Read Mark 9:33-37 (ESV)
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.”
How does the way Jesus came as a child at Christmas demonstrate the truth of this teaching to His disciples?
Our culture loves to talk about the G.O.A.T. The “Greatest Of All Time.” People argue whether the G.O.A.T. of basketball is Michael Jordan or Lebron James. Tom Brady is considered by many to be the G.O.A.T. of football with 7 Super Bowl wins. Simone Biles had a rhinestone goat head bedazzled on her leotard in the Olympic gymnastics competition this summer to make a point—she is the most decorated gymnast in the world. Clearly, we are a society that values greatness based on achievement, talents, and skill.
But in today’s passage, we see how Jesus evaluated greatness on and it wasn’t based on what you might expect. As they walked along the road to Capernaum, Jesus’ disciples argued with each other about which one of them was the greatest. They lived in a culture that measured greatness based on economic status, political power, and military might. The Jews had been oppressed by nations “greater” than them for a long time and they expected Jesus to be the Messiah that would turn the tables, liberate the Jews from Roman rule, and establish His kingdom. Naturally, they wanted to come along for that ride. So, they tried to rank themselves.
It is possible that this argument started because Peter, James, and John had been granted the special privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration. But it isn’t the only time we see the disciples, or their families, vying for positions of authority. In Matthew 20:20-28, Salome, the mother of James and John, came to Jesus and asked, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom (v.21).” She wanted status, power, and honor for her sons in God’s Kingdom.
But Jesus did not give her the answer she expected. He asked if they were willing to “drink the cup that I am to drink” (v.22). In other words, Jesus was asking if they were prepared to suffer as He did. Jesus went on to say something very similar to His words in today’s passage: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (vs. 25-28).
Jesus is the ultimate G.O.A.T. and yet, He came to suffer and to serve. He wasn’t born in a palace, but in a stable in a small-town to parents of humble means. His birth wasn’t heralded to kings, dignitaries, and priests but to lowly shepherds. His earthly ministry was caring for the “least of these.” He fed the poor, He healed the sick, He cast out demons, and He washed the feet of those under His authority (John 13:1-20). Then, He suffered a brutal criminal’s death because He loved those who were beneath Him.
Friends, Jesus did not define greatness the way the world does. His greatness is unexpected. He said those who want to be great have to put themselves last and lay down their lives for others. If you are in a position of authority over others, Jesus plainly said that you aren’t greater than those beneath you. In His upside-down kingdom, He said first place is last place, service is honor, and death is life.
Jesus, thank You for being the ultimate example of servant leadership. You are the greatest of all time, and yet You came to serve and to save. You laid down Your life for our benefit and not Your own. Help me to lead like You, serve like You, and lay down my life so that others can know You. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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