The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

Drawing toward the conclusion of the Itinerary of the Perfect Servant (8:22-10:52), we should remind ourselves of the Lord’s emphasis on His impending sufferings. On three occasions He took the disciples aside to speak of His suffering (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). We have arrived at the third and most detailed of these and hope to show how the lessons from previous occasions are summarised by the Lord in this final one.

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

The Lord “took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him” (v32).[1]

The Predictions (vv32-34)

They were “in the way going up to Jerusalem” (v32). This “way” had commenced with their confession of Jesus as “the Christ” (8:27-30) and would conclude at the cross. As they travelled, “Jesus went before them.” Only the Lord understood fully what lay ahead for Him, yet He was inflexible in His determination to accomplish God’s will and finish His work. In Isaiah’s third Servant Song (which corresponds with this section of Mark), the Perfect Servant declares, “I have set my face like a flint” (Isa 50:7 ESV).

The disciples were “amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid” (Mar 10:32). It may be that along with the set of the Lord’s face came the first inkling that the Lord’s prior predictions of suffering needed to be seriously considered. Gathering them to Himself, He again described His coming rejection. At Jerusalem, that privileged city, He would be rejected. Betrayal, arrest, unjust condemnation, Roman custody, mockery, scourging, spitting, execution – and resurrection – awaited Him there. None of these details would cause Him to waver in His service for God. Within these few verses the Lord’s courage, exemplary leadership, prophetic instruction, complete submission and confidence in God are all demonstrated. Here the Perfect Servant fulfils in spirit what Isaiah had foretold: “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” (Isa 50:5-6).

The Conversations (vv35-45)

James and John approached the Lord to speak about Glory (vv35-40). They were cousins of the Lord and, along with Peter, they formed a privileged group whom the Lord chose to accompany Him on special occasions. Their confidence in the messiahship of Jesus led them to anticipate with joy the setting up of His kingdom, and they wanted special places of honour in it. “Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire …. Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory” (vv35-37).

Their desire was not wrong in itself but, coming after the Lord’s predictions about His suffering at Jerusalem, it suggests that they still had not grasped His message. They still hoped that the kingdom they awaited would be set up when they arrived at Jerusalem and that the Messiah would immediately defeat Israel’s enemies and establish His throne. They wanted to share in the glory they were privileged to preview on the holy mount (9:1-10; 2Pe 1:16-18).

The Lord’s response was a gentle rebuke: they had no idea what they were asking for. Would they walk close to Him in suffering so that they might sit close to Him in glory? Could they “drink of the cup” by personal, deliberate acceptance of the path of self-denial? Could they be “baptised with the baptism” by enduring the shame of association with their Lord in His rejection?

They professed themselves willing and able (v39), and the Lord confirmed that they would indeed live lives of self-denial and suffering. James would die a martyr’s death and John would live a martyr’s life. However, the Lord made no guarantees as to exact positions in the kingdom. “But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared” (v40). The God who knows the true measure of the sacrifices of every saint will make no mistake, although there may be many surprises for us in that day.

The ten other disciples were “displeased with James and John” (v41), so the Lord began to speak about Greatness. “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them” (v42). The disciples knew how it worked in the world. The “great” trampled over everyone else to reach that position and maintained it by forcefully subjugating those beneath them; those who held positions of esteem were self-promoting and self-serving. But for them it must be different: “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (vv43-44 ESV).

Greatness is not in getting but in giving, not in being served but in serving. Greatness is directing abilities and energies toward serving others rather than promoting self. Who perfectly exemplifies this? Well, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v45 ESV).

Even this glorious person, the Son of Man, came not to receive service from men but to provide service to men! And His servant heart would find full expression in the ultimate sacrifice that would crown His life of self-sacrificial service. He would “give his life a ransom for many.”

Here is true greatness and the route to true glory. We follow Him when we manifest the same character and make the same choices.

Go, labor on: spend and be spent,
your joy to do the Father’s will;
it is the way the Master went;
should not the servant tread it still?[2]

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

[2] Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)