Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.’
Many people wish for greater freedom; however, the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin argued that being free to do as we want can often mean that others, less powerful or talented, end up hurt or oppressed. Have you seen evidence of this?
Why do you think our freedoms sometimes conflict?
In what ways do you wish you were more free?
The disciples had no category for a Messiah who was to be rejected and killed. It made no sense to them.
If Jesus really was the Messiah, it might well mean death for his enemies and those of Israel, but surely not his own death! Maybe they thought he was speaking symbolically? They certainly hoped he would stop talking about it and move on to something more upbeat.
But Jesus didn’t stop. And, as they got closer to Jerusalem, where opposition to Jesus was strongest, his persistent warnings became even more specific and even more worrying.
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’
For a third time (see Mark 8:31 and 9:31), Jesus takes the disciples aside to tell them what is going to happen to him. What does he repeat? What’s new?
Each time Jesus teaches about his death he calls himself the ‘Son of Man’. Jesus will later make it clear that the title points to a visionary figure described by the Jewish prophet Daniel:
‘There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven … He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7:13–14).
What kind of figure is Daniel describing? What do you think Jesus is claiming by using this title?
No wonder the disciples were confused. Jesus seems to be claiming for himself extraordinary majesty and power, yet in the same breath says that he is to be mocked, spat at, beaten and killed.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’
36 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.
37 They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’
38 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’
39 ‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must 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 as a ransom for many.’
James and John were, along with Peter, among Jesus’ closest friends.
The two brothers ask Jesus to give them what they ask for even before telling him what it is! Why do you think they do this?
James and John were asking for positions of honour and power. What does this reveal about their understanding of Jesus?
When Jesus talks of his ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’ (literally ‘immersion’), he is once again referring to his death. Cup and baptism were frequently used metaphors in the Hebrew Bible for bitter and overwhelming suffering. Strikingly, the cup metaphor was especially related to God’s judgement against sin: ‘You … have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath’ (Isaiah 51:17).
Why do you think Jesus says to James and John, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking’? What don’t they understand?
For what reason might the others have been annoyed when they found out about James and John’s request?
Jesus’ teaching in response to their argument about greatness is the key to unlocking Mark’s entire Gospel.
What new insights does Jesus give us about how he sees his own significance and purpose?
The word ‘ransom’ in verse 45 refers to the sum needed to pay for the freedom of those who are prisoners of war or slaves because of debt.
What does Jesus imply about humankind by saying that he has come to give his life as a ransom for us?
There is, again, a background to Jesus’ language in this verse. The prophet Isaiah describes a ‘servant’ who ‘poured out his life unto death’ and ‘bore the sins of many’. He says, ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6, 11 and 12).
What does this background suggest about why we need to be set free? How will Jesus’ death accomplish this?
Many people with power or influence use it to get their own way and end up oppressing others (verse 42). Jesus has immense power, yet he didn’t come so that we could serve him. Amazingly, he came to serve us by giving his life in our place to free us from our sin and self-centredness.
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
49 Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’
So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
52 ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
The story of blind Bartimaeus is the last healing Mark writes about in his Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples pass by, Bartimaeus is at the roadside, begging. The title ‘Son of David’ is another way of referring to Jesus as the Messiah. Blind and marginalised, Bartimaeus could see what others could not.
In verse 51 we see Jesus ask, for the second time in this section (verse 36), ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ What does this question reveal about Jesus? How is the outcome different this time?
Whereas we tend to see ‘going our own way’ (as in the Isaiah quote above) as an expression of our freedom, Jesus teaches that self-centredness ultimately enslaves and oppresses, not only others, but ourselves. The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once described vividly his experience of this slavery to self:
‘I am confined in the tiny dark dungeon of my ego; manacled with the appetites of the flesh, shackled with the inordinate demands of the will – a prisoner serving a life sentence with no hope of deliverance.’
To what extent do you recognise the experience of slavery to self that Muggeridge describes?
What have you seen in Jesus that could offer hope for a deeper kind of freedom?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.