And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to him, saying, Master, we would that you should do for us whatever we shall desire.…
It is clear that the whole passage we are to study today arranges itself easily around these three particulars: the fact of which they were aware, the counsel which He wished to add to it, and the argument from the one with which He proposed to enforce the other (see also Matthew 20:25-28).
I. What they knew was this: in all the forms of government around them, ecclesiastical or political, with which they were acquainted, the principle of "lordship" held sway.
1. In those times the prominent matter of notice was a tremendous hierarchy in the Jewish Church, and a domineering aristocracy in the Roman government. The ancient people of God had travestied His word, and perverted His ordinances, and forfeited His favour. The "rulers" usurped authority everywhere in matters of faith and conscience. They destroyed the revelation from heaven by overlaying of human traditions. And as they continued to grow unrighteous, they began to grow oppressive. And surely, those Jewish disciples needed only to be reminded of the hateful superciliousness of the Roman empire that was holding their nation in captivity. They did indeed know that their "great ones exercised authority upon them."
2. In our times the picture is quite like the old one in every point. Leave men to themselves, and the systems they are sure to construct will be centralized and monarchical. The common people will be dominated by lords, and the lords will have dukes, and the dukes will be put under a king. The one principle of organization is, that each one will try to monopolize position and power, and, by crowding down all he can beneath him, will seek to elevate himself into rule over the masses. Louis of France only uttered the universal sentiment when he gave his word to history: he was reminded that there was a State which ought to be considered: "L'etat! c'est moi!" was his answer: "The State! I am the State!" Look at the Papal Church, or the Greek Church. There are the poor worshippers that pray and pay and obey their leaders. Over these are the priests, then the prelates, then the archbishops, and ecclesiastics without number, narrowing in and rising up till they reach the patriarch or the pope. And even the tiara has its triple crown, running straight up to one point.
3. In all times this is almost inevitably the same. For unregenerate human nature is selfish and domineering. This is what "ye know." The best figure of this is a pyramid. Builders construct these masses of solid stone out of blocks. They place the lowest layer on almost a half acre of land. After a base is made, they draw in a step on every side, then rise for a new layer; then narrow in, and rise again. So the structure lifts itself aloft till the apex crowns it with a single stone. The people are at the bottom; the artisans, the paupers, the slaves, the great wrestling toilers, whom everybody proposes to live upon and domineer over, if he can. Then there come landholders and monopolists and capitalists. After this, we expect to find some aristocrats, with titles, and entails of primogeniture. So we reach what are called nobles; and so on indefinitely, all working towards a pinnacle at the top.
II. This, Christ says, "ye know;" and now He adds to it a counsel of His own: "so it shall not be among you" (Mark 5:43).
1. He surprised His followers by relinquishing the "lordship "and disclaiming the "authority." We must be careful to notice that He did not forbid ambition as a motive; He sought only to direct it into a new exercise (Mark 10:44). He did not say it was wrong to wish to be "chiefest," but told them that a Christian should desire to be chief servant to all.
2. He suggested that the humblest service constituted the highest dignity (Mark 10:44).
3. Thus He completely reverses the whole notion of those who looked for lordship. Let us come back to the figure which we just left. The "chief" should be at the base, the "servant" of all those above.
III. Now we are ready to notice the argument with which Jesus enforces His extraordinary counsel: He offers Himself as an example for absolute imitation (Mark 10:45). Consider the plain fact in this case. Let us turn to a passage in one of Paul's Epistles (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.