The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

We are considering the subject of “The Cross and Greatness” (Mar 9:30-10:31). This sub-section of Mark commenced with the Lord’s Service of God, which would lead to the cross (9:30-32). His commitment to serve God placed the Lord Jesus at the disposal of men. We then considered the Service of Others (9:33-10:16). Serving others straddles the spiritual (9:33-50) and the natural realms (10:1-16).

Being truly great means serving others with the firm conviction that, in God’s estimation, there are No Little People (9:35-37). The Lord’s emphasis on the value of each individual echoes the wisdom of Proverbs, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors [his Maker]” (Pro 14:31 ESV). Our treatment of the small, weak, poor or despised reflects our attitude to the One whose image they bear. We must value every person. The truly great servant of God will also recognise that there is:

No Little Service (9:38-41)

Responding to the Lord’s teaching, and possibly feeling the goads of conscience, John spoke up: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (v38 ESV). The disciples had been discussing “who should be the greatest” among them (v34), and their hearts had been full of self-interest and self-importance. Therefore, when they saw someone outside of their group doing a miracle, John forbade him to do so.

John and his companions had fallen into the trap of disordered values. Earlier in Mark we saw that the Pharisees were displeased when the Lord healed a man’s crippled hand on the Sabbath (3:1-6). Why? They overvalued their traditions and undervalued the precious person whom the Lord healed. The Pharisees’ strong but misplaced sense of loyalty to their traditions hindered their ability to assess human value correctly.

The disciples here show a similar spirit. They saw someone emancipate demon-possessed people in the name of the Lord. This exorcist was obviously a true believer; he wasn’t just using the name of the Lord for his own ends. His exorcisms were working; the power of the Lord was with him. However, the disciples were loyal to their group; they felt that they alone had the right to speak and act for the Lord. This strong sense of loyalty made them fail to place proper value on others.

The Lord rejected completely John’s action. He said, “Forbid him not” (v39). Why? The man was acting for the Lord, doing service in the Lord’s name; “the one who is not against us is for us” (v40 ESV). The disciples were not to spend their energy fighting friends or exerting authority which hindered the work of other servants of God.

The Lord’s conclusion reveals His perspective on service: “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (v41 KJV). Giving a cup of water may seem a small and insignificant act of service to us, but the Lord Jesus has a different view. Any believer who does any act (no matter how apparently small) in the interests of the Lord Jesus, in support of His work, for the good of His people, can be assured that the Lord takes note and will reward appropriately.

This is both a challenge and a comfort. We should feel the challenge to value the service of all believers who are acting in the Lord’s interests, with a desire for His glory, and for the good of His people. We should be careful not to oppose work done for God simply because the workers are “not following us” (v38). We should also grasp the comfort this provides. Many of us become dejected as we compare our small acts of service with the prominent and successful service of others. However, no service for the Lord will go unrecognised or unrewarded by Him. No servant shall “lose his reward” (v41).

Deeds of merit as we thought them
He will show us were but sin;
Little acts we had forgotten
He will tell us were for Him.

Our greatness in service depends upon our recognising that there are no little people and no little acts of service. There are also:

No Little Sins (9:42-50)

The Lord continues: “And whosoever shall offend [or, stumble] one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (v42 KJV). Being a spiritual stumbling-block to even one apparently insignificant person is a great sin in the sight of the Lord.

This reveals the exceeding importance of self-judgment in service. “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off … and if thy foot offend thee, cut it off … and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out” (vv43-48 KJV). The members of the body symbolise the actions they perform. There must be radical self-judgment with regard to the actions of our hands, feet and eyes.

A “servant” who is a complete stranger to self-judgment shows that he is not a true servant at all. Judas would later demonstrate this reality. Such are damned and will be cast into hell fire. Those who are true servants by divine grace are characterised by self-judgment and will enter God’s kingdom.

Is the Lord speaking of salvation by works? No. He is emphasising the seriousness of sin which every servant, if he wishes to be great, must learn. Some prominent leaders in Christian history have not exercised self-judgment of personal sin, and their failure has eventually led to the stumbling of many precious souls.

Each servant knows his propensity to certain sins. We should not minimise any sins for there are no little sins. We must deal with them radically if we desire to be great in our service for the Lord. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Pro 28:13 ESV).