The Pattern and Path to Greatness
Text: Mark 10:32–45
Main Idea: Sacrificial service is the path to true greatness because Jesus served us first.
I. The Messiah’s Prediction (Mark 10:32–34)
II. The Disciple’s Blindness (Mark 10:35–41)
III. The Only Path to True Greatness (Mark 10:42–45)
As we turn to our passage this morning, you might be wondering, “Haven’t we heard all of this before in Mark 8:31 and 9:31?” And the answer is both yes and no. What I mean is that, our text this morning is the third and final episode in which (1) Jesus predicts his death, (2) the disciples reveal their remaining spiritual blindness, and (3) Jesus responds to their condition by teaching them about the nature of true greatness.
So yes, on one hand, he is patiently teaching his disciples the same thing over and over again, even though everything seems to “go in one ear and out the other.” But, on the other hand this morning, he finally reveals the fundamental reason why sacrificial service is the only means by which his followers will find true greatness in the Kingdom of God.
Main Idea Sacrificial service is the path to true greatness because Jesus served us first (through his atoning sacrifice).
So, as we turn to our text we are going to break it down into the following three sections.
The Messiah’s Prediction (Mark 10:32–34)
The Disciple’s Blindness (Mark 10:35–41)
The Only Path to True Greatness (Mark 10:42–45)
The Messiah’s Prediction (Mark 10:32–34)
The Final Journey (10:32)
Now, as Mark opens this episode in verse 32 he presents us with both a new development and puzzling question.
A New Development:
Throughout the Gospel of Mark Jesus has been traveling all around the Northern reaches of Israel, even venturing into Gentile territory. But, the one thing he has not done in this Gospel is travel to Jerusalem, the very spiritual center of Israel, the home to his most adamant opponents.
So in this simple geographic reference, Mark is telling us that Jesus the Messiah is making his final turn toward Israel’s capitol and ultimately the cross itself. BUT, at the same time this final turn toward Jerusalem raises the question, who are these fearful people following Jesus and why are they so afraid?
A Puzzling Question:
The best answer seems to be that Jesus has attracted a significant number of followers who believe he might be the promised Messiah. And if the Messiah is heading for Jerusalem, it can only mean one thing—the Messiah is going to claim his throne, purify the priesthood, and declare war against their Roman occupiers. And if this is the case, the streets are going to run red with blood.
In fact, this anticipation helps us better understand why James and John are angling for positions of prestige in the kingdom—they think Jesus is going to ascend to David’s throne.
But, here is the deal. Jesus is not going to claim the throne. He’s not going to install new priests in the Temple. And he is not going to lay waste to the Roman army. He is going to Jerusalem so that he can be rejected, tortured, executed, and raised from the dead.
The Final Prediction (10:33–34)
But, before we dig into his third and final prediction, let’s take a minute to examine the previous two predictions so that we can truly appreciate the unique details in each revelation.
Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
In this first account Jesus highlights his imminent suffering and rejection at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes. In other words, Israel’s spiritual leaders are not going to “come around too” and embrace Jesus as their Messiah. They are going to fight him to the bitter end and contribute to his death.
Mark 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
In this second account Jesus emphasizes God’s sovereign activity in that God himself will hand Jesus over into the hands of sinful men (elders, chief priests, and scribes). In other words, his imminent death is not going to be tragic accident or successful coup and his resurrection is not going to be an divine adjustment. No, his rejection, death, and subsequent resurrection are the very plan of God himself!
Mark 10:33–34 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Here in his third prediction he offers even more insight into his rejection and suffering, in that, Israel’s religious leaders the ones who study and proclaim God’s Holy Word and long for God’s promised Messiah are going to hand Jesus over to their sworn enemies—the Romans—to be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and executed.
In other words, Israel’s leaders would rather preserve their positions of power under Roman occupation than embrace God’s promised Messiah—despite the fact that Jesus has given them every reason to believe that he is the promised Messiah.
And on account of this, their betrayal will be nothing less than a malicious premeditated act of Cosmic Treason against Israel’s Covenant God, the very Creator of the Universe!
This revelation should arrest the disciples attention. It should force them to ask more question. But, here is the sad irony; as Jesus draws closer and closer to his final days, his disciples are not drawing any closer in their understanding of him or his true mission. Jesus has been talking about his death and resurrection for three chapters. And for three chapters the disciples have been blind to what he is saying. And for three chapters they have been afraid to simply ask him for the help they need to see.
And when James and John finally approach Jesus with a personal question, it only betrays the their persistent short-sightedness, in that, they are quick to claim the benefits of God’s kingdom, while completely ignoring the costs of participating in it.
The Disciple’s Blindness (Mark 10:35–41)
The Disciple’s Request (10:35–37)
Do you see what they are asking for? They are not humbly asking to understand so that they can see. No. They are arrogantly asking to be seen. They just don’t get it. They want to sit in the places of honor and power at his right and left hand, even though Jesus just told them that he was going to be rejected, flogged, and killed.
They still misunderstand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah and assume that they deserve special privileges because they are his friends. They are foolishly assuming that the Messianic age is going to operate just like just the old age in which cronyism, nepotism, and pork-barrel politics rule the day.
Even more, their question exposes the reality that they are not thinking about anyone else but themselves, in that, they hope to merely replace the self-serving oppressive power structures of Rome with their own. A situation in which nothing changes except the names of the rulers.  In addition to this, they do not realize that Jesus’ glory follows his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. Glory isn’t first. Glory is last. Jesus is lowering himself to the very last and on account of this he will receive the highest and greatest place of all (Cf. Phil 2:5–11).
The Savior’s Rebuttal (10:38–41)
James and John deserve a severe tongue lashing, they deserve to be ridiculed; in that, they do not understand what they are asking for nor can they even fathom the events that they confidently proclaim they can endure. They cannot drink from the cup of God’s judgment that Jesus is going to consume on the behalf of sinful men. Nor can they endure the overwhelming deluge of God’s Holy wrath against mankind’s guilt (in the baptism) that will drown Jesus in the white hot fury of God’s divine justice, like the Genesis flood drowned every living thing on the planet,.
Yes, they are going to drink a cup and undergo a baptism of their own in the future as they suffer for the sake of the gospel. But, these will be categorically different than Jesus’ cup and baptism, in that, his passion will serves as singular sacrifice that will rescue countless men and women from God’s holy wrath.
2 Thessalonians 1:6–10 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Revelation 20:11–15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This is why Jesus came. But notice as the other 10 disciples step back into the picture, they are angry not because James and John are clueless about the cross. They are angry because they want the best seats in the Kingdom of God too!
The Only Path to True Greatness (Mark 10:42–45)
A Marked Contrast (10:42–44)
Why are the disciples still so blind after everything they have seen and heard? It’s not that they are physically blind and deaf. Rather, they are spiritually blind and deaf. How do we know this? It’s because they are still measuring greatness by the world’s standards. Just think about it, what is one of the key marks of worldly rulers and their authority? Worldly rulers, for the most part, stand above others and exercise their authority over their subjects. And the disciples are thinking the same thing, “How can I distinguish myself from the other disciples so that I make the make it big?”
But, notice how Jesus resets their pursuit of greatness. As my former pastor, Jason Meyer, points out: “Jesus does not tell them, ‘Stop wanting to be great!’ He does not rebuke their quest for greatness; he redefines the quest by redefining greatness. True greatness is not elevating oneself over others as lord but getting beneath others as servant. First-place is not the highest place of privilege, but it’s the lowest place of servant. [Therefore], it is not about how high can you climb as you step on and over as many people as possible, but how long can you go as you seek to serve as many people as possible.”
The preeminent virtue of God’s kingdom is not power or personal freedom, it’s service. In other words, true greatness belongs to the one who is not inherently great, but the one who humbly serves others other people as a “slave of all,” which is the lowliest position possible. See, the values of the kingdom turn the world’s system upside down. And that is because Jesus is the kind of King that came to give not to get!
Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The Fundamental Reason (10:45)
Notice, Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to become servants and slaves because it is preferable or ethical but because it reflects his very posture as the “Son of Man.” And when Jesus calls himself the son of Man, I do not believe he is saying, “hey I am human.” He is carefully hinting, “I am the promised ruler of the world!”
Daniel 7:13–14 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Jesus is the ruler who will rule over all rulers and all peoples in his glory for all of eternity. No one is greater! No one is close to his equal. And no one has gone lower and become more of a slave than he did when he purchased our deliverance through his death—giving his life as a ransom for many. Notice his greatness is not defined by his universal authority. Rather, his greatness is inextricably anchored in his selfless rescue of wretched rebels from their rightful punishment by giving his life as a ransom for their freedom and everlasting joy.
When you hear the word ransom what comes to your mind? A payment to free a loved one from kidnappers or terrorists. A payment to free prisoners of war or slaves from captivity?
Well in the Bible, the word ransom is uniquely linked to the sacrificial system. Guilty sinful humans needed a substitute to take away their guilt before God, and God provided a way to cover their sin and escape his wrath through the death of a substitute—normally a lamb. Which is why it is called “substitutionary sacrifice.” And here is the beautiful thing, Jesus uses this substitutionary language in reference to himself, in that, he is giving his life as a ransom “for”/in exchange for/in the place of (ἀντί) many. His selfless service is not merely about helping people with their daily needs BUT addressing humanities greatest need—peace with God!
See in the cross, Jesus himself: the highest person (God almighty and the Daniel 7 King) took the lowest place to serve, rescue, and ransom hell-bound humanity. And in the cross he took our place, paid our debt, and satisfied God’s wrath against us!
So now let’s get to the heart of the question, why? Why would any human pursue a life of self-abasing service to others? Servanthood is not comfortable. Servanthood is not desirable. Servanthood is not very manageable. Servanthood can be demeaning, frustrating, and virtually unending.
Even more, as a servant, you are never going to set yourself apart from anyone else and move up the ladder if you’re constantly lifting up and serving the people around you. Yet, according to Jesus this is the very definition of being first and not last…
Here is the key.
Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to look at their service nor does he tell them to look at the people they are serving for their motivation. Please hear this, if you serve so that people will praise you for your assistance or sacrifice you will always be disappointed.
Rather, he tells us to look at him and remember what he has done for us. Jesus is our example. Jesus is our motivation and in the cross we are constantly reminded that we will never be able stoop lower or sacrifice more than he has already done for us. You cannot lower yourself lower than Jesus!!!
True greatness has nothing to do with your earthly status. Rather, true greatness is found in the relentless pursuit of helping other people find their greatest joy and happiness in God himself through faith in Jesus Christ; as we use every means in our disposal to lessen their sorrow, deepen their relationships, and increase their joy.
 Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 452–53.
 James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 322.
 This paragraph is heavily influenced by Jason Meyer’s sermon on this text, https://bethlehem.church/sermon/why-christ-came. “This is the same question Jesus will ask of blind Bartimaeus in the following story (10:51). But the response of Bartimaeus will differ greatly from that of the brothers. Bartimaeus asks for faith, James and John ask for fame; Bartimaeus wants to follow Jesus “on the way,” James and John want to sit with him in glory;” (Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 321).
 David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 411.
 “Mark 15:27, the only other place in Mark where these words occur;” (Garland, Mark, 411). The men on his “right and left” will be crucified criminals not faithful coworkers.
 Cup is used most often of suffering, especially in the context of divine judgment (Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17–23; Jer 25:15–29; 49:12; Lam 4:21; Ezek 23:31–34; Hab 2:16; Pss. Sol. 8:14; Rev 14:10; 16:19).
 “The use of ‘baptism’ (βάπτισμα) in the sense of suffering is more obscure. Suffering is sometimes described as an overwhelming deluge of water (Pss 42:7; 69:1–2; Isa 43:2), and the verb “baptize” (βαπτίζω) can carry this sense of being overwhelmed or deluged;” (Strauss, Mark, 455.
 Strauss, Mark, 459.
 J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Crossway Books, 1993), 159.