What can I do for you?
The contrast within these passages is quite striking. Jesus finished his teaching after meeting with the rich young ruler and said, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31). Then Jesus tells his disciples why the Son of Man came to earth (Mark 10:32-34). Yet we are reminded, again, that the disciples just still do not get it. This passage shows the contrast to who the disciples thought they were following. Jesus talks about his betrayal and death, then the disciples ask about sitting beside him in his glory. The contrast is not only between Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ understanding but also in the questions they ask. The rich young ruler came up to Jesus and asked him, what do I do to inherit eternal life? The disciples come and ask Christ to do something for them. Jesus asks the question, what can I do for you? This is the same question he asks blind Bartimaeus later in the chapter.
I. Bold Brothers (35-41)
Previously, Peter rebuked Jesus after he had told the disciples for the first time that the Son of Man must suffer many things (Mark 9:32-33). Jesus told Peter that he was thinking about the things of man and not of the things of God. Just following the third time, Jesus told his disciples that the Son of man must suffer many things. James and John approach Jesus asking him a question. They come to Jesus, placing him in a situation where he could make a foolish vow. Jesus only does the will of his Father, who sent him (John 6:38). Jesus does not grant them their request but asks, “what do you want me to do for you?” Their response is quite simple; we would like to be in the best seats in the house. One of us will sit on your right hand and the other on the left. After his teaching that those who are first will be last and those who are last will be first, James and John ask to be first. What a comforting passage. It might not seem like a comforting passage, but we are reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples, how long must I bear with you (Mark 9:19). It is comforting because Jesus is still there teaching them. He has not left them or scolded them. Jesus continues to bear with them. What a gracious reminder that it is to me that Christ still bears with me, even though all of my folly, all of my sinful requests that come from pride and self-centered desires, he still is there long-suffering by my side.
Jesus responds by explaining, you do not know what you are asking. Their simple request is more complicated than they first anticipated. They just wanted the best seats in the house. Christ had just told them of the suffering he would have to go through. Jesus asks the two disciples if they are able to drink the cup and be baptized like Christ will be. Jesus, knowing he is going to the cross where he will drink the cup of God’s wrath poured out upon him, and he will be placed in a grave for three days; this is the cup and baptism he is speaking of. There is an answer, which I believe they did not understand in all of its fullness, was “we are able.” Jesus explains that they will drink the cup and be baptized like Christ. They will have a life that bears Christ’s name and suffers his name’s sake for the Gospel. John will end up living his last days on the Island of Patmos, in prison, not at a resort. James will be the first of Christ’s disciples to be killed for Christ’s sake by Herod the Agrippa (Acts 12:1-5). The disciples talked about Christ in his glory, while Christ talked about his suffering. James and John would suffer like Christ by not the full wrath of God the Father poured out upon God the Son because Christ was victorious and made a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. Jesus returns to their request that he cannot grant anybody a particular position at the table that is not his, but it has already been prepared.
II. Servant Savior (42-45)
The wrong view of Christ has significant implications that end in the wrong view of what a Disciple of Christ looks like. Jesus graciously repeats what he has said before. He points to leaders in other nations, who lord it over others. They use their authority and power, not for the common good or the people but themselves. The nation of Israel had known this truth from their time under Pharoah in Egypt, who placed excessive workloads upon the Israelites. The disciples had seen this with their own eyes as they had seen the Roman empire come and lord it over them. This is how the world measures greatness, in the size of an army, in their authority over others. However, Jesus reminds them of the topsy-turvy way of his kingdom; “It shall not be among you…” Jesus explains that when he said before, “you must be last,” he really meant last. The way to the top is to the bottom. The way to power is through serving. The way to authority is humility. James and John had asked to be first in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus explained that if you want to be first, you must be a slave of all. This is a difficult pill to swallow. Jesus does not describe you must be a slave to one person. That statement would be a difficult one for anyone to digest. The follower of Christ is a slave to all. He calls the disciples to be a slave to all, a slave of slaves. In the hierarchy of society, Christ’s disciples should be at the bottom. The reason Christ’s disciples are called to serve is that Jesus came to serve. Paul uses this line of argumentation in Philippians 3:3-8,
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
The wrong view of Christ then shapes the Christian’s incorrect way of thinking. Jesus explains why the Son of Man came, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This has marked Jesus’ ministry; he has served others. He did not come to be waited on but served those around him. What a humbling thought that God the Son came down from heaven was hypostatically united to flesh. The one who created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, stepped into the world he created and walked this earth. The people who blasphemed his name, sinned against him, were the ones he taught, ate with, and healed. The one who has power and authority over all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities came as a carpenter. He would have suffered the curse because of Adam with sweat on his brow and a thorn or splinter in his finger. The one who holds all things together came to this dust-covered earth. The eternal begotten Son became a son of a woman. The Infinite Son was hypostatically united to a finite body. The eternal God stepped into history. The holy and righteous God came and dwelt and ate with sinners. He came not to be served but to serve.
Not only to serve but to give, not only to give but to give his life. He came to give his life that we might live. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8). Paul later explains that we were sinners and enemies of God (Rom 5:10). We have it in our minds that we are not that bad of a people; of course, we are sinners, everybody sins at some point. We don’t know the extent of our sin but the effect of our sin. The extent of our sin goes much deeper into our heart than we could ever imagine; even the good that we think we do is but like rotten rages to a Holy God. More than the extent of our sin, we do not realize the effect of our sin against the Holy God. We think that sin places a small barrier between God and man. A small fence we can climb, or a small ravine that we can cross. This is not true. God abhors sin. Sin places an ocean between God and man; man cannot cross. Even an ocean is too tiny an example. For man, it is impossible to reach God. Yet, Christ explains that he came down to earth to give his life a ransom for many. What has man done to deserve this? Nothing, we are enemies of God. Paul in Romans 5:8 starts the verse with a short word with significant impact, but God… What is impossible for man is possible with God. What do we bring in from Romans 5:7-8, our sin, that is all? Besides that, the passage is centered around what God has done for us. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ came to earth to give his life as a ransom to many.
III. Blind Beggar (46-52)
We see another healing Mark has placed here to give us another example of the disciples in all of this. The disciples have rightly identified Jesus as the Christ but have not fully grasped what Christ came to do. Blind Bartimaeus (one of the top ten great names from the Bible) goes from an outsider to a follower of Christ. James and John asked if they could sit on the right and the left of Christ in his glory. Now blind Bartimaeus meets Christ seated on the side of the road. Jesus asked the disciples, “what can I do for you? They asked to be seated in places of honor. Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “what can I do for you?” Bartimaeus asks for mercy, for the ability to be able to see. Before we get to the end, we need to go back to the beginning of this encounter.
There is a change in scenery in verse 46 as Jesus, along with his disciples and a large crowd, are leaving Jericho. As they walk along the road, a blind beggar is sitting on the side of the road. To be blind in the first century often had social ramifications alongside physical ones. Mainly, it was common thought that people who were blind suffered blindness because of a particular person’s sin (John 9:1-3). This, however, is not the case, blindness in the Bible can be used as an illustration, but there is no reference that it is because of a parent’s or child’s sin that they are blind. Within the Law found in the Old Testament, God forbid anyone from mistreating the blind (Deut 27:18, Lev 19:14). This blind beggar is not within city walls but along a highway. We find out his name, Bartimaeus, which is Aramaic for Son of Timaeus. Hence, Mark adds this comment to help his Greek audience know this name. We are not often told the name of men or women that Jesus heals. Mark could be recording this name because others knew Bartimaeus. Some Scholars have suggested Timaeus (Bartimaeus’s Father) was a well-known Greek Philosopher who was a student of Plato. We are not told any more than his name, and we would only speculate why it is included.
Bartimaeus hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming and calls out, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.” We have another unique recording in this passage. Generally, it is Jesus who commands others to be silent. However, this time the crowd is the one who tries to silence Bartimaeus. However, Bartimaeus is not silenced but again cries out, even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” We might know what the Son of Timaeus means. However, the term son of David was a title used to connect to the biblical promise given to David in 2 Samuel chapter 7. We will be studying this verse in our mid-week bible study in February without going into too much detail. One of the promises God made David in 2 Samuel chapter 7 was that one of David’s offspring would sit on his throne forever. David’s offspring and all the promises connected were called the “Son of David.” This is the first time in the Gospel of Mark that this promise is connected to Jesus. It comes up two other times in the coming chapters (Mark 11:10, 12:35-37). Peter confessed Jesus as “The Christ.” Now, blind Bartimaeus confessed Jesus as the “Son of David.” Bartimaeus’s persistence is to be admired. The crowd tried to silence him, yet he proceeded to get louder. Bartimaeus is not letting this opportunity slip away.
Bartimaeus calls out, for one thing, mercy. The only other time when the word mercy is used is Mark in Mark 5:19 when Jesus commands the man who lived among the tombs to go and tell his friends how the Lord had shown him mercy. James and John asked for power and prestige, Bartimaeus asked for mercy and compassion. The crowd thought they knew what God wanted. Exodus 33:19 says, “And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” God shows mercy to whom he shows mercy; he does not need the crowd’s permission. Jesus stopped and heard the cry of Bartimaeus. Sinclair Ferguson rightly points out that Jesus stops for people who call out his name. Jesus called Bartimaeus over to him and asked the same question that he asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” Within this passage, a word is lost in translation, it is not mistranslated, but it is hard for us to see the theme through these passages. The word is translated as “want” in the question from Jesus. The word could be translated as wish or desire. James and John desire to sit next to Jesus, but Bartimaeus desires to see Jesus. However, the other time this word appears is in the middle passage as Jesus taught his disciples, “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). James and John are the former, Bartimaeus is the latter.
Jesus responds as he did to the woman who was bleeding for twelve years, “Your faith has made you well.” Blind Bartimaeus is no longer blind. His previous identity is gone. George Whitefield explains two miracles in this passage; the first is that Bartimaeus can see, but the second is that the first thing he sees is Jesus,
“O! happy Bartimeus! Thy eyes are now opened, and the very first object thou dost behold, is the ever-loving, altogether-lovely Jesus. Methinks I see thee transported with wonder and admiration, and all the disciples, and the multitude, gazing around thee!”
I agree with George Whitefield that there are two miracles in this passage; however, seeing Jesus clearly results from these two miracles. The word used for ‘made you well’ can also mean to save; quite possibly, this has a double meaning that the faith of Bartimaeus has made him able to see physically, but also has made him spiritually sighted. Bartimaeus does not stay on the side of the road but walks on the same road as Jesus as he follows him. Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of David, came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Bartimaeus is walking the same path of discipleship, seeking not to be first but last and the servant of all. George Whitefield continues,
“with his bodily eyes, I believe he also received a fresh addition of spiritual sight, and though others saw no form or comeliness in the blessed Jesus, that they should desire him; yet he by an eye of faith discovered such transcendent excellencies in his royal person, and felt at the same time such a divine attraction towards his all-bountiful benefactor.”
Let us all cry out for mercy that we might see.