Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 10
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
Mk 10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan . Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them .
We, all of us, have mixed motives. Is that why the prophet wrote, “ The heart is deceitful above all things”? (Jer 17:9) Now I say this because in this verses we have crowds coming to Jesus and him teaching them, and we might assume that the two things are linked by the seeking hearts of the people and I simply wonder if that is true?
Were the crowds flocking to Jesus to hear his teaching or for some other reason? It does seem that whenever they came in large numbers he did teach them, so it must have been something they had come to expect. These are just simple wonderings that I find I have when confronted by such a simple verse, a factual verse with no explanation built into it.
Certainly when Jesus first started teaching, the people had been amazed at the authority with which he spoke and acted (e.g. Mt 7:29 ) and without doubt it is good listening to someone who is able to speak with authority (which is so often lacking even in our own day).
It may have also been true that, as we have noted a number of times in other meditations, the signs were that until John the Baptist came, Israel was at a spiritual low with sickness and demonic activity prevailing, and so the people had a hunger for something different, which is why they seemed to initially flock to John the Baptist and then Jesus. They had been through four hundred years of spiritual darkness since the prophets last spoke and yet still believed that they were God's people.
Yet I have this slight nagging wonder in the back of my mind. Is that all there was to it? Again, when large crowds came to Jesus he seemed to heal large numbers (if not all) of them, and that particularly seemed to draw people. After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) That large crowd had realised that here was someone who could look after them, someone with miraculous powers.
So here is my question: did these people come to Jesus, and do we come to Jesus, for what we can get from him, or do we come to him with open seeking hearts that yearns to know and do God's will and wants Jesus to instruct us and guide us and bring us understanding so that we can more fully walk in that will? Do we come for what we can get to make us feel good by healing us up, or to be brought into God's goodness through doing His will. Both would be good!
200. Dubious Questioning
Mk 10:2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
We pondered in the first verse of this new chapter the motivation of the people who came to Jesus. A significant point that we did not pick up previously is that Jesus has moved down into Judea and what is now taking place in Herod's jurisdiction. Now we know that Herod had had John the Baptist beheaded and it was mainly because John had denounced Herod for wrong marriage practice: “Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." (Mk 6:17,18)
It is probably therefore that these Pharisees came asking this question because they wanted to stir up trouble for if Jesus also denounced Herod's activities either directly or by implication, it might cause Herod to seize Jesus in the same way.
Thus when we read they “came and tested him,” it is probable that it had more behind it than just checking to see if Jesus conformed to the Law, although would surely have been part of it. So if indeed the people came with mixed motives how much more were the motives mixed of these legalistic Pharisees who came seeking trouble for Jesus.
Divorce was not a contentious matter as such for the Jews for, as we shall see, Moses had regulated it. The only areas of dispute, which the Pharisees would have been aware of, were the grounds permitting divorce and different schools taught different things. In many ways this was a minefield, ad whatever way you look at it they were seeking to put Jesus in an awkward position.
In this we observe the same sort of reaction or response to Jesus that we so often find in the world. Questions are asked about Jesus or God or the Bible or the Christian Faith, not simply to genuinely find answers, but to sow discord and disharmony and to try and reveal each of these subjects in a bad light. The enemy's tactic is to ridicule or scorn these things and thus turn the unbeliever even further away, and concrete them even more securely in their unbelief, while sowing doubts in the mind of the believer.
Never be afraid of questions about the faith because there are always good answers but check the motivation for such questions. What is the heart of the questioner? Are they genuine seekers or do they come, like these Pharisees, to bring discord, disharmony and doubt? Questions in themselves are not wrong, but ti s what is behind them which is important.
201. God's Will
Mk 10:3,4 "What did Moses command you?" he replied. They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
For the Jews of Jesus' day, God's will was encapsulated in the Law given by God through Moses, so if you wanted to know what God's will is, you referred to the Law. So when the Pharisees come and ask Jesus about divorce, his immediate response is, well what is God's will on it, what does the Law say about it? Do you remember when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness by Satan? How did Jesus deal with Satan? By referring him to God's Law again and again as it came in different forms in the Old Testament.
Which raises the question, when we want to know right and wrong, to what do we refer? Is it, indeed, to God's word? I am of the impression that for many Christians today God's word does not carry the authority it used to – it should! Maybe it is the work of the crusading atheists attacking the Bible, and modern Christians' inability to bring good answers, that this is so. I am sure most churches hold Bible Studies and preach from the Bible on Sundays, but I am still left with the impression that the modern Christian is not well equipped to answer the challenges that come, and don't, therefore, see the Bible as the ultimate authority of what is right and wrong, what God's will is.
So Jesus refers them to God's Law and like well taught Pharisees that they were, they were able to come up with what the Law said. Now bear in mind what we said previously: these Pharisees were here to put Jesus in an awkward position. They were, the text says, out to test him. They have not come to learn. In fact, if you asked them, they would almost certainly have viewed Jesus as inferior to them on knowledge of the Law, which is perhaps why they have come to ‘test' him as well as get him into trouble with Herod. Just a reminder, in passing therefore, that not everyone who comes asking questions, comes with the heart of a learner. There are a lot of varying motives for asking questions!
So, they come up with a correct answer. Yes, in the Law we find, “a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce” (Deut 24:1). The points of dispute were over the meaning of ‘something indecent'. One school took it to mean marital unfaithfulness and the other referred to the earlier part of the verse and made it anything that displeased the man, a much more liberal a pproach. But what was God's intent behind it? That is the big question which Jesus is going to point them towards.
202. God's Concession
Mk 10:5-9 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female…. they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
We live in a Fallen World where second best has to prevail. We also live in a world where I marvel when I hear people say that God is hard. Think about what we find in our verses today. Jesus acknowledges that the Law did speak about giving a certificate of divorce, but then he gives a devastating reason why Moses gave that Law, presumably at God's behest.
This law allowing divorce came as a concession from God because He knew that people's hearts would be hard and that divorce would be a preferable option to the alternative – whole scale adultery. Hardness of heart is the only reason for divorce ultimately. Let's examine that.
A person with a hard heart is set on the course they have determined. In Christians circles divorce should never occur. Temporary separations maybe, but divorce never! Why do I say this contrary to the modern trend where I am told there are as many divorces inside the church as outside it? Within the church we are supposed to be a community committed to God and open to God's grace and there for one another when we get into difficulties. So why do couples part? Mostly, I suspect, it is either because one party is committing adultery or the couple have allowed themselves to get into such a place of hostility that they seem unable to makeup.
Adultery is understandable because people fall to temptations. that is not to excuse it for it is sin and utterly wrong. If we, the modern church, believed the word of God, we would excommunicate such a believer as Paul did (1 Cor 5:1-13, esp. v.13) with the objective of bringing him to his senses and repentance. The grace that is then needed is for the partner receiving him (her) back.
But what about the hostile couple? How did this come about? It came about because of a shallow relationship with Jesus and with the church and the couple allowing, bit by bit, division and dissension to build up. Grace is needed to restore this relationship and it is only a hard heart that refuses the wisdom and grace of Christ that comes through the elders of the church.
So when there is a refusal to receive counsel, a refusal to receive God's grace and healing and repentance, then there is hardness of heart and thus divorce follows but, says, Jesus, God's desire is that the couple stay together and (implied) resolve all the difficulties that has brought them to this point.
Mk 10:10-12 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
We now move into an area that is pastorally hyper-sensitive. Many preachers say, we need to read such verses in the light of the other verses in Scripture and in the light of what the Jews knew of the Old Testament teaching and so these verses must not stand on their own, but the fact is that they are here, standing boldly in the face of modern cultural norms and we need to try to understand what is being said.
It is clear that the disciples are not clear about it for when they return to the house where they are staying, they ask Jesus about it. Jesus' answer is very specific and very clear but if we were with him we would probably ask questions of him that suggest that it is not quite so clear as we might think at first.
For example, is the woman you refer to completely innocent of any marital misdemeanour? Is this man divorcing her doing so simply because he is fed up with her – which is what one of the schools of thought of that day said. At which point we realise that Jesus is saying here that if you divorce without good grounds, you are committing adultery.
Jesus constantly seeks to go to the root of any matter. What is going on here? What are the implications? The implication here is that if you took the Old Testament instructions in Deuteronomy that we have already referred to, in their most simple state, as one of the schools of thought said, then divorce could simply be at the wish of the man and he could therefore, ‘marry' one woman one, week, divorce her the next week, marry another the next week and so on. In other words, he could be sexually promiscuous – all according to the Law as interpreted by that particular school of thinking.
No, says Jesus, if you go down that particular path, it is the path of adultery. Adultery is simply having sexual relations with another while still married. Thus we have to concede that Jesus is saying that ‘no fault' divorce in fact leads to adultery, pure and simple.
What that leads us to is then thinking about the things that cause a marriage breakdown but when we do that we realise for it to come to a point of complete breakdown, one or both partners are committing sin. Ultimately, for Christians, as hard as this may be, is there has been breakdown and we refuse to repent and get help and counsel, there is that hardness of heart Jesus spoke about, as the second best.
204. More Partisanship
Mk 10:13,14 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
I think our problem, very often, is that we read Scripture and then don't apply it to our own lives. Unless we do that it will just remain intellectual fodder and nothing will change.
So, here people bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them – but the disciples don't like it. Tell me, and be honest, are there people around you in the world that you think shouldn't come to Jesus? Are there people who are culturally different from us and who we can never imagine changing to become like us? Basically, in our mind at least, we are keeping them from Jesus! If you cannot imagine being in a room full of Christians from every walk of life and culture, you have people you would exclude from the kingdom of God .
Sometimes we exclude people because we think they would be a waste of our time. We just cannot imagine them every responding to the good news of Jesus so we don't even go near them and would never consider sharing the Gospel of God's love with them.
It may have been like that with the disciples; perhaps they thought Jesus was too busy healing and teaching adults to be bothered with children! Wrong! they actually rebuked the parents for coming with their kids. But Jesus saw it happening and he was indignant which simply means he was angry at their attitude.
When they get rebuked in turn, Jesus doesn't just tell them off, he gives a reason why they are wrong. Don't you realise, he says, that God's kingdom belongs to such as these. Notice the “such as” that is here. That may not include these specific children but it includes all those who will come with simple childlike belief.
Here is something fundamental to being a follower of Jesus. You may have questions and doubts and you may want to understand more fully what it is all about – and that's all right – but at some point you are going to have to make a step of faith; at some point you are going to have to say, “I believe,” and that is a very simple thing and by simple I mean basic. it may in fact be very hard to lay down all your intellectualism and your demands to understand, but at some point you will know that, yes, there is probably very much more you could find out, but what you have so far is sufficient. It's no longer a case of more arguments, more discussion, you know that it is decision time and that is a very simple thing. You'll either do it or not! it doesn't matter how much information you have, it's decision time!
205. Childlike Requirement
Mk 10:15,16 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
We have three children and now five grandchildren. I know something of little children. Just recently my son-in-law, playing around at the table, produced an egg out of the ear of one of the younger children. The little one was horrified that this egg had come out of her ear. The look on her face made the rest of us fall around laughing. She believed that the egg had actually come out of her ear, despite the fact that she hadn't felt anything. Simple belief is the prerogative of small children. They don't rationalise it, they done place conditions on it, they simply believe.
So thus it is now that Jesus says anyone who wants to enter or experience the kingdom of God must come with the same sort of simple belief that we find in a child. When you witness a miracle you can either believe what your eyes see or deny it. It is that simple. Some people may try and rationalise why it wasn't a miracle but when all the reasons are removed you will either believe it or not, and neither is rational!
I have known people who have witnessed major miracles in a healing crusade in Africa . When they returned to this country they said, for the first three days their mind was fighting against what their eyes had clearly seen. They had seen the impossible and their minds fought with that, but in the end, they said, yes, this is what happened – a miracle, one after another. It must have been like with Jesus when he healed all who came to him. You would have thought everyone who witnessed such miracles would have been instantly convinced, but the record shows that the Pharisees and the teachers and priests from Jerusalem denied it. Why? Because their minds were made up before they started. I have read atheists who say whatever they see or hear they will not believe in God because God's existence is impossible. If you start with a closed mind, it doesn't matter how wonderful and how plentiful the evidence, you will still refuse to see.
Watch again: Jesus heals someone and a little child squeals with delight. They have no need to try to disprove what they have just witnessed. They saw it and believed it. End of story.
As we said in the previous meditation, you can have stacks and stacks of information, but at some point you have to say, “I believe!” Being childlike means you say it sooner than later. The evidence is there but you probably won't recognise it until after you say, “I believe.” Understanding follows acceptance when it comes to the kingdom.
206. A Seeker?
Mk 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
I have recently been reading again of the ‘new atheists' these modern crusaders whose determination is to rid the world of faith and of religion. In the early part of the twentieth century certain Russian revolutionaries stated their similar determination. In China Chairman Mao had the same intention. What has been the result? Decades later the church in Russia is alive and well and the church in China is positively flourishing.
There are two reasons why this is so. First there is a God and He communicates with the human race, with all the human race, calling all who will respond. Second, He has designed us, as someone has said, with a God-shaped hole within us, so that we have a yearning to reach out and seek for him or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “ He has also set eternity in the hearts of men .” (Eccles 3:11) And so it is, that there will always be seekers after God, because that is how He has made us.
What is the trigger for such seekers? It is Jesus himself and his activity. Here is a person who has been growing in awareness of this ‘God-shaped hole' in them, when they suddenly also become aware of God moving and they are stirred, like Moses at the burning bush to come and see what is happening.
And so we find now, Jesus on the move again and a righteous young man comes running up to him, to catch him before he moved off, a young man who is aware of the ‘God-shaped hole' and who wants to do something about it. At the very least he recognises that Jesus is a teacher, that Jesus has knowledge and understanding, and therefore it is likely that Jesus will have answers.
His question is interesting for we quoted Ecclesiastes earlier on where Solomon said God had put eternity in the hearts of men. Eternity and the kingdom of God are usually associated but this man recognises that there is a dimension to life – an eternal dimension what he does not have. He is aware, as so many seekers are that there is something missing in his life. He probably can't be more specific in this but like so many would perhaps just say, “I don't know, there just seems something missing in my life.” And that something, of course, is God.
So he is aware that there is an eternal dimension that is possible in life and that he hasn't got it – and that Jesus probably can tell him how to get it. These are the things that are at the root of what is now taking place. Sop many seekers cannot be coherent about what they feel, but they just know that something is missing!
Mk 10:18,19 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.'
The young man comes with a greeting and finds Jesus turning that greeting into a question which forms the basis of his answer to the young man. The young man has addressed Jesus as ‘good teacher' which was probably just a nice greeting that sought to acknowledge his approval of Jesus. If you call someone good, you are approving them, but Jesus doesn't need our approval.
Now of course the truth is that Jesus IS good because of course he IS God but he doesn't need telling that in some affirming way. Jesus doesn't need affirming; he knows exactly who he is. If we say it, it should not be to seek to bolster him but simply to acknowledge him as God. This young man hasn't got to that point, he's just affirming that he thinks Jesus is all right and that's why he's come to him.
So Jesus picks up on this description and observes that no one is good except God. Now I've heard preachers say that this was Jesus pointing to himself as God in saying this but I don't think it was. I believe it was Jesus starting to point out the basics of need in this young man.
Clearly, as we'll see when we go on, this young man thinks he is righteous and good, and so Jesus' starting comment pricks his bubble at the outset. Each one of us has to come to a place of recognising that as sinful human beings we are not all right and we need God's help. This young man has come looking for something missing in his life but he's come feeling he is a good person and so is slightly perplexed over what he is feeling.
So Jesus starts with the best known set of ‘rules', the Ten Commandments. OK, Jesus is implying, you want to know what is being good, well a starting place (and it is only that) might be to see if you keep the Ten Commandments. Let's clear that out of the way to start with. Are you a rule keeper? If you really want to know what being good is, have you started working on it by seeking to obey these first commands that God gave Moses in the Law?
If we recognise that something is missing in our life, and we can say we are a keeper of all the good rules, then that suggests that keeping the rules is not sufficient. There are lots of ‘very nice people' around, but they still have something missing. They have a reliance in their own goodness, not realising that although they can tick a whole set of boxes in their thinking on what is ‘good' behaviour, there are probably a whole load more boxes that they don't tick. Tricky!
208. Inadequate Goodness
Mk 10:20, 21 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
As we started considering this in the previous meditation we observed that sometimes just keeping the rules still leaves us feeling something is missing, and that something is the Lord. We noted previously what someone has described as a God-shaped hole that we have within us, a need for relationship with our Maker. Keeping to the rules, maintaining a high ethical standard life may be good but it is not enough, because we have been designed for more than that.
Jesus put the Ten Commandments before this young man as a starting point and now the young man acknowledges that these have been at the heart of his life ever since he was a child. Yet still he finds himself coming seeking for a sense of the eternal.
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” How wonderful. Clearly as Peter look on this scene, the look on Jesus' face was clearly one of absolute love. The words that follow must therefore be words of love. “One thing you lack.” It is a simple observation and in many ways is patently obvious. If the young man didn't lack something he wouldn't have come to Jesus.
Now what is intriguing is that Jesus didn't say what that one thing was; he merely tells the young man what he needs to do. Other Gospels describe this young man as rich and the next verse confirms that and we'll come to that in the next meditation, but Jesus now puts his finger on what is missing from this young man's life.
The persecuted church of the East often comments on how the church in the West has everything and yet nothing. There is little passion, little seeking after the Lord in the West as there is in the church in the East. What is it that makes the Chinese Christians on fire for the Lord unlike their counterparts in the West? It is the fact that they are reliant upon the Lord for their very survival. That is what is missing in this young man's life.
He has it all, he's very wealthy. Writing this at a time approaching Christmas, I see columnists in glossy magazines saying that really today, for us, giving presents is a hard task because we've got it all. Therein is our problem, we rely upon our wealth. Wealth in itself is not wrong (for Solomon at God's instigation was the wealthiest man in the world), but it is when we make money our main support, as we mostly do. Give it away, says Jesus, and you'll know what treasure form heaven is – the value of knowing my Father intimately (implied).
209. The Struggle of Faith
Mk 10:22,23 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God !"
I have notices, slightly to my discomfort, that modern preaching is very different from Jesus' approach. We bend over backwards to make sure a) people understand our preaching and b) that we don't upset anyone by being too hard on them.
Now bear in mind what we noted in the previous meditation that when this young man came to Jesus, Jesus looked at him and loved him – but that doesn't stop him letting the young man walk away unsatisfied. The fact is that Jesus loves us sufficiently that built into that love is respect for us, respect that allows us to make decisions and then live with them!
The verses above are somewhat inconclusive because we are left to assume that the young man didn't sell all he had, but that may not be the eventual outcome; it make take time for him to get to that point, but at the moment the young man indicates that the answer he has received from Jesus is not the answer he wanted.
Now if the truth be told we each would like Jesus to treat us gently and give us an easy way out of every dilemma we find before us – but he doesn't. Jesus know what the truth is and he knows what the right path is for each of us and even if we may not like it at first sight, it is still the right path. So, the young man goes away downhearted and sad because he is rich and likes being rich and finds the thought of letting it go to be very difficult.
I empathise with him and so will you if you've ever been down this path. Many years ago I had a very well paid, prestigious job and, without going into details, I cam to a point where I knew the right thing was to let go that job and look for something new (so my family would see more of me.) Now although I knew that course was the right thing, it took several months to pluck up the courage to let go that job, that salary and that security. I remember one morning standing on a train station platform and coming to the realisation that I was in a rut and if I wasn't careful, this rut would turn into a grave. I let go the job, my next salary went down and my standard of living went up! That has now happened to me three times in my life with exactly the same outcomes!
The truth is that sometimes it is hard to follow what you know deep down is the right course of action and it may well take time to be able to do it. It's all right, Jesus loves you and understands. Ask him for help, for grace to walk it. The end outcome will be much better.
210. Struggle of Faith (2)
Mk 10:24,25 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God ! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God ."
One of the major misconceptions of the modern crusading atheists is that people rush to religion to obtain comfort and security in some form of mindless faith. These verses that we are facing at the present show us that this is about as far from the truth as you can get, when it comes to genuine Christian experience (and we recognise there is much in the world that is only make-believe or imitation Christian faith, and to which this does not apply).
If a person is a genuine Christian, they came there the hard way! A person becomes a Christian through surrender of self. It is not a mindless thing, but something that happens in direct response to the truth about our own life and the life and person of Jesus Christ. It is the acknowledgement that we are lost and that Jesus is a Saviour – to be our Saviour, but to be so we have to surrender to him. Surrendering is not easy as Jesus' words now show.
Jesus' initial words catch the disciples by surprise, they are amazed at them. It's hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom? See how Jesus now refers to them: “Children”. How often do we appear to God as children, as those with little understanding in spiritual matters, for that is what is behind his calling them this? And then he reiterates this truth: it's really difficult to enter God's kingdom.
The rich young man has just walked away; he has gone struggling with this issue. Will he hold onto riches and miss God, or let go riches to find God? So many things can act as hindrances to us entering the kingdom – family, fame, reputation, the recognition that life will have to change and certain unethical practices cease!
The only way into the kingdom of God is with empty hands and a desire to do God's will, whatever the cost. If we trying bringing some of our own self-righteousness or our past history with us, we stop or hinder the Lord being able to bring about the change within us that he desires and sees is necessary.
Then Jesus uses this analogy which has prompted so much comment over the centuries. Whether the ‘eye of a needle' was a local landmark narrow gateway or a literal needle doesn't matter in the end. Both pictures indicate a human impossibility, and that will be made clear in the following verses. The truth is that without God's help we can't come to a place of conviction and surrender, even to achieve that we need God's grace.
211. Struggle of Faith (3)
Mk 10:26,27 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
There are some people who would say they are Christians but see it as simply a nice social add-on to their lives, something nice people believe and nice people do, like going to church and being nice, but the picture of the walk of faith portrayed in the Gospels is something completely different.
At its most basic level it is a call by Jesus to follow him. Viewing the disciples in the Gospels, it is easy to see that for they did it literally and followed him around the country. For us it is to follow him in that we seek to follow his word as found in the New Testament but, even more, we respond to the prompting of his Holy Spirit as he seeks to lead and guide us. That leading or guiding may be to share his love with other people, do good to others in specific ways, or even embark on new ways of expressing his love to this world. As we sense his prompting so we are led, so we ‘follow him'.
But here's where it takes us out of our comfort zone, here's where it gets difficult. Sometimes the ideas that cross our mind, that actually come from him, we immediately write it off by thinking back, I couldn't possibly do that, no way can that happen.
It's at that point that these verses become particularly relevant. In verses 24 and 25 Jesus has just said how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God and illustrated that in such a way that the disciples are left gasping, well how can anyone enter the kingdom? Humanly you can't, says Jesus, but with God “all things are possible”. Ah, there is the key: with God all things are possible.
There it is here and in our lives, the truth about Christian experience. Again and again we will be confronted with things that we deem impossible, but if God has said them, then He will enable them to come about. This is where faith kicks in.
Do you remember when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was going to have a son? Here natural query was how can this be, because she wasn't even married. No problem, replies the angel. for “ nothing is impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37). The outworking of this? Paul said, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will ABOUND in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8). He looks for the response of faith that says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." (Lk 1:38) and then He provides the way and the means.
212. Struggle of Faith (4)
Mk 10:28 Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
We like to justify our position of faith. Surely, we say, I've done this or that, things that bring merit to me. Despite the fact that we are saved through faith by grace, we nevertheless so often still like to claim a little (a lot?) of merit for what we have achieved.
I can look back on many years of Christian walk and actually I've done some great stuff along the way and, yes, sometimes people have been really blessed. Resisting the temptation to think, “Wow, didn't I do well,” is often quite hard. If we're really honest when we've done good stuff over the years, deep down there is that feeling of, “Well didn't the Lord do well in choosing me.” Pride leads us down silly paths.
I believe there is an element of this behind Peter's interjection here. Jesus has basically said, “Well to get into the kingdom of God it is all down to God, for you won't manage it on your own.” Peter wants to say, “Well, hold on Lord, a bit of it is down to us, after all we did leave everything to come and follow you all this time!”
I believe we face here one of the big issues in the Christian life, one of the great truths that takes a really long time to sink in: everything comes from Jesus. Jesus said, “ apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). Let's think about this.
When we came to the Lord, if we have truly been born again, we came because we were lost. The Holy Spirit had been convicting us and we were aware of our failure in life and of our need for something else. We had heard the truth about Jesus dying for us to bring us forgiveness of sins and a new life and we knew of ourselves we couldn't have either. As the Spirit convicted us, we just surrendered and pleaded with god to forgive us and come into our life and lead and guide us and be Lord. Surrender was no act of great merit, but that was all we could do. Then God moved – He forgave us and put His Holy Spirit within us and we were born again and called us His children. That was all of Him, there was nothing we could do to achieve that.
Then we entered into the Christian life and without realising what was happening, we found ourselves being led by His Holy Spirit and we had a new sense of joy and a sense of new purpose and direction. Things started happening and all the way along, we just responded. We were not the initiators, He was. We found new areas of ministry opening up and we found we had new abilities (gifts). He prompted, we responded and He did the stuff. People were blessed, but it was Him doing it. We were just earthen vessels holding His glory (2 Cor 4:7). You've left everything, Peter? Yes, but that's all, the rest has been Jesus hasn't it, it's really all down to him, not us, isn't it.
213. Struggle of Faith (5)
Mk 10:29,30 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Peter, perhaps somewhat defensively, has just commented that they had given us everything to follow Jesus. Perhaps he has in his mind's eye the fishing business back at home that he and Andrew had walked away from. Possibly some of the other disciples had nodded their heads when he said that, remembering too what they had let go. From their angle it was a big sacrifice to let go the old life.
Jesus' response is to indicate that whatever they left behind will pale into insignificance in the light of what they will receive in the kingdom of God . So, yes, he recognises that people will no longer make family members the all-important part of their lives for the sake of following him. And, yes, he recognises that people may give up jobs and careers (fields for them spoke of work and supply) in order to follow him, but the reward that they will get will be so, so much greater, a hundred times as much as they might have had.
And in what form will this reward come? It will come in finding a new home, a new place of security in Christ. It will be a new family, a family of believers, and it will include new jobs, new careers, new lifestyles, new means of support and so on.
But Jesus is realistic and paints the whole picture. he doesn't want them to think he's promising that everything will always be wonderful for, as a Christian, it won't. There will be people who will be hostile to the truth, to us for displaying it, and against Jesus for leading us into it. There will, in other words, be persecutions, opposition and difficulties as we live out this life. That is the whole picture.
I have commented before in this meditations, that I can look back over a good life. When I came to Christ I was single and had a good job (given me I believe by the Lord). Three times in my life, at His leading, I have changed my career and three times my income has been temporarily been reduced by a third, but every single time the quality of my life when up considerably. As He has led me, every time there has been a change, the grass has got greener and more lush, so to speak, even though the income went down, and we as a family have never lost out. Oh yes, new jobs, new experiences, a wife and three children and five grandchildren; never could we criticise the Lord for he has blessed us a hundredfold again and again. Hallelujah!
214. Struggle of Faith (6)
Mk 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
I once heard a preacher speaking about “an upside down world”, the kingdom of God . That described the kingdom of God quite well I thought. Things that the world values, Jesus doesn't; and the things the world ignores, despises or even derides, Jesus values. His values are the real ones that make the world work well; ours tend to be shallow, false and transient.
No more true is this than seen in this verse above. Many who are first will be last. Note the word ‘many' so that doesn't mean all. Who are the ‘first'? Surely they are the important people (as we view them) in the world, leaders whether in commerce, industry, politics, education, the forces or wherever. People we tend to think of as ‘big people'. I don't tend to feel that we think of celebrities as necessarily ‘big people' although some of them undoubtedly are. No, ‘big people' tend to be strong people, clever people, bright people, achievers, people who rise to the top of the pile by dint of their intellect or strength.
Now if I am right in my assessment here, the problem with these people is that they are strong in themselves and consider they don't need anything or anyone – or at least that is what they portray to the rest of us. Their natural tendency, therefore, is to be godless, and if that is so then when it comes to God's assessment, they are bottom of the list. They had so much going for them but they let it be self-centred and they failed to appreciate the wonder of what they had or from whom it came and they were not thankful (see Rom 1:21)
But note again what we said earlier – ‘many', not all. It is not impossible to be rich and a Christian, just difficult. There are many who are in places of leadership who are exceptions to the general rule, people who despite their wealth, fame or position, have managed to hold on to reality and know they are people with a need of God.
But then there is this other group that Jesus simply refers to as ‘the last'. These are people we consider of little consequence. They may be poor and they almost certainly will not be great achievers – but they have a heart for God and as such they bless God's heart. When it comes to the time of accounting, these who are ‘at the back of the queue' will be brought to the front by Jesus because their hearts blessed him.
Remember the parable that Jesus told of “a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” (Lk 16:19) who was told “in your lifetime you received your good things.” (v.25). He was one of ‘the first' who became ‘last'. The beggar Lazarus in the story was one of ‘the last' who became ‘first'.
215. Different Responses
Mk 10:32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem , with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.
Yet again, before we move on, we need to note that Jesus has made very enigmatic comments but has not explained them. This seems to happen again and again in the Gospels. It is as if Jesus is laying out material for those who truly have seeking hearts, for only such people will then go away and really think about what he has said – and may even come back to him to ask him for an explanati0n. The question must come of us, are we content to not understand the things Jesus says or will we meditate on them and ask him for revelation?
But now Mark notes the responses to what Jesus has been saying. They are on their journey to Jerusalem where the Great Crisis will occur and Jesus is leading the way. The point seems to be made as if to say, he was out front eagerly leading the way to the next stage in God's plans.
But then Mark notes two different groups of people. First there are the disciples who are close to Jesus as they travel and then there are just others who are following behind. We might summarise it as those who are close to Jesus and those who are not but follow more at a distance.
Now we observe the responses or reactions of these two groups. First the disciples. Mark simply says they were astonished or amazed, which in usual usage simply means they were surprised and their surprise had an element of shock about it. Now this is again one of those places where it is not clear and commentators are left to make their own interpretations about this. Was this surprise about the words that Jesus has just spoken or was it because of the way Jesus is purposefully aiming for Jerusalem ? It could have been either. Jesus' words about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom and particularly about the ‘upside down kingdom' could have rocked their own values, because that conversation had all started because they, the disciples, had originally been discussing who was the greatest as they journeyed. The disciples' astonishment could simply have been as a result of Jesus laying down values for disciples that ran contrary to their natural desires, and they have been severely challenged.
If they are surprised at Jesus' clear intent to go to Jerusalem, it may be that they remember that every time they have been to Jerusalem in the past it had caused the religious leaders and the Pharisees to come out. The fear in the wider followers could be because they feel rejected by Jesus' words or because they too recognise that Jerusalem is a place of confrontation for Jesus and they would much prefer to have him to themselves and avoid that.
216. The Plan
Mk 10:32-34 Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. "We are going up to Jerusalem ," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."
Often when writing these notes I have observed that often Jesus does not explain things to his disciples – he certainly did sometimes, but mostly he makes statements and then leaves them for his followers to mull over. Now we also recognise what we've said a number of times, that the Gospels often appear like students' notes – just the bare bones- and so that may be true here. It is possible that Jesus did explain more of what was going to happen and it is simply the writer keeping it brief that means that we don't have more. Having said that, the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection appears to come as a shock and, certainly a surprise to the disciples, when it happens in Jerusalem , it suggests that there was not a lot more explanation or discussion.
But, nevertheless, from our point of view at least, Jesus is being remarkably clear in spelling out the divine plan that is going to be enacted when they get to Jerusalem , and remember they are on their way there. The disciples ought to have understood it, because he makes it so plain, but perhaps it was that they just couldn't take in the awfulness of what he was saying.
Note the components of the strategy: 1. They will arrive in Jerusalem . 2. He will be betrayed into the hands of the religious authorities. 3. Those authorities will condemn him to death but because they do not have the legal power to do it, 4. They will hand him over to the Roman authorities and 5. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him and then 6. Three days later he will rise from the dead.
What does this say to us? It must first say that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen when they went to Jerusalem and if he had wanted to he could have avoided that happening by not going to Jerusalem . Second, it says that what took place in Jerusalem was no accident but the divine plan being acted out. The apostle Peter, under the anointing of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost realised this when he declared about Jesus' death, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) What was to take place in Jerusalem was the plan of God worked out using the sin of mankind to being about the death of His Son as a sacrifice for our sin. Incredible!
217. A Request
Mk 10:35-36 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
Initially I find my breath taken away by the audacity of James and John, or their temerity, if you like. I sit there thinking, “Are you guys really looking for trouble?” I mean look at the scale of it: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” What?
But then I think again and I realise two things. First of all, just a bit later, we find Jesus saying, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mk 11:24) John adds a little balance in his later Gospel when he records Jesus saying, “I will do whatever you ask in my name,” (Jn 14:13 ) and the crucial words are “in my name.” So there is a bigger thing out there with God inviting us to ask big, but the reality of the getting will be determined by a) are we responding to God in faith and are therefore certain we will get it and b) are we asking as Jesus' representatives, knowing that we are asking what he wants?
The second thing, is that I am aware of the sort of things we ask God in prayer! I wonder how often we call out to God for help with little thought as to whether we really believe this is God's will that we are asking for, whether we have the certainty of faith, and whether we are sure this is Jesus' will? Those are the criteria that come through Jesus' teaching about prayer, which suggests that so much (?the majority?) of what we hear prayed in church has little or no certainty about it.
That is both challenging and worrying. We may have the temerity of James and John and, as we'll go on to see, if we are asking wrong things or unrealistic things, then we had better be ready for Jesus to say no to our requests.
Then yet again, we find Jesus asking them a question, the answer of which he must surely know, for he knows his people through and through and he will have known what they were thinking. So why does he ask? I suspect it is to allow them to open their mouths and bring our the wrong thinking that is there inside them. So often we allow ourselves to have wrong thinking, but we would deny it if challenged, and so sometimes Jesus allows us the space and opportunity to open our mouths and put both feet in, so that what is on the inside is revealed – and we know that it is revealed, by the responses that come.
Yes, James and John do us a favour. They warn us, in what follows, to check ourselves out, for what we are thinking on the inside and to save us the embarrassment of not being hasty in speech.
218. A Blind Request
Mk 10:37-38 They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said.
One can only assume that James and John wanted earthly status, because I'm sure they weren't – at that stage at least – thinking in eternal terms. No, they had it in their minds that one of these days Jesus was going to arise as king and they wanted to be his close lieutenants. Again it is easy to jump to wrong conclusions here. My first reaction, I've heard many preachers do, is to denounce these two arrogant men for thinking that they were greater than the rest and merited special positions in Jesus' kingdom.
Yet when I read the New Testament I find, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1) It had become a taught saying of the early church that it is a good thing to aspire to be a leader.
Perhaps the crucial issue is what goes with it. It depends on how we view being a leader, and Jesus has already spoken about servant heartedness as the crucial heart of a spiritual leader. This is the issue, what we think being a leader is all about. If we think it is something to be proud about, about holding a position that others look up to, a rank to be achieved, a role of being over people, then we have misjudged spiritual leadership.
It is clear from the New Testament that spiritual leadership is all about being a servant Carer of the church. Spiritual leaders lay down their lives for the flock, put others first and self second. Spiritual leadership is about self-sacrifice.
Now the important thing about James and John asking, is now revealed by Jesus when he says, I'm afraid you really don't know what you are asking. He will go on to explain that in a moment but the reality is that they are blind to all the consequences of such a position and, even more, who it is who decides who does what in the kingdom of God.
Paul wrote, “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) which shows us that God the Father is the One who knows us through and through and knows what is best for us. He alone knows all things and He knows exactly what is right for each one of us. It may well be that He will put spiritual ambition (vision) on our hearts as a means of leading us into an area of ministry that He has for us, but otherwise, the wise approach is to pray, “Lord I desire to be available for whatever you have for me. Please show me what you have for me and then lead me into it.” Much safer, much wiser.
219. A Rash Answer
Mk 10:38-39 "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?" "We can," they answered.
We are now moving onto dangerous ground as far as the disciples are concerned although I am sure that they aren't aware of that. Being Jesus, I don't think he would be saying this in an vindictive waybut from anyone else this might come that way.
Imagine staying with some friends in the country, and the man (who happens to be a Royal Marine Commando/Red Beret/ American Navy Seal) says I'm just going to go out for a jog in the morning, and so you say, “Can I come with you?” He smiles and says, “Can you do what I can do?” “No problem,” you reply. “OK,” he says, “I'm going to do a short run this morning. We'll only do twenty miles.” Suddenly you realise that you are with someone who has some different capabilities to you.
Without realising it, that's what was happening here. A few minutes back Jesus had been telling them that when they went to Jerusalem he would be persecuted and put to death. You want part of that? When Jesus speaks of drinking from the same cup as him he's suing the language of participation. Similarly when he speaks of baptism he's again speaking of sharing experiences. You really don't realise what you're asking, is what he tells them. They clearly haven't taken in and understood what he told them about what was going to happen in Jerusalem when they got there.
Again I would suggest that we shouldn't be too hard on these disciples for we do similar things all the time. The reality is that we do not know what is coming. I have laughingly said that if I knew what the Lord was going to take me through I might not have become a Christian. Of course that's not true b ut the truth is that in our Christian walk the Lord does not shield us from opposition, nasty people or even persecution. He knows his grace is sufficient for us and that by going through such things we will grow in character and in faith.
Again and again in these things I am reminded of Ezekiel's wisdom, as I see it, when the Lord confronted him with a valley of dry bones and asked him if these bones could life. “You know, Lord,” was his answer.
Smart answer: God knows and we don't. If the Lord shows us a difficult path ahead and asks us are we up to it, the brash and full of careless faith might reply, “Yes Lord, of course, anything for you.” But is that what the Lord really wanted for us? Surely a wiser answer might be, “Lord, if that is what you want and if you can see that I can receive your grace to achieve it, then all rightDon't appear too clever!
220. The Unknown
Mk 10:39-40 Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."
Jesus gives the final answer and it is somewhat surprising when we look at its components. Now in our previous meditation we leant on the side of saying that no, the disciples couldn't enter into Jesus' experiences in the same way that we would not be up to say keeping up with an incredibly fit friend. Yet, when we come to Jesus' final answer we find that he does, in fact, say that they can share in his experiences. Now to the extent that he is the unique Son of God who is going to die tlo take the sins of the world, we certainly cannot enter into what he did, yet in as far as they experienced something of the awfulness and the anguish of Jesus being opposed by the religious authorities, rejected by the people and dumped by the secular authorities, those are exactly the same sort of things that followers of Jesus have experienced down through the centuries. Tradition tells us that of the twelve apostles, one committed suicide (Judas), eleven died for their faith and only John died of old age – but even then after severe persecution.
So in part one of his answer, Jesus says, yes, they will share in something of what he will experience, but when it comes to part two of the answer, the part that directly related to the request of the two disciples, the answer was, no, because even I don't know who my Father will give those positions to. We could speculate from the episode of the Mount of Transfiguration that it might be Moses and Elijah but that would be pure speculation and it is as likely to be someone we don't know as someone who is named in the Bible.
Positions, we have noted previously, and need to restate, are not the issue in the kingdom of God ; servant heartedness is. Perhaps to put it more simply, the Lord doesn't wish us to serve Him because of what we can get out of it, or what position we might achieve but simply because He is the Lord and He has saved us and we owe Him everything and it is great being part of His plans to bless the world. These are the sort of motivating forces that we should have, rather than self-aggrandising ambition to be seen to be great in the kingdom for Jesus indicated that the greatest will be the least. Those are very different standards from what we so often have and which appear to behind James and John's request and behind their thinking.
221. Self Righteousness
Mk 10:41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
I confess I sometimes find human responses hilarious. You either have to laugh or cry and I've come to the conclusion that laughing is better! Now in the Old Testament there is that famous verse that says the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9) and put in its simplest form in a context like this, I think that means, “Our motivations can be unfathomable and not what they might appear at first sight.”
So here are the ten other disciples. Presumably James and John had approached Jesus on their own to ask about sitting either side of him when he came to prominence, but as their conversation continued, the other disciples drifted up and eventually found out what the other two had been asking Jesus. And they are indignant!
So what does that mean? It means they are appearing all ‘holier than thou'. How could you possibly ask such a thing? Implication? We would never have dreamt of asking such a thing! Now of course when we act all indignantly like this, one of the things we are doing is showing up the other people, or putting them down! We are elevating ourselves while putting down the objects of our indignation. We are not being simply those who are concerned for the truth. No we're out to change the status quo. We elevate ourselves in such indignation and put down the others. We are using their folly to our advantage. Do you see now why I refer to the heart being deceitful?
This raises a question in our minds about rivalry among the disciples. Here were a bunch of very ordinary men who, most of the time, would have been utterly taken up by the incredible things that Jesus is doing and in the midst of that there would not have been too much room for self to push itself to the fore – but they are still very ordinary human beings. Peter, James and John are clearly the ‘inner three' and one wonders what the others though about that. Judas was obviously doing his own thing and apparently taking money from the common purse for his won benefit (Jn 12:6). James and John came over as loud mouths looking out for themselves, and Peter seemed to only open his mouth to change feet. What were the others like, I wonder?
But what is the point of allowing our thoughts to drift down this path? Surely is it to remind ourselves that they – and we – were and are very human beings and life is a constant struggle against self. It should have died when we came to Christ (see Rom 6) but the truth is that is there lurking in the background waiting to rise up and exploit the present circumstances, just like the rest of the disciples here. On one hand we ARE holy, and in practical terms, often we're not!
222. The World's Approach
Mk 10:42 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.
We perhaps take for granted “the ways of the world” but maybe we should pause and recognise the clear distinctions in this and the next meditation between the values of the world and the values of the kingdom of God.
The apostle John nailed it down: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 Jn 2:15-17) He started out by warning against loving the ways of ‘the world'. By ‘the world' he didn't mean the globe on which we live or mankind in general, but clearly meant the godless mentality of self-centred sinful men and women. If you love that mentality then there is no way you can love God who is the opposite of all that.
But see the three characteristics of ‘the world' that John refers to. There is, first, ‘the cravings of sinful man' i.e. godless, self-centred man who is ruled by his passions and desires, all tuned to satisfy his self-centredness. Second there is ‘the lust of the eyes' i.e. a life driven by covetousness – “I want what I can see” – which again goes to satisfy the desires of self. Finally there is ‘ the boasting of what he has and does.'
This final one is the one that most comes in line with our verse above, because self-centred and godless man is insecure and tries to regain his lost security by making himself something and someone and pride drives him. As he gains position and lords it over others and exercises authority over others so he is able to satisfy that desire to overcome and be something and someone, to create something, a role for himself in which he can boast, that lifts him up above the rest and gives him a sense of (false) security.
Don't be fooled, even ‘respectable' people are the same and are putting on a show of respectability simply to bolster their image. Anyone outside of Christ has this insecurity that we have been speaking about and all are driven by personal desires, driven by what their eyes see, and driven to make something of themselves. This is ‘the world' that John refers to and this way of thinking and living is what you and I as Christians have left behind. We need to make the effort and be alert to make sure it does not creep back into our lives.
223. Kingdom Values
Mk 10:43,44 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.
So we have looked at one side of the equation, the ways and values of the ‘world' but now Jesus brings a strong negative to that way of thinking and living. “Not so with you.” That way is not to be the Christian's way. No, we are not to be driven by personal desires, covetousness and personal pride and ambition. Now that is easy to say but when we live (in the West at least) in a world dominated by advertising at every turn, and that advertising appeals to your desires, to what looks good, and to personal status, it is difficult to resist and not go down that path. What makes it worse is that TV programmes enhance all these world values and encourage a competitive attitude that seeks to do better than everyone else, and often without too much concern for the values behind that.
A further problem is that you may succumb to the world's advertising and imbibe the world's values in TV shows, but what you then find is that you have those same values yourself and you apply them in the way you deal with other people. No, it should not be like that, says Jesus to these disciples and to us who claim to be his followers.
No, says Jesus, if you want to be great in God's kingdom, greatness comes from a different way of thinking and a different way of living. Greatness comes from being a servant, from having a servant attitude. Put in its simplest form, that means we approach everyone else with the attitude, “How can I help you?”
Now that sounds simple put like that, but how can it be applied, and especially how can it be applied when you are someone in a senior position whose role is to manage other people, where you have to direct and maybe correct and even discipline others? I would suggest that even in this role our attitude can still be, how can I do what is best for this person? That still looks to do good for them.
But Jesus makes it sound even worse: “whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” That is strong language and I would suggest from the outset that such an attitude is impossible without the grace and humility from God. Perhaps the strength of what Jesus says is actually to put us off aspiring to be the greatest! Naturally speaking none of us wants to be a slave, so do I really want to aspire to be the first in the kingdom of God ? NO, I'm quite happy to be one of the lesser servants just getting on with what He gives me to do. Do I want to aspire to be a slave with no rights of my own? Not, unless He gives me the grace to be that sort of person!
224. Jesus' Example
Mk 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many..
Time and again Jesus said or did things with a double intention: of blessing the people before him and of giving an example for his disciples to follow. After all John records him saying, “ I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) So example is important to Jesus.
Thus we find as he comes to the end of this argument, he puts himself out before them. Remember they have discussing who is the greatest and who can have places of honour under Jesus' rule. Jesus has just contrasted the way of the world with the way of the kingdom and to drive the point home to the disciples, he adds, guys, not even I came to be served. I'm not a leader who demands service of others, but I've come to serve and the way I am going to serve is by giving my life as a means of dealing with the Sin of the world.
Now I am certain that at that stage the disciples really didn't have a clue what he meant when he added that last bit. Yes, they had already heard him speak about his coming death, and they are going to hear it again, but there is a great deal of difference between hearing and understanding.
Well the last part of the verse may have been difficult to understand but surely the first part of it was quite clear. Servant-heartedness is a key characteristic of the citizens of the kingdom of God and the first of them is Jesus himself. His life is one of serving, serving his Father in heaven, serving the disciples and the serving all the people who came to him.
Serving the Father in heaven is all about obedience. As the Father leads so the Son follows. Remember Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19). Jesus also served the disciples by the way he led them and taught them. He demonstrated the required attitude in the Upper Room a little later on when we find he washed the disciples feet (Jn 13:2-12). He served the people who came to him by being available to them and by using his Father's power to heal them.
And then, of course, his ultimate act of service was indeed laying down his life as an atoning sacrifice (1 Jn 2:2) for our sins. This part of his example we can never follow because it was something that only he could do, but the rest is there to challenge us: will I be a servant like Jesus, serving those around me, looking at them and asking, what can I do for you?
225. A Common Sight
Mk 10:46 Then they came to Jericho . As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.
At one point near the end of his ministry, Jesus was to comment, “ You will always have the poor among you .” (Jn 12:8) That wasn't a negative, defeatist comment but an acknowledgement of reality in this Fallen World. Because of sin and failure of mankind to look after mankind, there will always we those who are poor and needy, and coming across this blind man here, raises questions abut the poor and our attitude towards them.
Our poor man in question is poor for a reason: he is blind and obviously (again an outworking of this Fallen World) he presumably has no family to look after him and provide for him. We know he is poor and uncared for because he is ‘sitting by the roadside begging' . You don't do that is you have a loving family who care for you. No, this is a man who has been cast loose and because of his blindness (yet again another outworking of being part of this Fallen World where sickness and infirmity strike) is helpless. There is nothing he can do but beg.
As we are meditating on this verse and its implications, it raises questions for us today. We would say, here in Britain, that we life with a welfare state that provides benefits for the needy, but the greatest need that this man had was to be loved and cared for in the face of his disability. I wonder, do we have family and friends who suffer with some form of disability and their greatest need is to be loved by us in the face of that disability?
Those of us with disabled children, whether it be a mental or physical disability, perhaps carry one of the greater burdens of life. We just need a little encouraging to be able to continue without flagging our lifetime of care for our child. But it may not be a child. Increasingly in our society today it is likely to be an elderly person who is no longer as fit and able as they once were and who need our love and care. How many elderly people live on their own and rarely see visitors from one day to the next? The may not be materially poor but they are certainly socially poor.
Jesus spoke of us, the church, meeting such people's needs: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” (Mt 25:35,36). We have to ask ourselves the question, do we?
226. Persistent Pleas
Mk 10:47,48 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth , he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
This blind beggar, Bartimaeus, puts many of us to shame. Persistence is not something many of us are good at. We utter words in prayer and if nothing happens we give up and go and utter more words but about something else. This man is different!
He has clearly been told by others what Jesus is doing and so when he hears that this same Jesus have come to his town, Jericho, and are now about to leave, he realises his last chance to get help is about to walk away from him. He doesn't put any big claims on God – “You owe it me for all I've been through; you're supposed to be a God of love aren't you?” No, there was nothing like that, just a humble plea for mercy. Mercy is the giving of good when we don't deserve it. Bartimaeus is at the bottom of the pile. He's a helpless beggar and so he's got nothing to bargain with God. He's a nothing and a nobody and so it is only pure mercy that he has any hope in. For no specific reason, please come and help me, because I know you can.
The crowd around him don't think much of him. After all, beggars are the lowest of the low and should be kept well and truly in the background. We don't want you to be showing us up. When you've got a big person passing through, you want to keep the streets clean and, yes, that includes pushing beggars into the shadows. For whatever reason, there seems little compassion in that town. The trouble with beggars is that they are always there and we don't have any hope of them being changed – so shut up!
But Bartimaeus isn't going to shut up. He's a desperate man. Until you've been a blind beggar, perhaps, you don't know what desperation means. His one hope – if all the stories are true – is just about to walk out of town and leave him in his same state – so he carries on shouting out for Jesus to come and have mercy on him and heal him, for that is clearly what he wants.
Now sometimes our Bibles don't show the tense of verbs very well, for instance a well know passage should read like this if you take into account the tense of the verbs: “Ask and go on asking and it will be given to you; seek and go on seeking and you will find; knock and go on knocking and the door will be opened to you.” (M7 7:7) Bartimaeus know that while he has the chance he's got to “go on” crying out to Jesus. When you are desperate you know that you've nothing to lose by “going on” asking God. Do it! Keep on asking!
227. Required Response (1)
Mk 10:49,50 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
Sometimes the Biblical record is so simple that we have trouble applying it to our daily lives. Let's see if that is true here. Bartimaeus has been persisting in calling out to Jesus and now Jesus responds. Now this may sound stupid, but I wonder when we have been praying for something for some while, and we've been persisting in prayer and not giving up, are we actually open to hear Jesus reply to us?
I said it was so simple. Do we see prayer as a one way thing, whereby we petition heaven and then just heaven to do something? If we do see it like that, we miss out, because sometimes Jesus wants to speak words of wisdom to us that require us to take action to bring change.
In this instance here Jesus instructs the crowd to call Bartimaeus over to him. Now that is slightly strange because surely Jesus could easily have just walked over to where Bartimaeus was sitting? But he doesn't do that; it is as if Jesus wants to involve the crowd and Bartimaeus in bringing about his healing. He involves the crowd, perhaps, because they had been telling Bartimaeus to be quiet. Now Jesus makes them reverse their words and call him over.
Sometimes when we are praying, the first stages of an answer come through other people or another person. We may not realise it at the time but someone else's actions may be God-inspired and may be part of the process that Jesus uses to bring the change that we have been asking for in our persistent praying.
So the crowd call Bartimaeus to come over to Jesus. Now Bartimaeus could have taken offence at that and thought, “Why can't he come to me? I'm the blind one!” but he didn't; he leapt to his feet and came eagerly.
Do you remember the story of Naaman in 2 Kings? He needed healing, sought out Elisha, and was told to go and wash in the local river. He was annoyed: “But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:11) He decided the way he wanted God to do it. He wanted something spectacular but instead he got the simple.
Jesus call to Bartimaeus was basically, “Come here to me.” i.e. draw close to me. Sometimes as part of the process of answering prayer, Jesus wants to use it to draw us close to him. This may mean spending time on waiting on him, praying some more or listing waiting quietly, listening to what he has so say. Is that too simple for us?
228. Required Response (2)
Mk 10:51,52 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road
We have been considering this incident in the context of prayer. Bartimaeus has been crying out to Jesus persistently and now he's been told to come near to Jesus. Coming near is an act of closeness and closeness is also about communication and so now Jesus asks the man, “What do you want?”
Now that sounds very simple and straight forward and, we might think, very obvious. Of course we know what this man wants, he's blind and so of course he wants to be able to see. So why does Jesus want him to state the obvious? I believe it is because again and again Jesus wants us to speak our and verbalise either what we believe or what we want. There is something about ‘speaking out' these things. The apostle Paul taught, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved .” (Rom 10:10 ) Speaking out your salvation is essential.
When it comes to asking in prayer, we need to speak out our desires because otherwise we may be hiding behind unbelief and can expect nothing to happen. When it comes to prayer, God wants us to speak out quite specifically the things that are on our hearts. Now it may be that when we do that, we realise that we are being utterly self-centred and presumptuous and that we were wrong to ask but, on the other hand, sometimes when we speak out what is in our hearts, the act of speaking it out loud seems to confirm or solidify it in our hearts and it becomes a real act of faith – a response to the prompting of the Spirit.
So Bartimaeus dares to speak out what is humanly impossible and in so doing affirms his confidence in Jesus: “I want to see.” There it is! Simple and straight forward faith that implies, you can do this, Lord. That is what Jesus is looking for from us. His response, again very simply, is to declare healing and healing comes, and we are told the Bartimaeus follows Jesus along the road. We don't know how far he went or whether Jesus eventually sent him back, but his instinctive response is to stay with the Saviour. That desire seems to overwhelm any desire to back and tell his family and friends but, as we've contemplated before, maybe he didn't have anyone.
So here is a very basic lesson on prayer: pray and persist in prayer and that will be easier when you are desperate! When you pray listen and be aware that God is always wanting you to draw nearer to Him. Listen to hear if He wants you to do anything to be the answer, and then act.