The Ministry of the Servant
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ministry or minister? An organization, a position of leadership, something else? Some organizations use the word ministry in their official name. At Heralds of Hope we’re an international Gospel ministry using media to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In 2001 I was ordained as minister of the Gospel for my role with Heralds of Hope. Both of these are common understandings of the words – ministry or minister.
But what’s really at the root of this idea of being a minister or engaging in ministry? The primary word that’s used in the New Testament, including Mark’s Gospel, is the word diakanos or some variation of it. It’s most often translated into English as the word servant. It’s transliterated from Greek to English as the word deacon. You may have a deacon or deacons in your church. Theirs is a ministry of help and service in the local congregation.
In Mark 10:45 Jesus said, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Or, as the NKJV puts it, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In my opinion, one of the mistakes we’ve made in the church is to define ministry as full-time Christian service. But that separates people into classes. It makes a distinction between what we sometimes call the sacred and the secular. The Bible doesn’t teach any such distinctions. It can leave the mistaken impression that full-time ministry is somehow more special or more desirable than working in a trade or profession. It artificially elevates people, and, because of that, pride becomes an issue. I’ve seen it in others, and I’ve had to deal with it in my own life.
Right now, I encourage you to get your Bible in hand or open the app on your phone so you can follow along with me as I read our text. In this episode of our study from Mark’s Gospel we’ll be looking at Mark 1:35 to 45. I’ve titled our study, “The Ministry of the Servant.” Based on my opening comments, that may seem a bit redundant, but I think you’ll understand my logic as we dig into this text. That’s Mark 1:35 to 45 and here is God’s Word to us.
In this text, Mark’s record of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee provides a TEMPLATE for us to follow in our service for Christ.
The three parts of the TEMPLATE for us to use in ministry are – cultivated by prayer, communicated by preaching, and confirmed by compassion.
The First Part of the TEMPLATE (for the ministry of the servant) is,
Cultivated By Prayer
Just prior to our text, the night before, Jesus had healed many people and cast out many demons. Since this healing service only began after the sun went down, we can assume the meeting didn’t break up until late that night.
So, after a long day of intense ministry, that must’ve been exhausting, Jesus most likely went to bed late in the night. You might say, “oh, but Jesus is God so that shouldn’t be a problem.” Hold on a minute! He was in a human body and subject to its limitations. The Scriptures make it clear that He experienced all the things we do in regard to our humanity. The kind of ministry Jesus was doing was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.
In spite of that, the text tells us that He was up very early the next morning before dawn. And the reason for His early rising? To spend time alone with His Father. He went to a deserted place, a solitary place to pray. This is the first record we have of what will become a pattern in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus fostered the growth and the effectiveness of His ministry through prayer. That’s cultivation. He wanted His work to be as fruitful as possible.
When the disciples awakened that morning, they expected Jesus to be there in the house with them. But He was nowhere to be found, so they went looking for Him. Eventually, they found Him, and when they did, they said, “everyone is looking for you.”
We don’t know exactly what the disciples meant by that statement but think about what had happened the night before. Isn’t it likely that those who were part of the crowd the previous evening came back and brought others with them? Absolutely, that’s completely possible, almost a certainty. They were expecting Jesus to repeat the events of the previous evening.
In response to the report of the disciples, Jesus didn’t say, “Great, I’ll go back with you, we had such a successful ministry there last night. Wasn’t it great?” Instead, He said, “let’s go to the next towns so I can preach to them. That’s what I came to do.” If you were involved in ministry somewhere and having amazing results like Jesus did, how willing would you be to leave that and go somewhere else? Think of the evangelist Philip and his ministry in Samaria, Acts chapter 8.
I believe there are a couple of reasons that motivated Jesus’ early morning prayer time. First, successful ministry is like a two-edged sword. It is wonderful to see people saved, healed, forgiven, set free, and transformed. When something like that happens, and we have the privilege of being part of it, there’s always that temptation to somehow think that it happened because of us. Remember, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that “He [Jesus] was tempted in every way, just like we are, yet without sin.” So, if you think Jesus didn’t have to deal with the temptation of pride, then the Scriptures aren’t true. I assure you; they are true! Jesus wanted the approval of His Father more than the acclaim of the crowds.
In addition, Jesus pointed out later, in Mark 9, that His ministry was dependent on prayer and sometimes fasting. Jesus knew that fellowship with His Father was more important than a full night’s sleep. I’m not suggesting we abuse our bodies and endanger our health by neglecting adequate rest, but do we understand the connection between prayer and power?
We read books on strategy and process, we attend leadership seminars, we map out goals for the week, the month, the year, 10 years, and beyond. But what percentage of our plans actually spring out of our fellowship with the Lord in prayer? Are we wanting to know His plans or are we asking Him to bless ours? [I am speaking as much to myself as to you or anyone else.]
Believe me, if Jesus felt the need to have fellowship and communion with His Father, how much more do you and I need them? And yet, I find, this is the hardest part of this template to follow. I understand the value of spending time with someone when I’m building a relationship with them. But too often, that understanding doesn’t translate into action in my relationship with Jesus. Do you find it the same way? Will you join me in a renewed commitment to make this first part of the template for ministry and integral part of your life? Let’s begin today to cultivate our service for the Lord through prayer.
The Next Part of the TEMPLATE (for the ministry of the servant) is,
Communicated By Preaching
In response to the disciples telling Him that everyone was looking for Him, Jesus said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” Pretty straightforward answer, isn’t it? Did you catch the primary reason for Jesus’ ministry? It wasn’t to heal diseased or disfigured bodies. No, it was to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. The purpose of the miracles was to draw the people so they could hear the Good News!
Even the Old Testament prophets predicted this. In the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus quoted Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…” The emphasis of Jesus ministry wasn’t on physical healing, although He did a lot of it, but rather on spiritual and emotional healing.
Jesus’ goal was to preach the Gospel as far and as wide as He possibly could. So, He went all over Galilee preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. And after His earthly ministry was completed, He turned that same responsibility over to you and me and all His followers. The focus of our ministry, as given to us by Jesus, is to go and make disciples of all peoples. That ministry is communicated with preaching, proclaiming, teaching, and living out the message of the Gospel.
Preaching has fallen out of favor somewhat in our time, particularly in the western world. Many worship services today emphasize music at the expense of the preaching and teaching of the Word. Singers and worship leaders become celebrities and the teaching of the Word is relegated to the end of the service, almost like an afterthought. A lot of ministry is centered around how it makes people feel instead of how the Word of God should impact their life and lifestyle. Much of the preaching is man-centered rather than Gospel-centered. As a result, the church is often perceived as weak and powerless.
It doesn’t matter if you have a formal title as a preacher or teacher or not. Every believer is engaged in ministry and part of our work is to communicate the truth of God’s Word to those we interact with. Coworkers, family, neighbors, friends, and people God brings across our path can all be ministered to through our service and witness. Jesus shows us how to do it.
We have some sayings in Christendom that have become cliches, but they’re still true. “Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read” is one of them. Another is, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Both of these center around our actions, but, like Jesus, we must be willing to speak when we have the opportunity. How are you “preaching” the Word in your ministry?
The Final Part of the TEMPLATE (for the ministry of the servant) is,
Confirmed By Compassion
The final vignette (vin-yet) in our text is this healing of the leper. As Jesus moves through the towns of Galilee, a leper comes to Him. He falls on his knees before Jesus, Luke says “falling on his face,” the highest form of homage in the eastern world. In that position he pleads with Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Notice, he doesn’t question Jesus’ ability, he doesn’t say “if you can make me clean.” No, he says “if you are willing.”
I find it interesting that the leper didn’t ask for healing but for cleansing. The Bible treats leprosy as an emblem of sin. So, leprosy is never spoken of as being healed, rather, it is cleansed. Think of Naaman bathing in the Jordan River in Second Kings chapter five.
It seems there was no doubt in this man’s mind that Christ had the power to cleanse him. He had either seen Jesus cure people or heard about His power to heal any disease, any sickness. But he wasn’t sure whether or not Jesus was willing to exercise that power for him. Would Jesus stoop so low as to touch and cleanse him?
Imagine his surprise and the horror of the onlookers when Jesus, in compassion, reached out and touched him! This was the ultimate defilement and social suicide. And then He used the leper’s own words to announce the cleansing; “I am willing, be made clean.” At once, the leprosy was gone, and he was cleansed. The contact, the command, and the cure followed each other in rapid succession. Jesus, the Creator, could touch the unclean without becoming unclean Himself.
We have no record in the Scripture of any Israelite leper cleansed in the 1500 years since the procedure for cleansing had been given in the book of Leviticus. Jesus attested to this fact in Luke 4:27. “[There were] many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” So, when this man presented himself at the Temple with the required two birds for the cleansing rites, it was proof that God was present among His people in the person of Jesus Christ. Messiah was here!
Jesus’ further instructions to this man to be quiet about what happened reemphasize the fact that He didn’t want crowds to come to Him primarily for healing. If there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s day, we can safely assume there were many in Jesus’ day too since the disease was incurable. If they all flocked to Jesus for healing it would hinder His primary ministry to preach the Kingdom of God.
Rather than treasuring his gratitude in his heart, this man disobeyed Jesus’ command and began to announce publicly what Jesus had done for him. I’m sure his intentions were good, but they had negative consequences for Jesus. He could no longer openly enter the towns and preach because the people thronging Him for healing.
There are people in our day who, like this leper, are considered untouchable. Since this text gives us a template for ministry, we must be willing to follow the example of our Lord. Am I willing to risk my social standing, my acceptance with my peers, or my self-respectability to touch the life of someone in desperate need? Are you? Do I realize that apart from the grace of God you and I are just as “untouchable” as this leper?
I believe this text gives us a template for ministry. Ministry must be cultivated by prayer if we want it to be effective. Genuine lasting change in a person’s life can only be accomplished by the power of God, not any programs or plans we may use. They’re useful, they’re important, but they are not the means to the end. We will seek God’s approval rather than man’s acclaim.
Further, the Gospel must be communicated by preaching, by proclamation. When we spend time in fellowship with God in prayer we will be filled with the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We will recognize that man’s greatest need isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. It will motivate us to do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Seeking God’s heart in prayer and tapping into His power through preaching will equip us to be moved with compassion on those around us. While we are not Jesus, through His power we can touch those deemed untouchable without becoming polluted by their sin. We can offer to them cleansing through Jesus that is impossible any other way and if they accept it, it will transform their lives now and for eternity.
Let’s recommit ourselves to following this template demonstrated so effectively by the ministry of the servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.