Mark writes his gospel to show our Lord Jesus “proclaiming the Kingdom of God” to humanity (Mk. 1:15NIV). To be involved in this kingdom humans have to cooperate with God in two ways. First, we must “repent” – be turned inside out and upside down by crowning Jesus as our king and giving Him rule in our lives. Then we must “believe the Good News” – commit ourselves to living as God’s radical disciples, following Jesus whatever the cost to ourselves. We do this knowing He first served us by giving His life for us (Mk. 10:45).
People have responded to Jesus ever since He lived on this earth. Some men and women deliberately live to serve under the sovereign rule of God. Others live by their own rules, and go their individually chosen way.
The kingdom Jesus started is present throughout the world. Jesus’ kingdom is growing, although it has no physical place on earth of its own. It needs no earthly passports or border controls. Those inside Jesus’ kingdom live with recognized accountability to Him. This means we have accepted God-given parameters and values. God rules our hearts and minds. We show this by becoming more and more like Jesus in our daily lives. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; 2:9-10). Because our minds are converted into kingdom minds, we always think to please our God who made us. We try to become all He intends us to be.
Jesus calls and we follow, just as the disciples who lived with Him did (Mk. 1:17-20). Jesus Himself lived to serve and to give (Mk. 10:45). In His kingdom today’s Christian disciples continually surrender themselves to their Master.
At first sight it seems rather strange that King Jesus should describe His own purpose as being in the role and position of a servant. Why not the role of a monarch, a ruler or a leader? Mark 10:45 is seen by many as the key verse in this gospel: “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.” As in all Bible study this verse must be understood in context with the surrounding verses and with the general thrust of the whole book. Only when we correctly understand it can we successfully apply it to our daily lives.
The Macmillan School Dictionary (Oxford, ‘04) tells us that a servant is “a person employed to work for another, especially one who performs household duties.” A servant is “someone whose job is to cook, clean, and do other work in someone else’s home.” In Africa and elsewhere today examples of servants include house boys, cleaning maids, gate guards, car drivers, gofers, etc. The words “servant” and “to serve” (Mk. 10:43,45) come from the same Greek word that means “church deacons.” It refers to: one who ministers, who is an attendant, serving as a virtual slave; one who simply does what he or she is told to do; one who serves submissively before the acknowledged Master. Such servants are the real church leaders. This is how Jesus described His mission.
From Mark we learn three things about Jesus Christ as Servant. Since we claim to be His followers, these qualities should be evident in our own service.
1. Jesus chose a fixed course for His life.
Jesus decided He would be a servant. He chose to be a servant. In fact, He is the servant of the Old Testament Isaiah prophecies. (Isa. 42:1-9; Mt. 12:17-21; Isa. 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12; Mk. 9:31-32).
Immediately before saying the words of Mark 10:45, Jesus spoke for the third time about going to the cross (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Our text says that He came “to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus knew where His life was heading. He knew what would keep on pleasing His Father (1:10-11). He must keep on serving and keep on giving. Jesus did not live to please Himself. He lived – and died – to please His Father in heaven. The servant serves the Master 100 percent.
I used to go bird watching in Khartoum with a small group from our church. Two Sudanese boatmen would row us to Crocodile Island in the Blue Nile. The strong flow of the river dragged the boat down river, away from the island. Aware this would happen, the wise boatmen set a course which headed well up river on the island shore. Once we’d landed and disembarked, they carefully pulled the boat against the current up towards the top of the island. They were then ready for the journey back in a few hours. Setting the course of your life, factoring in the conditions you face, is a mark of good servanthood.
2. Jesus willingly paid the full cost of doing God’s will.
The word “ransom” (Mk.10:45) was used in Jesus’ time for the money paid to free a slave or prisoner. The tradition of family and friends having to collect and pay “blood money” for the release of male or female prisoners from Kober or Omdurman prisons in Sudan, after they’ve served their full sentence, is similar.
Jesus knew He was going to pay a high price to complete the Father’s will for His life. Suffering, being rejected, betrayed, mocked, spat on, flogged and killed are some of the anticipated payments Jesus warned the disciples He would be asked to make (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). Serving us cost Jesus.
In Mark 8:34 Jesus told the disciples and the larger crowd: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” “Must” means it is compulsory, an obligation. This is necessary for all men and women who would properly serve the servant, Jesus.
In Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus thought about His cross. He was “deeply distressed,” “troubled,” and “overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mk. 14:33-34). Yet His determination to serve in whatever way was necessary overcame the temptation to opt out. Jesus said to His Father, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk. 14:36).
According to Donald English, the earthly end of Jesus provides a stiff challenge for any who would be disciples today: “Not only must He go the way of death, so too must anyone who would be a disciple of His.”1 Twenty-first century servants of God must choose the right way, not the easy way.
3. Jesus turned the accepted norms upside down.
Darrell Bock wrote, “The servant Jesus is an example of how to walk with God in a world that rejects those sent by God.”2 John the Baptist and Jesus were both rejected by the influential leaders of their day. John served successfully in all God called him to do, but he was neither released from prison nor saved from execution (Mk. 1:4-8; 6:16-29). Ralph Martin called John “the prototype of Jesus.”3 In the eyes of the world John may have failed, but in the eyes of his Master he did very well indeed. A Christian servant is ready to suffer as part of his or her calling to follow Jesus.
Jesus said fishing for men is more important than fishing for fish (Mk. 1:17-18). Jesus’ servants do not live a life dominated by material things. Their priority is always to do God’s will. We may have less of this world’s material possessions, but we live for far more than possessions. In this life, a crown of thorns may be of more value than a crown of gold! Everything we do should serve His purpose.
Jesus did not seek maximum publicity or popularity from every good thing He did. He often required silence from people. He knew that merely responding to a miracle was an inadequate basis for servant discipleship (Mk. 1:34; 1:37-38; 1:44; 3:7; 3:12; 5:18-19; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30).
Jesus still looks for true faith today. Response to a miracle, religious upbringing, education, family background, or testimony (even though true) does not guarantee servant discipleship. Recognizing who Jesus is, taking up the offered cross, and following Jesus’ way is still His method.
Jesus said the message of His kingdom was for bad people, not good people: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk. 2:17). This verse is another purpose statement of Jesus. Think about it along with Mark 10:45, and notice that Jesus came to seek, to serve and to save sinners.
Jesus said a Christian’s closest family are fellow-disciples, not necessarily blood relatives (Mk. 3:33-34). Is there nepotism in James and John’s desire to sit beside Jesus in glory (Mk. 10:35-37)? Is it also in the other disciples’ jealous response (Mk. 10:41)? A servant disciple will always put obedience to Jesus before obedience to the demands of his own biological family.
Jesus said that national traditions had taken the place of God’s Word, and this was wrong (Mk. 7:9-13). It is too easy to serve expected custom rather than serving Jesus. Appointment by a religious system does not automatically give real Christian authority. Outward words and works of worship don’t always signify correctness of heart attitude. Genuine authority is always recognizable in those who intimately follow Jesus, who did what His Father expected, not what others expected. Servant service speaks with an eloquent silence.
Jesus said that to lose your life in gospel service is the best investment you can ever make (Mk. 8:35). The entire world is of less value to you than your own soul (Mk. 8:36-37). Self-sacrificing service is the rule of thumb for the Christian. Good servants have their Master’s values – and they live by them! To be a servant disciple means being different from people around you.
Jesus said that the best people in His kingdom were those who didn’t mind being last, not those who were always jostling to be first (Mk. 9:35). This must have embarrassed the disciples because of their earlier arguments. Those who would be true servants must also avoid elitism (Mk. 9:38-40). It is so easy to be proud of our humble position! We are not God’s only servants!
And finally, Jesus said that to lead is to serve (Mk. 10:42-45). The same John who argued about “who was the greatest?” (Mk. 9:34), and who asked if he could sit at Jesus’ right or left hand in glory (Mk. 10:37), was the one who later wrote: ”This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn. 3:16). That disciple learned how to lead by serving. He did this as he saw Jesus arrested, executed, and later raised to life by God. God taught him a life-changing lesson.
A Closing Prayer
God, I am truly sorry that even as a Christian I don’t always live as You want me to live. Help me to do what a kingdom servant should. Make me what you want me to be. Let me live only to serve the King of Kings. May I bring Jesus to people through my service today and for as long as I live. Amen.
1. Donald English, The Message of Mark, Bible Speaks Today (Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, ’92).
2. Darrell Bock, The Gospel of Mark, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Tyndale House, Illinois, ’05).
3. Ralph P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian (Paternoster Press, Exeter, ’72).
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org