“Not So With You”
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“Not So With You”

From Series: The Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5

Mark 10:32-45  (ID: 2827)

When Jesus revealed that He was going to Jerusalem to lay down His life, the disciples responded with selfish concern for their own interests. Alistair Begg confronts our pride with the truth that Believers are called to live differently and challenges the Church to let go of status and privilege for the sake of the Gospel.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Mark, and chapter 10, where we’ll read from verse 32. Mark 10:32:

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’

“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’

“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.

“They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’

“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’

“‘We can,’ they answered.

“Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom [they’ve] been prepared.’

“When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.’”

Amen.

Father, with our Bibles open before us, we ask again, as we always do, for your help to speak, hear, understand, believe, obey, live your Word. We look to you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

One short sentence—four simple words, found here in the passage we’ve just read, underscore the fact that the followers of the Lord Jesus are to operate by principles and valuations that are vastly different from the world around them. Now you must look and find those four words. There are, actually, two sentences of just four words in the passage we read. I’m not going to turn it into a quiz. One of them is in verse 39: “‘We can,’ they answered”—sentence. And the other one, which is the one that we have as our title for this morning, is the first sentence of verse 43: “Not so with you.” “Not so with you.” Worldly ideas of status and privilege, Jesus is teaching, have no place in the alternative society which is the kingdom of God.

One of the great lies that exists almost in every generation is the idea that the more the people of God look like, sound like, act like, live like, those who are not the people of God, the better able God’s people then will be able to reach their generation. The New Testament doesn’t bear that out, nor does church history bear it out. Instead, church history bears out what the New Testament teaches—namely, that God’s people are always at their most effective in an alien culture when, both by their life and lifestyle, they are so clearly countercultural, and not least of all when it comes to the issues of status and privilege.

And what we discover in this passage is that the measure of an individual’s greatness is not the number of servants in their house but is the extent to which that individual is prepared to live in the service of others. And Jesus doesn’t pull his punches; his language is radical. Look at verse 44: “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” “You want to have a position of significance?” says Jesus. “Then let me tell you how to do it.”

God’s people are always at their most effective in an alien culture when, both by their life and lifestyle, they are clearly countercultural.

Now, we might have imagined that the disciples would have got ahold of this instruction by this time, because, after all, this is not the first occasion in which Jesus has given them this tutorial. And I want you, just for a moment, to turn back two pages in your Bible—probably two, maybe three—to 8:29, which really provides for us the sort of pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark.

Up until this declaration by Peter, Mark has been providing a portrait of Jesus of Nazareth: he’s the one who calms the sea, he’s the one who casts out demons, he’s the one who heals the sick, and so on. He is the one who proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God and calls men and women to repent and to believe. And then, at this moment along the journey, Jesus has asked his disciples what people in the community are saying about him—whether they’re getting the idea of who he is. And, of course, a variety of answers come back, and then Peter manages to hit it right. Jesus says, “How about you folks? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers in verse 29, “You are the Christ,” or “You are the Messiah.”

Now, what Peter says is true, but just what he knows about that and what he means by that is so clearly inadequate, as we’re about to discover. It’s going to take some time for these disciples—indeed, after the resurrection, it will take until then for them to really get this picture. Because a Messiah-King who would suffer and die was actually the last thing that they expected or that they wanted.

And so it’s no surprise that when Jesus then—8:31—began to teach them what it meant for him to be Messiah, that the response of Peter to that is to say, “Oh no, that’s not what we’re thinking about,” and so Peter rebukes Jesus in 8:32, and Jesus then gives instruction to his disciples concerning the nature of the values of the kingdom. And that’s when he says, “If anyone wants to come after me, he needs to take up his cross and follow me,”[1] hence the significance of the rich young ruler having to lay down that which stood in the way and so on. “If you want to be first, if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. If you seek to lose your life for my sake and the gospel, you will find it.”[2] So you have a prediction of the passion, you have the response of the disciples, you have the instruction of Jesus.

The same thing happens again in chapter 9, and right around the same place in the chapter—9:31. Jesus is teaching his disciples again, and he predicts his passion: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed,” and so on. That is then followed by an argument on the part of the disciples. You will notice, if your Bible is open, Jesus asks them, “What were you talking about on the way?”[3] They were embarrassed to point out that they were arguing about who was going to be the first—who was the greatest.[4] So Jesus gives them this instruction concerning the values of the kingdom, and they completely ignore them. “This matter of my passion,” he says, “is a necessity. The Son of Man must do this. It is an absolute certainty.” And now, once again, in chapter 10, he returns to the same thing, and we have the third prediction of his passion. And, as on previous occasions, what we’ve now come to expect—regretfully—is that the disciples do not make a very good job of it.

Now, what I’d like to do to help us through this passage is just to summarize our thinking under three headings. There’s going to be a selective approach to this passage, leaving some purposefully for this evening within the context of our Communion service. So don’t be alarmed when you say, “Well, he didn’t deal with that part.” We will deal with that part in the balance of the day.

Jesus’ Explanation

But first of all—and this is the only thing I wrote in my notes, in terms of a heading—was, verse 32, “He … told them what was going to happen to him.” “He … told them what was going to happen to him.” Now, there’s nothing genius in that, is there, because that’s actually what verse 32 says. And he does so in the context of their heading “up to Jerusalem.” If you know your Bible at all, you know that the pilgrims always went up to Jerusalem. This is the way up to Jerusalem. “[This] is where the tribes”—Psalm 122—“[this] is where the tribes go up.”[5] Or, earlier in the Psalms: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? [And] who may stand in his holy place?”[6] The journey of pilgrimage was always a journey upward to Jerusalem. That was true not only on the ascent from the east, which was a climb, but it was true, if you like, philosophically, theologically, that the people of God were always going up when they went to Jerusalem. It was a routine journey for pilgrimage—going there for celebration, for festivals, and for worship.

But Jesus now says, “This routine journey is not going to be a routine journey for me.” And what he’s telling his disciples is this: that he is going up to Jerusalem to worship by the offering of himself; he is the Good Shepherd leading his sheep, going up to Jerusalem, where he is about to lay down his life for the sheep. And it is surely this approach of Jesus which accounts for the fact that in verse 32 we’re told that the disciples “were amazed”[7]—or, as it is in the NIV, “astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”

Now, Luke, who is our detail man, helps us in this, because he says of Jesus that he set out “resolutely” for Jerusalem.[8] In other words, he didn’t simply put Jerusalem into his GPS, but the way in which he set off for Jerusalem said something about himself—said something about his sense of anticipation. “I must go,” he says. “It is a divine necessity.”

Chapter 9: “I am definitely going.” Chapter 10: “As I go up to Jerusalem, the current that will run through you as you observe me striding that direction will fill you with both amazement and with fear.” And so it is that although the details differ between the various accounts, one thing remains true in each of them. And that is that although some have more detail than others—and none has more detail, incidentally, than chapter 10—each of them finishes with the phrase “and after three days, rise again.”[9] “And after three days, rise again.” That the disciples didn’t fully get this is clear as we read on, but the fact is also clear that Jesus views the certainty of his mission—the necessity of his mission—not in terms of calamity but in terms of triumph and in terms of victory.

He has come to do the will of the Father; this is the significance of his life. All of the living of his life is, if you like, subsumed under the giving of his life. I just finished a fairly substantial book—yesterday morning, I think it was. And when it finally got to the death of the two main characters—it’s a nonfiction book—when it got to the death of the two main characters, it was over within about three or four pages. There had been some three hundred pages before that, but when it finally came to the death, it was sort of over and done with. That’s understandable.

But when you read the Gospels and you reach the pivotal point here in the declaration of Christ’s messiahship, you discover just the reverse to be the case. And all of a sudden, the material begins to slow down. And as it goes almost into slow motion, we realize that the whole focus of things is on the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and its significance—that he dies not as an example, not as a martyr, but as we shall see later on, he dies as a substitute.

Now, the phrase that he likes to use in designating himself, you will find there in verse 33. He refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” “The Son of Man.” When Peter says, “You are the Christ,” Jesus immediately says, “And the Son of Man must do this and that.”[10] Why is Jesus doing that? Well, he’s implying a phrase that has connotations that are vast in their significance. You can go back to Daniel chapter 7 and do your own homework on this. But it is a phrase that was commonly used as a messianic title. Jesus only ever used it of himself; it was never used of anyone else. And it was a title which combined both transcendent majesty and vicarious suffering. In other words, it was a term that allowed a vast compendium of truth to hang on it. In other words, it bore the weight of the vastness of what Jesus had come to do. And so it is the ideal term, and so he uses it routinely of himself.

The whole focus is on the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and its significance—that he dies not as an example, not as a martyr, but he dies as a substitute.

What is it that is to happen? Well, he tells us: “[We’re] going up to Jerusalem,” he says, and then verse 33 unfolds, “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law.” I don’t like that translation as much as the old King James Version. And I’ll tell you why. Because while it is true that he was betrayed, in actual fact, the Greek word is paradidomi or paradidotai, paradidon. (Don’t worry about it.) But it means… (Let me worry about it; I need to.) It means “delivered up.” Delivered up. So the way in which he was delivered up by Judas was by betrayal, but he was delivered up. And you have this progression here. So, you have Jesus delivered by Judas into the power of the Sanhedrin. You then have the Sanhedrin delivering Jesus into the power of Pilate. You then have Pilate delivering Jesus into the power of the soldiers.

Now, why am I so concerned about the verb? Because it is the very verb that Paul uses when, in writing his theology in Romans, he explains what has been happening in the giving of the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember this from Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but [delivered] him up for us all.”[11] Or earlier in Romans, in 4:25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” So it is true to say that he was delivered into the hands of the Sanhedrin by Judas, he was delivered by them into the hands of Pilate, he was delivered by Pilate into the hands of the soldiers. But what is fundamentally true is that behind all this delivering is the delivering of God the Father—that God the Father delivers Jesus up.

This is such a mystery, isn’t it? It doesn’t confound the reality of what each of the characters is doing. It doesn’t intrude upon the freedom of the exercise of their will. But it makes clear that in the exercise of their will, they were fulfilling the purpose of God the Father from all of eternity to deliver up his Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin. So in other words, it’s just the grandeur of it that ought to grip us.

And it finally gripped Peter, when he’s preaching on the day of Pentecost and the penny has finally dropped for those characters, and now they’re beginning—as a result of the instruction of Jesus in those forty days, clarifying for them, and sending the Holy Spirit to fill them, and so on—now Peter is ready to preach. And this is what he says: “Men of Israel, listen to this.” That’s authority. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”[12] In other words, “I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You were around. You saw what he did.”

Now here we go. Verse 23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”—“this man was delivered up according to the eternal plan and purpose of God.” “And you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross”—“you are responsible for his death; God is responsible for his death.” Who is responsible?

Isaiah 53: “It pleased the Lord to bruise him,”[13] to crush him. How? Through the exercise of the human will. All of the jealousy, all of the hatred, all of the spite, was real. And in the exercise of that, the very purpose of God is fulfilled, because he was delivered up for our sakes.

Wounded for me, wounded for me?
There on that cross You were wounded for me?
And gone my transgressions, and now I am free?
All because Jesus was wounded for me?[14]

Now, you would think that the response of the disciples would be to fall on their faces in the dirt, and whatever they’ve managed to grasp out of all of this would crush them and produce in them adoration and expectation. But the very reverse is the case.

The Disciples’ Concern

So we move from Jesus explaining what was going to happen to him to the disciples’ concern with what he might do for them. First Jesus explains what’s going to happen to him. Now the disciples express their concern as to what he might do for them. That’s the second main heading, verse 35. That means there’s only one to go after this. “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee”—also known as the “Sons of Thunder”[15]—“came to him.” In other words, they remove themselves, it would appear, from the larger group that’s moving, and they sequester Jesus, and they say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “Well,” Jesus says, “what is it that you have in mind?”—verse 36. They reply, verse 37, “We’d like to have the best seats in the house when you come into your glory.”

It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? If you’re not amazed by this, you’re not thinking; you’ve already fallen asleep. If you’re thinking at all, you say, “This is incredible.” “I’m going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of cruel men. They’ll spit on me, flog me, abuse me, and everything else.” You’ve hardly got that out of your mouth, two of your key guys come up and say, “Hey, by the way, just, you know, we’re just thinking—trying to get ahead of the game here with some seats, and we’re not sure what all you mean by this messianic kingdom, but we’ve got enough of a notion that you’re going to sit on the throne of your father David, and your kingdom will never come to an end. And so we were just wondering, Jesus—we were talking about it ourselves; there’s no reason for us not to mention it to you—can we just have the seats, one on the right and the other at the left in your glory?” One of the other Gospel writers tells us that their mother was leading the charge. No surprise. “My boys would like a nice seat, Jesus. They’re good boys.” The Jewish mother, looking after her boys. “My boys are good boys, Jesus.”

Some people always have to sit in the right seat, don’t they? Don’t we? Nothing shows our pride quite as much as going to a wedding reception at which we have no significance at all, and you have to look for your table number. Let me give you some word of advice: Don’t start at table one and work down. Start at table twenty-two and work up. It’s far less painful. Especially if you think you ought to be in the top two or three tables.

Well, what would we have here from the disciples? This isn’t loyalty. This isn’t loyalty. This is just ambition. This is raw ambition. “This,” says Calvin, “[is] a bright mirror of human vanity.”[16] So Jesus says to them, verse 38, “You don’t know what you’re asking. You just don’t know what you’re asking.” He says, “I’ve got a question for you: Are you able to drink the cup I drink or the baptism with which I am to be baptized?”—which will bring us to our study this evening.

And then the response that they make is incredible, isn’t it? “Oh yes, we’re able!” Not only did they not fully grasp what Jesus has been saying, but they don’t have a solid understanding of themselves. Remember, we said those things were prerequisites for the rich young ruler to make entry into the kingdom: he needed to understand who Jesus was, and he needed to understand who he was. Until he understood who he was, as someone who was offending against God’s law, he’d have had no interest, really, in finding in Jesus a Savior. But once he saw who he was… These fellows can’t see themselves.

Now, the details, as I say, of the baptism and the cup and so on, I’m going to leave until later. And Jesus is going to distinguish between what he will do by way of his suffering and the experience that his followers will have of suffering and death. But when he says, “You know, you will actually face this,” he doesn’t say, “and since you’re going to face this, as a reward for that, there’s a pretty fair chance that those two seats might be open to you.” Now, there are people that I meet all the time who think that as long as we can go through enough suffering, then that is the key; a reward for that will then be ours. “We all have our cross to bear,” they usually say, in the hope that somehow or another that will be reciprocated.

But look at what Jesus is saying: to face suffering and death, which they will, is not going to be the means of securing the best spots in the kingdom, because—verse 40—“[those] places belong to those for whom [they’ve] been prepared.” For whom have they been prepared? We’re not told. But we are given a little inkling from the end of our last study, aren’t we? Verse 31: “But many who are first will be last, and the last [will be] first.” In other words, the people that we think are going to be in those special spots probably aren’t going to be there. And the most unlikely people that we would ever anticipate, they probably will be there. That’s all we ever get. But what we do know is that Jesus defers to his Father. He says, “I’m not the one that’s going to be giving out those seats. They have been prepared. My Father will take care of that.”

“Well,” you say, “that’s good. At least he’s got ten other good guys that are separate from the two fellows that have been causing the trouble.” No! Look at verse 41: “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.” Now, the inference is clear. When they heard that they had got a jump start on them, that they were in the “Head Start” program, then they decided that that is not fair. “Why should you get an advantage over us? After all, the two of you, along with Peter, were already in the transfiguration thing. Isn’t that good enough for you? You get in the transfiguration. Now, you’re down to two, you brothers. You’ve dumped Peter! Poor old Peter; he’s on the outs now. Peter’s with us; he’s with the ten. He’s usually with the three.” And they were indignant.

Haven’t they learned anything? (I was just thinking of a quote from Huckleberry Finn, you know: “Don’t you know nothing?” It’s that great part in Huckleberry Finn where he’s telling the girl—I forget her name—that he’s a part of this church, and it has, like, ten pastors. And she knows that he’s lying again, ’cause he tells lies all the time. And she says, “Well, you know, what do they do?” And Huck says, “Oh, they do this and that.” And she says, “Well, that doesn’t sound very much.” She says, “Well, why do they even have them?” And he says, “For style. Don’t you know nothing?” “For style. Don’t you know nothing?”[17])

Anyway, they got that for free. But they don’t know nothing. What we have here is the future leadership of the church. Here you got the core group—the individuals that are about to go out into Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth, and establish the kingdom of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. And here they are under the tutelage of Jesus: Jesus has explained the nature of his suffering not for the first time but for the third time, and they are having an intramural discussion about who’s going to have the best seats when they get into the kingdom.

Jesus’ Word of Guidance

So, thirdly and finally, a word of guidance from Jesus for whoever wants to become great. A word of guidance from Jesus for whoever wants to become great. And we know that there are at least a couple of contenders for that position—namely, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

Now, I don’t know about this, but maybe Jesus asked Judas for a coin, and he said to Judas, he said, “Go in that bag of yours. You keep all the cash. Flip me a coin.” Judas gives him a coin. He takes it, and on the head is either Tiberius or Augustus, one of the Roman governors, and then he flips it to the tails, and on the reverse side of the coin, on the other side from the head, it bears the inscription “He who deserves adoration.” “He who deserves adoration.” And Jesus might have said, “You see, that’s the kind of thing that we’re living in the middle of, isn’t it? That’s the preoccupation. This is the way of the Gentiles: they lord it over each other. Their authorities and their processes are such that they vaunt themselves. They put themselves first.”

It is in serving that greatness is displayed. Honor is found in giving, not in getting. The way to up is the way down. And the true measure of this is embodied in Jesus himself.

Then comes our phrase which is the heading for our study: “Not so with you.” “Not so with you. You don’t do this. You’re my followers. You’re different. At least you’re supposed to be! Now, I’ve just explained to you what Jerusalem is going to mean. I, the Good Shepherd, will lay down my life for you. Having done that, you follow up by asking about your status and your privilege and your valuation. Guys, that’s what the Gentiles do. Not so with you.”

It is in serving, he says, that your greatness is displayed—that honor is found in giving it, not in getting it; that the way to up is the way down. And that the true measure of this, as we will see this evening, is embodied in Jesus himself, verse 45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and … give his life … a ransom for many.” “He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself of no reputation.”[18] That’s it, right there in a nutshell.

Couple of final words by way of application: Is this challenging or is this challenging? First of all, on an individual basis, it confronts the pride that rises in my heart, and perhaps in yours too. It addresses a culture that is preoccupied with self-esteem, self-aggrandizement, status, and valuations that are made on the basis of things that are transient and eventually worthless. And we live in the middle of that, professing to be the followers of Jesus. And Jesus says, “This is the kind of thing that marks the culture. Not so with you.”

Not only individually, but as a church. A church can take on a persona of pride, a persona of self-evaluation and self-assertiveness. Usually it will come from the leadership, filter through the group. And the body of Christ in any given area—let’s just stay within the continental United States for the moment—the body of Christ within any given area will at the same time be confronted by the danger of these things too.

So, you don’t have to look hard at the moment. I found it without looking for it yesterday. In fact, it came up and jumped at me from the internet, describing sad and sorry circumstances in a significant evangelical ministry that would be well-known by all of us. And at the very heart of it is the problem of pride and tyranny and self-assertiveness and heavy-handedness on the part of leadership—despite the fact that Jesus says, “Greatness is this.” Either we’re going to do what the Bible says, or we’re gonna do what the culture says.

The same is true in relationship to the desires for evangelical Christianity to take its place at the table, to be regarded as significant, to be regarded as intellectually acceptable, to be regarded as socially acceptable, and effete, and so on, and this great quest for somehow or another being regarded as, you know, justifiably in the mainstream of everything and really in the heart of it all. Since when was that ever the case? When was that ever the case in the history of the church? And to the extent that it ever approximated to it, was it ever an effective mechanism for the work of the gospel? You’re sensible people; read church history!

But the apostles, by the time Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, are confronted by this very issue—the issues of status and significance, and division in the church, and the exultation of one name above another name, and gathering behind one group, and “this is my favorite,” and “that’s my favorite,” and “he’s significant,” and “he does this,” and “he’s clever as that,” and so on. And Paul says, “Listen, guys. Listen carefully to me. You’ve got this completely wrong. You’re acting as if you’re kings. I wish you were kings,” he says, ironically. “Because if you were kings, then I could hang around with you. Then I could be like a king—or a junior king.”[19] He says, “But we’re not even close to being kings.” Listen to how he describes his apostleship: “It seems to me that God has put [the] apostles”—that is, himself and his colleagues—“on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.”[20]

“Like to introduce you to the apostle Paul and some of his friends today. You’ll see them. They’ll be coming through Washington, DC, in just a moment. No, they’re not at the front of the parade. No, they’re not in a large cavalcade. No. They will be coming at the back, behind an old broken-down truck, and they’re manacled to the back of the truck, and they look absolutely garbage! Three cheers for the apostles as they come through!”

“We have been made a spectacle,” he says, “to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We’re fools for Christ, but you’re so wise! You are honored”—he’s being ironic, sarcastic—“we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty. We’re in rags, we’re brutally treated, we’re homeless. When we’re cursed, we bless; when we’re persecuted, we endure; when we’re slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment,” he says, “if you want to have a sort of summary of how well we’re doing, listen to this: up to this moment we have become”—you ready?—“the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”[21]

Now, he’s not crying in his coffee. He’s not going, “Oh, we’ve become the scum of the earth.” He’s going, “We’ve become the scum of the earth! We’re the refuse of the world! Oh, I know you wanted us at the National Cathedral, but we don’t care about the National Cathedral. We’re the scum of the earth. Why would you have the scum of the earth at the National Cathedral? You wouldn’t have the scum of the earth at the National Cathedral today, would you? Of course you wouldn’t!”

But here we are: “Oh, we should be at the National Cathedral.”

“Why? Why?”

“Well, well, because.”

“Because what?”

Since when was this story of a suffering, bloodied, crucified Messiah an acceptable message? It never has been. It never will be. It is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” It is “the power of God” to those who believe.[22] The Christian church does not have a responsibility to climb up the ladders of social status to establish its valuation, as if somehow or another we are there for the world to view as a great spectacle of acclaim. No! It is the absolute reverse.

Are you challenged by this? I definitely am. When I finished this, I was ready to just go and just put my head in a blanket, and then just pull it over my head for about twenty minutes or so. Because I said, “How this confronts my pride! How this confronts the potential pride of Parkside! How this confronts evangelical Christianity in contemporary America today!” No wonder our friends in China, in Somalia, in Burma, cannot understand what we’re on about. They’re being taken out and shot for the gospel. “We’re here to try and get our position in society.” Who’s got it right? Let me ask you.

But just before I went into the depths of despair, I had a word of encouragement that came my way. And this is what it was: I suddenly realized—and then I went to look for it—I said, “Now, didn’t this John—this ‘Thunder Boy,’ John—didn’t he finally get this right? Didn’t he finally figure it out?” Yes, he did, by God’s grace—the only way we ever will. How long did it take him? Quite a long time. ’Cause he was an old man when he wrote his first letter. And in his elderly days he writes to his readers, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”[23] That’s the same John who said, “Jesus, I was just wondering about my seat, you know.” Jesus says, “You don’t know what you’re asking, John.”

I hope God’ll spare me long enough—spare me long enough to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. To grow in grace, to grow down, and thereby to grow up. And I hope that he will be tolerant and patient with us as a congregation. And I trust and pray that he will look on the evangelical community in the continental United States with compassion and with grace, and forgive us our jealousies, and our self-assertiveness, and our clubs, and our accolades, and our preoccupation with our names and our numbers and our stuff.

We haven’t really got very far beyond Mark chapter 10, loved ones, have we? That’s why we can’t read about these disciples and say, “Oh, I can’t believe they did that.” Because I look into the Bible, and it’s a mirror. As Calvin said, it is a mirror of my vanity. God will share his glory with no one.

Let’s pray:

Just a moment of silence, just as we come before God ourselves and acknowledge that we’re not what we once were, but we’re not quite what we’re going to be either—that the work of God is to conform us to the image of his Son. That when he says, “Not so with you,” it’s not simply a directive, but it is a word of grace, because the work that his goodness has begun, he will bring to completion.[24] And so we can trust in him, looking from ourselves to the one who embodies this, both in his life and in his death. And in the name of that same Jesus we pray. Amen.


[1] Mark 8:34 (paraphrased).

[2] Mark 8:35 (paraphrased).

[3] Mark 9:33 (paraphrased).

[4] See Mark 9:34.

[5] Psalm 122:4 (NIV 1984).

[6] Psalm 24:3 (NIV 1984).

[7] Mark 10:32 (KJV).

[8] Luke 9:51 (NIV 1984).

[9] Mark 8:31 (NIV 1984); see also 9:31; 10:34.

[10] Mark 8:29–31 (paraphrased).

[11] Romans 8:32 (NIV 1984).

[12] Acts 2:22 (NIV 1984).

[13] Isaiah 53:10 (KJV).

[14] W. G. Ovens and Gladys W. Roberts, “Wounded for Me” (1931). Lyrics lightly altered.

[15] Mark 3:17 (NIV 1984).

[16] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 2:417.

[17] Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chap. 26.

[18] Philippians 2:6–7 (paraphrased).

[19] 1 Corinthians 4:8 (paraphrased).

[20] 1 Corinthians 4:9 (NIV 1984).

[21] 1 Corinthians 4:9–13 (paraphrased).

[22] 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV 1984).

[23] 1 John 3:16 (NIV 1984).

[24] See Philippians 1:6.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.