Jesus Model for Missions
An Exposition of Mark 10:35-45
This article, used by permission of the author, was condensed from an address given to mission executives at the joint meeting of the IFMA and EFMA, Orlando, Florida, September 25, 1987.
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus is leading the way and those who follow Him are afraid. In Mark 10:33-34, Jesus takes His disciples aside and tells them what is to happen: Hes going to be betrayed to the authorities, condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. And three days later, He is going to rise.
Then comes our passage.
Verse 35: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him and said, Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.
What a preposterous request to ask of the Lord: Do for us whatever we ask! But the Lord is very patient and asks, What do you want Me to do for you?
They reply, Let one sit at your right and the other at your left in Your glory.
If they had said, We want to be near You, that would have been great loyalty. But here what they are saying is, We want to be beside You in Your position of leadership. This was not loyalty, this was ambition.
Orthodox Believers with Worldly Ambitions
This was the ideal environment for doubt and unbelief, yet James and John believed that Jesus was going to establish His Kingdom. They were orthodox believers. In todays terminology, they were evangelicals. But they harbored ambitions that were essentially worldly.
Often there is a fine line dividing worldly ambition and godly motivation. It is so easy for worldliness to invade our ambitions, and because of the religious garb it wears, it may not be easy for us to realize that it is worldly ambition.
I think for us as leaders it is very important to have others who will be critical of some of our ambitions. We need critical communitiesespecially those of us who are motivated leaders.
We do a lot of dreaming, but some of those dreams can have worldly motivations. We do not realize it because of the religious garb it wears: God has told me to start a television ministry that goes all over the world. Or, God has told me that I have to start this university as part of my ministry. A critical community may realize that these big projects we think God has asked us to do are possibly not of God.
Alas, so many of our leaders have gone so high on the ecclesiastical ladder that they cant find such a community. Besides, they have so much to do, wheres the time to be spending with other people? Weve got the world to reach!
We think its better to have faithful followers who can carry out our plans without questioning. Yes, its much more efficient . . . but much more dangerous!
So James and John, perhaps unconsciously, had become competitive in their approach to service. They thought of success in such a way that other members of the body of Christ could be eliminated.
This is the worldly model of success. But that is not the way it is to be in the Kingdom of God!
A Body-Life Approach to Vocation
This is why I question the validity of statements such as, I want to be the best preacher in the land. I want to have the largest church in our city. I want our mission to be the most effective in Europe. Such statements reflect the spirit of James and John. Im afraid that in Christian circles today we often praise this type of vision when actually we should be rebuking it.
Christian ambition is: God must have all of me. I must be all that God wants me to be. I must do allI must do everything I can doto bring the work of the Kingdom into the land. The glory of God is Christian motivation: glory as it is demonstrated in my life, and glory as others come to Jesus Christ through my ministry. That is sufficient motivation.
Now in practice, much of our being goes against this. I work in a youth organization and we have other groups that sometimes seem almost like our competitors. Our natures sometimes struggle with this. We want to do something different than they do, so sometimes we go our own way.
But body theology challenges those feelings. It tells InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that Campus Crusade is praying to the same God, and that the God InterVarsity is praying to is equally concerned with both groups. They are equally part of the body of Christ.
Philippians 2:3 and 4 is a constant challenge to us: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
A biblical Christian does not cooperate only because it is effective; a biblical Christian cooperates because it is right.
J.C. Ryle, in his exposition of Philippians 2 says, Blessed is the man who can sincerely rejoice when others are exalted, though he himself is overlooked and passed by. I think that is the spirit of cooperation. It sometimes is very difficult when you grow up in a free enterprise society where the frontier spirit is very strong. But we need this cooperation mentality.
Jesus sees what James and John do not see, blinded as they are by ambition, and so He challenges them. In verse 38 He says, You dont know what youre asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?
And, of course, with great confidence they say, We can.
Jesus agrees. He says they will indeed suffer. But He goes on to say that only God grants the top places in the Kingdom.
In verse 41, When the ten heard of this, they became indignant with James and John. They also couldnt understand the Spirit of Christ.
Then, in verse 42, 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.
Obviously, the disciples hadnt understood the meaning of greatness. So Jesus tries to describe to them what earthly greatness is like, and then, after describing earthly greatness to them, He contrasts it with Kingdom greatness.
You know if you have 50 people working for you maybe you are an important person. My mission has 7,000 workers. My mission has 300 workers working for us. Do you see how we sense which is greater? To be promoted is to go to a bigger organization. Progress is to increase the staff, make bigger facilities.
In the Kingdom, however, greatness is not achieved by asserting ones rank, but by humble service. There is biting irony in Christs words, because when He was talking in verse 42, He was talking about the Pilates, the Herods, the chief priests. The disciples despised these men because they had exploited the people.
By struggling for rank and authority, Jesus said, you disciples are actually imitating the very people you despise! But, He says in verse 43, Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
In the Kingdom, greatness is servanthood. That is a consistent theme of the New Testament. Second Corinthians 4:5 says: For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake. Whose servants? The servants of those rebellious, disobedient Corinthians! Paul was a servant of Corinthians! And we are the servants of the people we serve.
In Christianity, the most noble quality is love. And when a leader relates to those he leads, his primary goal is to love them, to do the best for them, to see that they achieve Gods best for them. That is what it means to love. In other words, we are serving people. One who serves is a servant. So leaders are servants.
Now chapter 10:45. We come to the great verse describing servanthood, the key verse of the Gospel of Mark. 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.
Every phrase here is pregnant with meaning. Just the first word for. Jesus is saying, All right. I have already told you what leadership is like, now I want to tell you what I am like, because I am the model of leadership. Jesus is our model.
Christ: Our Model
So Jesus had a prior, glorious identity in relation to the Father before He became a servant. His servanthood sprang from that identity. He had strength to become a servant because of that identity. And because He loved us, as the famous phrase goes, The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.
Similarly with us: if we are to be servants, we must first be secure in our identity in Christ; then only can we handle humiliation.
Our Identity in Christ: The Foundation of Service
If there is that deep reality, then however much we are humbled, there is a deeper reality: we belong to God; we are loved; we are accepted by God; we are children of the King of kings and the Lord of lords; we are heirs to all the promises of God. That is what gives us the strength to be servants.
There was an old man, bent in two, who lived in England during the time of the Industrial Revolution. He was poor and lived in a poor house. Someone came to him one day and said, Sir, it must be very difficult for you to live in this poor house.
The old man raised himself up, looked at his inquirer, and said, I dont live in this poor house. I live in God!
That identity helped him, and it helps us to handle the humiliation of service and servanthood.
But if we dont have this identity in Christ and we try to do Christian service, then we try to grab our identity from Christian service, and we become too dependent on the service for our own identity and fulfillment.
We cling to people and become too possessive of those we serve. We may not release them when it is time, perhaps, to release them to another organization. We wont hand them over when they need to be handed over. Sometimes we dont like to expose them to the teaching of other gifted teachers for fear they might go after those people rather than clinging to us.
Or we might be possessive of the work itself. We dont hand over the job that may be best done by someone else. We cling to it because we get too much ego gratification.
Im sure many organizations have had the very embarrassing job of trying to tell a great pioneer who has done a lot and seen the organization grow, who is Mr. Organization himself, that it is time for him to retire. He clings to the organization because that organization is part of his identity.
Barnabas brought Saul and quietly handed the leadership over to him. He did not get his identity from his ministry.
Then too, if we get our identity from our ministry alone, when criticisms and hindrances come, we cant handle it.
All of us get hurt when we are criticized. But those who get their primary satisfaction from their work not only get hurt, but their reaction to the hurt becomes uncontrollable. It may take the form of uncontrollable depression. It may take the form of rage. It may take the form of bitterness and anger.
Some servants, if they have not found their identity in Christ, are constantly bitter about being exploited. They work very, very hard with their head to the side. They are careful to follow all instructions meticulously. People think they are unusually humble because they have an outward show of extreme humility. Their servant spirit may even be presented as an example for all to follow.
But deep down they are bitter. They feel they are being exploited by others. You wont see it on the outside, but you dig down a little and suddenly, out comes a torrent of bitterness, I have been exploited!
No one can make such people happy, because to make them happy would destroy an important part of their identitythe belief that they have been exploited. Thats why you cant serve those servants. If you serve them, it destroys their idea that they are being exploited. Such people must first become children of the King before they can truly become servants of people. They must feel the love of God so freely shed abroad in their hearts. Servanthood is the natural response of the love of God in our hearts.
When the Son of Man came, He had every right to come in glory, to have the angels serve Him. But that would have hindered His service, so He gave it all up and was born in a cattle shed. He had no place to lay His head. The people rejected him. Finally, He went through a humiliating death, and so, as John put it, The Word (the eternal Worda very lofty concept!) became flesh (a crude word!). But that was incarnation.
Incarnation: The Foundation of Effective Ministry
Incarnation was the necessary preparation for Gods act of saving people. So, too, in our ministries. The message of the cross brings salvation to the people, but the incarnation of that message in the messenger prepares the messenger to give the message. If we have not incarnated the message in ourselves, our message will not be heard.
God calls us to identify with our hearers, to become one with themwith their struggles, their aspirations and their experiences. Alas, this seems to be one of the blind spots of American missions. I regret to say this, but I think I need to say it: I believe Americans are possibly the most generous and open-hearted people in the world. They are blessed with a sense of fair play that is unusual in most parts of the world.
But I fear that there has not been sufficient serious thinking about incarnation, about lifestyle, about what it means to identify. Perhaps it is understandable considering the relative affluence here. Your poor people have much more than most of the people in our countries. So a sacrificial dropping of lifestyle which seems very drastic to an American missionary may still not be enough of an incarnation in poorer nations.
I fear this is happening a lot today. Not among everyone, but I think there are too many people with a warm heart, with genuine love, but with insufficient identification. And so I think there is a need to do some serious rethinking about this issue.
Poor Identification Leads to Poor Ministry
Sometimes we experience another problem because the lifestyle of the missionary is so much higher than the lifestyle of the people. Some sensitive people of integrity are afraid to be associated with the missionaries lest it be said that they are joining the missionary in order to get some economic benefit from him. Such sensitive people are sometimes attracted by the communists. The communists have devious plans, they are dishonest people, but they are masters at identification.
Sometimes these people join the liberals who preach a false Gospel, which is no gospel at allbut they join them because they are less uneasy about this lifestyle problem when they do that.
What happens, therefore, is that people with less integrity associate themselves with the missionaries because of the missionaries riches. The sad result of this process is that dedicated, quality national leadership will not emerge from such ministries. Those who are involved in a ministry must give financially to the ministry. You will never develop leaders if the people in the rank and file dont give.
Mission executives will come to Sri Lanka and stay in a big hotel. Now, in the United States thats quite normal and no problem. But in our part of the world, one days stay in that hotel will mean one months salary. When the poor people find that people are living in this way, they say, Why should we who are struggling to buy basic needs like food, give money to a work like that?
But if people dont give, they will not have a sense of ownership. And if they dont have a sense of ownership, they will not emerge as committed leaders. They are not the type of people who will pay the price of sacrificial service.
By saying this, I am not saying that the day of the Western missionary is over. It would be arrogant and unbiblicalnot to mention foolishto shut out any nation from participation in fulfilling the Great Commissionbe it Sri Lanka or the U.S.A. We all have to participate in the missionary task.
Neither am I saying that the missionary must have the same salary as the nationals. I think that is unrealistic and unkind.
Neither am I saying that all Christians have to be poor, because that is certainly not found in the Scriptures.
All Im saying is that relative affluence can be a stumbling block to ministry. And I think there needs to be some fresh thinking that goes into this.
The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve. Here is our ambition; this was the purpose of the incarnation.
We identify, we make the sacrifice, because we have a burning desire to do something effective for the kingdom of God.
Service: A Consuming Passion
The Christian servant, however, is someone who is fired by a consuming passion: I know the love of Christ. It constrains me. The Gospel is the only hope for the lost. People in the world are lost, so I will do everything in my power to serve people, to be an agent of Christs love to the people, to fulfill my particular role in the plan of God to the best of my ability.
Julian C. McPheeters, former president of Asbury Seminary, talking about his predecessor, Henry Clay Morrison, said that he and Morrison were praying one day when Morrison got excited. As the prayer went on, he started standing, and finally he looked up and cried out, O God! Save us from being ordinary! I think that is the vision of the servant. I want to do something for God! That drives us.
Well, then we come to the final phrase of this passage: . . . to give His life as a ransom for many.
This is one aspect of Christs work which we cannot really completely fulfill. We cannot make atonement for the sins of others. But there is a sense in which we can complete the sufferings of Christ. This is found in Colossians 1:24. Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christs suffering.
Filling Up the Quota of Suffering
Before the Gospel goes out, it is almost as if there is a quota of suffering which has to be borne so the Gospel will go out. Paul said he rejoiced in filling up that quota in his flesh.
There was a family in India. They were the first family to be converted in their village. Shortly after their conversion, everybody said, Now see, you have become Christians. The gods will go against you. Youre going to be cursed . . . .
They were a little concerned about this. And then their child got sick. When the child got sick, everyone said, See, the gods have punished you! See what has happened!
The family went to the church and said, Please pray for us. Our child is sick, the people are saying this is a punishment for becoming Christians.
The church prayed earnestly, but the child got worse and finally died.
When they had the funeral, the first Christian funeral in the village, the people of the village heard the hope of the resurrection, their eyes were opened and many people came to Christ.
But the child had to die! That was the quota of suffering. This is the cost of identification, the cost of mission. Suffering is an essential ingredient for effective evangelism.
Robert Coleman has said that despite the witness of history, suffering, which has been a prominent factor in church growth, has been virtually overlooked in modern church growth literature. The modern, affluent mind has had a difficult time comprehending the hidden factor of suffering.
Yet how often Jesus spoke of suffering as He described the mission to His disciples! Paul and Barnabas, after they had gone on their first missionary journey, and were coming back, said, We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.
You want to be a Christian? You have to go through hardships.
Suffering: The Gateway to Oneness with Christ
And if we are to be like Him, we must suffer. There is a certain depth of unity with Christ which comes only through suffering.
Paul expressed this in Philippians 3:10, when he expressed the desire to share in the fellowship of Christs sufferings. Paul learned this early in his life on the Damascus road when Jesus led Him. Jesus said, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting . . . whom? The church? No! He said, Why are you persecuting Me?
But Saul was persecuting the church! But though he was persecuting the church, Christ was feeling the pain. The church and Christ had been so united in suffering that they were one.
There was a Christian lady who had been ill-treated by her husband for many years. She tried hard to show Christian love in her attitude, but it just didnt seem to work. One day her husband was shouting at her. Suddenly she realized, What my husband is saying to me is what the people said about Jesus! This must be the fellowship of Christs suffering! She said to herself, It is a privilege for me to suffer like this! The bitterness left her. She developed compassion for her husband and, becoming like Christ, she had strength to pray, Father, forgive him. The fellowship of suffering.
That is why John and Peter, after they had been flogged, left the Sanhedrin rejoicingbecause they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for His name. This is why the early Christians longed to be united with Christ in martyrdom.
At the beginning of the second century, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria, was on his way to Rome. He begged the church there not to attempt to secure his release, lest they should deprive him of the honor of martyrdom. Listen to what he writes:
Let fire and cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body and all the menace of the Devil come upon me. Be it so, if only I may gain Christ Jesus.
My dear friends, you and I have the great privilege of taking the Gospel, the only news that is worth talking about, to the world. Let us be willing to suffer anything that has to be suffered, to pay any pricefor it is no price at all. Because when we pay the price, it just means we are getting nearer to Jesus. Amen