32Now they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them, and the disciples were amazed. But those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve aside again, he began to tell them again about things that were about to happen to him. 33“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the son of man will be betrayed to the high priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the gentiles, 34And they will strike him, spit on him, whip him, and kill him, but after three days he will rise up from the dead.”
35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee approached him and said, “Teacher, We want to ask you something and have you do it for us.” 36So he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37They said to him, “Appoint us [to positions] so that one of us will sit at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” — Mark 10:31-37
In a short central section of the gospel of Mark Jesus tells his disciples three times that he is going to die. After each one, there is a strong indication that the disciples don’t understand. After the first declaration in Mark 8:31, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. After the second in Mark 9:30-32 we are told outright that the disciples don’t understand, and then this is demonstrated when they continue to argue about their position in the coming kingdom. In our passage today, Jesus again tells them what is coming. This time there is no statement that they don’t understand, but it is pretty clear that they don’t, because James and John immediately request the positions of power. If you’re headed to the cross, you don’t ask for the leading positions!
We look back at the disciples and we shake our heads in wonder at how they don’t understand what Jesus is saying. But do we actually understand any better, even with 20/20 hindsight? We look for the best positions in the world, and hope that the kingdom doesn’t get in the way. If we serve the kingdom, we’re looking for the best positions there. But what if Jesus is calling us to something else?
Here are three things that can keep us from understanding what Jesus is saying:
- Our own agenda. When Jesus announces his death in Mark 8:31, Peter is so confident of what is really going to happen that he rebukes Jesus. He tells the master that he’s wrong! Have you ever had a discussion with someone in a church committee, for example, and after much effort you believe you have persuaded that person to follow you’re plan, yet when the time comes, they still follow the one they accepted in the first place? I remember how it was to argue with my dad. He’d apparently listen. He’d nod his head. But in the end, he didn’t change his mind.
- Fear. We can use simple fear to exclude certain possibilities. What are you afraid of in God’s kingdom? Is it poverty? The dangers of living in a hostile foreign country? Embarrassment? Loneliness? You may miss God’s call because it doesn’t fit your plan.
- Ambition. What position is God calling you to? You can miss his call because your ambition doesn’t fit his call. We commonly use this to tell people they need to accept a lower position. But many people refuse positions of leadership because they feel inadequate. Their ambition doesn’t match God’s! Be ready to listen even if God calls you to something you don’t believe you can do.
We have just as much trouble today hearing what God is saying to us. I pray that God will clear the clutter in our minds as we listen for his voice.