Hi everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 112 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 111, I worked through Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler from Mark 10. We saw how Jesus affirmed the importance of the Law and the covenant made with Israel at Sinai and then searched out the deeper issues of the man’s heart. His loyalty to wealth and possessions in this age prevented him from selling them and leaving everything to follow Jesus. The Lord went on to tell His disciples that it is very difficult for the rich to inherit God’s promises and be saved from His wrath because of the way that wealth gives a false confidence and makes it difficult to trust in God completely. Many who are first in this age would not receive eternal life the age to come, and many in this age who are despised and dismissed as unqualified to inherit God’s promises would actually be the ones who receive them on the Day of the Lord. Yet again we see how Jesus’ ministry brought division to Israel, as He sought the fruits of repentance everywhere He went. Well in today’s episode we’re going to continue looking at several more events that take place on the way to Jerusalem. We’re perhaps a week and a half away from Jesus’ crucifixion at this point. Let’s pick up in Mark 10:
"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, 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. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”"
(Mark 10:32–34 ESV)
Mark reminds us that Jesus is on the road going up to Jerusalem, and we know He is heading there for the final Passover feast of His ministry. The next thing the Gospels record for us is Jesus’ proximity to Jericho, so it seems likely that Jesus is somewhere here in the southern part of the route, relatively close to Jericho. Remember, the Jews would travel to the feasts in large bands, and so we can presume that not only the Twelve were with Him, but other disciples, Jewish pilgrims, and perhaps some family members were following as well. Now Mark tells us that Jesus was walking ahead of them, and the Twelve were amazed and those who followed were afraid. Why is that? Well it’s April now, and the Passover is at hand. Remember back to what we saw just a few months ago in the previous October and December at the Feast of Tabernacles and Dedication. The Jewish authorities got really really mad at Jesus, so much so that at both of those feasts they sought to arrest Him. Then He had raised Lazarus from the dead right on the doorstep of Jerusalem, and when the Jewish authorities heard about it, they began to make plans to put Him to death, as John 11:53 says. So with this in mind, think about what’s going on - Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen to Him, and He’s walking ahead of everyone. He’s walking boldly towards the city that has threatened His life many times before. No wonder why the apostles were completely bewildered and the people who followed Him were afraid. Would they too be imprisoned or killed because of their association with Jesus?
It was at this point that Jesus pulls the Twelve aside and begins to detail to them what would happen to Him in Jerusalem in perhaps just over a week from that point. How long did this conversation take? He seems to lay out some pretty important details to them about His being handed over to the Jewish authorities, His condemnation and death sentence, His handing over to the Romans, His mocking and His humiliation, and finally His resurrection on the third day. Luke’s Gospel adds this important detail:
"But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said."
(Luke 18:34 ESV)
This is the third time Jesus has told them about His suffering and death. The first time was months ago back in August just after Peter’s tested confession of Jesus as the Christ. We looked at that back in Luke 9 and Episode 83. The second time was shortly after that, just following the Transfiguration and the healing of the boy with the unclean spirit, also in Luke 9. We looked at that back in Episode 86. A lot has passed since then, and they are just on the doorstep of Jerusalem in April when Jesus tells them a third time, perhaps in more detail than ever. But the Twelve still didn’t understand. Luke says that “the saying was hidden from them”. Maybe they had His rejection in mind because of everything they had already seen over the past couple of years, but surely they did not expect Him to die at the hands of the Romans. The Christ, that promised king from David’s line, was supposed to rule from Jerusalem forever. If Jesus was that one as they had so passionately believed, what was all this talk about dying in Jerusalem? I’ll talk more about that in a future episode. For now, let’s continue on in Mark 10:
"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.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 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?” 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, 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.”"
(Mark 10:35–40 ESV)
James and John are at it again. Matthew’s Gospel says that even their mom, Salome, was with them as they all presented their request to Jesus. Salome is Jesus’ aunt, so I wonder if somehow the three of them thought that having mom or auntie there would do more to persuade Jesus. These two brothers, also known as the "sons of thunder”, have not always been the most humble of the Twelve… In Mark 9, John had forbidden someone to cast out demons in Jesus’ name because they were not one of His followers, and James wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans who rejected Jesus back in Luke 9. This self-exaltation reared its ugly head again when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom. In Jewish thought, the right hand of the king was the place of greatest prominence, and the left hand was the second highest place. James and John and Momma Salome must have truly thought Jesus was going to go into Jerusalem and establish His kingdom. They knew Him to be the Christ from day 1. But clearly they are not understanding what Jesus just said, nor are they understanding what will characterize the kingdom when it is established. Jesus asks them if they are able to drink the cup that He drinks and are able to be baptized with the baptism He will undergo. What’s Jesus talking about here? Well, the Old Testament sometimes depicts a cup of joy and salvation like in Psalm 16 or Psalm 23, but more often it is a symbol of the wrath of God. I think that’s what Jesus is talking about here. And the Old Testament never uses the word “baptize” directly, but there are many references to being immersed or engulfed in trouble and trial, many of which are also in the Psalms. I think this is what Jesus is referring to here - a submersion in calamity. And contextually, we know that to be referencing His coming suffering and death.
Though there is self-seeking involved here, James and John respond with a sincere word: “we are able, Jesus, we can drink that cup and be baptized… We’ll do anything for you.” There is a resoluteness about them. They’ve seen too much, they know too much, and their faith and confidence in Jesus has grown. And I believe Jesus sees that and says “you will drink the cup and be baptized”. I think that He’s talking about suffering and being persecuted for their faith, even maybe being martyred just as He will be.
Now I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again here, because sometimes this passage is misunderstood and used to support the idea that Jesus was telling James and John about a new kind of kingdom He was going to establish, and that they should not be thinking about an earthly, geopolitical kingdom. I don’t think Jesus was saying that at all in this passage. He actually affirms that some will sit at His right and His left. The mystery, of course, is that He first has to suffer. His kingdom will be established just as the Old Testament declared. Well, let’s finish up this passage in Mark 10:
"And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 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. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”"
(Mark 10:41–45 ESV)
James and John’s request gets back to the rest of the Twelve, and they are exasperated. Jealousy and selfish ambition filled their hearts too. Do you feel how out of place this whole thing is, especially after Jesus just told them for a third time that He was about to suffer and be killed? In so many ways, our pride and self exaltation can blind us to reality. But Jesus brought a gentle word of correction to the Twelve here, something that must have sunk deep into their hearts as the months and years passed after Jesus had left them. Throughout history, world rulers are usually authoritarian, even those with relatively little influence. Even in our day, those with some sort of authority, whether it be in the business world or sadly even in the church, often times are domineering and seek their own good above that of others. But Jesus says it should not be so for the Twelve. By looking to be great, they actually would end up looking more like the world than like their Messiah. They should seek to be like servants who waited on tables, and like slaves who were owned by another and possessed no rights except that which their master gives them. This is what Jesus is like, and this is what they ought to emulate. We see how seriously they took this throughout the rest of the New Testament as we read so many of their exhortations to be like a slave or a bondservant of Jesus, and walk in humility, meekness, gentleness, and servanthood.
Well in the next episode we’re going to jump back to Luke’s Gospel and look at the story of Zacchaeus in Jericho from Luke 19. In the meantime, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, come back next time.