The Greatness of Humility - Mark 9:30-37

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It has been said that Jesus came proclaiming an upside-down kingdom. It’s a catchy way of saying that so much of what Jesus said and taught turns our way of thinking on its’ head. He said things like, if you want to live, you must die; and if you want to save your life, you must lose it. Our natural way of thinking is to hate our enemies and to look for opportunities for revenge, but Jesus said Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The ways of Jesus are counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.

As we come to Mark 9 we find Jesus expressing yet another paradoxical way of thinking. He says that the way to greatness is the way of service. And if we want to be great, we need to be the greatest servants. And of course this isn’t simply something Jesus says, this is the way He lived. The life and the death of Jesus are the ultimate demonstrations of the greatness of humility.

The Ultimate Act of Servanthood - Jesus announces His death (9:30-32) 

  • A private teaching – As Jesus and His disciples travel through Galilee for the last time prior to His death Jesus keeps a low profile. His focus now is almost fully on teaching His disciples and preparing them for what is to come.
  • A second announcement – In Mark 8:31 Jesus told His disciples that a time was coming when He would be handed over to suffer and die, and also that He would rise from the dead, but they didn’t understand. Now we see an almost identical announcement with the same result.
  • The deafness and fear of the disciples – The disciples don’t have a category in their thinking for a suffering Messiah. And instead of asking Jesus for clarification, they seem content to ignore or at least minimize His announcements, focusing instead on His promises of the Kingdom. 
  • Application – When the disciples heard Jesus say things they didn’t like or didn’t understand they seemed to simply reason it away. We are often tempted to do the same thing. We can go to the Scriptures and make much of the promises of God and at the same time pay very little attention to the hard teachings and commands of Jesus.

The Temptation of Worldly Greatness - The disciples discuss position and status (9:33-34)

  • A jarring transition – There’s a jarring transition as we move from thinking about the humility of Jesus’s walk toward the cross to hearing the disciples’ debate about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom. 
  • A persistent worldview – While we can quickly see the foolishness in the disciples’ conversation about greatness, the debate is a natural outworking of their worldview. They believed Jesus was on His way to establishing His kingdom on earth and they had every reason to believe they were going to be leaders in that Kingdom. Their expectations and desires for greatness leave them blind to anything Jesus says about humility or suffering. In a similar way we can be guilty of hearing what Jesus says and yet still thinking and living based on what we’ve previously believed to be true.

The Call of Jesus – Greatness through servanthood (9:35)   

  • An upside-down kingdom – Once again we see Jesus turning our way of thinking on its’ head as He redefines the path to greatness. The way to greatness is the way of service. To be great we must be the greatest servants we can be.
  • The nature of servanthood – While a call to servanthood is a call to humility, it’s not a call to passivity or to retreat. Jesus is our example (Philippians 2): To be a servant means to go toward those in need and to seek out the forgotten. And Jesus didn’t serve out of fear or guilt but out of joy, not out of cowardice or coercion but of courage and desire (Mark 10:45; Matthew 5:46-47; John 15:12-13).

An Example of Servanthood – Welcoming the lowly (9:36-37) 

  • A living parable – After defining the path to greatness as humble servanthood Jesus picks up a child and offers a parable. In this day and time children were often overlooked; Jesus uses a child to teach the disciples what it looks like to welcome the lowly and the forgotten.
  • Welcoming the lowly – When Jesus speaks of ‘receiving’ He’s using a term of hospitality. It’s the idea of welcoming someone in, showing kindness and care for another person. As Jesus holds this child (a person who was often overlooked or forgotten) He says, if you receive them, you receive me and the One who sent me (Matthew 25:31-46). The way we show our love for Jesus and the way we honor Him is by loving, serving and honoring the lowly and the needy around us.