Jesus On Discipleship
So I think the best way to start today’s sermon is to step back for a minute and recall where we started six months ago with the Gospel of Mark. In the very first sermon, six months ago, we saw right away that Mark’s Gospel is different from the other Gospels because of what Mark says in Chapter 1, verse 1. He says there, first thing: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
There’s no genealogy; there’s no birth narrative; there’s no warmup at all. Mark just gets straight to the gospel, and what makes this so special is that it’s true to the nature of the gospel. This is the way Jesus is himself. Jesus is confrontational. He’s confrontational in the sense that he came to this world on a mission, because he wanted to, and he came here on purpose. He came to this world, for us, to give himself. And he’s right here. In Mark’s Gospel — it’s like Jesus stands right in front of us. This Gospel is like Jesus in your face.
And a big theme in this Gospel is how we get him. This is what we call discipleship. It means following Jesus, having Jesus, being in fellowship with Jesus — are we with Jesus or not? Mark is constantly putting that question before us, and we saw it last week in Jesus’s conversation with the “young urban professional.”
Pastor David explained it so well. This guy in Chapter 10 is asking Jesus what he needs to do in order to gain eternal life; he tells Jesus he’s kept all the commandments since he was a kid, and so what else does is left? — “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus basically says, There’s one thing you lack, and I’m standing right in front of you. Let go of everything else and follow me.
And the key in that story, as Pastor David said, is the “me” — it’s Jesus. It’s aways about Jesus.
And this is important for today’s sermon because in today’s passage, verses 32–52, this is the last section on discipleship in Mark. Next week, in Chapter 11, we are in Jerusalem, but today, for one last Sunday, we are still on the way to Jerusalem, learning from Jesus what it means to follow him.
And I believe he has something to say to us today that we really need to hear. So let’s pray, and we’ll get started.
Father, we confess that we need to hear from you — that I need to hear from you. And more than that, Father, we ask that you make us want to hear from you. For every heart that is tired and apathetic; for every heart that is distracted and in a hurry — Father, would you, by your Spirit, change us, and speak to us today, in Jesus’s name, amen.
Two Lessons on Discipleship
So there are two lessons on discipleship that Jesus gives us here in this passage, and I want to go ahead and tell you what they are. These lessons are part of two different conversations. Conversation 1 is with the disciples; Conversation 2 is with a man named Bartimaeus; and each conversation gives us us a lesson. This is how it goes (if you like to write things down, this is that moment):
Conversation 1, Lesson 1: You are great by your love, not by your power.
Conversation 2, Lesson 2: You are most desperate for what you most treasure.
So there are two conversations and lessons here, but they both happen in the same context, and I want to show you that before we do anything else. This context is the scene that Marks sets up for us in verses 32–34.
On the Way to Jerusalem
Mark says there, in verse 32, “And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem.” And I love the way Mark says this, because he doesn’t just mention it, but he describes the scene.
So we need to use our imagination here a little. Mark says that they — which is the disciples and a small crowd that tagged along — were all on the road, on the way to Jerusalem, and Jesus was “walking ahead of them.”
So imagine there’s a herd of people walking down the road together, and it’s a dirt road, and as they’re walking, Jesus is a little ways off ahead of them, but he not ahead of them because he’s walking faster — he’s ahead of them because they’re walking slower. They’re staying back from Jesus, and keeping their distance from him, because they’re sort of dumbstruck by him.
Mark says the disciples were once again amazed at Jesus, and the rest of the crowd is afraid of him, and so they’re all just walking behind him and watching him, until Jesus pulls the twelve disciples aside and explains to them what is happening.
He tells them Yes, they are going to Jerusalem, but Jesus is not going there to assume his post at the victorious Messiah-King. Instead he’s going to Jerusalem to die. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to assume his post as the Suffering Servant who gives himself for his people. Verse 33:
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. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.
Okay, disciples, so I’m glad we had this talk.
And they continue their walk to Jerusalem — in this context. They’re walking to Jerusalem, where Jesus is going to die, and then James and John come up to Jesus with a question. That is verse 35.
Conversation #1 — Jesus with His Disciples (vv. 35–45)
They say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.”
And let me just say for the kids in the room: don’t try this at home. This is not a good idea. James and John are trying to get Jesus to say yes to their question before they even ask their question. And I’ve seen this sort of thing before (God has given me a shrewd brood, so I get what they’re trying to do here). But the problem is that the only reason the disciples do it this way is because they know their question is a little bit silly. They have some trepidation here — which has nothing to do with Jesus’s kindness, but everything to do with their own motives.
Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And James and John ask Jesus to make them next in command. When Jesus comes into his glory, and takes his throne, these two brothers want to be by his side, one at his right hand and one at his left hand. They want to make sure they are in all the pictures.
And Jesus says, very gently, that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t know what they’re asking. Didn’t they just hear what Jesus said about what’s going to happen when he gets to Jerusalem? He is not taking his seat on the throne, he is going to be killed on a cross. And James and John want to be on both sides of him. They don’t get it. Can they drink the cup that Jesus will drink? Can they be baptized with his baptism?
When Jesus says this in verse 38, he’s talking about his suffering. Jesus is going to drink the cup of affliction in Jerusalem. He is going to be immersed into the pain of death. Can they take that?
They say they can. Jesus says that indeed they will. And most interpreters think that Jesus is referring here to the suffering they will experience as his apostles, and I think that’s right. All Christians, and especially all the apostles, have a solidarity with Jesus and his suffering (see Romans 8:17). They will bear the marks of Jesus; they will suffer for the gospel’s sake (see Galatians 6:17; 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 2:20–21) — but the whole glory stuff they’re asking about, that’s out of the question, see. That’s the Father’s business, and Jesus is not talking about that right now. And when the other disciples overhear this conversation and they get angry at James and John.
And we don’t know exactly why — maybe it’s because they had the same ambitions but got beat to the punch, or maybe it’s because they felt cut out by these two brothers — there’s kind of like an inner-ring mafia thing going on here; James and John are maneuvering with the boss — so we don’t exactly why the other disciples upset, but either way, the other ten disciples were indignant at James and John, and so Jesus again pulls all twelve disciples aside, and he gives them a critical lesson about discipleship. He tells them . . . “Lesson #1” . . .
Lesson #1: You are great by your love, not by your power.
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
So Jesus is addressing a problem here, and it’s not a problem with just James and John, it’s a problem in all of the disciples. And it’s not just a problem with their motives in this isolated event, it’s a problem with their understanding of greatness in general. The problem is that the disciples think the way the world thinks, which is not the way God thinks.
Those who are rulers in the world — the rulers of the nations, the Gentile rulers — they take their authority and lord it over those under them. The “great ones,” according to the world, manifest their “greatness” by dominance. They subdue and squelch and get their way no matter what. That’s the world’s way of doing things. Those who are great are those who have the most influence that they can throw around. They’re the ones closest to the throne, as it were, which is precisely what James and John are trying to do here. Except that in verse 43 Jesus says, “But it shall not be so among you.”
Again, this is not a check on their motives. This is a complete reconfiguration of their thinking. In the kingdom of God, under the reign of Jesus, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”
This is the new grid through which to see everything. It is the new definition of greatness. We don’t come to take, but to give. We don’t make demands, we wash feet. This is what it looks like when we follow Jesus, and that’s because this is the way of Jesus. Verse 45 might be the most important verse in this Gospel. Jesus says there:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
If you wanted to know the reason why the people of Jesus are called to be servants, it’s because Jesus himself is the ultimate servant. The example of Jesus here grounds everything that Jesus has said.
Now look, in terms of power, Jesus, of course, has no comparison. He has all authority. He spoke the universe into existence. He sustains every created thing by the power of his voice. All possessions belong to him, and will be given to him. Every knee will bow to him, and every tongue will confess his worth. Every king’s heart will do as he wills, and every nation will pay him tribute. Every human being will one day sit beneath his judgment. So when it comes to power, Jesus is God, and he has it all, but when it comes to greatness, Jesus says, verse 45, “even the Son of Man” — even Jesus, the Son of Man! — “came not be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus teaches us here what he shows us at the cross, it’s that you are great by your love, not by your power. Do you want to see the glory of God? Do you want to see the majesty of God? Do you want to see the splendor of God in all his perfections put on vivid display? Where do we look? We look at the cross.
We look to where Jesus sacrificed himself for us. We look to where Jesus was the ultimate servant — where he became highly exalted because of his humility. The cross is where he showed himself great because of his love.
And so it is with us if we follow him.
Several years ago one summer I had the chance to go to Eastern Europe to work with a church in the country of Moldova. It was the summer after my first year in college when I knew I wanted to be a pastor one day, and I got to go on this trip with my friend and mentor, and then his pastor who pastored a great church in Raleigh. I remember I was so excited about this trip. It was a privilege just to be in the company of these men, and I was enamored by the whole thing.
We got to meet with pastors in the country’s capital, and one the pastors was this man, Pastor Niccoli, and he was like a rockstar. He had all kinds of influence in the city, and we were working with his church to put on this big event.
We had been planning this thing all week, and it went really well and lots of people came, and after the event, when everyone had left, there were a couple kids and some older women cleaning up, and I was standing there by the door with my friend looking into this big room, just kind of taking it all in, amazed by everything, and I said to my friend, “Wow, Moldova needs more Christians like Pastor Niccoli.”
And my friend put his hand on my shoulder, like Jesus would do I think, and he said, “No, Moldova needs more Christians like them” — and he pointed at one of the older ladies who was emptying the trash.
There is more than one way to be a servant, but if we’re honest, I think, we tend to be most impressed by the same things that impress the world.
The greatest in the kingdom of God are people whose names we will never know.
Like Jesus, as his people, we are called to go and give — to not be served but to serve, in the name of Jesus, for the sake of love, before and unto God who sees when nobody else sees. We do good for others out of our freedom, at no cost to the other but at total cost to ourselves, because we have the resources, and his name is Jesus. See, it all comes back to Jesus.
And this is what Bartimaeus is going to shows us, starting in verse 46.
Conservation #2 — Jesus with Bartimaeus (vv. 46–52)
So after the first conversation with his disciples, Jesus and the disciples, and those with them, continued their journey to Jerusalem, and they came to Jericho, which is just east of Jerusalem, and as they were coming out of Jericho, there was a blind man sitting by the road. His name is Bartimaeus.
There was enough clamor about Jesus echoing down the road in Jericho that Bartimaeus, who was sitting by the road, heard that it was Jesus who was passing by. And because he’s blind he can’t see Jesus, but he started crying out, verse 47, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And this was a little indecent, maybe kind of embarrassing. We have to imagine that there’s this crowd enthralled by Jesus, walking with him down the road, and then all of a sudden there was this blind man just hollering out for Jesus. And so many people in the crowd, Mark says, tried to hush him up.
They “rebuked” Bartimaeus in verse 48 just like the disciples “rebuked” away the children in verse 13. It’s the exact same word. Nobody wants Jesus to be bothered by the kids or by the blind man, which just shows that they don’t know who Jesus is. But somebody in this story does!
Because when they tried to make Bartimaeus be silent, do you know what he did?
He cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And these aren’t throw away words here. Bartimaeus is calling Jesus the Messiah.
This is as real a confession of Jesus’s identity as what Peter gives in Chapter 8.
The Messiah was to come through the lineage of David — everyone knew that — and Bartimaeus is here calling Jesus the Son of David, and he’s asking him him for mercy — which means he is confessing Jesus as the Christ, which means, right away, this man has faith.
And in verse 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
And those around Bartimaeus told him to take heart and get up, because Jesus is calling him, and I wonder if the people who told him to get up were the same ones who were telling him to be silent — we don’t know — but when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was calling him, he threw off his cloak and he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus asked him, verse 51, “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s the exact same question that Jesus asked James and John in verse 36.
So here in Conversation 2 Jesus is asking the same question he asked in Conversation 1, which means that we’re supposed to look at these two conversations together. Mark wants us to compare these conversations, and when we do, we see Lesson #2:
Lesson #2 — You are most desperate for what you most treasure.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”
- When Jesus asked James and John what they wanted, they said they wanted head-turning glory. Jesus asked Bartimaeus, and he said he just wants to see, because he’s blind.
- James and John are trying to secure their prestigious seat at the side of Jesus, but Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road, just doesn’t want to be an outcast anymore.
- James and John desire stardom, Bartimaeus just desires to be whole.
And Jesus says, in verse 52,
“Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
The word for “well” in verse 52 is also the word for “saved.” So Jesus tells this now well man, this saved man, to go his way, but notice what Bartimaeus does. He follows Jesus on the way.
This is a clear reference to discipleship. It’s what Mark has been showing us this whole time. It’s what Jesus has been teaching us. Bartimaeus goes from being on the side of the road and Jesus passing by, to being on the road with Jesus. This is a conversion. Jesus tells Bartimaeus to go “his way” — which has now become the way of Jesus.
And this how we know this story is about more than physical blindness. Bartimaeus wants his sight to be healed, yes, because he’s blind, but that’s not what he’s most desperate for. Bartimaeus is not desperate to see, he is desperate for a Savior who is able make him see.
He doesn’t say: I’m blind! I’m blind! Make me see!
He says: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And when they told him to stop, he just said it louder: Son of David, have mercy on me!
And when Jesus healed his blindness, he followed Jesus on the way.
If Bartimaeus most treasured his sight then when he recovered his sight, he would have been done with Jesus. Jesus would have been for him just the means to get what he really wants, which is his sight. But that is not how the story goes.
Instead, Bartimaeus, here, doesn’t just get his sight, he gets Jesus — he gets to follow Jesus; he gets to be with Jesus; he gets to have Jesus. Jesus is the one he most treasures; Jesus is the one he’s been most desperate for. . . .
. . . because we’re most desperate for what we most treasure.
So what about you?
What are you desperate for?
What is that thing in your life you must have? What is that thing you cannot live without?
Can you imagine your life stripped away of everything you love except for Jesus — can you imagine yourself in that place, everything is gone except for him — and can you imagine that somehow, in that place, in some deep and mysterious way, through the pain of your loss, Jesus is enough.
Is Jesus enough for you?
Because if you will follow him, he must be.
Now, that very question, this whole thing, it might repel you from Jesus; it might make you think, like the rich young professional from last week, that this is too hard.
OR — it might make your heart cry, like the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me?”
This thing called discipleship — following Jesus — it means treasuring Jesus above everything else, and that means we need his mercy.
When we treasure Jesus, when we’re desperate for him, we are desperate for him in his mercy that he has shown us at the cross.
Jesus, indeed, confronts us, but he confronts us in his love, in his grace, in his mercy that he poured out for us when he died for our sins in our place. Jesus confronts us right now as the crucified and risen Savior, and he has mercy for you. Jesus will be enough for you.
That’s what this Gospel of Mark is all about. And that’s what this Table is all about.
This Table we come to each week is the symbol of Jesus in his mercy, of his body broken for us, his blood shed for us. And in one sense, we’ve all been Bartimaeus. We were all once on the side of the road until Jesus comes by, and stops, and calls us, and we say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” — each week this Table is the symbol of that mercy.
So today, as the bread and cup pass by, if you have received the mercy of Jesus, if you are united to him by faith, we invite you to remember his mercy by eating and drinking with us.