The Gospel Of Mark

Mark Chapter Ten

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I

In Mark chapter ten, Jesus will deal with a number of important and controversial subjects such as divorce, the real worth of monetary wealth, and the path to true greatness in life. While the teachings contained within this chapter may prove challenging in many respects, one verse found near the center of this passage should prove useful in helping us apply the important spiritual truths contained here: "Jesus looked straight at them and said, 'Humanly speaking it is impossible, but not with God. Everything is possible with God'" (Mark 10:27 Phillips).

"Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again" (Mark 10:1).

This verse details Jesus' arrival in the southern portion of Israel, an area that is sometimes referred to as the Transjordan. This region was synonymous with the Old Testament area of Judah and we're told that "...as was his custom, he taught them" (ESV). While different nations, regions, cities, and individuals may be known for their various customs, this passage tells us that Jesus was accustomed to the practice of communicating God's Word to the people He came in contact with. 

In a sense, what was true for Jesus is equally true for us as well: we are also known for our customs and the things we communicate to others through our words and actions. For instance, our clothing, speech, and appearance all help to communicate our customary beliefs. Our mannerisms, choices, and values tell others about the things we feel are important. In other words, our internal beliefs are often expressed through the customs we keep as groups and individuals. 

For Jesus, teaching the Word of God was an important priority and as a result, He was known and identified with the practice of communicating the message of the Scriptures. In fact, Jesus once told Peter, “Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come” (Mark 1:38 HCSB). The idea is that teaching represented an important priority for Jesus and that priority helped influence the choices that He made. 

While most of us may not be called to be teachers in this manner, its still helpful to think about this idea and consider what we communicate to others through the customs we observe. Jesus aligned His customary practice with God's calling on His life and we would do well to follow His good example.

II

"The Pharisees came and asked Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?' testing Him" (Mark 10:2).

While the question posed to Jesus in this passage may appear to represent a legitimate inquiry on the serious issue of divorce, it actually served as little more than an attempt to discredit Jesus, diminish His standing among the people, and neutralize Him as a potential threat to the authority of these religious leaders. Unfortunately, this did not represent an isolated effort for there had been other, similar efforts to delegitimize Jesus and His teachings as well.

For example, there was the matter that involved the woman caught in the act of adultery as recorded for us in John chapter eight. In that incident, the religious leadership made the following announcement to Jesus in front of a crowd of spectators: "'...Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who isn't her husband. The Law of Moses teaches that a woman like this should be stoned to death! What do you say?'" (John 8:4-5 CEV). This situation was designed to present a "no-win" scenario for Jesus for if He had agreed to put this woman to death, He would have been in violation of the law established by the Roman governing authorities that prohibited such a response. But if Jesus had acted to prevent her execution, He could have been accused of disobeying the very Law that He said He came to fulfill.

There was another incident that occurred when the religious leaders asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" We’ll take a closer look at that event when we get to Mark chapter twelve. For now, we can say that this question was designed to put Jesus in a very difficult position. If He answered this question negatively then He might have been accused of disobeying the tax regulations that were in effect at that time. If He answered affirmatively, then it would have diminished His standing in the eyes of those who loathed and resented the Roman government that Caesar represented. 

In this instance, the Pharisees tested Jesus with a different question: "'Tell us,' they asked, 'does our Law allow a man to divorce his wife?'" (GNB). This was a very cleverly phrased question that was designed to present another no-win situation for Jesus. No matter which side Jesus took in this matter, large numbers of people were likely to be upset by His answer. We'll see why next.

III

"The Pharisees came and asked Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, 'What did Moses command you?'  They said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her'" (Mark 10:2-4).

It's interesting to note that the first verse of Mark chapter ten mentions that this event took place within the region of Judea. As it turns out, Judea was governed by none other than Herod Antipas, the same man who had earlier imprisoned (and ultimately beheaded) John the Baptist for warning him that, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mark 6:18 NIV). Since Jesus was now within Herod's jurisdiction, it's possible that these religious leaders raised this question in the hope of obtaining a similar result for Him as well. But even if that approach failed, there was still much to be gained by seeking an answer to this simple question, an answer that was sure to provoke controversy and set one or more groups against Jesus. 

In His response, Jesus began by referring His questioners to the Law of Moses by saying, "'What did Moses command you?'" This would prove helpful in directing the conversation away from the various thoughts and opinions of the group (of which there were likely to be many) in order to highlight the Scriptural standards for belief and practice in this area. But when Jesus asked these men to identify Moses' command on this subject, notice that the religious leaders countered with, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce..." (ESV). This represented an answer to a question that Jesus didn't ask. You see, there's a big difference between allowing something and commanding something, a difference that Jesus will go on to discuss in His response.

In any event, the portion of Scripture in question can be found in Deuteronomy 24:1: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house” In Jesus' day, there was considerable disagreement over what actually constituted "uncleanness." The conservative position held that adultery formed the only proper basis for marital divorce. A more liberal interpretation allowed for any number of potential grounds, up to and including bad housekeeping.

Rather than tangle with these two competing schools of thought, Jesus will advance right to the heart of the matter next.

IV

"And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate'" (Mark 10:5-9).

When a piece of electronic equipment fails to operate properly, the user will sometimes have an option to reset the malfunctioning device to the "factory default" setting. This option will allow the device to be returned to the same state that existed at the time that it was purchased and can help resolve any problems that may have developed. In a similar manner, Jesus' message here in Mark 10:5-9 helps provide us with the "factory default" settings for marriage relationships as designed by humanity's manufacturer.

While the Pharisees seemed to be under the impression that the act of divorce involved little more than a legal procedure, Jesus revealed that there were greater implications involved by examining God's role in establishing the marriage relationship. For instance, let's consider some of the important truths regarding marriage that Jesus establishes for us here within this short passage. 

First, we can say that the concept of marriage is something that was created by God Himself. It was designed to represent a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman whom God has brought together. This relationship is not like a business partnership where one person agrees to do something for another person in exchange for something else. It is a union where two distinct units join together and become one. Finally, there should be no attempt to dissolve this relationship since God is the One who has established it. This is God's original plan for a marriage relationship.

With this in mind, we might ask why the Law would allow a man to write up divorce papers, serve them upon his wife, and send her away. Well, the answer comes in verse five: "Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways" (MSG). When used in this sense, the word "heart" represents someone's innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense. Jesus identified this portion of the Law as a response to the internal stubbornness (NCV), heartlessness (GW), or "condition of insensibility to the call of God" (AMP) that exists within humanity.

V

"'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.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'" (Mark 10:5-9 NIV).

"Let those who are for putting away their wives consider what would become of themselves, if God should deal with them in like manner" (Matthew Henry).

In acknowledging the heartlessness that sometimes exists within humanity, the Law of Moses permitted a couple to divorce as long as a man protected his wife's interests by providing her with a written certificate of divorcement. This represented a critically important document for if a woman decided to marry again at a future date, this certificate would establish that her previous marriage had been officially dissolved and she was free to marry someone else. However, this precept represented little more than a concession to this unfortunate aspect of human nature.

In His response to these religious leaders, Jesus drew attention to the fact that God has established the institution of marriage along with the appropriate parameters for a marital relationship. God's design for a marriage relationship is demonstrated here in these quotations from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24: one man and one woman. Once this marriage relationship has been established, the couple begins their own distinct family unit.

In saying that a man will be united to his wife within this marriage relationship, the Scriptures utilize a word that carries the idea of two items that cling, adhere, or join together. Another way to illustrate this concept is to view a married couple as two individuals who have been "glued" or fused together as one. This idea has important implications for it tells us that we should never enter a marriage relationship with the idea that we'll simply find someone else if it doesn't work out. In a general sense, it means that once we decide to enter a marriage relationship, we make the decision to stick with our marriage partner.

So these verses tell us that God's desire for a couple in a marriage relationship is that they become "one flesh." In other words, a marriage relationship combines two distinct individuals who become one emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This is something that represents a new reality (i.e. the man shall be "be united to his wife") as well as an objective ("become one flesh").

VI

"What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9 KJV).

The principles found within Jesus' message from Mark 10:5-9 help to explain why two people can't be in a marriage relationship while engaging in other relationships of a similar nature. They also demonstrate why a person with multiple marriage partners is outside of God's design for marriage relationships as well. It is impossible to truly become "one" with another person when someone is giving a part of him or herself to someone else. When a man and a woman enter a marriage relationship, each person must make a commitment to leave all others in order to secure an intimate, exclusive relationship with his or her marriage partner alone.

So rather than providing an "either/or" response to the Pharisee's question on divorce, Jesus instead responded with God's ideal for marriage relationships: "...no one should separate a couple that God has joined together" (Mark 10:9 CEV). Later, Jesus took the time to provide some additional insight on this subject with His disciples...

"In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery'" (Mark 10:10-12).

Matthew's account of this conversation provides us with an additional detail from Jesus' message on this topic: "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9).

When marital unfaithfulness occurs, there is a violation of the "one flesh" relationship that God established beginning with the very first human couple. Once one partner is unfaithful to another, the certificate of divorce simply reflects the fact that the marriage has already been broken. However, it’s important to note that while Jesus made an allowance for divorce on the grounds of adultery, He did not require it. As mentioned earlier, there is a significant difference between allowing something and requiring something but we’ll talk more about that distinction shortly.

Of course, any discussion on the subject of divorce is bound to lead to some difficult questions. For instance, what if there is (or has been) physical violence within the relationship? Are the partners obligated to stay together in such instances? What should be the response when one marital partner has deserted the other? What happens when one marriage partner is (or has become) a Christian and the other is not? We'll start to consider those important questions next.

VII

Pastoral counselors are often faced with difficult questions regarding the subject of divorce and remarriage. While there are few easy answers to such questions, the best place to start is to allow the Scriptures to inform our thinking on these matters and see how we might apply those teachings to each particular circumstance.

In addition to Jesus' message on this subject here in Mark chapter ten, the Bible also discusses marriage, separation, and divorce in 1 Corinthians chapter seven...

"Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

These Scriptures provide us with a number of important guidelines regarding marriage relationships. As a general rule, we can first say that if one or both marriage partners are finding difficulty in getting along, its important to stay together and try to work it out. But if the couple decides to separate, each must remain single and celibate or else be reconciled to his or her spouse.

In a situation where one marriage partner has become a Christian, the couple should remain married if the non-Christian partner is willing to continue to live with him or her. The reasoning behind that counsel is explained above: "How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (NIV). In other words, the daily example of Christ in the life of a Christian marriage partner may help facilitate the salvation of his or her partner.

VIII

"But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace" (1 Corinthians 7:15).

What should be the response in the case of marital abandonment, a situation where one partner decides that he or she does not desire the marriage relationship any longer and departs with no interest in reconciliation. In this instance, the passage quoted here from 1 Corinthians 7:15 should be considered: "...if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace" (NIV).

This verse has come to be identified as the "Pauline Privilege" in recognition of the Apostle Paul, the man whom God used to author this passage. It states that divorce is permissible in the case of desertion and might be considered as an option, preferably after a period of time and godly counsel.

Then there is the question of divorce in the case of spousal abuse. When looking at the husband's role in such situations, we can say that a man who is physically abusive towards his wife is not only in violation of societal law but of God's commandment as well: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25 NIV).

In such situations, it is wholly appropriate for a woman to protect herself (and any children that may be involved) by exercising the legal defenses available to her. Remember that the Apostle Paul employed his legal right as a Roman citizen to protect himself (see Acts 22:24-29) and a woman should make use of whatever legal protections may be available in the case of spousal abuse.

A period of separation and counseling might follow to see what steps would be necessary to permit reconciliation. But in the case of a failure to repent, a lack of commitment to resolve the issues underlying such behavior, or subsequent physical abuse by a partner, divorce may be considered as a final option.

Remember that 1 Corinthians 7:15 tells us, “…if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (NIV). The reasoning behind the application of this Scripture is that the actions of an abusive spouse are responsible for driving his or her partner from their home, effectively causing the desertion of their relationship. In addition, we are told that "...God has called us to live in peace." The actions of a physically abusive spouse violate that calling and in such cases, divorce might be considered.

IX

''Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:7-9 ESV)

While divorce might be considered as an option in certain circumstances, it should be clearly understood that divorce is never presented in the Scripture as a good option. For example, Malachi 2:14, 16 tells us, "…the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant… ‘I hate divorce’ says the LORD God of Israel…" (NIV).

When it comes to the question of marriage and divorce, some general Scriptural guidelines might be applied...

If there are strong disagreements in a marriage relationship and both partners have different opinions about the right course of action, there are a few steps that couples can take to help find the right answer...

  1. Pray together. Remember that James 1:5 tells us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (NIV).
  2. Talk about it. An open discussion of the issues can hopefully lay the groundwork for a solution that everyone can live with. A Scripture such as Ephesians 4:29b that says, "Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing" (TLB) is good for use in guiding such discussions.
  3. Get some good advice. Don't be afraid to ask for some counsel from trusted, mature Christians for Proverbs 1:5 says, "let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance" (NIV).

Remember that God desires that male/female relationships reflect Jesus' love for His people. A God-honoring couple can help achieve that objective by following this good, one-sentence guideline for relationships taken from Ephesians 5:33: "… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (NIV).

X

"Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them" (Mark 10:13).

In many places of business, one or more employees are often designated to serve as "gatekeepers." Much like the gatekeeper of medieval times, the modern day gatekeeper is primarily responsible for restricting access to other individuals within the organization. The gatekeeper's work helps allow these other individuals to pursue their daily job responsibilities without the need to devote unscheduled time to visitors, sales personnel, or requests that might be better handled by others within the organization. Of course, this practice is not limited to businesses or corporations for people often assume a similar role whenever they "screen calls" to avoid an inconvenient phone conversation.

By the time we reach Mark chapter ten, it appears that Jesus' disciples had assumed a similar type of responsibility with regard to Jesus Himself. You see, it was some time after His discussion with the Pharisees on marriage and divorce that a group of people (presumably parents) brought some children to Jesus so that He might "bless" (CEV)  or "place his hands on them" (GNB). In the days of the first century, it was not uncommon for a parent to seek to have a Rabbi pray for his or her child in such manner and the ancient practice of laying one's hands upon a person when offering a prayer of benediction was a culturally recognized symbol of blessing.

It seems that the disciples felt that Jesus' time was too valuable to be used for such purposes and took it upon themselves to admonish those who sought a blessing for these children. Since the large crowds of people who came to see Jesus sometimes didn't even leave Him with enough time to eat (see Mark 3:20 and 6:21), the disciples may have felt justified in seeking to shield Him from the need to deal with a group of seemingly bothersome children. 

The problem was that the disciples took this initiative without having a clear understanding of Jesus' priorities. Had the disciples stopped to consider Jesus' message from earlier in the Gospel of Mark when He took a small child into His arms to illustrate the high regard He had for children, they might not have been so quick to dismiss those who had been seeking His blessing for these little ones. Unfortunately for the disciples, Jesus was not hesitant to voice His extreme displeasure when He became aware of what they had done.

XI

"But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.' And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:14-16). 

So the men who had rebuked those who had sought Jesus' blessing for these children now faced a rebuke from Jesus Himself. In fact, the word used to describe Jesus' reaction to this attempt to deny Him the opportunity to bless these children indicates that He was indignant over what they had done. This response was so emphatic that Jesus expressed His desire to minister to these children in two different forms: "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them..."

Jesus then clarified his response by saying, "...the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it" (GNB). This may seem to be a difficult statement to reconcile with other New Testament Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 13:11 and Hebrews 5:11-14, two passages that emphasize the importance of spiritual growth and maturity. So what did Jesus mean in saying this?

Well, we might answer this question by considering some of the positive qualities that children possess. For example, little children rarely hesitate to express genuine warmth and affection for other family members. The way in which a child expresses sincere love illustrates the kind of relationship that God desires to have with His people. 

A small child must also depend on a parent or guardian to provide for things like food, clothing, and protection. These are some of the very same things that we must depend upon God to provide according to Matthew 6:25-34.

In addition, little children will faithfully accept virtually anything they are told. In fact, small children are so trusting that they must be taught to stay away from people or things that may potentially harm them. A young child naturally exhibits the qualities of faith and trust- until he or she has been hurt, taken advantage of, or mocked. Then a child quickly learns not to believe everything that he or she may hear.

Just as a small child possesses the qualities of trust and acceptance, the Kingdom of God belongs to those who exhibit the same child-like characteristics of love, dependence, openness, trust, and belief towards God.

XII

As we labor through the sometimes-tedious routine of everyday life, it's tempting to think about how much better things might be if we only had more money, a new job, or a better standard of living. In fact, its often easy to assume that we'd be much happier if only we had that "something" (whatever it is) we're missing in life. Well, here in Mark 10:17-27 we have the account of a man who seemingly had everything he could ever want but rejected the one thing that would have made him truly happy...

"Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?'" (Mark 10:17).

In Luke's report of this encounter we learn that this man held a high position within the government (Luke 18:18). The gospel of Matthew tells us that he was young (Matthew 19:20). Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention that he was wealthy as well. Yet despite these apparent advantages, this man seemed to realize that he was missing something important in life. There is much we can learn from this rich young ruler's question, for this man possessed youth, wealth, power, and authority- yet he still was not truly content.

The manner in which this man approached Jesus also provides us with some additional insight into his desire to secure the elusive "something" that he was missing. We should first note that he ran to Jesus, an act that suggests that he was extremely motivated to obtain the answer to this question. He also possessed enough humility to kneel before Jesus, something that a person in his position of authority would not normally be expected to do.

It seems that this man had faith in Jesus' ability to accurately answer his question and it certainly appears that he had a genuine and sincere desire to enter a relationship with his Creator since he was driven by a desire to "inherit eternal life..." Finally he addressed Jesus as, "Good Teacher..." a title of honor and respect that recognized Jesus' moral authority as well as His standing as a spiritual leader and teacher of God's Word.

So while this man was already in possession of many of the things that people often seek in in the pursuit of happiness, the one missing element- the assurance of eternal life- had proven to be elusive. This man recognized Jesus as someone who held the answer to his question- but how would he react to Jesus' response?

XIII

"So Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God'" (Mark 10:18).

There is a certain irony associated with the manner in which this rich young ruler approached Jesus and the way he prefaced his question. First, he knelt before Jesus, an act that recognized Jesus' authority. However, he also addressed Jesus as, "Good Teacher..." a title that implied more than he may have realized.

You see, we often use the word "good" to identify something that is acceptable, valid, or adequate. When used of a person, this word may also describe someone who is honorable, reliable, or trustworthy. But when used as a title (as in, "Good Teacher..."), the word "good" implies complete perfection. For example, a good teacher may make an occasional mistake but a person who accepts the title of "Good Teacher" is someone who is incapable of teaching anything that is not good; otherwise, he or she would no longer be worthy of such a title.

Here's how one commentator illustrates this idea...

"The rich young ruler called Jesus “Good Teacher,” and Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Yet on other occasions Jesus not only claimed to be God ( Mark 2:8–10 ; John 8:58 ; 10:30 ), but He accepted the claim of others that He was God ( John 20:28–29 ). Why did Jesus appear to deny that He was God to the young ruler?

SOLUTION: Jesus did not deny He was God to the young ruler. He simply asked him to examine the implications of what he was saying. In effect, Jesus was saying to him, “Do you realize what you are saying when you call Me Good? Are you saying I am God?”

The young man did not realize the implications of what he was saying. Thus Jesus was forcing him to a very uncomfortable dilemma. Either Jesus was good and God, or else He was bad and man. A good God or a bad man, but not merely a good man. Those are the real alternatives with regard to Christ. For no good man would claim to be God when he was not..." (1)

So before He answered this question, Jesus first reminded the rich young ruler that "only God is truly good," a fact that illustrated what this man was really saying: "When you call Me good, you are calling Me God- for no one is good but God alone."

(1) When Critics Ask A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe Victor Books

XIV

"'...Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' So Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother'" (Mark 10:17-19).

In addressing this man's question, Jesus chose to begin by quoting from the Ten Commandments as found in the Old Testament book of Exodus. If we compare this quotation with the list found in Exodus chapter twenty, we find that Jesus was quoting from what has come to be known as the second table of the Commandments.

This choice has significance in light of the order in which the Ten Commandments are listed. For instance, the first four Commandments are vertical in nature- they concern our responsibility towards God. The following six (quoted here by Jesus in Mark chapter ten) are horizontal in nature and concern our relationships with others.

As a reverent Jewish person, this man would have been familiar with the "thou shalt nots" contained within these commandments: do not murder, do not break your marriage vows, don't steal, don't lie, don't defraud others (a probable rephrasing of "do not covet"), and honor your parents. These are qualities that can be tested and confirmed in daily life- and if our horizontal relationships with others are not what they should be in these areas, it's likely that our vertical relationship with God is not what it should be either.

This made the rich young ruler's response all the more interesting...

"And he answered and said to Him, "'Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth'" (Mark 10:20).

If you look carefully, you'll find that there is a subtle shift in this man's reply to Jesus, a shift that helps predict the direction this conversation will eventually take. For example, notice that this man simply referred to Jesus as, "Teacher..." in his response and not "Good Teacher..." as we saw previously in verse seventeen.

This small but important change tells us something about this man's internal attitude towards Jesus. Having been informed that "No one is good except God alone" (GW), this man signaled his apparent belief that Jesus was not God by dropping the word "Good..." from his reply. This seemingly insignificant bit of evidence may represent the basis for what will ultimately become his response to Jesus' message.

XV

"'You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ 'Teacher,' he declared, 'all these I have kept since I was a boy'" (Mark 10:19-20 NIV).

In his response to Jesus, the rich young ruler replied by effectively saying, "I've done everything you've mentioned since I was a child- what am I still missing?" In his mind this man must have thought, "I've lived an exemplary life. I've never murdered anyone. I don't cheat on my wife. I don't steal from anyone. I'm not a liar and I always treat my parents with respect." But even though this man was secure in his belief that he had lived up to the standards of the Ten Commandments, he was still aware that something else was missing. In fact, Matthew's account of this conversation tells us that this man replied to Jesus by saying, "I have obeyed all these commandments. What else do I need to do?" (Matthew 19:20 GW).

Well, Jesus identified the obstacle...

"Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me'" (Mark 10:21).

Now before we continue, we should stop to consider this interaction more closely. This man asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied by quoting six of the Ten Commandments. The idea was that if this man followed the Commandments, he would secure the eternal life that he had been seeking. The man responded by saying in effect, "I'm already doing these things- what am I missing?"

With this in mind, here's a question: did this man really believe that he had infallibly followed these Commandments? For instance, did this man sincerely believe that he had always told the truth without exception? Was he really under the impression that he had never stolen anything- not even once? Did he actually believe that he had always honored his father and mother without fail? Well, the answer is that it is impossible for fallible human beings (like this rich young ruler) to live up to the standards of these Commandments without breaking any of them.

Had this man truly been honest with himself (and with Jesus), he would not have said, "I've never once broken a single one of those laws" (Mark 10:20 TLB).

XVI

"Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. 'There is still one thing you haven’t done,' he told him. 'Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'" (Mark 10:21 NLT).

While the rich young ruler of Mark chapter ten may have been under the impression that he was keeping the Ten Commandments, the Scriptures tell us that to live without violating these standards is something that is a complete impossibility. For instance, 1 John 1:8 tells us, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (KJV) and Romans 3:23 says, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV).

However, the fact that Jesus had a genuine attitude of love towards this man suggests that he was truly sincere in his belief. Perhaps he had been taught that he could somehow earn his way to heaven by living a good life or by following a certain set of rules (such as the Ten Commandments, in this case). Although he may have felt that he could be made acceptable to God by keeping the Commandments, he was perceptive enough to realize that something was wrong- and he clearly knew that he was not where he should have been with his Creator.

In any event, Jesus used the Ten Commandments in a way that was designed to serve God's intended purpose for them. You see, the Commandments were never intended to be a set of rules by which people could earn their way into heaven. They were (and are) intended to show us how far off the mark we are from what God intends for us.

Once we realize that it is impossible to live without breaking these Commandments, we can see our need for Someone who can save us from our failure to live up to these standards. That "Someone" is Jesus Himself and as we're told in Galatians 3:24, “...the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith."

Jesus attempted to illustrate this man's need for help by using the Commandments to show him where he had fallen short. Since this man was under the impression that he was keeping the Commandments, Jesus cut right to the heart of an area in the man's life where he could prove or disprove that belief: "Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow Me."

XVII

"...(Jesus) said, 'You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.' But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions" (Mark 10:21-22 CEB).

While the man who approached Jesus in this passage clearly felt that he was living according to the Commandments, his response to Jesus tells us that he was really putting his money before God. Instead of following these Commandments, this man was actually guilty of breaking the very first one: "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3).

This tells us that this man was guilty of something called "idolatry." You see, people often placed their faith in different objects made of various materials in the days of the Old Testament. This was accomplished through the creation of an image that was carved out of wood, molded out of metal, or chiseled out of stone. The person who created or purchased such an object would then proceed to worship it or offer sacrifices to it as his or her "god."

As ridiculous as this may seem today, its important to remember that an "idol" doesn't have to be something made of wood, stone, or metal. For example, its possible for someone to make an idol out of a possession, or money, or a member of the opposite sex, to name a few examples. This is due to the fact that an “idol” can be anything that someone loves, fears, or depends on more than God.

In reality, an idol can become anything that takes the place of God in someone's life. Once something becomes more important than following God in someone's life, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes his or her "god." And so, the person for whom money is the most important thing in life (like the rich young ruler) is just as guilty of idolatry as the person who bowed down before a man-made statue in the Old Testament era.

In the end, this man demonstrated that he did not want eternal life as much as he thought he did. His money and possessions were more important than following Jesus and receiving eternal life, even though Jesus promised to provide him with treasure in heaven. As Jesus Himself once said...

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24 NIV).

XVIII

"But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!'" (Mark 10:22-23).

There are a number of contrasts that illustrate the difference in the manner in which the rich young ruler approached Jesus and the manner in which he departed from Him.

For example, this man ran to Jesus in eager anticipation of an answer to his search for eternal life but he departed from Him with an attitude of gloom, sadness, and sorrow. Although this man initially knelt before Jesus and outwardly assumed the universal posture of submission and allegiance, he proved to be unwilling to act upon the direction he received from Him. He approached Jesus and addressed Him as "Good Teacher..." yet apparently departed from Him without a word.

Much like the seed that fell among thorns in Jesus' parable from Mark chapter four, this rich young ruler had allowed the desire for wealth and possessions to become more important than following God. This response (and the attitude of self-sufficiency that wealth tends to generate) may have led to Jesus' sad observation from Mark 10:23: "Jesus watched him go, then turned around and said to his disciples, 'It's almost impossible for the rich to get into the Kingdom of God!'" (TLB). Since the accumulation of wealth was generally viewed as a sign of God's favor, this statement instantly provoked an amazed and bewildered response from Jesus' disciples...

"And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, 'Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches 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'" (Mark 10:24-25).

Having previously demonstrated His warmth and affection for children in advising His disciples, "...whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Mark 10:15), it is significant that Jesus addressed His disciples here as "Children..."  a response that expressed the emotional tenderness of a parent instructing a beloved child. Jesus then used a word picture (the absurd idea of a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle) in order to illustrate the unfortunate truth that few are willing to part with their wealth in order to follow Him.

XIX

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25 ESV).

"God can put the camel through (the eye of a needle) but it takes divine power to do it and the process is hard on the camel." (1)

Although it may seem as if Jesus was asking a lot from the rich young ruler in advising him to "...Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me" (GNB), Jesus once put forth another question that helps place this conversation in an entirely different perspective: "What profit is there if you gain the whole world-- and lose eternal life? What can be compared with the value of eternal life?" (Matthew 16:26 TLB).

While the rich young ruler rejected Jesus, the Scriptures provide us with the account of another wealthy man named Zacchaeus who responded to Jesus in a completely different manner...

"Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold'" (Luke 19:8).

The Scriptures identify Zacchaeus as a wealthy man who was employed as "a chief tax collector" in Luke 19:2. His response to Jesus provides a stark contrast to that of the rich young ruler here in Mark chapter ten. Not only did Zacchaeus decide to give half of his income to help those who were less fortunate, he also made the commitment to generously reimburse those he had overcharged in order to make up for the wrong that he had done.

So it appears that Zacchaeus' involvement with Jesus prompted him to conduct himself in a far more Godly manner- and that decision brought the following response from Jesus...

"And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost'" (Luke 19:9-10).

The fact that Zacchaeus was prepared to start helping those in need and provide restitution for anything he had taken in an unethical manner helped demonstrate his genuine commitment to begin living a God-honoring lifestyle. Unlike the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered in the Gospel of Mark, Zacchaeus made an internal choice to place God ahead of his finances and then made an external commitment to act upon that decision.

(1) J. J. Taylor, The Gospel according to Mark (Nashville: Southern Baptist Convention, 1911), p. 136, quoted in Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament Mark 10 (v.27) http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=mr&chapter=010

XX

"And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible'" (Mark 10:26-27).

As was the case when Jesus made a similar statement in Mark chapter nine, the fact that "all things are possible with God" does not provide us with a license to pursue anything we might desire or something that is categorically impossible. Instead, Jesus tells us that genuine, authentic belief in God can accomplish that which might ordinarily seem impossible.

This exchange brought the following response from Peter...

"Then Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left all and followed You'" (Mark 10:28).

Matthew 19:27 tells us that Peter then followed this statement with a question: "What then will there be for us?" (NIV) or,"What will we get out of it?" (TLB). After all, Peter, James, Andrew, and John had all abandoned their business pursuits in order to follow Jesus. Matthew left a lucrative career in the tax collection industry to pursue Jesus' invitation to "follow me." The other disciples presumably made similar sacrifices as well. These men were all willing to do something that the rich young ruler refused to do. He rejected Jesus and kept his wealth; they accepted Jesus and received... what?

While it may have seemed as if the disciples had given up a significant amount to follow Jesus, there were other factors to consider. For example, Jesus once offered the following counsel in the Gospel of Luke: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15 NIV). He then followed this advice with parable that was designed to illustrate the real value of material wealth:

“'...The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).

XXI

"So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life'" (Mark 10:29-30).

While it may sometimes seem as if we trade the benefits of this world for the sacrifice of following God's plan for our lives, Jesus' message from Mark 10:29-30 tells us that God will never be a debtor to those who pursue His agenda for daily life. In other words, no one will ever be asked to give up more than that which God will graciously provide in return. For example, Jesus tells us in Luke 6:38, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over" and 2 Corinthians 9:8 reminds us that "...God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work"

Of course, those who are primarily interested in Jesus' promise of a hundredfold return should keep in mind that persecutions make up a portion of the return on this investment in God's portfolio. This promise effectively serves as a risk statement, especially for those who are interested in little more than a business relationship with God. Persecution is inevitable and the speculator who primarily seeks a return on his or her investment in a relationship with God is likely to terminate that relationship if he or she concludes that it is no longer profitable.

But in the final analysis, God will not require us to give up something for Him that He will not repay with dividends- and the New Testament book of 1 Timothy provides us with the right investment strategy...

"Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: 'Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.' Tell them to use their wealth for good things; be rich in good works! If they are willing to give generously and share everything, then they will send ahead a great treasure for themselves and build their futures on a solid foundation. As a result, they will surely take hold of eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19 Voice).

XXII

"But many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Mark 10:31).

Mark 10:31 concludes this section with a somewhat enigmatic statement from Jesus. While there may be any number of ways to understand this passage, one possible interpretation is that some who are religiously prominent in this world may not be so in the next one. In the same manner, others who are quietly doing the will of God with very little fanfare now might find themselves first in the next life.

You see, the outward display of spiritual enthusiasm may not always serve as the best indicator of real spiritual maturity. In other words, a spiritually demonstrative person, a charismatic speaker, or a minister who is the focal point of attention may not be doing as much to support God's agenda as those who are quietly and effectively advancing the Kingdom of God. To illustrate this idea, we can examine the internal attitudes of some of the great men and women of God as seen within the Scriptures.

For example, Moses was reluctant to serve as the leader of God’s people even after God spoke directly to him (see Exodus 4:10-13); yet Moses is recognized today as one of the truly great men of God. Esther was a woman who made a decision to intercede with the king of Persia to save her people at the potential cost of her life (see Esther chapter four). Then there is the example of the prophet Isaiah who once said of himself, "Woe is me... I am a man of unclean lips... my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (see Isaiah 6:1-5).

We also have the example of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. When God called Jeremiah to be His spokesman, the Scriptures provide us with his response: "'O Lord God,' I said, 'I can't do that! I'm far too young! I'm only a youth!'" (Jeremiah 1:6 TLB). We might also look the New Testament example of Mary. When Mary was told that she was to become the mother of God’s Savior, her response was simply, "I am the Lord's servant... May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38).

These Biblical personalities were not driven by a desire for prominence or recognition, yet God chose to do extraordinary things through their lives. So if it seems as if you are pursuing God's work with very little attention or acknowledgment, think back to the examples of these Biblical men and women. Those who are quietly doing the will of God with very little attention now, may be given a position of greater prominence in the future.

XXIII

"Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him" (Mark 10:32).

This passage represents Jesus' third and final recorded message to His disciples concerning His impending death in the Gospel of Mark. In the first instance, the disciples (led by Peter) responded with a refusal to accept what Jesus was attempting to communicate (see Mark 8:31-32). In the second instance, they simply couldn't comprehend what Jesus meant (Mark 9:30-32).

Here in Mark chapter ten, Jesus' followers responded with amazement or astonishment, perhaps due to their realization that Jesus was now leading the way to His own funeral. Others who were following along seemed to be afflicted with a sense of foreboding over what awaited in Jerusalem. But whatever the future held, those who were there with Jesus apparently sensed that they were heading into some sort of trouble.

Its interesting to note that despite His foreknowledge of the events that were about to take place, Jesus did not hesitate to accept what the future held. In fact, Luke's Gospel tells us, "And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). And what exactly awaited them upon their arrival? Well, Jesus provided His disciples with a detailed report of what was on the horizon...

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again" (Mark 10:33-34).

While Jesus had previously discussed His impending death and resurrection with His disciples, this passage reveals some additional details. First was the fact that those who outside the Jewish community would be involved in putting Him to death. Next was the extent of the humiliation that Jesus would endure as part of this process, one that would involve the disgrace of mockery, spitting, and scourging.

These details (as difficult as they must have been), actually helped to validate Jesus' claim to deity for in providing this information, He demonstrated the ability to do something that only God could do- predict future events in extensive detail with 100% accuracy.

XXIV

"'Listen,' he told them, 'we are going up to Jerusalem where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and then hand him over to the Gentiles, who will make fun of him, spit on him, whip him, and kill him; but three days later he will rise to life'" (Mark 10:33-34 GNB).

So Jesus revealed a number of details regarding His impending death and resurrection in an attempt to prepare His disciples for the events that were to come. While this action may not seem to hold much importance for anyone outside Jesus' original group of disciples, it actually helps to remind us that Jesus may sometimes seek to prepare His followers for the future before it actually arrives. A similar example may be found in Revelation 2:10 where Jesus provided a warning the church that met in the town of Smyrna concerning an offensive that was about to be launched against them.

While there may be any number of avenues by which Jesus might provide His followers with such direction today, the most reliable, accurate, and trustworthy means of receiving this sort of guidance can be found in simply reading the Scriptures on a daily basis. You see, the Scriptures were written by men who were inspired by the Spirit of God to communicate the Word of God. For instance, the New Testament book of 2 Timothy tells us...

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Since the Bible represents the very Word of God, we have the opportunity to receive His guidance and direction whenever we open it. Whenever someone opens his or her Bible, that person has the opportunity to hear directly from God every time.

The problem is that -much like the disciples- we may sometimes fail to pay attention or respond appropriately to the information that Jesus delivers to us. In fact, James and John will help provide us with a good illustration of this idea in the next few verses. Its clear that Jesus was attempting to communicate something important to His disciples regarding His eventual death and resurrection but as we'll see from their response, it seems that James and John didn't grasp the real significance of what they had been told.

XXV

"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, 'Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.' And He said to them, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They said to Him, 'Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory'" (Mark 10:35-37).

Matthew's Gospel tells us that James and John were accompanied by their mother during this conversation and that she apparently initiated this request on their behalf. It also appears that they presented this appeal to Jesus in a manner that was designed to commit Him to act upon it before He was actually informed of their request. That's a recipe for trouble and Jesus wisely instructed His disciples to state their request before He responded to it.

As it turned out, the "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17) had a request that was worthy of their nickname: "We want the seats of honor -one at your right hand and one at your left- when you come to establish your authority." This request actually finds it's origin in an ancient, cross-cultural symbol of authority and power. Since most people tend to be right-handed, the right hand (or right arm) eventually came to be associated with the greatest level of skill and strength.

This idea eventually led to a further identification with the concepts of favor, importance, righteousness, blessing, and sovereignty. In fact, we continue to acknowledge this ancient imagery today whenever we speak of an assistant who serves as the "the right hand man" of someone in authority. The idea is that such a person is as important and indispensable as a leader's own right hand.

Therefore, a person who was seated at a king's right hand was someone who was seated in a position of highest honor and prominence while the person at his left hand was only slightly below that person in status. This is the request that James and John made of Jesus.

In hindsight, it may be easy to criticize James and John for this request. After all, Jesus had apparently just finished speaking about the humiliation and shame that He was about to endure once they arrived in Jerusalem. Their request certainly could have been better timed and as we'll see, they were not fully aware of ramifications associated with what they seeking. We'll take some time to consider those things but before we do so, we'll take a look at something else that may have prompted their request next.

XXVI

"And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory" (Mark 10:37 ASV).

While it may seem as if James and John presented Jesus with a rather presumptuous request here in Mark 10:37, a look at Matthew's account of this passage provides us with some additional information that may help shed some light on their appeal...

"Peter answered him, 'We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?' Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel'" (Matthew 19:27-28).

While James' and John's request may have been insensitive and ill-timed, it's possible that they were simply responding to Jesus' statement here in Matthew chapter nineteen. Since Jesus had promised to provide His disciples with a future position of honor and authority, James and John may have simply been seeking the place that was closest to Jesus Himself.

In any event, here was Jesus' response...

"But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?'" (Mark 10:38).

In saying, "You don't know what you're asking for," Jesus used the familiar terms "cup" and "baptism" as figures of speech to represent the suffering and death that He would later go on to endure. Jesus would also go on to use this same imagery in a similar manner by saying, "...I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!" (Luke 12:50).

In hindsight, we could say that Jesus' answer should have caused James and John to stop and consider their request a little more carefully. You see, their request indicated that they were thinking about the places of honor that were associated with the positions closest to Jesus, at least to some extent. On the other hand, Jesus' response tells us that He was thinking in terms of the sacrifice He would make on their behalf.

As we'll see, these two brothers will quickly (perhaps a little too quickly) go on to provide their answer to Jesus' question- and we'll look at their response next.

XXVII

"But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' They said to Him, 'We are able.'

So Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared'" (Mark 10:38-40).

There was an important difference in the manner in which Jesus responded to James and John and the way in which these two brothers responded to Jesus. You see, when James and John approached Jesus and said, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you," Jesus immediately responded by asking for a clarification: "...He said to them, 'What do you want Me to do for you?'" (Mark 10: 36).

When the two brothers answered by expressing their desire to occupy the places of highest honor alongside Him, Jesus then followed with another request for clarification: "Can you drink the cup that I'm going to drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism that I'm going to receive?" (GW). Unfortunately, James and John immediately responded to this question without any apparent consideration of the consequences that might have been associated with their answer. If these men had followed Jesus' good example in asking Him to explain the meaning of His question first, they would have been in a far better position to provide a wise answer.

As it turned out, Jesus was unable to move forward on their request. This response does not indicate any lack of ability on Jesus' part but might be best understood to mean that God is preparing these future positions of honor and authority for those who are preparing for them now.

In other words, those positions of honor then will depend upon the degree of faithfulness in fulfilling the work that God has called us to do now. The Apostle Paul explained this concept in both positive and negative terms in the New Testament book of Romans...

"God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" (Romans 2:6-8 NIV).

XXVIII

"...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'" (Mark 10:39-40 NIV).

Just as Jesus foretold, James and John certainly didn't have it easy later in life. For instance, Acts 12:1-2 reports that James was killed by King Herod, an act that later led to Peter's arrest as well. Church tradition holds that others tried to kill John by boiling him to death in a large pot of hot oil sometime during the '80's - '90's A.D. If this report is accurate, then it means that one of the brothers was the first among the disciples to die (not counting Judas Iscariot) and the other was almost certainly among the last.

But those events wouldn't occur until much later in the future- for now, James and John had other problems...

"And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John" (Mark 10:41).

This response tells us that James' and John's request was motivated (at least in part) by a desire to be seen as "first" among the other disciples- or at least it was perceived to be that way among these others. Since these men had already disputed among themselves as to which of them would be the greatest (Mark 9:34), this attempt to secure the places of highest honor alongside Jesus was not well received by the remaining ten disciples.

In fact, the word used to describe their response to James' and John's request can be defined as, "to feel a violent irritation, physically." (1) This tells us that the other disciples were not just mildly irritated or annoyed by what the "Sons of Thunder" had done- they were angry (CEV), furious (ISV), or "moved with indignation" (ASV).

This deep emotional reaction indicates that Jesus' disciples were strongly invested in the way that they were perceived among others. If James and John had succeeded in obtaining these positions for themselves, then it would have affected the way that the remaining disciples were viewed both within their group and among those outside as well. The problem was that these men were using the wrong standard by which to measure their status- and Jesus will go on to take the opportunity to speak with them about what true honor and leadership was really all about next.

(1) aganakteo NT:23 from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)

XXIX

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.

And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Mark 10:42-45).

In seeking to obtain the places of highest honor alongside Jesus, James and John sought the kind of recognition and honor that could only be earned through serving others. The idea behind this concept proceeds from the fact that service is usually the best indication of real leadership.

For example, its probably safe to say that most people accept the premise that good leadership is not demonstrated by a "do as I say and not as I do" type of attitude. This principle is something that finds general support even among those who are not particularly spiritual, for most people accept the idea that the things we say should be backed up by the things we do.

In a similar manner, a good leader will follow Jesus' example of service and never ask more of others than what he or she is personally willing to do. As Jesus Himself once said in John 15:13, " ...the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends."

Of course, some may feel that Jesus' teaching on servant leadership applies only to those who actually possess some sort of leadership title. While its certainly true that anyone with a leadership position can benefit from Jesus' teachings on this subject, we should also stop to consider the fact that everyone holds a leadership position of some sort. In other words, everyone is a leader to some extent- even the person who doesn't hold a title that goes along with a particular leadership responsibility.

You see, everyone has a sphere of influence, even if it's only among a few people. In fact, everyone is a peer leader to some extent and everyone has some degree of influence upon others by the things they say and do. Since everyone is a leader to a certain extent, this means that everyone should keep Jesus' teaching on servant leadership in mind even if he or she doesn't hold an official position or a title.

XXX

"But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45 NLT).

In addition to Jesus' teaching on servant leadership here in the Gospel of Mark, the Apostle Paul also addressed this idea in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians...

"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

In the original language, the word used for "servants" in this passage is a seafaring term that literally means "underowers." (1) This is an unfamiliar word to most of us in the 21st century because most boats and ships today are powered by some type of engine. But in Paul's day, the only way to travel upon the ocean was through the use of sails and human oarsmen.

The underowers were the men who would sit below deck on a ship and provide the power necessary move the ship across the water. These underowers were not the people who gave the orders- they took their orders from the captain and then carried them out.

While this work was hard and not very glamorous, it was something that was absolutely necessary. If these unseen rowers didn't do their jobs, the ship would have no means of propulsion other than it's sails, if it had them. This is the word-picture that the Apostle Paul used to illustrate what real servant leadership was all about. Unfortunately, it appears that James and John didn't realize that this type of service precedes the kind of recognition they had been seeking and could only be obtained by following Jesus' example in this area.

Because of this, it helps to remember that the work that God has called us to do is valuable and important even if that work is not very visible or apparent to others. This brings to mind these words of encouragement from Colossians 3:23-24: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (NIV).

(1) huperetes (hoop-ay-ret'-ace); from NT:5259 and a derivative of eresso (to row); an under-oarsman, i.e. (generally) subordinate (assistant, sexton, constable): New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.

XXXI

"And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:44-45).

One of the difficulties in applying Jesus' teaching on true leadership is His use of the word "slave" in this passage. Now at the risk of sounding pedantic, a slave is a slave. A slave is someone who is responsible for carrying out the orders of his or her master. A slave doesn't question those orders- a slave simply does what he or she is told.

Most Christians probably don't object to the idea of serving as a slave to the God of the Scriptures, a Being who is a wise, just, loving, righteous Creator. In fact, Paul the Apostle utilized this same terminology in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans when he introduced himself as "...a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (NET). Of course, Paul also went on to illustrate God's unmatched graciousness towards us in Christ when he observed, "Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:7).

The difficulty arises when we consider that Jesus said, "...if you want to be first, you must be everyone's slave" (CEV emphasis added). The unfortunate reality is that there is no shortage of people who are all too eager to take advantage of someone who is willing put this idea into practice. While we can confident in the knowledge that God has our best interests in mind and would never abuse those who enter this kind of relationship with Him, it would be foolish to place such confidence in others.

Jesus' teaching on this subject should also be considered when evaluating the guidance of those who may feel as if they are in the best position to provide counsel on the direction of our lives. While it is certainly important to carefully evaluate the advice of those who love us and have our best interests in mind, its also important to recognize that others may have strongly held opinions regarding the best way to invest the time, talent, and opportunities we've been given. As mentioned previously, some of these opinions may be offered with good, God-honoring intentions and some may not.

We'll look at some strategies to apply Jesus' teaching from this passage in light of these realities next.

XXXII

"...whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45 NLT).

For those who wish to excel in their relationship with Christ (or "whoever of you desires to be first" to use Jesus' terminology), Mark 10:44-45 provides a blueprint for success. However, the difficulty involved in following this directive revolves around two potential conflicts:

  1. We are ultimately responsible for following the Master and not necessarily others (see Acts 5:29).
  2. We must follow the Master's directive by serving those who may or not be following the Master's directive (see Luke 6:27-36).

A possible resolution to one or both of these challenges might be found in looking at the example of the Apostles in the early church...

"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word'" (Acts 6:1-4 NIV).

In saying, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables" the Apostles acknowledged God's calling on their lives to minister the Word of God. That calling helped these men decide on how to best serve others. They became the "servants of all" in ministering God's Word but they allowed their calling to determine what form "servants of all" took.

In a similar manner, Jesus provided us with an illustration in this section that helps clarify His intent. Unlike the oppressive, domineering leaders that He referenced earlier in verse 42, Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. This does not necessarily mean that we must attend to any request that is made of us; after all, even Jesus refused to act on a request that was once made of Him (see Luke 12:13-15). However, it does mean that we are to follow Jesus' good example in this regard- and we'll look at the extent to which Jesus acted on this principle next.

XXXIII

"And whoever has a desire to be first among you, let him be servant of all. For truly the Son of man did not come to have servants, but to be a servant, and to give his life for the salvation of men" (Mark 10:44-45 BBE).

Let's take a moment to consider the sacrifices that people often make in their desire for achievement within a chosen field. Those sacrifices usually include things like intense preparation, hard work, long hours, and a determined effort to reach a goal or objective. This approach was once summed up by the great American Football coach Vince Lombardi who was quoted as saying, “Success is like anything worthwhile. It has a price. You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there.” (1)

While it may be easily overlooked, its interesting to note that Jesus did not correct or rebuke James and John for their stated desire to be first. He simply asked if they were willing to pay the price necessary to achieve that goal by asking, "Can you drink from the cup that I must drink from? Can you be baptized with the same baptism that I must go through?" (Mark 10:38 ERV). The problem was not so much with their desire to excel in their relationship with Jesus but in the way that they sought to move forward on that desire.

Jesus then proceeded to provide them with means for achieving that goal: "Whoever wants to be your leader must be your servant" (ERV). In the original language used to author this section, the word "servant" is translated from the Greek word doulos. Regarding the use of this word, one source tells us, "...(this) word does not bear the connotation of a free individual serving another... The most accurate translation is “bondservant” ...in that it often indicates one who sells himself into slavery to another." (2)

The extent to which Jesus was willing to lead by example in this area can be found in this passage from the New Testament book of Philippians...

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

(1) VinceLombardi.com http://www.vincelombardi.com/quotes.html

(2) NET Bible footnote on Mark 10:45, http://bible.org/netbible/index.htm?mar10.htm

XXXIV

"Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'" (Mark 10:45-47).

This passage of Scripture tells us that Jesus was now entering the final portion of His journey with only 18-20 miles (29-32 km) left before He reached His final destination- the city of Jerusalem. However, this final stage would prove be one of the more physically demanding elements of this trip as Jericho was located 900 feet (274 meters) below sea level while Jerusalem was situated 2300 feet (700 meters) above sea level.

Built by Herod the Great, the main section of Jericho was something of a resort area back in Jesus' day, much like a first-century version of the resort cities that exist in our own present day. In the days of the first century, Jericho was a place where people with a little extra money could get away and relax for a while.

There were fresh-water springs available in Jericho and in the wintertime, the temperatures remained right around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C). So Jericho was a good place to take a vacation or even keep a winter home, if someone could afford it. This was also the area where Jesus performed His final recorded healing in the Gospel of Mark.

That being said, a look at the other Gospel accounts of this encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus provides us with some additional (and seemingly irreconcilable) details. For example, the Gospel of Luke begins the account of this meeting in the following manner: "Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging..." (Luke 18:35). But Mark's Gospel informs us that this action took place as Jesus was leaving Jericho.

Then there is the record of this event as found in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 20:29-34 identifies two blind men who called out to Jesus while Mark mentions only one and identifies him by name. So how can we account for these apparent discrepancies?

Well, much like the similar questions that we've already encountered thus far in Mark's Gospel, these seemingly inconsistent accounts can be addressed with the aid of a few common-sense observations and some additional background information- and we'll look at the way that information helps to answer these questions next.

XXXV

"Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus) was sitting by the road" (Mark 10:46 ISV).

A brief comparison of Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43 reveals some important differences in the accounts of this encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus. For instance, Both Matthew and Mark report that this encounter took place upon Jesus' departure from Jericho while Luke tells us that it happened as Jesus was "...coming near Jericho." Then there is the question of how many people approached Jesus. Was it one as Luke and Mark report or was it two as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew? 

To address these questions, we can start by noting that many commentators report that there were actually two areas known as "Jericho" in the days of the first century. The first referred to the ancient city of Jericho, a place that was once destroyed (as detailed in Joshua chapter six), but continued to exist in Jesus' day as a small community. The newer Jericho referred to the resort city described earlier that was located near the ancient city of that name. 

This essentially created two sections of Jericho where those traveling to and from Jerusalem exited one area and entered the other. This likely accounts for the differences in the way that Luke and Mark describe this event; one Gospel writer referred to Jesus' entrance to one portion of Jericho while the other Gospel writer referred to His exit. Therefore, this encounter with Bartimaeus took place somewhere in-between.

The question regarding the number of beggars who called out to Jesus can be addressed in much the same way as the question regarding the number of demon possessed individuals who came to meet Jesus upon His arrival in the country of the Gergesenes back in Mark chapter five. Matthew chapter twenty relates this event in general terms by simply mentioning two unidentified blind men who asked to be healed. Mark however, is much more descriptive in his account of this incident. He likely identified Bartimaeus by name because he was the more prominent of the two.

Since we're later told that Bartimaeus went on to follow Jesus following this encounter, its possible that his name (along with the story of this meeting with Jesus) had become well- known among the members of the early church. This may have prompted Mark to relate his story exclusively since he was the most recognizable (or perhaps the only recognizable) person among the two blind men who encountered Jesus in this passage.

XXXVI

"And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called" (Mark 10:47-49).

This encounter with Bartimaeus represents the first and only time that Jesus will be referred to directly as the "Son of David" within the Gospel of Mark. This title served as a messianic designation that identified Jesus as the rightful heir to the Old Testament promise of an everlasting King, a person spoken of in passages such as Daniel 9:25-26 and Psalm 110. This title was also used in identifying the eternal redeemer or deliverer of the Jewish people, the One who would emerge from the lineage of Israel's King David and save them from their enemies (see 2 Samuel chapter seven).

With this in mind, there is a certain irony associated with the fact that a blind individual from among the lowest rungs of society somehow managed to identify Jesus as the Son of David while the religious leadership of that day refused to do so. But then again, Bartimaeus didn't feel feel threatened by Jesus' popularity (as were these religious leaders), nor was he someone who was identified by Jesus as a person who loved "...the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi'" (Matthew 23:6-7) like these same religious leaders.

Bartimaeus also demonstrated an admirable level of persistence in seeking Jesus. Remember that no one approached Jesus on Bartimaeus' behalf as was the case with Peter's mother-in-law in Mark chapter one. Unlike the account of the paralyzed man in Mark chapter two, no one brought Bartimaeus to Jesus. Jesus did not open a conversation with Bartimaeus as He did during His encounter with the woman at the well of Samaria, nor did He engage Bartimaeus as part of an object lesson to the religious establishment as detailed in Mark chapter three. Instead, Bartimaeus independently reached out to Jesus and continued to petition Him despite the opposition of those who were there.

These examples help to remind us that there is no specific formula that dictates the manner in which Jesus chooses to interact with us. While faith and humility are general prerequisites for approaching Jesus, the Scriptures clearly demonstrate His flexibility in responding to human need.

XXXVII

"So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.' And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus" (Mark 10:49-50).

The reaction of those who stood near Bartimaeus should sound familiar to anyone who has ever had the opportunity to interact with a random group of people. As is the case with any arbitrary gathering of human beings, there are some who are likely to be bothered, annoyed, displeased, or embarrassed by the actions of one or more people within the group. However, things may quickly change if the offending party suddenly finds favor with a respected authority. Such was the experience of Bartimaeus.

At first, the assembled onlookers cautioned Bartimaeus to keep still (AMP), be quiet (CEB), or stop (CEV) in his attempt to catch Jesus' attention. If Bartimaeus had been a person of great athletic ability, physical attractiveness, financial wealth, or social status, its likely that this group would have initially responded to him in an entirely different manner. That's because these attributes generally tend to generate respect and honor in the sight of others. Unfortunately, Bartimaeus possessed none of these qualities and the assembled onlookers responded to him accordingly.

Even though people generally tend to value such attributes, the reality is that they often tend to be short lived- and a person whose sense of worth is based on these transient characteristics is bound to face disappointment once they are lost. In such cases, the world simply moves on to embrace someone else who possesses these qualities while those who no longer do so are forgotten, left behind, or even treated as an annoyance, much like Bartimaeus.

However, once Jesus agreed to respond to Bartimaeus' request, the group's reaction towards him changed considerably: "'You lucky fellow,' they said, 'come on, he's calling you!'" (TLB).So Bartimaeus was no longer just another nondescript beggar along the side of the road; he was now someone who possessed worth and value as a result of Jesus' invitation.

While the world's idea of status, respect, and success is often transient and short lived, Bartimaeus discovered that Jesus was willing to accept him and honor him with a response to his request- and that acceptance instilled Bartimaeus with a degree of honor and respect in the eyes of others. His experience reminds us that our sense of worth must be built around what Jesus has done in accepting us and not around those abilities or qualities we may happen to possess.

XXXVIII

"And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' The blind man said to Him, 'Rabboni, that I may receive my sight'" (Mark 10:50-51).

It would be an understatement to say that the religious leadership of Jesus' day viewed Him as an unwelcome threat to their authority. In fact, John 12:42 tells us that there were at least some among the leaders of that time who believed in Jesus' claim to be the Messiah but refused to publicly acknowledge Him in fear of excommunication by these religious authorities. This may provide an alternate explanation for the crowd's insistence that Bartimaeus silence his outreach to Jesus, for a noisy supplicant was sure to attract some unwanted attention from those who were already seeking an opportunity to put Jesus to death.

However, this same crowd immediately began to encourage Bartimaeus once Jesus expressed a willingness to grant him an audience. This fickle response is useful in at least one regard. You see, while "crowdsourcing" (the practice of obtaining services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people) (1) may represent a valuable tool for business-related tasks, it serves as an extremely poor basis for spiritual decisions.

The fact that Bartimaeus tossed aside his garment also suggests that he acted upon Jesus' invitation with great haste. But upon meeting Bartimaeus, Jesus asked this blind man a seemingly obvious question: "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" (KJV). When Bartimaeus asked Jesus to have mercy upon him, it seems apparent that he had done so for the purposes of receiving his sight. Why then would Jesus ask such a seemingly obvious question?

Well, much like the man with the withered hand whose experience was detailed in Mark chapter three, Bartimaeus also had to make a decision. Although Bartimaeus made a request of Jesus, we should remember that the act of making a request is not the same as acting upon that request. For instance, Bartimaeus might have withdrawn his request at the last moment in order to avoid offending the powerful religious leaders or perhaps for some other reason. The point is that people may desire to seek Jesus' assistance yet fail to act upon it once it is offered.

The good news is that Bartimaeus was different- he not only asked for Jesus' mercy but he was also prepared to act on Jesus' invitation to receive it.

(1) "Crowdsourcing" Merriam-Webster online dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crowdsourcing

XXXIX

"So Jesus answered and said to him, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' The blind man said to Him, 'Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road" (Mark 10:51-52).

Before Bartimaeus responded to Jesus in stating his request, he first addressed Jesus as "Rabboni," a word that represents an intensive form of the word "Rabbi" or teacher. This term was intended to confer a degree of special dignity and indicates that Bartimaeus held Jesus in higher regard than a typical spiritual leader. So even though Bartimaeus might have responded to Jesus by immediately presenting his need, he chose instead to first ask for Jesus' mercy and then addressed Him with a title of great respect.

This brief exchange tells us something important about Bartimaeus' internal attitude. Although this man clearly had a deep desire to gain his sight, he was also willing to put that desire aside to in order to approach Jesus with an attitude of honor and respect. Of course, a cynic might point out the possibility that Bartimaeus was simply engaging in an insincere attempt to gain Jesus' favor so he could get what he wanted. However, Bartimaeus' reaction to Jesus following his healing indicates that this was no mere attempt at flattery.

You see, Jesus responded to Bartimaeus by saying, "Go your way..." This chapter then concludes by telling us that Bartimaeus began to follow Jesus on the road after he received his sight. So for Bartimaeus, "his way" had now become "Jesus' way" as he began to follow Jesus on the road to wherever He was going.

Unlike the rich young ruler who had earlier declined Jesus' invitation to follow Him (Mark 10:21), Bartimaeus required no special invitation. Instead, his response was clearly generated by a heartfelt appreciation for what Jesus had done on his behalf. And unlike the nine men that Jesus cured of leprosy but had neglected to return to thank Him (see Luke 17:11-19), Bartimaeus demonstrated his sincere gratitude by following the Man who had provided for his healing.

These examples remind us that it is one thing to come to Christ but it's another thing to follow Him. Bartimaeus did not treat Jesus with honor and then leave Him after he received what he wanted- he instead chose to continue to honor Jesus by following Him on the road to whatever fate awaited him.

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