Mark 8-10: He Stoops to Conquer – The Servant King

What is it about Jesus that most captures your imagination?
When you think about Jesus,
what makes you most excited?
What touches your heart?
Brings a tear to your eye?

I heard this question from a pastor last year when I was in Malaysia
I thought about it for a bit, and then I answered…

Let’s look at the Bible first before I tell you.

A Mystery Man

This year we’ve been reading from the book of Mark.
Stories about Jesus doing amazing things.

When Jesus came to town,
Blind people saw the stars at night.
Deaf people heard the wind in the trees.
People who could not get out of bed for years,
Started jumping around like kangaroos.

When he taught the people,
his words had a power and truth they had never heard before.

Everywhere he went, the crowds were amazed.
They asked,

“What is this? A new teaching!
And with so much authority!”  (1:27)
“Who is this man?” (4:41)

Who is Jesus?
That’s the big question of Mark chapters 1-8

Jesus chose 12 men to be his special followers or disciples

Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.
Mark 8:29

What does that mean?
Hundreds of years ago,
God had promised that one day a great king would come.
He would put everything right that was wrong.
Like a superhero, he would save the world from evil!
In the Hebrew language, this king was called the Messiah.
In Greek, it is “Christ”

Who likes the Lord of the Rings?
Remember Aragorn.
At first, he just wore an old brown coat.
No one knew where he came from.
No one noticed him – like Jesus at first.
But who was he really?
The King of Gondor.
with the sword that was broken now made again to fight Sauron.
His people had been waiting so long.
It was The Return of the King.
They were so excited.

That’s how Peter and the disciples felt about Jesus.
He says, “You are the Messiah”
At last, our great King has come.

No Hollywood Hero

31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man [=Jesus] must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand [=tell off] him for saying such things.
33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Mark 8:31-3

Peter’s mind is full of power and glory.[1]
Shining swords, charging horses.
Superheros beating up the bad guys.
The return of the King

Jesus starts talking about suffering and rejection and death.
Peter says.
“Look Jesus, you’ve got it wrong.
You need to watch more Hollywood movies
to see how a real hero should behave.
Spiderman?  Batman?  Arnold Schwarzenegger?
You are even better than them!
None of this loser’s talk about suffering and death.
Don’t forget, you’re the Messiah, Christ, the King”

Does Jesus say,
Thank you Peter, you are right.
I’m glad I’ve got a friend like you.

Jesus says Peter’s words come from Satan, the devil!
“Your mind is full of human ideas, not God’s ideas.”
Your eyes are blind.

Who is Jesus?
The Messiah, the King – Peter got that right.
The next question is:
What sort of Messiah?  What kind of King?
And, what does it mean to follow him?
Here, Peter has more to learn.
Jesus said

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
Mark 8:34-36

If your only goal is to be rich and successful and happy.
If you own all the skyscrapers in Shanghai,
If you buy the whole forbidden city in Beijing for your home.
If you build a holiday house on the moon.
What happens when you die?
You’ll lose it all.
You will lose your soul

But if you give everything you have to follow Jesus.
you will save your soul.
you will have a real life that lasts.

True greatness comes from putting God first.
True riches come from giving everything away. (10:2)

They found this hard to understand.
But a few days later,
Jesus took them up a mountain.  (Mark 9:2-8)
He became shining white.
Bright as the sun on the snow.
It was the power and glory of God.
That was what a superhero looks like.
Things were back on track – bring on the bad guys.

They came down from the mountain,
and Jesus said these strange things again.

“The Son of Man is to be betrayed [= hurt by a friend] into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Mark 9:31-35

Betrayed, killed?
They didn’t understand.
They just wanted to be the best.

Maybe Matthew says,
I can write, I’m an accountant.
I’ve got brains – not like you guys.

Judas says, so what!
Jesus gave me the money bag to look after – he put me in charge.

Andrew says.
Can you guys row a boat?  Can you pull in a net of fish?
Look at these muscles.
Jesus needs real men like me to fight for him.

Peter says,
Where does Jesus stay when he is in town?
At my house!
Nice try, fellas, but I’m the best.
Hey Philip, can you clean my shoes?

Jesus says,
Sit down and listen.
You’ve got it completely wrong.
If you want first place with me, take the last place.
If you want to be number one in my kingdom,
be the number one servant.

Did you know,
the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, the greatest Christian leader,
is called, “the servant of the servants of God”.

Some years ago at Easter, I went to St Benedict’s up the road.
12 people were sitting at the front:
men and women, young and old, Pakeha and Maori and Asian.
The Catholic Bishop of Auckland took off his purple robe
He picked up a towel and a basin of water.
like Jesus did at Easter,
He knelt down and he washed each person’s feet.
That touched me.
What a great example.

Grasping for Glory

In the next chapter, Jesus teaches them some more:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn [=judge] him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock [= laugh at] him, and spit upon him, and flog [=beat] him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us [=let us] to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Mark 10:33-37

Maybe James and John lost the argument before.
But they know they’re really the best.
When Jesus sits on a great throne, ruling the nations.
They want to sit beside him and share his glory.

James imagines his clothes:
a new suit from Italy, a silk tie from Greece.
Queen Cleopatra herself couldn’t want a better looking guy!
John thinks about giving interviews on TV Rome.
“When did I first met Jesus?…
From the start he saw I was made of the right stuff…”
They go up to Jesus and say, “how about it?  Good idea?”

It’s disappointing.
Jesus doesn’t seem excited.
When the other disciples hear, they get mad.

Peter starts rolling up his sleeves.
Cracking his knuckles.
It looks like Jesus will have to heal some black eyes and broken noses.

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles [=non-Jews] those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants [= cruel rulers] over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
Mark 10:41-44

Are you seeing a pattern here in Mark?
Three times Jesus says he is going to suffer and die.
Chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10.
Three times the disciples don’t get it.[2]
They are thinking about greatness and glory.
Fighting over who is the best.

Three times Jesus says:
You want to be the big boss?
Then be a big servant.
You want to be important?
Then follow me to the cross.

Jesus is not so much like Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings,
A great king with a big sword and a strong horse.

He is more like Frodo.
A little hobbit, carrying a huge burden.
Going into the darkness alone.
At the end, the others go back home and are happy.
Frodo can’t.
He gave up his own happiness, he gave his own life, to save others.

Jesus came not to be served but to serve others
and to give his life as a ransom for many,
a payment to set them free.
Mark 10:45

Conquest on a Cross

In Mark chapter 11 they arrive in Jerusalem. [3]
And it happened as Jesus said.
Jesus was arrested.  He was beaten.
The King was killed on a cross.

James and John wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and left side.
But who had the places of honour?

They crucified two robbers with him.
One was on his right and one was on his left.
Mark 15:27

It happened like he said.
The good news is that everything happened just like Jesus said.
Three days later, he rose to life.

Through his suffering, through giving up his life.
Through going to the cross.
Jesus won the greatest battle of all.
He put himself last, and became the first.
He defeated our greatest enemy.
He destroyed the power of death.


What about Jesus most captures your imagination?
Here is how I answered:

“Power through weakness.”
Life-giving power that heals and saves,
through suffering and brokenness and death.

Some of my favourite songs show this.
One says,

O what a mystery
meekness and majesty…

Suffering to give us life
Conquering through sacrifice…

Lord of infinity stooping so tenderly…
Lord of eternity dwells in humanity
Kneels in humility and washes our feet…
Graham Kendrick

Meekness is what you see in a servant.
Majesty describes a king.

Another song is actually called “The Servant King”
I especially love the lines,

Hands that flung stars into space.
To cruel nails surrendered

The all-powerful creator of the universe,
Died on a cross.

It’s an amazing contrast.
It blows the mind.  It breaks the heart.
This is what touches me most deeply about Jesus.
What most captures my imagination.
Power in weakness.

Disappointing Disciples

Jesus is amazing.

But what do you think about his disciples?
For three years, they heard his teaching.
And they still didn’t understand.
I can’t believe how blind they are! [4]

The disciples want to share Jesus’ power and glory.
But they don’t want his weakness.
They don’t want to serve.
They certainly don’t want a cross.

Ever since then, the same thing has happened.
Many Christians try to be rich and powerful and on top.
The opposite of what Jesus said.

It’s easy to point the finger at bad examples, but what about me?
Am I any different?
Or am I just as blind?

Do I think more about being successful, or being a servant?
When I meet people, do I ask what I can get from them,
or what I can give to them?

When I’m waiting for the bus and someone pushes in front of me.
Am I happy to be last, like Jesus says?
Yeah right!

Jesus said that in the end
The first are last and the last are first.  (Mark 10:31)
He turns our human way of thinking upside down!

If you stand on your head, the world will look different.
Being rich and famous won’t seem so important.
You’ll see that it is serving others,
even giving someone a glass of water, that really counts (9:41)

But every day,
advertising tries to capture our imagination with the opposite values.[5]
It says the way to be happy is:
to have the best looking hair,
the fastest car.
the hottest sunglasses.
the latest iPhone.

The world’s values affect us all.
At my church in Kuala Lumpur, there were lots of young professionals.
Lawyers, business people, a few doctors.
I asked why they chose their job.
Most said it was a good career, or what their parents wanted.
Almost no one said they wanted to serve God, to help people,
to make Malaysia a better place.
I found that sad.

Many of you are about the same age.
Over the next few years, you might choose what to study.
What job to do.
Who to marry.
What country to live in.
Big decisions.
When you make these choices, are you thinking in God’s way or a human way?

Are you asking what will make the most money.
What will give you a comfortable life.
What will make you important and respected?

Or are you asking.
Where can I best serve God and others – China or New Zealand?
What job will give me the most opportunities to help people?
To do some good with my life?

Remember what Jesus said.
If you gain the whole world but lose your own soul, you have nothing.
Those who try to be first end up last.

If you give your life to serve God, to serve others.
You will find real life.

Serving the King

What sort of King is Jesus?
A servant King.
He put aside his power and glory to suffer and serve us in love.

What does it mean to follow him?
To stop thinking of ourselves, and serve others in the way he did.

How are you doing at that?
If I’m honest, I don’t do a very good job.

Some people  have caught the vision of power through weakness,
and it changed their life.
People like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King.
They refused to act like Hollywood heroes.
Refused to think like the world.
Refused to put themselves first.

They also capture my imagination.
Their lives show that the way of the cross can still change the world.
That the path of suffering service still has power.[6]

In the 1960s, the USA was very racist.
It was very hard for black people.
Some of them wanted to fight for their rights with guns and violence.[7]

But Jesus said to serve everyone-that includes your enemies!
Martin Luther King followed the way of Jesus.
He said to the people who hated him,

We will meet your physical force with soul force.
We will not hate you.
Do to us what you will.
We will still love you.

Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom,
but it must be our blood.

It’s the spirit of Jesus.
A true servant King!
Power that brings freedom, through suffering and weakness and death.

Jesus came not to be served but to serve others
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45


Later in the Bible,
Paul summed up in a few verses everything we’ve seen today:

Don’t do anything just to get ahead, to be first.
Treat others as better than yourself.
Think in the same way as Jesus.

Although he was God.
he made himself nothing.
He became a servant.
He was born as a human being.
He came down to the lowest level.
He died on a cross.

So God lifted Jesus up to the highest place.
He gave him the name above every name.
One day everyone will worship him.
Everyone will know that Jesus is Lord. [8]
Philippians 2:3-11

Meekness and majesty.
The last becomes first.

Glory comes through the cross.
Power and weakness.

This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him,
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King.


Jesus washing feet by Sieger Koder

Credit: jimforest

How is a human point of view different from God’s?  (8:33)

“Whoever wants to be first must be last.”  (9:35).
What did Jesus mean?
Have you experienced this?

Can you think of people who lord it over others?
Or who are servants?  (10:42-44)
Which one are you?
Which do you want to be?

What about Jesus most captures your imagination?
Do you want to follow him?

For more on God’s upside-down way of leadership
that most values people who are poor and weak,
see my messages:

or this recent post on what a different sort of King Jesus was.

[1] Jesus calls himself the Son of Man.  This comes from the Old Testament of the Bible, where a prophet Daniel had a dream, which also explains why Peter thought of power and glory:
In my vision I saw One who looked like a son of man… And he was given authority, glory and a kingdom. People from every nation and language worshiped him.
Daniel 7:13-14.
[2] Three times, the disciples fell asleep in Gethsemane.  Three times, Peter denied Jesus.
[3] The night before he died, Jesus had a last meal with his disciples. He gave an example of putting yourself last to serve.
He got up from the meal and took off his outer clothes. He wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a large bowl. Then he began to wash his disciples’ feet.
John 13:4-5
And again, Peter didn’t understand-John 13:6-9
[4] the central section of Mark, 8:22-10:52, is framed by two stories of Jesus healing physical blindness, highlighting the disciples’ need to have their spiritual eyes opened.
[5] Ched Myers writes of the “war of myths” and symbols for the imagination.
[6] “The cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power, determines the meaning of history.”  John Howard Yoder
[7] “Violence is like a raging fire that feeds off the very objects intended to smother its flames” (Giles Fraser).
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of propaganda, said one of the most chilling things I’ve heard:
“Even if we lose, we shall win, for our ideals will have penetrated the heart of our enemies”
[8] In a loud voice they sang,
“The Lamb, who was put to death, is worthy!
He is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength!
He is worthy to receive honor and glory and praise!”
Revelation 5:12