Pride Goes Before Destruction

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place.

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 11:41-12:15 ESV

As God had promised, Solomon was allowed to complete his reign with his kingdom still intact. But upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne, would find himself facing a God-ordained crisis that would leave his kingdom divided and greatly diminished. It would be easy to sympathize with poor Rehoboam because he is completely unaware of what is about to happen. The day of his coronation should have been one of the most joyous occasions of his life. He was inheriting the vast kingdom his father had established but all the wealth and riches that Solomon had accumulated over the last four decades. He was a lucky young man. But the reader has a distinct advantage over Rehoboam. He knows something of which the new king is most likely unaware. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to divide the kingdom of Israel, awarding ten of the tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Rehoboam with only one.

For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:34-36 NLT

But any sorrow one might feel for Rehoboam is quickly dispelled when his true nature becomes apparent as he attempts to handle his first official crisis as king. For some undisclosed reason, Rehoboam had decided to hold his coronation ceremony in the city of Shechem, located in the land that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. His decision to hold this important ceremony outside the city of Jerusalem may indicate that he was aware of the potential problem with Jeroboam. It is likely that Solomon had warned Rehoboam about the potential threat from the Ephraimites. Prior to his death, Solomon had become aware of the prediction concerning Jeroboam, made by Ahijah the prophet, and he had attempted to have Jeroboam murdered. Jeroboam, who was an Ephraimite, had been assigned the task of supervising the conscripted labor force from among his own people. And in performing his duties, he had become aware of the heavy burden Solomon had placed upon the Ephraimites and other northern tribes.

So, Rehoboam may have moved his coronation to Shechem in an attempt to placate and win over the disgruntled Ephraimites. But this ploy would prove unsuccessful.

From his place of exile in Egypt, Jeroboam heard the news that Solomon had died, and he returned to Israel, where he was promptly appointed the official spokesperson for the tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam arrived in Shechem for his coronation, he was met by a large contingent of the people who made an appeal through their appointed leader, Jeroboam.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

Notice that Jeroboam did not restate the words of the prophet. He did boast about the promise God had made, declaring that he was going to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. There were no threats of insurrection or insurgency. He simply expressed the grievances of the people and their desire to have the heavy burdens of labor and taxation reduced.

This was a defining moment for Rehoboam. He could have seen this as an opportunity to unify the nation by demonstrating his intentions to be a fair and just king. Even though he was the son of Solomon, Rehoboam was going to have win the favor and trust of the people. And he was being given the opportunity to rectify some of his father’s less-than-stellar policies.

Having heard their complaints, Rehoboam sent the people away, assuring them that he would take everything into consideration and return with a decision. As the son of Solomon, the man who compiled and edited an entire book of proverbial sayings, Rehoboam would have grown up hearing all the sage advice his father had gathered.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22 ESV

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18 ESV

Only with sound guidance should you wage war, and victory lies in a multitude of counselors. – Proverbs 24:6 BSB

So, it should come as no surprise that Rehoboam sought counsel. He first “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). These men advised Rehoboam that he could win over the hearts of the people if he would respond favorably to their request. He could forestall any potential unrest by demonstrating that he was, first and foremost, the servant of all the people. While Rehoboam was from the tribe of Judah, he was expected to serve as God’s shepherd over all the tribes of Israel. By making this concession, Rehoboam could avoid a rebellion and establish himself as a compassionate and caring king.

But Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard. The author flatly states, “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). And in doing so, Rehoboam lived out the truth revealed in the proverbs his father had so painstakingly collected.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. – Proverbs 8:33 BSB

Unlike his father, Rehoboam had not been given the gift of wisdom from God. He was young and inexperienced and in desperate need of wise counsel. But when he received it, he rejected it, choosing instead to seek out those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Disliking the counsel of the older and wiser men, Rehoboam turned to his peers for advice. And they were more than eager to give it.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’” – 1 Kings 12:10-11 NLT

These brash young men appealed to Rehoboam’s ego. They advised him to law down the law and establish his reputation as a no-holds-barred disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist. These young men knew Rehoboam well and their advice was meant to appeal to his over-inflated ego and his desperate desire to escape the shadow of his father’s reputation. And in a demonstration of his inherent foolishness and pride, Rehoboam heeded the counsel of his peers and handed down his decision to the people. And in doing so, he fulfilled the words of the proverb.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe. – Proverbs 28:26 NLT

Rather than humbly heed the pleas of his people, Rehoboam listened to his own heart. But the author reveals that this was all part of the sovereign will of God.

…it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. – 1 Kings 12:15 ESV

God didn’t force Rehoboam to do what he did. This stubborn and prideful young man simply acted according to his own sinful nature. But in doing so, he was fulfilling the will of God. Rehoboam’s decision would fuel the fire that would end up burning down his kingdom. In his foolish attempt to establish himself as a great king, Rehoboam was unwittingly destroying his own kingdom. And, once again, he was living out the wisdom of the proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Turning God’s Blessings Into Burdens

1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. Never again came such an abundance of spices as these that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

11 Moreover, the fleet of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a very great amount of almug wood and precious stones. 12 And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of the Lord and for the king’s house, also lyres and harps for the singers. No such almug wood has come or been seen to this day.

13 And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants. 1 Kings 10:1-13 ESV

In the two decades that Solomon had served as king of Israel, the news of his incomparable wisdom, vast wealth, and rapidly expanding kingdom had begun to spread throughout the known world (1 Kings 4:31). News of his skills as a composer, author, horticulturist, and biologist further enhanced his already mythical reputation as the wisest man who ever lived. Intrigued by what they heard, kings and dignitaries from other nations sent their emissaries to Jerusalem to see if all the rumors about him were true.

…kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:34 NLT

And the author of 1 Kings provides an extended example of one such visit. On this occasion, the Queen of Sheba undertook the long and arduous journey to Jerusalem in order to witness the wisdom of Solomon firsthand. The kingdom of Sheba was located 1200 miles away, on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, in the region that is now known as Yemen. The queen traveled with a large royal retinue and brought with her a vast amount of spices, gold, and precious stones. And it would seem that the real purpose for her trip was to secure an alliance between her nation and the rapidly expanding kingdom of Solomon. From its location at the confluence of the Sea of Aden and the Red Sea, the kingdom of Sheba had been able to expand its dominance of the spice and incense trade in that region of the world. And a peaceful alliance with a powerful nation like Israel would only further enhance and protect their future prospects.

Upon her arrival, the queen was given a personal appointment with Solomon, where she was able to satisfy her curiosity about his wisdom and wealth. This interrogation was most likely meant to assess the validity of Solomon’s reputation but was also intended to assure the queen whether a treaty with Israel would be beneficial. In the end, she was left breathless by her encounter with Solomon.

…when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. – 1 Kings 10:4-5 ESV

She was blown away by what she saw and heard. And she confessed that the reality of Solomon’s wisdom and the greatness of his kingdom far exceeded the rumors and her own expectations.

“Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. – 1 Kings 10:6-7 NLT

The inclusion of this personal, third-party assessment of Solomon’s greatness was meant to validate all that the author had written up to this point. Her testimony was intended to prove that all the descriptions concerning Solomon’s wisdom and the wealth of his kingdom were far from rhetorical flourishes or hyperbole. It was all true.

And this pagan queen affirmed the divine nature of Solomon’s reign, deeming the people of Israel as the fortunate recipients of their God’s love because He had chosen to make this just and righteous man their king.

“Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” – 1 Kings 10:9 NLT

In a way, this statement is meant to remind the Hebrew readers of this book that their nation indeed been blessed by God. His sovereign decision to anoint Solomon as  David’s successor had been a divine act of love and mercy. He had given them a wise, just, and righteous king to rule over them. After decades spent conquering the nations of Canaan and fighting ongoing battles with the Philistines, God had blessed the people of Israel with a time of peace and prosperity. Saul’s reign had ended in failure and disappointment. David’s reign had been marked by war and bloodshed. Now Solomon was leading them into a period of unprecedented growth and success. This was meant to be a golden age for the nation of Israel.

And, almost as further proof of God’s blessing on the nation, the author records that the queen of Sheba gifted Solomon with “9,000 pounds of gold, great quantities of spices, and precious jewels” (1 Kings 10:10 NLT). The blessings just kept coming. Solomon’s great wealth continued to grow. And all of this was in keeping with the promise that God had made to Solomon.

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:11-13 NLT

But it’s important to remember that God’s promise had come with a condition.

“…if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” – 1 Kings 3:14 NLT

That important caveat must not be overlooked. And its presence constantly lingers behind the scene portrayed in chapter 10. God was faithfully keeping the promise He had made to Solomon, blessing him with riches and fame beyond belief. But the unspoken question that looms over this entire narrative is whether Solomon, in the midst of his growing wealth and notoriety, will manage to remain faithful to God. Or will he allow the blessings of God to become substitutes for God, distracting his attention and diverting his love.

Almost as an aside, the author reveals another example of God’s blessings on Solomon. He notes that Hiram, the king of Tyre, continued to shower Solomon with incredible gifts of great value.

Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir, and they also brought rich cargoes of red sandalwood and precious jewels. – 1 Kings 10:11 NLT

Without having to lift a finger, Solomon’s immense wealth was growing by the minute. God was using these pagan potentates to expand Solomon’s already extensive net worth. But would Solomon view these gifts as the gracious provision of God, meant to underwrite the divine initiatives He had in mind for the nation of Israel? Or would Solomon allow his growing wealth to fund a lifestyle of excess and dissipation? The answer to those questions can be found in the writings of Solomon himself.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! – Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 NLT

Solomon would eventually discover that even the blessings of God become disappointing and disillusioning when they are allowed to take His place. He had allowed his fame and riches, graciously given to him by God, to distract him from his worship of and commitment to God.

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

But at this point in the story, Solomon is enjoying the blessings of God. And having been exposed to the visual evidence of God’s goodness, the queen of Sheba returned to her kingdom, home more convinced than ever of Solomon’s greatness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Man of Divided Allegiance

10 At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house, 11 and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. 12 But when Hiram came from Tyre to see the cities that Solomon had given him, they did not please him. 13 Therefore he said, “What kind of cities are these that you have given me, my brother?” So they are called the land of Cabul to this day. 14 Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold.

15 And this is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon drafted to build the house of the Lord and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer 16 (Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; 17 so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horon 18 and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, 19 and all the store cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 20 All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel— 21 their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to devote to destruction—these Solomon drafted to be slaves, and so they are to this day. 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves. They were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.

23 These were the chief officers who were over Solomon’s work: 550 who had charge of the people who carried on the work.

24 But Pharaoh’s daughter went up from the city of David to her own house that Solomon had built for her. Then he built the Millo.

25 Three times a year Solomon used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built to the Lord, making offerings with it before the Lord. So he finished the house.

26 King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. 27 And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. 28 And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon. 1 Kings 9:10-28 ESV

Solomon doesn’t realize it, but he is at the midway point of his 40-year reign. He has just completed the construction of the temple, his royal palaces, and all the buildings that will house his administrative offices.

With these projects behind him, Solomon turns his attention to other pressing matters. First, he makes an attempt to compensate King Hiram of Phoenicia for all the material and financial aid he had provided over the years. Early on in his reign, Solomon had made an agreement with Hiram that provided Solomon with all the lumber he needed for his many construction projects, while Hiram received much-needed grain and olive oil in return.

So Hiram supplied as much cedar and cypress timber as Solomon desired. In return, Solomon sent him an annual payment of 100,000 bushels of wheat for his household and 110,000 gallons of pure olive oil. – 1 Kings 5:10-11 NLT

This agreement had lasted for 20 years, and during that time, Solomon had compensated King Hiram for all the lumber and he had paid wages to all the Phoenician wood-workers who had helped with the various construction projects (1 Kings 5:6). But now that all the work was done, Solomon wanted to make a gesture of goodwill to his friend in Phoenicia. So, he gave Hiram 20 cities located in the land of Galilee along the border between Israel and Phoenicia. This appears to be a gracious act of generosity on Solomon’s part, but it quickly becomes apparent that his gift was a bit disingenuous. When Hiram personally inspected the cities Solomon had given him, his response reveals his deep disappointment.

“What kind of towns are these, my brother?” he asked. So Hiram called that area Cabul (which means “worthless”), as it is still known today. – 1 Kings 9:13 NLT

Evidently, these towns were located in a region of Galilee that was not conducive to agricultural production. Since Phoenicia occupied a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, they were woefully deficient in arable farmland. That’s why Solomon’s compensation for the lumber had taken the form of grain and olive oil. At first glance, it would appear that Solomon had given them what they had always needed: Land on which to grow crops. But Hiram described Solomon’s gift as “Cabul,” a word that means “bound” or “sterile.” And while these 20 towns expanded the range of Hiram’s kingdom, they were essentially worthless. They provided no practical value. And what makes Solomon’s gift that much more egregious is that, over the years, Hiram had given Solomon 120 talents of gold. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 5 tons of gold.

One could almost draw the conclusion that Solomon was somewhat of a Scrooge, a financial tightwad who was more than willing to spend money on himself, but was a bit stingy when it came to others. And it’s interesting to note that Solomon had given away land that had been part of the inheritance given by God to the people of Israel.

It’s most likely that the 20 towns were located in territory that had belonged to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun. In awarding these cities to Hiram, Solomon was guilty of giving away land that belonged to the people of God. His willingness to give it away, coupled with Hiram’s poor assessment of it, reveals that it held no real value to Solomon.

One of the things that can be learned from studying the history of the Israelites is that every decision they made had long-term ramifications. The book of Judges reveals that, at one point, the tribes of Asher, Napthali, and Zebulun had been given the opportunity to conquer and occupy the land allotted to them by God, but they had failed.

The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. But the Canaanites were forced to work as slaves for the people of Zebulun.

The tribe of Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob. Instead, the people of Asher moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land, for they failed to drive them out.

Likewise, the tribe of Naphtali failed to drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath. Instead, they moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land. Nevertheless, the people of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath were forced to work as slaves for the people of Naphtali. – Judges 1:30-33 NLT

One of the reasons the Phoenicians even existed was because of the failure of these three tribes to do what God had commanded them to do. As a result of their failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land, the Phoenicians occupied territory that was supposed to belong to the people of God. Now, Solomon had just awarded the Phoenicians with even more of Israel’s God-given inheritance.

Solomon’s main focus was the city of Jerusalem. Having willingly forfeited the cities located in the north, Solomon poured his time and energy into expanding his royal capital. To do so, Solomon enslaved thousands of non-Jews to work as laborers on his various rebuilding and enlargement projects. He conscripted Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were living in the land of Israel to provide slave labor for his ambitious expansion program. These people were used to extend the walls of Jerusalem, connecting the old City of David with the newer area surrounding the temple complex and the royal palaces and administrative headquarters. They “built towns as supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed” (1 Kings 9:19 NLT). Solomon was constructing a virtual theme park dedicated to his greatness; replete with palaces, terraces, stables for his many horses, and barracks for his growing army. 

And it’s important to remember that God had warned that His kings were not to refrain from certain actions.

The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

The king must not take many wives for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

Solomon was in violation of each of these commands. And while at this point, it appears that the daughter of Pharaoh was his only wife, it wouldn’t be long before he expanded his household greatly.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

Whether it was wives and concubines or horses and chariots, Solomon always seemed to be in building mode. Enough was never enough. He even built a fleet of boats and began an aggressive trading venture that netted him 16 tons of gold. For Solomon, bigger was always better. And yet, late in his life, Solomon would make a sad but telling admission.

I increased my possessions:
I built houses for myself;
I planted vineyards for myself.
I designed royal gardens and parks for myself,
and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
I constructed pools of water for myself,
to irrigate my grove of flourishing trees.
I purchased male and female slaves,
and I owned slaves who were born in my house;
I also possessed more livestock—both herds and flocks—
than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem.
I also amassed silver and gold for myself,
as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces.
I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,
and what gives a man sensual delight—a harem of beautiful concubines.
So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,
yet I maintained my objectivity.
I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;
I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.
So all my accomplishments gave me joy;
this was my reward for all my effort.
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished
and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it,
I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—
like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained from them on earth.” – Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 NLT

They say, “hindsight is 20-20,” and that would prove to be true in Solomon’s life. He would one day discover that his obsession with constant expansion, endless pleasure, and rampant materialism would never satisfy. But at the midway point of his reign, he didn’t know any better. So, he continued to try and balance his love for the things of this world with his love for God.  He kept accumulating material goods, while at the same time, offering sacrifices to God. Without even realizing it, he was worshiping two gods. Solomon was living out the very thing Jesus would later warn His disciples about.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All That Glitters is Not Gold

1 Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.

He built the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Its length was a hundred cubits and its breadth fifty cubits and its height thirty cubits, and it was built on four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams on the pillars. And it was covered with cedar above the chambers that were on the forty-five pillars, fifteen in each row. There were window frames in three rows, and window opposite window in three tiers. All the doorways and windows had square frames, and window was opposite window in three tiers.

And he made the Hall of Pillars; its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth thirty cubits. There was a porch in front with pillars, and a canopy in front of them.

And he made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgment, even the Hall of Judgment. It was finished with cedar from floor to rafters.

His own house where he was to dwell, in the other court back of the hall, was of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage.

All these were made of costly stones, cut according to measure, sawed with saws, back and front, even from the foundation to the coping, and from the outside to the great court. 10 The foundation was of costly stones, huge stones, stones of eight and ten cubits. 11 And above were costly stones, cut according to measurement, and cedar. 12 The great court had three courses of cut stone all around, and a course of cedar beams; so had the inner court of the house of the Lord and the vestibule of the house. 1 Kings 7:1-12 ESV

Once Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s House, he turned his attention to the building his own royal palace. The author indicates that it took Solomon seven years to complete the temple and he spent an additional 13 years constructing the complex that would include separate residences for he and his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. According to 1 Kings 9:10, Solomon spent two decades of his reign overseeing these various building projects.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. – 1 Kings 9:10 NLT

From the descriptions provided, it seems that Solomon’s palace complex consisted of a series of different structures, including the two royal residences, as well as the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of Judgment, and the Hall of the Throne. These were evidently separate, but interconnected buildings arranged around a common courtyard. And each of them was equally impressive in size and grandeur. The House of the Forest of Lebanon alone was larger in size than the temple itself and featured the same degree of meticulous detailing and costly craftsmanship.

It would be easy to forget that these impressive structures were only made possible by the forced conscription of Israelite citizens. Back in chapter five, it was revealed that Solomon instituted a nationwide “draft” that would the large labor force necessary to accomplish his ambitious and ongoing building projects.

Then King Solomon conscripted a labor force of 30,000 men from all Israel. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts, 10,000 every month, so that each man would be one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of this labor force. Solomon also had 70,000 common laborers, 80,000 quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 foremen to supervise the work. – 1 Kings 5:13-16 NLT

Tens of thousands of Israelites were forced into service and required to dedicate 20 years of their lives to these seemingly never-ending construction projects. When one building was done, another one would begin. Stones had to be quarried, transported, and carefully carved. Massive amounts of trees were cut down and moved to the various construction sites, where they were transformed into wood flooring and panels to adorn the walls and ceilings of Solomon’s royal residence and administrative offices. The sheer number of common laborers, skilled craftsmen, and project foremen to complete 20-years-worth of construction projects is impossible to calculate. And this doesn’t include the additional labor force required to manage Solomon’s household, care for his extensive flocks and herds, cultivate his fields and vineyards, tend his gardens, cook his food, and provide ongoing maintenance for his extensive and growing kingdom. And all of this was in fulfillment of the words of Samuel the prophet, when he had warned the people of Israel about the consequences that would come with their demand for a king.

“The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NLT

Solomon was a good and wise king. He had been appointed by God Himself. But even his reign brought a certain degree of suffering and servitude upon the people of Israel. Their desire for a king had ended up costing them. Kings tend to build kingdoms. They go to war. They demand loyalty and allegiance. They wield power. They use their position to pursue their agendas. And sadly, they can end up treating their people as  little more than tools in their royal toolbox.

There’s little doubt that Solomon was successful in all his building efforts. When the final brick was laid on the last building, the completed project was a sight to behold. Combined with the temple complex, it must have made a powerful impression on all those who saw it. We know from chapter 10, that when the Queen of Sheba made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by the experience.

When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord. – 1 Kings 10:4-5 NLT

For 20 years, Solomon concentrated his efforts on building the physical representation of his kingdom. He built palaces, administrative buildings, throne rooms, judgment halls, and even a temple to accommodate the God of Israel. He was turning Jerusalem into a showplace where his power and prestige were on constant display. Visitors couldn’t help but be impressed by the opulence of his royal residences, the sheer size and scope of his administrative complex, and the grandeur of the temple.

But as will soon be made clear, there was something dark and foreboding lying beneath the shiny surface of Solomon’s kingdom. The trappings of success obscured a hidden danger that would prove to be Solomon’s undoing and the key to the Israel’s ultimate fall from grace.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus, another descendant of King David, would warn against the danger of building kingdoms on earth and investing all our time and energy into amassing treasures here on earth.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Impressed by the Wrong Things

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 12:41-13:2 ESV

Jesus and His disciples remain in the temple courtyard, where He underwent a series of confrontations with the religious leaders who had been attempting to entrap Him. In a bold affront to their arrogant sense of superiority, Jesus had labeled their displays of self-righteousness as nothing more than hypocrisy.

“…they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Mark 12:38-39 NLT

These men were addicted to fine clothes and flattery. They craved recognition and demanded the respect of all those whom they considered their inferiors. And almost as if to provide a glaring contrast to their style of behavior, Jesus directs the attention of His disciples to a poor widow. He has positioned Himself opposite the temple treasury where He is silently observing the various people bringing their offerings and placing them in one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles arranged around the perimeter of the Courtyard of the Women.

As Jesus looks on, a variety of people drop their freewill offerings into the boxes, many of whom are wealthy and can be seen donating large sums of money. Mark’s inference seems to be that their actions were intended to attract attention. The size of their contributions was intended to be noticed. Since all currency was in the form of coins, their gift would have made a great deal of noise as it clanged on the metal trumpet that topped the offering box. All heads would have turned to see who was giving such a generous amount.

But Jesus takes note of a poor widow, who “came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (Mark 12:42 ESV). This woman’s small gift would have garnered little attention from the people who crowded the temple courtyard, but she caught the eye of Jesus. She was exactly the kind of person He had mentioned in His diatribe against the scribes.

“Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public.” – Mark 12:40 NLT

This widow was someone the scribes and other religious leaders would have taken advantage of in order to line their own pockets. Yet, to Jesus, she represented the truly righteous. Her two small coins would have made little noise as they descended into the offering box, but to Jesus, her actions spoke volumes. So, He pointed her out to His disciples and said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box” (Mark 12:43 ESV).

It was not the size of her gift that mattered, but it was the state of her heart. She had not given to be noticed. Her gift had not been meant to impress. But Jesus knew that her gift had been a great sacrifice because she had “given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:44 NLT). This entire scene is a visual demonstration of Jesus’ lesson from His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

This woman, though poor, had sacrificed everything in order to give her freewill offering to God. But the others had given “out of their abundance” (Mark 12;44 ESV). It had cost them nothing. Their gifts, while impressive in size, had required no sacrifice on their part. They had actually profited from their efforts, having garnered the praise and admiration of others for their obviously generous contributions.

By pointing out this widow to His disciples, Jesus had been trying to continue His lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God. But it seems that His disciples remained stubbornly oblivious to all that He was trying to teach them. In fact, as they made their way out of the temple courtyard, none of the disciples mention the widow and her sacrificial gift. But one of them takes note of the grandeur and opulence of the temple.

“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” – Mark 13:1 ESV

The temple was a magnificent complex that made an impressive sight from its prominent location atop Mount Zion. The Jews took great pride in this grand structure and the disciples were rightfully proud of and impressed by its sheer size and beauty. After all, it was the dwelling place of God.

The image of the poor widow had faded from their collective memories. Now, as they made their way out of the temple and back to the Mount of Olives, their attention was fixated on the structure that Herod the Great had helped expand and improve. The original temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Seventy years later, God had allowed a remnant of the people who had been exiled to Babylon to return and rebuild the temple. But, when completed, the new temple was just a shadow of its former glory. Herod the Great, in an attempt to win over the people, had decreed a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the grand structure that now dominated the landscape and captivated the attention of the disciples.

But Jesus, always ready to turn every moment into a teaching opportunity, told His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2 ESV). As we will see, this news shocked the disciples. They could not believe what they were hearing. How could God allow His beautiful house to be destroyed? But as hard as it was to fathom, everything Jesus said eventually came true. In A.D. 70, the Roman army, under the leadership of Titus, besieged Jerusalem in an effort to put an end to a long-standing Jewish revolt against Roman rule. After a three-month standoff, the Romans invaded the city, destroying and eventually burning the temple to the ground. They left no stone upon another.

The disciples had been unimpressed with the generous widow, but they couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the temple. But Jesus ended up commending the woman and condemning the temple. She was elevated as an icon of righteousness and virtue, while the temple was declared to be the symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. As Jesus had declared earlier, the temple of God had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17 ESV). The dwelling place of God had been desecrated by the very ones who were responsible for its care and protection.

Jesus was reminding His disciples of the words of God, spoken centuries earlier through Isaiah the prophet and directed at the rebellious people of Israel.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7;8-11 NLT

Nothing had changed. Just as the original temple had been destroyed by God, so would this remarkable structure come under His judgment. Because the people of God failed to live in obedience to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Exposed and Condemned

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:35-40 ESV

Up until this point, it has been the Jewish religious leaders who have been asking all the questions, but now Jesus turns the tables on them. In verse 34, Mark indicated that, as a result of their three failed attempts to entrap Jesus, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” They simply gave up. But they didn’t go away.

As Jesus continued to teach in the temple, He posed a question of His own. Matthew indicates that He directed it at a group of Pharisees standing nearby. This was probably the same group who had shown up with the scribe who asked Him which was the greatest commandment. These men are still standing close enough to hearJesus but are most likely plotting their next move against Him. They have completed discounted any notion that Jesus might be the Messiah. This fact is important because it sheds light on the question that Jesus poses.

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? – Mark 12:35 ESV

It’s interesting to note that the three gospel writers who cover this event each word Jesus’ question slightly differently. Matthew reports that Jesus directed His question at the Pharisees, asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 23:42 ESV). And Luke has Jesus asking, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son?” (Luke 20″41 ESV). It seems likely that this was a series of questions that Jesus posed. First, He asked the Pharisees what they believed about the Messiah or Christ. After all, these men were the religious conservatives of their day and were supposed to be highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures.

According to Matthew, these men quickly responded, declaring that the Christ would be “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42 ESV). Jesus then asked the Pharisees to explain how the scribes, the experts in the Mosaic law, would justify their belief that the Christ would be the son of David. All of these men were supposed to have a strong grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures and they shared a common belief that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. But how would they justify it from God’s Word? One of the passages they would use was 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which records a promise that God had made to King David.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

While this promise was fulfilled in part with the birth of Solomon, the Jews believed it had longer-term implications that would ultimately come about through the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Keep in mind that Jesus has already publicly shamed these men, declaring them to be ignorant of God’s Word and strangers to the power of God.

“…you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Mark 12:24 NLT

Their understanding that the Messiah would be a descendant of David was what drove their expectation that He would be a powerful king and ruler just like His predecessor. They were fully expecting the Messiah to arrive on the scene and wield a sword just as David had, conquering the enemies of Israel and restoring the people of God to their former position of prominence in the Middle East.

But Jesus turns to the Old Testament Scriptures in order to teach a vital truth regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the opening verse of Psalm 110, a psalm written by King David himself.

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Psalm 110:1 ESV

Through His ongoing confrontations with the religious leaders, Jesus has been subtly revealing the justification for HIs authority. This whole situation had begun when the chief priests, scribes, and elders confronted Him over His unacceptable behavior in cleansing the temple. They demanded to know, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28 NLT). And in every subsequent conversation Jesus had with these men, He had gave them glimpses of who He was by revealing His knowledge of God’s Word and declaring Himself to be “The stone that the builders rejected” (Mark 12:10 ESV). Through use of a parable, Jesus had described Himself as the son of the master of the vineyard. And the Pharisees had fully understood His meaning,

But here, Jesus uses the words of King David to make an important point about the Messiah that these learned men had somehow missed in all of their studies of the Scriptures.

Jesus notes that, in the psalm, David refers to his coming descendant as “my Lord.” In Hebrew the text reads, “Jehovah has said to my Lord (‘adown).” In other words, David records that God had spoken a promise to his future descendant. But Jesus wants to know why David would call this man his “Lord” or Adonai, one of the most common names in the Old Testament Scriptures used to refer to God Himself.  So, Jesus wants to know why David used this particular word to refer to a man. And why would God offer a mere man a position of prominence at His side?

Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” – Mark 12:36 ESV

There was more going on in this passage than the scribes and Pharisees understood. Jesus is revealing that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, He would be David’s Adonai (Lord and Master). The Messiah would be the Son of Man and the Son of God, the God-man who was fully divine and fully human. Even King David understood that his future descendant would have a unique relationship with God that was greater than anything he had ever experienced.

And Jesus summarized His point by asking these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures to explain how this could be.

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” – Mark 12:37 ESV

But they refuse to answer. They had already discovered that their attempts to debate with Jesus had left them looking like fools. Yet Mark indicates that the crowd who overheard this conversation loved what Jesus had to say. To a certain degree, they probably enjoyed watching the public humiliation of these arrogant men, who prided themselves in their vast knowledge of the Bible and flaunted their superior righteousness. And, to their delight, Jesus dropped another bombshell.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:38-40 ESV

Mark presents a very abbreviated recounting of Jesus’ teaching, leaving out the seven “woes” that Matthew records. After putting up with a constant barrage of condemnation from these religious leaders, Jesus turned the spotlight on them. And, according to Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially told the crowd to “do as they say, but not as they do.”

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

In other words, these man taught the law of God, but failed to live up to it. They could proclaim the truth of God’s Word but had no desire to let it influence the way they lived their lives. And in Matthew’s account, He records that Jesus called these men hypocrites and blind guides. They were frauds. And, not only that, they were like blind men futility attempting to provide guidance to others.

Jesus declares that these men were more interested in their reputations than they were in living according to God’s will. They loved being recognized for their fine robes and coveted their status as celebrities. They were addicted to honor and recognition. It was all about them. And Jesus declares that these men will receive greater condemnation. God would hold them accountable for their pride and arrogant mistreatment of His people.

These men had no right to question the authority of Jesus. He was the Son of God and was doing the will of God. But they were supposed to be the servants of God, caring for the flock He had placed under their care. Yet, they had failed miserably.

But Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, would faithfully fulfill the the will of His Father, sacrificing His life for the sake of His Father’s flock.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Careful What You Ask For

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:32-45 ESV

For the third time, Jesus reveals to His disciples what awaits Him in Jerusalem, including additional details that paint an even bleaker picture. They are making their way from the region of Perea to the capital city, and it is a somber and silent procession. This time, there are no arguments about greatness taking place among the disciples. They are still trying to take in all that Jesus had shared with them while they were in Perea. And the last thing they heard Him say must have made an impact on them.

“I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions…” – Mark 10:29-30 NLT

To their shock and surprise, Jesus had told them that one of the rewards awaiting them for having left everything to follow Him (Mark 10:28) was persecution. They each aspired to greatness, but Jesus had thrown cold water on those lofty aspirations, promoting a lifestyle of humility and service instead. In fact, He had turned their expectations upside down by claiming, “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31 ESV).

So, as Jesus leads the way, the 12 disciples and a small contingent of other faithful followers tag along behind Him, confused and perplexed about what may lie ahead.

Jesus, fully aware of their reservations about returning to Jerusalem, pulls aside the 12 and provides them with one last reminder of His fate.

“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.” – Mark 10:33-34 NLT

Jesus was painfully explicit, refusing to hide the truth from His disciples. They are on the path that leads to Jerusalem, and Jesus reminds them that once they reach their destination, all hell will break loose – literally. The religious leaders of Israel will allow their hatred of Jesus to come to an explosive crescendo, resulting in His torture and execution. The one they consider to be the Messiah of Israel is telling them that He is going to die. Rather than being crowned the King of Israel, He will be condemned to death. Instead of being revered as the chosen one of God, He will be ridiculed and mocked as a common criminal, then killed.

But, as He had done before, Jesus adds the most important detail that His disciples continue to ignore: “after three days, he will rise again” (Mark 10:34 NLT).

What happens next is truly amazing, and it portrays the disciples in a very unflattering light. But it is not the first time these men revealed their true colors. In the previous chapter, Mark recorded their response to another one of Jesus’ attempts to explain His destiny in Jerusalem. The disciples had gotten into an argument over which of them was the greatest.

This time, it’s James and John who get exposed for their insensitivity and apparent stupidity. They just didn’t get it. Nothing Jesus had said seemed to have registered with them. Perhaps they were simply trying to avoid the awkward subject Jesus had raised. But, whatever their motive, their actions are difficult to comprehend or justify. Immediately after hearing Jesus describe His pending death in Jerusalem, these two brothers have the unmitigated gall to approach Jesus with a totally self-centered request.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. – Mark 10:35 NLT

These two men were the sons of Salome, the sister of Mary. This would have made them the half-cousins of Jesus. And it would appear that they believed their blood ties to Jesus qualified them for special treatment. In essence, they ask Jesus for a blank check. They want Him to affirm their request even before they make it known. But Jesus makes no such assurances, instead, He asks them to state their request. And what they share is truly remarkable and unfathomable.

“Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

Had they heard nothing Jesus had said? Were they so incredibly dense that they could not comprehend a single word He had spoken to them? All His comments regarding greatness in the Kingdom of God had gone in one ear and out the other. They were still expecting Jesus to ascend the throne of David and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, and they were hoping to nab the two most powerful and prominent positions in His administration. These two fishermen from Galilee were demanding that Jesus elevate them to the two highest ranks available in any royal court. When they had heard Jesus say, “many who are first will be last, and the last first,” they had completely misconstrued His meaning. They must have assumed that their lowly estate as fishermen made them the perfect candidates for these two highly prestigious roles.

But they had no idea what they were asking. When they mentioned Jesus coming into His glory, there were thinking a royal throne. But Jesus had referred to His glory as being His crucifixion. He told His disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25 ESV). 

The cross would be the means by which Jesus received glory from the Father. He would die, but then He would be raised back to life again. And it would be His death and resurrection that provided the final proof that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. That is why Jesus was able to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John clarified that Jesus was speaking of His death.

He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32 ESV

So, when James and John asked for the right to sit on Jesus’ right and left when He came into His glory, they were unwittingly asking to take the place of the two thieves who would be crucified beside Him. That’s why Jesus told them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). 

Their understanding of glory was way off. They were thinking of thrones, crowns, royal robes, power, and prominence. But Jesus was speaking of doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He would be “lifted up,” but to a cross and not to a royal dais with a golden throne. Jesus’ path to greatness and glory would pass through the valley of death. He would have to drink the cup of God’s wrath and be immersed into the suffering that must accompany the sacrifice of His life for the sins of mankind.

James and John, still unable to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, boldly proclaimed their readiness and willingness to handle whatever responsibilities came with their new positions. But Jesus informed them that their time would come. They would get their opportunity to prove their allegiance by experiencing the same kind of harsh treatment from the world as Jesus was about to undergo.

“You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience.” – Mark 10:39 NLT

James would be the first of the disciples to become a martyr for the cause of Christ (Acts 12:2). John would later be exiled by the Roman Emperor to the island of Patmos. And it is believed that he too eventually suffered a martyr’s death. But both men would be glorified and reunited with Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom.

When news of what James and John had done reached the rest of the disciples, they were incensed. Once again, the issue of greatness raised its ugly head as the remaining disciples fumed over the attempt of James and John to secure for themselves the two best spots in Jesus’ royal administration. And once again, we see that none of the 12 disciples were able to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Their anger reveals their jealousy and thinly veiled hope that they might be chosen for greatness. So, one more time, Jesus attempts to open their eyes to the truth. He contrasts the ways of the world with the ways of the Kingdom of God. They are two diametrically opposed systems that promote completely different brands of leadership.

In the Gentile world, leadership was all about power and domination. It was maintained by wielding authority and motivated by self-promotion and the subjugation of others. But God’s Kingdom operated on a completely different paradigm.

“…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.” – Mark 10:44 NLT

And just to make sure they understood what He was talking about, Jesus used Himself as the quintessential example of true greatness.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 NLT

Jesus was about to lay down His life for the sheep. Even though He was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, He was going to make the ultimate sacrifice that would pay the ransom for the sins of mankind. He would lead by serving. He would display His sovereignty by sacrificing. He would achieve glory through dying. And when James and John later witnessed the two thieves hanging on either side of their friend and teacher, it seems likely that their awkward conversation with Jesus would have come to mind. There before them was the greatest display of what Jesus had been trying to tell them. The innocent Lamb of God dying on behalf of sinful men and flanked by two common criminals who deserved exactly what was happening to them. In that moment, James and John must have realized that those were the two positions they had so arrogantly requested and so rightfully deserved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Price Are You Willing to Pay?

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:17-23 ESV

What happens next provides a perfect juxtaposition to all that Jesus has been trying to teach His disciples. He has been addressing their pride and the unhealthy competitive spirit that had caused them to argue over who among them was spiritually superior. It is likely that Peter, James, and John had bragged about their adventure with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, leaving the other disciples envious of the special treatment these three had received from Jesus. Each of the 12 disciples was trying to earn his way into Jesus’ good graces, hoping to secure a position of prominence in His coming Kingdom. And John had revealed their disdain for anybody outside of their circle who might hone in on their territory and rob them of glory. When he and his fellow disciples had discovered someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus, they had rebuked him, demanding that he cease and desist. But Jesus had surprised John by commending the stranger for His actions, saying, “the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40 ESV).

And in an effort to convict the disciples of their unhealthy obsession with greatness, Jesus had repeatedly used children as a way to illustrate the kind of attitude He was looking for in His followers. When the disciples had tried to send away the parents who were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might bless them, Jesus had declared, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15 NLT).

The disciples had viewed these children as a distraction. From their perspective, children were non-contributors, who required far too much attention, and could provide no real assistance when it came to the work that needed to be done. They had no rights, no money, no skills, and no way of helping Jesus usher in His Kingdom. So, why waste time with them?

And it was at this point that a young man approached Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV). Matthew adds that the man’s request was focused on what “good deed” he must do to inherit eternal life. From the conversation that followed, it seems clear that the men believed he had already done enough. He was young and rich, and from the perspective of most Jews, he was already blessed by God because of his wealth. He was also a religious man because when Jesus lists six of the Ten Commandments and tells the man to keep them, the man proudly announces, “all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20 ESV).

This man was looking for confirmation, not a list of things to do. As a faithful Jew, he believed he was a child of Abraham and, therefore, a rightful heir to eternal life. As a descendant of Abraham, he was guaranteed a place in God’s eternal Kingdom. Now, he was asking Jesus to place His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on his life.

The wording of the man’s question is very specific. He uses the word klēronomeō, which means “to obtain by inheritance.” This reveals that he believed eternal life was already rightfully his, but he wants to know how to he can get his hands on it now. He was not wanting to wait. His attitude is similar to that of the young man in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In this story, Jesus described another young man from a wealthy family who was destined to inherit his father’s vast riches. But unwilling to wait for his father to die, he demanded that he be given his inheritance right way.

“I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. – Luke 15:12 NLT

Finding himself suddenly wealthy beyond belief, that young man ended up spending everything he had on a life of excess and immorality. He had gotten what he wanted but had misused and abused it.

And, in a similar way, the rich young man who kneeled before Jesus was demanding that he be given what was rightfully his: His guaranteed inheritance of eternal life. This man had it all but he wanted more. He coveted the one thing that was missing from his portfolio: Eternal life.

Because of his wealth, social standing, and success at religious rule-keeping, this young man believed himself to be blessed by God. He views himself as a good man who deserved everything that was due to him. And if Jesus could help him get eternal life, he would have it all. But Jesus emphasized that “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV). As David wrote in his Psalm, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3 ESV).

And while this man could brag about keeping six of the Ten Commandments, Jesus knew the truth about his heart. It is interesting that Jesus only lists five of the commandments and they all had to do with the horizontal relationships between individuals.

“Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” – Mark 10: 19 ESV

And these five commandments bring to mind Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In that message, Jesus stated, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to explain what it looked like to “relax” one of God’s laws. He put hatred on the same par as murder (Matthew 5:22). He compared lust to adultery.

“…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 ESV

Lust, like adultery, is essentially taking what does not belong to you. It is a form of stealing. And Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29 ESV).

All throughout His sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a radically different picture of what it means to keep God’s law. It wasn’t just about rule-keeping. It was about a change of the heart. Those who hoped to inherit God’s kingdom would have to live sacrificially and selflessly. Their adherence to God’s laws would have to manifest itself in their relationships with others. That’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 ESV).

Which brings us back to the rich young man. Jesus turned to him and said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21 ESV). This proved to be the deal-breaker. This one “good deed” was more than the man could handle. He was unwilling to part with his wealth. All his law-keeping had cost him nothing. But now Jesus was demanding that he do one thing that would cost him everything. And think about what this man was giving up. He was turning his back on eternal life so that he could keep living the “good life.” Mark sadly reports that the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22 ESV).

He was possessed by his possessions. He was held captive by the things of this world. His love of material goods and temporal pleasures proved too great. And years later, the apostle John would probably recall this sad scene when he wrote the following words.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This man had been young and full of life. He was wealthy and blessed by every imaginable earthly pleasure. He was a ruler who wielded tremendous power and responsibility. In other words, He was great. He was all that the disciples hoped to become. When they looked at the rich young ruler, they saw the image of what they aspired to be. And as the disciples stood in stunned silence watching the young man walk away, Jesus further exploded their misconception of greatness.

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:23 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Least of These

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions don’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lowly Life of a Leader

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Mark 9:38-41 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing the disciples’ predilection for power and prominence, yet they seem to have missed the point. Their internal squabble over who was the greatest among them led Jesus to declare, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35 ESV). In His Kingdom, greatness was not measured by the significance of one’s role but the humility of the heart. Jesus, as the Son of God, was the second member of the trinity, yet “though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV). And, as Jesus later told His disciples, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20 ESV).

But as Jesus wrapped up his object lesson on leadership in the Kingdom, the disciples once again displayed their inability to grasp the vital lesson He was trying to teach them. This time, it was John who spoke up and not the ever-impulsive and quick-tongued Peter. And the topic John chose to raise at this particular moment in time reveals that he and his companions had failed to understand what Jesus was telling them.

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” – Mark 9:38 ESV

There’s an air of exclusivity and arrogance in John’s words. He was irritated that someone outside of their circle was performing miracles in the name of Jesus. In fact, this imposter was casting out demons. And from John’s point of view, this was unacceptable because Jesus had only given that kind of power and authority to His 12 disciples (Mark 3:15).

And it is important to recall that all this talk about greatness in the Kingdom had begun immediately after the disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a young boy. The boy’s father had come seeking the help of Jesus, but when He discovered that Jesus was not there, he had turned to the B-Team.

“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” – Mark 9:17-18 ESV

The disciples had failed. Despite the power and authority that was given to them by Jesus, they had not been able to cast out the demon. But that little setback hadn’t stopped them from arguing over who was greatest among them.

And John shares with Jesus their concern about outside competition. Whoever this individual was, he was operating without a license. From John’s perspective, this exorcist was infringing on their trademark rights. He had no business performing signs that were meant to be the purview of the disciples alone.

Mark does not give us the name of the individual who was casting out demons on an “unofficial” basis. And, in leaving out the man’s identity, it is almost as if Mark places him in the same category as the young child whom Jesus held in His arms. The unknown man was one of the least. In casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he was doing the will of the Father and yet, not for personal gain or glory.

And Jesus gently rebuked John and the others for their prideful attempt to stop the man from casting out demons.

“Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” – Mark 9:39-40 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was telling the disciples that they were all on the same team. This man was doing good and he was doing it in the name of Jesus. He was not in it for fame or personal gain. And by casting out demons, he was demonstrating the power inherent in the name of Jesus. He was displaying the superiority of the Son of God.

This entire scene is reminiscent of another encounter that is recorded in the book of Acts. Philip had traveled to the city of Samaria in order to preach the Good News concerning Jesus. While there, Philip also performed many signs and wonders.

Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. – Acts 8:7-8 NLT

But in the city, there was a well-known and revered magician who saw the actions of Philip as unwanted competition.

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic. – Acts 8:9-11 NLT

Simon began to follow Philip, watching his every move, most likely in an attempt to learn and steal the secrets of his power. But in time, Simon came to faith in Jesus.

Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed. – Acts 8:13 NLT

And when Simon observed Philip and the other apostles laying their hands on people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, he wanted in on the action.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” – Acts 8:18-19 NLT

But Philip, aware of the motivation behind Simon’s offer, rebuked him.

“May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” – Acts 8:20-23 NLT

Simon, who at one time had been called “the Great One – the Power of God,” was anxious to regain some of his lost prestige and he was willing to pay for it. He was jealous of the apostles’ power and longed to be restored to the position of prominence he had once enjoyed.

This does not seem to be the case with the man who was casting out demons. He remains anonymous and unknown throughout Mark’s account. And Jesus holds up his actions as being positive, not negative. The ones who were displaying jealousy and an unhealthy dose of envy were the 12 disciples.

They viewed this man as their competition. But Jesus insists that he is on their side. He was actually doing what they had failed to do, and he was doing it for the glory of Jesus. And Jesus points out that this man’s actions were actually a form of kindness aimed at the disciples themselves.

“If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” – Mark 9:41 NLT

Jesus compares the casting out of a demon to the sharing of a cup of water. One act was spectacular and supernatural, while the other was simple and seemingly unimportant. But each was an act of service. When done in humility and with a servant’s heart, the action brings glory to God and a reward to the servant. But when pride and prominence become the motivation behind what we do, we exhibit the heart of Simon the magician. And Jesus provides a stern warning to all those who would do great works in the name  of Jesus but for self-glorification.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

The disciples were struggling with a need to be recognized as great. They were obsessed with the desire for significance. And they resented anyone robbing them of potential glory. But Jesus was trying to get them to understand that their true calling was to mirror His own. They were servants who would be called to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. And Jesus would later tell the disciples a parable to illustrate the life of service and sacrifice that is to mark the life of a Christ-follower.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

Slowly, but steadily, the disciples were learning the invaluable lesson of true greatness. As Paul described it to the believers in Philippi, true greatness is best seen in the life of Jesus, and we are to follow His example.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. –Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson