Walking Towards Death: Mark 10:32-45

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Reading Mark’s gospel, one has a hard time missing the emphasis Mark places on Jesus repeatedly warning the disciples about what would be coming the next time they visited Jerusalem. However, at the start of our passage, Mark describes this trip in an interesting way. From how Mark describes this trip, one might be confused with how Jesus acted on this trip.

Like all of the passages in our year in Mark, our passage for this episode comes from Mark’s gospel, and this episode specifically focuses in on a section of chapter 10. Reading from the God’s Word translation and starting with verse 32, Mark tells us that:

32 Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead of them. His disciples were shocked that he was going to Jerusalem. The others who followed were afraid. Once again he took the twelve apostles aside. He began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We’re going to Jerusalem. There the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to foreigners. 34 They will make fun of him, spit on him, whip him, and kill him. But after three days he will come back to life.”

Let’s pause reading for a moment because what Mark has described here is powerful and also easy to miss. Jesus fully knows what is coming when they reach Jerusalem. Jesus also knows that He will be betrayed, even before Judas Iscariot knows he will be the betrayer. And it is amazing in my mind to read Mark’s description that Jesus walked ahead of the disciples towards Jerusalem.

Mark tells us that the disciples were shocked Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, and the other people who were following were afraid. This response is understandable. With Jesus repeatedly telling the disciples Jerusalem will be where He will be killed, it is understandable that the disciples and those following Jesus would be concerned about His trip headed in that direction. This verse suggests that Jesus was determined to face death head on. Jesus was not afraid of death because He knew the resurrection would come afterwards.

In an interesting way, Jesus’ lack of fear regarding death should be our response as well. We shouldn’t fear death. Instead, we should be determined to walk along the path God has placed before us and not be concerned if that path ends in death. However, like Jesus modeled for us, when we follow God’s path for our lives, death is not the end. Whether we live or die following the path God has for our lives, we can look forward to the resurrection that Jesus promised and the resurrection Jesus experienced.

Two of Jesus’ disciples saw an opportunity on this trip. It is unclear if these disciples understood what Jesus was telling them, or if they were simply looking past what Jesus had said to the point when He would set up His kingdom.

Continuing in verse 35, Mark tells us that:

35 James and John, sons of Zebedee, went to Jesus. They said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do us a favor.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked them.

37 They said to him, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 Jesus said, “You don’t realize what you’re asking. Can you drink the cup that I’m going to drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism that I’m going to receive?”

39 “We can,” they told him.

Jesus told them, “You will drink the cup that I’m going to drink. You will be baptized with the baptism that I’m going to receive. 40 But I don’t have the authority to grant you a seat at my right or left. Those positions have already been prepared for certain people.”

41 When the other ten apostles heard about it, they were irritated with James and John. 42 Jesus called the apostles and said, “You know that the acknowledged rulers of nations have absolute power over people and their officials have absolute authority over people. 43 But that’s not the way it’s going to be among you. Whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant. 44 Whoever wants to be most important among you will be a slave for everyone. 45 It’s the same way with the Son of Man. He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people.”

In our passage and specifically in James’ and John’s request, we discover a spirit of wanting to be elevated, honored, and given status. When the other disciples heard about this short discussion and request, I’m sure they were irritated, but likely not because James and John had asked Jesus this. Instead, I suspect they were irritated because they wished they were the ones who had asked Jesus this question instead.

Before calling the disciples together to challenge them regarding this spirit of hierarchy among them, I find it fascinating that Jesus tells James and John that they will take part in the suffering He will face, but that the places of honor that these disciples are requesting have already been reserved for other people. And it is interesting that these other people are not chosen by Jesus. Jesus tells us that He doesn’t have the authority to make this decision.

From what I can tell, the Bible doesn’t indicate who will fill those two honored roles. I suspect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people believe, that these two positions were actually filled by the two thieves or criminals who hung on crosses along with Jesus. However, whether this is the honored position Jesus is referring to or not, this detail is not what Jesus wants His followers to focus on.

Instead, when James and John’s request is discovered and the disciples have this topic fresh in their minds, Jesus pulls them all together and challenges their focus on status in this world. While culture wants to pressure us to continue stepping up, Jesus challenges His followers that they should instead focus on stepping down and serving. In God’s eyes, the most important person present is the one in the lowest position who is serving everyone around them.

Jesus modeled this focus for us. Jesus modeled what it means to have position and status in the universe’s eyes, and then to step down into humanity. Jesus then modeled for us here on earth what it means to step down even further because as the Messiah, which was a role that would have resulted in fame, status, and a kingdom, Jesus focused His life towards serving others rather than being served, and on giving His life for the lives of others. No earthly leader would do this, but this is what Jesus called His followers to do. We are called to put others ahead of ourselves just like Jesus did!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I regularly challenge you to do, be sure to intentionally seek God first and to model Jesus by stepping down and serving others. Accept the gift Jesus has given to us through His death and don’t be afraid of facing death while walking along the path God has created for you. When we are living the lives God has called us to live, death is not the end. Instead, death marks the point when we are able to finally rest and look forward to Jesus resurrecting us back to life.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Choose to let God lead and teach you through His word and take what you read, hear, or learn and filter it through the spiritual lens of the Bible. The Bible is a gift God has kept safe for thousands of years, and it is a present that teaches us how we can accept Jesus and be saved for eternity!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be scared out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 27: As Jesus begins to head towards Jerusalem where He will face death, Mark includes an interesting description for this trip, and an interesting request two of the disciples ask Jesus. Discover in this passage what Jesus modeled for each of us and how dedicated Jesus was for walking the path God had set before Him.

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