To be his disciple means to pursue self-sacrificial service for others, and especially so to the weak and insignificant.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus explained to the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah, and not for the first time, for in the city of David, he would face his final confrontation with the Temple authorities and death at the hands of the Romans. Was not that city the appointed place where the prophets were killed, and the Messiah himself must suffer rejection and death?
What follows is the second of the three instances in Mark when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. And all three such incidents came only after he had commenced his final journey to Jerusalem:
- (Mark 9:30-32) – “And from thence going forth, they were journeying through Galilee, and he was not wishing that any should get to know it; for he was teaching his disciples and saying unto them, The Son of Man is to be delivered up into the hands of men, and they will slay him, and being slain, after three days will he arise. But they were not understanding the declaration and feared to question him” – (Matthew 17:22-23, Luke 9:43-45).
The disciples did not understand his warning. In Luke, this saying “had become veiled from them that they might not grasp it.” The very idea of a crucified messiah was contrary to human wisdom and did not conform to any popular Jewish expectation – (Luke 9:45).
In his saying, the Greek verb rendered “delivered up” is paradidōmi, “to give over, deliver, betray.” While some take this to refer to his betrayal by Judas, more likely, it points to him being “handed over” or “delivered” to his enemies by God, as predicted in the Hebrew scriptures.
This verb is in the passive voice, which signifies that he was acted upon; that is to say, God is the one who handed him over to those who wished him harm, then He raised him from the dead. This is the same verb used in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, for the “delivering up” of the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah:
- (Isaiah 53:6…12) – “The Lord delivered him up for our sins… Because his soul was delivered up to death, and he was numbered among the transgressors.”
Likewise, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that Jesus had been “delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” The sin of mankind was the cause of his death, for he died on behalf of all men – (Acts 2:23).
Despite his dire prediction, the disciples began to debate which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom. While Jesus described his mission as suffering for others, the disciples measured “greatness” by grandeur, position, and power. They continued to think exactly as the world does.
- (Mark 9:33-37) – “And they came into Capernaum. And happening to be in the house, he was questioning them: What in the way were you discussing? And they were silent; for with one another, they had discussed in the way who should be greatest. And taking a seat, he addressed the twelve and said to them, If anyone desires to be first, he shall be least of all and servant of all. And taking a child, he set it in the midst of them, and folding it in his arms, said to them: Whosoever to one of these children shall give welcome upon my name, to me gives welcome; and whosoever to me gives welcome, not to me gives welcome, but to him that sent me” – (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48).
The Greek word rendered “servant” is diakonos, the term from which the church derived the title ‘deacon.’ In secular Greek, it often referred to persons that waited on tables – (Acts 6:1-5, Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-12).
By embracing the child, Jesus demonstrated what it meant to become a “servant to all.” He did not use the child to symbolize child-like faith and innocence, but to show that the true “servant” is one who embraces fellow believers who are insignificant and marginalized. The point is how Jesus treated the child – (Mark 10:42-45, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3-4).
Jesus concluded, “and whosoever shall receive me does not receive me, but him who sent me.” He is the agent, the Divine envoy, God’s designated ruler, and his ultimate representative. To reject him is to reject God.
Instead of fretting about their own positions in the kingdom, the disciples should have been concerned about meeting the needs of the weak, the insignificant, the sick, the persecuted, and the outcast, and if necessary, laying down their lives for their benefit. As Jesus put it in the Gospel of John – “No man has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friend.” And he most certainly gave up his life for his friends.