Have you ever dreamed of being a butler? According to the International Butler Academy, it’s a good career. The position pays $50,000 to $100,000 a year, which isn’t bad in this economy. But it’s demanding! A butler works an average of 60 hours a week. To prepare for the position, the student is taken through an intensive course of study. It doesn’t last long – just 8 weeks – but the schedule is grueling. Classes are held 6 days a week with an occasional Sunday off, each day lasting from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm. That was enough to make up my mind. I’m much too independent and not nearly humble enough to make a good butler.
With that in mind, consider Jesus’ career choice. Prior to Bethlehem, He was equal with God the Father enjoying heaven’s glory and the worship of angels. But from eternity past, He planned to lay it aside “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:8) To what end? To die on a cross to pay for our sins – an act of servanthood surpassing any act of humility on our part. This is the message found in Mark’s gospel. In the last post, we studied the first of 4 portraits painted by the gospels. Crafting his story for Jewish readers, Matthew depicted Jesus as the King who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. In Mark’s account, which I focus on in this next study, Jesus is still the King, but the focus now shifts from who He is to what He did. The Prince became a pauper so that we “through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor.8:9)
First, a few facts about Mark. Mark is the shortest gospel – 16 chapters compared to 28 in Matthew, 24 in Luke, and 21 in John. Some have called it the Jack Webb version of the gospel because what it gives us are “just the facts, Ma’am!” It has few Old Testament references because that wouldn’t have impressed the Romans, and there are no long speeches like we find in Matthew and John because Romans were people of action, not words. It’s also helpful to know that his full name was John Mark and that it was in his mother’s (Mary) home in Jerusalem that the church prayed for Peter’s release from prison. (Acts 12:12). He was also Barnabas’ cousin and caused a division between Paul and Barnabas when he deserted them on their first missionary journey. (Acts 15:39) But he was redeemed through the ministry of Barnabas and Peter. Peter refers to him as “my son” or disciple in the faith (1 Peter 5:13) which means, when we read the words of Mark, what we’re hearing is the gospel according to Peter.
1) Humble Beginnings. Jesus’ humility is seen from the first page of Mark. There are no genealogies or birth stories like we find in Matthew and Luke, for no one cares about a servant’s pedigree. All we’re told is that He’s from heaven, that He is “the Son of God.” Instead, the book opens with His baptism, one of the humblest acts a human can undergo. This is followed by His ministry of healing and teaching. Mark 1:33 says “the whole city gathered” at His door begging to be healed. In fact, they were so insistent and persistent that He and His disciples didn’t even have time to eat. (Mark 3:20) But He never complained. Why not? Mark 10:45 is the key verse. Jesus explains, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.” This, of course, is what He also expects of us. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
That was my least favorite verse as a boy, because like Dennis, I hoped to get as much out of life as possible. But live a little longer and you discover that life also brings heartache and loss, which means the most effective servants of Christ are those who can endure personal suffering and minister with compassion to others who are going through disappointment and loss. In fact, Christmas provides us with an excellent opportunity to do that. People are out of work, anxious about their finances, lonely because a loved one has recently died, brokenhearted over a relationship that has ended, and fearful because of health issues they’re facing. The question to ask at this time of year is: What would Jesus do? I believe what He’s doing is calling us to temporarily lay aside our problems and find someone we can serve with the love of Christ. For He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) That is the message of Mark and the story of Christmas – finding new joy and purpose through the act of serving others.
(Later this week I’ll finish this study from Mark’s gospel by focusing on the miraculous ministry of Jesus and His sacrificial death for our sins.)