This passage serves as the third major prophecy concerning Christ's passion, and is linked, in typical fashion, to teaching on the true nature of discipleship.
v32. Mark tells us that Jesus, with steely determination, now sets his face toward Jerusalem. The disciples respond in amazement at his resolve, given the dangers that await them there. But first, Jesus then takes them aside to explain the purpose of the journey.
v33-34. Jesus' prediction of his death is far more detailed than the previous predictions recorded in Mark. The prophetic predictions repeat: i] delivered over to the chief priests and scribes; ii] sentenced to death; v] executed and vi] resurrected. The prediction adds: iii] delivered to the Romans and iv] mocked, spat on and scourged. The elements are the same as in the passion narrative, chapters 14-16, and serve to fulfill Ps.22:6-8, Isa.50:6. So, Jesus' humiliation is at hand.
v35-37. The disciples see in Jesus the eschatological messiah who will reestablish the throne of David in Jerusalem. There may be some hardship in the struggle ahead, but James and John want to sit next to Jesus in the place of honour at the messianic banquet on the day of his coronation.
v38-39. Jesus questions their capacity to undergo the suffering he is about to face. Jesus' "glory" involves the humiliation of Isaiah's Suffering Servant, with the "cup" symbolizing the wrath of God's judgement upon sin, and "baptism" symbolizing overwhelming suffering. James and John claim that they can go the distance and Jesus predicts that they will indeed "drink the cup" and "be baptized", certainly in their identification with him, but also in the struggle of life - James was later martyred, Act.12:2, and John was to suffer in exile, Rev.1:9.
v40. Jesus goes on to make the point that he is really not into asigning the seating order at the messianic banquet.
v41. When the other disciples hear what James and John have been up to they react, demonstrating their own desire for privilege, status and power.
v42-43. Jesus now explains carefully to the disciples that self-seeking for status, honour, glory, authority... is common in secular management, but is not to be the style of leadership used in the church. Disciples must serve each other, not rule each other.
v44-45. The principle in God's new community is that the person who would "be first" must be the servant of all. Jesus set an example for us to follow when he took the punishment that was due our rebellion against God, when, as God's Suffering Servant, he paid the price for our sins, when "he bore the sin of many", Isa.53:12. Jesus possesses glory, authority and rule through his life-giving service. Through our faith in Jesus we become the "first", possessing privilege, status and power in him. For this reason we strive to be what we are in Jesus, the "first" through service rather than rule.
"He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren", 1John 3:16.
As a gift of grace appropriated through faith in Jesus, we are identified with his death and resurrection. In his death we die, we die to self, the old selfish self. In his life we are renewed and ultimately glorified. So, we experience the power of Christ's death and resurrection, a death to self-glorying, an enlivening to privilege, status and power.
The problem is, "we know not what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown, but ask not for the grace to bear the cross in our way to it", Henry. The crown is ours as a gift of asking, but in the getting, we often join the disciples in self-seeking.
In the 1st century, the government of Rome was characterized by the exercise of authority and power; Rome ruled with an iron fist. The modern political process is far more humane, but power politics is still the norm. In Western democracies, politics is all about gaining power. Governments strive to retain power, while the opposition does everything it can to undermine the government and so inevitably secure power. The only sacred cow these days is the "bad habits" of politicians, since a battle involving personal blood-letting may backfire. On the other hand, a negative, destructive or dishonest attack on the government of the day remains the best means of unseating it, and this despite the national damage such an attack may cause.
The danger for the Christian fellowship is that we are often tempted to mimic the secular world, yet Babel has no place with Zion. The management of the Christian community should be inclusive, driven by a desire to serve rather than rule. Dictatorial ministry/management teams may serve to build a high tower, but the building of Zion's city is in God's hands.
The task before us is to share in the revolutionary notion that leadership and authority in the Christian community is exercised through service rather than dictatorial power.
1. In what way does the word "ransom" explain the meaning of Jesus' death?
2. What example does Jesus' death set in the business of managing a Christian fellowship?