September 23, 20018 [Pentecost 18]  Mark 9:30-37  J.D.Roekle

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,  31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,  37 “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.”


Jesus Defines Greatness


Dear Friends in Christ,

          Dick Rowe was one of the most famous talent scouts in the music industry.  He would most likely want you to remember him for his better moments; like the day he signed the Rolling Stones to a recording contract.  However, he would probably like you to forget about what happened in 1962.  That year an unpolished quartet auditioned for Rowe, but he wasn’t impressed at all by them.  Along with rejecting the band’s desire for a recording contract, he also is said to have predicted, “Groups with guitars are on the way out.”  Within a year of Rowe rejecting the group, this band had their first #1 hit on Billboard’s Top 100—“I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  The Beatles had begun their historic British Invasion.  By the time they were finished, the Beatles had recorded 71 songs in the top 100 and 21 songs that hit the top of the charts.  They are ranked as the #1 artist in Billboard’s history. 

          So how did Dick Rowe miss them?  How did he miss arguably the greatest band in history?  Who knows?!  But it is safe to say that greatness as Jesus defines it is overlooked all the time.  Today we want to talk about what greatness in the kingdom of God looks like. 

          Greatness in God’s kingdom begins with Jesus.  Jesus himself is really the very definition of greatness.  He spelled out for his disciples what it was that made him great.  As he was finishing up his public ministry, he took the time to teach them about greatness. 

          He began teaching them about greatness even before they asked the question about who the greatest in the kingdom of God is.  He told them: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 

          Jesus was teaching these truths consistently to his disciples.  Just last week he spoke to them about this.  This time he adds the part that he would be betrayed into the hands of men.  When Jesus spoke about his road to the cross last week, do you remember the reaction?  Peter rebuked Jesus for talking that way.  This time, Jesus doesn’t receive a rebuke, but we are told the disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about.  They didn’t get it. 

          Normally, if you don’t understand something, you ask questions.  The disciples were afraid to ask questions.  It was probably because they figured they weren’t going to like the answers.  They seemed to focus only on the fact that Jesus was going to die.  For some reason, they missed that he was going to rise again. 

          Many today miss out on the greatness of Jesus.  That’s because they don’t want to hear or talk about the ugliness of their sin.  They don’t want to talk about the fact that each one of us put Jesus in the position to have to choose to sacrifice himself in order to pay for our sins, so that we could be in harmony with God.  Yes, what Jesus had to endure was ugly.  We turn our heads away from the cross in shame in seeing Jesus there.  Because it is there we see our own ugliness; our weakness; our sin.  At the same time, we can look at the cross and rejoice, because there we also see great things out of Jesus.  It is there that he delivered us!  And the living Jesus assures us of this truth! 

          But again, the disciples didn’t understand all this.  They didn’t understand what made Jesus truly great.  That became evident by their conversation as they walked along the road.  “They had argued about who was the greatest.”  You could see how the question might naturally come up.  It wasn’t long before this that Jesus had taken his inner circle of disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the mount with him where he was transfigured.  And so the question may have come up quite naturally: Does this mean those 3 are greater in God’s kingdom?  And which one of them is the greatest? 

          The discussion of the greatest comes up often, doesn’t it?  Who the greatest band of all time is.  Or the greatest president.  The greatest quarterback in the NFL.  The world has a certain definition of greatness.  Jesus has another.  And in their discussion, the disciples were missing the point about greatness in the kingdom of God.  It has nothing to do with prominence or position.  It isn’t a popularity contest.  It doesn’t even have anything to do with what someone has accomplished.  In fact, greatness in the kingdom of God is something that goes largely unnoticed.

          Jesus defined greatness this way: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  Think about the nature of being a servant.  A servant waits on others.  Takes care of the needs of others

A servant in the kingdom of God is guided by the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor.  In so doing, the servant of God is selfless.  Not thinking of himself, but thinking of those he can serve.  And the motivation isn’t to be recognized.  In fact, the servant of God isn’t serving because they are looking for any kind of reward.  Servants of God serve because they have received grace from the One who came to serve us by saving us.  Yes, servants of God are moved to serve because of what Jesus has done for us.  Service in the kingdom of God is thankfulness in action. 

          Jesus is the master teacher.  He doesn’t just explain the principle of being a servant, but he also gives a relevant example.  A timeless example.  His illustration was a child that he brought and had stand among them.  And then, picking up the child, Jesus said: “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.” 

          How much does our society value children?  We could start with the countless numbers of children who don’t even see the light of day because of abortion.  We hear many different accounts of how children are neglected or abused.  And even children whose physical needs are taken care of are often not nurtured by their parents.  People think: “I can’t take the time to raise my children.  I have more important things to do.  I’ll let others do that for me.” And it is saddening to see how often children are neglected spiritually. 

          There is no task that is more essential for the health of society and the church than serving the needs of children.  It isn’t always easy…especially when you have to discipline a child.  It isn’t always fun…changing diapers and cleaning up vomit aren’t the most popular tasks.  But parents, grandparents, and all of you who have a hand in raising children, please know that you are doing what God wants you to do. 

          And even more important than taking care of children’s physical and emotional needs is taking care of their spiritual needs.  It is the responsibility of parents to take care of their children’s spiritual needs.  The church is here to assist.  And each one of us pledges to help in some way.  When we have a baptism, think about the exhortation that is given: “Brothers and sisters in Christ: Our Lord commands that we teach his precious truths to all who are baptized.  Christian love therefore urges all of us, especially parents and sponsors, to assist in whatever manner possible so that this child/person may remain a child of God until death.  If you are willing to carry out this responsibility, then answer: Yes, as God gives me strength.” 

          So we are all in on this.  Parents, there are many avenues you have to nurture your children.  It all starts with bringing them to church regularly.  Even if it is difficult to pay attention and get much out of church.  When you establish a pattern with your children early on and stick to it, it will reap benefits later on.  That’s true with coming to church too!  Take advantage of the various ministries we have for children: cradle roll, our grade school, Sunday School, Teen Bible Class, catechism class, and VBS.  Remember, parents, that the church is assisting you in raising your children spiritually.  You are still responsible for that.  That means being engaged with them by praying with them, and knowing what they are learning in Sunday school or at WLS and enforcing those truths at home. 

          Grandparents, you too can also play a role in assisting with your children spiritually.  Being a new grandpa myself, I’m learning the fine line of what I should say and shouldn’t say as I watch my son and daughter-in-law raise my grandson.  But every grandparent can encourage their children and grandchildren to come to church. To take advantage of the many opportunities the church has to offer to give Christ to children.  To make Christ a part of their daily routine at home. 

          Whether you are a parent or not, whether you are a grandparent or not, there are things that each of us can do in serving children.  Instead of sneering at the parent of child who is crabby, rejoice that the child is in church and encourage the parents to keep bringing them.  You also may be in a position to volunteer to help with various facets of the educational agencies of the church.  Finally, all of us can serve children by praying for them.  Pray that the Lord keeps them faithful.  Pray that they are not led into temptation.

          When we serve in these various ways, many or most people won’t even notice.  But that’s okay.  Remember that Jesus defines this as great in the kingdom of God as you selflessly serve.  And it is all a reflection of the selfless One we are motivated by: our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.