September 20/23, 2018, 18th Sun. after Pentecost
Mark 9:30-37 … 33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."…
Two weeks ago, social media was lit up with pictures and videos of Aaron Rodgers tearing up the Bears’ defense, all with that caption underneath: #12 – the GOAT. It used to be that if you called someone a “goat”, they were a loser. But now when you hear that word “goat” thrown around, especially in the world of sports, it means the exact opposite. The letters “G-O-A-T” now stand for the “Greatest Of All Time”.
Now, to call Aaron Rodgers the greatest of all time—that might be hyperbole. But it tells us something about how the world measures greatness, doesn’t it? You don’t usually see pictures of the building custodian or the school lunch lady with the caption “GOAT”. But titans of enterprise, CEOs, big time entertainers, and athletes—people who have accomplished great things in their lives, when they walk into the room, they instantly have our admiration, don’t they? Everyone wants to be great like them. But is that kind of greatness the kind that is truly important—truly great?
Over the last few weeks we’ve been considering how Christ is our all in all. How He saves us from our sins, how He does all things well, and how He makes us into cross-bearers along with Him. Today we’re reminded that there’s one other thing Christ does for us: He shows us what true greatness is all about. Christ is our all in all; He defines true greatness—greatness (1) in Himself, and greatness (2) in all who follow Him.
1. Christ defines true greatness in Himself.
As Jesus and the disciples passed through Galilee, they could have paraded through all the various towns and gotten all kinds of praise and attention from the crowds that would have shown up to welcome them, but that’s not what Jesus wanted. He didn’t want anyone to know they were passing through Galilee (v. 30).
Instead, Jesus wanted to teach. He wanted His disciples to know about the kind of greatness He would put on display when He got to Jerusalem, how He would be betrayed into the hands of men and be killed, and then after His death, He would rise the third day (v. 31). It would be the greatest of all time—nothing else can compare! He would willingly allow Himself to be betrayed and put to death! And then He would come back to life! And in that feat of dying and rising, Jesus would deliver a whole world of sinners from eternal death in hell!
But the disciples just didn’t understand. Instead of listening carefully and asking Jesus to explain, they went on in willful ignorance, afraid to ask Him what He meant (v. 32). What Jesus was saying about being betrayed and killed was simply beyond their imagination. It was a lot more fun and distracting to argue amongst themselves over which one of them was the greatest (v. 34).
With Christ in our lives and hearts, we are in the presence of divine greatness every day. And yet how often do we play that ignorance card ourselves when it comes to God’s definition of greatness? How often do we pretend not to know the will of God for the sake of telling ourselves that we’re already great, that we don’t need any help? We have this messed up, sinful, self-centered idea of greatness, that greatness is all about what other people—or even God—does for me.
And yet Christ defines true greatness here in Himself. He displayed the greatness of His patient love again and again as He kept teaching His disciples the truth about Himself all the way down to Capernaum. He didn’t blow up at them when they didn’t understand—or didn’t want to understand. He didn’t call them to the carpet with fire and brimstone in front of the whole city for arguing over who was greater. He quietly, privately called them to repent with a simple question (v. 33). Their silence spoke volumes about their guilt. But Jesus’ words spoke even more about His love and forgiveness.
Jesus’ true greatness is found in the patient love that He shows to each of us. In His willingness to teach us the same lesson again and again, no matter how ignorant we might be. Instead of condemning us forever in hell, Jesus quietly in the small voice of His Word calls us to repent and confess our sins. He brings us around to the truth—the truth of our sin, but also the truth of His grace. The truth Jesus made the greatest sacrifice of all time, humbling Himself to be “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Php 2:6-8). By that greatest sacrifice, Jesus has washed away the stain of our self-centeredness and you and I are forgiven, declared “great”—declared righteous in the sight of God!
2. Christ defines true greatness in all who follow Him.
To look at Jesus is to look at true greatness, the greatness by which He accomplished the greatest thing of all: saving the world from sin and death. Christ defines true greatness—and as He defines that greatness in Himself, He also defines true greatness in all who follow Him.
Jesus sat down and laid it out for His disciples: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). True greatness is the same for Christ’s followers as it is for Christ. It’s the kind of love and humility that makes me “last of all”, that puts everyone else’s needs ahead of my own. It’s the kind of love and humility that desires to serve all people—not only the people I like or the people who can help me get ahead, but to serve even the least among us.
Jesus defines true greatness in us by burning in our minds the image of a little child, a young preschooler, wrapped in Jesus’ loving arms. Jesus said, “Anyone who receives one of these little ones in My name, receives Me” (v. 36-37a). He said it for a reason. Often, it’s children who wind up getting the short end of the stick. When families go through tough times, it’s kids that suffer the most. When Mom and Dad decide to break up their family by getting a divorce, the kids are left to try to pick up the pieces. The world says, kids are a burden, not a blessing. The world says, “Don’t let kids get in the way of your greatness—your happiness.” But Jesus says: You want to be great? Serve a child. Welcome a child in His name.
It’s amazing to see when it happens; and it’s one of the neat things that I see in this church on a regular basis. Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but it’s worth pointing out the way that some of you have become adopted parents and grandparents to the children in this church. The way you’re willing to sit with kids during communion, or hold a baby, so that Mom and Dad can go up to the altar. The way you actually talk with kids. And I’ve never seen anyone in this church give the death stare to a mom with a fussy baby—and I pray I never do.
That’s the kind of greatness Jesus is talking about. The kind of greatness that looks forward to Family Bible Hour and enjoys working through the lesson with the kids. The kind of greatness that takes time for the kids in your life—whether it’s your own kids or the neighbor kids. The kind of greatness that takes our responsibility as Christian moms and dads seriously, that is willing to work on our marriages for the sake of the kids. The kind of greatness that remembers what’s most important, that knowing enough to get a good job and have a good life is something—but it’s way more important for our kids to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
That kind of greatness doesn’t look like much in the eyes of the world. But there are promises attached to this greatness. The promise that, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (v. 37). Whenever Christ’s love prompts us to want to love and serve someone else, even a child, we’re not just serving that child, we’re serving Christ. Jesus says, “You did it to Me” (Mt 25:40). No matter how seemingly small and insignificant, no matter how tainted and flawed, Jesus calls our works of humble service “great”—because they are made great in Him. We have the greatness of being known by God and loved by Him even though we don’t deserve it at all.
Aaron Rodgers may be great at throwing a football, but the real Greatest of All Time is Jesus. The greatest love; the greatest humility; and the greatest glory—true greatness is His alone! And to think, He shares that greatness with us! Amen.