The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

In our last few articles we have considered The Cross and Glory (8:31-9:29). The great lesson has been that glory is reached by way of the cross; suffering precedes glory. We now move to a sub-section of Mark with a slightly different emphasis: The Cross and Greatness (9:30-10:31). Here the lesson is that true greatness is revealed in the service of others; serving is greatness.

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

As with the previous sub-section, this one commences with the Lord instructing His disciples about His death and resurrection (9:30-32). He then emphasises what it means to serve others in the spiritual (9:33-50) and natural (10:1-16) realms. Finally, in the story of the rich young ruler, we have a great contrast: the natural man does not possess this servant character and grace alone can bring salvation and produce a self-sacrificial servant (10:17-31). We will consider the subject under the headings: The Service of God (9:30-32); The Service of Others (9:33-10:16); and The Service of Self (10:17-31).

The Service of God (9:30-32)

The Lord drew His disciples aside for a second time to remind them of the events soon to take place in Jerusalem. He had told them before 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” (8:31).[1] His words then emphasised the suffering He must endure. However, on this occasion He said, “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (9:31). He is not now viewing the cross from the standpoint of suffering but from the standpoint of service. The stress on suffering is absent but, in its place, there is an awareness of being yielded up, or handed over, into “the hands of men.” He regards Himself as serving God, and this service of God places Him at the disposal of men.

The disciples “understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (v32). They continued to prove unwilling and, therefore, unable to receive the truth about the cross and its implications.

The Service of Others (9:33-10:16)

The practical implications of the way of the cross for disciples are soon revealed. Mark first records the Lord’s teaching in respect of serving others in the spiritual realm (9:33-50).

The Lord arrived in Capernaum and “in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (v33). The disciples were embarrassed to reveal the subject because “by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (v34). The disciples wanted to be great, but their understanding of true greatness was disordered. Their thinking mirrored the world’s assessment of greatness. Greatness, in their minds, was linked with future power and prominence rather than present sacrificial service toward others.

The Lord immediately set about to reorder their value system to align it with the cross. While the world considers the great to be those with powerful associations doing prominent acts and boasting in personal autonomy, the Lord’s view of greatness stands in stark contrast to this. Notice first that the truly great servant recognises that there are:

No Little People (9:35-37) — The Lord called the twelve to Himself and said, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (v35). He was not criticising the desire to be great but revealing how to achieve greatness. True spiritual greatness, according to Jesus, was not achieved by climbing but by stooping. It was not gained by being served by all but by serving all.

To illustrate His point the Lord took up a little child. A little child is physically small, politically weak, and often regarded as socially insignificant. Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus on this child by placing him “in the midst of them” (v36) and said, “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me” (v37).

The point is very clear. True greatness, according to Jesus, is not defined by social status or political clout. We do not achieve greatness by rubbing shoulders with the earth’s elite. Greatness is revealed in our attitude towards those who are small and, in the world’s assessment, unimportant. True greatness involves valuing people as God values them, and there are no insignificant people in His estimation.

Notice the extent to which the Lord drives home this lesson. He says that our attitude to the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable of people is the measure of our attitude to the Lord Himself, and our attitude to God. The basis for this observation lies in the fact that each person is made in God’s image.

Some ancient kings placed images of themselves in the distant corners of their empires to represent them in their absence. These images reminded people of the monarch and his authority. To disrespect or dishonour the image was a personal insult to the king. Showing respect for the image expressed acceptance of the king’s rule. So the Lord reminds His disciples: “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me” (v37).

God has granted to each human being intrinsic value. For the powerful and the weak, for the rich and the poor, the Lord was going to die. In a world in which people are only valued according to what they can or cannot do, the disciples were reminded that each person is precious simply because of what they are, a human being made in God’s image. The truly great serve others with the firm conviction that, in God’s estimation, there are no little people.

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