We are confronted this week with the idea of power. We see power laid down, power sought, and power displayed. The disciples are given a detailed image of what is to come, and we are reminded we are powerless. We are going to walk through out passage today and discover that
The gospel does not entitle us to power, it empowers us to serve.
There’s a distinction between power and empowerment, it is a nuanced difference that we will see as we walk through this today.
But really, today we start with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or, rather, the third and final foretelling of his death and resurrection in the book of Mark. Read with me in Mark 10:32-34:
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him, and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
We need to deal with this before we move on to anything else. The rest of our passage depends on getting this part right. Normally, we don’t want to make getting it “right” the main thing, but to allow room for the Holy Spirit to be working and teaching and growing us each in His wisdom and timing.
But this, the gospel, we have to get it right.
See, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, heading to his certain death, and not just death but rejection, torture, and a painful, humiliating death. Why? Why did this need to happen? Yes, need. It needed to happen. Why?
Because of me. Because of you. Because sin deserves righteous judgement. But in his grace and mercy, and great love, God did not set aside his just-ness, but offered up his son to suffer judgement in our place. For thousands of years he had modeled substitutionary atonement in the sacrificial system of the Law, and he had done so to point to this – to his son, the Lamb of God.
But how? How can the death of one person, even the spotless, sinless Son of God, be enough to satisfy the wrath of God against the sin of all humanity? Because blood was spilled, because it was innocent blood offered freely, because the Father said it was enough. How do we know this? Because of the last bit Jesus says here: “And after three days he will rise.” Because what he said actually came to pass. God confirmed Jesus’ sacrifice as sufficient when he raised him from the dead after three days. Praise the Lord!
Before we go any further with this passage, we have to camp here a minute. Do you know this? Do you understand that your sin has been paid for by Jesus with his blood, and because of that you can trust that you are forgiven? Jesus said so in verse 45 – jump ahead for a second. Talking about himself, he said, “and to give his life as a ransom for many.” When we acknowledge our sin, our need for a savior, our need to be ransomed, and we repent of our sin, and trust in Jesus’ complete payment of our debt, we are forgiven and restored. Reconciled to full relationship – and not just full relationship, but adoption as co-heirs with Christ.
Your faith is secure, your assurance is found in Jesus’ resurrection because it is the Father’s stamp of approval saying “Paid in Full”.
This truth informs every detail, corner, aspect, or reach of our lives. But fundamental to this truth is that our adoption was not earned by us, and we are not entitled to it. Neither are we entitled to any benefit, side-payment, or power that may come from it. What follows in our passage are two instances of power – in the first section we see power sought and power laid aside. In the second, we see power misused, and power displayed.
We talked last time about the expectations of the disciples as they are heading to Jerusalem. We know that the disciples are not understanding the nature of Jesus’ mission here. And like last week, the disciples are wondering where they fit into the new kingdom Jesus is going to usher in. They want to know who is the most valuable, who is the most powerful. James and John boldly ask Jesus to grant them the seats of honor and preference on his right and his left. Regardless of where these right hand and left hand seats are, they are seats that carry great power and influence over the kingdom. There’s a reason we call someone “his right-hand man.” Right? That’s the person who gets stuff done, who makes decisions on behalf of the head honcho, who has the pull to change the course or direction of events. He is also valued, and viewed as necessary. This is no small request they are making. Especially given they are two of 12 men who have been following closely with Jesus. They are asking to be elevated even over their closest brothers. I don’t know for sure what their motives are, whether it is purely hungry for power, or to be validated by Jesus, or to have a security in the kingdom, or whatever. They are asking Jesus to grant this request.
Jesus rhetorically asks them if they are able to drink the cup (which is the often used symbol for God’s wrath) and be baptized (which is an allusion to the overwhelming suffering he will endure). In their misunderstanding, they attempt to assert that they can – almost as if to say “Of course we can, so give us the seats.” But only Jesus is able, because he is without sin, to fully bear the wrath of God and survive. He says they will drink the cup and be baptized, but this is more an allusion to their coming suffering because of their identification with him. Ours, too.
But as for granting the seats? While that is something Jesus, as king, would have the power to do, he sets it aside, and says it is not his to do. He submits to the Father’s power and authority, and recognizes that this is all part of the Father’s plan. And, how comforting, amidst all the talk of suffering and dying, we are reminded that we have been bought by a God who has planned our rescue down to the very last detail – even including a seating chart!
The rest of the disciples get upset. And this is where Jesus shows them that entitlement causes us to use power wrongly. When we think we deserve to be in positions of power, we begin to think our decisions and influence should be used for our benefit – because we deserve it, right? But no, here, that is the model for incorrect use of power. In the Kingdom, power is not earned, and power is not used to oppress, but to serve. Even Jesus’ power – though rightfully deserved because of who he is and what he has done – is not an entitlement, but a granted position by the Father. Our power in the Kingdom comes the same way – we are not entitled to it – we have no merit to stand on. No, rather, we are empowered – we are given power by the Father, through the Holy Spirit, to serve the Kingdom.
They continue to move on, coming and leaving from Jericho. It is here that we encounter Bartimaeus. This is the only time in the book of Mark we are given the name of someone that Jesus heals, probably because he is someone the early church would have known of. Bartimaeus is blind, and sits on the side of the road, and he hears that Jesus is coming. He begins to call out “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
There is some disagreement among commentators whether this was a recognition of Jesus as Messiah or not. I think it is significant that Mark waits till now to introduce this title, “Son of David.” Given the events that follow, I would tend to agree with those who say it is a recognition, a demonstration of Bartimaeus’ faith that Jesus is the Messiah, come to heal and rescue them all.
But here this is also where we see power abused. Not by Bartimaeus. And definitely not by Jesus. Look at what the crowd did in verse 48:
“And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.”
We hear a lot these days about power dynamics, oppression, influence of position. This is very clearly an instance of this. The crowd are on the road, in between Bartimaeus and Jesus. And when he calls out, this blind beggar sitting on his cloak, instead of doing what was within their power – either helping him get Jesus’ attention, or helping him move closer to Jesus – they tell him to be quiet.
Only when Jesus stops and calls for him do they part the waters. They tell him how lucky he is. In my mind, I don’t imagine Bartimaeus wasting any time getting up. The language here is so energetic, enthusiastic, and uninhibited.
Verse 50 “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
And I love this. Jesus repeats the same question to Bartimaeus that he asked James and John. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asked for his sight to be restored. While James and John wanted power over society, Bartimaeus just wanted to re-enter it. He wanted to be restored to relationship. He wanted life. And he found it in Jesus.
I have been thinking a lot about the dynamics of power, and the differing levels we all have. Here is an example where the crowd failed to use their power well. Instead of pointing Bartimaeus to Jesus, they tried to keep him down. He was an outcast, an unworthy, a nuisance. But he needed Jesus all the more. How do you and I do that? Where are we not using our power well? Where are we putting ourselves in between a lost soul and Jesus? We talk about evangelism a lot – but do we recognize the urgency, and the consequence of not evangelizing? When we don’t tell people about Jesus, about the freedom he offers, are we abusing our position of power?
We are not entitled to power. Our forgiveness in the gospel does not grant us our own power or merit – we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. And when we are clothed in his righteousness, we are empowered – granted power – to influence the kingdom through service. We serve by pointing to Jesus, by seeking the best life – the reconciled life – for the others in our midst. We serve by recognizing we are no better than the beggar on the side of the road, we just have eyes that see. And we can help him find his way to Jesus, but it is Jesus who heals him, who saves him.
I am a daughter of the king. I have been adopted into the royal family of God. But my place is not high on a balcony, overlooking my minions. It is down below, in the gutter where I came from, serving those who need to be rescued like me, helping them to know the King.
And so is yours. So come with me…