The Stone the Builders Rejected (Mark 11:27-12:44)

I'm sure that many of us have enjoyed the Olympics over the past two weeks. We all know that the real event is still to take place later this afternoon. You can enjoy your biathlons and bobsleds and short track speed skating. You can even have your curling, but we all know it's about the men's hockey. So today we'll be glued to our sets seeing who is going to win the gold medal.

I'm not about to predict who is going to win this afternoon, but let me be clear: the team that wins will have both talent and experience. To put it differently, if they passed out skates and sticks to a random group of people here today, I guarantee we would do worse than Latvia, a team that has won no games and has been scored against four times more than they've scored. In other words, it's no accident that teams like the United States and Canada end up near the top. We have the most experience in hockey. We have the deepest pockets of talent.

This may sound like the most obvious observation ever. Except I want to pose a question for you. We've been studying the Gospel of Mark, and today we come to a passage in which Jesus is in the Temple. Jesus is in the holiest place. He is at the center of faith and salvation for Jews and Gentiles around the world. Not only that, he is surrounded by the top religious leaders. This is like home ice with the top religious team present. You would think that we would be watching the equivalent of gold medal action as Jesus and the religious leaders talk, that this would be the spiritual equivalent of TED, when they bring some of the top minds in the world to talk about some of the most important ideas going. You would think this would be a thing of beauty.

But instead it's a train wreck. Last week we saw that Jesus took a look at this center of faith and its leaders and condemned it as lifeless. In this week's passage we have a series of confrontations between Jesus and these top religious leaders, who have devoted their entire lives to spiritual things. You have four different incidents in which the top religious leaders go after Jesus. And you have Jesus go after them with a story and a question before issuing a warning about the religious leaders.

To go back to hockey, it's like if the team that practiced most gets worse and worse the harder they try. It's like Team Canada being beaten by a bunch of five-year-old Timbits. It's like the higher they go religiously, the further they move away from God.

This isn't just an academic question, because there are a lot of us here this morning who are not quite at the level of these religious leaders, but we are pretty religious. This passage is a little like a warning label that comes with a prescription: side-effects of religion include the danger that you drift further and further away from Jesus until you're opposed to him and he condemns you as spiritually dead.

Because we face this danger, I'd like to ask you to look with me at a story Jesus tells us that will help us understand the danger we face. The story comes in four parts. Not only does it help us understand why religious people end up far from God, it also helps us understand the whole story of Scripture and where we fit into it.

So let's look at each of the four parts, beginning with part one.

Part One: The Vineyard

Mark 12:1 says:

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place."

The story begins with a vineyard. It's a great picture, because the people Jesus was addressing would have been familiar with vineyards, and even though we're not exactly vineyard folk we can picture what this would have been like.

If you've done any gardening, you know the kind of work that it takes to turn a piece of land into something productive and beautiful. It takes planning, and then it takes work. Some of us know the opposite. We know it's not hard to go the other direction: to take something that was a thing of beauty and see it degrade into a wild patch of weeds.

The picture you get in this passage is of a vineyard that has received a great deal of care and attention from the landowner. This was a new vineyard, so it would take at least four years of work before a crop could even be harvested. It's a vineyard that has a wall, a pit, a winepress, and a watchtower. The owner has gone to a lot of work. He's invested a lot in this project.

And then he does what was common in those days. He rents out the vineyard to workers who will care for it in his absence. The workers won't own it; they will simply rent it. The price of rent would be some of the produce from this vineyard.

If you were one of Jesus' listeners, you may have remembered a similar image from Isaiah 5:

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones

and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

and cut out a winepress as well.
(Isaiah 5:1-2)

What is this about? The vineyard is an image for God's people, Israel. It is, the Bible tells us, the object of his love and care. God has invested heavily, providing everything that his people need. If you look through Scripture in Genesis, you see that once sin enters the world things go downhill. Everything you can think of happens. It's like a garden gone wild. It's all in a state of chaos. But in the middle of that mess God promises Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.
(Genesis 12:2-3)

God keeps this promise, building and preserving a nation, and delivering them from Egypt, leading them into their land. So you have a beautiful picture here of all that God has done to prepare for his people. It's a care that extends to this day as well, to everyone who here who has heard the gospel and trusted in Christ's name. God has lavished his care on every one of us.

Part Two: Rebellion

But, Jesus explains, things don't go well. You get the most of the Old Testament, right to Jesus' day, summarized in verses 2 to 5:

At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

Despite all that the owner has done, these people do not respond out of gratitude, nor do they keep their commitments. Instead, there's a flat-out rebellion against the owner and his messengers. He keeps sending more and more messengers, and things get even worse. They start by beating but pretty soon they're killing the messengers.

Again, it reminds us of Isaiah 5:

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

but it yielded only bad fruit.
"Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,

judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard

than I have done for it?

When I looked for good grapes,

why did it yield only bad?
(Isaiah 5:2-4)

What is this about? Throughout the Old Testament, God had sent prophet after prophet to his people to remind them of the covenant, and to call them back to faithfulness. The people kept ignoring the prophets, and things kept getting worse and worse. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way:

From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors. (Jeremiah 7:25-26)

Some of the prophets were killed, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and Amos. The most recent prophet to have been sent and killed was John the Baptist. Jesus had just finished talking about him before telling this story.

What Jesus is saying is that God's people have a long history of rebellion, of ignoring his prophets. The religious leaders in the temple stood in a long line of people who had rebelled against God. We stand in the same tradition today. One hymn says that we're prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. This begins to help us understand where the religious leaders of Jesus day went wrong - and where we can go wrong as well.

Part Three: Rejecting the Son

The story in Isaiah ends at this point. It ends on an awful note.

Now I will tell you

what I am going to do to my vineyard:

I will take away its hedge,

and it will be destroyed;

I will break down its wall,

and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,

neither pruned nor cultivated,

and briers and thorns will grow there.

I will command the clouds

not to rain on it.
(Isaiah 5:5-6)

Isaiah is talking about foreign invasion here, and national destruction for the nation of Israel.

But Jesus' story continues, and it takes a shocking turn.

"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'

"But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:6-8)

What kind of father would risk sending his own son to these rebels after what they had done to all of the previous messengers?

And that's exactly the point. God is that kind of owner. At incredible risk, God makes one final effort, one final appeal to his people. God does not give up on his people. He sends his own Son to them at the risk of his life.

But it's not just at the risk of the Son's life. It's at the cost of that life. Because, as Jesus tells the story, they plot against that his life and take it, and throw the body out of the vineyard. They don't even give the body the dignity of a proper burial.

This puts the arguments in Mark 11 and 12 in a completely different light. The religious leaders question Jesus' authority. They ask questions to try to catch Jesus in a trap. They give the appearance of having theological issues with Jesus. But those are a smokescreen for the real issue. The real issue is that they have long been in rebellion against God, and now they are plotting to take the life of God's very Son.

Mark is telling us that it's possible to be religious, to even be at the top of the religious heap - gold medalists - and to be in direct opposition to God. It's possible to be very spiritual, and yet oppose God.

And yet this passage tells us that God goes to every length to rectify the situation, going so far as to send his only Son, even at the risk of his Son's life.

Part Four: Judgment and Hope

The story ends in this passage - and for us as well this morning - on a dual note. There is a note of judgment as this story ends. "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others" (Mark 12:9). To put it as simply as possible, to reject Jesus is to choose judgment. This is a horrible thing. To reject Jesus is to choose judgment.

But there's a stunning twist. Jesus says, "He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others." There are going to be new tenants, new beneficiaries of his care. Jesus then quotes a passage of Scripture that is often quoted about Jesus from this point on. It's apparently about a stone that was rejected as unsuitable as they were building the temple. Yet this very stone, originally rejected, ended up becoming the cornerstone. The one rejected ends up becoming the most important of all.

Haven't you read this passage of Scripture:

"'The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
(Mark 12:10-11)

Jesus is saying that even his rejection and upcoming death accomplishes God's purposes. Jesus' rejection was foreseen, and God will even use that to bring glory to himself.

Do you see: Jesus is saying that even the most spiritual people, the most faithful attenders of church, can end up as enemies of God. But God has sent his own Son at the cost of that Son's life so that he could lavish his care on us. To reject Jesus is to choose judgment; to put our trust in Jesus is to receive all of his blessings.

This passage is depressing, because the spiritual gold medalists end up losing not only the game, but everything. But this chapter is encouraging because it ends with two people who unexpectedly seem to get it. One is a religious leader. Jesus says he's not far from the kingdom. There's hope even for the religious! The other is the least likely person of all, not a spiritual gold medalist, but a widow who gives everything - literally in the Greek, who gives her whole life, just like Jesus has done for us.

If you're a spiritual gold medalist, be warned. You're in danger. But there's hope for the most unlikely of people. There's hope for you.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Coming of the King (Mark 11:1-26)

This morning's passage is one that's important on many levels. It's got layers. It's like one of those movies that has a plot, but underneath the plot are all these layers of meaning, and the more you look the more you see. It's got surprises. Just when you think it's going one way, it goes another. It's puzzling at parts. This is a passage that gets under your skin.

But when you look at this passage you encounter a message that is just as important for us today as it was for the people who are in this story. The more I looked at this passage, the more I realized that it's exactly what I need, and what you need as well.

So let me try to lead you to understand the two things that this passage is showing us. And then let me spend just a few minutes applying this to us today, and then we're done.

The Coming of the Deliverer-King

If you've been with us so far as we've been going through Mark, you know that the tension has been building. Jesus has told his disciples:

"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:33-34)

You can picture what it would have been like for Jesus and the disciples as they join the massive crowds on the way to Jerusalem. They knew that things were coming to a head. Up until now Jesus had been avoiding confrontation with the religious leaders. Now he was heading right towards a head-on collision with them that would cost him his life.

So picture them as they travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. It was mandatory for all male Jews to go up to Jerusalem for the feasts of Pentecost, Tabernacles and Passover. Passover was the most popular. The population of Jerusalem tripled in size. You would have been with tens of thousands of people walking to Jerusalem to celebrate that God miraculously delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt.

Jericho is the lowest city on earth, 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is only about a dozen miles away, but is nearly 3,000 feet above sea level. The road goes through a hot, dry desert. Suddenly, as you approach Jerusalem, you would see the first signs of vegetation and the glorious sight of Jerusalem itself. You would see the temple - the place where God had chosen to place his name and present, where he assured Israel of forgiveness. The pilgrims would be singing the songs of ascent from the Psalms. The whole experience would take your breath away.

As Jesus and his disciples experience this, something strange happens. The entire book of Mark, Jesus has never gone anywhere except on his own two feet or in a boat. He's walked everywhere, except on water - well, even then he's walked sometimes. But here he asks his disciples to get a colt, a young donkey, on which nobody has ever sat. As he approaches Jerusalem, the crowds spread their cloaks on the road. What's that about? In 2 Kings 9, Jehu is made king over Israel, and we read, "They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, 'Jehu is king!'" (2 Kings 9:13). You don't throw cloaks on the dusty, stony road for just anyone. You do it for royalty.

They're also spreading branches and singing, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" (Mark 11:10). Palm branches were a symbol of Jewish nationality and victory. Two hundred years before, Judas Maccabaeus defeated a Syrian king. He entered Jerusalem and cleansed and rebuilt the Temple. The people waved ivy and palm branches and sang hymns of praise. Judas started a royal dynasty that lasted a hundred years.

Put this all together. Jesus' followers believe that he is the true and rightful king of Israel, come to Jerusalem to be seen as such. It's the time of the Passover, the time of hope and remembrance of freedom. As Jesus arrives, Mark is screaming for us to realize the significance of what's happening. To really understand, you have to know what the prophet Zechariah had predicted five hundred years earlier. Zechariah had written:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim

and the warhorses from Jerusalem,

and the battle bow will be broken.

He will proclaim peace to the nations.

His rule will extend from sea to sea

and from the River to the ends of the earth.
(Zechariah 9:9-10)

The promised deliverer-king is finally coming to Jerusalem. Psalm 72 said of him:

May he rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May all kings bow down to him

and all nations serve him.
For he will deliver the needy who cry out,

the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy

and save the needy from death.
May his name endure forever;
may it continue as long as the sun.
Then all nations will be blessed through him,
and they will call him blessed.
(Psalm 72:8, 11-13, 17)

Mark has been asking us to consider the question, "Who is Jesus?" Jared Wilson writes:

No man is probably more misunderstood than Jesus...We've spent decades selling a Jesus cast in our own image...The quasi-Puritan Jesus liked to smack you on the knuckles with a ruler when you got out of line. Later, we received Postcard Jesus - the Coppertoned, blond-haired blank-stare Jesus of the gold-framed portrait, a bland two-dimensional portrait occupying moral tales that help us to be better people. This flat portrait evolved into a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free Jesus, and this Jesus has inspired millions to say a prayer to get his forgiveness - and then go on living lives devoid of his presence....Today we have an amalgamation of all - and more - of these Jesuses running rampant in the world and in the church...We've settled for the glossy portrait. We've used him, made him into types and stereotypes, taken his message out of context and made it about being a better person or being cool or helping us to help ourselves. (Your Jesus Is Too Safe)

Nobody is more misunderstood than Jesus. This morning's passage is helping us to understand who Jesus is. He is more than a great teacher. He's not just someone who was especially in tune with God's presence and power. He is more than just our personal Lord and Savior. He is the long-promised king, the hope of the ages, the king who arrives to reign over the entire earth. That's the first thing Mark is telling us in this passage. Jesus is the promised deliverer-king.

Before Peace, Judgment

But the second thing Mark tells us is that Jesus is not the king we would expect. They arrive in Jerusalem, and Jesus looks around at the temple. What happens? "He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve" (Mark 11:11). Talk about anticlimax. The tension has been building. You expect something to happen. And then this? It's baffling.

Then there's this incident with the fig tree. This fig tree has given people trouble for years. Jesus sees a fig tree from a distance. He goes to see if there's any fruit on it. It's not the time for fruit, but he curses it anyway, and the next day it's withered. At first glance it looks like Jesus is being unreasonable and petulant. It's the only miracle in the gospels in which Jesus brings death instead of life. What do you make of the fig tree?

And then Jesus goes into the temple and drives out the moneychangers and those who sell pigeons. What's that about? It's been misunderstood for years. People often think that it's about selling things in the church, which I think misses the point of what's really going on here.

This all looks baffling at first - until you understand what's really happening here. The prophet Malachi had written:

"I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)

What was Malachi saying? Israel had expected that when the Lord came, it would be good news. Malachi said that God would indeed appear in the temple one day, but not only in blessing. He would come in judgment. "Who can endure the day of his coming?" he asks. When the Lord comes to his temple, Malachi said that he would purify and he would judge.

In the passage we've been looking at this morning, the Lord has come to his temple. He came not as a pilgrim but as the sovereign Lord who suddenly comes to his temple. He looks examines it as one who has come to purify and to judge.

What about the fig tree? What's that about? The key to understanding this is to realize that it's actually not about the fig tree at all. It's an enacted parable. Mark places it before and after he judges the temple so he can explain what's actually happening here.

You see, it wasn't the season for fruit. But as the leaves appear, there are usually small green figs forming as well that you can eat. This tree had all the appearance of having fruit despite it being early. Yet it as all an empty show. This was a fruitless, barren tree. It had all the appearance of health not no real fruit. Do you see what Jesus is saying? It was a visual parable for the temple: lots of activity, and the appearance of life, with no substance. The fig tree is all about Jesus appearing in the temple, and judging it as lifeless. Jesus arrives at the promised deliverer-king. But before he brings peace, he brings judgment.

The temple was a busy place. At Passover there would have been thousands of people there. There would be hundreds of tables to sell animals for the sacrifices, and hundreds of moneychangers. The historian Josephus tells us that in one Passover week one year, 255,000 lambs were bought, sold, and sacrificed. You know the financial trading floors, how loud and busy and chaotic they used to be? They were probably nothing compared to the temple during the week of Passover.

The temple was at the very center of their national faith and identity. It represented the very presence of God. It went to the very heart of their relationship with God. Jesus looks at it as the long-awaited king and sees that it looks alive, but it's diseased and blighted. The place of prayer for Gentiles had become anything but that. It was, Jesus said, "a den of robbers." He's quoting from Jeremiah 7 there. It's really not about the buying and selling that was taking place. He's quoting from a passage that talks about the mindset that you can:

...steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"--safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

Jesus pronounces judgment on the temple as he curses the fig tree, and when he overturns tables he's again pronouncing judgment. As Malachi said, "Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple...But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"

If this is the case, it's very depressing. I hope we understand today who Jesus is. He's the king, the Messiah, the one who comes to rule the whole earth, to bless the nations, to deliver the needy. But he doesn't come only as the deliverer-king. He also comes to purify and to judge. He finds lots of religious activity, but no life. Where is the hope in all of this?

The hope for us is found in the last few verses of this passage:

"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:22-24)

What is this? Is Jesus switching subjects and giving a lesson on prayer? No. Actually, Jesus has just pronounced judgment on the Temple. The prayer that should be happening there isn't. It's no longer going to be the locus of prayer. In just a few short years it's going to be destroyed.

But Jesus envisioned a future without a temple. In its place would be a new praying community. Instead of only the appearance of life, this praying community would demonstrate mountain-moving faith centered on Jesus, who became the new and better temple and the sacrifice for our sins.

Have you seen Jesus as the promised deliverer-king? Have you realized that he sees through our religious appearances; that all our busyness and activity can't hide the lack of true spiritual life? "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" Only those who are part of this praying community, who understand that the sacrifice Malachi talked about - "Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years" - that this sacrifice is Jesus himself.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Our Biggest Blind Spot (Mark 10:32-52)

When we're young, we usually think that we're original and unpredictable. Maybe it's because we're surprised by our own reactions, so we think that everyone else is as well. The longer we live, the more we are forced to realize that nobody else is surprised by our quirks and our shortcomings. The people who know you well often know what you're going to say before you open your mouth. We're about to say something, and the people around us can almost complete our sentence before we've even said anything. It's actually kind of depressing to know that we're that predictable.

What I've come to realize is that we are all fairly predictable. I don't mean to say we never surprise. We all still do things that can surprise those around us. But the reality is that those who know us best can probably tell us what our blind spots are. They can identify our areas of strength, but then they can also probably say, "Yeah, if there's anywhere you're going to struggle, it's going to be here."

I want to go even further this morning and suggest that there's an area of struggle that we all have in common. I'd go so far as to say that it's our biggest blind spot. Saying that it's a blind spot means that it's not only a weakness, but we're not aware that it's a weakness. We all have this area of struggle, and the danger is that most of us don't even recognize it as an area of struggle. We're not even aware of the problem, so we don't know the danger that we're in.

In today's passage, Jesus turns again to the disciples and tells them what's ahead. They're going to Jerusalem, and you can feel the charge in the air. The disciples know that something is up. Mark 10:32 says, "They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid." The disciples realize that something is about to unfold that will change everything. They're excited and amazed and filled with fear as they get closer to Jerusalem.

For the third time, and in the clearest way so far, Jesus explains what's about to happen:

Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:32-34)

Can you imagine being on the road with Jesus, getting closer to Jerusalem, and hearing this? He's been very clear. This is the third time that he's made this prediction. Each time the disciples have bristled as they've heard it. But Jesus hasn't wavered. He's resolute and not at all unclear about what's going to happen. You know that you're part of Jesus' inner circle, and so that if all of this is going to happen to him, things aren't going to go to well for you either.

A couple of weeks ago you may have heard about a Toronto investment banker, who flew back to Toronto from Shanghai knowing that he would be arrested the minute he stepped off the airplane. Imagine if you were with him, and imagine that he told you that you would be arrested and imprisoned as his accomplice as well. You can understand why Jesus' followers are astonished and afraid as they get closer to Jerusalem.

It's important to notice what happens next. This is the third time that Jesus has predicted his arrest and death in Jerusalem, and the same thing happened very time. It happened at the end of chapter 8. It happened at the end of chapter 9. And it's happening here again in chapter 10. Three times Jesus tells them what's going to happen, and three times the disciples make the same mistake, and three times Jesus has to explain to them what the cross means for their lives. Do you think the Bible is trying to tell us something?

What's the problem? Let's look at today's passage to unpack what our biggest blind spot is, and then let's look at what this passage gives us as the antidote.

Our Biggest Blind Spot

So what's our biggest blind spot? Do you realize that every time that Jesus tells them what lies ahead, the disciples completely fall apart? The first time, Peter takes Jesus aside to privately rebuke him. The second time they're baffled but afraid to ask Jesus about it, and then start arguing about who is the greatest. This time, we're going to see, two of them come and make a request of Jesus that is completely inappropriate.

So what's our biggest blind spot? In broad terms, I think you can say that we have a hard time understanding the cross. I'm not talking about the sanitized versions of the cross that we have today - the cross necklace or the cross hanging at the front of a church. I'm not talking about singing hymns about the cross. I'm talking about the instrument of death, the means of execution. We're very uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus - and by extension his followers - purposely going on the road knowing that what lies ahead is betrayal, condemnation, torture, and death. If you and I were told that following Jesus means that we will be signing up for a life of suffering and probably even death, we may have the same reaction as the disciples as well. We'd be baffled and afraid. We'd probably wonder what in the world we're committing to.

Three times Jesus explains that following him means that we're signing up for suffering and death, and three times the disciples basically say, "Does not compute." All three times Mark shows us that the disciples have other ideas. In chapter 8, Jesus tells Peter, "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns" (Mark 8:33). In chapter 9, they start arguing who is the greatest. In chapter 10, two of the disciples make a request to Jesus that shows they're still making the same mistake.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."

"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.

They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." (Mark 10:35-37)

In verse 41, the others hear about this request and they're indignant. I'm sure they were indignant because they were appalled by the audacity of James and John. But I'm sure they were also indignant because James and John had beat them to the punch. They were appalled because they had the same desire to get ahead and to occupy positions of power and glory.

Again, when the same thing happens three times in a row, do you think that Jesus and Mark are trying to tell us something? We simply don't understand following Jesus if it means following someone to our own suffering and death. We actually have other ideas. We dream about following Jesus to positions of greater honor and greater glory. Jesus walks us to our deaths, but we keep thinking that Jesus has other ideas. We keep thinking that Jesus is leading us to our greater glory, in which everyone finally realizes who we are, and when we finally get the glory that we deserve.

I've been in a lot of churches, and I've been in a lot of meetings. I always hear people dreaming of becoming a bigger church. We're pretty good at couching it in godly terms. We talk about doing it for God's glory. But I've never been in a church meeting yet in which somebody's said, "You know, maybe we've got it backwards. What if as a church we really wrestled with becoming like children who can offer nothing, like Jesus said in Mark 10. Maybe we need to work at being helpless. Maybe as a church we really need to wrestle with what Jesus said: 'Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all' (Mark 10:43-44). Maybe we need to work at being a church that's last, that becomes a servant of all."

I was sitting in Starbucks this week and witnessed a recruiting session. The recruiter had a great business opportunity and was trying to reel the other guy in. He started dropping names of famous people he's worked with. He pulled out a copy of Success magazine. He talked about how his income was growing to five figures a month. There was lots of talk about dreams and passions and coaching and motivational speaking. He never once said, "Let me tell you about an opportunity I can share with you. It won't involve using any of your talents or skills, because honestly you have nothing to offer but your helplessness. It will involve you giving up positions of honor and letting everyone else go ahead of you. It will involve giving up all of your rights and becoming the last of all. And if you do it right you'll probably get listed in Failure magazine."

But that's exactly what Jesus says.

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

So let's review. We have a serious blind spot. Our blind spot is that we can't really understand what Jesus is calling us to. If we're honest, we all dream of self-advancement, of building a name for ourselves. We want a great reputation. We want to get ahead. We simply don't understand that Jesus' plan is the very opposite. Jesus wants us to admit our helplessness, to give up our rights. He calls us to take the very last place and become servants of all. He calls us to give up everything and follow him. He wants us to become servants. And as somebody has said, "You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one." We probably agree with Plato a lot more than Jesus. Plato said, "How can anyone be happy when he is the slave of anyone else at all?" Our blind spot is that we're a lot more likely to agree with Plato than we are with Jesus. We're a lot more comfortable with being on top than being servants. We want Jesus but without his cross.

The Question

There's a question in this passage that can help us as we wrestle with this blind spot. Imagine if Jesus asked you this question this morning. Verse 36: "'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked." Imagine if Jesus asked you this question and you could say anything. What would you answer Jesus if he asked you, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Maybe our answer would be similar to that of James and John. "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory" (Mark 10:37). They were asking to become Jesus' righthand and lefthand men. They wanted to rise to the top. Maybe that's a little like what most of us would ask for if Jesus asked us, "What do you want me to do for you?"

But there's another way to answer this question. In verses 46 to 52 we come across a blind beggar. He's got nothing. The crowd has no time for him. He's got nothing to offer and no visions of grandeur. He's even excluded from worship in the temple. But he recognizes Jesus and calls on him as the Son of David - a Messianic title - and simply pleads for mercy. He's the least likely disciple. Jesus says in verse 51, "What do you want me to do for you?" He simply answers, "Rabbi, I want to see." And as soon as Jesus heals him, he follows Jesus on the road. The reader knows where that road is going. A disciple, Mark is telling us, is someone who knows that he or she is blind, and who simply wants Jesus to grant eyesight so that we can follow him on the road wherever it leads.

How do we get there? We get there by understanding that this is the path Jesus himself took. This is the path that he calls us to take, because it's the path that God himself took for our sakes.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

This is the clearest Jesus gets in explaining his purpose. Jesus did not come to achieve a position of greatness. He abandoned a position of greatness so that he could take the lowest place. He came to die to pay the price of freedom so that we could be set free. As Jonathan Edwards put it:

He suffered, that we might be delivered. His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, to take away the sting of sorrow, and to impart everlasting consolation. He was oppressed and afflicted, that we might be supported. He was overwhelmed in the darkness of death, that we might have the light of life. He was cast into the furnace of God's wrath, that we might drink of the rivers of his pleasures. His soul was overwhelmed with a flood of sorrow, that our hearts might be overwhelmed with a flood of eternal joy.

In 1700, a man was born into incredible power and wealth. His name was Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, or Count von Zinzendorf for short. He was a German nobleman and could expect to live a life of privilege and a career as a diplomat and landowner.

Zinzendorf pretty much ended up spending his wealth down to zero doing good deeds, pouring himself out for others. Why? What happened to him?

He was sent as a young man to visit the capital cities of Europe in order to complete his education. One day he found himself in the art gallery in Dusseldorf. He saw a painting by Domenico Feti entitled "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man"). It was a portrait of Christ before Pilate with the crown of thorns pressed down on his head and blood running down his face. It was very moving for Zinzendorf.

Underneath the painting, the artist had penned an inscription. It was the words of Jesus, and the words were: "All this I did for thee; what doest thou for me?" It shook Zinzendorf to the roots. Later on he said, "Then and there I asked Jesus Christ to draw me into the fellowship of his sufferings, and to open up a life of service for me." He did, and he will.

Father, we see this morning that we are prone to get it all wrong. We have a hard time with the cross. We tend to seek our own glory. We want to be first.

But that's not the way of the cross. We serve a Savior who gave up his place of power and privilege, and who became the a servant. You call us to follow him. As 1 John 3:16 tells us, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another."

May we see what Jesus has done on the cross, and as a result may we become servants of all, content to be last. In Jesus name, Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.