Mark 9:30–37 30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 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.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 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.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples have a problem on their hands—a real problem.
The disciples have left everything to follow Jesus, and things have been going well. They are the Twelve followers of Jesus—a Man who can do things. He is casting out demons right and left. He is healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and cleansing the lepers. He is making the lame to leap, the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak. He is raising the dead. He can still the wind and waves and walk on water. He can provide food for the multitudes. He is challenging the religious establishment, bucking tradition, and teaching hidden truths.
Jesus is doing all of these things and gaining notoriety. He is becoming extremely popular, and people thronged about Him. In fact, He is so famous that He can’t keep Himself hidden—even when He tries (Mk. 6:31-34; 7:33-36). The crowds are so impressed with this Jesus that they conclude, “He does all things well” (Mk. 7:37).
But the disciples still have a problem. Their problem is that Jesus is saying strange, very strange things. Well, really, it is one strange thing, but He keeps saying it. Jesus is saying that He is going to die (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34).
This is a problem for the disciples because, how will they serve a dead Savior?
Plans need to be made; this great movement must continue. If Jesus says that He is going to die, preparations need to occur to make sure there is leadership for what comes after. Who will lead? Who will direct the ministry once Jesus is gone? Who is the greatest among them?
Jesus is focused on His impending martyrdom; the disciples are distracted with their rank and position. Jesus is speaking of being killed; the disciples are jockeying to be the student who becomes the teacher.
Jesus has continually been preaching, “The reign of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15); what the disciples are missing is that the reign of God will come through defeat. Jesus will ascend the throne and conquer on the cross.
The disciples do not understand; they are ignorant. And who would have understood when Jesus speaks about His death? No one.
The problem is that the disciples hide their ignorance. They hide it deep and are afraid even to speak about it.
Many times in the past the disciples did not understand things, but they brought their ignorance to Jesus. The disciples didn’t understand parables, so Jesus would explain them (Mk. 4:10; 7:17). The disciples didn’t understand about the feeding of the 5000, so Jesus feeds a multitude of 4000.
But this time the disciples keep their ignorance to themselves. They are afraid even to ask. As one commentator says, “They understand enough to be afraid to ask to understand more” (E. Best). “They understand enough to be afraid to ask to understand more.”
As they travel with Jesus to Capernaum, they have what they think is a secret discussion. When Jesus asks the disciples about their quiet quarrel, they keep silent like guilty schoolboys.
But Jesus knew. He knew what they had been discussing. Jesus knew their ignorance and fear about His death. Jesus had said (Mk. 4:22), 22 Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.
The disciples have a problem: how do you serve a dead Savior? Jesus sheds a little light on the subject and teaches them more about following Him. He teaches what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, “If anyone would be first, he must be, of all, last and, of all, servant.”
Jesus speaks of descending; the disciples’ minds are fixated upon ascending. Jesus speaks of service; the disciples argue about their own personal greatness.
How often is it that your discussions about ‘spiritual things’ become an opportunity to reveal to others how great you are?
You hear it, and you do it. You begin to discuss the Scriptures, and you want to make sure you get your view, your opinion, in so others can know how well acquainted with the Bible you are.
You want to have a Bible study that goes deeper, a study that is more practical, because those other studies just teach about sin and grace—and you’ve heard enough about that.
You talk about church attendance and you make sure others know that you haven’t missed a service in months, and the last time you did, you listened to a preacher on the radio.
You boldly write your name on the sign-up sheet at a time when others will be sure to see that you are doing your part.
You have been such a good, faithful volunteer doing everything that is required of you. If only others would serve, even half as much, as you have served.
If there is a way to find glory or recognition or just to have one person take a little notice what you have done by way of ‘Christian service,’ you find it. What a great lot of glory seekers, we all are.
What does Jesus do? He takes a child. Why a child? The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, and there would be no argument that this child is definitely the least among them.
Rabbis during Jesus’ time instructed parents to treat their children like heifers, increase their burden daily until they are able to contribute. Parents were not obligated by law to feed their children after age six (Chethub.). Children can’t work and are just another mouth to feed.
One commentator says, “Children occupied an interesting place in the first century household. They represented the future—they would carry on the family name, provide for their aging parents, and produce the next generation. But in the present, they were a liability” (A. Allen).
Jesus takes this liability, this child, the obvious least and lowest in the group, and Jesus embraces him. Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.”
Jesus, in the midst of His disputing disciples welcomes and receives the least among the whole group, a liability, a child.
The disciples have a problem, how will they serve a dead Savior? They did their best; they tried to continue the mission. But their focus was off. This Savior did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom (Mk. 10:45).
Jesus came to serve the lowest of the low. He came to serve tax collectors and sinners. He came to serve prostitutes, gluttons, drunkards, lepers, and even children. Jesus came to serve those who were liabilities and could not do anything for themselves. He came, even, to serve you.
Believer, disciple of Christ, you have a problem. And your problem is similar to the disciples’ problem. The disciples had to learn how to serve a Savior Who was literally dying to serve them. You have to learn, how to serve a God Who insists on serving you. What can you do when God rejects even your righteous deeds because are tainted with sin? What service can you offer to God when He has become your Suffering Servant?
Jesus says to serve your neighbor. Serve the least among you. When you welcome the least, you welcome Jesus. When you welcome the least, you welcome Jesus, and you really welcome the God the Father.
Disciple, how do you serve a God Who insists on serving you? You serve others. And you will botch your service. You will brag about it and try to out-serve others. You will compete asking, “How low can you go?”
But it is not really you doing the service. God is working through you. God is the One doing the ministering and, through you, providing for the least of the least—even when your motives are wrong.
You serve a Savior Who truly became last of all and servant of all. Jesus’ glory didn’t come until His service was rendered. Jesus’ cross came before His glory. The same is true for you. Jesus has given you a cross to bear, service to render. Amen.
May the peace of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit guard you—mind, body, and spirit—until eternity. Amen.