What images come to your mind when you hear the word “servant”? Perhaps you envision that waiter or waitress at your favorite restaurant. Maybe you think of that mechanic that you’ve built a relationship with through years of broken cars. Some may even think of their mother who worked tirelessly to care for her family. When I hear the word “servant,” I recall my days working in a pharmacy. It was a special needs pharmacy, concentrating particularly on menopausal and postmenopausal, hormonally-imbalanced women. For two years I learned what it meant to truly serve others. Countless times I had to tolerate a thorough chewing out; countless times I had to bite my tongue; countless times I had to acquiesce when I knew I was in the right. When I was promoted to HR Manager, I began to look for the qualities of a servant when hiring new employees—knowing that they would never survive without them.
Another image conjured up by the title “servant” is “minister.” The word is derived from a Latin term meaning “servant” or “minor.” The Bible talks candidly about the minister’s primary role of serving others. But in an age of domination and faulty ideas about leadership, it is difficult to discern the true servant from a false one. How would I know a servant if I saw one? You will know whether a person is a servant or not by the way they act when they are treated like one.
In today’s passage, we learn two essential characteristics of a true servant.
10:32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, but those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 10:33 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. 10:34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.”
10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want89 you to do for us whatever we ask.” 10:36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 10:37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”90 10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?”91 10:39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 10:40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
10:41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.92 10:42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 10:43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 10:44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom93 for many.”
This passion prediction is the most detailed of the three. Jesus mentions for the first time that Jerusalem is His destination. He also adds that he will be turned over to the Gentiles (implying that His death will be by crucifixion—a prominent Roman form of execution), and that He will be mocked, spit upon, and flogged severely.
After the first prediction, Peter rebuked Jesus and was rebuked in return. After the second, the disciples discussed along the way who was the greatest, and Jesus had to instruct them that whoever wishes to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Here, after the third, James and John approach Jesus requesting to partake of His coming glory. Mark 10:35-40 clearly shows the mistaken view the disciples had of “Christ”—and again Jesus seeks to correct them by challenging them to be “servant” and “slave.” They still don’t understand. And Jesus once again responds by instructing them that if it is greatness you seek, then you must be a servant and slave of all. Again, not what they were expecting. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die; the disciples’ response conveys that they still think Jesus is going to Jerusalem to reign.
James and John94 were not mistaken in recognizing that they were especially favored by God, but they were mistaken in imagining that this would come at no cost. They sought close association with the future king of Israel—and all the rights and privileges that accompany such proximity. They were anticipating all of Jerusalem bowing before Jesus and paying Him homage; instead they bowed before Him mockingly and spit upon Him. They were anticipating a crown of gold; instead He received a crown of thorns. They were anticipating a throne; instead He received a cross. They were anticipating sitting at his right and left; instead criminals were hung there.
The Son of Man did not come to be served. If the Son of Man did not come to be served—how wrong it is for you and me to seek to be served. Rather, we should dedicate our very lives in service to others, and look out for others’ interests over our own. The Apostle John who requested this privileged position beside Jesus would later understand servant-hood. He who penned John 3:16 also penned 1 John 3:16:
“We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.”
Jesus was choosing to suffer unjustly for the sake of the Gospel. A servant will allow others to treat him unfairly for the sake of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-19). He will not instinctively defend himself, but will supernaturally serve others without expectation of remuneration. Why would a servant relinquish what’s best for himself? It’s not that a servant seeks last place out of self-deprivation, but that he wishes others to receive first place and promotes them over himself. It is not for self-punishment. Don’t deprive yourself for deprivation’s sake. Do so for others. Others will be in first place by virtue of your taking last place. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He was a masochist; He went for you and me. True greatness in God’s kingdom is found in the servant.
10:46 They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho,95 Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.96 10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David,97 have mercy on me!” 10:48 Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 10:49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up! He is calling you.” 10:50 He threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Rabbi, let me see again.” 10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the road.
The healing of blind Bartimaeus is Jesus’ last healing miracle of in the Gospel of Mark. The cloak that was thrown off was a beggar’s cloak used to collect hand-outs by spreading it out before him as he sat begging. By casting it aside, Bartimaeus was forsaking his former way of life, completely confident that Jesus would heal him. In contrast to the rich man (10:17-22), Bartimaeus leaves everything he has and follows Jesus. He is the picture of true discipleship—He recognized his own need for a Savior, calls out to Jesus, receives healing (lit., “your faith as saved you”), and then follows Jesus. The sight of Bartimaeus stands in contrast to the spiritual blindness of the disciples and the religious leaders Jesus is about to encounter in Jerusalem.
Twice in this passage Jesus asks the servant’s question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The question is asked of the disciples in 10:36, and then of Bartimaeus in 10:51. Of course, this question is always on the lips of a servant, and never on the lips of one who seeks to be served. How often do we ask the question, “What will you do for me?” Or, we ask the right question with all sorts of strings attached. We ask it for recognition or we ask it because we are paid to ask it.98
My wife is a servant, always asking others what she can do for them. I can’t count the number of meals that have been cooked in my house for other families. She is thoughtful and considerate of even the smallest detail, and puts her compassion to practice by serving others—usually without recognition (the last thing she is interested in).
Is there someone in your life that could benefit from being served? Consider asking them the servant’s question this week. What do you want me to do for you?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 10:45:
10:45 “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.”
88 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
90 To the right of the king is the highest position; the left is the next highest position.
91 Jesus speaks of the cup of his suffering—in the Old Testament the “cup” often symbolized suffering and trouble. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will pray that if it is God’s will that God would let the “cup” pass from Him (14:23-24, 36).
92 The ten were indignant because each of them wanted that position of privilege—James and John had called dibs and had gotten there first; the others were jealous.
93 The word “ransom” appears only here and in Matthew 20:28 (though it occurs in 1 Tim. 2:6 accompanied by a prefix). Interesting that Jesus instructs us that we are to become slaves (10:44), but then declares that His life will be given as a ransom to free us from slavery (10:45).
94 Incidentally, these two represent the extremes as far as persecution. James was the first of the disciples martyred and John was the last to die, after living out his natural life of persecution.
96 Jericho was a prosperous town with a mild climate, ideal for a beggar who spent his days sitting alongside the heavily-trafficked road begging.
97 “Son of David” is a Messianic title. Jesus is still the Messiah—the disciples must simply change their understanding of that role.
98 When a company promotes the slogan, “Your satisfaction is our highest priority,” I’ve often been tempted to respond, “I’d be most satisfied if I didn’t have to pay for this service.” For some reason, I get the feeling that serving others is simply the best strategy they’ve found for making a profit.