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Mark 10:32-45 – If you want to be great…

Who would you consider to be the greatest of all? When it comes to sports, there are many different opinions. Was it Jordan or Lebron? Was it Tom Brady or Brett Favre? When it comes to political figures, who was the greatest president? Was it George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Was it Joe Biden or Donald Trump? When it comes to people in the Bible, who was the greatest believer? Was it Abraham or Moses? Was it Job or David? We could think about this for a long time and give reasons for one name over the other. But thinking this way often gets us into arguments that don’t accomplish much. And still we get caught up in long conversations.

In today’s message, we will see that this was something the disciples had been thinking about. They had recently heard some astonishing things from Jesus. It is difficult for a rich man (seemingly blessed by God) to enter God’s kingdom. Leaving all for Jesus would lead to God’s provision and … persecution. What? These were things that they had a hard time understanding. But in the end, Jesus told them what they needed to know and also what their focus should be. To be great they would need to… Wait a minute! Let’s not jump ahead to that just yet. We need to consider a few things before we are ready to understand what Jesus said.

  1. What does it say?

    As Jesus and his disciples were traveling down the road to Jerusalem, Jesus walked ahead of them. The disciples were amazed and as they followed Him, they became afraid. Jesus took them aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. He told them they would be going to Jerusalem where the Son of Man would be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes. They would condemn him to die and deliver Him to the Gentiles. The Gentiles would mock, scourge, spit on, and kill Him. On the third day, He would rise again.

    Concise Summary: In other words, the disciples were amazed at what had already been told them by Jesus. But as they got closer to Jerusalem, they were told that Jesus would be betrayed, condemned, mistreated, and killed. But He would come back to life the third day.

    After this, James and John came to Jesus to request something. When asked what it was, they asked to sit on either side of Him in His glory. Jesus responded that they didn’t understand what they were asking. Were they able to go through the baptism He would face? They thought so. So Jesus told them that they would drink the cup and be baptized like Him. But He could not promise that they would sit on His right or left as that was already assigned.

    Concise Summary: James and John wanted Jesus to make them His closest advisors in the kingdom. Jesus questioned whether they understood what they would have to go through and could not promise them that position.

    The other disciples were displeased with James and John for what they had asked. So Jesus called them over and explained what He wanted them to do. They knew that the Gentile leaders lorded over their subjects. But they were not to follow their example. If one of them wanted to be great, he would have to start by being a servant. If he wanted to be first, he would have to be a slave to all. Even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.

    Concise Summary: Because the other disciples were mad at James and John, Jesus explained to them that true greatness should be marked by service, to others instead of demanding dictatorship. They were to follow His example of service, realizing that He came to give His life for many.

  2. What does it mean?

    The disciples did not understand why Jesus came (Mark 10:32-34).

    When you read this paragraph, notice the order of events. First, the disciples were amazed and afraid. Second, Jesus explained what would happen to Him in Jerusalem. You would think that they amazement would happen after Jesus explained things, but it happened afterward.

    I think that there are several reasons why the disciples were amazed and afraid. First, they had just been told that only God could make it possible for a person to enter God’s kingdom (10:23-27). Second, they had learned that God would reimburse them for their losses incurred by following Jesus (10:28-30). Third, they would also be persecuted in the future (10:30). All of this was different than what they expected. Fourth, they were headed toward Jerusalem (10:32). The fact that Jesus was leading them there “seems to imply some unusual activity or energy of movement, as if he was outstripping them, in token of his eagerness to reach”1 Jerusalem. This was the capital city where the temple and the religious leaders did most of their work. The Pharisees and Sadducees had already expressed opposition toward Jesus. So, why would He want to go there?

    Since the disciples were not grasping the real reason why Jesus came, He decided to tell them. After taking them aside, He told them that He would be betrayed to these religious leaders, condemned to death, delivered to the Gentiles, mistreated, and killed. But He would rise again the third day. This again was something the disciples did not understand. They were thinking He had come to establish His kingdom on earth while He was focused on dying on the cross. They did not understand why Jesus came. And that is made clear by what happened next.

    The disciples did not understand what they would face (Mark 10:35-40).

    After listening to Jesus explain what would happen in Jerusalem, James and John asked something inappropriate. They asked to sit on his right and left sides in His glory. In other words, they wanted “the places of highest honor and authority in His … messianic kingdom.”2 What a thing to ask after hearing that Jesus would be rejected and killed! Apparently, the thought of Jesus dying was so inconceivable that they just ignored what He had told them.

    Jesus knew they were ignorant (and proud) and so He asked them if they could drink the cup and be baptized with His baptism. To them, this sounded like, “Are you willing to go with me wherever I go?” They had already left everything to follow Him, so why would them not be willing to follow Him wherever He went? But Jesus meant more than this. They thought they were “asking only for honor and distinction, when in fact [they were] asking for distress ad suffering.”3 When talking about His cup and baptism, He was talking about the suffering and death He would soon face. Were they willing to go through that for Him? He promised that they would face the same troubles He would. James was one of the first Christian martyrs and John went through his share of trouble. But at this point, they didn’t understand what they would face.

    The disciples did not understand what God wanted (Mark 10:41-45).

    You can imagine how perturbed the other disciples were after these two asked to be the most important advisors in Jesus’ coming kingdom. Who did they think they were? Did they think they were better than the others? Better than Peter? Better than Matthew? Of all the gall to ask such a thing! Before things could get out of hand, Jesus taught all of them what God wanted. He wasn’t looking for them to be tyrants like some Gentile rulers. He wanted them to strive for greatness in a humble way—service to others.

    Jesus tried to get them to see that true greatness was not achieved by climbing the corporate ladder in the kingdom. No, true greatness could only be reached by serving others. And if they wanted to be the most prominent, this could only be achieved by being a slave to all. Wait a minute. Was Jesus wanting the disciples to let people walk all over them? Not exactly. But His example was one of service including giving His life for many. When you look at the many times that Jesus gave up rest to minister to people, you can see that service is something that will require setting aside one’s will and doing what is best for others. Sadly, the disciples did not understand this at the time.

  3. How does it apply?

    Do you understand why Jesus came to earth?

    When Jesus explained His death to the disciples, they probably didn’t understand it. Years later, we know what happened. Jesus was betrayed, mistreated, killed, and then rose again. But do you understand why He allowed Himself to be killed? The answer is given in Mark 10:45. He came to give His life as a ransom for many.

    When Jesus died on the cross, He was taking our place. He died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He bled and died as the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins. God should have punished each of us for our many sins. But instead, He punished Jesus. In this way, He became our substitute.

    Let’s make this a little more personal. You have heard the facts, but have you believed for yourself? Jesus said that “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” in other words, even though you are a sinner who deserves to be punished by God, you can escape that punishment by believing Jesus. When you recognize your sinfulness before God and believe that Jesus died for you and rose again, He will forgive your sins and give you eternal life. Do you understand this? Have you believed for yourself?

    Do you understand what following Jesus will require?

    Over the years, many people have recognized their need for Jesus. They see their sinfulness and also see what Jesus has done for them. But they balk at what God might require them to do once they become a Christian. When someone believes in Jesus, God changed their heart and makes them a new person. But this is not where it stops. Becoming a Christians involves following Jesus no matter the cost. Remember the rich, young man earlier in the chapter. He was unwilling to follow Jesus as he was more interested in his possessions.

    Following Jesus does require something of you. If you want to follow Jesus, you must be willing to give up your life for Him and to do whatever He asks. For many, following Christ involves leaving friends and family. For all, it will require going through some type of persecution. James and John didn’t realize that they would be imprisoned, beaten, and even killed. But they were willing to go through that because they loved the Lord. Are you willing to go through anything for the Lord?

    Do you understand true greatness?

    While dying for the Lord is the ultimate sacrifice, most of us don’t need to think about that right now. We need to think about daily service for the Lord and for others. Just as Jesus came to serve not to be served, so we should seek to do that every day. Life is not about you. It should be about others. We ought to think of ways that we can serve God first. Maybe we should think about talking to others about Jesus. Maybe we should try to help out around the church.

    But we ought to consider how we can help others as well. Instead of trying to get your name in the bulletin, try to serve others behind the scenes. Nobody needs to know. Just serve as Jesus did. Do you remember how he told some people not to tell that He had healed them? Jesus didn’t need recognition to be great. He just wanted to serve. Follow His example of service to others. Help others and then let God determine if you need to be recognized in the future.


The disciples showed their ignorance of God’s plan at this point in their journey with Jesus. But let’s not be too hard on them. We, too, are ignorant of many things. But today, we have been clearly shown some things about Jesus. He died for us and rose again. We have been shown what God requires of His disciples. We must be willing to face persecution. And we have been shown what true greatness entails. We must be willing to serve others.

We can no longer claim to be ignorant of these things. It is time to act. How will you respond?


Alexander, Joseph, The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980, orig. 1858.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994, orig. 1979.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.


  1. Alexander 288. ↩︎
  2. Grassmick 152. ↩︎
  3. Alexander 291. ↩︎