Mark 9:30-37 CSB
 Then they left that place and made their way through Galilee, but he did not want anyone to know it.  For he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after he is killed, he will rise three days later.”  But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask him.  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.”  He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,  “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me.”
Last week we entered a scene as the disciples walked along with Jesus, seemingly in-between moments, then he asked them: “Who do people say that I am?” and more precisely “Who do you say that I am?” In response, and, someone got it right as Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah – the one who would save his people. Then Jesus explained for everyone that he was not the Messiah they wanted him to be, he was the saviour they needed; and what it would mean to follow him. It was loosing their life to gain it.
Then it was confirmed to the disciples in a tangible way as Jesus took James, Peter, and John with him up high mountain and as the NIV says “there he was transfigured.” The word in greek meaning that his appearance changed shape which is exactly what Mark’s Gospel goes onto describe:
“His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.”
The whole scene is about connecting God’s past’s revelations (Law and Prophets) to the Current and Greatest revelation – his Son: The final and greatest revelation of God. Enforced by the revelation speaking from the heavens:
“This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
It is an amazing moment, as the voice of God grants the one of whom he speaks equality in status in power. Listen to him! Why? because he is the greatest and the one worth listening to.
Then Immediately following their descent down the mountain Jesus arrives to find his disciples trying to cast out a unclean spirit form a boy, and its not going well. Then the greatest one speaks, and the demons flee. So as we think through these seven verses this morning we have to hold in our minds that Jesus is true Greatness.
UPSIDE DOWN GREATNESS (30-32)
HOW THE WORLD SEES GREATNESS
We live in a world that is obsessed with ‘greatness,’ no matter what stage of life we are at the world tells us to aim for greatness: To truly be someone, to have worth and value you have to be the best. When you are sitting School, or University exams its not just about doing your best its about being the best. Then when you enter the working world you are only successful if your at the top.
In every context of life: Sports, Music, Finance we want greatness. The World is full of metrics of greatness to help us discern how successful we are. We are individuals and a culture that is obsessed with being great:
• Trump wants to make America Great again,
• Brexit is narrated as breaking free from the chains of Europe and showing the world how Great Britain.
• Even the church for years has pursued greatness at the expense of God, trying to be culturally relevant to be seen as “great” in the eyes of the world.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best at something, the danger is when we allow the pursue of greatness to define us, to consume us. The danger is when we allow worldly metrics of greatness to define how we value ourselves, people and things – to define how we find success.TRUE GREATNESS
Yet, here in Mark 9 as Jesus journeys with those who are closest to him, away from the prying ears of the crowds he begins to teach them (and us) what True Greatness actually looks like: that that true Greatness cannot be understood by the mind of the world, The metrics of the Kingdom of God operate off a different scale:
“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
This is the simplest of the three passion predictions, yet If we where reading it in the original language we would see a play on words that adds to the shock of it all: “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of Men.”
The greatest human to ever live amongst humans will be utterly rejected by them, and he will die at their hands as he gives himself for them. This is the picture of true greatness: That the greatest person to live, would suffer an incomprehensible fate for the benefit of those who would afflict it on him. This is the logic of God’s kingdom and Christs Church and how they should look and operate. It is a picture of the logic of the Cross. It is something the world struggles to understand because it is the opposite of the way the world would do it, that the greatest display of Power, love and majesty would seemingly be at a moment of sheer disgrace – yet, this is what it is to follow Christ.
We see the react of the world to the way of the Cross in the reaction of the disciples to Jesus’s prediction: they did not understand what he meant, and they where so confused by it all that they where terrified to even ask it. Then to add to our picture of the disciples reaction and confusion Marks tells us another story.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED (33-34)
It is a story that is hard to imagine after everything that has just happened, yet knowing the human heart and how inclined to ourselves we are it isn’t really. We have jumped forward to the end of the journey, the disciples and Jesus have arrived in Capernaum which means that it is probably late in the evening. Everyone is tired, especially Jesus.
You can imagine the journey after what they have just heard taught: everyone is a little tired and tense, they where not even sure what he was saying and did not want to ask him about it so they probably have reframed from anything but awkward small chat: “This road gets worse every-time we go down it” or “It is quite mild this evening.”
Yet, as the journey goes on their physical distance from Jesus grows to a point where they feel safe enough to start talking amongst themselves about what is really on their minds: “What was he talking about with all that being delivered over, dying and rising – you know sometimes Peter I wonder what you have signed us up for!” or Maybe even the three who where with him up the mountain where trying to figure out everything they had just seen. They are not sure, but with all the miracles, and casting out of demons even though he is a bit mad, he must be the real deal – our ticket to success.
Then maybe they begin to wonder if he is the greatest, if he is the messiah – the one who has one who has come to restore Israel to a great kingdom, and he has chosen us – Does that mean we are great in some way? They start to try to figure out Kingdoms way’s with the metrics of man . They start to think that they where chosen becuase they where someone, somebody – not becuase they where the least. They are still thinking like humans, not disciples. They look at Jesus and wonder how they can use him for their own advantage, they own success, their own self-power: Why? – becuase they do not yet understand the ways of heaven, they do not know the road less traveled. It is a juxtaposition – you have the way of Christ and all that he has just taught contrasted against the selfishness of the disciples who even though they have been with him – do not know him. Even though they have listened to him and his teachings, have yet to understand the ways of the cross. We look back and think how foolish, yet how many of us here this morning can say that we truly know Jesus – that we are living in the way that he has called us to live, that we are not at church for our own benefit, for our own greatness. It is a lesson for us all, that we could spent a life time with Jesus but until we allow the spirit to take whole of our heart, to transform us from the inside out, then we will still look at Christ, and his ways through worldly eyes, forever questioning: “How can Christ make me great?”
AS CHRIST (35-37)
It is a powerful moment, in which you can sense the frustration of Jesus as he is meet with silence and scrunched faces from his disciples in response to his question which exposes their sin. He knew what they where arguing about, he could probably hear them. He knew that they where close to getting it, but still needed help in grasping the the upside-down, inside-out nature of the Kingdom of God. So he goes again beckoning them to him, sitting down (an act which shows us that this is a teaching moment for all) and telling them: “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last and servant of all.” Again he is telling them that true greatness is found not where the world looks, but where Christ is going (the Cross) and what it represents.
What does it mean for us today? It mean that we should be challenged to how we think about greatest. Not with the logic of the world, but the illogical of the Cross. That Greatness is when we look, think, seem nothing like the world around it. It is a call for everyone to consider are we seeking our own Greatness or are we seeking Christ? Because like the disciples we can be walking with Jesus, sitting listening to his teaching, being publicly identified to him and know nothing of him. We can be sitting in church pursuing our own Glory and not his. If we search our heart and know that to be true, then we must allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and reorientation us to the way of the Cross, the way of Christ. It is not by our might, but by his that we become like him.
The teacher isn’t finished yet, he has told his disciples what he expects, now he is going to show them what it looks like. As he stands up, goes and finds a child and sets them in the middle of it – then after some time picks it up and declares: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (37)
“We do that sure there are easy we say to ourselves sure there are thirty children in the Sunday school!”
I want you to cast yourself back to the world of Christ and imagine a society that is built on status, bloodline and hierarchy. Where your worth was based not just on what you had, but where you where from, your family line – whether you where a Roman Citizen or not. In this world, a child was the least important member, they had no legal status, no power, no recognition and where considered to be a nuisance. By placing a child in the disciples midst is to say:
“Welcome the least, which is to welcome me, is to welcome God”
Jesus is incarnating what the Kingdom should, and will look like. If that is what God’s kingdom should look like, then surely it is what Gods Church should look like, a place where the least of society find welcome and worth, a place where the downtrodden can rise? A place where all are honored, not by the metrics of the world but by the way of the cross, a place where greatness is found in least-ness? So we must ask ourselves are we as individuals and a church walking the road less travelled or are we still thinking by the metrics of the world?