Through the first seven chapters Mark gives us a continuous narrative of Jesus as Servant - ministering to the needs of so many. In rapid succession miracle after miracle is related with details not found in the other Gospels and emphasis on Christ's hands touching those in need. The like had never been witnessed since the foundation of the world. This truly is the Son of God. The disciples are convinced, the multitudes are applauding everywhere. Public acclaim has reached its high point. Surely he will be proclaimed king.
But at Chapter 8:31 we read in utter surprise along with the disciples - He began to teach them that He must suffer, be rejected, and finally be killed. He spoke openly and in verse 34 He called the people, to take up their cross.
That such a ministry of mighty works and merciful cures and supernatural wisdom should end in disgrace and death as a common criminal is surely the most incredible and tragic enigma of the ages.
Jesus of course had seen all this. From this point onward, the cross is the uppermost in the mind, and repeatedly on His lips.
The key verse of the Gospel is in chapter 10:45 -"The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
From chapter 8:22-10:52 we see Jesus with His disciples traveling from Caesarea Philippae, north of Galilee, southward to the outskirts of Jerusalem. On the way, He instructs them that the cross is the only way - His and theirs also.
The way of Jesus to the cross and the way of discipleship are most closely interwoven in three passages (8:31-9:1; 9:30-37; 10:32-45). They follow a prophecy - misunderstanding - instruction pattern.
Read 8:31-9:1. Immediately after Peter's recognition of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus reveals His future death and resurrection, and that this is why He came - all according to the will of God. He spoke plainly. Peter is shocked by these new and eemingly unthinkable possibilities. Jesus rebukes him sternly as worldly "Satan" and tempting Jesus to think contrary to God.
The disciples do not yet grasp why Jesus should have to give up His life, and in explanation they are told that it is to be
their fate as well. Jesus calls the people to listen.
The Cost: three conditions for discipleship - 1.) We must deny ourselves. 2.) Take up our crosses. 3.) Follow Him.
To deny ourselves is to give up our own total will in favor of God's will, not simply giving up chocolate for lent.
To take up our crosses means to be willing to walk to our own death if we are to follow Jesus, not bear some affliction or sorrow - an act of faith - and will.
Following Jesus means renouncing virtually everything we value, including if necessary our very lives. And yet even more it means living for Him, with the fellowship of God, ministering each day in God's will, with the very love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. To see with the eyes of Christ the needs and hurts of everyone we might meet - to touch them with kindness, concern, and forgiveness in the name of the Lord. To follow Jesus is and must be to do what He would do were He where we are - of course without His strength and guidance, His love and assurance we would be powerless to help anyone.
Then a paradox - For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.
The outcome of Jesus' death was resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. We see the two ways of living contrasted - the natural human way is to work for our own security and safety, our own power - in fact our own kingdom with castle and comforts. This will all pass away and be destroyed. From God's point of view if we seek the Kingdom of God and give our lives to the King's service we will inherit that kingdom in life eternal.
In verses 36 and 37 we see that gaining the whole world means giving up life - not only the joys of real living here and now we know those who have sought this and their unhappy lives -but also none can be carried from this world into the next, and all the world cannot buy one day of eternal life.
The next two verses are a warning and a promise. Jesus will disown anyone who has disowned Him in this world, indeed a warning of judgment. The cost of being a follower may be high but the cost of not being a disciple is higher - to be rejected by Jesus. Then the promise of power from on high is given - and that some will die shortly thereafter (possibly Stephen).
9:30-37. Jesus and the disciples continue on their way to Jerusalem. Here He is teaching His disciples privately. This prophecy is the simplest of the three. The hostile world will kill Him, and He will rise the 3rd day. Possibly because of the rebuke they received the first time, we see them here not understanding but silent.
Later they argue among themselves about who is greatest. Their status in the Christian community. At Capernaum, He asked what they had been arguing about. They don't tell Him but He knows and reproves them.
The first will be last in the eyes of the world and servant of all.
Christ speaks of the reversal in the age to come - that the Church which was now suffering in the world, will be exalted Jesus showed with His own life the truth of this statement, as the servant of all and indeed rejected and despised of men He became the first-fruits of them that slept - being first to be resurrected and glorified by our Heavenly Father - This is our hope and promise and example.
Jesus applies this principle within the group of disciples also. It can be seen as a threat "If you are first in the Christian community today, you will in fact turn out to be last in the age to come." or a promise "If you wish to be great in the age to come, you must be least in this age."
The idea of servant is personal, a caring for and waiting on another person. With helping a child we expect no praise or honor - someone powerless - yet it is in helping in this way that puts us in a relation to Jesus and through Him to God. Just as we are called to lose our lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel, so we are called to serve for Jesus and in so doing - in receiving the child in Jesus' Name we receive Jesus Himself. Jesus is not concerned with greatness or honor; instead He allows Himself to fall into the cruel hands of the sinful world. In saying "him that sent me," Jesus reminds us that He is God's messenger, the servant of God. That was His life, to perfectly and purely and righteously to serve the holy and just God, that sinless and spotless He might be the perfect sacrifice for sin. We are called to be like this Jesus, knowing our imperfections and failings, yet with God's help and forgiveness through Christ, we do indeed become more Christlike, as we yield to Him.
The third time is found in 10:32-45. As in the second passage, the misunderstanding of the disciples is concerned with the issue of greatness or power. As in the second, the teaching is concerned with the contrast of the way of power and that of service. It does, however, deal with the role of suffering, tying discipleship closely to the cross.
They are nearing Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned as their goal. This third prediction is the most detailed and is to be fulfilled in each detail as recorded in chapters 14-16. No questions follow and the disciples must have begun to think they understood, yet the request of James and John shows they are still thinking of themselves and in a worldly way.
They request for the highest positions in the coming kingdom. Jesus does not rebuke them, but tells them that they don't know what their request includes. He asks if they can drink His cup of suffering and undergo His baptism into death. They reply they are able. Jesus promises that indeed they will suffer and die. If they wish to follow Jesus on the way of suffering, it will be granted to them. But the seats of Christ's left and right hand are reserved for those God has chosen - again emphasizing Jesus' role as servant of God.
Implied in this teaching is the idea that suffering is the way of Christ and of those who follow Him, but in itself suffering gives no merit, earns Him no reward, nor allows Him to make any special requests.
It is according to the will of God that Jesus must suffer and be killed. In addition, anyone who becomes a disciple must take up their own cross and lose their own life in order to find it. Suffering is something that happens to true disciples. The world is hostile to the kingdom of God.
When the rest hear about James and John's request, they get angry. Jesus summons them and explains the contrast between the way of the world and the way it must be among Christians.
In the world, rulers dictate what to do and how to live, tyrannize those under them. They use their power to serve their own desires. This is recognized by the world as greatness - the amount of power one holds over others.
The contrast Jesus makes is not power versus suffering - but rather power versus services; not a disciple that suffers much, but a disciple that serves much; a giving, not a taking. The person who waits at the table is in God's eyes greater than the person being waited on. Service is helping others, not controlling them.
In the second passage Jesus used a child to illustrate His point. Here He uses Himself as the example.
Verse 45. His very life is service, whole and complete, including the laying down of His life for many - that through His slave-service others are made free.
The way of Jesus is contrary to the way of the world against all natural, and selfish expectations we may hold. Service to others is the way of life God reveals in Jesus, indeed revealing Himself and His love for us in His Son.
The way of discipleship is to deny oneself and be servant of all. The way of the world is to see what you can get others to do for you. Suffering is a byproduct of selfless, giving love.
The question we face each moment is: Do we belong to ourselves, or to God? Have we been redeemed, bought with a price, indeed with the very life-blood of the sinless One, the very Lamb of God, Jesus Christ? Are we building our own kingdom here on earth and making it as comfortable as possible? Or do we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?
Jesus gave us a path to follow that we are incapable of duplicating - yet it is to be our guide. He gives us forgiveness for any mistakes we might make, and have made. He gives us Himself as Helper, Comforter, Guide, and Teacher in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and He provided the Scriptures to learn of Him.
What is discipleship - the gift of God. Because Jesus lived a life of perfect service to God and others. We are free to fail, and stumble, and be embarrassed because we are still being forgiven. God wishes us to be like His Son. He has given His Son for us. If we once grasp the greatness and price of this gift, we cannot but desire to do what we can for Our Heavenly Father. And what we do, we can claim no credit, or accept any honor, for we only do it because we are His; without Him, we could do nothing.
This article was written by my father T.O.D. Johnston, who was licensed to preach the Gospel by Paran Baptist Church on May 26, 1979. He has been a student of Scripture since 1972. View more lessons at his Bible Study Lessons page.