Lessons in Service
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
As is well known, the Gospel of Mark presents the Lord Jesus as God's perfect Servant.
God chose a servant who failed, Acts 13. 5, 13, and later recovered, 2 Tim. 4. 11, to write of the Servant who never failed, who needed no recovery and who always did "all things well", Mark 7. 37.
The key verse of the Gospel is undoubtedly, "Even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many", 10. 45. Generally speaking, the Lord is portrayed as ministering (serving) in chapters 1 to 10, and as giving His life as a ransom in chapters 11 to 16.
In this article we will note just a few of the ways in which the opening chapters of Mark's Gospel provide us with examples of service from the life of the Lord Jesus. We learn from:
1. His Experience of Privation, 1. 12-13. A simple outline of the opening paragraphs of the Gospel is: (i) The Preparation for the Servant, 1. 1-8, (ii) The Pleasure of God in the Servant, 1. 9-11, (iii) The Privation of the Servant, 1. 12-13, (iv) The Preaching o( the Servant, 1. 14-15. The point to note is that before the public preaching there was a time of privation and testing.
Mark's expression "in the wilder ness", 1. 13, implies what Matthew and Luke state explicitly — that, having had nothing to eat for forty days, the Lord was hungry.
This period of forty days can be compared with that mentioned in Acts 1.3. The former period preceded His calling of the apostles, Mark 1. 16-20; the latter preceded His leaving them. During the former period He provided clear evidence of His sinlessness and impeccability; during the latter He supplied many infallible proofs of the reality of His resurrection.
Our Lord is thus able to sympathise with all those who know the meaning of hunger.
Do we know anything of lack or self-denial for His sake?
2. His Sense of Dependence, 1. 35.
Note: The time. It was "a great while before day" — one of Mark's many time notes', 1. 32; 4. 35; II. 11, 19; 15. 25; 16. 2. The Lord prayed before He preached, 1. 38. He spoke to God before He spoke to men. The place. "Solitary" translates the same word as that rendered "wilderness", v. 13. That is, earlier He had shared a desert place with Satan; now He shares one with His Father! This was His "closet", Matt. 6. 6. The action. "Prayed" is in the imperfect tense, denoting His continuance in prayer. Mark records three occasions when the Lord prayed; once at the beginning, once in the middle and once at the end of his Gospel, of. 6. 46; 14. 35-39. Each time it was night and each time He was alone.
Do we back up our service with prayer in secret?
3. His Lowliness of Mind, 1. 36-38. His disciples followed after Him, v. 36. The verb implies that they needed to hunt Him out. It is used often in the Septuagint of soldiers pursuing their foe, e.g. 1 Sam. 17. 52. It is also used of bees chasing a man, Deut. 1. 44. Their comment, "All men seek for thee", indicates His attractiveness to the people. Clearly His words and works had made a great impression on the population of Capernaum. His re sponse, "Let us go", indicates His attitude to popularity. He would not
allow fame or popularity to interfere with His mission. Compare Philip's willingness to leave his successful cam paign at Samaria, Acts 8. 5-8, 26-27.
Danger lurks in "the praise of men", John 12. 43. We need to pray for the Lord's servants who are highly esteemed and sought after, "lest" they "should be exalted above measure", 2 Cor. 12. 7.
Do we serve in lowliness of mind?
4. His Feelings of Compassion, 1. 41. The word rendered "compassion" signifies literally the human heart, lungs, liver, etc, which were regarded as the seat of the affections. The word occurs in the Synoptic Gospels only and on every occasion is used either by the Lord or to express His own feelings for those in need; cf. 6. 34; 8. 2. Here it emphasizes His deep concern for the outcast who, because of his condition, was excluded from respectable Jewish society.
He "touched him". Mark often notes the Lord's use of His hands, 7. 33; 8. 22-23; 10. 16. Consider that those same hands were later nailed to a cross — for you!
For anybody else to have touched a leper would have involved ceremonial defilement. Indeed, the Rabbis "took extraordinary precautions to avoid even the remotest possibility of such defiling contact" (V. Taylor). But "the Holy One of God", 1. 24, stretched out His hand and the leprosy fled!
Is our service prompted by affection and care for others?
5. His Steadfastness of Purpose, 2. 1 to 3. 6. This section contains four distinct "conflict stories"; namely 2. 1-12; 2. 15-22; 2. 23-28; 3. 1-6. In the first He faced criticism from "the scribes", 2. 6-7, in the second from "the scribes or the Pharisees", 2. 16 R.V. (cf. Acts 23. 9), in the third and fourth from "the Pharisees", 2. 24; 3. 6. The first two criticisms were voiced in contexts of (i) healing and (ii) eating. The last two criticisms were directed against (iii) eating and (iv) healing on the Sabbath day.
The section illustrates the growth of opposition to the Lord and ends with a reference to His foe's decision to "destroy" Him. Yet, in the face of mount ing hostility and intimidation, the Lord continued undeterred. Opposition failed, as had popularity earlier, to mar His service for God.
Are we steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
6. His Fervency of Labour, 3. 20; 6. 31. The Lord was no stranger to hard work. At times He and the
disciples were so busy that they had no time to eat. He had come "to serve", 10. 45 lit, and serve He did! (The expression "eat bread", 3. 20, is a Semiticism for taking food of any kind; e.g. Gen. 3. 19.)
So full was His time that, on at least one occasion, He healed one person on the way to help another, 5. 27-31. Note Mark's comment, that Jesus knew in Himself "that the power proceeding from him had gone forth", 5. 30 R.V., and compare 3. 10; Luke 5. 17; 6. 19. Something went from the One who served to the one who sought! Serving others will necessarily involve us in cost — are we ready for it?
Mark later points out that the Lord continued to work even after He took His place at God's right hand, 16. 20. And so the Gospel which begins with Jesus "preaching" in Galilee, 1. 14, ends with His disciples "preaching" everywhere, "the Lord working with them".
Are we serving the Lord fervently? Are we willing to spend and be spent for Him?