Goodness and Greatness Redefined

Mark 10:17-45 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “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. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


Good morning it’s good to be with you this morning. Pastor Dave is off this week, they were able to go to Michigan and visit his family. Dave’s father, Dave Sr began chemotherapy for cancer this week. Please keep the VanAcker family in your prayers.

For a number of reasons we have been in and out of Genesis a lot this Fall. Missions week, Dave’s TLI trip and vacation have all caused a little more inconsistency than we are used to. But Lord willing, Dave will resume preaching through Genesis next week and I think we can get back to a more regular diet of expository preaching.

This week I wanted to look at a larger passage from Mark’s gospel. If you’re even sort of familiar with the Bible, you’ve probably heard these stories before. But how do they relate to one another? My hope this morning is to take these two familiar passages and look at them in a slightly different way, a way that I think Mark wanted his readers to see. A young man wants to know what he can do to be good and James and Andrew want to know how to be great. And the answer to both is found in the world-flipping reality of the cross. Only through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection can anyone be good enough. Only through following Jesus in a life of self-denial is kingdom greatness achieved. And as we will see, it’s only through the work and power of God that impossible things are possible. Last will be first, the first will be slaves of all. Please pray that we would see the path to following Jesus goes exactly where Jesus went first.

Prayer: Father in heaven, we thank you for your word and the many ways you work on us through it. Thank you for the comfort it can bring during hard times. We pray for the VanAcker family. We ask that you bring healing to Dave Sr. Put doctors and specialists around him with expertise that can provide good care. May he hear the truth of the gospel and take comfort in his eternal destiny. More than anything would he turn to Jesus as the great Physician. May Pastor Dave and his family find comfort in the truths of your Word and be sources of comfort to the rest of their family. We pray for the Pagano family as well. Thank you for Jocelyn’s life of faith and that she is in glory with you Father. Please comfort the Pagano family with the truth of the gospel. Help us as a church to know ways to love them well during this time.

Father your word can also bring challenge and conviction. I ask that this text would challenge us this morning. Show us the glory of what Jesus did on the cross. Show us his compassion and love for sinners and his model of obedience and humility. Please conform us to be more like Jesus. Speak to us now through your word and the weakness of this preacher, I pray. Amen

One of the difficult things about preaching a standalone sermon is we aren’t familiar with the context in the same way we are when Pastor Dave is preaching through a book over a long time. So before we get to our passage, I want to give a really quick overview of the gospel of Mark and then look at the larger section our passage sits within. Like the other authors of scripture, Mark arranges the stories in his book in a certain way to emphasize certain points and ideas. It doesn’t mean he’s manipulating truth, but arranging the stories in his gospel for us to better see the things he wants us to see.

The first half of Mark’s gospel focuses on the identity of Jesus. Who is this guy who is healing people, casting out demons, performing miracles and teaching with authority? Then in chapter 8, the story moves into questions of what Jesus requires of his followers. This is where we find out passage. In the larger section Jesus predicts his death three times, with the third time featured in our text. Another feature that helps us understand our text is two miracles on either end of the section. Jesus heals a blind man in chapter 8 and then immediately after our passage at the end of chapter 10. Mark is using these two blindness stories to highlight the blindness of the characters in our stories: the rich man and the disciples.

One other character that features as a literary device in Mark’s gospel is the disciples. No other gospel highlights their blundering. Whether it’s something Peter says or does, or the other disciples tripping over themselves, Mark uses the disciples to make a point. We’ll come back at the end and talk about their role in our text, but keep this in the back of your mind as you listen.
Our passage contains two stories where people encounter Jesus by asking him questions. And in the middle, verses 32-32 is this prediction of Jesus’ death. It’s this short middle section that informs and helps understand the other two stories. What I plan to do this morning is look at the two stories first, look at what each person wants from Jesus and then see how the cross redefines our understanding of things. The main point of this sermon is Kingdom Goodness and Greatness are only properly understood by the cross.

Both of these stories, the rich young ruler, and the request of James and John, have a similar structure. First, we see someone asking something of Jesus. The Jesus replies, followed by a response of the person. And then Jesus gives a short discourse to his disciples where he teaches.

Let’s look at the first story and the question it poses.

Story #1 17-31 How can I be good?

Verse 17 gives us the man’s request.

Mark 10:17   And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The man approaches Jesus in a seemingly reverent way. He kneels, he calls him ‘Good Teacher’ and he asks something spiritual like how to get eternal life. He has the outer signs of spiritual maturity, but what is he really after? What must I do? Tell me what I do to get eternal life. Just tell me what to do to be good enough? The man wants to know how to get into eternal life, but wants to know how he can do it. Just give me a list of things I can check off.

18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Then Jesus replies: Why do you call me good? He knows that the man does not acknowledge Jesus as God. Only God is good. And the man doesn’t see Jesus as God, so Jesus corrects the man. In a sense Jesus is saying, “Only God is good. And since you don’t see me as God, don’t call me good.” Jesus is not merely a good teacher. We don’t get to treat his words as advice to take or leave or just suggestions.

Do you see Jesus as the means to get things or the God of the universe who must be submitted to?

19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

This man has failed to see Jesus’ true identity and the authority Jesus holds. But Jesus continues and gives him some of the commandments to follow.

20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Even though the man was at least ignorant of Jesus and the kingdom, Jesus loved him. He had compassion on this man who was unwilling to detach from his wealth. Contrast that reaction with the man. He hung his head and disappeared. In his mind he had kept the commandments. But notice the commandments Jesus mentions: they are the ones centered around loving your neighbor. Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, etc. On some level it’s possible to keep the second half of the commandments. Have I murdered anyone or committed adultery? There is a black and white answer that someone could honestly answer ‘no’. Now we know from Jesus’ other teachings that this really isn’t true, that the motives of our hearts are actually breaking the commandments all the time. But the man was convinced that he had actually kept these commandments. Even the command to sell everything and give to the poor could be answered in a yes or no. The ones Jesus doesn’t mention are the ones centered around loving God above all else. Don’t covet and don’t have any gods before me. And this is where the law levels the young man.

Jesus exposed the man’s greatest allegiance. It was tipped off by the man calling Jesus ‘Good Teacher’ and it was confirmed by his refusal to sell all of his possessions. Wealth was his god. And Jesus told him to get rid of this greatest allegiance. In other words, Jesus told him to kill his god. For the man it was money, but it’s not the only false god to bow to. Jesus even promised the man that exchanging his earthly treasure would result on eternal riches in heaven. Heavenly treasure begins with Jesus as our greatest treasure. Jesus offered himself to the man in exchange for his possessions.

Now I want to be clear that this passage is not primarily about money. It’s the god that kept the young man from seeing Jesus and putting his faith in Jesus for eternal life. But there are other gods that we cling to that we try to justify ourselves with. What are the gods that you are clinging to? What are the ways you are trusting in something to justify yourself? For the young man it was money. And in our affluent culture, we should start here too. It might not be money, but be careful moving on too quickly. Is money or comfort pulling you away from finding your righteousness in Christ? Maybe it’s something else that you are willing to part with. Maybe it’s your performance. Have you convinced yourself that your effort is good enough for God to accept you?

Jesus turns to his disciples and expands on the point he’s driving at. Not even a rich man can enter the kingdom. This surprises the disciples because in that culture, much like ours, riches were a sign of blessing and status. And if a rich man who is seemingly blessed by God can’t get in, how could the disciples or anyone else? With man it is impossible, but not with God. So we remove any hindrances in our lives that keep us from seeing Jesus as more than a good teacher. And see him as God.
Then Jesus offers a promise. Whatever you give up in order to trust Jesus, you will get back way more. And in this age, Jesus says. This isn’t a future promise for heaven, although we will see blessings there too. The blessings are in this current lifetime.

Some of you have difficult family situations. The demands of a family can be harsh and the threat of losing relationships can be painful. The holidays are coming up, it might be an anxious time for you. But Grace, don’t miss the promise Jesus makes. He says whatever we give up for the sake of following Jesus, we will have more provided for us. Yes, persecution is part of what we get when we follow Jesus, but we also get a larger family, more people we can call friend, and a place to find home. That’s what the church is for.

Story #2 33-45-How can we be great?

Mark 10:35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

The brother’s request: Tell me how we can be great? They want status in the kingdom of God.

This isn’t the first time the disciples have requested something like this. In chapter 9 they argued about who was the greatest among the disciples.

In a way this picks up on Peter’s recognition earlier that they are on the right track. Jesus is clearly someone important, even if they don’t fully realize who Jesus is yet. They are still thinking in earthly terms. They can only imagine that Jesus will be similar to the other earthly rulers and take power by force and set up his reign here on earth.

While we may not be jockeying for a literal spot in Jesus’ kingdom, we can fall into this same way of thinking. We can be tempted to use the world’s ways and think the kingdom will advance through these means. Think about a politician, athlete, musician or other celebrity who identifies as a Christian. How many times have we seen someone who professes faith in Christ rise to prominence and people fall into the idea that this celebrity will be the way that our culture will repent and turn from their sins. As if through sheer celebrity status is the way Jesus had in mind.

Jesus’ reply: Jesus asks the brothers if they can drink the cup. They shrug and say they can. The cup Jesus has in mind is the cup of God’s wrath. It’s an image throughout the Old Testament that the prophets used to warn Israel and Judah of the coming judgment for their unrighteousness. God was going to pour out his wrath on sin. No one but a righteous man, or a Good man could drink the cup and not be destroyed. Which means only Jesus, the perfectly righteous God-Man could drink this cup. James and John have no clue what they are asking.

The baptism that Jesus has in mind is his death when he is buried in the earth. Jesus promises that the brothers will do these things, but not in the same way that Jesus will. The cup they drink and the baptism they experience will be for the sake of following Jesus. It’s the same call for anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus. It might not be a
As a result of their request, James and John get shade from the other disciples. So Jesus goes into a smaller discourse to explain his point further.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “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. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is redefining greatness. It doesn’t mean sitting above others and demanding respect or greatness. It doesn’t mean lording your title or status over others.

Parents, do you lord your authority over your kids? Or do you humbly model Christlike love and obedience?

Kids how badly do you fight to be first in your house? Do you whine when you don’t get your choice of dinner? Do you push to be first into the car?

Even within the church we can find ourselves thinking that a title or a leadership position grants us status or greatness.
It means becoming a servant and dying to yourself and your desires. Jesus has used similar phrases before to describe what a disciple of Jesus looks like. He told the disciples in verse 31, many who are first will be last. Then in verse Whoever would be great among you must be your servant. Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Slave of all. I’m not endorsing race-based slavery like we saw in America in the 1800’s. The image of a slave is one the Bible uses quite a bit. What kind of image does it conjure up? Someone who has no say in the matter, but does whatever someone else tells them to do. This is the kind of picture of service Jesus is describing. This is the picture we see as he is handed over to the Jewish and Roman leaders.

Are you selective in who you serve? It’s easy to serve people you like, but what about someone who irritates you? Or someone you know won’t appreciate your service?
Following Jesus means a very different kind of greatness, because Jesus is calling us to be a slave to all. First are last, last are first. In the kingdom of God, humble service is where greatness is truly found.

Now we return to this middle section and see how it informs the answers to the two questions:

Mark 10:32 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

The story of the gospels builds toward a climax in Jerusalem. Here we see Jesus leading the disciples toward Jerusalem. He had a laser focus of what his mission was and now for the third time in this section, he predicts what will happen. This final prediction gives a more detailed prediction of what will happen to him. He speaks clearly, no riddles or parables, and he simply says I am going to die and it’s going to happen in this way.

33“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.”

In his prediction Jesus notes a few things.

1. Jesus relinquishes control. He doesn’t march into the Jewish or Roman court and ask to be nailed to a cross. He is passively arrested and handed over to the whims of the Jews and Gentiles. Of course this is according to the Father’s sovereign plan that these things would happen. But Jesus is not forcing an agenda.

2. Any possibility of earthly glory is removed when Jesus says that they will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. There is nothing noble or attractive about this death from an earthly perspective.

3. As Jesus notes in verse 45, this is not a suicide mission that will fail. The entire plan was for Jesus death to ransom many from their sins. And his resurrection accomplishes that.

4. The two who sit at Jesus’ right and left hands would not be disciples, but two thieves. He was numbered among criminals despite his perfect righteousness before God. What kind of earthly king would do that?

And of course, this prediction was fulfilled at the end of Mark’s gospel. All these things happened. Jesus died and rose again, proving his power over sin and death. So now, let’s reframe the questions. Instead of What must I do, the question is What must Jesus do for me to gain eternal life? And in light of the cross, the question of how can I be great is redefined into How can I make Jesus great?

Jesus loved the man and would demonstrate that love on the cross. The man could not be good enough. And that man is each of us. None of us can obey the commandments. None of us can gain eternal life through our efforts. Jesus knew that, exposed that in the man and knew that what was prepared for him in Jerusalem would secure eternal life for his people.

Maybe it’s comfort. Jesus gave up all comfort for our sake.

What about control? I have my agenda for how a day should go. I have the things I want to do, when I have free time I want that to be my time. Jesus was delivered over to other people’s agendas.

For some of you it’s preferences. I’d like to see things go my way. We all have preferences. But that can’t be what drives our lives.

Maybe you are here this morning but you are on the fringes. What is keeping you from wholeheartedly following Christ? What have you convinced yourself of that is getting in the way of being an active member of the body of Christ? We’re not perfect as a church, not by a long shot. But we invite you to join us in deeper community and spurring one another on to following Jesus with everything we have.

Remember I mentioned that Mark uses the disciples as a device in his gospel? Maybe more than any other gospel, the disciples’ blindness is emphasized. We shake our head at Peter saying silly things. We cringe when John and James ask something they have no clue about. And yet, these were the people Jesus called, trained and loved for three years. And now they are following Jesus to Jerusalem. He is lovingly showing them the way to enter the kingdom. He is not dying for people already made perfect. These were people that Jesus intended to die for. He’s dying for bumbling, blockheaded people. People just like you and me.

In the case of James and John, after the resurrection, they understood true greatness. They did wind up drinking the cup and being baptized like Jesus was. Acts 12 shows the story of James being killed by Herod as a martyr. John faced imprisonment and persecution throughout his life. But they both recognized that true greatness in the kingdom means humbling ourselves to be like Jesus. Being willing to die to our desires takes the glory off of us and puts it squarely on Jesus. We are no different than the disciples.

If you are not a Christian, the invitation is to die. Recognize that you cannot enter eternal life on your own but confess Jesus as king, confess your sins and turn away from your own gods and to the true God in the person of Jesus. The true God who was killed for you love of false gods. Jesus died on the cross to ransom people from their sin and bring them into eternal life with him.

Conclusion

Jesus is both the object of our faith, and the model of the required attitude for following Jesus. He is the one who secured our perfect righteousness, took our deserved wrath and forgives our sins, ransoming us from death. He is also the slave to all, the first among all who became last. It is only through Jesus’ death on the cross that we can begin to understand salvation and how different the kingdom of God truly is. If we hope to truly follow Jesus, we first kill our false gods, then die to ourselves as we become willing to follow Jesus. And the promise is that we get the treasure of heaven, which is Jesus himself. Grace, let’s pray that we would want Jesus as treasure over anything else this world has to offer.

Do you want to be good? You must allow Jesus to be God and fulfill the law in your place.

Do you want to be great? You must follow Jesus on the path of humility, suffering and selfless service of others. Where Jesus goes, we must go. And that means being willing to die to our desires and idols.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Jesus, you are good and you are glorious. Thank you for dying on the cross for our ungodliness. Thank you for showing us what greatness means in your kingdom.

You are our treasure. But we often struggle to live like it. Help us to submit to your word and conform to it. Help us to be free from justifying ourselves. May we remind one another of the gospel and our freedom in it. And with our freedom may we be slaves to you, LORD God. We love you. Spirit please apply these words to our hearts. Expose the idols we cling to. Show us the ways we are not following faithfully. And may we as a church stir one another up to greater obedience and joy in Christ. Amen.