Jesus has come to suffer and serve, so here’s how to be his disciple (Mark 10:46–52)

Most of us grew up having heroes. Maybe yours was a singer or a movie star or a football player whose poster you taped to your bedroom wall.

Or how about a blind beggar? Did you grow up with a smelly blind beggar as your hero? Me neither.

Maybe we should reconsider our heroes.

I know it’s been a little while since my last post on Mark 10:32–45, but do you remember how two of Jesus’ disciples (James and John) were behaving? They were gunning for high positions in the kingdom that they were sure Jesus was about to set up. They wanted to be great, to be looked upon highly by others. Jesus told them that true greatness requires you to serve and to suffer; Jesus himself, as the greatest of all, would serve and suffer more than any man who ever lived.

So now that Jesus has shot holes in our grandiose ideas of what it means to be his disciples, we find ourselves confronted with a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, huddled in the roadside dust outside the city of Jericho. Now, this is a guy who knows he has a problem and isn’t ashamed to admit it. He hears that Jesus is about to walk past him, surrounded by a crowd of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. So Bartimaeus decides to make a nuisance of himself. He begins yelling, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Now, when he calls Jesus the Son of David, Bartimaeus is identifying him as the promised Messiah, the coming King descended from David. This pathetic beggar has the audacity to request help from the glorious King. Members of the crowd are annoyed by his boldness and his endless racket, so they start shouting back at him to shut up. But Bartimaeus just gets louder. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus decides to put a stop to the commotion. He says, “Call him,” and it’s like a switch is flipped in the crowd; they’re all smiles toward Bartimaeus and encourage him to come over. They suddenly realize that Jesus values useless people like this blind man. Bartimaeus leaps up and comes to Jesus, who asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Now, remember how James and John replied when Jesus asked them the same question. They said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v 37). They wanted great things for themselves. What does Bartimaeus want? “Rabbi, let me recover my sight,” he says. That’s all. He just wants to see.

So Jesus says, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus can see again. He leaves Jericho behind and begins following Jesus on the uphill way to Jerusalem.

The contrast couldn’t be greater between Bartimaeus and Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, the Twelve. They are confident in their abilities (see vv 38–39); he knows he is helpless. They want a promotion from Jesus; he just wants mercy. They want power and status; he just wants to see. They want authority to “lord it over” other people (v 42); he wants his sight back so that he can follow Jesus’ lead.

It’s funny how a blind man can see who Jesus is and understand his mission, while Jesus’ own disciples are still in the dark.

If what Jesus said is true—that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v 45)—and if Jesus truly is the King of God’s kingdom, then this means that lowly people like Bartimaeus are the people who are most like Jesus. They’re the ones who have faith in Jesus, because they don’t have faith in themselves. They know they’re needy, so they place every ounce of trust on Jesus as the one who can rescue them from their helpless state.

So what are you trying to get out of Jesus?

Do you want him to turn you into a great person? Do you want him to fulfill your life dreams for you? At times, I catch myself wishing that I could become a very popular and influential pastor someday. What dreams of greatness do you wish that Jesus would grant?

Let’s shift our thinking. Instead of requesting greatness and self-actualization from Jesus, let’s just ask to see. Let’s start asking him to open our eyes, to see him as the Suffering Servant who came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Let’s ask simply that we may know and understand him, so that we can follow him on the way. That’s all you and I need to be his disciples.

Jesus has come to be lowly, so you must end your self-reliance (Mark 10:17–31)

The “seeker-centered church” has been one of the most popular methods of structuring the local church in the last few decades here in the USA. The idea is to gear your church service toward “seekers”—people showing interest in God and other spiritual matters. Teach them appealing spiritual truths; then, when you’ve hooked them, tell them about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There’s a lot of good there, since these methods reflect a desire to advance the gospel and avoid becoming ingrown. When we look at the life of Jesus, however, there are times when his methods are the antithesis of “seeker centering.” The guy just didn’t put a lot of stock in marketing. Today, we see one of these odd incidents that reveal the upside-down mindset of Jesus.

This young man is the ideal “seeker.” He comes running up to Jesus and delivers him a golden opportunity when he asks the question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Any evangelist worth his salt would be salivating right about now.

But instead of leading him through the Romans Road, Jesus latches onto the man’s first two throwaway words: “Why do you call me good?” This young man, who doesn’t recognize Jesus’ divinity, is yet quick to call him good. But Jesus is not so flippant. “No one is good except God alone—you know the commandments.” He rattles off a list of rules, drawn from the famous Ten Commandments of Moses. But rather than being humbled by his failure to keep the law, the young man naïvely replies, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Now, Jesus isn’t mad at the young man for making such a bold statement. Mark records at this point that he looks right at man and loves him. And because he loves him, he chooses to deliver a necessary but brutal answer to the man’s first question. The man knows deep down in his soul that he lacks something to inherit eternal life. Jesus confirms, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” It sounds like a lot of things, but really it’s one thing. Jesus is telling the man, “When it comes to the law, you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. You’re a fine young man—on the outside. But your heart is not with me; it’s still latched onto this world. You need to transfer all your investments into my heavenly kingdom. In your case, that means selling everything you have and giving it to the poor. To be my follower, you can no longer be self-reliant, clinging to wealth to maintain your power, your prestige, and your security.”

The young man is crushed. Jesus is a master surgeon, and he has cut to the man’s heart. The man finds that his zeal is ebbing. He leaves, dejected and disappointed. There is a price for eternal life that he is not willing to pay.

Then Jesus pulls out this stunner: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus’ disciples are shocked at this statement. Like us, they think of the powerful and affluent as the ones whom God favors. There are many “prosperity” preachers who teach this exactly. And we unconsciously hold the mindset that Christians in wealthy countries such as the USA are superior saints to Christians in third-world countries. But Jesus contradicts us and then takes it a step further. Not only is it difficult for anyone to enter God’s kingdom, but “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are horrified. “Then who can be saved?” they ask.

Jesus does offer a glimmer of hope: “All things are possible with God.” But the fact remains that if you’re a Westerner (and therefore rich), you’re in a very dangerous position. There are many countries in which it’s difficult to be a Christian, and Western countries are some of the most difficult. Why? Because it’s so easy to be independent and self-reliant. It’s so easy for an American to depend on his checking account or take pride in his house or show off his fancy new iPhone. Our wealth and comfort and ease numb us to our neediness. Like the church in Laodicea, we say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). We are helpless like little children, and we need the divine power of Jesus. Wealth is not bad, but it obscures our neediness; it is the soil in which a wicked self-reliance takes root.

Now, Peter senses an opportunity for advancement. “We have left everything and followed you,” he reminds Jesus. In his reply, Jesus affirms that such sacrifice will not go unrewarded. His disciples will receive “a hundredfold now in this time” as they join the precious community of faith that Jesus will found. But he warns that in this age they will also receive persecutions, and that the greatest prize—eternal life—belongs to “the age to come.” Then he adds, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Peter, because of his desire to be the greatest, is in danger of demoting himself to the lowest rank in God’s kingdom.

That’s the way God’s kingdom works. Jesus came to be rejected and killed, to be a suffering servant, to be dependent on his Father and do his will. He wants followers who will be dependent and Christ-reliant. If you life in a Western nation, consider it a handicap, and consider that you are surrounded by temptations that will bleed the desire for eternal life right out of your heart.

Jesus has come to prove his ability and demand your dependence (Mark 9:14–29)

This past June, an American man was captured by Pakistani authorities as he tried to sneak into Afghanistan. The man’s name was Gary Faulkner, and his mission was to decapitate Osama bin Laden. When Faulkner was caught, his only terrorist-hunting equipment was a pistol, a dagger, and night-vision goggles. Needless to say, his chance of success was slim.

But what if Gary Faulkner hadn’t entered Pakistan as a one-man army? What if the U.S. Army had approached him and offered tactical support from satellites and drones, and equipped him with powerful weapons and hardware? His odds for success would have increased tremendously if he accepted. But to be empowered in this way, he would first have to become dependent on the U.S. government, and I imagine that’s not something that Faulkner would be willing to do.

Jesus’ disciples faced a similar dilemma when encountering an enemy far more powerful than any terrorist. Sadly, they didn’t fare much better at defeating this foe than Faulkner did at killing bin Laden.

Jesus and his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, have just descended from the mountain where Jesus has given them a sneak peek of his glory in an event known as the Transfiguration. When they arrive at the foot of the mountain, they are snapped back into reality as they face a chaotic crowd riled up by fierce arguments between the rest of Jesus’ disciples and some experts in the law of Moses. Jesus asks what’s going on, and a man volunteers an answer. “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute,” he says. That’s just the beginning. The spirit also causes his son to fall into severe seizures. The man brought his son to see Jesus, but since Jesus was up on the mountain, the man had asked the disciples to cast out the unclean spirit. Now, Jesus had given them authority to do this (Mark 6:7), but inexplicably, they haven’t able to drive out the demon. Now all the religious teachers, looking for an excuse to discredit Jesus, are stirring up conflict against his hapless disciples.

Jesus is exasperated with the situation. “O faithless generation,” he says, “how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” He knows why the spirit won’t be driven out. The pervasive unbelief of the religious leaders, the crowds, and even his own disciples has denied them access to his authority as the divine Messiah.

Jesus orders the father, “Bring him to me.” When he does, the unclean spirit defies Jesus by inducing another seizure, so that his battered body is thrashing on the ground, foam dribbling from his mouth. The father explains that this situation has continued since he was a little child. The demon has used these seizures to throw the man’s son into fire and into water in a cruel attempt to kill him. Watching yet another awful seizure, the man pleads with Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!”

“‘If you can’!” Jesus is incredulous. “All things are possible for one who believes.”

That’s the real problem here, you see. All the man sees is the supernatural entity gripping his son; all he knows is that he is powerless to stop this malevolent force. He doesn’t see Jesus’ divine authority. He isn’t sure that Jesus has the power to put an end to the spirit’s control of his son. But at Jesus’ words, his eyes are opened. He finally sees what’s really going on here. He cries out, “I believe!” and then, “Help my unbelief!”

If there is a verse in the Bible that better captures the agonizing tension of a Christian’s walk with God, I don’t know what it is. You say that he has power, but you can barely bring yourself to really believe it, deep down. You’ve got nothing more than a tiny mustard seed of faith.

But Jesus is satisfied with even a mustard seed. The crowd is growing in size, and it’s time to act now. He says to the demon, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The boy convulses and shrieks, then lies still, corpse-like. The crowd is silent. Finally, a few people begin to whisper their worst fears: “He is dead.” But Jesus reaches down and takes his hand; the boy revives and stands on his feet, as though he were rising from the dead.

The scene shifts to the inside of a house, later in the day. Jesus’ disciples are questioning him, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus replies, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” A demon of such power won’t leave on one’s own authority. A disciple of Jesus must rely on prayer to accomplish what he himself cannot do.

In the moment of crisis, the boy’s father had understood this. He had asked Jesus for help to end the oppression of his son, but Jesus showed him that his greatest need was not deliverance from oppression but rather deliverance from unbelief.

Our culture urges you and me with platitudes such as “believe in yourself, and you can do anything.” Jesus tells us that this is a lie. Anyone who is a disciple of Jesus will face spiritual barriers that he or she cannot overcome. You will face suffering and conflict that you cannot handle. When the chips are down, who do you rely on? Is it yourself, or is it Jesus?

Jesus demands that you depend on him by spending less time flattering yourself and more time praying. He is not demanding your dependence merely to subjugate you but rather to empower you. He’s proved his ability, so you can give up your illusions of your own ability.

Jesus has authority to rescue captives (Mark 7:31–37)

Everyone likes a good prison break. But what if the prison is your own body?

Jesus has been traveling through Gentile territory, and he’s become just as popular here as he has among his fellow Jews. Remember how the demon-possessed man of Mark 5 had been proclaiming that Jesus had freed him from the influence of unclean spirits? Apparently, he was a successful herald of Jesus’ return to the Decapolis, because now a crowd of people want to listen to him and ask for his help.

Mark focuses on one particular healing event during this time. A with a serious condition is brought to Jesus. This man is deaf and also has a speech impediment. Of course, these two problems tend to go together; if you’re deaf, it’s hard to know how to properly control your voice. As is often the case, the man’s friends are desperate when they come to Jesus, begging him for help. That’s just the sort of attitude that Jesus likes, so he pulls the man aside from the crowd.

It’s interesting that Jesus shows so much private attention to this man. No doubt most people would feel awkward and try to avoid him, but Jesus takes him aside and gets a little bit invasive. He pokes his fingers into the man’s ears, spits on him, touches his tongue. It’s sort of a personalized healing ritual for the man. Now, Jesus could have healed him any way he wanted, but Mark seems to be emphasizing the degree of personal attention Jesus is showing him.

Then Jesus looks up to heaven and sighs deeply. He sympathizes with this man. He feels in his heart the loneliness and suffering of a man isolated from communicating with his friends and family. This is a man who has been imprisoned in his own malfunctioning body. Jesus brings this tragic situation before God the Father, then turns to the man and utters one word: “ephphatha.” This word remained vivid in the minds of his disciples years later, when Mark heard it from them. Mark explains to his readers that it means “be opened.” It’s the first word this man has heard, perhaps for years.

Instantly, like the doors of a dungeon swinging open at Jesus’ words, the man’s ears allow waves of sound to wash over him. His tongue is released from the chains that bound it, and he is able to speak plainly. From now on, the real trouble is going to be to get him to shut up!

Jesus orders the man and his friends to tell no one what has happened. Of course, they don’t listen. In fact, Mark writes, “The more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Jesus wants his name to be known, but he doesn’t want to be known merely as a miracle worker. Can you blame these people, though? This is great news! Even the Gentiles are saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

These words would have reminded Mark’s readers of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the coming Messiah:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
(Isaiah 35:5–6)

It’s clear that Jesus has fulfilled the promise that was given through Isaiah. Another piece has been added to the puzzle of who Jesus is. He is a man whose authority and power are so great that he can release people who have been imprisoned in their own malfunctioning bodies. He can unstop deaf ears and make mute tongues sing for joy.

Now, here’s what Isaiah says our response to Jesus should be:

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
(Isaiah 35:3–4)

You and I are captives—prisoners of Satan, prisoners of sin, prisoners of weak and decaying bodies. If we are careful and rational thinkers, we won’t have much faith in our own abilities and our own wisdom. We can’t rescue ourselves.

If we believe this, you and I will become desperate. If that’s you, you’re just the kind of person Jesus likes to help. Come to him; he will pull you aside from the crowd and respond to you personally. He’ll invade your life and make you uncomfortable. But he will give you the freedom and joy you never thought possible.

So if you are weak and worried—“Be strong; fear not!” Jesus will come and save you. Put your faith in the One who has authority to rescue captives like you.