Mark 10:32-45
with Tony W. Cartledge

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For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” — Mark 10:45

First and Laststgeorge

Many of us look forward to that great quadrennial festival of sport and excess known as the Olympics. At the 2004 games in Athens, the spotlight was often on sprinter Maurice Greene, who had won the centerpiece 100-meter sprint in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and who held three of the four fastest times ever. Nearing the end of his sprinting career at age 30, Greene had adorned the upper part of his right arm with the tattoo of a roaring lion and the letters G-O-A-T, for “Greatest Of All Time.”

Greene was not the first to call himself the greatest. Muhammad Ali was famous for making similar remarks, but Ali was not the first, either. The story told in Mark 10:32-45 describes an effort by two of Jesus’ disciples to have themselves appointed by Jesus as the greatest among humans.

A hard prediction(vv. 32-34)

Anyone reading Mark’s gospel for the first time would have to conclude that the 12 disciples were incredibly dense. Mark frequently describes a clear teaching from Jesus that is immediately followed by the disciples showing their failure to understand.

The story begins with Jesus and the disciples on the road to Jerusalem. They had left behind the high country of Galilee and the high emotions associated with the transfiguration. They had traveled south through the Transjordan and into Judea. In this section, Mark keeps the focus on Jesus and the disciples. Others enter the picture – an unusual exorcist, Pharisees and children, a wealthy man in search of eternal life – but the stories always culminate in a lesson for the disciples.

Jesus’ teaching has been hard for the Twelve to take. He has criticized their arrogance, turned their theology upside down, and told them that first is last and last is first. How could they begin to understand this man? As they headed toward Jerusalem, Mark says, Jesus walked alone at the head of the group, while the others “were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (v. 32).

Trying yet again to help his closest friends understand his mission, Jesus took them aside for a private conversation. For the third time, and in the greatest detail yet, he explained to them what was about to happen.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (vv. 33-34).

Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear your beloved teacher predict with great confidence that he was about to be arrested, tortured, held up to public ridicule, and killed? Since you don’t know the end of the story yet, even the promise of resurrection brings little comfort. When the leader falls, his supporters would be sure to follow.

Jesus wanted his disciples to know that he knew the horrors that lay ahead, but was going anyway. Following the first two predictions of Christ’s passion, the disciples had responded with disbelief, anger, and confusion (cf. Mark 8:31-33, 9:30-32). After this third prediction, however, they seemed to make no response at all. Perhaps they had given up on understanding him, or more likely, refused to believe that such a thing could happen. Instead, they clung to their lifelong belief that God’s messiah would come as a conquering hero and return Israel to a preeminent place among the nations. Surely Jesus was that messiah.

A brazen request(vv. 35-40)

Thus, as Mark tells the story, when James and John came to Jesus with their bold request for positions of honor in his kingdom, they were not only concerned with personal glory, but were also seeking some affirmation that Jesus would indeed win a victory and rule over a kingdom. The request itself shows just how much they had to learn about what his kingdom would be like.
But they had a right to ask, didn’t they? After all, they were the first two disciples Jesus called – except for pushy Peter and his quiet brother Andrew. And, they (along with Peter) were clearly closer to Jesus than any of the others.

When Jesus came into his kingdom (surely he would!), the Romans would be defeated, and Jesus would be king. Jesus would need a couple of strong and loyal viceroys to depend on. Who could fill that role better than James and John, the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17)? Could it hurt to ask?

It hurt their pride, I suspect, when Jesus snapped: “You don’t know what you are asking!” It probably hurt their feelings when he went on to question their abilities: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (v. 38). They had yet to understand that the real issue for Jesus was not whether they could rule with him, but whether they were willing to suffer with him.

How could they take leadership roles in a kingdom whose values they had yet to accept? The “cup” Jesus would drink and the “baptism” he would endure spoke of the intense suffering and ignominious death that lay ahead. Later, in Gethsemane, an agonizing Jesus would pray “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36), but the same disciples who sought to be his chief officers first slept and later fled rather than share his pain.

The disciples responded to Jesus’ challenge with a brassy “We are able” (v. 39), making it clear that they had no idea what they were talking about. Confident that they would ultimately come through, Jesus predicted that they would indeed experience the cup of suffering, the baptism of death.

A puzzling perspective(vv. 41-45)

Still, those acts of valor came only after Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit – after the disciples gained enough perspective to accept Jesus’ teaching.

In the meantime, the brothers’ bold power play could not remain secret in a group as close as the Twelve. The others soon heard about it, and they were incensed that James and John would seek supremacy over them. Struggles for power inevitably lead to anger, frustration, and hurt.

Jesus used the stressful moment to teach a vital lesson to all the disciples, who still failed to comprehend Jesus’ notion of the kingdom of God as opposed to an earthly empire. In Jesus’ kingdom, all human concepts of greatness and power would be turned upside down. “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (vv. 42-44).

The disciples had been so influenced by their culture and by Judaism’s traditional hopes for a messiah-led renewal of their fortunes that they had accepted worldly models of ambition and power as the proper norm. In God’s kingdom, however, the weak become strong and servants take the lead. The same driving hunger for power that gets someone to the top of the heap in secular society will send them to the back of the line in God’s kingdom.

In contrast, those who would advance in the family of Christ must become servants to one another. The word for servant is diakonos, the source of our word “deacon.” The call to servanthood is further emphasized by the addition of doulos, the word for “slave.” The term was used to describe common slaves who were the actual property of other persons. They had no rights of their own, but lived only to serve others.

Modern Christians rightly decry the concept of slavery, but this does not diminish the point Jesus makes. Those who would follow Christ offer their very lives to him, and demonstrate this surrender to Christ through service to one another. Note that Jesus speaks in the present tense. The kingdom is a present reality in the lives of believers. Lifestyle servanthood is not a prediction of what life will be like in heaven, but a pattern for Jesus’ followers to live on earth.

Our model for such service, of course, is Jesus himself. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v. 45). Jesus often referred to himself as the “Son of Man” as a way of emphasizing his humanity and humility. We remember how Jesus gave a graphic demonstration of servanthood when he gathered with his disciples for the last supper. No servant was present to wash their dusty feet, and no disciple was willing to do it, so Jesus got on his knees and showed his embarrassed followers what true greatness was all about.

We also remember Christ’s ultimate act of service – his willingness to die on a wooden cross in behalf of a sinful world. Jesus saw all people as slaves to the power of evil as expressed in their own sin. In some way beyond our comprehension, Jesus’ life and death would set us free. Fortunately, we don’t have to understand the atonement in order to accept God’s amazing grace. BT

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Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for October 18, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Mark 10:32-45



Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session

Each of our students wants to be great. We even expect our students to be great at who they are created to be. We want to help support our students as they do this, but we first have to help them discover what they are great at. We can encourage our students to succeed while holding them in check on the lengths that they will go to succeed. We have to help our students realize that they will only truly succeed when they help others as they use their gifts and talents. Society will tell them what success is, but won’t always tell them the price to get there. We have to remind our students not only what it means to be successful, but that it takes sacrifice to get there.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Mark 10:32-45