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Archive for the ‘Mark 9’ Category

Jesus had a lot to say about children and we have looked at some of this – especially Jesus’ blessing of children. Today we look at Mark 9:33-37, a story that teaches us about the importance of ministering to children. Lets dig into this and see what we can learn from it.

Who is the greatest?

Our story begins with an argument – vs. 33-34 – “And they came to Capernaum. And when Jesus 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.”

This was not just petty vanity, you know, saying, “I’m smarter than you,” or “I look better than you.” Jesus is preparing for the kingdom of God and the disciples rightly expected to have a big role in that kingdom.

Jesus himself talks about greatness in the kingdom in several places. He talks about:

  • Those who will be the greatest in the kingdom – Matthew 23:11
  • Twelve thrones and those who will sit on these to rule over others – Matthew 19:28
  • Some sitting at his right and left hand when he is on his throne in the kingdom – Mark 10:40

So the disciples did think about these things and, of course, we find them arguing about this in several places.

In our story, no doubt, the fact that Jesus had just picked Peter, James and John to witness the transfiguration not long before had something to do with this debate about greatness.

The nine might well say, “Hey, are they better than us now?” The three may well have said, “Obviously we will have a higher place in the kingdom than you guys!”

And then add to this that the nine had failed to cast out a demon while Jesus and the other three were gone on the mountain of transfiguration. You can see how there could be tension.

When Jesus calls them on debating about this our text says, “they kept silent.” They apparently knew better than to be so openly ambitious; each putting themselves forward as the greatest.

By way of background, what we are dealing with here is a contrast of social standings on an honor/power scale:

  • You have those who are the first – in charge, with power – who are honored
  • And then you have those who are last – the lowly, the powerless – who are not honored

At the top of the scale – you are served. At the bottom of the scale – you serve.

Although it is a bit different today (we are not so hierarchical) it is still true today, just like back then that no one wanted to be a servant; to wait on others; to be lowly; to be at the bottom of this scale.

If you ask, how do you get honor & power? Well, according to the world you exalt yourself, put yourself forward, accumulate power and if you need to, put others down in order to lift yourself up.

And this is what the disciples were doing arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Maybe one said, “I’m have more spiritual gifts than you!” And another would say, “Oh yea, I’m more faithful than you!”

The true path to greatness: lowly service

Jesus confronts all this in v. 35 – “And Jesus 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.’”

It says that Jesus “sat down.” In the culture of that day teachers sat to teach. He has something important to tell them.

The disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest, but Jesus says – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (see also Mark 10:43-45 and Matthew 23:11-12).  Notice that Jesus doesn’t challenge looking for greatness, just how to find greatness. Although the world works one way, a different path is required if you want to be great in the kingdom.

What Jesus is saying is that:

  • To be great in the kingdom, you have to be lowly right now
  • To be first then, you have to be last now
  • To be honored then, you have to lower yourself before others now
  • To be powerful then, you have to learn to serve others now

Its a paradox: You find greatness in the kingdom by being the lowest here on earth. The kingdom turns things upside down, at least as with regards to how the world works.

So our first lesson from this scripture is – If you want to be great, lower yourself to serve others. To get to the top of the kingdom honor/power scale, you have to go the bottom of the world’s honor/power scale and serve others.

In the rest of this passage, Jesus fleshes this teaching out with . . .

An illustration: Ministering to children

v. 36 says, “And he took a child and put the child in the midst of them, and embracing the child, he said to them . . ..”
 Now the word “child” here refers to anyone between the age of an infant to a 12 year old. Basically below the age of adolescence or puberty. This is how the word is used in the gospels.

A little background here on children. Today, we think of childhood as an age of innocence and we give great value and honor to children, more so than other cultures today, and certainly more than what prevailed in the ancient world.

In biblical times children were way down the honor/power scale, if not at the very bottom. They were often seen as no more than slaves, until they grew up. You can see this in that the word “child” in Aramaic (the language of Jesus) is the same as that for “slave.” Also, in Galatians 4:1-2 – Paul talks about how, until a child grows up (even a rich heir), the child is not different than a slave.

Basically, children had no power, status or rights. They were non-persons being non-adults, and were under the complete authority of their parents.

So Jesus picks out a child, an example of lowliness and one who is a servant, and he says in the first part of v. 37, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . .’” “One such child” is a reference to the child next to Jesus (Luke 9:48), as well as other children.

What does it mean to receive a child?

  • The word “receive” means giving welcome. Jesus does this here by embracing the child.
  • Also, remembering that this is an example of v. 35, “receive” equals being a “servant of all,” which means taking care of their needs.
  • At least a part of this receiving is illustrated for us later in Mark 10:13-16. In contrast to the disciples who do not receive the children, Jesus receives them by giving kindness, attention, and ministering God’s blessing to them.

We do all of this serving “in Jesus’ name” as his representatives, doing what he would do in the situation.

Putting this all together, Jesus is saying more specifically, and this is our second lesson – If you want to be great – lower yourself even below children – and serve them. There are many lowly ones we can serve, but here he focuses on children.

The last part of v. 37 says, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . . receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” We have here the “shaliach principle,” a well known idea in Judaism – “a person’s representative is as the person them self.” So how you respond to the representative is how you respond to the one who sent him.

Jesus uses this principle several times to talk about how it works when he sends out the apostles as his representatives. For instance Luke 10:16 teaches, if you receive them, you receive Jesus, if you reject them, you reject Jesus.

What is amazing here is that not only apostles, but also children are Jesus’ representatives! The disciples saw ministering to children in worldly terms as serving nobodies, doing what is menial and insignificant.

But Jesus puts this in a new light, and this is our third lesson – When we minister to lowly children, we are doing what is truly great – serving Jesus and indeed the Father. When we receive them, care for them and bless them, we are really doing all this to God. But, when we do not receive them, or mistreat them, this is really how we are treating God.

This speaks to how important it is to care for children’s needs and also to the fact that this is how we can be great in the kingdom. There is nothing greater than ministering to God.

Some words of encouragement

We have lots of opportunities to interact with children and minister to their needs. As parents, grandparents, those who work with children in their careers, children’s Sunday School workers, children’s church and nursery workers, workers in our two girls’ clubs, and our vacation bible school workers this week – we have many opportunities.

In all of these situations, when the children are acting up, when they are impatient, when they are difficult and even worse – remember, when you are serving children in Jesus’ name you are doing something great, ministering to Jesus and the Father. And you are doing what it takes to be great in the kingdom. William Higgins

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