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Mark 9:30-41


Intro: Jesus and His men are on their way to Capernaum in these verses. As usual, Jesus uses their time alone together to teach them more about Him and His ministry.

        In verses 30-31 Jesus again tells His disciples that He will be killed, but that He will rise again from the dead. They hear what He says, but they do not understand it, and they are afraid to ask Him what He means, v. 32.

        The disciples are not able to understand the truth the Messiah must give His life for His people. They cannot comprehend the truth that Jesus came to this world “not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” They will not understand the main objective of the Lord’s ministry among them until after He dies on the cross and rises from the dead. After that they will understand and they will preach His death and resurrection in power, to the saving of many souls.

        Of course, our world also has a problem with the image of a suffering Savior. The idea that God would have to die for sins so that sinners could be saved flies in the face of religion. According to religion, man is able to work his way to God. God says that man cannot approach Him by works, Eph. 2:8-9. The only way a person can come to God is through a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, John 14:6.

        The world hears the message of the cross and they say that it is foolishness, 1 Cor. 1:18. To say that Jesus must die so that sinners could be saved is more than they can handle. The disciples are in the same boat.

        They see Jesus establishing His kingdom. They see Him reigning in power and glory. They see Him defeating Israel’s enemies and restoring the ancient glory to Israel. They cannot see Him dying for sin.

        What they cannot grasp is exactly what Jesus came to this world to do. He came to die and rise again so that all who receive Him might have everlasting life. That is the truth Jesus tried to teach His disciples and that is what He wants you to know as well.

        Salvation comes only through a personal, faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:13, 1 Cor. 1:18. Is Jesus your Savior today?

        As these verses unfold, we move from the teaching of our Lord’s death and resurrection to the subject of who is greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus uses these events to teach His people then, and now, that true greatness come from humble service to others. I want to take a look at this conversation between Jesus and His men. I would like to preach on the subject of Who’s The Greatest. When we are through, we might just discover that those we think are the greatest among us might not be great at all. We might also discover that the path to true greatness is available to all who would walk it.

        I want you to see A Debate, A Demonstration and A Declaration in these verses. Let God minister to your heart as we consider Who’s The Greatest?


  I.  v. 33-34     A DEBATE

·         When they reached the end of their journey, Jesus has a question for His men. He wants to know what they were discussing as they traveled, v. 33. His question is met with silence. Apparently, they were embarrassed by their discussion, because they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest of their number. They had been arguing over who was the number one disciple!

·         What had caused them to even begin thinking along these lines? I would suggest that it had something to do with the fact that Jesus had chosen three of their number, Peter, James and John to go with Him on a special trip up Mount Hermon, v. 2. I would also suggest that it had something to do with the fact that when these three came down off that mountain, they were told not to talk about what they had seen or heard there, v. 9.

        So, these men come off the mountain and they are excited about what they have seen. They might be saying things like, “Man, I have never seen anything like that! Have you?” “That was the most amazing spiritual experience of my life!” So, they come off the mountain having seen the very Shekinah glory of God; having seen Elijah and Moses; and having heard the voice of God speaking with them.

        They come back down from this experience and they are elated. I can see them smiling to themselves; talking among themselves; and feeling a little superior to the others.

        While three of the Lord’s disciples were enjoying that powerful mountain top experience, the other disciples have been fighting a battle in the valley. They have been in an argument with the scribes. They have been ridiculed by the crowd. They have failed miserably in a spiritual battle. They have no use for the excitement or the silence of Peter, James and John.

·         As they walk, they begin to talk. The nine ask the three about what happened on the mountain top. The three respond that they cannot tell them what happened up there.

        As you can imagine, this would have caused the nine disciples to feel inferior and left out. The other three might have felt and acted superior to the others. You can almost imagine what their conversation would have sounded like.

        Peter, James and John make the case that one of them is surely the leader of the group since they were chosen to go with Jesus and the others were not.

        Maybe Peter says, “Well, it’s obvious that I am the leader. After all, it was me that first proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah.”

        Maybe Andrew says, “Wait just a minute Brother! I introduced you to Jesus. If it weren’t for me, you would still be out there on that boat fishing.”

        Maybe John and James speak up and say, “Hold it right there! We were among the first to follow Him. We have been with Him longer than the rest.”

        Maybe Judas says, “What about me? He trusts me to take care of the money.”

        And so it goes. Each man thinks he is more qualified than the others. Each man thinks he is more worthy of honor than the others. Each man thinks he should be the leader of the group.

·         It’s no wonder that these men were embarrassed by their argument. When they were talking among themselves the issue seemed important. But, when they stood before Jesus, they suddenly see how silly, immature, arrogant and self-centered they had been. He was talking about the matters of eternity. They could only focus on their own self-interests.

        Look at the context! Jesus has just revealed His glory. Jesus has just proven His power over demons. Jesus has just reminded them the He is going to die and rise again from the dead. And, all they can do is fight about who should be first! No wonder they are embarrassed.

·         By the way, it’s still embarrassing when it happens today! But it does happen! Everywhere you go in the church you find the “high seat seekers”. Everywhere you go you find those people who want to be recognized as the greatest and the best. Nearly every church has people who want to be recognized as greatest and best.

        In the epistle of 3 John, John condemned and man by the name of Diotrephes. John said that he “loved to have the preeminence among them, v. 9.” that is, this man wanted to be number one. He wanted to control the church. He wanted to run the church. He wanted to be the church boss. He wanted everyone in the church to bow to bow to his will. Diotrephes is the kind of person we should strive not to be!

·         Let me just set the record straight today. There are no big “I’s” and little “you’s” around here. All that we have in this church are people who have been saved by the grace of God. There are no masters here that must be served. There are only people here that need to learn to serve others. We are not a church filled with Masters; we are a church filled with equals. We are all servants of the Living God and of others.

        When this life is over and we stand before the Lord; all of our petty, silly striving to be first will be seen to be as childish as it is. Would you rather stand before Him in embarrassment because you wanted to be first? Or, would you rather stand before Him in fulfillment as He says to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” The choice is yours.



·         In order to correct the immature and foolish thinking of His disciples, Jesus sat down to teach them His truth. When a rabbi sat, in those days, he assumed a place of authority over his students. When Jesus sat down, His men knew they needed to listen up!

        When Jesus begins to teach, He speaks of a great paradox. He tells them that the way to greatness is through serving others. He tells them that the door to the first place is located in the servant’s quarters. The word “servant” in verse 35 is the same word translated “deacon” elsewhere in the New Testament. The word refers to those “who wait tables”. The literal meaning of the word is “to kick up dust”. It is the image of a servant kicking up little puffs of dust as he moves from one duty to another.

        Jesus is teaching His men the truth that true greatness is achieved through the humble service of others. That is a lesson that has been lost in our day. Some people think they deserve respect and preferential treatment just because they occupy a certain position. If you attend preacher’s meetings you encounter this attitude all the time. There are some men who walk around like little peacocks, waiting for others to fawn over them and tell them how great they are.

        If you really want others to respect you, serve them. Put them before yourself and meet their needs, forgetting about your own needs. Give them the first seat, without wanting anything in return. When we humble ourselves, the Lord will exalt us in due time, Matt. 23:12; 1 Pet. 5:5.

·         To put an even finer point on what He is teaching, Jesus takes a child and places him before the disciples, v. 36. He tells them that if they will “receive” a child in His name is, in fact, “receiving” both the Son and the Father Who sent Him.

        The word “receive” carries the idea of “displaying hospitality”. In those days, hospitality was everything. When a person showed up at your house, you were expected to “receive” them and serve them, meeting all their needs.

        Jesus is telling us that when we serve the least among us, we are in reality serving Him. By serving Him, we are serving His Father as well.

·         Jesus could have just told them this. Why did He use a child? I think there are several reasons. First, children in that society were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were viewed as mere property and largely ignored by most adults. Second, Jesus used a child to teach His disciples about service because children really can’t do anything for adults. A child can’t enhance a person’s position in society. A child cannot add to your success. A child can’t make you more important in the eyes of the world. However, a child can teach you much about ministry!

        Think about it, every parent in this room knows what happens when you have a new baby. That child demands everything! From day one it must be served, every need must be met by a willing adult. Children come into our homes and they take constant care and attention. If they are ignored, they let you know all about in loud and irritating fashion. When parents have children, they learn what giving and service are all about. When that child is born you give and you give and you give. When that child grows, you give and you give and you give. Often, even they reach adulthood, you give and you give and you give.

·         Jesus used a child because children need to be served, but they cannot serve us in return. That is a lesson we all need to take to heart. Too often, we only serve those who can do something in return for us. The Lord would have us reach out to those who are the neediest. He would have us serve those who cannot or even will not serve us in return. He desires that we do as He did and give our all for those who may break our hearts in return.

        Often the church will reach out, but when we do, we often reach out to people who are like us. We look for those we think will be a blessing to the church. We want people with money, talent and potential. We look for people who can help us become a success.

        Jesus, on the other hand, had a habit of reaching out to people who could do nothing for Him in return. (Ill. Jairus’ daughter; The Widow of Nain; The Gaderene Demoniac; Bartimaeus; the Dying Thief, etc.)

·         That is what Jesus did the night before He died. His disciples were so busy arguing about who should be the greatest that not a one of them would humble himself and wash the feet of the others, as was the custom of the day. But, when Jesus and His disciples finished their meal in the upper room, Jesus put a towel around His waist and washed His disciple’s feet, John 13:1-17. Jesus took the place of a slave and washed the dirty feet of men who would run away before dawn. He washed the feet of Peter who would deny Him three times before dawn. He even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot who would betray Him in to the hands of His enemies that very night.

        Jesus freely served those who would break His heart. When the next day dawned, Jesus performed the greatest service of all when He went to Calvary to die on the cross for sinners who hated Him and wanted nothing to do with Him.

        Jesus set the example for us. He was a servant of the neediest people of all. He was a servant to those who could never repay Him. He was a servant to those who would fail Him, deny Him, and dishonor Him. He was a servant to you and men when He died on the cross, Mark 10:45.

        We need to set our hearts on those who need Jesus, without regard for what they can bring to the table or contribute to the church. We need to fulfill our Lord’s command to “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled,” Luke 14:23. We need to wash the feet of those around us, regardless of their position in society, their ability to help us, or their power and influence. We need a heart that is willing to serve the least among us for the glory of God alone!



·         When John hears the words of Jesus, he brings up an incident that had occurred sometime earlier, v. 38. Apparently, the disciples had encountered a fellow who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. This fellow was successful because the verse says that “he was casting out devils” in Jesus’ name. But, because he “followed” not Jesus and His men, the disciples rebuked him and told him to stop what he was doing.

        John is saying, “Jesus, we saw a fellow who was using Your name to cast out devils. But, we set him straight! He wasn’t doing it like we do it and we let him know that our way is the only right way that it can be done. He’s out of business!”

        Jesus responds by telling them to let people like that alone, v. 39. If they are doing good works in the name of Jesus, they are not against Him, but they are working for Him, v. 40. Jesus goes on to tell His men that even if someone just gave a disciple a cup of water in the name of the Lord, that person would surely be rewarded for their service, v. 41.

·         There are several lessons here for the modern church, if we are willing to receive them. Often, we are just like the Lord’s disciples. If a church, a ministry or an individual doesn’t do everything just like we do them, then we are quick to condemn them. We are quick to judge them. We are quick to lash out against them. We are quick to try and silence them. There are a few truths we have forgotten!

Ψ  No church, no preacher and no ministry has an exclusive lock on the truth – In other words, God did not establish us as the final determiner of who is and who isn’t serving the Lord. Truth is always much bigger than our grasp of it! The primary thing is whether or not the Lord is being glorified.

       (Ill. Jealousy over the things of God is nothing new - Joshua and Moses, Num. 11:26-29; Ill. John the Baptist, John 3:26-30.)

Ψ  When it comes to churches, one size does not fit all – Not everyone responds to the way we do things here at Calvary. This church isn’t for every believer!

        As much as it may irk us at time, God does use folks who do things differently than we do. We need to be careful that we do not judge a church, a ministry or a preacher just because they are different than we are.

        There are things that go on in other churches that I can’t stomach. I have a hard time with loose dress standards in churches. I have a hard time with churches that use rock music. I have a hard time with preachers who have abandoned the KJV. I have a hard time with lots of things. But, I am forced by this passage to remember that even if I may not like this or that about a church or a ministry, if they love Jesus and preaching His Gospel, we are branch offices of the same business! We are still on the same team, even if I do not like their methods.

        I am not condoning what they do; all I am saying is that we must understand those ministries will give an account to God and not to us. Our duty here is for us to be the kind of church He wants us to be. In other words, we are to worry about our own business first. And, we’ve got enough here to keep us busy for the rest of our days!

Ψ  In the end, every church and every ministry must be judged by the kind of people it produces – If a ministry produces worldly people, it is of the world, no matter what they claim. If a ministry produces Godly people, it is a tool God is using, no matter how we feel about it!

Conc: During the Revolutionary War General George Washington walked up on a group of men who were trying to pull down a tree. They were almost able to get the job done, but they lacked just a little strength. It appeared that the help of just one more man would be sufficient to get the job done.

        Washington noticed their commanding officer standing off to the side, shouting orders.

        “Why don’t you help them?” Washington asked.

        The officer responded indignantly, “Sir, I am their commander! I give the orders and they do the work!”

        Hearing that, Washington got off his horse, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and gave the tired men the help they needed to complete their task.

        When they were finished, Washington looked at the officer and said, “Sir, if your men need any further assistance, please call on me at any time.”

        The officer said, “Thank you friend, and where may I call for you if I need you?”

        Washington said, “You can find me in the commanding General’s tent.”       With that he rode off leaving the astonished and embarrassed officer in his wake.

        Who’s the greatest in Calvary Baptist Church? The greatest person in this church is the person who serves others selflessly, with no thought for what they might receive in return. The greatest person in this church is the person who is willing to take the last place so that others can be first. The greatest person in this church is the person who seeks to serve those who can never give anything back in return. Does that describe you?

        Or, has God spoken to you about this matter of serving Him by serving others. If He has, you need to come before Him and surrender to His plan for your life.

        Are you saved? If you aren’t, you can be! If the Lord is speaking to your heart about the greatest need of your soul, you need to come to Him and be saved today.

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