough. But Jesus has ‘been good’ in our place. And what’s more, his death and resurrection now makes it possible for us to be good. We don’t need to try harder in our own strength. We need simply to live up to what we already are.
That is, Jesus’ sacrifice of himself is what gives us the power to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. It’s what enables us to follow his example of servanthood.
It’s what gives us hope for our struggling marriages; hope for our relationship with our kids, with our parents. Hope for his divided, faction-ridden, self-seeking people throughout the world. And ultimately, hope for humanity.
Jesus’ life was given as a ransom for many. The power is there to be transformed, if only we’d exercise that power.