Every now and then you come across something that is – well, simply wonderful. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for many years now. Over that time I’ve exhorted, encouraged, coaxed and even bribed people to give time to reading, studying and meditating on the Word of God. I’ve always said, “You can’t rush it. You must give time to it. Gems are not mined in 5 minutes. Nor are wonderful spiritual truths from God’s Word.”
But it’s hard to get that message through. Then I found this video from John Piper. So did another member on my staff team. We played it during our service a couple of weeks ago, to serve as an incentive to our people to SLOW DOWN in their reading. Have a look and then I’ll show you how it can work.
Now let me show you example of how this works. This week I was preparing a message on SERVING. My text was Mark 10:42-45:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. 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.” [CSB]
OK, so greatness in the kingdom of God looks different from greatness in this world. Great people in this world go to the top and everyone else serves beneath them. Great people in the Kingdom stay at the bottom and serve those around them. It’s called servant-leadership. Jesus modelled it with the greatest act of service: dying on the cross on our behalf. Now he calls us to live it.
So that wasn’t too hard. But nor is it that illuminating. Any disciple of Jesus ought to know this. Let’s look a little harder. Something obviously happened to trigger this response from Jesus. He didn’t just say it out of the blue. And sure enough, when we read the passage prior to this we find James and John had approached Jesus and asked:
“Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask you” (10.35)
Now that’s a very naughty question. When my kids used to come at me with that I would rebuke them and inform them that is manipulation and we don’t do manipulate to get our way in this family. Well, interestingly enough Jesus is quite gentle with them – more gentle than I was with my children:
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked them. (10:36)
A shrewd response. James and John then ask if they could sit on his right and his left when Jesus sets up his kingdom. They are opportunists. They are getting in early while the stocks are low and there’s no competition. Jesus replies by saying,
“You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (10:38)
They are asking for positions of prominence. They want, like so many of us in this world, to be noticed; to be seen. They love the idea of notoriety and status. But the path to greatness in God’s kingdom is not status but obscurity, suffering and death. Death to self-promotion, self-will, self-interest and self-glory. And in Jesus’ case, death on the cross. So now Jesus defines what true greatness (which is servanthood) looks like. It is loving people so deeply you are not only willing to put their interests before you own. It is dying for them if necessary. Now we just dove 10 fathoms deeper.
But wait… there’s more.
If we back up three verses earlier we find a scene where Jesus is with his disciples walking along the road. Now if we were to linger here, and look closer at the details, reading and re-reading these verses we find something interesting:
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were astonished, but those who followed him were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them the things that would happen to him. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Gentiles…” (10:32–33)
Disciples on the road – on a path. Heading up to Jerusalem. And Jesus is walking ahead of them. Not behind them. Not beside them. He is leading the way. The disciples are astonished. Jerusalem is a hot-spot for trouble. It’s the home-base for Jesus’ enemies. He’s heading straight for trouble. And the disciples, they realize, are heading into trouble with him. Then Jesus turns and spells it out for them. “Fellas – I’m going there to die.” But it goes right over their heads, just as things often go over our heads.
So we need to look harder – and further. What’s happening on the other side of our passage? Well let’s have a look:
“They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.” Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (10:46–52)
OK, so they have just passed through Jericho. They are still on the way to Jerusalem. They are back on the road. Then they come across blind Bartimaeus who is sitting by the road. Bartimaeus is not on the road. He’s not part of the travelling band. He’s not a disciple of Jesus, but he’d like to become one – if only he could see. When he hears that Jesus is near he cries out to him – using his Messianic title. He knows Jesus’ true identity. He has faith in what he can do.
Notice how Jesus answers: “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the very same answer he gave to James and John when they asked for the best seats in the kingdom (v.36).
Something is going on here. Mark is trying to show us something. But what?
The disciples are on the road with Jesus. The road is leading to suffering and difficulty. James and John are looking for positions of greatness. They want to be seen. Bartimaeus isn’t on the road. He isn’t of the company following Jesus. But he’d like to be – if only he could see. Jesus heals him – immediately, supernaturally. And what happens next? Bartimaeus begins to follow him… on the road.
So what is Mark trying to show us? Bartimaeus is a picture of true discipleship. He shows us what a true follower of Jesus is like. True followers of Jesus are not ones who seek positions of power and authority. They are not ones seeking to look great in the eyes of others. They are people who are broken and damaged and on the side of the road, who call out to Jesus for the restoration and healing that only He can provide. Then they get on the road and follow him. After following him for some time, they become like him. They too become servants, who have servant hearts and ask the servant question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Now you might be thinking, “I would never see all that.” Perhaps not all of it, but if you lingered long enough, you might have seen some of it. All those things can be discovered, simply by the process of observation. You don’t need a commentary or bible dictionary or some fancy Study Bible or anything else. You just need to look at the text. Then you need to look at it more. You begin asking yourself questions. Then you look again, but closer. You come back the next day and look again and then you see something you didn’t see before. And so the process continues.
So give yourself daily to look and look and look at God’s Word. Don’t give up or look away until you have seen more of him. Wonders untold will be unveiled before your very eyes.
Footnote: Much of what I discovered in that text was not used in my sermon. It didn’t fit the purpose for which my message was heading. But it certainly changed the way I saw Mark 10:42-45. And I’ll never “see” Bartimaeus in the same way again.