Suffering and Joy
A sermon on Mark 10:32-52 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 4/2/00
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 10. We will begin reading with the 28th verse.
28 Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospelís sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 "But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first."
32 ∂ And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, 33 saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles. 34 "And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again." 35 And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Him, saying 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 that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking for. 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 shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 "But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 "But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
46 ∂ And they *came to Jericho. And as He was going out from Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 And many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49 And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him here." And they *called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage, arise! He is calling for you." 50 And casting aside his cloak, he jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And the blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!" 52 And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.
What will you do if you are called to a ministry that, in human terms, has no chance of success?
Until ten years ago, Romania was a Communist country that persecuted true Christians severely. By a miracle, Josef Tson was able to leave the country in the 1960ís; called to the ministry, he studied theology in England. Upon completion of his studies, he announced that he was returning to Romania.
Some of his friends counseled him: "Josef, donít do that! What chance of success do you think you have?"
Josef replied: "Success? Success? Thatís a typically Western way of thinking. In Romania, when one becomes a Christian, one doesnít think of success. You think of losing your job, losing your income, of beatings, slander, and possibly martyrdom. Iím called to preach the gospel in Romania. So Iíll go."
What is the role of suffering in the Christian life? In our last sermon in this series, we saw that in verses 29 and 30 Jesus says, "Anyone who gives will receive one hundred times more in this life than they give up, and billions times more in the life to come!" We saw that this means not that we will receive one hundred times more money or resources, but that the joy and pleasure we receive from the things of this world will be one hundred time greater than the joy we would have received from the entirety of our hoarded possessions. This results primarily from our seeing all the blessings we receive -- everything from the air we breath to the roof over our heads to the families we have -- all the blessings we receive are gifts from one who loves us beyond measure. So we never lose by giving to God. We always receive more of what we really want in this life: more love, more joy, more peace.
But Jesus says in verse 30 that along with the hundred times more houses and brothers and farms, we will also receive persecutions. This isnít more of what we really want; is it? Persecutions? Suffering? Doesn't the promise of persecutions belie the promise of one hundred times more joy and pleasure in this life?
Mark deals specifically with that issue in the remainder of chapter 10. We'll break this passage down into four sections, entitled:
The Example of Jesus' Suffering
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that crucifixion awaits him. The disciples and other followers are astonished and afraid. John gives us more details in his gospel. It is around this time that Lazarus dies, and Jesus decides to go into Judea to raise him from the dead, even though that means walking into danger. Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." (John 11:16)
In today's passage, verses 32 to 34, Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection to the Twelve for the third time; the first two prophecies appear in 8:31 and 9:31. Jesus reveals more of what will happen each time; he doesn't give the whole story to the disciples at first. There are three new elements in the third prophecy in 10:32-34:
Is this success? Is this what should happen to the Son of God? What is the purpose? What is the reason? If he is so powerful, why does He put up with this shame and suffering?
Hebrews 12:2 provides us with the answer:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
What was the joy set before Him? Why did he endure this shame? This brings us to our second heading.
The Effect of Jesus' Suffering
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
A ransom! Jesus' life was a ransom! What does this mean?
The Greek word translated "ransom" literally means a "loosing," such as untying someone who is bound. The word was used for the price of a slave. If you are a slave, I can go to your master, negotiate a price, and buy you. Then I can make you my slave -- or I can give you your freedom. In the latter case, your master can't come and take you back; the price has been paid, the ransom has been paid -- you are free.
Jesus is not a masochist. He does not love suffering, he does not suffer just in order to suffer. But as the author of Hebrews tells us, he endures shame and suffering for the joy set before him.
What is this joy? The joy of glorifying God! Jesus endured the shame and suffering of the cross so that God would be glorified. At the cross, Jesus accomplishes God's perfect revelation of himself as merciful, loving, and just, and there purchases a people for God's own possession.
How does the cross display both God's mercy and His justice? If God is just, then every sin must be punished. God is the moral force in the universe; he therefore cannot simply overlook rebellion and sin.
But as Paul writes in,
God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:14)
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18)
We call this the "substitutionary atonement." Those are big words but the idea is simple enough for a child to understand. You and I deserve punishment. If God is just, He must give people what they deserve; Jesus dies in my place, in your place, as our substitute, taking our punishment, thereby displaying Godís great mercy, love, grace, and justice.
Do you know this? Do you want this freedom? Throw yourself on Godís mercy, by the blood of Jesus, and ask to be cleansed, to be made a new man, to walk no longer in sin.
So we've seen the example of Jesus' suffering, and the effect of his suffering. But suffering is not for Jesus alone; we his followers are called to suffer also.
Our Suffering: The Way to Greatness
Mark introduces the topic of our suffering through the incident with James and John. Matthew informs us that there was a third person involved: their mother.
Those of you who are parents: Have your children ever come to you and said, "Promise youíll say yes to what Iím going to ask you!" Or, "Do you love me? Doesnít someone who loves you give you what you want?"
Jesus responds wisely (as we parents should in similar circumstances: "What do you want me to do for you?"
What do James and John ask? They want to sit at Jesus' right and left hands in glory. They want to be glorified; they want to be close to Jesus; they want to have authority. Is there anything wrong with these desires? Hasn't Jesus already promised them all three?
As we saw in our discussion of chapter 9, the desire for greatness is God-given. Jesus wants us to aspire to greatness. So Jesus does not reprimand these two disciples, but instead raises two questions.
First, in verses 38-40, Jesus asks, "How does one become great?" Second, in verses 41-45, Jesus asks, "What does it mean to be great?"
The answer to the second question reiterates the message of chapter 9: Those who are great are servants. We won't repeat the details from that message, but note the interesting progression Jesus makes from verse 43 to verse 44: If you want to be great, you must be a servant; if you want to be first, you must be a slave. The higher the honor, the more extreme the service and devotion.
Let's now look at the first question: How does one become great? Jesus asks James and John, "Can you drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" Jesus here refers to his suffering; recall that at Gethsemane he will say, "Father, . . . take away this cup from me." In effect, Jesus says, "You donít know what youíre asking. If you want to be exalted that high, you must share in my sufferings: Mocking, spitting, flogging. An ignominious death. Forget any ideas of political glory. The way to greatness always passes through suffering."
Jesus does not call us to a smooth, easy life. Instead, Jesus promises us persecution, he promises us suffering. But at the same time, He promises to use suffering for His purposes -- and one of those purposes is to make us great, to glorify Himself in us.
If we are to suffer, how will we endure? What will make it all possible? Once again, Hebrews 12:1-2 provides the answer:
Run with perseverance the race marked out for you, fixing your eyes on Jesus . . . who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame
Our Need: To See the Joy Set Before Us
In order to endure suffering, we need to open our eyes and see Jesus, we need to see the joy of glorifying God, of being His own treasured possession, set before us. So Mark provides us with this wonderful picture of blind Bartimaeus, to illustrate the solution to our need.
At first glance, this story may seem unconnected to what comes before it. But as we have seen, Mark constantly interweaves stories with similar themes; the very proximity of this story to Jesus' discussion of suffering should cause us to consider the possible links between the two.
But God through Mark provides us with two other clues linking the stories. First, Mark calls the blind man "Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus." Now, "Bar-" in Aramaic means "Son of," like "Mac" or "Mc" in Scotland. So Mark is simply repeating himself when he calls Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus. Perhaps he is just explaining the name to his Greek readers -- but he doesn't provide any explanation when he mentions Bartholomew ("son of Tolmai") or Barabbas ("son of the rabbi"). This indicates that there might be something important about the name Timaeus.
There is. "Timaeus" means "highly prized," or "honored." James and John seek honor from Jesus; then Jesus heals the man named "son of the honored one."
Secondly, examine verses 36 and 51: Jesus responds in the same way to Bartimaeus as he responds to James and John: "What do you want me to do for you?" Clearly, these stories are linked.
So what is Mark (and the Holy Spirit through Mark) getting at through the story of the healing of Bartimaeus?
If we are to be great, if we are to live up to the name God gives us -- "those who are highly prized," "those who are highly honored," -- we too must ask to have our eyes opened. We need to see God and his goodness and glory and majesty. We need to see ourselves, completely unworthy of the mercy that God showers on us. We need to see especially the joy set before us; the joy of God displaying his character in our lives, the joy of sharing His love through our witness, and the joy and pleasure of knowing that we receive 100 times as much from Him in this life as anything we give up, and will receive great joy forevermore as we share eternity with Him.
In one sense, to focus on the joy set before us is to focus on the "real reality." This world is passing away, and this world is not our home. We were made for a deeper reality, the reality of life with God. As Paul says:
we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:17-18)
Let's get back to Josef Tson. Recall that his friends told him that he had no chance of success if he returned to Romania. That night, he was troubled by the discussion and prayed, "Lord, is this what you really want?" He saw as in a vision a picture of Matthew 10:16: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves." Here is a pack of wolves. There is a little sheep, in the middle of the wolves. What chance of success does the sheep have in that situation? But if the sheep continues to preach the gospel, to love the wolves even as he is being torn limb from limb -- maybe some of the wolves will listen. The suffering of the sheep may open the eyes of the wolves. So Josef replied to God, "I see, Lord. Being killed for the gospel is not a tragedy Ė itís part of your strategy."
Just so. The suffering of Christians is no mistake. God uses our suffering as part of His strategy for reaching the world. John Paton, missionary to cannibals in the 19th century who lost his wife and two children to disease, wrote this:
Whatever trials have befallen me in my Earthly Pilgrimage, I have never had the trial of doubting that perhaps, after all, Jesus had made some mistake. No! my blessed Lord Jesus makes no mistakes! When we see all His meaning, we shall then understand, what now we can only trustfully believe, that all is well - best for us, best for the cause most dear to us, best for the good of others and the glory of God. (p. 488)
Listen, now: When God says "Lo, I am with you always," He means it. When Paul writes, "My God will supply all your needs," he is stating Truth. When God says, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you," He is giving us a promise that will hold regardless of our circumstances. But how are these promises consistent with our suffering?
Paul writes 2nd Timothy shortly before his death. In chapter 4 he writes: ĎI am already being poured out as a drink offering"-- an apt figure for one who would be beheaded. But then later in the chapter he writes, "the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack." Paul writes this even though he knows he will be executed. The inescapable conclusion: His execution is not an evil attack.
Just so with us:
God is in control of all, and he constantly uses what men intend for evil for His own good purposes. Whatever happens, He is in control; His purposes are beyond us, but He is always good, and always wise.
How do we put these truths into practice in the first decade of the 21st century?
First, prepare for persecution. We Americans are among the very few Christians in history who have not had to face persecution by our government. That could change in the lifetimes of those here this morning. There will not be persecution of all who call themselves Christians -- just as there is not persecution for some self-described Christians in China. But those who are determined to witness, those who proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light, and that no one comes to the Father except by Him -- those true Christians may very well be persecuted in this country, this century. Think of how attitudes towards the proclamation of the gospel have changed in this country in the last 80 years; in another 80 years, how much further will attitudes change?
I say this not to spark fear, but to encourage you to prepare yourself: If persecution comes, are you ready? Can you focus on the joy set before you? Are you ready to be that sheep in the midst of wolves, loving the wolves, giving of yourself, for the joy set before you enduring whatever shame and suffering comes your way?
A second way to put these truths into practice: Listen to God's call. Most of us are like Bartimaeus, blinded to the call of God if it includes discomfort, shame, danger, or a loss of income. The ease of life in this country inures us to the call to sacrifice. Tell God, with Bartimaeus, "Lord, I want to see!" Open your eyes to the joy set before you in this life, the opportunity to serve the king of the universe. What is God calling you to? Does it imply giving up your present career, or career plans? Does it imply selling what you have, and financing a ministry to those who have never heard the name of Jesus? Pray for vision!
Not all of us will face persecution. And not all of us are called to major course corrections in our lives (though I am convinced some of us here this morning are so called). But all of us are called to live every minute of our lives to the glory of God. This means being willing to part with our amusements and leisure activities to serve others; to be willing to put up with the shame and embarrassment of being thought fanatical, or being considered radical and extreme, because of our love for Jesus and our proclamation of the gospel. These sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.
Friends, all of Godís people are called to greatness. The Road to Greatness always passes through suffering. Pray for sight, to see the joy set before you. Then step out in faith Ė whatever your apparent chance of success.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 4/2/00. Ray Stedman's sermon on this passage was quite helpful, particularly in pointing out the importance of the name Bartimaeus. The account of Josef Tson is based on his talk at the 2000 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. Tapes of this excellent talk are available through Desiring God Ministries; local readers can borrow the tape from me. You can listen via RealAudio to a briefer but similar talk by Dr Tson, given at Southern Seminary in Louisville.
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