Losing Our Way

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. They 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. “Listen! 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, and they will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him, and He will rise after three days.” Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do something for us if we ask You.” “What do you want Me to do for you? ” He asked them. They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “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? ” “We are able,” they told Him. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” When the other 10 disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John. Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must 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 — a ransom for many.””

Mark 10:32-45 HCSB

Growing up I spent many hours in the back of a station wagon, eating bologna sandwiches, peanut butter crackers and cheese slices in road side rest stops and picnic areas as we would visit various family and historic places. We lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma but my father was from Boston, Massachusetts and long car trips just seemed to be a part of our family DNA. This was long before the days of smartphones and GPS devices. The glove box would be stuffed full of state maps and dad would have brought along the large Rand McNally road atlas.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of road trip, you should try it sometime. Turn off the electronic devices, get out the maps, coloring books, crayons, games and a cooler full of food and explore this great country. It encourages family conversations, innovative ways to pass the time and it incites a child’s imagination and curiosity. It even builds family bonding. Oh, I’m aware of the resistance you will probably get from your family, but there may be no better way to build lasting memories.

Begin your planning for this trip by identifying a place or region you’d like to visit. Then identify some historic and interesting sites and landmarks along the way. Let the kids research them and learn about their history and what they might discover. Especially, if they put their phone away and pay attention to what’s happening around them. But, let me give you an important piece of advice – be willing to change your plans. You never know what you might encounter along the way that could end up being the highlight of the trip.

In this week’s focal passage, Jesus and the disciples are on a trip. They are headed up to Jerusalem. Going up to Jerusalem is both a literal description and a figurative description of their trip. Jerusalem does sit on top of a high hill and is higher than much of the surrounding landscape of the Judean countryside, especially Jericho which sits near the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 1,400 feet below sea level, Jericho is 850 feet below seal level and Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level. So, Jesus and the disciples are literally going “up” to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem is also “up” because it is the spiritual capital and site of the Jewish Temple. They are going up to the very house of God.

Mark tells us that Jesus is taking the lead and is walking out in front of the group. He has set his sights on Jerusalem, He knows where He is headed and He knows what is coming. As they are walking, it would appear that the twelve disciples are astonished at Him and the others, following Him, are afraid. It would seem that this mixture of astonishment and fear are the result of his demeanor and focus on His mission. Some of their astonishment and fear, no doubt, are also tied to what He tells them: “Listen! 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, and they will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him, and He will rise after three days.” (Mark 10:33-34 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/mrk.10.33-34.HCSB)

This is His third prediction of what would happen to Him (8:31-32, 9:30-31, 10:32-34) and the most detailed of the three. He now indicates that these things will occur in Jerusalem (their destination), that He will be “handed over” to the chief priests and scribes by God and they will condemn Him to death. They will then hand Him over to the Gentiles (Roman authorities) who will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. But… He will rise after three days!

I know that we tend to give these disciples a hard time because they don’t quite understand Jesus, but it is hard to understand things for which you have no direct personal reference. While the idea of resurrection certainly existed in Jewish theology, it was associated more with a glorified, heavenly state than a human, earthly reality. I don’t think this should be hard for most of us to understand. I believe in the resurrection but I’ve never experienced it firsthand. I have an idea or concept of it but I’ve never experienced it as a reality. I’m going to leave this idea here and let you mull it over. We will return to it, next week. For now, I just want you to hear and focus on the contrast between what Jesus just told them was coming and how two of them responded to Him.

Jesus has just given His most vivid and full description, in Mark, of His suffering, death and resurrection. He will be “handed over” to the chief priests and scribes. We discussed this in our study of His previous predictions and this word could be translated “betrayed”, but to do so seems to put Jesus’ fate in the hands of Judas Iscariot. His fate is NOT in Judas’ hands but in His Father’s hands, so “handed over” is more accurate and appropriate. But this also assures us that these events are not outside of God’s control but are fully within His purpose, plan and will.

God is subjecting Himself to the will of the Jewish spiritual leaders and the Gentile political leaders. Let that sink in, a bit. God, who deserves all glory, praise and worship becomes the servant or slave who subjects Himself to the will and power of men in order to achieve His goal, our redemption. This is not something that is happening to Jesus at the whim and will of these men but is the fulfillment of His divine purpose and plan from eternity past. While these are real historical events that occurred in first century Palestine, they are also events that were put into place before the foundation of the world and the beginning of time. Jesus is and always has been the Son of Man and Son of God who is the eternal Lamb slain from the foundation of the world and that takes away the sin of the world.

They will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. But they didn’t take His life, He gave it willingly as a sacrifice for you and for me. If that doesn’t cause you to stop and catch your breath, you need to go back and read it, again. God was mocked, spat upon, flogged, beaten and crucified as a criminal because of my sin and your sin. The God whose voice called forth the sun and stars and whose mercy causes the dew to wet the morning grass and bring refreshing rain upon the dry ground. The God whose voice spoke the wonder of our natural world into existence and who makes the wings of the hummingbird defy comprehension and the beauty of the spring flowers defy description. This God who deserves all of our sacrifice and service, sacrificed Himself and served us, first.

Now, listen to the stark contrast of what happens next. Jesus is going to submit Himself to the will of God, be handed over to them, humiliated and killed, but James and John come seeking personal glory and a place of honor. It is clear that Peter, James and John hold a special place among the disciples. They are Jesus’ closest friends and most loyal followers. So, James and John appear to leverage this relationship to request a favor. In Matthew (20:20-21), we learn that they even involve their mother in making this request. There is some evidence, outside of scripture, that their mother – Salome – was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. This may account for her request and their expectation to hold a place of honor and recognition in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus’ response seems to highlight His earlier words describing what was coming, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” To drink from this cup is to drink from the cup of suffering. Drinking from the same cup means to join Him and to walk this same path of submission and suffering He is walking. They seek glory, but He offers them a drink from the cup of suffering. They want a position of leadership but He offers them submersion in and submission to God’s purpose, plan and will.

At this stage of their understanding, following Jesus is more about glory and position and less about service and submission. He asked, “Are you able to drink the cup and submit to this baptism?” They responded, “We are able.” They say they are willing to follow Him and submit to these requirements, but they don’t yet fully realize where this journey is taking them. They are expecting it to lead them into a life of honor and glory, but it must first take them down the path of humble service and suffering.

I started this study reminiscing about road trips that my family used to take. On these trips, we might take short side trips or detours when something interesting came along. I have even made these same kind of trips with my own children and grandchildren. We have visited things that we never expected, but we always returned to the original route and continued towards our intended destination. That’s really the issue at hand, here.

Like James and John, we often get distracted with the wrong idea of where this journey of faith will take us. We hope and expect it to result in recognition, position and power but Jesus invites us on a different route. A route that leads us to drink of His cup of suffering and to be submersed in and overwhelmed with His Spirit of sacrifice and humble service. He has stepped out in front and is leading the way – the way to the cross.

Finally, notice that Jesus responds by telling them that they will indeed drink the cup and be baptized in the same baptism. To drink the cup is to participate with Him in what is coming, the suffering. To be baptized in the baptism is to be completely overwhelmed, covered by and submitted to what God wills and has purposed. Now, compare that to what these young men just asked about glory and position. If they want to participate in the glory of the kingdom, they must be willing to drink the cup of suffering and submit to the baptism of God’s will and purpose. They must be “handed over” in the same way that He will be handed over – handed over to God’s plan.

Jesus then says, “But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” God has prepared a path and He is preparing a people and those two things are intricately tied together. To prepare His people they must follow the path He has laid out and that path includes suffering and service. His path doesn’t take the route we expect nor the route we want. I don’t know many people who actively seek out a path of suffering and humble service. That is, I don’t know many who do unless they are motivated by their faith and the call of Christ, do you?

“For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/rom.8.7-8.HCSB)

Mark tells us that the other disciples began to be indignant with James and John when they heard about what they had requested of Jesus. I could be wrong, but I suspect they were indignant because James and John had beaten them to the point. They asked Him first.

Whenever my wife and I go on a trip, I usually set the GPS on my phone to give me turn by turn directions. This works great, especially when I’m in unfamiliar territory. However, when I’m more familiar with the area then I tend to veer off path and take a direction that isn’t suggested. I think I know a better way, a faster way to get there. Surprise, I’m often mistaken and end up going the wrong way or I get lost, until I revert back to following the map.

We often make these same mistakes when it comes to following God’s desired path or route for His people. We think we know a shortcut, but there are no shortcuts in discipleship. I’m reminded of the old Karate Kid movie from the ‘80s. Daniel is being trained in karate by Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi has him begin his training by waxing his cars, sanding his deck and painting his fence. Daniel thinks that Mr. Miyagi is just trying to get free labor out of him, but Mr. Miyagi has a deeper purpose. These simple steps and the hard work are developing strength and training Daniel’s muscles in the basic karate moves. Wax on, wax off.

In a similar fashion, God is using the struggles of life, the trials of faith and the acts of discipleship to develop us into strong, faithful and obedient followers of Jesus. We may not like the cup of pain and persecution, but it is doing its work in us. We may not understand why God is taking us down this difficult path but He is at work in us.

“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives. Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/heb.12.5-7.HCSB)

Just remember, there are no shortcuts in becoming Christlike and God is at work in you. Take a sip from the cup of suffering, submerse yourself in the call to humble service and watch what God does, in you. “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 HCSB https://bible.com/bible/72/php.1.6.HCSB)

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