Digging Deeper into Scripture: Mark 10:35–45

I grew up reading comic books (often when I should have been studying). I was fascinated by the heroes, stories, art, and action. Back then, you could buy comic books at the grocery store. I remember many times standing at the comic-book rack—reading the Hulk, Captain America, the X-Men, the Avengers—and having a store employee offer the terse remark, “This isn’t a library.”

More than any other hero, I loved Spider-Man. I think it was the costume and his set of powers. If you are familiar with the hero, then you know that his real name is Peter Parker, and he was raised by his aunt and uncle, Ben and May Parker. In the story, Uncle Ben offers his nephew an important piece of wisdom that sticks with Peter throughout his life: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Striving for Power

There is a similar theme running through our Gospel reading. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, want Jesus to have them seated at His right and left in His glory. In what follows, our Lord attempts to convey to the ambitious disciples the grandeur of what they are asking and the true nature of greatness.

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?” (Mark 10:38)

To sit at the right and left of a king was to possess authority and glory second only to the king himself. We think of the idiom “my right-hand man.” This request was audacious not only because to have such a position would be to share in the Lord’s glory, but also because it would place James and John over the other ten disciples. No wonder we read, “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John” (v. 41). When we read of Jesus speaking of the cup that He would drink and the Baptism He would experience, we understand that these were Jewish expressions that meant Jesus would experience humiliation, suffering, and death. In other words, the wrath of God for the sins of the world. James and John didn’t know what they were asking for. Nevertheless, the sons of Zebedee responded to Jesus’ question by saying, “We are able” (v. 39). When the other disciples became indignant with James and John for requesting the honor they themselves wanted, Jesus told 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. (Mark 10:42–44)

As we often encounter with Christianity, Jesus takes the world’s standards and expectations and turns them on their head. Sinners seek power and authority to obtain the comforts and pleasures of this world and to have control over others. Sinners seek glory to be lauded and magnified by others. All of this leads us back to the Garden of Eden. Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the allure of being gods; and they took the bait. Jesus, on the other hand—being the sinless, eternal God almighty—used His power and authority to take on human flesh and be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus sought not His own glory but, instead, the glory of His Father in heaven.

 Law: Looking at Ambition

Is ambition sinful by nature? It depends on how one defines the word and the purpose behind it. If a teacher desires to be a principal, pursues further education, and applies for a principal position, is this lording it over other teachers, as Jesus describes above? Not necessarily. There is no sin if the goal is to develop one’s God-given abilities or increase one’s ability to care for others. If the goal is merely to have power over others and to have the prestige of the position, perhaps such a teacher should reevaluate and reflect. If God has given someone high intelligence or made that person a natural leader, there is nothing praiseworthy about taking a job that requires a fraction of the person’s potential. There is no sin in having authority. The issue is the motivation behind the pursuit and how that authority is used—or misused. It was by God’s allowance and direction that Israel had kings. Although many of these kings did evil, many used their power to serve the people well.

Gospel: Empowered to Serve

Christians are empowered to serve others in their identity in Christ. Unbelievers seek prestige because they don’t have the joy and peace of being a child of God in Christ, and they are attempting to fill that God-shaped hole with prestige. Christians forget their identity in Christ and return to the world’s standards and behaviors. Christians don’t need to seek prestige and authority, because in Christ they have something far better. We are children of almighty God, forgiven of our sins, righteous before a righteous Lord, and heirs of eternal bliss in heaven. Our riches are in Christ. We need not seek them here.

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 10:45)

To serve others is to be Christlike. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to be a servant; He models it through His departure from heaven to come to a broken world, through His perfect life in place of our wicked lives, and through His bloody suffering and death on the cross. What is more, Jesus shows us the end. Resurrection and life eternal followed His servanthood. For His sake, so it will be for us.

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Written by

Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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