I had the right of way. The other car didn’t yield and forced me to lock my brakes and screech to a halt in the intersection. An accident was avoided, but I was frustrated, to say the least—angry might be a better word. Have you ever had one of these experiences? I’m sure you have. I did forgive the person, but it took a few minutes to “cool off.”
Many drivers speed, are distracted, and are “confused” in traffic. There can be many factors involved when it comes to bad driving. But here is another factor that could be a cause of poor driving—pride. Sometimes we are a little “me-centric” when we are driving, or for that matter, about many things in life! I could argue that there is a “little pride in each of us.”
In our world, we compete against others constantly. Whether it’s jockeying for position in traffic, getting the best grades, performing better than others, working for job promotions, or some other pursuit, our human nature fights to be on top—sadly at times, even in family situations. But for the follower of Christ, this is opposite of what Jesus instructed his disciples. To truly follow Jesus, we must prefer others over ourselves. Jesus gave us his example, he came to serve, not be served.
Jesus said that the greatest in God’s kingdom would be servant of all. Again, just the opposite of how the world views importance. Today, let’s examine what it means to achieve true greatness in God’s kingdom by examining Mark 9:30-37.
Leaving Galilee for Jerusalem
Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi is a turning point in Mark’s gospel. Jesus now begins his trek toward Jerusalem, the cross, his death, and resurrection. This passage lets the reader know that the disciples still don’t understand that the Messiah must suffer by way of the cross. Jesus’ pronouncement about his betrayal is linked to the disciples discussing greatness in the kingdom.
Jesus is now privately ministering to his disciples. It is the final and most intense part of their preparation before his crucifixion.
He must complete the training of these twelve to change the world. They must carry the message of the gospel of the kingdom to the world after he is ascended. As they passed through Galilee on their way toward Jerusalem, Jesus didn’t want anyone to know it. He wanted to devote his attention and time to these twelve disciples and didn’t want them distracted by the crowds.
His training worked – after Pentecost, the disciples were transformed and empowered! Except for Judas, those who have betrayed and fled from Jesus, are now boldly preaching Christ. Luke records, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NKJV) And later in Acts, we read, “…These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17:6 NKJV)
2nd Announcement about the Passion
Mark records Jesus stating, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise on the third day.” (Mark 9:31 NKJV) This is the second time he reveals to the disciples what will happen to him in Jerusalem (see Mark 8:31 for 1st and Mark 10:32-34 for 3rd occurrences).
No parable here! Jesus is telling them plainly how he will be betrayed, suffer, die, and be resurrected (the passion). Jesus will be “handed over” to die—nothing will prevent this.
Peter and the others give no protest this time, but they still don’t understand—is it possible Jesus has a deeper meaning in telling us this again? Maybe Jesus is letting us know so we can prepare to rule with him?!
But, these disciples, much like the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were unable to see the relevance of Isaiah’s prophecies 700 years prior of the suffering servant, who will surrender himself willingly (Isa. 53:12). Jesus is not a helpless victim at the fate of others, on the contrary, he willingly hands himself over to those who will kill him in loving obedience to the Father’s will.
Jesus humble act of surrender becomes the redemption of humanity. Jesus’ prophecy about his upcoming death doesn’t end with gloom; rather, “I will rise in three days!”
Who is the greatest?
Jesus and the disciples arrive at Capernaum, for the last time. In private, he asks them what they were arguing about as they were traveling (Mark 9:33-34). They are embarrassed and don’t answer because they had been discussing who would be the greatest.
They simply don’t get the mission of Jesus! They are still expecting a conquering messiah, not one who will suffer and die. They think they will reign with him in his court, “who will be the greatest!”
They are expecting Jesus, their Messiah-King, to enter his capital Jerusalem and take up his throne to begin his glorious reign. Even though Peter, James, and John have seen Jesus glorified on the mount of transfiguration, they don’t yet grasp the meaning of his words to deny themselves and come follow him (Mark 8:34).
They are caught up with jealous competition for power and prestige.
Before we judge these disciples, let the passage remind us or our human tendency to seek our own glory in competition with others, rather than humbly yielding ourselves to God’s plan. Self-seeking and self-promotion is a sign of pride and creates contention. Consider what Proverbs states, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.” (Prov. 13:10)
First Shall be Last!
He gathers the twelve around him at Simon and Andrew’s home in Capernaum and begins to give them a further lesson on discipleship (Mark 9:35). He explains a foundational principle regarding Christian leadership, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (see also Matt. 20:25-28)
Jesus doesn’t condemn the desire to lead others, rather, he counters ancient world thinking of leadership. Humility and weakness in the ancient world were not seen as virtues, but as signs of weakness. The early Church’s embrace of this new ethic was part of what made Christianity appealing to many.
Paul also expressed this Christian ethic:
“Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” (Phil. 2:3-4 CEB)
Paul continues his discourse to the Philippians by examining the pattern of humility and servanthood Jesus gave us. Paul explains to his readers that we are to adopt this attitude Jesus possessed, humble ourselves, and serve others foremost.
Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8 CEB)
Jesus served others first and challenged his followers to do the same. Leadership develops through surrender, humility, and service.
Receive Children as Jesus Himself
To symbolize this new ethic, Jesus puts a child in their midst and puts his arms around him, instructing them to receive children as they would Jesus himself (Mark 9:36).
Once again, Jesus is coming against cultural norms. In the ancient world, children were considered “nonpersons” who had no legal rights or status of their own. In the OT, God revealed his special love for the lowly, those who are overlooked or oppressed by the powerful (see Deut.10:18; Psalm 146:9; Isa. 29:19).
“He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” (Deut. 10:18 NKJV)
With this act, Jesus is showing human affection for this child, and at the same time teaching the disciples to have a new esteem and responsibility toward those who seem most helpless and vulnerable.
Jesus explains his action with the child,
“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me…” (Mark 9:37 NKJV)
To receive and honor a child is to receive and honor Jesus himself. This principle applies to anyone who is considered “insignificant” in the world’s eyes—Jesus identifies with them and in some mysterious fashion, is present wherever they are welcomed.
Consider what Matthew wrote in his gospel,
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ (Matt. 25:34-40 CEB)
Jesus explains clearly that our treatment of those in the margins, the lowly, the nobodies in the world’s eyes, is the measure of our treatment of God himself.
This is the mark of true greatness—humbly loving and serving others with no other motivation but to love and help them with God’s love. No selfish ambition; rather, a selfless servanthood to minister the love and grace of Jesus. We are to be “doers of the word,” not just hearers.
Children and all people should be valued and honored—this is God’s way.
Pouring into our children and youth is an honor, not a task to be avoided.
Ministering to the poor and helpless is an act of the love of God. Jesus identifies with them and in some mysterious fashion, is present wherever they are welcomed.
Therefore, as followers of Jesus, let us not do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility, think of others more so than ourselves—this includes in traffic situations! Let’s think of how we can faithfully serve each other, spouses, families, and those outside of the Church, especially those in the margins of society—this is the Jesus way and the mark of true greatness in his kingdom!