The Intervention of God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - In Lordship and Servanthood

Reading: Phil. 2:1-16.

Features of the Gospel by Mark

We are very familiar with the fact that each of the writers of the gospel narrative had their own purpose in writing, and their own circle to whom they wrote, which very largely gave the character to their writings. The purpose of Matthew was to gather up all the best history of Israel and to set it forth in its relation to the Lord Jesus. Matthew therefore wrote specifically, although not exclusively, to the Jews. Luke had not so much the best history in mind, for there is not a great deal in Luke of the usage of the Old Testament with reference to Israel's history, Luke was rather moving out into that great progressive Gentile world of the Greeks, with a future extending far ahead. And with that mentality he wrote his gospel and brought the great progressive expanding world of Greek life into relation to the Son of Man. John is not content with Jew or Gentile. He is not limited to the mere race, nor to the earth alone. He oversteps the bounds of Jewish history; he oversteps the bounds of world history itself inclusively, and reaches back into eternity, and out into the universe, and deals with the whole in relation to the person of Jesus Christ.

Mark also had his object. He evidently wrote in relation to the Romans. His name is a Latin name. Strangely enough, his gospel is strewn with Latin words more than any other of the gospels. I know that there has been much controversy over the statement with which Peter closes his first letter in which he refers to Mark as being with him in Babylon, but I am going to be daring and venturesome about it.

A good deal of Protestant thought is against Babylon being interpreted as Rome, but I am of the opinion that Peter was speaking of Rome, and was himself there, and that Mark was with him. Peter called him his son Marcus who was with him in Babylon. There are good reasons why Peter should have used the name Babylon. The Jews would have known quite well to what he was referring, and it would not have done in those days for Peter to write a broadcast letter betraying to the whole Roman world that there was a fairly substantial colony in Rome; so he called it Babylon. It gives Mark a setting in the Latin world among the Romans, and when you remember that (and this is not merely technical detail) it has a bearing upon the object and nature of his writing, because his form of writing is so precisely according to the Roman mind.

The gospel by Matthew is exactly suited to the Jews. It is all Jewish in its atmosphere, its phraseology, and its content. Luke's gospel is exactly suited to the Greeks; it has their mentality all the way through it. John's gospel is perfectly in keeping with his object. Then when you sit down to read this little gospel by Mark, and you have any idea of the Roman outlook, it fits right in at once. Before we are through, I think you will see how true that is.

A great deal that needs to be said, if we are to get right to the heart of Mark's purpose, may seem to be technical, but it is not really so. For instance, it is necessary not only to have seen what we have just noted, but to bring Mark himself a little more into view. It is practically a settled thing now (although there is no definite statement in the Scriptures anywhere of the fact) that the writer of this gospel was none other than John Mark, with whom we meet on several occasions in the New Testament, and whose associations are full of interest and of significance.

John Mark, as you will remember, was the son of that Mary whose house in Jerusalem was the meeting place of the Christians there in the early days; the house where the Last Supper was held; the house where the Holy Spirit was poured forth at the beginning, and the house to which Peter went when he was released from his imprisonment. Peter, finding himself in the street, and "coming to himself, went to the house of John Mark, where the believers were gathered for prayer", the very house where the Lord had gathered His disciples around the Table, the house of John Mark's mother. In this connection a point of interest for us is that when the disciples said to the Lord: "Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare that Thou mayest eat the Passover?" He replied: "Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him... And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared...". It may be (for my part I think it to be most likely) that the man carrying the water-pot was John Mark, the son of Mary, whose house it was.

John Mark, you will remember, having had his home in Jerusalem with his mother, was found later at Antioch. While certain believers of the church at Antioch upon one occasion were waiting before the Lord in fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit said: "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). And they, when they were sent forth, took John Mark with them (verse 5). We do not know how he had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, but he was there, and he went with them.

The next thing we know is that he has left them. Somewhere in the course of the apostles' movements, John Mark had broken down; perhaps he had become homesick for we read that he went back, not to Antioch, but home to Jerusalem. The cause was evidently serious enough to make Paul take the very strong attitude which he adopted when later Barnabas proposed to take John Mark again. We know that he became the occasion for the rift between the two apostles. Then years afterwards he is mentioned again, and Paul sends a very loving greeting to him, and when writing to Timothy and asking for his cloak and parchments, the same apostle says; "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11, AV).

All that has been mentioned, as well as that reference by Peter to Marcus his son who was with him in Babylon, is in connection with the express object of this gospel. It is all a question of the Lord's rights in service, and our position in the Lord's mind as servants. Can you not see the servant features in all that?

We referred to the fact that Mark wrote for the Romans. The Romans had no time for philosophy, and there is no philosophy in Mark's gospel. The Romans had no time for the religious history of the Jews, and in Mark's writing there is nothing to be found. The Romans had no time for the artistic, like the Greeks, and there is no trace of it in Mark's gospel. You can almost hear the sharp precision of movement of a Roman soldier in this gospel. Look at the predominating words. There is one Greek word translated into seven English words or phrases, and it occurs a great number of times; the word: 'eutheos'. It is found forty-one times in this little gospel in different English forms such as "immediately", "anon", "forthwith", "straightway", "as soon as", "shortly". In the Authorised Version it is most frequently rendered "straightway". Put your pencil under every "straightway" in Mark's gospel, and the number will surprise you. Straightway! Forthwith! Immediately! Anon! It is the movement of a Roman soldier, is it not? It is the sharp precision of an order given and obeyed without any hesitation. There is no discussion, no argument, no philosophising, no temperamental moodiness. You get into the spirit of the gospel when you recognise that, and see what Mark is after.

On the one hand the very spirit, atmosphere and mentality of this gospel sets forth the fact that God has intervened in Christ to declare His rights: His right to be obeyed, His right to service. When, however, you widen that out into the latter part of the New Testament, that is, into the Epistles, and see all this as a spiritually realised thing, you find that in no way is it simply the case of One coming in and declaring that He is Master and means to be obeyed, of One affirming He has rights and is going to see to it that they are recognised! You find that you are taken deeply into the spiritual meaning of it all. That is why we referred at the beginning to the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although existing in God-form, in equality with God, did not regard it as something to be grasped at..." held on to, held for Himself, as His own right that He would not let go on any consideration, but emptied Himself of His own rights. No one in this universe was more entitled to that glory than He. There was no room for any question or disputing of His right to that position.

It was not a position which He assumed, which He took hold of, which He aspired to, but one which was His by absolute universal right, and He emptied Himself of His absolute sovereign rights, and took on Himself the form of a servant - the word is stronger than that, it is a bond-slave. Then, "He became obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross". Obedient unto the death of the cross! That at once reveals the cross to be no mere matter of man's crucifying of Jesus of Nazareth. The profound thing is that God made it known to Him that it was His will and He was obedient to the death of the cross.

The letter to the Philippians gives us the clue to this great universal fact that heavenly glory, heavenly order, heavenly beauty, all the great wonder of the Divine thought for this universe, can only be expressed, established, realised, enjoyed along the line of the servant spirit. It is almost too familiar to us, but it seems necessary to point out again, that all the heavenly order for man, all the Divine thought of the glory and the beauty of the Divine intention for this universe, was destroyed because someone who did not possess the right, grasped at equality with God. The right was not his, but he sought the position: "I will exalt my throne above the stars... I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:13,14, AV). That was the ruin of everything.

It is closely in line with the central theme that the apostle says, "If there be any beauty, any glory, any loveliness, anything which expresses God's own thought, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be of the same mind... look not every man on his own things..." (Phil. 2:2-4). All that looking on your own things, not being of the same mind, is the result of this thing which was done, which broke up the harmony of God's universe; and it was because one who was a servant of God - a very high servant, it is true, a very exalted servant, but nonetheless a servant - aspired to be master; left his own sphere, high and exalted as it was, in an attempt to take God's sphere. He ceased to be a servant in a high place and strove or aimed at being master in the universe, equal with God.

In order to recover, to restore the harmony of this universe, the beauty, the glory of heaven, the Divine order, it was necessary to destroy that evil spirit in the universe, because it became a spirit. Adam became poisoned with that evil spirit: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof... ye shall be as gods..." (Gen. 3:5). Adam succumbed to the suggestion that he could be equal with God, and the race was involved.

Is not that the spirit of the world? Is it not heading up rapidly to antichrist along the line of dictatorship? What is all that but mastery, dominion, government, summed up in a man, and God being steadily and firmly relegated to a back place? Oh, the blindness and the folly of it all! Oh, fools that they are! They read history with their eyes blinded. It is simply the outworking of this rebellion. It is going to work out to its own destruction.

But God is doing a new thing. He has intervened in a world thus corrupted, and in the midst of it He is doing a work in you and in me of a spiritual and moral character, where we will let go of self-strength, ambition, all self-will, and become servants and bond-slaves of Jesus Christ; and that is no easy thing to the flesh. It is all very well to talk about it, but when men of this world set themselves to get an advantage over us, to take advantage of us, to get their own ends at our expense, vaunt themselves in an assumed position of superiority over us, and take the attitude that we do not know anything and cannot do anything, how the flesh revolts and wants to show them that we do count for something after all. This devil-ridden and dominated fallen nature revolts against the servant spirit, and there are a very few people in this world who can graciously be servants. It is thought to be a mean thing to be a servant, a most despicable thing, a position altogether lacking in honour - "Surely there is something better than that!" No! By the Spirit of Christ the principle of servanthood has upset the whole history of the devil's work. God is recovering His heavenly order along that line. To be subject to God, to Christ in spirit in the House of God, is the way to the restoration of the heavenly order, joy, and peace.

Yet to what a degree has the very realm of Christianity become the realm in which fleshly nature has risen up to get advantages for itself, to make for itself a reputation, a name and position, prominence, and all the rest of it! But the Lord's triumph is in the realm where the Cross has smitten that, and is constantly smiting that, and where the true spirit is the true servant spirit. "Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5, AV). Why "for Jesus' sake"? Because the ends of the Lord Jesus can only be realised in that way, and it is for His sake; that is all.

So then there has to be the recognition of the fact that God has intervened in the course of this world's history, to show in His Son the way of the restoration of the heavenly order, and that is by an utter recognition of His Lordship.

Eventually that has to be universal. No one can escape it. It will be a universal acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. To us that brings no dread or fear of heart, but for many that day will be full of terror. Yet even for us the outworking of that to its deepest very often may cause some pain, some little struggle, some little conflict. The independence of this human nature, the wilfulness, the strength of self-determination, all these things cause us a lot of trouble while the Lord is dealing with them. But see the end! It is simply a matter of letting go to the Lord Jesus, of the acknowledgment of God in Christ as Lord, as Master. Saul of Tarsus came there when in the dust he said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6, AV). His career started in the servant spirit. If we want anything like the value of Paul's ministry it can only be in the same way: "Lord, what wilt Thou...?"

Let us repeat, that God has intervened to reveal in Christ His Lordship, likewise by Christ the true Servant. What is a true servant? If Mark's gospel says anything at all in its spirit and its language, it says prompt obedience, instant service. In other words, no arguing, no discussing, no getting round corners.

What was there that was singular about that man with the water-pot on his head? It was a most significant thing, since the men were not wont to carry the water-pots; the women did that. A most unusual sight in Jerusalem was to see a man carrying a water-pot on his head, as the manner was. That was the work of the servant, and the woman was the servant. So this man was marked out by the servant spirit, and the servant spirit led the way to the preparation of a place for the gathering of the church, led the way to the place of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

This may only be symbolism in the case of John Mark. He was a young man, perhaps full of enthusiasm for the movement, who went from Jerusalem to Antioch. Things were working in Antioch, and he was there, and then when it was proposed to take him on the missionary journey, he went full of enthusiasm, broke down, returned home, and is out of commission for some years, but not out of the hands of the Lord. Blessed be God, we may break down, but we do not get out of the Lord's hands. We may prove failures, but the Lord does not give us up.

We may have an 'off time' because we cannot face the cost of the way, but the Lord does not abandon us, and in the end, in the case of John Mark, the apostle is able to say: "Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me...". What has happened? The man has clearly passed from the level of his own natural weakness. His natural enthusiasm motivated him. We do not find fault with his intention, desire, will, but he went in the strength and glow of his own enthusiasm for the Lord, and that does not carry us through. Something more is needed if we are to persevere in this calling. It needs the Divine hand; it needs the spirit of the servant.

It may be that John Mark had visions of being a great apostle, a great evangelist, a great missionary, a great worker for God, and all secretly, perhaps imperceptibly, of John Mark being a great man for God, a great soul winner. But it is John Mark! If there is anything of that kind it undermines your spiritual history, and so it proved that John Mark broke down because it could not be otherwise with him when put to the test. But when God had done with John Mark, there was something more than John Mark, there was the servant spirit, not the master spirit - "he is profitable to me for ministry", for serving.

The necessity is for Christ in what He is, to be right at the centre of our being in the power of that mighty service, the strength of which is not that of master, but of servant. There is something mighty about the Lamb. There is something terrible about the Lamb. But, oh, how difficult it is to believe that. How difficult it is to practise that. How difficult it is to live on that basis, that the Lamb overcomes. We can believe the Lion overcomes, that the lion and the bear come out on top eventually, but to think that the Lamb is coming out on top when the dragon is abroad is very difficult.

The most difficult thing perhaps that many of us have to learn and the explanation of the severity of the work of the Cross in many of our lives, is just this: that it takes us so long to believe that the Lamb overcomes. Are you quite prepared to accept that, that when people begin to treat you with scorn, to tread on your corns tomorrow, the way to get the better of them is the Lamb? When people begin to come up against you, to take advantage of you, and set you aside, set you at naught, are you prepared to believe that the Lamb overcomes? It is very difficult to put that into operation, but there it is.

By becoming a bond-slave the Lord Jesus destroyed the devil and all his works. The Lord give us that grace. We must pray that this mind may be in us which was in Christ Jesus, who emptied Himself, took the form of a slave, and became obedient. The Lord give us that grace.

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