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JESUS: His Life, His Mission. Pride Makes Everyone Else The Problem, Mark 9:30-41.

Pride Makes Everyone Else the Problem

Mark 9:30-41


The notion that “the first will be last” doesn’t seem to bother some folks. When Apple’s revolutionary iPhone hit the market in late June, 2007, it sold for $599. Ten weeks later the price went down to $399 – a 33 percent reduction. While many who bought the iPhone at the original price were outraged, others would have paid any price to be among the first to own the new technology.


“If they told me at the outset the iPhone would be $200 cheaper the next day,” one customer explained, “I would have thought about it for a second – and still bought it. It was $600, and that was the price I was willing to pay for it.”


Early adopters – consumers who purchase new technology as soon as it becomes available – relish the prestige of taking home a new toy before anyone else. Despite the fact that electronics often become more reliable in the second and third generations and retail prices for technology always decrease with time, early adopters are undeterred by the risks. The pleasure of owning a rare product far outweighs the financial sacrifice. In the words of one satisfied iPhone owner, “Even if it works one day, it’s worth it.”


For many, it’s the not the technology itself but the distinction of ownership that’s attractive. Such is life in “a land of plenty” that still wants more – and wants it first. We want our neighbors looking over the fence at our gizmos and gadgets. We want someone else to experience the sting of envy. We’re no longer satisfied with keeping up with the Joneses. We want to be the Joneses.[i]


As human beings, we aren’t very good at willingly making ourselves last. We’d much rather be first. We’d much rather be considered important, and consider ourselves important, than consider ourselves unimportant. Jesus stands all of that on it’s head, as he does most of our human tendencies. Because the Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of this world are completely and totally at odds with one another. That’s the impact of sin. As fallen, broken human beings, our “natural” tendencies fly in the face of everything God created us to be. Turn with me to Mark 9:30-41. We’ll start by looking at Vv. 30-32.


Jesus, along with his disciples and other followers, is now on his way to Jerusalem, moving with purpose toward his betrayal, his torture, toward the cross. And now they find themselves once again in familiar territory – the region of Galilee. The region he and most of his disciples called home. The region where he spent much of his time in public ministry, teaching, healing, delivering hurting people. And while there have certainly been times when he wanted part of a day, or maybe a day or two, to be alone with his disciples, this time he doesn’t want anyone to know that they are there at all, because he needs to spend some time with just his disciples, teaching them what would soon happen to him.


And he isn’t pulling any punches. He isn’t teaching in cryptic parables. He’s being blunt and completely straightforward. “I’m going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they’re going to kill me. But after three days, I’ll rise from the dead.” It doesn’t get any more blunt, straightforward, or clear than that. And he didn’t say this just once. This was his message over and over again to his disciples. But they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand. And to be honest, they didn’t want to understand. Mark tells us that they were afraid to ask him for more clarification.


They didn’t really like what they THOUGHT they heard Jesus saying, and they certainly weren’t going to ask him more about it. For them, at this point, ignorance is better than knowing. To be fair, the things Jesus was saying were completely contrary to what they had been taught their whole lives about what messiah would do and what would happen to him. It was like Jesus was telling them that 2+2 doesn’t really equal for, it equals 62. What he was saying didn’t make sense.


David McKenna has been the president of three significant Christian universities or seminaries in his storied career – Spring Arbor here in Michigan, and also Seattle Pacific University and Asbury Theological Seminary. In his commentary on Mark’s gospel, he writes, “We must go easy on the disciples here. They’re in the middle of reworking every concept of the messiah by which they have been taught. We who live on the other side of the resurrection do not have the same excuse.”


Jesus redefines everything. He stands this world on it’s head. They had been taught that the messiah would be about power and strength and rebellion. They had no concept of servanthood and sacrifice and rebellion against the power of Satan and the defeat of sin. They wanted to defeat Rome, not sin. So when Jesus talks to them about his sacrifice of himself for the sins of the world, and his resurrection in victory over death, they have no mental or emotional categories in which to store this information. We don’t have that excuse.


Sadly, 2,000 years later, we don’t understand any more than they did. Not really. We can TALK about salvation and sacrifice and Christ’s victory over sin and death, but that’s about all we can do. We still don’t embrace it, live it, embody it as followers of Jesus. The problem with that is that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, in our place, for our sin, is the cornerstone of everything the Kingdom of God stands for. That means it is to be the cornerstone of our lives as well. And having received his forgiveness in faith, we then model our lives after his example. Our servanthood and sacrifice doesn’t purchase our salvation or anyone else’s. Jesus took care of that once and for all on the cross. But he does call us into a life of service and sacrifice. His loving gift of himself becomes our model when we receive his gift of grace in faith. Look at Vv. 33-37.


The disciples don’t understand, and don’t WANT to understand what Jesus is teaching them, and so, on the way to Capernaum, their home base for much of the past couple of years, they distract themselves with a conversation, an argument really, about something else: which one of them was the greatest. First. Best. Who deserved the best, most important positions in this coming Kingdom that Jesus was talking about. Now, they know this flies in the face of everything Jesus has been teaching them, because when they get to Capernaum, he asks them what they had been arguing about on the road, and they keep silent. They don’t want to admit that they were arguing about who was the greatest among them. They’re ashamed.


William Muir is a researcher at Purdue University who studies the productivity of chickens. He wants to know how to breed chickens that lay lots of eggs and create environments that foster greater productivity. He calls them super chickens. To research how to make super chickens, he did an experiment.


He put chickens into two groups. One group contained normal, healthy chickens. He left them alone for six generations of a chicken’s life. Another, separate group included all the super chickens, those who are proven high producing egg layers. He also left them alone for six generations. He provided food, water, and a clean environment, but did nothing to influence the chickens egg laying.


At the end of the experiment, he found that the group of normal chickens were flourishing: they were laying more eggs per chicken than when the experiment started. In the group of super chickens, only three were left. They had pecked the others to death. The super chickens had laid more eggs through a strategy of suppressing other chickens’ productivity, by killing, or intimidating them, so they were unable to lay eggs.[ii]


Sadly, we’re no different than those chickens. We want to be first, the best, noticed, important, because that’s where we find significance. We sabotage others. Maybe not in big ways. But we talk about them negatively in our social circles or at work, seeking subtly to improve our own position at the expense of ours.


In the church we want our efforts and our giving noticed. Pastors want their name and pictures on signs and billboards. We pay special attention to the significant and important. We outright ignore or don’t pay as much attention to those who can’t give as much, or any. Or who aren’t community or civic leaders or have important, high paying, influential jobs. Some churches in large cities attract significant, important, famous people. Many of those churches have a V.I.P. section so that those people can attend church without being bothered, and honestly harassed, by the masses. And of course that section always includes some of the best seats in the house. Those people wouldn’t be harassed if we didn’t WANT to worship celebrity, by the way.


As followers of Jesus we cannot order our relationships as we please. We cannot pay more attention to those we view as important, and we cannot chase that importance for ourselves. The church of Jesus is intended to be a place where those who are important in this world’s eyes sit beside and enjoy fellowship with those who aren’t. Not a place where the important and significant in this world enjoy preferential treatment. It’s intended to be a place where church leaders, teachers, and elders are chosen because of their journey with Christ, not because of their positions in this world. It’s a place where attorneys and doctors and wealthy business owners might sit in a Bible study or group under the leadership of a grocery store cashier who has been walking with Christ for 50 years.


This world is concerned with precedence and rank and position. In the kingdom of God, greatness is achieved by making yourself last, serving all, placing great importance and significance on the unimportant, and doing so without drawing a lot of attention to yourself.


And Jesus hammers this point home by enacting a parable right in front of their eyes. He sits down with a child on his lap, and tells them that those who are great in the kingdom of God will receive even a child. To “receive” someone, in that culture, is to welcome someone into your home and bestow upon them all of the privileges of the expected hospitality – your food and shelter, your kindness, your protection.


In that day, children were not viewed as being especially obedient, or especially trusting, or simple, or innocent, or pure, or humble, unselfconscious. He isn’t describing an innocent, trusting faith here. He is using the example of a child because they were viewed as being dependent, vulnerable, and completely subject to parental authority. They had no power, no status, and few rights. They were viewed as a blessing from God, but they couldn’t do anything for you.


And we are to come to him as children. Without flaunting whatever power we think we have. Without insisting on our rights or pursuing status. But acknowledging our need, our dependence upon God, our vulnerability, and our subjection to his authority, as his children.


Now, look at what happens next. Look at Vv. 38-41. The disciples immediately prove that they have no idea what Jesus is talking about. It seems like this incident is unrelated to what Jesus has been teaching them, but in truth, it’s very closely related. In fact, it’s evidence that they still don’t get it.


You see, the disciples view themselves as special BECAUSE they are his disciples. And because they are his disciples, they can do things that other people can’t. Or so they think. The irony here is that this man has just done something they recently failed to do. Do you remember? Just before Jesus and his disciples left the northern most reaches of Israel on their journey through their home region of Galilee on their way to Jerusalem. They had tried to cast a demon out of a man, and couldn’t. But this man, who they suggest doesn’t have the authority to cast out demons in Jesus name, has done just that, and they want to stop him.


Just like the scribes questioned their authority and wanted to stop them. They really aren’t all that different than the scribes and Pharisees who constantly oppose them, and Jesus. But this nameless man (Mark kind of emphasizes his insignificance here by not even giving his name. They probably didn’t even bother finding out what it was.) understands some things they don’t.

While they thought that THEY should have been able to cast out the demon simply because they were Jesus’ disciples, this man understood that it was only through the power of Jesus that this happened. He shows faith and obedience to God’s will, something they consistently fail to do. But they wanted to place themselves ABOVE him, the only ones able to cast out demons because they were closer to Jesus. They were his disciples, after all. They want to put him in his place, somewhere below them. Even though he was successful where they had failed miserably, and the irony and humor of that wasn’t lost on Mark. It probably wasn’t lost on Peter either, decades later as he shared with Mark the things Mark wrote in his gospel.


They’re still chasing importance and significance and trying to improve their standing in the kingdom of God by pushing this man back down. Even though he shows more understanding and faith than they have for the most part shown. And Jesus hammers that point home by saying that even offering someone a cold drink of water is an act of significance in the kingdom of God.


So, with that in mind, you’ve probably noticed that we still have quite a bit of water to give away, and as we move into May the weather should be consistently a little bit warmer. But our water giveaway window is closing soon. The Garfield/Front St. intersection should be open again by Memorial Day. Here’s the thing. I’ve been watching over the past two weeks. The traffic backup is at its worst from about 3-5:30 pm. That’s just a touch early for our students to give away water, especially the ones who can’t drive. Their working parents can’t get them here.


But some of you, who are retired, can get here. The water is over there in the corner. We have three carts here in the sanctuary. The signs and high visibility vests are with the water. All you need to do is get a small group together, even 4 or 5 people, put some water on a couple of carts, and wheel it out there and start giving it away. Have a pair or so here on this corner at the church parking lot, and another pair across the street and down at the other end. When the light turns green and traffic moves, get out of the way and let it flow. When it turns red and traffic backs up, offer the bottles of water. If people want it, great. If they don’t, no big deal. On to the next car.


As one pastor said, “The best way for people to learn about the church is by seeing a face and hearing a voice say, “We’re here to serve in the name of Christ, and God bless you whether you come or not.”[iii] We aren’t here to celebrate and lavish praise on the successful. We’re here to follow Jesus. Let us pray.

[i] May Wong, “Many iPhone owners relish being first,” (9-7-07)

[ii] MaryKate Morse, Lifelong Leadership, Nav Press, 2020, page 9

[iii] Arthur Fretheim, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 2.