The Most Remarkable Sequence in the Bible

Last summer I was teaching a class on the gospel of Mark. As we approached Mark 8-10, I described these three chapters as "perhaps the most remarkable sequence of the bible." I find this series of stories and teachings in the gospel of Mark to be breathtaking.

It begins with Peter's confession in 8.29, "You are the Messiah."

But Peter doesn't understand what this means. Jesus immediately describes what "Messiah" will look like (8.31): "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again."

Peter can't get his head around this, so he pulls Jesus aside "to rebuke him." Jesus responds, "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Peter has confessed, but he does not know what he's confessing. Peter and the disciples don't yet understand the Way of Jesus. So after rebuking Peter, Jesus begins to explain:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
But what does this mean? What does this look like? What is this conflict between the Way of Jesus and the Way of Satan? What follows are series of stories about being little, least and last. The Way of the Cross comes crashing, repeatedly, into the false and satanic expectations of the disciples:
Mark 9.31a-34
He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest
There it is again. The Way of Satan, the way around the cross. Wanting to be the greatest. Jesus responds by clarifying the Way of the Cross:
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Jesus illustrates by taking a child and saying, in effect, "Start thinking small and seeing small. I am found here, among the smallest, weakest, and most overlooked. Look for these little ones. Welcome these and you welcome me and the Father"
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” 
And what if we don't welcome these "little ones"? What if we reject and despise the "little ones"? Jesus answers with fire and brimstone. If you don't welcome the little ones this is what you should expect:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea."
To make sure we don't miss this point about becoming obstacles to "the little ones" we immediately see an example of what Jesus was talking about:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
We must welcome the little ones. We must not cause the little ones to stumble. But Jesus goes further: We must become little.

"The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
But the disciples still don't get it. This whole sequence repeats itself. In Chapter 10 Jesus again points to the Way of the Cross. And the Way of Satan immediately, as before, reasserts itself: the striving to be the greatest.
Mark 10.32b-37
Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “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, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 
Because of this a fight breaks out, everyone is still pushing to be the greatest:
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
And once again Jesus has to clarify--for the third time--what following him to the cross entails:
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. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Again, I don't know about you, but I find the dense teachings of Mark 8-10 about the Way of the Cross to be one of the most remarkable sequences in all of the bible.

I put Mark 8.27-10.45 right up there with Matthew 5-7, Matthew 25.31-46, and Luke 10.29-37.

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6 thoughts on “The Most Remarkable Sequence in the Bible”

  1. I'm right there with you... all this Christianity about getting power, either in the church or in earthly systems, is a bunch of rubbish.  "If we can get in power, we can fix things"...whether the things are morality like defense of marriage or sanctity of life, or whether the things are justice issues like care for the poor and oppressed and care for the elderly...   Either way, the systems of the world are all about "Gimme power so I can fix it".

    Jesus seems to say something TOTALLY different, consistently, constantly, and repeatedly...   and we STILL don't get it.

  2. Wow! I have never seen this sequence like that before. Each time the satanic way of "power over others" rears it ugly head, Jesus responds with encouraging His disciples to place themselves underneath others. I have always read this section as being just some stories glued together in the text and have never seen the connection. Great stuff! Thanks Richard :)

  3. I've been so profoundly affected by your Slavery of Death series that it seems like that theme pops up all the time.  The need among the disciples to be the greatest or have power probably reflects mankind's almost innate, universal desire for legacy and fear of death.   I really struggle to minimize myself and become little, to serve, to submit.  The irony is that even posting a comment here reflects some small desire to show how insightful and smart I may (or may not) be and to leave an electronic legacy!!

  4. You have probably read this but George MacDonald has one of the more profound commentaries on this passage, I love the way he is the first bit of Unspoken Sermons.

  5. I would argue it begins earlier, or at least that 8:22-26 makes for a good introduction to that section. It is, to me, the most fascinating healing story. Jesus lays his hands on a blind man once and asks him what he sees, and the man replies "I see people, but they look like trees, walking". So, Jesus puts his hands on him a second time and then his sight is fully restored. Weird, huh? How many other times does Jesus have to lay his hands on twice for the healing to take fully. But! Right away (or immediately since everyone's always rushing around in Mark) you launch into the section where the disciples are beginning to see, beginning to understand, but not fully, not really, and things are looking pretty weird. They see the Messiah, but now he says he's going to be a suffer-and-die Messiah? Makes about as much sense as walking tree people. So here comes the concentrated teaching on the way of the cross: Jesus has been doing and teaching, and now he will be doing again and teaching again in order to help them see more clearly and understand more fully. 

  6. There's a little bit more to the little child (the first one, anyway) than that.  Children had no social status, which means that helping them didn't boost one's own social status; they couldn't do anything for you in return.  To welcome little children, then, required setting aside the desire to be first, greatest, etc.; no one striving to be first would have had any time to waste on children.

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