How to Be Successful

Explore the Bible Series

January 31, 2010


Background Passage: Mark 10:32-52

Lesson Passage: Mark 10:32-45




American preoccupation with success has compromised the authentic spirituality and work of God’s people.  Millions look for spiritual leadership to high-profile, celebrity pastors who, in many cases have built elaborate empires to hawk their version of the gospel.  The message of the cross slips unnoticed into the background, replaced by a slick, consumer-focused, individualistic “gospel.”  The result is a cult-like following that uncritically buys into whatever trendy path the celebrity takes, and when the pastor-de-jour leaves the scene, the congregation must scramble to find another charismatic leader to blaze new trails to amuse, entertain, and satiate the consumers in the pews.  If the new guy doesn’t fit the bill, parishioners simply move down the street to the next performer.  Such is the life of success-driven evangelicalism.


This passage is not about how to find “success.”  Three times, in the short scope of a few chapters, the Gospel of Mark reminds us of the Lord’s awareness that he would die a painful, shameful death, and, in Chapter Eight, Jesus told his disciples that they must take up the cross and follow the Lord (See 8:34-36).  This is the message of the gospel, a message of self-denial, self-sacrifice, suffering, and redemption.  With these themes reverberating in our hearts, we must wonder if Jesus recognizes much of the evangelical faith that claims him as Lord.  Think about it: Jesus never erected a building, fostered greed and materialism, grabbed at political power,  fretted about the age or social standing of his followers, initiated a fund-raising campaign, or “notched up” converts like trophies on a shelf.  Its hard to imagine Jesus walking through the halls of many church buildings, surrounded by Starbucks, well-healed parishioners, slick musical performances, and entertaining sermons. The very measures of evangelical “success” betray a departure from the true concerns of Jesus.


James and John, driven by ambition, asked the Lord for positions of prestige in the Kingdom of God, but Jesus met their request with a sharp question, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized the baptism with which I am baptized?”  The “cup” and “baptism” of humility and self-sacrifice must characterize the followers of the Savior.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”


Personal note: Please pardon the sharpness of my lesson introduction.  The fundamentalist/ evangelical complex, frankly, sickens me, and I have great difficulty tolerating the plastic religious world that characterizes much of Christianity in this country.  I feel ashamed that I fostered that world-view for so many years of my life, and I long for the simplicity and intimacy of the gospel of Christ.  I do not agree with some of the theological distinctives of Gregory Boyd, but I was deeply moved by his recent book, The Myth of the Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution.  In my judgment, Boyd makes many essential points related to the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Also, if you can tolerate the strident writing of Frank Schaeffer, I encourage you to read Chapters Seven through Ten of his new work, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion {or Atheism}.  Again, I do not agree with all of Schaeffer’s conclusions (he is now an Eastern Orthodox Christian), nor do I approve of his bawdy prose, but his ideas seem spot on, in many ways.


Lesson Outline:


I.       The Ambitious Request of James and John (vv. 35-45)

A.    The request of the sons of Zebedee (vv. 35-37): Matthew 20:20-28 reveal that the brothers did not approach Jesus alone.  Their mother accompanied the boys and made the request in their behalf.  Some New Testament scholars surmise that Salome was the mother of James and john, and she may have been the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary.  If so, Salome, Jesus’ aunt, made this appeal to her nephew, on behalf of the Lord’s cousins.  Perhaps this family tie seemed to justify the audacious request.  The men clearly did not understand the mission of Jesus; rather, they entertained popular views of the work of the Messiah, and they wanted to ride Jesus’ coat tails to prestige and power.

B.     The Lord’s answer to his misguided dispels (vv. 38-45): I marvel at the Lord’s patience with these men.  He responded to their unseemly appeal with a question of his own. 

1.      “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with which I am baptized?” (vv. 38-40): In the Old Testament, the imagery of a cup is sometimes employed to denote the bitterness of divine judgment, and, in this analogy, Jesus implied the bitterness of his impending suffering on the cross.  Please recall Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Remove this cup from me.”  The Savior recoiled from the horror of draining the dregs of divine wrath, and he anticipated that James and John would know something of the misery of suffering for the sake of the gospel.  Indeed, James was immersed in a baptism of fire when he became the first apostle to die as a martyr (See Acts 12:1-2), and John suffered as an exile on the Island of Patmos (See Revelation 1:9). Still, James and John seemed oblivious to the grave implications of their dialog with Jesus.

2.      The angry response of the Ten (vv. 41-45): When the other disciples heard of the request of John and James, they grew indignant and envious.  Perhaps they too aspired to places of preeminence, and the brothers had beaten them to the punch!  Jesus, ever attuned to teachable moments, reminded his followers of the centrality of servanthood.  Unbelieving Gentiles sought such prominence, but God’s people must find contentment in humble servitude to God and man (See especially v. 43-44).  Most importantly, they must follow the example of the savior who became a servant to all and gave his life a ransom for many (See v. 45).  In the ancient world “ransom” described the payment of a price to procure the freedom of a slave, and Jesus used this imagery to depict an essential aspect of his redemptive work.  While the servanthood of the disciples did not possess redemptive authority, they were (and we are) to imitate the depth and breadth of the Lord’s humility and service.  Towels and basins befit eh Lord’s people better than scepters and thrones (See John 13:1-11).


II.    The Healing of Bartimaeus (vv. 46-52)

A.    The appeal of the blind man (vv. 46-48): The Gospel of Matthew tells us that two blind men sat by the road near the ancient city of Jericho.  Reduced to begging for a living, Bartimaeus (only Mark names this beggar) cried out for mercy to Jesus, the son of David.  The crowds, annoyed by the shouts of the blind man, rebuked him sharply, but their rebuffs only fuelled his disparate entreaties.  It is significant that Bartimaeus used the messianic designation, “Son of David” to draw the attention of Jesus.

B.     Jesus’ attentiveness to the blind man (vv. 49-52): The Lord called to Bartimaeus, and the eager man sprang to his feet and groped his way to the beckoning Savior.  Jesus asked the man a strange question, “What do you want from me?”  The question seems strange because everyone clearly saw the plight of Bartimaeus, he was blind!  Perhaps the Lord wanted to crystallize the man’s desperation, but, whatever the case, the poor man was healed.  It seems that Jesus answered this man’s prayer on two levels.  The text reveals that Jesus healed his physical blindness, “…immediately he received his sight.”  However, something even more profound took place.  Bartimaeus placed his faith in Christ and followed him (See v. 52). If you will, Jesus awakened the eyes of the heart, and a blind sinner saw the glory of the Savior.