“Shame and honor, cost and reward” (Mark 10:28-45)

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In Japan, there is a saying, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This is similar to a Chinese saying, “A bird that pokes its head out gets shot.” When we act differently from how society expects, we may be criticized and shamed.

Do you remember what the Japanese government did a few years ago to control the spread of Covid-19? One of the methods was the threat of shame. Travelers who entered or re-entered Japan were supposed to isolate themselves for awhile. If they were caught being outside unnecessarily, the government threatened to publicize their names. I thought that was a very effective tactic. I believe people in Japan are more afraid of being shamed in public than having to pay a large fine.

Today’s passage in the book of Mark has themes of shame and honor, as well as cost and reward. Before we read, let’s pray.

[Read Mark 10:28-45] 

Cost and reward (10:28-34)

Following Jesus comes with great reward. As Jesus promises in verses 29-30, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age . . . and in the age to come eternal life.”

However, following Jesus also comes with painful costs. In verse 30, alongside the rewards Jesus also mentions that we will have “persecution.” One dictionary defines persecution as “hostility or ill treatment due to religion, race, or other factors.”

Jesus himself was persecuted for obeying his heavenly Father. He warned his disciples about this in verses 33-34. He would be arrested, mocked, spit on, flogged, and condemned to death.

The disciples had trouble accepting these words. We see this in James and John’s behavior because, shortly after Jesus’ warning, they asked to be given positions of honor. The brothers said, in verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what you are asking for.” It seems the brothers imagined Jesus would be a military or political conqueror, and they wanted to receive glory as his closest lieutenants. Maybe they imagined that Jesus would take over the government and they could receive positions of power.

Shame and honor (10:35-45)

But instead of scolding them for their request, Jesus simply explains what true greatness and true glory are in God’s kingdom.

To receive glory, Jesus would have to drink the cup of suffering first. In the Old Testament, the cup is a metaphor for what God has prepared for someone. It could be a cup of blessing, such as the book of Psalms mentions (Ps 16:5; 23:5; 116:13). But it could also be a cup of wrath, such as the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel mention (Ps 75:9; Isa 51:17-22; Jer 49:12; Ezek 23:31-34). Clearly, Jesus is thinking of the cup of wrath—that is, God’s judgment for human sins. After all, the purpose of his death was to take the punishment for our sins.

He asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” The two brothers eagerly replied, “We can!” They probably didn’t realize what Jesus was talking about. Still, Jesus takes their willingness seriously. In fact, Acts 12:2 tells us that James died as a martyr not many years later.

Jesus had to explain to his twelve disciples, in verse 43 to 45: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”

The word “ransom” usually means money that is paid to free someone. The Old Testament often says that God “ransomed” his people from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon (Deut 7:8; Isa 35:10). And the prophets promise God will ransom his people from sin and death in the future (Ps 130:7; Isa 59:20; Hosea 13:14). Jesus himself—that is, God himself—offered his life as a ransom for us.

Our society may honor those who are kings, CEOs, wealthy, award-winners, and so on. But for God, honor belongs to those who serve others in humility and sacrifice. Jesus is our model for this. He bore our shame for us. He took our shame and gave us honor in exchange—the honor of being children of God, washed clean.

For this, God will reward him. As Philippians 2:9-11 says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the reward that awaits the Son of God who suffered shame to obey his Father.

My story

I think those of us from Asian families are especially sensitive to shame. After I became a Christian, I didn’t tell my mother about it for a whole year. I continued pretending to be a Buddhist!

What made me finally confess to my mother was reading Jesus’ words in Mark 8:38. He says, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

When I finally told her, my mother said to me, “You have brought shame to our family.” For many years, her words continued to make me feel ashamed. So, yes, I know it is not easy to be a Christian when other people disagree with your faith or even despise it.

But thank God, I have experienced not only the persecution Jesus warned about but also the reward he promised. By following Jesus, I may have lost something in terms of my family and my home, but I have also gained so much—just as he promised. He gave me many mother figures, father figures, and siblings in Christ. In many ways, I am much closer to my Christian family than to my biological family. I got to experience how a healthy and loving family should be. Of course, it is sad that I don’t experience that level of closeness and common ground with my biological family. I still feel sad about it today. But I do think that what I’ve gained is much more than what I lost.


To conclude today’s message:

If our God and Master experienced persecution and shame, we shouldn’t be surprised if we experience the same. And if he served us in humility and sacrifice, how much more should we do the same for others! God assures us that our reward for following Jesus’ example will be great; it will be greater than the cost we paid.

How was Jesus able to walk the path of shame and finally reach a place of honor? I don’t think it was necessarily easy for him, even though he was the perfect human being.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” In other words, Jesus endured hardship by focusing not on the shame in front of him, but focusing on the joy that was also there.

Allow me to read the full passage. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

After Jesus’ death, his close disciple Peter finally understood his Master’s words. He wrote, in 1 Peter 4:14-16, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

In the same letter, Peter wrote this to church leaders about Christian leadership. 1 Peter 5:1-4: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Praise God that obeying him does not come only with shame but with honor, reward, and joy.

Let’s pray: O Lord our God, whose blessed Son gave his back to be whipped and did not hide his face from shame and spitting: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever

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iPhone and ever. Amen.