MAIN TEXT: MARK 9:30-50
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 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.” 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.” 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. For the one who is not against us is for us. 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. “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. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
The writer Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has given us a masterfully written account of the three-year ministry period of Jesus Christ. This gospel (a true report of how the victory was won) sets out to show every reader who Jesus is and what He did. Mark is setting up the cross and resurrection as the pinnacle moment of truth, love, purpose, deity, mission, and history.
Our text today begins with Jesus’ second of three announcements to His disciples of His coming suffering (passion) and resurrection (verse 31). Once again the implications sail over the heads of the disciples (verse 32). Of course, we know now what they did not know then. His goal is to prepare them for what lies ahead.
These verses are in the middle of what is known as the “great discipleship discourse”. Jesus is turning the value systems of this world upside down. The first time that He mentioned His coming suffering He told them:
“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35).
Now He presents them with another paradox: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).
His teaching is mind-blowing and radical. Our world is a world where everything is about me. Jesus died to free us from this slavery. He freed us to serve and walk a road that is less traveled. Mark 10:45 shows us His perfect example:
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
These teachings call us to change our minds as to the narrative that we will live out and lead us to concrete actions.
Verses 33-34 are blatantly honest. The disciples have visions of grandeur. Becoming a servant that is at everyone’s beckoning is not what they are fantasizing about. When Jesus asked about their discussion they are full of shame and embarrassment and are silent. In spite of Jesus forecasting His suffering and death, they had entered into a childish debate over who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. Who would be number one? Who would be at Jesus’ right hand?
The disciples seem to be deaf to what Jesus has said is true greatness. Serving others out of an overflow of gratitude to the gospel story has not sunk in. We do not associate greatness with servants. The Christian faith has both the cross and the glory of the resurrected Christ. This was not abstract for Jesus. Jesus was living out the principle that you cannot get glory without humiliation.
Jesus punctuates His point in verse 36-37. With such a high mortality rate among children before age 5 (perhaps as high 70-80 percent), a child was not considered to be of great dignity – they were last or least and insignificant on an honor scale. The child had no power, no status, and few rights. A child was dependent, vulnerable, entirely subject to the authority of the father. Jesus was appointing His disciples not to positions of greatness, but rather the position of a child. He desires His ambassadors to be children with no significance or dignity. The lesson was obvious – the disciples were not to consider themselves great. Jesus modeled helplessness and low dignity by being born as a baby. Children are not insignificant to God. They are loved and precious to the Lord. We must become as children, giving up our rights.
Unity, not exclusivity
John interrupted in verse 38. The same problem of pride is shown again. In essence, John said, “We forbade someone from healing in Your name because he wasn’t part of our group”. Whoever was doing this exorcism, though he was not a member of the twelve, was a follower of Jesus. The problem, from John’s perspective, was that he was not a follower of Jesus’ disciple. He was not part of their little club. If John expected affirmation or approval, he was sadly mistaken. This comment reveals a spirit of exclusivism and pride.
Jesus profoundly responded in verses 39-41. His words are a good foundation for us to not build walls between believers. We must recognize our essential unity with all who claim the name of Christ. Via Church has a statement before our core beliefs, which reads:
Our core beliefs are centered in Christ and His message as found and supported in Scripture. Scripture is our final authority. Biblical theology is the backbone of our convictions and practice. We embrace biblically based orthodox Christian thought. In essentials, we have unity. In non-essential beliefs, we have liberty. In all our beliefs, we show charity (love).
In our text, the disciples learn that God’s kingdom is bigger than their experience of it. It is so large that anyone who is for Christ is with us. Sadly, there are people who will not tolerate any deviation from their theology and feel that anyone that differs in non-essential issues must not be truly saved. This is foolishness and sinfulness. There are many expressions of Christian faith and not all will worship like we do. Some interpret biblical passages differently. Paul obviously understood this principle when he wrote Philippians 1:15-18. We should begin by appreciating everything that is done in the name of Jesus. Christ knows and appreciates any time that He is honored. Following Christ leads us to applaud and celebrate those on God’s team, even if they are different from us.
Service to others frees us. It gets our eyes off of us onto others who need the same Christ we need. Blessing others in word and deed is God’s major therapy for our sin of selfishness that eats the heart out of the local church.
KING JESUS IS THE GREATEST SERVANT!
NEXT WEEK'S PASSAGE: Mark 10:1-12
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Mark 9:30-50
What evidence is manifest in our current culture that, before redemption, we are addicted to ourselves? How does that temptation persist even after we are saved?
Howe does 9:39-40 support cooperation among Christian churches of various denominations? Do you tend to resist such ideas? Why?
What are some examples of giving a cup of water? How does doing it in Jesus’ name and belonging to the Messiah further define this good deed?