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An Ill-Advised Argument

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 8, 2023 3:00 am

An Ill-Advised Argument

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 8, 2023 3:00 am

As Jesus spoke of His impending suffering and death, His disciples argued about status and jockeyed for positions of honor. Does that sound childish and insensitive? Discover why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge them, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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As Jesus was trying to help his disciples understand the suffering and death he was about to endure, the disciples were arguing about their status and jockeying for positions of honor.

That sounds childish and insensitive to us, doesn't it? Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out why we shouldn't be too quick to judge them. Alistair Begg is teaching from chapter 9 in Mark's Gospel. Well if your Bible is open at chapter 9, you're looking down at the section that begins at verse 30, we're looking at the three occasions recorded for us by Mark in which Jesus predicts his passion. We began last time in chapter 8 and verse 31 and noted that on that occasion, the teaching of Jesus concerning his suffering and death and resurrection then produced what we referred to as an ill-conceived rebuke. This morning, the subsequent prediction, which interestingly is in chapter 9 and verse 31, we've gone from 8.31 to 9.31, this particular prediction comes in the context of what I want to refer to as an ill-advised argument.

An ill-advised argument. And once again, the teaching of Jesus is responded to by the disciples in such a way as to reveal just how little they're really getting of it, how difficult it is proving for them to grasp the nature of the kingdom of God, how their human valuations need to be reoriented, how their center of gravity needs to be replaced, how their topsy-turvy thinking needs to be brought under the tutelage of the words of Jesus himself. As I studied this passage, I came to the conclusion that we can deal with it, I think in a way that is understandable and manageable, by paying attention to two questions, one which is actually an unasked question, or if you like, the question the disciples were afraid to ask, and then secondly, the question that the disciples were ashamed to answer. So that's really the outline of things.

Note number one, afraid to ask. Now you'll notice in verse 30 that Mark tells us that Jesus was concerned for privacy. The Jesus who moved freely among the crowds, the Jesus who was accessible to men and women, far more accessible on many occasions than his own disciples, took time in his own personal life to be away from people so that he could be in communion with his father. And now as he approaches Jerusalem, as he's turned, as it were, the corner of his earthly ministry, as he has, if you like, crossed the Rubicon on his way to his death and resurrection, it is a very important part of it all that he would have these times privately with his disciples. And so Jesus, we're told in verse 30, did not want anyone to know where they were.

Well, you say, why is this? And you don't have to look hard, because the answer is he wanted privacy because of his priority. And what was his priority? Well, you'll see there in verse 31, because he was teaching his disciples. You'll notice he was teaching. It's in the imperfect tense. It's a reminder to us that the class which had begun back in verse 31 of chapter 8 was an ongoing class, and the classroom for these disciples was essentially the journey to Jerusalem.

And if the context of the class is marked by privacy, then the content is marked by clarity. And Jesus said to them, verse 31, the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him. And after three days, he will rise.

Now, in terms of the English language, of course, it would have been in Aramaic as he spoke it, and then Greek as it was written. In terms of the language, the syntax, the sentence itself, there's nothing difficult about it, is there? And nobody misunderstands the idea of betrayal. It's not difficult to understand getting killed.

It may be a little more difficult to figure this notion of rising again after three days, but the problem does not lie in the conveying of the information. And yet, you look it down at verse 32, but they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They just didn't get it. It wasn't they couldn't figure out what it means to be betrayed and killed. But they just didn't understand how that could possibly be. Any notion that they had of a Messiah had nothing at all to do with suffering. It certainly didn't have anything to do with death. It was completely ridiculous. It was preposterous for them to think of someone who was a Messiah suffering betrayal and rejection and then death.

And of course, as we'll see in just a moment, they had a real difficulty with this after three days stuff. It's hard to come up with any kind of analogy to register for as the sort of incongruity of the notion. If you're going to be the Messiah, be the Messiah. But don't get yourself betrayed and killed. We want a real Messiah.

We don't want to betray dead Messiah. That's their mind, you see. Remember what we said last time? We think we're so smart because we looked behind the crossword puzzle and saw the answers. They only had the clues unfolding for them.

And Mark is so honest in giving us this record and points out that he just didn't understand what he meant. And what about this idea of after three days, they will kill him, and after three days, he will rise? You know enough to know that the Jewish mind lived in the expectation of the resurrection. At least the Pharisees in their teaching taught it.

The Sadducees didn't. And so in the mind of the Jew, there was the expectation at the end of the present age of some resurrection. These disciples had a concept of resurrection at the end of the age, but they had no concept, no expectation of someone who would rise from the dead while the present age continued. If your Bible is open to chapter 9, you can look at verse 10 after the Transfiguration.

We noted it last time. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what, quote, rising from the dead meant. Meet this in mind, incidentally, when you meet the customary skepticism as Easter comes around. Time Magazine and Newsweek, they'll all be there again. There'll be some heading somewhere that has to do with, is the resurrection a myth or whatever it is? And the idea will be promulgated again that these disciples were prepackaged and were ready to believe this notion because of this and that and the next thing. You'll be able to say, well, funnily enough, they weren't. And the reason you'll be able to say so is because you've been reading your Bible, and when you read your Bible, you discover that they had no concept of a resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and that explains why it was that the disciples, on receiving the news from the women when they came back from the tomb, said to the women, frankly, your words are absolute nonsense. If they'd been expecting a resurrection, they would have said, oh, that's the resurrection, of course. That's what He said.

After three days, He'd rise again. Yeah, we knew that. Oh, we knew that.

Yeah. They didn't know it. Well they knew it cerebrally, but it only rattled in their head it hadn't made any transforming impact in their lives. You see, the question that they're afraid to ask is a simple question. And the question is, what on earth does He mean?

What on earth does He mean? One commentator puts it this way, and I think he's probably right, they understood enough to be afraid of understanding more. They understood enough to be afraid of understanding more. They had just enough of a notion to recognize that if they actually defined their questions, the answers they would get would be answers that they really didn't want to have. So if you like, they were smart enough to hedge their bets, and when the opportunity came for the questions, no one wanted to ask a question. The question they were afraid to ask. Now let's go on, secondly, in verse 33 and following, to the question that they were ashamed to answer. Once again, the context is privacy. They're in a house, it may be the house of Peter and Andrew.

We can't say with certainty, but you don't need to worry, it's not a main thing, it's not a plain thing. But now in the privacy of this home, although they had had no question for the teacher at the end of the class, the teacher has a question for them in light of their conversation going down the corridor, as it were. In light of their conversation on the journey to this house. Question is there at the end of verse 33, what were you arguing about on the road? I think we can safely assume that as is so often the case, Jesus is not looking for information when he asks this question. He was tuned in enough, he was alert enough, just as a man, to have moved with them on this journey and to be alert to the fact that their conversation with one another, albeit perhaps behind their hands, perhaps when they thought he wasn't listening, was a conversation that had to do with themselves and their status.

Certainly in terms of his divine ability to discern what was going on, we could say that unequivocally. Now, I don't think we should imagine that Jesus didn't know what was going on and so he asked them because he was trying to find out, rather we ought to see him challenging them to bring into the open an argument about which they had good reason to be ashamed. And once again, there's an almost comical incongruity in the picture of these grown men acting like guilty schoolboys caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Now they're confronted by the opposite challenge. Previously, they were prompting one another, go ahead and ask.

Nobody wants to ask. Now they're prompting one another, go ahead and answer. It's that kind of interaction, dealing with real men on the journey here, men whose lives have been picked up by Jesus, but not perfect men. Which is encouraging, isn't it? Because if your life has been picked up by Jesus, you're not a perfect man or woman either. No, they remain tight-lipped, because they recognize just how much dissonance there is between the expectation of Jesus and his focus and their focus and their expectations. Jesus is focused on his suffering.

That's what he's just said to them again, betrayal, death, three days, resurrection. It's all about suffering. But what are they on about? They're on about status. He's on about rejection. They're on about position.

Where do I fit in the scheme of things? Now let me ask you a question. If your Bible is open there at chapter 9, do you see anywhere in the page in front of you that there is the possibility for triggering this kind of argument amongst the disciples? The transfiguration. Because what happened in the transfiguration? Jesus singled out three individuals, took three out of the twelve, Peter, James, and John. You know how that goes, don't you? If again we think that the disciples all said, well, that's wonderful for you, Peter, James, and John, we are so glad that you're having that wonderful transfiguration experience, we've probably got the wrong end of the stick.

If we see them going, I don't know why you think you're such a big shot, Peter. I mean, transfiguration, trans-fuguration, whatever that was, I've had, I've been at one of those. No, you have not. There's only ever been one.

No, there was another one. You just don't know about it. That kind of thing. That's what may well have triggered it.

Nine are left out, three are taken, the nine don't like it, or the three are boastful. Let me tell you about when I was at the transfiguration. That was an amazing event. Oh, be quiet. We don't want to hear about your transfiguration.

Or maybe they just were processing the information, and they understood that Jesus said, I'm out of here. There's coming an end to my leadership. There's coming an end to my earthly pilgrimage. I'm going to be gone.

So they said, okay, he's going to be gone. That means the vacuum must be filled. That means somebody must be the leader. And then quite naturally, they start jockeying for position.

And somehow or another, that's exactly where these disciples had arrived. I think I'm the best man for the job. I think I'm actually the best of the disciples.

Oh, you do? Well, I don't think you are. Jesus said, hey, fellas, just a question for you.

What were you arguing about when we were coming down the road together? Well, they're too ashamed to reply. So they should be. So we should be. Now, it's at that point that Jesus calls a time out, isn't it? It doesn't say that in the text, but that's really what's happening between verse 34 and 35. And Jesus sits down, sitting down. It's interesting, that little note, sitting down.

It must be significant, otherwise it wouldn't be written there. It's probably to give indication of the fact that Jesus secured this as a specific teaching moment. Remember, it was customary for the teacher to be seated, standing up to read the Scriptures in the synagogue in Nazareth, and when he had handed the scroll back to the servant, he then sat down and Luke records, and all the eyes of the people in the synagogue were fastened on them to see what it was he was going to teach them. He sat in the position of the teacher. He does it again.

He sits down, and he says, okay, let's gather around, fellows. This is a teaching moment. We've got an issue here that we need to address. I've already given you one tutorial on this, the reversal of human valuation, when we talked about saving your life or losing it, or losing it and saving it. But I want to put it to you even more concisely, even more succinctly this time. Let me just give it to you in a phrase. If any one of you wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all.

Boy, what a … that must have been like a juggernaut hitting them. What are we arguing about on the road? Nothing. Well, okay, let's not worry about that just now. Let me just tell you, if you want to be first, you need to be the very last and the servant of all. Now, this isn't the last occasion, as we're going to see next time, when Jesus has to confront his disciples with his radical reorientation of their thinking. It is a challenge to natural human valuation. It's a challenge which demands constant repetition, constant repetition. If you want to be first, you need to be the very last.

See how upside down it is in thinking, how counterintuitive it is to 21st century thought about how you advance in the company, about how you secure influence in your realm. Jesus takes human evaluation, turns it completely upside down in terms of the realm of his kingdom. I don't know about you, but I should have this written on the back of my eyes. I find it so easy to forget or to ignore. And as a masterful teacher, Jesus then says, in fact, let me just give you an illustration of this to drive it home.

My instruction is succinct, and it's clear. If you want to be first, be the last, be the servant of all. Now, a child had no status, no prestige. A child was, if you like, at the lowest end of the scale of social order.

They were under the authority and care of others. You, he says to his disciples, have only learned what it means to welcome me when you are prepared to welcome the little ones. And presumably, the child represents those who like children are marked by littleness and by unimportance. Jesus says to his disciples, who are stuck on who's the greatest and who's first and where they're going to be and so on, he says, you'll know that you're grasping this kingdom story when you learn to welcome these, because when you learn to welcome these, you will be indicative of the fact that you welcome me, and in welcoming me, you are welcoming the Father who sent me.

Well, let's just wrap it up with a couple of observations. Question number one, concerning the disciples. Any notion that we might have of the disciples being a united little group, all closely knit, sitting around, holding hands, singing, I love you with the love of the Lord, is flat-out challenged by this little incident, isn't it? They had Jesus as their captain, they had decided together under God's leading that they were going to follow Jesus, and off they go, they're following Jesus down the load. Jesus says, I'm going up to Jerusalem, I'm going to be betrayed, I'm going to suffer, I'm going to be rejected, I'm going to die. And as they come behind, they're going, I am far more significant than you, Philip, I'll tell you that.

And just little snippets of conversation. I'll tell you, there's a good reason why you were not at the Transfiguration, Thomas. You are useless for transfigurations. Philip, it's questionable whether you should even be in this group. That's the kind of thing that was going on. And this is Jesus' core. Jesus gets him around, and he says, how many times am I going to teach this stuff to you? Have I been so long with you, and still you do not understand? And the great encouragement is, he sticks with them. And the great encouragement is, he sticks with us. Not because we are prepared to ask the question when we should, and we're prepared to answer the question when we ought, but even when we are afraid to ask when we ought, and when we're ashamed to answer when we should.

It's fairly obvious, isn't it? No brilliance in that. But I think the even greater challenge is in this. That the servant, says Jesus, his servant is recognized not by the honor he gives to those who have particular status, but by his response to those who, like children, possess neither status nor significance.

That's why I said our overarching heading for these studies ought to be, they just don't get it, do we? I look away from this passage in shame. I see my face in this passage. I hear my voice in this passage. I see myself scrambling for significance in this passage.

But maybe that's just me. What Jesus says is all about servitude. The pastor has cluded, it's all about status. And Jesus actually says here, whoever welcomes whoever, it's as if he's saying to the disciples, you think you've got a leg up because you're closer to me than the rest of those people that didn't get in this house? You think that because you serve in a particular capacity for Jesus, that you somehow or another have a prerogative that others don't have? Jesus says, no, I want to tell you something. Whoever does this, whoever the person is who does this, whoever the person is, they are able to bring people into the presence of divinity. They are able to bring others into the presence of Christ. Oh, so this is a question that we should be ashamed to answer, especially when we're arguing about who's the most significant. But the other is a question that we should never be afraid to ask—the question of who Jesus is, and why he came, and what his death meant, and what it means that he was raised after three days from the dead.

If you have been afraid of asking those questions and would like to consider them even this morning, it would be our privilege to address them with you now or at your convenience. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, and if after today's message you're questioning who Jesus is, why he came, why his death and resurrection matter, I want to recommend to you that you watch a couple of short videos on our website. One is a brief talk by Alistair explaining the Gospel, the other is an animated film titled What is the Story of the Bible?

You'll find both videos at truthforlife.org slash thestory. Now in today's message, Jesus made it clear that he welcomes children, and he expects us to do the same. So how can we help small children understand God's Word? Well, there's a book we're currently recommending that does a great job of introducing preschool age children to the idea of God's grace. The book is titled His Grace is Enough. Request your copy of the book His Grace is Enough today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us. The number is 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine.

In baseball, after three strikes, you're out. Will that be Jesus' response as well? Listen tomorrow to hear Jesus' reaction to his disciples as they persist in their selfish ambition. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the learning is for heaven.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-08 05:28:01 / 2023-02-08 05:37:04 / 9

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