TO JERUSALEM Mark 10–11
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)Christ was acclaimed entering Jerusalem. But many incidents revealed He was not esteemed for Himself.
Persistent unbelief is illustrated by the Pharisees (10:1–12) and a wealthy young man (vv. 17–31), whom Mark contrasted with little children (vv. 13–16). Jesus’ prediction of His death (vv. 32–34) was ignored by His ambitious disciples (vv. 35–45), who had to be shown the nature of servanthood (vv. 46–52). Jesus was enthusiastically welcomed in Jerusalem (11:1–11), drove merchants from the temple (vv. 12–19), and on the way out of the city commented on the power of prayer (vv. 20–26). The next day He refused to explain His authority to hostile leaders (vv. 27–33).
Understanding the Text
“Some Pharisees came and tested Him” Mark 10:1–12. The intention of “testing,” or better yet, “trapping” Jesus, reveals the continued hostility and unbelief of the religious elite. For comments on Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage, see Matthew 19:1–12, Reading 206. “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these” Mark 10:13–18. Mark’s report of this incident is especially powerful. He alone tells us that Jesus was “indignant” when His disciples pushed children away. He also used an intense word to describe Christ’s blessing of the children: katalogein, “to bless fervently.” Mark placed the incident here to contrast the dependence and receptivity of little children with the harsh legalism of the Pharisees, and the works-righteousness of the young man whose story is told next. Anyone who hopes to enter Christ’s kingdom can do nothing but receive it as a gift, depending not on his own works, but on God alone. At the same time, Jesus’ indignation and His fervency in blessing the children remind us how important the young are to God. This is something I must constantly remind myself of. All too often I get caught up in work and ministry, and forget that the interests of little ones are vital to them—and that they are vital to God and to me. Jesus gladly took time to bless little ones fervently. I need to make children one of my priorities too. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17–23 Unlike little children, the wealthy young man was unwilling to receive or to be dependent. He wanted to “do” in order to earn a place in God’s kingdom, and he relied on his wealth to help him. No wonder it’s so hard for people to enter and to live in Christ’s kingdom. In our relationship with God we truly must abandon all that we’ve learned to rely on as adults, and return to childhood. Not earning but receiving is the key to entry. Not self-reliance but conscious dependence is the key to success. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “We have left everything to follow You” Mark 10:28–31. What do we gain if we return to childhood and abandon all to depend completely on Jesus? The disciples asked, and Christ identified three things: (1) Here and now, a hundredfold more! In Christ our closest relationships are multiplied. We become members of a family of brothers and sisters, many of whom become closer than blood relatives. (2) Persecution. Like Christ, we too will suffer. (3) But suffering gives birth to glory, and in the age to come we will share with Jesus the full joy of eternal life. I suppose each of us at times asks, “What will I get for what I must give up?” Jesus’ answer is, “Gold in exchange for clay. Eternal life in exchange for a few fleeting years of selfish pleasure.” We gain what we can never lose in exchange for what we could never keep. “He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen” Mark 10:32–34. This is the third time Jesus told the Twelve about His coming death (cf. 8:31; 9:31). Here the prediction was more detailed. But there’s no indication that the disciples understood—or wanted to hear. I once visited a friend whose brother, a missionary aviation fellowship pilot, had just been killed. I remember how uncomfortable I was. I wanted to help, but I didn’t really know how, or what to say. Driven by my own discomfort, I must have seemed terribly unsupportive to my friend. Jesus’ words were intended to prepare the disciples for what was about to happen. Yet they were also an expression of His human need. We sense that need later when, in Gethsemane, He asked, “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” Even Jesus needed supportive and caring friends when He faced His cross. Let’s learn from the disciples’ silence how not to listen to others. We need to set aside any discomfort we may feel, and listen carefully. We need to reach out a loving hand, to touch, to hug, and thus show that no one in Jesus’ family need bear his or her cross alone. “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory” Mark 10:35–45. It’s clear from Mark’s use of “then” that this incident followed immediately after Jesus’ prediction of His death. Something else is clear too. The disciples didn’t really “hear” Jesus—because their thoughts were filled with plans for their own future. James and John dreamed of high position in Christ’s coming kingdom, and the others squabbled with them when they found out. They didn’t hear Jesus because their thoughts were too filled with themselves. All too often this is what happens to us. We’re so busy with our own thoughts and dreams that we simply don’t listen or care. It’s no wonder Jesus went on to explain to His disciples that greatness in His kingdom isn’t found in high position, but in servanthood. If you and I want to become truly great, we set aside thoughts of ourselves, and think first of others. “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” (v. 45). “Have mercy on me!” Mark 10:46–52 In a simple act Jesus demonstrated the greatness that He taught. Despite the immediate prospect of His own suffering, He stopped to help a blind man the crowds uncaringly tried to quiet. When you and I learn to think of others despite our own hurts and concerns, we will be great indeed. For we will follow the example of our Lord. How could the crowds who cheered Jesus when He entered Jerusalem have cried for His death just three days later? They cried, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” They wanted not the King, but the earthly glory they thought He would bring them. We need to contemplate Christ on the donkey, and welcome Him for who He is, not for what He might bring us (Mark 11:1–11). “Jesus entered the temple” Mark 11:12–19. Both fig tree and temple symbolized first-century Judaism. The tree appeared to flourish, but had no fruit (vv. 12–14). The temple was spectacular, but was filled with avarice rather than prayer (vv. 15–17). When the hollowness of the religion was exposed, the religious leaders “began looking for a way to kill [Jesus].” It is not anti-Semitic to be honest about the failures of first-century institutionalized religion. And it is not anti-Christian to be honest about the frequent fruitlessness of many churches today. Let’s not measure spiritual reality by either flourishing activity, or by great buildings. Let’s return to kingdom principles: dependence on Jesus, and servanthood toward all. “Whatever you ask for in prayer” Mark 11:20–25. Fig trees do wither, because they are empty of spiritual power. Where do we find the power to follow kingdom principles? Jesus pointed His disciples to prayer. But He also reminded them that faith in God has an essential corollary—a servant’s heart. We must maintain both our dependence on God and our fellowship with others in His family. It is self-deceit to suppose that we have a healthy relationship with God if we harbor animosity rather than forgive. “By what authority?” Mark 11:27–33 The ruling council or chief priests, sages, and lay elders claimed to speak with Moses’ own authority (cf. Matt. 23:2). Yet when challenged by Christ to make an authoritative statement about John the Baptist, they held back. If they had possessed true spiritual authority, they would have spoken the truth—and lived it. Jesus had no need to explain the source of His authority. His miracles, His teaching, His very lifestyle, all witnessed to the fact that He came from God. It’s to be like this with us too. Spiritual authority isn’t rooted in ecclesiastical position, but in a relationship with God expressed in an authentic servant’s life.
What’s Wrong with Wealth?(Mark 10:17–31)
The disciples were shocked when Jesus spoke of wealth as a hindrance to entering His kingdom. In the first century the wealthy man was considered blessed. Only the wealthy would have time to study the Torah, the written and oral Word of God. Only the wealthy would have resources needed to do the good deeds that characterized the righteous. This in part explains the shock of the young man who refused to abandon his wealth to follow Jesus. He depended on his money to help him find his way to eternal life. He was totally unwilling to abandon it and depend instead on Christ. I suppose there is nothing really wrong with wealth. I have one or two Christian friends who are millionaires, and committed Christians too. But most of us aren’t equipped to handle great amounts of cash and maintain our perspective. All too many of us, like the rich young man who came to Jesus, would discover that our money pulled against complete dependence on God, rather than encouraged it. And that the freedom to do anything and go anywhere that money brings, pulled against a disciplined search for God’s will each day. Sometimes I think I’d enjoy trying to be godly despite great wealth. I even suspect I might be able to use wealth wisely. But when I check my bank balance, I’m confronted with the fact that God doesn’t trust me with any extra at all! Then, if I remember, I think of the wealthy young ruler, and I thank God for this special expression of His grace. He has preserved me from a temptation that has caused many to fall.
Thank God for what He has chosen not to give you, as well as for what He provides.
“Every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. Every time He teaches about the use of wealth, He counsels disciples to give it away. For people who take the Bible seriously, and who take Jesus most seriously of all, how seriously should we respond to these teachings about wealth? It may be time for more believers to consider the most obvious and least comfortable option: to obey them—to conform our lives to the commands of our Lord rather than the other way around.”—Thomas Schmidt