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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:For kingdom servants the way up is the way down
Text:Mark 10:32-45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 111:1,2,5

Psalm 19:3 (after the law)

Psalm 75:1-3

Hymn 23

Hymn 8

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 53

Text:  Mark 10:32-45

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

The new king didn’t know what to do.  He’d just come to the throne and he was faced with the question of how to rule the people.  Should he be like his father?  His father had imposed harsh measures.  He made the people work hard and pay high taxes.  Or should he lighten up and relax the burden that his father had placed on them?  What was the best way to lead these citizens placed under his care?  That was a tough question.

What do kings do when they have tough questions?  They go to their advisors.  The king was young and he had two groups of advisors.  The one group consisted of the king’s young friends.  They advised the king to not back down.  For the king to be great, he had to rule like the kings of other nations.  He had to be harsh and ruthless.  True greatness was going to be found in creating more distance between him and the common folk.  The king’s young advisors told him to step things up from the way his father had ruled.

But there was another group of advisors.  They were older, wiser, more experienced.  They saw the damage the king’s father had done.  They knew that tyranny and ruthless rule were not the way forward.  They advised the young king to instead back up and reboot.  They said he should become a servant to the people and lighten their heavy loads.  If he were to do this, they would always be his servants.  Being a servant-king was the only way.   

Who did young King Rehoboam listen to?  1 Kings 12 tells us he listened to his young friends.  The old people didn’t know what they were talking about.  He told his subjects, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier.  My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”  How did that work out for the king?  Well, before long, Rehoboam had lost 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Obviously, Rehoboam was not going to be the promised Messianic king.  He acted like a fool and turned out to be a royal failure. 

The Messiah portrayed in Isaiah is altogether different.  We read a moment ago from those well-known verses of Isaiah 53.  There we see a true servant-king.  He comes and humbles himself and takes the place of the people of God.  Rather than scourging with whips or scorpions, he is the one stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, and crushed.  And only at the end of it all will he be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted.”  His path goes through suffering to glory.  That’s what we see in our text for this morning.  We see our Lord Jesus and those who are united to him.  We see that in for his kingdom servants the way up is the way down.   We’ll consider:

  1. Jesus’ third prediction
  2. James and John’s request
  3. Jesus’ reply and further teaching on true greatness in his kingdom

Jesus is on a journey.  In verse 32, we find a direct indication of where this journey is leading.  He is going up to Jerusalem.  This appears to be shortly before the Passover, Jesus’ last Passover.  Like many Jews, he was on the pilgrimage to the holy city for the holy feast.  But unlike any other Jews, he was heading for a city with a lot of people who had it in for him.  And our Lord Jesus is not reluctantly travelling this road.  He’s not hanging back, but leading the way.

  Mark divides those who were observing this into two groups.  There were the disciples, the twelve of his inner circle.  They were amazed at what they were seeing.  Most people would stay away from a place where they knew the enemy was waiting to kill them.  But Jesus not only heads there, but he does it without flinching, resolutely leading the way. 

Then there was a second group, those who were following.  This is a broader group of people who tagged along with Jesus and his disciples.  They were afraid.  It would seem they knew that heading for Jerusalem was a recipe for disaster and they likely feared being sucked into the chaos and trouble about to happen.  Yet, for all their fear, they continue to come along.

As they travel, our Lord Jesus takes the twelve aside for a private conversation.  He tells them what’s about to happen.  He’s done this twice before in this book, in Mark 8 and 9.  He told them before that he was going to suffer and die.  He spoke of betrayal and of the involvement of the Jewish religious leaders.  He said he was going to die and rise again after three days.  Some of that comes back in this third prediction here in Mark 10:33-34, but there are also new details he reveals. 

If they hadn’t figured it out already, he confirms that this is all going to happen in Jerusalem, the royal city.  The Messiah, the King, will be humiliated in the royal city of David.  Jesus, the Son of Man (that royal figure from Daniel), will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death.  Somehow these law-experts will find something worthy of death in this perfect law-keeper.  According to the Old Testament laws, Israelites could be put to death for a variety of sins.  The death penalty was in place for cursing your parents, for blasphemy, for Sabbath-breaking, for witchcraft or pretending to be a prophet, adultery, rape, idolatry, and other sins.  The Pharisees and other religious leaders had already accused or implicated Jesus for some of these sins.  He had a reputation for blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, and pretending to be a prophet.  Whatever it is they trump up against him, it will not end well. 

But the Jews could not put Jesus to death themselves.  They had no authority to do that.  They would have to manipulate the ruling Romans to do it for them.  Jesus predicts that they’ll succeed.  He will die at the hand of the Romans – which implies he will likely be crucified.  He will receive the ultimate shame and humiliation.  He is travelling to the royal city and there he’ll receive a throne, but not the throne the Messiah was expected to take.  On the Roman cross there was a little seat, a little piece of wood sometimes protruding.  It was called a sedicula.  The crucified would partially prop themselves up on this little piece of wood.  It would extend the humiliation.  So the throne of the cross is what was waiting for Jesus, not the throne of David or Solomon.  But before he takes that throne, there is more humiliation in the form of mocking, spitting, and flogging.  Jesus is going to enter into deep shame.  He’s going way down into the pits of ultimate humiliation.

And it’s only after all of that, after three days, that he will rise again.  First he must travel the road of suffering and death.  Then he will rise again from the dead in glory.  Then he will have the victory over sin and death.  For our Lord Jesus, the way up is the way down.

Why did Christ tell the disciples this?  He knew they would have a hard time grasping it at this moment.  From what follows, we know that’s exactly what happened.  But later they would need a template to help put it all together.  They would need a framework in which to understand everything that happened and its connections to the Word of God in the Old Testament.  He speaks these words so that they, with the help of the Spirit, would properly interpret Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Then they’ll put the pieces together and understand what it all means for them and for the church.

These words should leave us in love and awe for our Saviour.  He knows that he will suffer in these horrific ways.  He knows what kind of throne is waiting for him in the royal city.  And still he goes, not under compulsion, but willingly.  Why?  Because he loves us.  The words here in Mark are not like a newspaper report involving someone you know nothing about.  Look, Jesus did and said these things in this passage with you in his heart.  He loves you.  Through his Word, he’s calling to you again this morning.  “See what love I have for you!  Keep on looking to me in faith, resting and trusting in what I’ve done for you.  Keep turning from your sin and all your false loves, turn to me and love me, and follow me.”

Then we have to know what following Jesus entails.  Here too, the way up is the way down.  That was a hard lesson for Jesus’ disciples.  James and John are the focus here.  There are two important things to remember about James and John.  The first was that they had been up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (and Peter, too).  The second thing is that they were probably relatives of Jesus.  Their mother was Salome and from Scripture it would appear that she was a sister of Mary.  That would have made James and John the cousins of Jesus.  There were family connections.

Even with those family ties, they come to Jesus with a respectful address.  They call him “Teacher” or “Rabbi.”  Then they ask for the freedom to ask for and receive from him whatever they want.  While he allows their question, he doesn’t give them a promise that he’s going to give whatever they ask.  Our Saviour is wiser than that.  He knows that sinful people sometimes ask for things they shouldn’t. 

Their request is this:  “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  They’d seen Jesus’ glory up on the mountain.  They knew who he really was.  Now he was going to Jerusalem, to the royal city.  More glory was obviously coming.  Didn’t they just hear what he said about betrayal, suffering and death?  They heard, but they didn’t get it.  They still have their heads up on the mountain.  For them, Jesus is all about glory.  In their thinking, the way up is the way up. 

They want to sit on his right and on his left in his glory.  Usually the right hand is the position of honour, but here ‘left’ is not meant to be any less honourable.  The trusted advisors of the king would sit on his right and on his left.  These were honourable places and James and John wanted these places.  It only made sense that they would be the ones.  After all, they were on the mountain with Jesus.  Peter was there too, but Peter was a bit impulsive and had some obvious character flaws.  Jesus called him “Satan,” didn’t he?  Besides, Peter wasn’t family with Jesus like James and John.  James and John had it in the bag.  Right and left hand.  That only made sense. 

Think about that for a moment.  Where do we read in Scripture about two men at Jesus’ right and his left?  When he’s enthroned on the cross, he has a man on his right and a man on his left.  But where are James and John at that moment?  Certainly not at his right hand or his left.  In the deepest depths of his humiliation, these so-called family members at best stand at a distance.  They enjoyed the glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, but Golgotha was something else.  The only men on his right and his left are men who don’t want to be there, but who deserve to be there.

So given what Jesus was just speaking about, their request makes you shake your head.  Jesus shakes his head too.  “You don’t know what you’re asking,” he says.  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  And then he speaks about a cup he’s about to drink and a baptism with which he’s about to be baptized.  These two images refer to the suffering that he’s about to endure.  The cup in the Bible often refers to a cup of God’s judgment.  He says that he’s going to drink it – in other words, this is something he actively does.  He’s not being forced.  He’ll take the cup and lift it to his lips and take that liquid in his mouth and gulp it down.  He is an active participant in what’s coming.  But there is also a sense in which he is being acted upon.  He will be baptized with a baptism.  There’s no background to those words.  Jesus seems to introduce the image here of being plunged into suffering and death.  That’s what baptism refers to here: having someone plunge you into something.  Here it’s suffering.  So, he says, “Can you take it?”

Remarkably, their answer is an impulsive, “We can.”  The way Mark presents it, they don’t deliberate.  They don’t reflect.  They just seem to casually say, “Oh yes, we can do that, no problem.”  Whatever it is you’re going to do, we can do that too.  James and John, you don’t know what you’re asking.  You don’t get it.

It’s easy to stand in judgment over James and John from where we’re at today.  However, Mark and the Holy Spirit who inspired him didn’t tell us this account so we could look down our noses at them and be thankful that we’re not as dull.  The attitude of James and John is still around, sometimes in our hearts and lives too.  Whenever our relationship with Christ becomes a means to advance our own glory and honour, we’ve adopted their perspective.  Whenever we think that we have a full grasp on what it means to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus, we’re walking in their shoes.  Mark says, “Look in the mirror.  Don’t you sometimes see James and John looking back at you?”  I know I do.  What about you, loved ones?  Let’s not be too quick to cast stones at the two brothers.  Their foolishness and short-sightedness is often ours.

Jesus replies in a surprising way.  He says that they will drink his cup and share in his baptism.  That doesn’t mean that they’re going to suffer the wrath of God for sinners.  But it does mean that they will find out in their lives that the way up is the way down.  They will have to enter into suffering before they will find glory.  They must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.  James found it out at the hands of Herod.  In Acts 12:2 we read that Herod put James to death with the sword.  James drank Jesus’ cup and was baptized with his baptism.  He suffered and died for his faith in Christ.  And what about John?  In Revelation 1, John described himself as a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.”  John was exiled to the island of Patmos for his faith.  Scripture doesn’t tell us how he died, though tradition says he lived at Ephesus to a ripe old age.  Yet he too knew his share of suffering and drinking Jesus’ cup and being baptized with his baptism.  Jesus’ words about James and John came to pass. 

But there was one thing Jesus could not grant them and that was positions of honour in the kingdom.  He said those places belong to those for whom they were prepared.  God has set those places and Jesus does not go about assigning them. 

This conversation took place within earshot of the other ten disciples.  Mark tells us that they were royally upset with the sons of Zebedee.  Who did they think they were going after these positions of honour?  What made them so special?  Weren’t all the disciples equal?  The reaction is typical, isn’t it?  We see someone else getting special treatment and our backs can easily get up.  But we also have to ask, why?  What’s motivating our indignation?  What’s in our hearts at that moment?  Is it a desire to see God made much of?  For God to be honoured?  Or are we concerned about ourselves and our rights and our dignity?

Our Lord Jesus saw this as a teaching moment.  Again he calls the disciples together and it’s classroom time on the road to Jerusalem.  He begins by speaking about the heathens, the non-Jews and the way they rule and lead.  It’s a lot like Rehoboam.  They lord it over.  They use tyranny and even when they have velvet gloves, there’s an iron first inside.  That’s the way the Gentiles of Jesus’ day ruled too.  Raw power and domination were the order of the day.  To rule, you need to be strong and you needed to show your strength.  Leaders lead through intimidation and throwing their weight around. 

That’s the way the disciples ought never to follow.  If they want to be great, they must be servants.  They need to follow the advice of Rehoboam’s elders.  They ought to be those who are like waiters.  Whoever wants to be first in Jesus’ kingdom has to be the slave of everyone.  They have to be willing to get down and do the dirty work, and be at people’s beck and call.  No one in Jesus’ service can think that he or she is too good for serving everyone else.  The way up is the way down and there’s no other way.

These words had special meaning for the disciples walking with Jesus in our text.  They were destined to become leaders in Christ’s church.  Today these words therefore also have special meaning for those called to be leaders in the church.  For us as office bearers, as pastor, elders, and deacons, our calling is to lead humbly as servants and slaves.  We’re not in this for our personal glory or because we think that special spots are waiting for us beside Jesus.  We serve out of love for our Saviour and anything we receive is grace.  This holds true for aspiring office bearers as well.  As elders and deacons, you’ll to be leading as servants, not as tyrants.  And for all of us, there is something here.  All of us, men and women, young and old.  We’re all called to be disciples and in that general office, we all need to have the servant mentality.  The mentality of “How can I help?  What can I do to serve my brothers and sisters?” 

That mentality grows out of our union with the Saviour who lived in the same way.  He is the pattern for our servant mentality, for our recognition that the way up and the way forward is the way down into servanthood.  That’s what verse 45 is focussed upon.  Jesus calls himself again the Son of Man.  Those words “Son of Man” come from Daniel 7.  In Daniel 7, the Son of Man is a royal figure, a person with authority, glory, and sovereign power.  He has an everlasting dominion.  And here our Lord says that the Son of Man, this royal figure, was and is all about service to others.  He did not come to be served, to be waited upon, but to serve, to wait upon others.  To serve their interests, to act in their place. 

That culminates with those famous words at the end of verse 45, “and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Those are rich words.  They’re also words that can easily be misunderstood or even twisted.  Let’s look closely at what Jesus is saying here. 

First, he says that he gives his life.  In other words, again, this is an active thing on his part.  No one takes his life from him, he lays it down of his own accord.  Jesus was a willing participant in his crucifixion and death.  He was not a hapless victim.  That takes the wind out of the sails of those who say that Jesus’ death on the cross was a form of “cosmic child abuse.”  Some have said that.  They’ve said that the orthodox view of the atonement means that God the Father is taking out his anger on his Son, abusing him.  We have to get this straight:  Jesus willingly went to the cross and took the wrath of God against our sin.  This was no cosmic child abuse, but a sacrifice willingly made.

Second, he gives his life as a ransom.  The word “ransom” has often thrown people off.  The Bible uses this concept in a way that’s slightly different than the way that we often speak of “ransom.”  We often speak of ransom in the context of a kidnapping.  Someone kidnaps somebody else and holds them hostage.  In order for the captive to be released, a ransom has to be paid.  It has to be paid to someone.  However, in the biblical use of this word, there is no person to whom the ransom has to be paid.  No passage in the Bible directly mentions who receives the ransom payment and then releases the captive.  The biblical emphasis in the ransom is the costly price paid.  Now in theology we work that out further and understand that this costly price was paid to God’s justice.  But here in Mark 10:45, Jesus is just emphasizing that a great cost was involved in freeing sinners from the slavery of sin and the wrath of God.  We have to be careful that we don’t read too much into the “ransom” image.

Third, he gives his life as a ransom for many.  These two words at the end of verse 45 are important.  Each word teaches us something.  The word “for” tells us that this is a substitution.  What Jesus did on the cross has often been called the substitutionary atonement.  He is our substitute that brought us into restored union and fellowship with God.  He took our place on the cross.  He took the wrath of God which should have been directed at us.  That’s the gospel!  The good news is there in that little word “for.”

The word “many” tells us that Jesus did not give his life as a ransom for all.  He laid down his life for the sheep.  That means that he made the atonement with the intent of paying for the sins of the elect and the elect only.  Jesus did not die for all people.  He died on the cross for his chosen ones and them alone.  We call that doctrine particular atonement or sometimes it’s called limited atonement.  It’s the ‘L’ in the famous TULIP acronym and it’s found explained in chapter 2 of the Canons of Dort.

The substitutionary atonement and particular atonement are both found there in verse 45.  Yet we shouldn’t forget that this comes in the context of the servant attitude and actions of our Saviour.  This is how we know what it looks like to be a servant:  Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself in this way.  He made the greatest sacrifice in our place, fulfilling everything from Isaiah 53 and other passages of the Old Testament.  Loved ones, continue looking to him in faith and trusting his perfect work in your place.  But also live out of union with him through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

What will that look like?  It will look a lot like Jesus.  As for him, so for us:  the way up is the way down.  The way forward is for us to serve and to give our lives in the service of God and our neighbour.  The way forward is for us to be pulled outside of ourselves and look for how we can serve in our church, in our neighbourhoods, in our city, and beyond.  Being turned in on yourself and being focussed on your own misery and problems and so on is one of the aspects of our fallen condition that this text seeks to address.  The Spirit wants to pull us outward to be servants, even though he tells us that it will be costly and it will never be easy.  Maybe like James, the road will lead to a coffin for the sake of Jesus.  You don’t know.  Maybe like John, it will lead to exile or imprisonment for the cause of the Son of God.  You don’t know.  Maybe it will be ridicule and mockery -- who knows?  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise us glory for this age, but he does promise it for the age to come.  Let’s trust him and follow his way.  AMEN.


Father on high,

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.  We pray that you would direct our footsteps according to your Word.  We pray for understanding so that we may live.  We love your Word and we want to conform our lives to it.  We love our Saviour and we desire to live out of union with him.  Father, please help us to do that through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Help us to have the servant mentality of our Saviour.  We thank you for his perfect redemptive work, that he is our substitute.  We thank you that he took our place on the cross, and we trust in his once-for-all sacrifice.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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