This blog post is based on a sermon that you can listen to HERE.
The Gospels tell two stories of private interactions between Jesus and his disciples that provide a glimpse into the ambitions of Jesus’ closest disciples.
- The Twelve argue among themselves over who is the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
- James and John request the seats either side of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37)
In most discussions of these texts that I’ve heard, people generally criticise the disciples for using Jesus to obtain personal gain. This seems valid criticism. The disciples’ motives seem selfish and unholy.
When we arrive at this conclusion, it appears that we now understand the text as a warning against pride and selfishness and we can move on to the next passage. However, I believe that we can glean more from this text before moving on.
We could easily observe the disciples’ behaviour and conclude that the desire to succeed or achieve as a Jesus follower is an improper desire. Instead, we should endeavour to make our goals and ambitions consistent with God’s will.
Greatness is a worthy goal. How we define greatness is vital. Jesus provides a definition in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last,and servant of all.” Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t aspire to greatness.” Rather he describes a holy path to greatness.
James and John made the mistake of seeking something that wasn’t theirs to seek, or even Jesus’ to give. I wonder, if they had asked Jesus to give them the ministry of primary apostolic healers if Jesus wouldn’t have honoured that request.
So how about us?
The idea of spiritual ambitions seems dangerous to most Christians I know. Yes, Paul tells Timothy to identify men that desire the role of shepherd in the church. But if someone starts wanting that role too much, we get nervous. This creates the problem of discerning the difference between ‘ambition’ and ‘excessive ambition’. So more often than not we frown upon ambition as pride and therefore an ungodly attitude.
Fear of ambitious Christians results in churches filled with people who have few goals and dreams for where their faith could take them. Without goals how can a person determine the next step in their faith walk?
This is a long introduction to what I hope will prove to be a helpful list of concrete ambitions Christians can choose. While I recognise the danger of trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box or define his job, I also realise that I don’t function well in the abstract. Simply telling me to, “walk by faith” doesn’t help me very much, I need more definite instructions. So, here are some ideas, and I’d love for you to add some of yours in the comments section below!
Possible Goals for Spiritual Growth
- Read the Bible all the way through.
- Lead a ministry at church.
- Start an NPO to make a difference in the lives of your community.
- Become a small group leader.
- Go on a 24hr silent retreat.
- Baptize someone.
- Go on a mission trip.
- Teach a children’s Bible class
- Increase your giving. (Aim at a specific percentage.)
- Memorize Scripture.
- Read the Bible daily. (Find all sorts of reading plans HERE.)
- Attend a Bible or ministry conference/workshop.
- Raise a godly family.
- Host a small group in your home.
- Take Bible courses from a college. (So many are offered online now.)
- Intentionally encourage someone every day. (Be able to name that person at the end of the day.)
- Make a friend of someone from a different faith background.
- Strive to live in such a way that others will describe you as generous.
- Reach a point where you can honestly say that you love your enemies. In the meantime, pray good things for them and their families.
- Spiritually mentor someone.
- Tell a nonbeliever why you’re a Christian.
- Regularly practice fasting.
- Visit the Holy Land.
- Create a work of art (painting, sculpting, song, poem, whatever) that explores an aspect of your faith.
- Share a meal with all your neighbors (one at a time).
- Identify an organization you can volunteer at regularly.
- Lead a ministry at your church.
- Become a foreign missionary.
- Regularly read the Bible and have spiritual conversations with your grand/children.
- Cook a meal for someone else each month/week. Maybe they eat it with you. Maybe you just deliver it.
- Pray with another person (not always the same person) each week.
- Give money to a mission work, or new church plant in the U.S..
- Make a new friend with someone from a different ethnic background.
- Adopt a college student.
- Read a religious book other than the Bible each year/6 months.
- Become a full-time minister.
- Commit to being an ethical voice in your workplace.
- Raise money for worthy causes.
- Attend every church work day.
- Prioritise Sunday worship with the body of Christ.
- Intentionally express gratitude to someone every day.
- Love your spouse, so that they know it.
Most of these goals take more than a moment to fulfill. They’re something to work towards, to aspire to complete. Because spiritual growth is a process.
I dream of the day when I might ask each member of my congregation, “Which aspect of your walk with God are you working on at the moment?” and they’d have a response that was ambitious rather than guilt-ridden.
This list results from random brainstorming rather than profound meditation. I hope it provides a spark for you set some spiritual goals that you might pursue spiritual greatness by becoming the servant of all.
We live in a consumeristic world. The engine of our capitalist economy is founded in the thought that more is better. Newer is better. Faster is better. And to the extent that you accept this thought and participate in this market, you are better. You are cooler. You are smarter. Your life is easier. And you will be happier.
Our culture repeatedly encourages us to “try this, taste that, buy these, go there, experience this, watch that, try these”. Whether we realise it or not, this worldview is oriented from the Outside to the Inside.
This philosophy of life begins with the perspective that goodness, joy, completeness, and purpose are “out there”, outside of ourselves. They exist for us to grasp, or at least to pursue with the hope to grasp.
As I write this, the Cleveland Cavaliers have just won the NBA Championship. It represents the team’s first ever championship and the city’s first professional sports championship in 52 years. I wonder how many fans longed and dreamed of this day. They pour into the streets to greet the players. They throw the team a parade. They feel on top of the world. Then in a few days, a week, perhaps a month they begin to wonder… “When will the Browns win the NFL championship?” or “When will the Indians bring home the MLB championship?” The euphoria subsides and life goes on.
Jesus taught us a different way of viewing the world. He introduced us to the worldview “Inside Out”.
In Mark 7 Jesus addresses a crowd of people who concerned themselves with ritual purity. In this particular instance the discussion revolved around washing hands before a meal. While our mother’s told us this for health reasons, these people believed it would help them maintain purity before God. God himself had earlier given Israel detailed instructions about clean and unclean foods and lifestyle practices. For the people accusing Jesus however, rather than pointing them to God, these instructions had become a goal of their own.
Jesus then makes this astonishing statement to this crowd, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (7:15) At the end of this conversation Jesus provides a list of sinful behaviours and concludes “All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Jesus knew that the state of our hearts determines our outlook on life and our standing before God. Joy or grief. Hatred or love. Generosity or envy. These attitudes may be influenced by events outside of us, but ultimately the state of our hearts, our character, determines how we live our lives and how we respond to our circumstances. With this worldview in mind, as Jesus prepared for his death he comforted his followers with this promise,
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth… You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be IN his followers. From that point on we consciously live Inside Out. We can find all the peace we need in the Spirit within us. We can find all the joy we need in the Spirit within us. We can find all the courage and all the purpose we need in the Spirit within us. When we find ourselves seeking fulfillment in food, books, pornography, relationships, busyness, or the pursuit of wealth or security, we should recognise that we’re no longer living in the Spirit.
It’s great to have life goals that we pursue, but they don’t define us. Our identity and self-worth has been gifted to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we now travel through life from the Inside Out.
Over the next couple of months I’ve coordinated with a great group of church leaders and writers to explore some of the practical applications for individuals and churches of living Inside Out. I believe you’ll be blessed and challenged by their thoughts, so please make an effort to check back to this blog throughout July and August to join this Summer Blog Tour. To promote the Summer Blog Tour, we’re also giving away one set of Church Inside Out, both book and workbook. Just leave a comment below then enter over HERE.
This past Sunday the church celebrated Palm Sunday. This day is important as it marks the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ life. This week is often called Holy Week and concludes with the celebration of Easter next Sunday. You can read the description of Jesus’ entrance HERE.
I struggle to make a lot of sense out of Palm Sunday. (See last year’s blog post HERE.) On the one hand it seems like an attention-getting charade that Jesus organizes to check off another item on the list of Messianic prophecies. On the other hand perhaps Jesus organized it to placate the crowd but suffers through it as he knows the reality of his imminent death rather than coronation.
This year my perspective on the celebration focused upon victory.
Palm branches being waved at a procession would immediately symbolise to Greeks, Romans and Jews that a king or important official was present. However, not every governor entering Jerusalem would be greeted this way. The most likely scenario for a branch-waving, celebratory parade would be when a king or general had won a great battle and was returning to his home base. The branches waving and the coats on the ground honor the victorious ruler.
Ironically, while the crowd greets Jesus as a victorious Messiah, there actually is no victory at this point. In less than a week he’ll be dead. The celebration and palm waving are premature and nothing but hollow flattery.
In hindsight we recognise that though the timing of the celebration was off, and the crowd’s vision of a earthly messiah was misguided, the praise and description of Jesus was appropriate. In hindsight we acknowledge that Jesus is a victorious king. His victory was sealed through his death and resurrection, and he reigns right now at the right hand of God.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54, 57
I had never noticed it before but this year my attention was drawn to Revelation 7:9-10. In this passage we find a joyful scene of worship and celebration around the throne of God. As the elders worship we see that they’re holding palm branches.
The glimpse of glory and victory that we see on Palm Sunday is fully portrayed here in Revelation as Palm Eternity. 2 Corinthians 2:14 describes the ministry and ascension of Jesus as a “triumphal procession”. We live as participants in his triumphant celebration. At the same time heaven rejoices, waving palm branches before Jesus, the victorious king.
Just as the Jerusalem crowds cried out, “Hosanna” which vaguely means “God saves”, in heaven the multitude praises the Lamb saying, “Salvation belongs to our God.” Seeing Jesus for who he truly is leads to worship.
Jesus is victorious over sin and death. In the process he saves from the consequences of our own sinfulness. So we respond by crying out, “Hosanna! ” Praise to our God who saves! May we join the worshiping multitudes at the throne of the Lamb celebrating Palm Eternity.
I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as some of those in the Bible, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. God wants us talking about this. Jesus sends us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark the proximity of Jesus’ ministry and demons glares at us. The first of Jesus’ miracles in Mark is an exorcism (1:21-28). When Jesus selects the Twelve (3:14-15) for special training to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive our demons.” In 3:22 the teachers of the law accuse Jesus himself of being demon possessed and driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons.
In chapter 5 Jesus crosses into Gentile territory. Again, his first miracle among the Gentiles is another exorcism. When Jesus does send the Twelve out in 6:7 he “gave them authority over evil spirits” and in v13 we read that “they drove out many demons“. In 7:24-30 Jesus again enters Gentile territory and drives a demon out of a girl he doesn’t even see.
Then in chapter 9 immediately following his transfiguration Jesus descends the mountain to find the remaining apostles unable to cast out a demon. Jesus expels the demon and explains to the Twelve that “This kind can come out only by prayer.” A few verses later John tells Jesus of someone (not one of the Twelve) also casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus gives this anonymous disciple his approval as someone committed to the mission of the kingdom.
Unlike healings that are often linked to the faith of the individual, none of the specific examples of exorcism involve a request by the possessed person. Twice a parent approaches Jesus on their child’s behalf. Twice Jesus takes the initiative for the possessed person. He shows them mercy when they’re unable to ask for it.
All of that isn’t very important to the point of this post. Of all the exorcisms the story in chapter 5 provides the most detail.
Jesus disembarks from a boat in the middle of the night having calmed a storm that the Twelve thought was going to kill them. Suddenly out of a graveyard a wild man covered in cuts and chains emerges and runs toward them. At this point, I’m pretty sure the Twelve have jumped back in their boat and are again in the middle of the lake.
Jesus talks to the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. You can read the rest of the story for yourself. As Jesus climbs back in the boat the former demoniac asks to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your won people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you , and how he has had mercy on you.”
The word that grabs my attention in this story comes at the end of the section. What is the message that Jesus gives this man? Tell people how the Lord has had mercy on you. MERCY. The mission Jesus gives him doesn’t call for repentance, or predict a terrible judgment coming. His mission is to tell his story of God’s mercy in his life. When he tells his story of mercy he prepares the way for Jesus to come later.
In this sense he became a Gentile version of John the Baptizer because in 7:31 Jesus will return to the region and people will seek him out to heal their loved ones.
I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as this man’s, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. This is something God wants us to be talking about. God wants us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
We may not recognise the demon-possessed people in our society as Jesus did, but we have those people who intimidate us. Sometimes we allow fear to prevent us from showing mercy. We see a person that intimidates us, maybe not a demoniac, but how about someone we know is gay? Does the vocal atheist in the workplace make us head for the boat as she approaches? Do we run from the kid in the schoolyard that bullies us, or that guy at church who’s always complaining? In Matthew 5:7 Jesus teaches us, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Sometimes we become fixated on bringing unbelievers to a point of repentance. Sometimes we want to proclaim fiery judgement on all the moral decay we see around us. But that wasn’t his man’s job and it’s not always ours. Sometimes our job is simply to tell and demonstrate God’s mercy. Sometimes our job is just to plant seeds and allow God to make them grow.
This man didn’t hold a tent meeting with thousands of conversions. He did prepare the way for Jesus.
Do our conversations and lives prepare the way for Jesus? Do we present Jesus in a positive light so that down the road someone might be willing to learn more about him?
Sometimes it’s just about mercy.
And then we need to get back in our boat.
The word “faith” is often used as a noun to describe a set of beliefs. The word is also a noun that describes the motivation behind ones actions. Does God value one definition of “faith” over another?
The person that gave us chapter divisions in the Bible provided some head scratchers. Mark 4 is one of these. Mark 4:1-34 contains a series of parables, while verse 35 launches a collection of four miracles that end with the ending of chapter 5. While it seems more logical to place the chapter division between verses 34 and 35 of chapter 4, we can also gain some valuable insight from the continuity of the traditional division.
In the parables Jesus lays out his vision for the kingdom of God. He gives the disciples he just called in 3:13-19 a primer on his mission and ministry. He begins with individual receptivity to the Gospel message, and closes describing his vision for the growth of the kingdom.
Then at the close of this section we’re given this summary,
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
The disciples received the blessing of sitting at Jesus feet during his master class – Interpreting Parables & God’s Vision for His Kingdom 101.
Presumably they were sponges soaking in every word.
Taking detailed notes.
Asking questions of clarification.
They were building a strong faith.
What Jesus said made sense and they accepted it as truth.
They felt justified for leaving their homes, their families, their jobs, and their security to follow this teacher around the countryside.
As the disciples get in the boat with Jesus in v36 they probably felt pretty privileged and possibly even a little smug at all the learning they’d just received. The crowds didn’t understand it all, but Jesus had explained everything to them!
Jesus then takes them on a trip to the wild side. They find themselves sitting in boat, in darkness, in the middle of severe storm. Fearing the boat is about to sink they wake Jesus in a panic. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” While their fear seems very natural, the question seems to irritate Jesus.
After commanding the storm to cease, Jesus confronts the Twelve, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The disciples’ question accused Jesus, the one whose call they had accepted, of not caring about them. It questioned the core of their relationship with him. All those basic questions about Jesus’ identity the purpose of his mission, God’s motivation in sending him… All those notes they’d taken and teachings they’d heard… The faith they’d been so proud of when Jesus handed out the quiz scores from their earlier class… It all went by the wayside as they questioned the heart of Jesus, “Don’t you care…?”
If Jesus’ humanity was anything like mine (and I presume it was) then he was quietly thrilled as he interacted with his disciples in the Master Class of v34. He rejoiced as their understanding and enthusiasm expanded. He celebrated their thirst for knowledge and the questions they asked.
But then, like preachers and teachers today, he wondered if it would really make a difference in their lives. Would these students exhibit lives of faith? Would they integrate the lessons learned into their daily routine? Would the words he spoke return to their thoughts when they encounter challenges? Will God’s truth lead to personal transformation?
I’m hardly breaking new ground by pointing out that faith is a two-sided coin. Scripture often contains the pattern of teaching followed by action. The lesson from Mark 4 demonstrates the importance of implementing head knowledge (faith) into our lives so that we live a life of faith.
I closed my sermon this week with the suggestion that we take some time to consider this question, “After all the Bible classes and sermons you’ve heard, what part of your life requires faith? What part of your life expresses your faith?“
Over the next 6 weeks I’m going to be preaching from chapter 3-8 in the Gospel of Mark. To cover these chapters in 6 weeks I’m going to focus upon one word from each chapter. In chapter 3 I’m providing the summary word “Priorities”.
This passage in Mark has a “sandwich” structure. Verse 21 tells of Jesus’ family coming to confront him about his health and well-being. Verses 22-30 describe a debate between Jesus and the Jewish scribes. Then verses 31-35 pick up with Jesus family approaching him.
This literary style uses two stories to emphasise a central point. It then becomes our task to identify the commonalities and learn from that point.
Here are a couple of themes that overlap:
Discipleship – In verses 13-19 Jesus calls The Twelve. These twelve disciples are appointed to “preach and cast out demons”. The calling of the Twelve provides a vital context for examining verses 20-35.
In verses 21 and 22 we meet two groups of people who do not accept the call to discipleship: Jesus’ family think he’s crazy, and the scribes accuse him of being possessed by the Prince of Demons! So when Jesus identifies his “family” as “whoever does God’s will” he is describing disciples. This combination provides a stark contrast. While some sit back and throw stones, even calling the work of the Holy Spirit demonic activity, Jesus’ loyalty is to those who accept the call to discipleship.
Unity – The central point of Jesus’ response to the scribes argues how illogical it is that Satan would cast out demons. That would indicate division in Satan’s kingdom and predict its resultant implosion. Satan wouldn’t do that. Jesus quotes or creates this proverb in v25, “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
With that rebuttal ringing in our ears we turn our attention to v31-35. Although Jesus’ statement that his true family is not his biological family seems harsh, it emphasises the unity of God’s kingdom. Jesus will not desert his new disciples and his ministry even for some of his mother’s famous chicken noodle soup. Having called the Twelve to abandon everything he demonstrates a reciprocal commitment to them.
When I think of all the ways churches divide themselves and the little issues that become big issues I think it makes God sad. It certainly undermines the power of God’s kingdom. While Jesus gave his disciples priority over his family to encourage unity, too often Christians seem more willing to promote division than unity. We would all do well to remember that “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
What do you sacrifice to promote unity in the body of Christ?
When Israel complained about God’s apparent detachment from their lives he responded by promising to first send a messenger to prepare the way for his coming. While the Israelites sought for God to free them from foreign oppression, instead God warned them that his application of justice would begin with them. In God’s eyes justice involves much more than political and military oppression, although they can be horrible. Justice also involves how society treats those living on the margins.
I recognise that this is an odd approach to thinking about the nativity. I’m taking this course because Mark 1:1 quotes Malachi 3:1 to introduce John the Baptist, who in turn introduces Jesus.
In Malachi 2:17 the prophet accuses Israel of “wearying God with your words”. One of the specific examples he offers is the question they ask, “Where is the God of justice?”
Ruled by the Persians, the Israelites longed for the return of autonomy. They apparently also longed to keep the tax money they paid to Persia. In their mind God should pour out just judgement upon the Persians and grant Israel freedom.
In response (3:1) God promises a “messenger who will prepare the way before me.” The messenger is only a precursor to the coming of God. But when God himself appears, rather than bringing justice against the Persians he will appear and hold court in His temple in Jerusalem. The first to be judged will be his representatives, the Levites.
Since Mark 1:1 (and Jesus in Matthew 11:1-10) identify “the messenger” as John the Baptist then it seems natural to identify Jesus as the Lord and judge Malachi anticipates.
What fascinates me is the list of people going to be judged:
- employers who exploit their employees,
- those who oppress the widows and orphans,
- those who deprive foreigners of justice, (those who are inhospitable to the homeless. The Message)
- anyone who does not honour God.
In our society when we think of justice we tend to think more like the Israelites than like God. Our list of people needing God’s justice might include: thieves, drunk or careless drivers who cause injuries, medical malpractice, politicians lining their pockets, big companies who hurt communities through pollution, gangs, drug dealers and anyone committing violence in our community.
The big discrepancy between God’s list and ours is his focus upon the margins of society. Sure he starts and ends with those who pursue other gods, but in between he cares for:
- those betrayed by their spouse,
- those abandoned by a corrupt judicial system,
- unpaid employees
- widows and orphans
- foreigners, refugees, the homeless, those without family support systems.
How would our world be different if we defined justice by how these social groups are treated?
How would our churches be different if we expressed God’s justice by addressing these issues?
In Jesus’ ministry we also see that he didn’t bring the style of justice the public expected.
Like Jonah and Micah, “the messenger”, John the Baptist, first came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Then in Mark 1:15 we see Jesus message summarised in similar terms “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The justice Jesus first preached wasn’t condemnation and destruction, it was repentance and forgiveness. We also find God’s concern for the poor and defenceless throughout the New Testament. The very setting of Jesus birth, in a stable, places him among the homeless. His parents then flee to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s persecution. In Matthew 25 Jesus identifies himself with the marginal when he says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Over in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
These messages of justice didn’t appear in a vacuum, they reflect God’s heart as expressed in Malachi 3.
Nelson Mandela recently died at age 95. The fall of apartheid in South Africa may not have been quite as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin wall, but it was equally profound. Mandela became the figurehead of the movement pushing for change and was the first president of South Africa post-apartheid.
By the end of his life, Mandela had grown to become an icon for forgiveness and reconciliation. As a leading representative of a marginal and oppressed class of society, it would have been so easy for him to call for justice in the form of retribution and violence. Instead, like Jesus, he modeled the peaceful, but difficult, path of forgiveness.
The baby in the manger was the God of justice the world sought. But for the world to recognise Him we need first to accept His definition of justice and sacrifice ours.
HERE’S some more reading on this text from Malachi.
Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) really summarises the message of Mark’s Gospel. In the story the farm hands recognise Jesus as the son of the landowner. Their response is to kill him. How do we identify Jesus, and how do we respond?
Mark opens his writing with the statement “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From his opening the other three accounts of Jesus’ life took their title. They were not histories, or biographies, they were Good News written to persuade people to believe and trust the person of Jesus.
As Mark introduces Jesus to the world, he elects to use the title, “Son of God” to describe Him. We find this title not only in 1:1, but also at other key events in the book. Jesus is described as the Son of God at his baptism (1:11),at the transfiguration (9:7), and at the cross the centurion after observing his death observes, “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)
The Gospel of Mark pivots on 8:29. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and the apostle Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” Finally, someone accepted Jesus’ message about who he is in relationship with God. In a sense, it’s mission accomplished, but Jesus immediately changes the mission. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8:31)
Having established his claim to the title of Israel’s promised Messiah, Jesus immediately emphasises humility, service, and death. It’s fascinating to see the apostles response move in the exact opposite direction. Three times Jesus predicts his death and the apostles respond by arguing about who is the greatest among them.
|Mark 8:31-34||“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…”||Peter arrogantly rebukes Jesus and tells him that he’s wrong.|
|Mark 9:31-35||“The Son of Man… will be killed.”||“…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”|
|Mark 10:32-41||“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests… they will condemn him to death…”||James and John ask to sit at the left and right hands of Jesus’ throne in glory. This upset the rest of the disciples.|
The apostles slowly learned that it’s one thing to intellectually recognise the Lordship of Jesus, but another challenge altogether to submit to Him. Finally, in 10:45 Jesus laid it out for them in very plain language, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark is very concerned that people acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, as Messiah, as Lord. The first step is to learn and believe this truth. The second step is to allow that truth to transform our lives. Knowing the truth of the majesty of Jesus makes us servants, not superiors.
So I don’t want this article to just be an interesting intellectual blog post. Let me close by posing three questions:
- Who is Jesus to you? (Go ahead, write it down. It’s harder than just thinking it.)
- Who in your life could you serve in a meaningful way in the next two days?
- Will you?
On an academic note, here’s a brief note of caution by NT Wright on how to understand the title “Son of God”. It’s part of a much longer essay available here.
‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus. It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus (like several other first-century Jews) believed he was the Messiah (see JVG, ch. 11). It is much harder, and a very different thing, to argue that he thought he was in some sense identified with Israel’s God. In this context, the phrase ‘son of God’ is systematically misleading because in pre- and non-Christian Judaism its primary referent is either Israel or the Messiah, and it retains these meanings in early  Christianity (e.g. Rom. 1:3-4) while also picking up the overtones of Paul’s early, high Christology. It seems to me, in fact, that the title was perceived very early on in Christianity—within the first decade or so at least—as an ideal one for Jesus because it enabled one to say both ‘Messiah’ and ‘the incarnate one’. However, its subsequent use simply for the latter meaning, coupled with its too-ready identification with the virginal conception story, make it in my view difficult to use without constant qualification in contemporary in systematic discussions.
There’s another short and helpful summary of Wright’s understanding of the title “Son of God” here.
Is it possible that the insults Jesus received caused him emotional pain? Was Jesus immune to that? Did the Divine insight he often seemed to have allow him to perceive people’s motives and never take offense?
I received some pretty direct criticism for this sermon not connecting with people. Naturally, that frustrates me. I have no interest in working for hours to talk for 30 minutes for people to think they wasted their time listening to me. I’m not about to tell anybody the sermon was better than they think. The sermon is only as good as they think. If it’s the preachers goal to connect God’s Word with the congregation and they don’t feel connected, then the preacher needs to do something different.
One reason I think the disconnect occurred arose from the application I made from Mark 3:20-25. I attempted to call upon my inner Max Lucado, and it clearly didn’t work. But I’ve heard it said that Max is a better writer than speaker, so maybe my inner Max also works better on paper… or computer screen.
In Mark 3 Jesus’ ministry gear up a notch when he appoints the Twelve in v13-19. He immediately begins to teach them. He gets so caught up in his teaching and the crowds are so big that v20 tells us that “he and his disciples were unable to eat.”
Somehow, Jesus’ mother, Mary, hears that he’s not taking care of himself. She takes her other children and goes to Jesus. This seems like a very natural and motherly thing to do. We probably imagine her wrapping up some bread, fish and carrot sticks planning to make sure he eats every bite before he goes back to teaching. But surprisingly we find a very different motivation in v21. The CEV state it this way, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.“
God blessed me with a supportive home environment. We didn’t have a lot of money. There were many things we couldn’t do. But my parents always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. During high school one year I decided I wanted to try ventriloquism. I had very little stage experience. I had never worked with puppets. But Mum looked around in various obscure places and found several books for me to study and work on. I didn’t have a teacher and it was more a whim than a dream, so my ventriloquism venture was short lived. But my Mum’s willingness to support my strange ideas meant a lot.
I took familial support during my upbringing for granted. In fact, I still do. I imagine that Jesus also expected his family, those closest to him to support his new ministry: Even if they didn’t understand it.
Instead Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, nuts, bananas. He’d lost his mind. They were so convinced of his insanity they were willing to take him by force. Jesus, who’d never sinned. Jesus, whom his mother had always trusted. Jesus, who left heaven. Jesus, who took on the form of a human. Jesus, carrying out the will of his Father. Jesus, accused of having lost his mind by those closest to him. Surely, if he has any shred of humanity this leaves Jesus hurt and confused.
At this point in the sermon some people may have experienced discomfort. After all, wouldn’t Jesus just take this in his stride? Didn’t Jesus know to expect opposition? Wouldn’t Jesus understand that their intent was to look out for him, to care for him? Surely he knew their motivations were good? Wasn’t Jesus tougher than that? Do you really think his emotions went up and down like ours?
The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about Jesus’ emotional stability. I guess it’s fair to assume that he was usually a pretty stable guy. We know he wept in the face of death (John 11:35). We know he became hot under when God was insulted (John 2:13-17). We know that throughout his ministry he was “moved with compassion” (Mark 6:34; 8:2). But it doesn’t tell us whether he was ever lonely. It doesn’t tell us if the insults he received made him cry, or made him angry, or whether he just felt pity for the people speaking them.
“…infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute…”
I don’t accept this description of God, but that’s a discussion for another time. I do think it’s difficult for us to draw the line between the divinity and humanity of Jesus. In this particular instance I’m very comfortable picturing Jesus emotionally wounded by the statements and attitudes of his family. Their belief in his insanity undermines his ministry almost as much as the Pharisees in the very next verse who argue that he’s demon possessed. I don’t think this makes Jesus a wimp, or even a SNAG. It seems to me that you’d need a remarkably cold heart to be unmoved by your mother and siblings seriously calling you crazy. I don’t believe Jesus ever had a cold heart.
I also believe that Jesus would have discussed and clarified these accusations with his family pretty quickly so as not to allow anger and resentment to fester. Consider his advice in Matthew 5:23-24 to settle disputes before worshiping God. Also in Matthew 18:15 he teaches that if someone sins against you it needs to be sorted out between the two of you directly. Only after direct communication has failed do you involve other people. It’s reasonable to believe Jesus followed his own directions.
Now, I think I lost my inner Max a few paragraphs back, but here’s my observation. There is a way back from hurt and insult. As devastating as it might be to have your siblings and mother lose trust in your dreams and abilities Jesus didn’t turn it into a family feud. Even while hanging on the cross Jesus made sure Mary wouldn’t be left alone (John 19:26-27). He certainly wasn’t vindictive. We also learn in Galatians 1:19 that Jesus’ brother James became a leader in the church after his death.
While it’s human to hurt we need to watch that our hurts don’t define us. Christ was defined by the forgiveness, grace and mercy he extends to all of us who wounded him. We should also aim to have grace greater than our hurts.
- Do you have difficulty picturing Jesus having emotions?
- Why do you think the Bible tells us that Jesus wept, but not that he laughed?
- Does it make a difference to you if Jesus was a “take-it-on-the chin” kind of guy or emotionally sensitive?