Allowing Himself to Serve

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Mark

Mark 9:30-37, “Allowing Himself to Serve”

There are certain things people just don’t do.  Some people don’t do windows – some people don’t do bathrooms – some people don’t change diapers.  There are certain things that some people never allow themselves to do, or allow to be done to them.

Everyone has limits, which is understandable…but consider for a moment the things that God allows.  God allowed mankind to put Jesus on the cross and kill Him.  Jesus allowed Himself to be a Servant to all men – even those who were His traitorous enemies.  All of a sudden, our limits can seem somewhat small.

As Jesus continues His journey to Jerusalem, He teaches the disciples once more about His coming suffering and death.  And what do they focus on?  Their limits, or at least the things they desire for themselves.  They want greatness; they don’t want to allow themselves to serve – quite the opposite of Jesus.

Of course, we need to remember our context.  All of this takes place in light of the transfiguration, and Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ…  Failure to cast demon out of a boy… This is the 2nd major prophecy of Jesus’ coming death and resurrection after these events, and it’s after this that the petty argument among the disciples takes place.

The prediction of Jesus’ betrayal and death is a massive contrast with the disciples’ argument about their own personal greatness.  Jesus was explaining His service on behalf of the lowly, and the Twelve were looking to personal glory.  No doubt, the disciples would be rewarded.  But that wasn’t what was coming first…that wasn’t even in the near future.  Jesus had something far more pressing and far more important in the coming days, of which the disciples barely understood.  The Son of Man would suffer immensely as He served the least of all people in His service to God.  The disciples would themselves have to experience something similar if they were to understand the greatness of God.  But thus far, they didn’t get it.

What God the Son humbly allowed to happen to Himself, contrasts massively with what the disciples so greedily attempted to grasp.  He allowed Himself to suffer and to serve, and His followers are to do the same.

Mark 9:30–37
30 Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.

  1. The fact that they were passing through Galilee seems to emphasize that Jesus and the disciples were headed south again.  Although the traditional location for the transfiguration is Mt. Tabor, this particular mountain is within the region of Galilee.  The “from there” is the site of the transfiguration, as Jesus had just come down from the mount when the remaining 9 disciples at the bottom had brought to Him the boy possessed with a demon they were unable to cast out.  Jesus was more likely in the north, at Mt. Hermon, which is closer to Caesarea Philippi.  The whole idea now is that Jesus is headed south.  He’s got a singular location in mind: Jerusalem.  The focus of Mark’s gospel is clear, as all of the attention is put on Jesus’ coming passion and crucifixion.  (Of course, it’s clear to the reader, but not to the 12…and that’s part of the problem!)
  2. Interestingly, Jesus wanted to keep His presence in Galilee a secret.  Jesus had been in Galilee many times before – in fact, the bulk of His ministry had taken place there.  Normally, when Jesus would go through Galilee He would be mobbed with people.  The last time He had been there, He had healed a man of blindness (8:25).  People were looking at Jesus as an incredible worker of miracles, and He often had difficulty getting any time alone with His disciples.  Yet at this particular point in His ministry, it was important to Jesus.  “He did not want anyone to know” that He had come to Galilee.  Mark actually gives us the reason why in vs. 31 with the “for.”  There were some things at this point that Jesus needed His disciples to understand, and the crowds would be a distraction.

31 For He taught His disciples and said to them, “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 the third day.”

  1. What was Jesus teaching?  His coming suffering at Jerusalem.  He had already taught this just after Peter’s confession, and Peter had the gall to attempt to rebuke Jesus for it.  Jesus taught it again to Peter, James, and John while they were on the mount of transfiguration, as Jesus commanded them to keep His glorious change a secret until after He had risen from the dead.  Jesus was teaching this again now for a 2nd time in the presence of all His disciples – and it wouldn’t even be the last time He would teach it.  When God says anything once, it is automatically important because it is God saying it.  When God repeats something multiple times, “important” seems too small a description to place upon it.  It’s crucial!  It’s something to which we must pay close attention!
    1. Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection are absolutely central to our faith.  It cannot be overstated. … (Especially as we near Easter/Resurrection Sunday…)
  2. Jesus gives four aspects to His prophecy.  First, He speaks of “the Son of Man.”  This is Jesus’ favorite title to refer to Himself, but Jesus does not use this title simply out of convenience or by accident.  He has a consistent purpose in it.  Remember that the Son of Man is shown in the OT to be none other than the victorious God.  Daniel 7:13–14, "(13) “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. (14) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed." []  It is this Son of Man who is going to suffer.  He will indeed be glorified, but there was an important stop along the way: the cross. … We’ve seen this before, but what is Jesus doing?  Jesus never once denies or downplays His identity as the Messiah and what it means that He is the Son of God.  But Jesus does modify the expectations of the people.  This is not what people expected for their King…especially the One who was to be known as the “Son of Man!”  Yet Jesus tells them repeatedly that this is exactly what they are to expect.  Keep in mind that it is not as if the OT is silent about the sufferings of the Son of God – on the contrary, God alludes to Jesus’ sufferings as early as Genesis 3, before Adam and Eve are even ejected from the Garden of Eden!  It’s that the people tended to look past these prophecies, or even reinterpret the prophecies to speak of their own suffering.  Even today, the modern Jews do not look upon the clear prophecies of suffering in Psalm 22 (what Jesus referenced on the cross), and Isaiah 53 (which speak of His substitution, bearing our iniquities upon Himself) to speak of the Messiah; they claim that the Jewish nation itself has suffered so much that IT fulfills those prophecies.  People typically do not conceive of God suffering for us…from a human perspective, it just doesn’t make sense.  After all, He’s GOD.  GOD doesn’t have to suffer for anyone.  And that just is correct.  He doesn’t have to, but He did it anyway.  This is exactly the plain and clear meanings of all of the OT prophecies that speak of the suffering Messiah.  GOD would bear the sufferings of humanity.  He did not have to do it, but He loved us enough to suffer on our behalf…going way beyond our expectations.
    1. God has a way of reshaping our expectations.  Too often, we expect God to act a certain way, and when He doesn’t do it, we get disappointed.  Yet if God always acted according to our expectations, Jesus would never have gone to the cross.  Praise God for missed expectations! … The next time you’re disappointed that God did not act the way you thought that He should, stop to consider the fact that God had something else in mind.  Our missed expectations might just fit in perfectly to the glorious plan of God!
  3. Again, remember that Jesus chose to use this title purposefully.  There is a seriousness underscored by the title “Son of Man.”  It would be one thing for Peter to suffer, or Moses and Elijah, or even John the Baptist (as Jesus Himself reminded the disciples about after the transfiguration).  But Jesus did not speak of the suffering of any man, but the Son of Man.  Jesus could have referred to Himself as the Lamb of God (as John the Baptist did).  Jesus could have referred to Himself as the Son of David (as others in Galilee did).  One title would actually emphasize His suffering, while the other would emphasize His humanity.  Instead, Jesus purposefully chose a title that emphasized His deity.  It is GOD who will be betrayed into the hands of men.  It is GOD who would be killed.  And because it is GOD, the disciples could have the sound assurance that Jesus would rise from the grave.  The suffering of a prophet or teacher could not give this assurance.  The suffering of a Lamb destined for slaughter would have no expectation of rising from the dead.  The suffering of a Davidic king would be tragic, but just one more death of a king in a long line of deaths.  But Jesus says (and proves) that He is more than all of this put together.  He is the Son of Man, who is Almighty God.  And that fact changes everything.
    1. What is there in your life for which you need to remember that it is GOD who died for you?  If God the Father did not spare His own Son on your behalf, what else is there that He would not freely give?  (Rom 8:32)
  4. The second aspect of the prophecy is Jesus’ betrayal.  This is a new aspect of His teaching on the subject.  Earlier Jesus had spoken of His suffering, but the idea of betrayal takes things to a whole new personal level.  At this point, all of the disciples are brought into the picture and are personally involved, as only a disciple could “betray” Jesus.  After all, Jesus could certainly suffer at the hands of Pharisees & scribes – He could be rejected by all the Jews – but He could not be betrayed by them.  You can’t be betrayed by an enemy; you can only be betrayed by a friend.  An enemy is always in opposition to you, but only a friend can turn and stab you in the back.  By introducing the idea of betrayal, Jesus tells the disciples that this is going to happen among them – it could only take place from someone who was known (or thought) to follow Jesus.
  5. As with His general suffering, the betrayal of Messiah is also something that was prophesied in the Scripture.  This may have been a shock to the ears of the disciples, but it ought to have been expected by them.  [David & Abimelech / Absalom]  Ultimately, it would be fulfilled in Judas.  We tend to think of Judas as the obvious choice, as if he looked like an evil character out of a melodrama with a black hat & a sign hanging on him saying “traitor.”  In reality, Judas was so trusted among the 12 that he was the group’s treasurer, holding the money that people gave to the ministry.  It wasn’t until after he showed his true colors that they would have learned Judas was skimming money off the top (a little embezzlement to add to his betrayal).  He would be the one to betray Jesus – and Jesus knew it all along.  Remember that this is the Son of Man.  The Son of Man doesn’t have to be betrayed by anyone.  After all, He’s God – He knows everything.  King David had been betrayed, but David was just a human.  Like any other human, David could be deceived.  People could conspire against him without him ever knowing about it until it was too late.  But not God.  God can’t be deceived by anyone.  How exactly can you pull a “fast one” on the Omniscient God?  It’s impossible.  For God to be betrayed, He was to allow Himself to be betrayed…and that is exactly what He did.  And apparently, it was already starting to take place…it was already beginning.  Notice the tense Jesus used “The Son of Man is being betrayed…”  Not “will be” (future), but “being” (present).  [NASB & ESV translated this as future, but the Greek text is clear that this is present.]  We know that from the Scripture that Satan did not enter Judas’ heart until just before Passover (Lk 22:3) and again the night of the last supper (Lk 13:27), but apparently the idea to betray Jesus had already entered his mind.  This was already beginning to unfold before them all, and only Jesus truly knew what was going on.  And He allowed it.
  6. There is incredible humility shown here.  Humility and humiliation.  God the Son allows Himself to be betrayed, and betrayed where?  “Into the hands of men.”  The Creator gave Himself over to the hands of His creation.  God allows Himself to be abused by Man.  The very people that had rebelled against God are the ones that curse God and spitefully use Him.  God had every right to judge them, and yet He gives Himself over to their hands to be judged BY them. … How upside down is this?  God ought to ride in on clouds of glory and cast His righteous judgment upon all humankind.  He ought to have hailstones come from the sky & earthquakes shake cities to the ground.  And make no mistake that God WILL.  Those things are exactly what God will do prior to Jesus’ 2nd Coming.  But that is not what God did when Jesus came at first.  First, Jesus came in humility, and all the judgment of God that should have gone upon humankind went upon His own shoulders.  God the Son put the judgment of God the Father upon Himself.  THAT is the scope of the sacrifice of Jesus.
    1. Have you grasped hold of this yet?  Have you begun to comprehend?  Have you partaken?
  7. The third aspect to Jesus’ prophecy is His death.  “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of man, and they will kill Him.”  Not just death, but being killed.  God would not drop dead of a heart attack or shock; He would be killed by the people into whose hands He was betrayed.  And this was not a mere possibility; it was assured.  “They will kill Him.”  The Son of Man would be killed.  The Author of Life would have His life killed.  Technically, no one could take Jesus’ life, because Jesus is God. (Jn 10:18) If Jesus did not willingly lay down His life, it would not be given.  Yet at the same time, there is no doubt that Jesus’ death would come at the hands of His enemies.  His death would be brought on by those who owed God their very heartbeats.  Think about that for a moment: the soldiers who drove spikes into the wrists of Jesus would not have been able to even lift their hammers to do so without God giving them the strength to do it.  And yet God did it anyway.  He allowed men to kill the Son of God.
    1. Ultimately, this is what we did.  WE killed the Son of God.  WE are at fault.  If it had not been for our sin, there would have been no need for sacrifice.  Jesus would not have died if we had not provided the reason.  But we did.  There was no other way for us to be saved.  Even beyond our individual salvation, there was no other way for God to right the wrongs of the universe.  The sin of humankind brought a curse upon all of creation, and if it was to be set right again, only God could be the One to do it.  And that’s what He did.
    2. We have to recognize our own fault if we are to be saved.  We have to recognize our own responsibility.  All kinds of people are quick to desire salvation, but not so quick to claim responsibility for their own sin.  We like to blame our parents, our neighbors, our culture – or even just ignore our sin altogether.  What other people do might be bad, but not for us.  We find ways of justifying our own actions.  But we can’t.  It’s futile.  Sin cannot be justified…not even our own.  And until we come to the point that we see our sin for what it is, we’ll never truly understand our need for salvation.  After all, what is the point of having eternal salvation, if we weren’t in any trouble to start out with?  Our sin IS the trouble!  Our sin is so bad that it took the humiliating betrayal and sacrifice of God the Son to pay the price.  Once we can see that for what it is, that’s when we’ll run to the feet of Jesus & cling to His mercies & grace! …
  8. The fourth aspect to the prophecy is the best one: resurrection.  As awful and desperate as the rest of the teaching would have sounded to the ears of the disciples, that wasn’t the end of it.  Almighty God would be betrayed – men would cause His suffering – men would cause His death – but there was something more to come in all of it: resurrection. “He will rise the third day.”  Just as Jesus’ death was a certainty, so was His rising.  Jesus could speak in the future tense without any question about the future action because it was assured.  There was no doubt in His mind about His coming resurrection.  Why?  It goes back to the beginning of His teaching: He is the Son of Man.  Jesus is GOD.  The Son of Man could allow Himself to be killed, but it is impossible that He would be destroyed.  The Son of Man can taste of death, but He cannot forever abide in it.  Again, this is no ordinary man or prophet; Jesus is GOD, and that makes all of the difference! … THIS is what Jesus came to do: the resurrection.  Jesus came to die, but He did not come ONLY to die.  If He had, we would be hopeless, forever remaining in our sin.  Jesus did not come just to die, but to rise again.  He came not just to participate in death, but to conquer death.  He came to fully pay the price for sin, so that no other price would ever need to be paid.  And He could do it, why?  Because He is the Son of Man.  This is what the disciples needed to hold on to & grasp.  If they could take hold of that truth in faith, then they would be able to withstand the slings and arrows of everything else that they would face in His name.  And historically speaking, that’s exactly what happened.  Not in the first hours after Jesus’ death on the cross – not even in the first days after Jesus’ resurrection – but after Jesus consistently demonstrated His new life, after He had ascended to God the Father, after He had given the Holy Spirit, that’s when the disciples grasped hold of the truth of Jesus’ forever resurrected life.  That’s what they were able to proclaim on the streets of Jerusalem, and all around the world.  That’s what allowed them to suffer stonings, beheadings, crucifixions, and all kinds of torture.  They knew they weren’t doing it for a dead Savior – they knew they hadn’t worshipped Jesus in vain.  They knew they were serving the Living God, who had been physically resurrected from the dead, and that everything Jesus ever taught them was true & worth every cost that could be paid.
    1. Christian, do you have that same kind of assurance?  That you could endure anything for the sake of Jesus because you know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of Man / the Son of God by the proof of His resurrection from the dead?  Believers around the world do.  There’s no way they could endure family rejection, beatings, prison, and even martyrdom without the assurance of Jesus’ resurrection.  There would be no point!  But because Jesus IS risen from the dead, we have that assurance.  No trial can be too great to sway them from Jesus because Jesus showed Himself worthy of every cost.  …
  9. Notice the timeframe here.  “The third day.”  This fits to OT types going all the way back to Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22:4), but more than that, fits to the specific prophecy that Jesus had given as a specific sign of His authority: the sign of the prophet of Jonah.  Matthew 12:39–40, "(39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." []  As scandalous as a prophet that Jonah was, his rebellion against God actually sets up the sign of the authority of the true Messiah of God: three days of death.  Jonah had been as good as dead in the belly of the great fish; the Messiah would be truly dead in the belly of the earth (the grave).  This sets a standard.  Three days could not be faked (despite the protests of many Muslims today).  To be three days in the grave, having gone through the Hebrew preparations of burial the way (the way Jesus’ body was prepared) would have been certain death.  Even if the centurion had not judged Jesus to have died upon the cross by piercing His heart with a spear (which he did), Jesus certainly would have died of suffocation within the tomb!  After all, His body was packed with spices, and wrapped in linen.  There’s no surviving that – especially after the trauma of the day.  Three days in a tomb would have been enough for anyone to have been proven dead.  Three days was enough, period.  No more was needed.  The Son of God was dead for as long as He needed to be, and no more.  He was raised in the third day.  Consider for a moment how specific this is.  One day is not long enough to have been proven dead – after all, some people still question whether or not Jairus’ daughter was truly dead when Jesus raised her, even though people had been hired to mourn her passing that day.  Yet if Jesus had been in the grave longer, say 5 days, He could have been judged a false prophet, no matter what He did.  If Jesus said He would be raised the third day, then He needed to be raised the third day.  Jesus could have left His prophecy open-ended, with no timeframe – but He didn’t.  He put a quantifiable standard upon His resurrection…and He fulfilled it precisely to the letter.
    1. Jesus is absolutely true to His word.  There is nothing that is beyond His capability to act.  It is impossible for anyone to rise from the grave.  It’s beyond impossible to put a precise timeframe on when it would take place.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus did, because that is exactly what He is capable of.  THAT is our God & Savior!
    2. Question: if Jesus can be trusted with that, what else is there with which He cannot be trusted?  Jesus is true to every word He ever spoke.
  10. That’s the prophecy.  It’s rather mind-blowing to us, and it was rather mind-blowing to the disciples.  They seemed to have been left speechless by it.  See vs. 32…

32 But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.

  1. If we can put it this way, we can understand why the disciples “did not understand.”  After all, Jesus was teaching something that wasn’t new – it had been taught throughout the Scriptures, but it was still something that was contrary to all their expectations.  They expected to sit in glory with their King, not to watch His suffering – much less have some kind of participation in it through His betrayal.  They expected a general resurrection from the dead, but they weren’t sure what to make of a specific rising of the Son of Man three days after being killed by men.  It would take a while for the disciples to understand what Jesus was saying – in fact, they wouldn’t even understand until well after Jesus rose from the dead.  This whole truth would understandably take time to sink in.
  2. That said, why would the disciples be “afraid to ask Him”?  If they lacked the understanding, why not ask the greatest Teacher that ever walked the earth? (Who just happened to be standing right in front of them!)  Why would they hesitate to ask Jesus – what would they have to fear?  Was it pride?  The three disciples on the mount of transfiguration had also refrained from asking Jesus about His resurrection from the dead (9:10).  They seemed consistent in their hesitancy to ask Jesus what all of this meant.  Did they think that Jesus just expected them to understand because they had been His disciples for three years?  Did they think that they ought to have understood more than what they did?  It could have well been pride – though we cannot say for certain, because the Scripture does not tell us.
    1. If it was pride, we can relate.  What is it that we do not understand about God simply because we’re too proud to ask?  God has given us His written word – God has given us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who teaches us – God has given us the wisdom of born-again believers all around us in the Church – we have no excuse NOT to ask!  If there’s one thing we can say for certain, it’s that Jesus did not want His disciples to be ignorant about His coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem.  He taught about these coming events repeatedly.  He obviously did not want them in the dark, even though they were afraid to ask Him about it.  Jesus wanted them to understand; all they needed to do was ask.  Likewise with us and our questions.  All we need to do is ask.
    2. Objection: “OK, but what about the questions for which there is no answer?  What about the questions of ‘why’?  Job never got an answer for his sufferings, and sometimes we don’t either.”  That’s not entirely true.  Job did not get a specific answer to the question of WHY, but he did get a specific answer to the question of WHO.  In fact, Job got 4 chapters of answers to the question of “who.”  God was in control the whole time, and that was ultimately what Job needed to be reminded of.  Likewise with Paul, when Paul asked for his thorn in the flesh to be taken from him, Jesus reminded him, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  God DOES give answers to His people, though sometimes we might not get the answers we expect.  That ought not stop us from asking the questions; it ought to make us pay closer attention to what God might reveal to us.
  3. There is another possibility for the disciples’ fear to ask the question.  Perhaps it wasn’t the pride of thinking they ought to have known the answer so much as the pride that was already in their hearts.  What seemed to be at the forefront of their minds was not Jesus’ suffering, but the pride of the future glory they desired for themselves.  At the very least, that pride is what manifests itself in their argument among one another. Vs. 33…

33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.

  1. So they’ve been travelling through Galilee & have arrived in their frequent home base of Capernaum.  This is a town they’ve been to many times before, and somehow Jesus has been able to keep their presence a secret.  They’ve gone into a “house,” and Jesus asks them about an argument they were having along the way.  In Matthew’s account, he shows the disciples bringing the question to Jesus (Mt 18:1), but it is apparent that they did not confess the question to Jesus until He confronted them about it.  It is as if they knew their argument had been foolish & prideful in the first place, and had wanted to keep it from Jesus.  (As if Jesus wouldn’t have known!)
  2. What was it that they were arguing?  “Who would be the greatest.”  The idea here is not who was greatest among them right then & there, but who would be the greatest in the fulfilled kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:1).  They well understood that Jesus would institute the kingdom (though they often misunderstood how and when it would be instituted), but they at least had faith that Jesus is the Messiah who would do it.  And when Jesus did it, they had faith that they would be right there with Him.  They understood that Jesus promised them a reward & inheritance in the kingdom, and that was wrapped up in their eternal salvation.  So far, so good.  They had honest faith in a lot of solid promises of God, all wrapped up in the Person of Jesus.  Yet what they were missing in all of this was the humility that had just been demonstrated by their King.  Jesus had just gotten done teaching of His coming betrayal & death, and all the disciples could think about was their own personal future glory.  Jesus had been teaching on what would happen to Himself, the Son of Man – what GOD would endure on their behalf, due to their sin, and the disciples were so self-centered, it was as if they hadn’t heard a word.  After all, who cares what God has to go through, as long as they get their glory?
    1. Before we start pointing too many condemning fingers at the disciples, we’ve got to stop and ask ourselves how often we do the same thing.  After all, when we talk about salvation, how often is our focus upon ourselves & not on Jesus?  We think about the things that WE will enjoy in heaven, and the glories that WE will experience, and the blessings that WE receive right now, just in the fact that WE have been made children of God.  And to be sure, all of that is true!  There are incredible blessings that we experience both now and in the future because we have been made the children of God.  There is unspeakable glory promised to us – things we cannot yet fully comprehend, all due to the grace of God.  Yet in the midst of all of that, it’s really easy to get our focus off of Jesus, and onto ourselves.  It’s easy to look at all of the glory, and lose sight of what it cost.  What was the price that was paid in order that we would experience those blessings?  The blood of Christ.  Before there would be any promise of glory to us, the Glorious Son of God would have to suffer immensely.  He would have to lay aside His own glory, take our weakness & sin upon Himself, and die the death that we deserved.  It’s only after Jesus did all of that did His resurrection come, and with it, the promise of our future glory.
    2. That ought to change our perspective about heaven.  All of sudden, heaven isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus.  It’s not about the blessings we receive & the things that we can enjoy (though we will receive and enjoy blessings); it’s about the worship and adoration that we can give our Glorious King.  Thankfully, we may have a tough time getting past our own pride today, but we will have no such problem when we see Jesus in heaven.  At that point, our pride will be removed, and we will be able to worship Jesus in truth AND enjoy our blessings – but all in the proper perspective. 

35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

  1. The disciples had been arguing among themselves, so Jesus sits down to settle the argument.  Actually, the fact that Jesus “sat down,” demonstrates Jesus taking on the role of their rabbi & teacher.  In our classrooms, the students typically sit while the teacher stands to instruct them (not unlike churches! J), but in the Jewish culture of the day things were reversed.  The teachers would sit down when they were giving instruction.  Thus, Jesus’ sitting is not a random comment thrown in, but a sign of Jesus asserting a bit of His authority.  They obviously had not paid too much attention earlier; now Jesus was going to take them to school.
  2. What did He teach?  A paradox.  As with His own coming suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus teaches them something that goes well beyond their expectations.  The person who desired to be first (or the greatest) would have to forego his search for greatness and look for ways to serve.  That is precisely the opposite of what we would expect.  When we look for leaders today, we look for people who are ambitious – those who have always stood out in the forefront.  Someone who desires to be great in the eyes of men has to work hard to achieve greatness.  No matter what the field, they have to show themselves to be worthy.  If it’s sports, then the great athlete has to prove him/herself in competition to be better than the rest.  If it’s politics, then the candidate has to get things done & win elections.  Whatever it is, someone desiring to be seen as great has to be seen by others as great, so that they would follow.  After all, it doesn’t matter how great of a leader you might think yourself to be, if no one else is following. … Jesus turns all of this upside-down.  The one who wants to be the greatest has to make himself/herself the least.  The one who wants to be the best of leaders has to be the humblest of servants.  The one who wants to be at the front of the line has to go to the back.  It’s a paradox: a statement that seems to contradict itself, but yet is still true. (Ex: jumbo shrimp, icy-hot)  “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”  This would seem to contradict – after all, how can someone go to the back of the line & still end up at the front?  What kind of strategy is it for greatness to purposefully start off in a position of service, and desire to be the lowliest servant imaginable?  It would indeed contradict, if there was no other person involved – but there’s not.  There is God.  God does not exalt those who are great, He exalts those who are humble.  Those who try to make themselves great will find themselves to be humbled by God, but those who humble themselves in the sight of others will find themselves to be exalted by God.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (Jas 4:6)
  3. More than a paradox, Jesus actually provides the example.  This is exactly what Jesus had been teaching them prior to their argument – which showed they hadn’t really been listening!  Who is it that was being betrayed, who would be killed, and then be raised on the third day?  The Son of Man.  If ANYONE is to be thought great in the Kingdom of Heaven, it is Jesus!  There is none greater than God.  Yet what is it that Jesus taught that God as the Son of Man would do?  He would be “last of all, and servant of all.”  The One Man that is before every other man made Himself to be absolutely last.  The One Man who has the right to rule every man made Himself to be the servant of all men.  Jesus literally served “all” – even those who raised their hands against Him in His suffering and death.  And because God the Son did all of that, what is it that God the Father did?  Made Him great!  The Father exalted Jesus to be the greatest of all, to the very highest of high places.  Philippians 2:10–11, "(10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." []  In this, Jesus is not only our Magnificent Exalted Lord, but He is also our example.  We obviously cannot die for the world, but we are expected to serve it.  The disciples of Jesus are to serve like Jesus.  Will we inherit glory?  Yes.  Will we taste of the greatness of heaven?  Yes.  But all things in their proper perspective and time.  First, we must serve as our Lord and Master served.  First we must follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus.  First we must serve HIM, and as we serve Him, we will serve the rest of the world. 
  4. We must humble ourselves to serve the humble.  How humble?  Little kid-humble.

36 Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

  1. Talk about a visual aid!  The disciples had been arguing about greatness.  They had desired power and authority in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They were thinking of the envy of others, and the trappings of power.  Little children don’t often fit into those things.  Kids are usually on the sidelines of political parades; not set on floats in the middle of them.  When a bunch of “important” people are gathered in a room, children are not usually the first people that come to mind as being the center of attention.  Yet that is what Jesus does here, as an example.  He tells the disciples in the process of their desire to be great, “If you want to be great, then serve this child.  Don’t look to the world’s idea of importance; look to My idea of importance.  Serve those who are least…even the little kids.”  Then (as often today), children were to be seen & not heard – and many times, not even seen.  They were without worth, except to their families.  Yet those were the types of people the disciples were to receive.  If the disciples wanted to be great, that’s whom it is they would serve.
  2. And what was the promise?  If they served the humble, they would receive the great.  To receive the child was to receive Jesus – and more than that, to receive the One who had sent Jesus: God the Father.  Obviously Jesus is not saying that the way to heaven is children’s ministry (though it doesn’t hurt! J), but the principle is one of abject humility and service.  This is what God did for us & this is what He expects us to do for others.  God the Son could not have humbled Himself any more than when He became a Man, dwelt among us, and allowed Himself to be betrayed, and put on a cross to be killed.  And afterwards, He experienced much glory.  Far more than humbling Himself as an adult to serve little children, God the Creator humbled Himself to serve His Creation.  If He does that, then His followers are to walk in His footsteps.  True greatness is given by God, and it comes by serving as our King served us.

The Son of God allowed incredible suffering to come to Himself that He might serve us – and we are to do the same.  He could not have gone farther: the glorious Son of Man knew of His betrayal and betrayer, and willingly allowed the traitor to hand Him over to men who hated Him – He allowed the torture and cross – He even gave up His life and allowed His killing.  But that wasn’t the end.  He rose again to life.  By the power of God the Father, and by His own power as God the Son, Jesus entered into glorious resurrected life from the grave, and was given the name that is above every name.

It’s in light of all of the glory of the Son of Man that the quarreling of the 12 disciples seems so incredibly petty.  And it is.  Instead of looking to what their Lord was about to do for them – instead of looking at the cost their Savior was about to pay for their salvation – all they were focused on was themselves and what they thought they could gain from it.

Sadly, we so often do the same thing.  How we need to be reminded (all of us!) that salvation is not about us.  It’s about Jesus.  Christianity is not about the greatness that we receive; it’s about the grace we’ve been given.  The Son of God came to seek and to save that which was lost, and that means that God came to serve us.  That is gloriously beyond our expectation, and it ought to change the way we think and act in response.  Instead of seeking our own glory, we seek Jesus’ glory.  Instead of looking at what we can gain, we look at what we can give.  Instead of seeking retribution, we look for ways to offer forgiveness.  Instead of looking to promote ourselves and our agenda, we look for way that we can serve even the least of those among us.  We look for way in which God can make Himself known in our lives, and as we do so, we can be sure of the fact that we will know God more & more.

When the disciples of John the Baptist became jealous of Jesus, John taught that Jesus must increase, while he himself must decrease.  That’s the same way it is with all of us who claim Jesus as Lord.  What are some ways this week in which we might decrease in order that the glory of Jesus might increase?  Is there anything in your life that would put undue focus upon yourself and take it away from your Lord?  There is nothing at all that Jesus held back in purchasing our salvation – He gave it absolutely all.  What have we not yet given for Him?


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