Last week in Mark 9:30-50 we saw Jesus wanting the disciples to stop think that they were great and have the humility to serve others no matter how lowly they were. But why is it that the disciples were wrong to think of themselves as great? After all, they were part of Jesus' inner group. What did they need to understand in order to swallow a vital piece of humble pie?
The first thing they needed to grasp, was that no-one can follow the commandments of the law. That's Jesus' point in v1-12; divorce may have been permitted by Moses, but only on the grounds of adultery (see Deut 24:1). Thus, breaking of God's commandments about marital faithfulness must already have occurred if divorce were to be granted. The Pharisees then, in asking about the lawfulness of divorce are exhibiting the same behaviour we saw back in ch7 - thinking that they could tick the boxes of the law and so be right with God. Jesus though is proving again that they fail to keep the whole law, and so is justifying here His condemnation of the Jews as truly 'an adulterous and sinful generation' (8:34).
He makes that point again when dealing with the rich young man in v12-27. This guy looks pretty impressive at first - if you were hosting a dinner party back in 1st century Judea, this is the kind of guy who'd be at the top of your list of invites. A young, wealthy, successful man, who's always kind and never says a bad word about anyone - and what's more, despite making his mark at a young age, he's humble (v17).
By the time we get to v20, things are looking pretty encouraging for this chap - after all, if he's kept all the commandments that Jesus lists in v19, that's seriously impressive. Surely, we think, if anyone can be confident of a place in heaven, it's this guy, right?
When we look more closely though at the commands that Jesus mentions, we notice that His list is far from comprehensive. In fact, the commandments Jesus chooses to include and omit are highly significant - all the commandments here are about how people should relate to one another, but there are none about how people should relate to God. While everything appeared so promising on the surface, Jesus' challenge in v21 exposes this man's crucial failure - he loved his money more than he loved God. He failed to keep the most important commandment of all.
Jesus then says something in v23-25 that shocks the disciples to their very core. It's pretty obvious that trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle is about as futile an exercise as anyone could imagine - you just can't do it. What's shocking is that Jesus says this is how hard it is for someone like this man, someone who has not loved God with all their heart, to enter heaven. That's what explains the disciples astonishment in v26 - they know that no-one has loved God with all their heart, so if even this man, who they thought would be the ideal candidate for entry into heaven, couldn't get in...how could anyone?!
Here then, in v27, comes the pride-crushing moment: Jesus says it is only by grace that anyone can be saved. The disciples need to recognise that Jesus' description of them as 'children' in v24 is entirely appropriate - for as those who cannot keep the commandments, they are utterly dependant on Jesus for salvation, they can contribute nothing. They must therefore 'receive the kingdom of God like a child' (v15).
Questions for application
- Having recognised that Jesus is saying we are just like the children in v13-16, how do those verses make us feel about Jesus?
- Why would it be ironic if we were to look down on the disciples in these last two chapters?
- What would seeing ourselves as children dependent on Jesus for grace look like in practice in our lives, esp. in the context of last week's study?