Jesus taught his disciples the nature of his messianic mission three times as mission of death and resurrection. Not only was this path applied to him but also to the individual disciple he called, the community he built, and the leaders he developed.
Applied Theology of the Cross Sermon on Mark 10:32-45
Sermon preached at St. John the Divine in Houston, TX on 17 October 2021. Come visit: https://www.sjd.org/
Mark 10:32-42 (ESV Version)
32 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, 33 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. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
35 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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, 40 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.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Every Father’s Day, I think about how grateful I am for my own father. Our relationship hasn’t always been perfect, but he has impacted my life in powerful ways, and I have always been confident of his love and care for me and his desire to see me succeed. I am grateful for the gift of my father.
Then it’s funny to consider today’s Gospel passage in light of Father’s Day, because it seems that Jesus is speaking against fathers and family relationships.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Is Jesus really affirming the breakdown of family? I want to suggest right away that no, Jesus is not advocating the destruction of the family or telling us to disobey God’s commandment to honor our father and mother. I believe that what he is doing is affirming that, in this sinful and fallen world, sometimes our loyalty and devotion to God will set us at odds with the members of our family.
Jesus issued two great commandments: 1. Love the Lord, and 2. Love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39), and it’s important to remember that Jesus put these in order of importance. Love of God must come first, and switching the priority of these commandments will always go wrong. Our allegiance must always be to God first.
The Apostle Paul addresses this idea in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
He addresses the question about why we should stop sinning, if our sin only causes God’s grace to multiply to us. Doesn’t God want to be recognized as showing more grace? Paul says no, if we truly love God, we will want to please him by stopping sin. Our allegiance has changed from our sin and selves to putting God first. When we accepted Jesus and united with him in baptism, we turned away from our old ways of sin. So why would we want to go back to sin, when that goes against what we have now declared our allegiance to?
It’s like my high school swim coach, who was an excellent coach, and he got a very good job offer to go coach for our rival school across town. Once he switched jobs, he switched teams, switched allegiances. He was no longer rooting for my team to win – he was rooting and working for our rival! In the same way, when we choose to align ourselves with Christ, we no longer work for his enemy. We have changed teams, switched sides, given our allegiance to the other side. It would be ridiculous for us to keep working for sin once we have switched over to Christ’s side, and that is exactly what Paul is saying.
In fact, the truth about sin goes even further than this, because the Bible says that we are not just changing sides when we follow Christ, but we are being freed from slavery to sin. Paul puts it this way:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
So in sending his Son, what God did was redeem slaves and make them his children. So when we are baptized into Christ, we are liberated from the tyrannical forces of evil and corrupt powers of sin in this world, and adopted into the eternal family of God. How much then does he deserve our allegiance?
Unfortunately, just like the Israelites in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt, we also tend to want to go back into slavery. Back into the bondage of sin, under the authority of the evil one.
This is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel passage. People respond to the call of the kingdom of God and say they want to follow Jesus, but then the forces of evil will put the pressure on. Fear is a powerful controlling force in our lives, and we will feel shame and intimidation about following Christ, from even those people we care about most.
We have to decide to stand up and speak out for the gospel of Jesus Christ, not matter how people speak against us, or WHO speaks against us. We no longer have to be motivated by fear. Yes, we do fear God, but what he wants us to focus on more is the overwhelming love that the Father has for us. He knows us intimately, and we can be absolutely secure in his loving care. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
We must hold on to this truth, even when the people we care about do not want to give their allegiance to God. They want to remain under tyranny. The pressure will be on, and we have to choose to whom our loyalty belongs, no matter what.
Returning to the theme of family and fatherhood, I think that many of the problems in our society today are caused by the breakdown of the family, which is fundamentally caused by the breakdown of the father. I am definitely not trying to criticize or tear down men – we have enough of that in our world. But the renewal of the family begins with the renewal of fatherhood. So many studies point to this. What the world desperately needs is the renewal of godly fathers – men who are brave and courageous because they know to whom their allegiance is given.
So I have two practical steps for fathers to take if they want to be strong and godly fathers who protect their families:
Make the love of Jesus Christ your first and primary allegiance. Fear God more than you fear anything else. Love God more than you love anything else. Courage comes from finding your security in the love that God the Father has for you.
As fathers, create differentiated leadership. Because of your primary allegiance to the Lord, that will set you apart as a leader so that you will stand when no one else is standing. You will speak when no one else is speaking. You will go toe to toe with evil and fight for your marriage, your family, and your community.
This is the call of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is looking for men who will truly be men, standing in the gap to be leaders in their homes and communities, whose hearts truly and fully belong to him.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In the verse above, Peter tells us that times of suffering actually work like a refiner’s fire on our faith. It burns away that which is temporary and unproductive, and it reveals that which is eternal and holy. I believe that this time of coronavirus is acting as a refiner’s fire in terms of leadership—it is revealing the quality of leadership as the challenges of this day are being met. It reveals not only the strength of leadership, but also the motives.
This is in all levels of society—not only government, but also business, healthcare, and even within our homes. Being quarantined with our families is revealing both the weaknesses and strengths of our leadership in the home.
The Gospel passage for today is all about leadership. John records Jesus’ comparison between two entities: thieves/robbers vs. the shepherd. The first comparison is in the way they relate to the flock. Thieves access the flock through illegitimate means: secrecy and stealth. By contrast, the shepherd accesses his sheep through rightful and lawful means. The gatekeeper recognizes the shepherd, and so do the sheep—the sheep know him and follow him.
Verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ listeners didn’t understand what he was saying. I don’t think this means they couldn’t grasp the metaphor of leading sheep compared to leading people. I believe what they didn’t understand was how it applied to themselves. They didn’t want to honestly look at the challenges in their own leadership and discover that they were leading God’s people in a way that was not legitimate or correct.
So as Jesus continues his illustration, he shifts the metaphor slightly to try to help them understand. He says, “I am the door for the sheep” (v. 7). Now this is a little bit unexpected. We would expect him to go straight to “I am the Good Shepherd.” He does get there (v. 11), but he makes an important point about the door first. What he is saying is that he becomes the measure of legitimacy when it comes to the leadership of the people of God—he is the only legitimate way to access God’s people. Jesus is the difference between a good leader and a false leader.
He goes on to flesh out the two defining criteria that determine whether a leader is good or false: intention and impact.
The motivating intention of false leadership is self-interest. “The thief comes only to steal” (v. 10). The prophet Samuel spoke of this in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, when the people rejected God’s leadership and demanded a human king. The gist of his warning was this: “Human kings exist to take. They will take your freedom, they will take your children, they will take control of your life.”
Now, don’t hear me saying that human leadership is always of that ilk. There are good and bad leaders, but we always have to be wary that the intentions behind human leadership MAY be self-serving. False leaders desire to take power and resources for their own benefit. This is revealed plainly during these times of suffering. Illegitimate leadership is always destructive to those being led by it.
On the other hand, good leadership selflessly gives rather than takes. It gives abundant life to those who are led by it. In our day and age, how we need good leadership that selflessly seeks to give rather than take, to build up rather than destroy!
In Jesus’ day, the people of God had been scattered, harassed, oppressed, and dominated by many other nations and powers. Jesus compares them to sheep under a bad shepherd, and he offers them the opportunity to return to safety and security under his leadership. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep.
Jesus gives us the model of sacrificial leadership that we can follow in every aspect of our lives—at home, in the workplace, in the pubic sphere. Jesus says that good leadership gives itself away, and our world desperately needs this right now.
He is not only our example, but he is still the best leader that we could ever follow. All of us are lost sheep who need a strong, loving, sacrificial shepherd:
For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:25
Have you given your life to the Shepherd of your soul? Do you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls you by name and offers to bring you to a place of abundant life? During this time of testing and refining, where are you placing your hope, and who are you following? I encourage you to place your confidence fully in the Good Shepherd.