The Book of Mark
THE DESIRE TO BE FIRST
Text: MARK 10:35-45
1. We know from Matthew’s account (20:20-28) that “the mother of Zebedee’s children” (i.e., the mother of James and John), was involved in this request.
2. In fact, it appears that she was the chief instigator (Matt. 20:20, 21).
3. Our Lord and His disciples were on their way “going up to Jerusalem” (Mark 10:32).
4. It is interesting to note that the Bible refers 25 times to going “up to Jerusalem” (cf. Mark 10:32, 33).
5. Jerusalem stood on the highest point of a ridge running north and south between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
6. It was always “up to Jerusalem” (cf. Mark 10:32, 33).
7. The first reference is in I Kings 12:28 when wicked, idolatrous King Jeroboam “made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
8. There are five similar statements in the Old Testament, and there are 19 in the NT.
9. Acts 11:2 says, “And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him.”
10. In Acts 21:15, Luke wrote, “And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.”
11. In Galatians 1:18, Paul wrote, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.”
12. It is not just because of Jerusalem’s high elevation. Jerusalem truly is the center of the world.
13. Psalm 48:2 says, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.”
14. Psalm 99:2 says, “The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people.”
15. Psalm 132:13 says, “For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.”
16. Psalm 134:3 says, “The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.”
17. It was on this trip up to Jerusalem, that our Lord had once more told the twelve apostles about His impending death and resurrection, including the cruel mockings and scourgings that would accompany His trial and crucifixion (Mark 10:33, 34).
18. This was the third time He told them. He told them after Peter’s confession of faith (Mark 8:31).
19. And He told them as they were passing through Galilee on their way to Capernaum (9:31, 32).
20. Now, on His final trip to Jerusalem, our Lord once again predicted His death and resurrection (10:32-34).
21. It should have been a time for deep searching of hearts, not for worldly ambition (10:35-37).
I. WORLDLY AMBITION (MARK 10:35-37).
1. Their selfish request was based upon worldly ambition and pride.
2. By seeking exalted positions in the coming kingdom, James and John showed how little they truly understood about it.
3. It is interesting to remember that James and John were very close to our Lord. They had just been with Him up on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; cf. 5:37).
4. John is often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (cf. John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). And our Lord rebuked him because He did love him (Mark 10:38-40).
5. HA Ironside said, “The rebuke of our Lord was not in anger but in love, that they might learn the real meaning of participation in His sufferings, in order to share in the glories to follow” (Mark).
6. James was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred, when he was later killed by Herod. “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1, 2).
7. John was the only one of the apostles not to be martyred. He was exiled to the isle of Patmos, “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9).
8. Our Lord had just said in Mark 10:30 that they should expect “persecutions.” And that “many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (Mark 10:31).
9. But nevertheless, James and John wanted to be first (10:37; cf. 9:34, 35).
10. Our Lord will bestow special honors in the coming kingdom, but these honors will only be given to the humble, that are content to take a lowly place in their service for Christ (10:40).
11. Salvation is by grace but rewards are given on the basis of works. Admission to the kingdom is by grace through faith, but position in the kingdom will be determined by faithfulness to Christ.
12. “And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17).
13. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Tim. 2:12).
14. “But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” (Mark 10:38a).
15. In the Bible, “cup” symbolizes suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord prayed, “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36).
16. “And be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38b).
17. The words “baptize” and “baptism” are also symbolic. The Greek word baptizo means “immerse” or “dip” (cf. Mark 1:9, 10).
18. When referring to the proper mode of baptism it can only mean “immerse” or “dip” – never sprinkle or pour.
19. However, sometimes the word “baptize” is used in a different context and then it takes on a different meaning.
20. Sometimes it refers to the work of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).
21. Sometimes the word means “to identify.” When we are baptized, we are identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (cf. Romans 6:3, 4).
22. In I Cor. 10:2 the Israelites were all baptized unto Moses. And they never got wet! They passed over on the dry ground. It was Pharaoh’s army that got all wet. In fact they drowned!
23. The Israelites were “baptized unto Moses” because they identified with Moses. And more importantly, they identified with Moses’ God (cf. Ex. 14:31).
24. Therefore, baptism literally means “immerse” but it also carries with it the idea of identification (Mark 10:38, 39).
25. Our Lord was referring to the sufferings into which He would soon be plunged (baptized) at the cross, and which would overwhelm His soul, wringing from His broken heart that desolate cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; cf. Psalm 22:1).
II. ANGRY DISPLEASURE (MARK 10:41).
1. “The ten” other disciples were “much displeased with James and John” (10:41).
2. They resented their selfish request. Perhaps they too harbored similar ambitions (cf. Mark 9:33, 34).
3. It is interesting to note that though the other disciples were “much displeased,” our Lord did not show any displeasure.
4. He corrected them (10:38). And then in verse 42, He spoke to all of them because they all needed to hear it.
III. DIVINE ADMONISHMENT (MARK 10:42-45)
1. In Mark 10:42-45, our Lord explained the difference between the way Gentiles exercise lordship, and the way He exercised His Lordship.
2. The apostles were envious. They disputed among themselves over “who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34).
3. But our Lord taught it is better to serve than to be served (Mark 10:42-45).
4. Our Lord said in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
5. God’s way of doing things is much different from the world’s way. God’s way is to exalt the humble, the leader must be the servant, and the first shall be last.
6. Our Lord said, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14).
7. W. Graham Scroggie wrote: “The standards of the world and the kingdom are a universe apart. If we want worldly greatness, we shall adopt worldly ideals and pursue worldly methods; but if we want heavenly greatness, we must understand that we can attain thereunto, not by self-importance, but by self-sacrifice. Of this, Christ himself is the greatest example.”
Scofield, and many others, call Mark 10:45 the “key verse” in Mark’s Gospel and it probably is. It pictures the substitutionary death of Christ.