“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But 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. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:32-45)
Preparing For His Death
Jesus devoted much of his final time on earth to two important things He wanted to make sure His followers understood. The first thing was to prepare His disciples for His coming death and resurrection, which He knew they wouldn’t fully grasp, but He knew they needed teaching to look back on so they could understand. This happens a few times in scripture.
After Jesus clears the temple it says, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22) And again during His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday it says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16).
This was especially true when Jesus started talking about His death and resurrection. Just a few days before our passage today we read in Mark 9:31-32, “…he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
The disciples prove over and over again that they simply can’t process the idea that Jesus was talking about because whenever Jesus starts talking about His death, they consistently start arguing about who is greatest. The next verse in Chapter 9 says, “And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34) So it’s not like this only happened once! In the passage we’re looking at today, James and John show that they didn’t understand Jesus once again. They couldn’t process a suffering and dying saviour who has a kingdom of suffering and humble servants. They were convinced that Jesus was bringing about the great rise of the Kingdom of Israel, and they wanted to be rulers in it.
But Jesus kept on teaching them because they needed to be able to look back on His words later. He needed to keep teaching so they could remember all that He had said and done, and apply it to their lives and teaching after He was gone.
Have you ever finished a conversation, walked away, and then realized all the things you should have said – or shouldn’t have said? Imagine what that was like for the disciples! I can’t begin to imagine the amount of “aha!” and “eureka!” and “oh man, I can’t believe I said that” moments that Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples had once Pentecost had come and they Holy Spirit was indwelling them. Days and days of repentance probably came pretty easily because every day they would be remembering things that Jesus had said and done, and were finally able to see them clearly.
Preparing for Life Without His Physical Presence
The other thing that Jesus spent His final days doing was preparing His disciples for life together without His physical presence. For example, He needed to teach them about how they would be able to talk to Him and listen to Him after He had left them. He would tell them later, as they sat around the table at the Last Supper,
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’” (John 16:7-15)
The Holy Spirit would guide them, teach them, convict them, grow the church, make converts, discern truth, work miracles, and be a daily guide – and they (and we) need to be in connection to the Holy Spirit at all times. But it wasn’t just connections to Himself that they would need in the coming years, they would also need to be connected to each other. That’s why Jesus makes sure that He continually corrects them whenever they start talking about who is greater.
In Mark 9 (and Matthew 18) when they started arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus brought a child to them and said that the greatest people in His Kingdom would be the ones who were willing to care for and serve dishonoured, lowly, marginalized people, like children – people who would never be able to give anything back to you. He took the child onto His lap and told them that not only did they need to serve lowly people, but needed to be lowly people.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)
In our passage today Jesus makes sure to correct their view of life in His Kingdom telling them that following Him means a life of humility, sacrifice and suffering. They wouldn’t be “rulers [and] lords… exercising authority” but live lives of submission as not only servants of the lowly, but “servants [and]… slaves of all”. They, like us, if we expect to be able to live as citizens of His Kingdom, would be expected to follow in their King’s footsteps – which was a life of humble self-sacrifice and submission.
Individualism and Crop-Tops
The command to “submit” usually makes people angry. It’s not a popular word, is it? It conjures up words like “doormat”, “spineless”, “pathetic”, “gutless”, “coward”, “weak”, “timid”, “taken for granted”. No one wants people using those words to describe them, right?
No, the gospel that we are hearing from the world’s is one of independence and individuality. We must assert yourself! Stand up for our rights! You can’t tell me what to do! Get an attorney and fight for your rights! Show your independence! Exercise your right to be who you are! You are the ultimate authority for your life and no one should be able to oppress you! Be your own highest authority! All authority is corrupt! You are your own god!”
That’s where it ultimately settles. Every individual is their own god and therefore gets to make their own rules. I am the master of my own destiny and can chart my own course. I am special and therefore my situation must be seen as a special case – you bend for me. I am unique and therefore an exception to any societal ramifications that may result from my actions.
In Canada, it seems, it is the individual’s choice that is of the highest value, and therefore no one can make choices for anyone else. You’ve heard this before: “I am always right when making decisions for myself, and therefore my decisions (even those made from a place of selfishness, pain and fear) are right for me.”
Individualism is rampant in Canada. It comes out in all sorts of ways from how we dress, to marriage, to whether we have children, to making the choice to end our own lives. “My decisions for me are always right for me, so you can’t tell me what to do.”
I was reminded about this this week as our culture was talking about a students freedom to choose to wear whatever they want to school. Now that it’s getting warmer, students – mostly young women, but not always – are bumping up against their school dress code. One 18 year old young lady, named Alexi Halket, from Etobikoke, ON made global news this week after getting in trouble at her school for wearing something the teacher and principal felt was inappropriate – basically showing up to school in a sports bra.
Her solution, driven by individualist thinking, wasn’t to submit to the authorities of the school, but to tell her teacher:
“No! I don’t think what I’m wearing is inappropriate. Why is it inappropriate? Why is my skin deemed inappropriate and oversexualized? No, I won’t cover up!”
She was taken to the principal who had a discussion with her. She walked out and decided to take her plight to social media and create something called “Crop Top Day” where “students around the globe wore crop tops to school in protest of dress codes that many feel… discriminate against women.”
This, of course, blew up all over the internet and literally thousand of teen girls, from countries all over the globe – including 500 students from her own school – chose to wear crop tops and bikini-tops to school – to, ironically, fight against being sexually objectified. When asked what she’s going to do now she said,
“I’m not going to back down…. This is about women’s rights and the objectification of our bodies.”
The world’s thinking, “You go, girl! It’s your body, your clothes, and no one can tell you what to do with it!” God’s way of thinking is very different. Let me explain what the Bible says and then we can decide how to respond to individualistic thinking.
God is very clear in scripture that a Christian is to live a life of submission, and is even quite clear as to who we are to live in submission to. Jesus says in our passage that we are to be “servants of all”, but he breaks it down throughout scripture to show us what groups we are to be submitting to.
1. Submit to God
First, and most obviously, the Bible teaches that we are to submit to God, His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ. This is all over the scriptures, including the 10 Commandments, but for a couple examples, James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” and Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him [“submit to him” – NIV], and he will make straight your paths.” God and His declared Word is the highest authority we have. Right now He’s giving us a choice to submit, but in the end every knee will bow (Philippians 2:9-11).
2. Submit to Governing Authorities
The second realm of authority we are to submit to is our governing authorities. Romans 13:1-2 says,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Yes, there is a lot of corruption in the world, but keep in mind that at the time that Paul wrote this, the “governing authority” was Emperor Nero who’s favourite hobby was killing Christians in horribly creative ways.
Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 2:13-14 when he says,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The emperor he was speaking of was either Emperor Nero or another cruel man named Emperor Domitian who kicked off some of the worst times of Christian persecution in history. His rule was, “…no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion.” Domitian was almost certainly the one who had the Apostle John boiled in oil and exiled to Patmos.
And yet, we are told that we must submit ourselves to the governing authorities, out of reverence and respect for God. One could easily include the principal of the school as an example of a “governing authority”. Where scripture does not explicitly differ from the rule of the authority, Christians are to submit.
3. Submit to Church Leadership
The third group that Christians are commanded to submit to is church leaders. This one isn’t too popular today. There has been so much manipulation, corruption and failure among church leaders that Christians are, understandably, very hesitant to even consider submitting to the leadership of their church. Another reason people hesitate in this is because they misunderstand humility, thinking that a person cannot be both humble and in a position of authority, but that isn’t the case. Jesus is the most humble and most authoritative person ever. He’s in charge, His Word is the final authority, and Jesus’ plan was to raise up Apostles who would go through the world making coverts who would become local elders to guide, serve, and train other believers.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Church Leaders aren’t better than anyone else. They are just people who have been called into a different role than others. In fact, James 3:1 agrees with the warning in Hebrews that those in authority, especially teachers, will be held to a higher standard by God, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (also see 1 Peter 5:1-4)
But it is to the Christian’s and the church’s detriment when they don’t willfully submit to the leadership that God has raised up in the church. They are not just rebelling against the human elders, but also rebelling against the God who put them there.
4. Submission of Wives to Husbands and Children to Parents
Here’s another unpopular one. The scripture teaches that just as there is a hierarchy of equals in the Trinity – the Son submits to the Father, and there is a hierarchy of equals in the church – the church submits to the God-appointed elders, so there is a hierarchy in the home – the wives submit to the husbands and the children to the parents.
Listen to how this is stated in Ephesians 5:22-6:4 and note that this is not about dignity, worth, ability, spiritual gifts, weaknesses and strengths, but of God’s design for how this world is meant to work – in a hierarchy of equals.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. ”
I wish I had more time to talk about this, and will probably spend more time talking about this in next week, but let me just say that we need to remember that this isn’t about men being better or smarter than women, or women being more naïve or needing to be coddled by men. This is not about men being in control, but instead being Christ-like servants of their wives and families, doing all they can to help them be who God created them to be. This is a hierarchy of equals – equal in dignity, worth, ability, spiritual gifts, and access to God. Keep in mind that the husband is still in submission to God, God’s word, the Holy Spirit, the governing authorities and the church elders, so it’s not like he’s getting a free pass to do what he wants!
Culture will fight us on this every step of the way, but for a Christian and in God’s church, culture doesn’t get a vote – only God does.
5. Submission of Workers to Employers
There are two more areas of submission that we need to cover. Right after Paul addresses husbands, wives and children, he takes a step outside the home into the relationship between an employee and employer. He says:
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9)
Keep in mind that “slaves” and “bondservants” was much different than we think about it today. This isn’t condoning or reproving slavery, but dealing with a normal part of their everyday culture. For us, it very easily translates to our relationships with our employers. We should have truthful and sincere hearts, just as we would to Jesus. We are to do good work even when no one is looking, because Jesus is watching. We are to give good work, as we would to the Lord. We are to do it was a good will, as we would to God.
And then employers are reminded that even though they are in authority, that they don’t need to be jerks about it! Work as one working for Jesus, and treat your employee the way you want Jesus to treat you!
6. Mutual Submission
The final place that we are to submit is to one another. Everyone submits to God, God institutes Governing authorities and we submit to them. God also institutes church leaders and we submit to them. God gives a hierarchy of equals in the home where wives submit to husbands, and children to parents. Workers submit to employers as bosses submit to Jesus, and then finally, to make sure we cover all the bases, we remember what Jesus said to the disciples, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
The final place we are to submit is to one another. This is all over scripture. It’s almost like a catch-all that says, when in doubt, put yourself second. And, again, it’s tied to our submission to Jesus.
Ephesians 5:21 says we should be “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
Philippians 2:3-4, which we’ve read many times, says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
There is a lot to talk about this, so I’m going to cover a bunch of examples next week, but let’s just leave it at remembering that this is the pervading attitude of scripture, and it absolutely goes against the individualistic, independent mindset of our culture.
No one is an island. None of us are God. Only God is God. We are all part of a community, a family, and no matter how smart or important we think we are, we must realize that we simply do not have permission to usurp His authority or try to come up with a “better plan”.
Our task, mission, goal and purpose, is to serve others as Jesus did. God gave His Son, Jesus gave His life. He served us and continues to serve us today. Someone once called Jesus’ Kingdom, “The upside-down kingdom” because it all seems topsy-turvy to us. The way up is down on our knees, the way to lead others is to serve them, the way to rule is to be a slave-of-all. Just like Jesus.
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