THE RESULTS OF KNOWING JESUS

 

Week of September 27, 2009

 

Bible Verses:  Mark 8:34-38; 9:33-37; 10:32-34.

 

Lesson Focus: You will be challenged to evaluate your commitment to Christ by His call to self-denial, unselfish service, and willingness to suffer.

 

Willing to Deny Self: Mark 8:34-38.

 

[34]  And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35]  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. [36]  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? [37]  For what can a man give in return for his life? [38]  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."  [ESV]

 

[34]  A wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship. This is the point of verse 34, where the subject turns from Jesus to His followers. Mark abruptly reintroduces the crowd by which he implies that what Jesus now says He says to all disciples, and not only to the Twelve. The gravity of the teaching is signaled by reporting that Jesus called the crowd to Him. Jesus then announces to the crowd that one cannot follow Him except by the way of self-denial and the cross. Modern culture is exposed to the symbol of the cross primarily in jewelry or figures of speech. How vastly different was the symbol of the cross in the first century. An image of extreme repugnance, the cross was an instrument of cruelty, pain, dehumanization, and shame. The cross symbolized hated Roman oppression and was reserved for the lowest social classes. It was the most visible and omnipresent aspect of Rome’s terror apparatus, designed especially to punish criminals and quash slave rebellions. The image of the cross signifies a total claim on the disciple’s allegiance and the total relinquishment of his resources to Jesus [10:17-31]. In Mark’s day that was not merely a theoretical truth, for the Gospel of Mark was probably written in Rome near the time of Nero’s crucifixion of Christians. Jesus’ call to self-denial and suffering by the use of this image would remind Mark’s community that their adversity under Nero was not a sign of God’s abandonment but rather of their identification with and faithfulness to the way of Jesus Himself.

 

[35]  Mark includes four statements on the meaning of discipleship in verses 35-38. Each is prefaced in Greek with a conjunction of purpose, for, indicating that each statement is given in support of verse 34. There are four reasons, in other words, for taking up the cross and following Jesus. The word for life [35] can simply mean physical existence, but its more common and important sense is that of personhood, being or soul, that is, the core of one’s existence that is not limited to boundaries of time and space. Thus the willingness to lose even one's physical life for the sake of the gospel will guarantee one's eternal being. The irony of verse 35 is that this one thing (life) cannot be saved by preserving it but only by forsaking it in favor of following Jesus on the way of the cross. The one for whom the way of Jesus is more important than his own existence will secure his eternal being; but the one whose existence is more important than Jesus will lose both Jesus and his existence. Equally important is the statement about losing one’s life for the sake of the gospel. Discipleship is not a mystical, unmediated union with Jesus, a spirituality severed from historical knowledge of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. For believers after the Incarnation, Jesus Christ is known through the proclaimed word of the gospel. When confronted by the call to discipleship, disciples do not have a “both … and” choice; both Christ and their own lives. They stand before an “either … or” choice. The claim of Jesus is a total and exclusive one. It does not allow a convenient compartmentalization of natural life and religious life, of secular and sacred. The whole person stands under Christ’s claim.

 

[36-38]  The second and third statements in these verses belong together. They place the question of discipleship in the context of the ultimate realities of life: the soul and the world. The world one can live without, but when one loses one’s soul or being, what can one give in exchange for it? There is a further paradox in this verse, for those who strive desperately to preserve their souls do not in fact know the value of the soul. It takes the word of Jesus to teach the infinite worth of the human soul, and He alone is sufficient to preserve it. Because the God-created goal of this soul is eternal life with God. This is what gives infinite worth to the human soul. The fourth and final statement concerns those who are ashamed of the Son of Man. In calling His contemporaries an adulterous and sinful generation, Jesus repeats the language of the prophets, who accused Israel of infidelity, hardness of heart, and spiritual adultery. However His contemporaries assessed their spiritual well-being, Jesus finds them wanting. Their status remained one of infidelity to the covenant and alienation from God. Such a people cannot know the glory of God since they are separated from Him by their sin. If they are to know God, God must reduce Himself to their level (by the incarnation), yet when He does they scoff at the glory that appears in the only way in which it might be known – incognito in Jesus Christ. Their situation is desperate in yet another way, for unless Jesus is received in this generation, the Son of Man will not receive them in His future glory. The future begins now.

 

Ready to Serve: Mark 9:33-37.

 

[33]  And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" [34]  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. [35]  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." [36]  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, [37]  "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."  [ESV]

 

[33-34]  For the last time in the Gospel of Mark Jesus returns to Capernaum. Houses are often settings of private instruction and revelation in Mark. Once in the house Jesus asks the disciples What were you discussing on the way? Mark’s description of the silence of the disciples is exactly the same as his account of the silence of the Pharisees at the healing of the man with the deformed hand in 3:4. Both Pharisees and disciples are silenced before Jesus because of guilt and shame, just as both are guilty of hardness of heart [3:5; 6:52]. How little difference there is even at this point in Jesus’ ministry between His disciples and His opponents. The silence of the disciples is a wordless confession, because on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Their preoccupation with rank and standing is in character with what we know of Judaism in general. Rabbinic writings frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels. Earthly orders of seating at worship and meals, or authority within the community, or dealings with inferiors and superiors were seen as preparation for the eternal order to come.

 

[35-37]  The ambitions of the Twelve imperil their fellowship and following of Jesus. In an unusual expression, Mark says that Jesus sat down and called the Twelve to Himself. To sit and instruct is to assume the posture of an authoritative teacher. Jesus responds to the fantasy of the Twelve by a pronouncement which He reinforces by example in verses 36-37. If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. The idea of subservience to others is so central to the thought of Jesus that it was remembered and recorded at nearly every level of early Christianity. The model of service and humiliation that Jesus teaches the disciples can be heard only on the road of humiliation to Jerusalem; if it can be heard at all. At no point does the way of Jesus diverge more sharply from the way of the world than on the question of greatness. Jesus does not exactly repudiate prominence and greatness, but He redefines them. The challenge is to be great in things that matter to God. Nothing is greater in God’s eyes than giving, and no vocation affords the opportunity to give more than that of a servant. The word for servant refers to personal devotion in service as opposed to service as a slave or for hire. The Greek world generally considered service demeaning and undignified. In Jesus’ teaching, to the contrary, the concept of service grows out of His concept of love for one’s neighbor. Jesus’ selfless service of others fills the concept of servant with entirely new content; the posture of the servant is a visible manifestation of the reality of God’s love. Greatness in God’s economy is not reserved for the gifted and privileged; rather, it presents itself to every believer in the common and simple tasks of serving others. Indeed, the more common and humble the task, the greater the deed, for humility is the essence of Him who said, But I am among you as the one who serves [Luke 22:27]. Service to others is the primary way in which believers imitate and fulfill the mission of Jesus [10:42-45]. The conclusion Jesus draws from the child in His arms is subtle and surprising. The child is not used, as is often supposed, as an example of humility, but as an example of the little and insignificant ones whom followers of Jesus are to receive. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be the servant of all. Disciples are thus not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is in the small and powerless that God appears to the world, as Jesus so trenchantly described in the parable of the nations [Matt. 25:31-46]. Our response to the hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, and imprisoned is our response to God. The humblest act of kindness sets off a chain reaction that shakes heaven itself, for whatever is done to the little and least is done to Jesus, and whatever is done to Jesus is done to God.

 

Prepared to Accept Suffering: Mark 10:32-34.

 

[32]  And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33]  saying, "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. [34]  And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."  [ESV]

 

[32-34]  Each of the three major prophecies of the passion is set within the context of the journey, but now for the first time Jerusalem is named as the destination where Jesus will accomplish His mission. There is a note of solemnity in the vivid picture of Jesus walking before His frightened disciples, inflexible in His determination to do the will of God. The action of Jesus walking ahead of the Twelve corresponds to rabbinic custom, but far more than this is involved. The description anticipates the action of the Risen Lord promised in 14:28, and evokes the image of the powerful Savior who leads His people with purpose and direction. The person of Jesus is central in the scene sketched in verse 32a. What awakens amazement and terror in the disciples who follow is not the recognition that the road leads to Jerusalem nor an awareness of what will be accomplished there, but Jesus Himself. The power of the Lord, who holds in His hands His own destiny as well as that of the people of God, is manifested for Mark and his readers in the awe and dread which characterize those around Him. The fear of the disciples provides an occasion for Jesus to teach them what was to happen to him. The solemn announcement concerning Jerusalem, and the suffering and vindication to be experienced there, is elaborately introduced. The notice that Jesus took the twelve again simply means that He gathered the disciples around Him to make precise the purpose of the journey, which had been disclosed earlier in less specific terms [8:31; 9:12,31]. On each occasion the Twelve alone were the recipients of this prophetic instruction. Of Jesus' three prophecies of His suffering and death, the third is the most precise. The new element in the prophecy is the sharp distinction between Jesus' condemnation by the Jewish authorities and the execution of the sentence of death by the Gentiles, who are mentioned for the first time in the context of the passion. Delivery to the Gentiles reveals that Jesus will be held in contempt by His own countrymen, for the Gentiles are the last people to whom the Messiah of the people of God should be handed over. The actions defining His humiliation are carried out by the Gentiles. Mockery and spitting are forms of derision to which Jesus will be exposed, while the scourging is more closely related to His violent death, in accordance with the Roman law that scourging always accompanied a capital sentence. Nothing is said of crucifixion, but this could be presupposed under the circumstances of Roman jurisdiction. In Jerusalem, as nowhere else, Jesus will fulfill His mission. Beyond the abject humiliation disclosed in the sober terms of verse 34 lies the assurance of vindication through resurrection.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Why does Jesus teach that self-denial and the cross is the only way to follow Him? How do the four statements in verses 35-38 help you to understand His meaning? Examine your life in light of Jesus' words here. What things are you holding on to that are interfering with your "cross-like" devotion to Jesus and His Glory?

 

2.         What does Jesus teach His disciples about greatness and service in verses 33-37? What happens to our fellowship with Jesus when we do not follow His teaching on service? Who can you receive in Jesus' name this week?

 

3.         Why were the disciples amazed and afraid in verse 10:32? What do we learn from this passion prophecy that we do not learn from the first two prophecies in Mark? Why is this important?

 

 

References:

The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to Mark, William Lane, Eerdmans.