The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

Mark’s Gospel can be divided into four parts. The first focuses on witnesses to the IDENTITY of God’s Servant (1:1-13); the second records His ACTIVITY (1:14-8:21). The third, which we commence with this article, reveals the ITINERARY of the Servant (8:22-10:52), and the final section records the DESTINY toward which He has been headed (11:1-16:20).

The Servant’s Itinerary (8:22-10:52)

There are many links between the four sections of Mark’s Gospel and Isaiah’s four Servant Songs. The third of Isaiah’s Songs, which corresponds to this third section of Mark, is found in Isaiah 50. Notice particularly verses 5-7: “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”[1]

The itinerary of the Perfect Servant included suffering and shame, which He willingly and deliberately embraced. It was a sacrificial path. His followers, on the other hand, were slow to understand and accept that the pathway to glory was one of suffering, and that true greatness involved serving others.

Before we harshly criticise these disciples, we must acknowledge that much of what is called Christian service today is marred by a desire for prosperity and position. A sense of entitlement and desire for personal aggrandisement run contrary to the example of the Lord, who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Php 2:7). The antidote to self-centred service lies in a proper appreciation of the Cross and an acceptance of its practical relevance to service.

The Lord’s journey to Jerusalem forms the backdrop to a period of intense instruction for His disciples. Mark bookends his record of the journey with accounts of blind men receiving their sight (8:22-26; 10:46-52). This illustrates a major theme of the section: the disciples’ eyes were being opened to the nature of true service for God.

Introduction: The Blind Man Enlightened (8:22-26)

The previous section of Mark concluded with the Lord’s rebuking His disciples for their lack of understanding (8:21). This section is introduced with a miracle of illumination.

The Lord arrived in Bethsaida of Gaulanitis (a large village northeast of the Sea of Galilee) where a blind man was brought to Him for healing. The Lord led the blind man by the hand out of Bethsaida and, “when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (8:23-25 ESV).

The uniqueness of this miracle lies in the blind man’s sight being restored in stages. All other recorded miracles of Jesus brought an instantaneous and complete result, a fact which Mark constantly emphasises. We must conclude, then, that a spiritual lesson is intended in this gradual healing.

Just as this man received his physical sight in stages, so the disciples gradually understood truth about the Lord Jesus. This unique miracle introduced a period of intense and repeated instruction for them. The disciples first understood the identity of Jesus. When asked by the Lord, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confessed clearly, “Thou art the Christ” (8:29). The disciples welcomed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Their minds were filled with anticipation of the glorious Kingdom they believed He would soon establish.

However, immediately following this clear confession, Peter showed that the disciples’ eyes remained closed to the itinerary of this Servant. When the Lord went on to affirm that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter “took him, and began to rebuke him” (8:31-32). The disciples were more than willing to anticipate the glory, but they had not yet realised or accepted the painful path leading to that destination.

The disciples’ mindset had to be transformed completely, but this would take place gradually. So, on three special occasions, the Lord clearly instructed His disciples about His necessary sufferings (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). These three occasions give structure to this section of Mark, and their message is clear: just as the Perfect Servant would reach glory through suffering, so would His disciples. And, just as He revealed greatness in self-sacrificial service, so would they.

Below is a broad analysis giving an overview of this large section of Mark:

Introduction: The Blind Man Enlightened (8:22-26)

Jesus’ Identity Affirmed: The Christ (8:27-30)

The Cross and Glory (8:31-9:29)

The Cross and Greatness (9:30-10:31)

The Cross and Glory and Greatness (10:32-44)

Jesus’ Itinerary Affirmed: The Cross (10:45)

Conclusion: The Blind Man Enlightened (10:46-52)

The disciples would learn that the twin truths of the Lord’s person (the Christ) and His work (the Cross) must both be wholeheartedly received. Following Him would have tremendous practical implications for them. “For,” the Lord concluded, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45 ESV).

An old Missionary Society’s seal contained the picture of an ox standing between a plough and an altar. Above the ox was written, “Ready for either.” Are you ready to serve? Are you ready to sacrifice or suffer? This was the itinerary of the Perfect Servant, and His command to us is “Follow me.”

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.