Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


The Dignity of Service

St. Mark X. 17-46.

"The Son of Man came . . . to serve, and to give His life."

P ICTURE scene of last Sunday's Lesson—crowd round our Lord—child in His arms. "Suffer little children," etc. Outside the crowd on the road; a young man walking up and down—restless, eager—waiting to speak his earnest question. What question? Was he satisfied with himself, like the Pharisees? Point out how lovable he was; and yet deep in his heart the feeling that he lacked something. What? Right desires? Earnestness? Humility? Belief in God? No. (Let children prove that he had these.)

Like doctor probing and questioning, Christ treats him to find out for him his lack. First rejects the careless, superficial use of word "good."  "You call me good. Why? Is it that you believe I am God? God only is entirely good; entirely able to satisfy your desire for good." Now next question? Answer? (v.  19). Was it true? Yes. But you might keep from lying, and killing, and stealing, and cheating without real religion. What is real religion? The reaching out of the heart towards God; the willingness to do everything for God's sake and righteousness' sake. Had he that? Yet he had a desire for it, and it touched our Lord deeply. (See v.  21). He looked into his heart, saw his striving for better things—his desire for highest, noblest life. Then with his great love for him, He saw that only one terrible test would show him his lack. It was an awfully hard test for a rich, prosperous young man, the favourite of the world. "Give up all and become a beggar, and follow me!" Like a surgeon risking dangerous operation, the only chance for his patient. Would it have been worth giving up all to follow Christ? What would he have got in exchange? The joy of self-sacrifice—of religion—of the favour and approval of Christ, and therefore of his own conscience. In a few months after hundreds did it: Acts iv. 34-37. He was just on the brink of gaining all this, and being happy for ever. Lord watched him. What would he do? His eternal life depended on it? Alas! he failed. (v.  22). But also he learned his lack of real religion. His question was answered. May we not hope that he came back again to Christ!

Then the Lord, with sad heart, and disappointed for this young man, told His disciples of the dangers of riches, and the grandeur of service for His sake and the Gospel's. (Question closely on passage vv.  23-31. Explain "needle's eye." Gates of towns had little side-gates called "eye of needle," through which only passengers could pass. Camel might push through if beaten hard, or very hungry, but could not carry his load through.)  In v. 30, tell children the joy of giving up all to go and serve as Christ's messengers to the heathen. It may be that this Lesson may be used to send some out from this old Church in like manner to those children of Ireland, who in the olden days were the greatest missionaries of Europe.

Now (vv.  32-35) He exemplifies the dignity of service in Himself. How trivial are riches and applause of men in Christ's view. The glory of life to Him was not riches, or comfort, or applause. No, but service. To serve men and suffer for them. To suffer what? (v.  33-34). Wonderful picture. Group of men on the road to Jerusalem—He, the leader, in front, going straight up to be crucified, with the firm resolve in heart, and the glory of self-sacrifice so appearing in His look, so that they were amazed. Felt how grand He was—how far above them. (Caution—Don't be too high flown or over children's heads in talking of this dignity of service. Illustrate from their own lives. Or rather, get them to illustrate by making them remember the pleasure in their own hearts of little deeds of nobleness and unselfish service of others.)

(2) The Lord disappointed in young ruler. Again disappointed now. After this beautiful teaching about self-sacrifice, see James and John, and their mother. See Matthew xx. 20. They were His relatives, and thought they could come behind the backs of the others and ask favours. What? What was wrong in request? How does it show they had not rightly learned Christ's teaching? What does He say? (v.  38). Meaning of this? Did they know that He meant suffering? Yes; He had just told them (v.  33). What did they reply? So they were brave fellows, and willing to suffer for Him; but they wanted to be put highest in glory above the others. If they had really Christ's spirit in them, what would the request be? "Lord, grant us to serve, to be of use in Thy Kingdom, even if it be in the lowliest place." Was the Lord vexed? No. He saw the good in them, as well as the evil. He knew that in the days to come they, like Himself, would know the glory of self-sacrifice. So He answered kindly. Did He promise the thrones? What? (v.  39). Pain—self-sacrifice—death for sake of Christ and Gospel. These He thought better than thrones. One day they, too, thought it. For the Lord's prophecy was fulfilled—how? James executed (Acts xii. 2). John exiled and martyred.

Still more disappointment? (v.  41). Why indignant? Did the Lord notice it? Yes. Think how disappointing to Him, with all His noble, beautiful thoughts, to have as His closest companions men who could not enter into His feelings at all. Here were they again disputing. Same disease of ambition and self-seeking was in them all. See how kindly He bears with them. Think how His words would draw out all that was good in them. "True greatness," He says, "such as I am following, is to be reached by the way of humility and the lowly service of others. I came to earth not to be"—what? Meaning of "to minister"? The ambition of men is to have many servants—the ambition of Christ was? To serve. Motto of the Princes of Wales, "I serve." What a glory it would give their lives if really followed their motto as Christ did. That was the glory He sought; and He goes on to tell the very height of that glory—what? "And to give His life." What a lovely world Heaven must be when that is the object of aim and ambition. To serve others. To give His life for others. Pray: "Lord, help me to understand Thee, to adore Thee, to follow Thee in my own lowly way in the ambition of service."

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