Mark 10:32-45

True Grit

Confidence is widely celebrated in our culture as a good thing.   Call it grit or determination or conviction but when we see it we generally applaud it.  From our movies celebrating an unsung hero whose determination wins the day, to our sports figures who overcome the odds stacked against them, we celebrate determination when we see it.  But sometimes the lines get fuzzy.  At what point does determination become stubbornness?  When is confidence just a mask for arrogance?  What is the difference between conviction and narrow-mindedness?   Our passage this week will help us in this manner.

#1 Jesus demonstrates selfless determination in carrying out his Father’s will.

32And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” Mark 10:32-34

Once again Jesus gathers his disciples and for the third and final time lays out his future suffering.  On this occasion he is even more specific than he has been in the past, telling his disciples it will happen in Jerusalem, that Jewish leaders will condemn him but that Gentiles will carry out the sentence, and he adds some graphic details about how he will suffer — he will be mocked, spit on, flogged and finally killed.  He is so specific and so accurate in describing what lay ahead that some liberal critics of the Bible assert that these were not Jesus’ words at all but were added after the fact.  Now there is no reason for us to give weight to these words if we believe that Jesus is actually God.  Amos 3:7 says that “the LORD God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servant the prophets.”  Jesus is not only a prophet — he is God!  He is perfectly aware of his Father’s unfolding plan for him.  This is exactly what makes the suffering of Jesus unique.  He knew precisely what he was getting himself into.  His suffering and death were no accident.

If God would make it known to you, would you want to know the exact day you would die?  If it was to be a painful death, would want to know all of the details of it?  I wouldn’t.  I would get up each morning, dreading what lie head.  This is what makes Jesus so remarkable.  He is not dragging his feet about this whole thing.  He knows every last detail about what will happen to him in Jerusalem and yet Mark tells us that he was “walking ahead of them.”  Jesus is leading his disciples.  This is true grit.  We see in Jesus a selfless determination to carry out his Father’s plan.  We acknowledge and admire his conviction and confidence in leading the way into Jerusalem.

Those who were with him on this occasion are “amazed” and those who followed were “afraid.”  This is not the kind of being afraid that we sometimes see in the Bible that is more akin to “standing in awe” or “having a sense of reverence.”  This is the Greek word phobeo which has the connotation of being terrified; hence our English word phobia.  And why exactly are they terrified?  I believe it is because they see the determination in Jesus’ face.  He knows what is waiting for him in Jerusalem and yet he seems to be charging after it.

#2 James and John demonstrate selfish determination in pursuing their own desires.

35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Mark 10:35-41

Just as we saw confidence and determination in Jesus, so we also see it in James and John.  Although it is determination in a different form.  James and John, you’ll remember, are part of Jesus’ “inner circle” consisting of themselves and Peter.  Jesus calls them the “Sons of Thunder.”  They confidently approach Jesus with a request.  According to Matthew (c.f. Matthew 20:21-22) they even roped their mother in in making this appeal.  They come to Jesus like someone would come to a genie in a bottle or like children might approach their parents.  First tell us yes and then we will give your our question.  Jesus doesn’t play their game but still exercises patience with them asking them what they would like for him to do.  Interestingly, he will ask this same question to a blind man in the next passage and hear quite a different request.

James and John ask to be seated on the right and left of Jesus when he come into his glory.  They are seeking status in the new kingdom that they expect to be imminently put into place.  Seems unlikely they have in view here Jesus’ heavenly kingdom but rather his kingdom on earth.  Were they paying attention to Jesus’ passion prediction from just a few verses earlier?  Did they understand he was about to be killed?  There is no evidence in the passage that they understood.  They are blind to what is going on around them and bent on pursuing their own selfish ambitions.  This is the other side of determination.  When confidence becomes arrogance and conviction becomes narrow-mindedness.

Jesus responds in gentleness with a question.  “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  He is speaking of a cup of suffering and wrath, not a cup of victory and triumph.  It is not a baptism of blessing but a baptism of anguish and pain.  Were James and John aware of this?  We don’t know. But they boldly declare “We are able!”  This is not the selfless determination we see in Jesus but rather selfish determination to get their way.  Unknown to them was that they would indeed drink the cup that Jesus drinks and be baptized with his baptism.  James would go on to become the first of the apostles to be martyred (c.f. Acts 12:2) and John would be exiled in his old age to the island of Patmos (c.f. Revelation 1:9).

But Jesus makes clear that to sit on his right and left is not for him to determine.  Jesus comes into his glory through the cross and we are told a little later in Mark’s gospel that it was “two robbers, on his right and one his left” (c.f. Mark 15:27) who were beside Jesus in that moment.

Upon discovering the request of James and John, the other 10 disciples are indignant.  We  can learn a lot about a person by what makes him indignant.  Remember in the last passage Jesus became indignant that his disciples were hindering children from being brought to him.  Here his disciples are indignant towards James and John and you can’t help but wonder if the reason for this is because they didn’t think of it first!

# 3 Jesus teaches his disciples what true greatness is really about.

42And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45

Jesus uses this occasion to teach his disciples what true greatness is really about.

-1- Determination is easily corrupted in the heart of men. 

Jesus cites the rulers of the Gentiles as an example to avoid.  They lord their status and authority over others. We are not surprised that Jesus uses them as an example.  We wouldn’t have difficulty citing some contemporary examples of those who exalt themselves at the expense of others.  We might think of some figures within the world of sports or politics (even in the highest levels!).  However, we might not expect to find such things among those in the church.  James and John were among the pillars of the faith who the Spirit would use in mighty ways, and yet here they are seeking personal greatness.  Perhaps we don’t begin with this goal in mind, but how quickly do we end up there?!

-2- True greatness is found in a determination to die to self and serve others.

Jesus calls us in this passage not to exalt ourselves but to die to ourselves.  We seek not our own glory but His glory.  To do this we must, as Paul says in Galatians 5:24, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.  We must say “no” to our selfish desires.

Jesus not only calls us to die to ourselves but to “work out” that death by serving others.  He takes the systems of the world and turns them on their head.  Rather than lording authority and status over others, Jesus calls his disciples to become last and slaves of all.  We don’t use the power we have to bend the world to our will but rather we use our power and status to “come under” others and serve them.

-3- Jesus is our model and our means for true greatness.

Even the most severe critics of the Bible would have a hard time arguing that Jesus was not one of the greatest people to ever live.  Someone has said that if a great person were to walk in the room, we would stand out of respect, but if Jesus were to walk in the room, we would bow down in worship.  Jesus was not only great, he was and is God.  This is what makes Jesus’ words here even more remarkable.  “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus, the greatest of all human beings, came to serve others.  He is a worthy model for us to follow. And because we are the ones whom he has ransomed, he provides the means for us to follow his example.  He fills us with his Holy Spirit, makes us a new creation and gives us a new purpose in our lives. We no longer live for our own glory but for his glory.  He gives us the spiritual resources we need to die to ourselves and serve others.  And we do it all to his glory!


Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think those who were following Jesus were afraid (v.32)?
  2. Jesus leads the way into Jerusalem knowing the suffering that was awaiting him there.  How do you tend to deal with difficult things you must do?  Do you charge ahead like Jesus or do you drag your feet?  How so?
  3. In what ways does Jesus demonstrate a selfless determination to carry out his Father’s will?
  4. What did James and John want Jesus to do for them?  What is the significance of this request?  What does it reveal about their character and motives?
  5. Explain the meaning of the cup and the baptism that Jesus describes to James and John.  How does Jesus partake of these things?  How might James and John partake of them?
  6. How do the other disciples respond to James and John’s request?  Why do you think they are upset?
  7. What do you think Jesus means when he says the rulers of the Gentiles “lord it over them?”  Share some examples of what this might look like.
  8. What would this look like in your life to live as a servant and “slave of all”?
  9. Why is Jesus’ statement in verse 45 so radical?  What do we learn about the purpose of his death in this verse?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?


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