When I was growing up we used to play a simple game called, Follow The Leader. The game was not complicated at all as a matter of fact it was really simple. You would select a person to be the leader and everyone else who chose to play would “follow” or “do as the leader did” until there was just one person left. Then the person who followed the leader the longest would then become the leader for the next round. So really, as long as you were able to trust and follow the leader, you could play this game.
Back in Jesus’ day there were people all over the place who would develop a following of people. There were people who were rabbis and they would create a following around a certain teaching or philosophy. And if you liked that teaching or philosophy and you wanted to champion the cause, you would become part of their “school” to follow that rabbi and learn as much as you could from that rabbi. If you followed your rabbi so close that at the end of the day you were covered with the “dust from your rabbi’s feet” that was considered an honor.
The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” This word stresses the relationship between the rabbi who was the teacher or master and the disciple who was the student. A “talmid” of Jesus’ day would give up his entire life in order to be with his teacher. The disciple didn’t only seek to know what the teacher knew, as is usually the case today. It was not enough just to know what the rabbi said, but the ultimate goal of any “talmid” was to become like the rabbi and do what the rabbi did. How close are you following Jesus? Are you like Jesus? Not only are you doing like Jesus would do but are you doing as Jesus did?
Our new series called #Follow is all about looking through the Bible and building a working definition of what it means to be a true, heartfelt, and committed follower of Jesus. Not only is it important for us to ask ourselves WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) but also WDJD (What Did Jesus Do). We have a record called the gospels that give us a complete picture of what Jesus taught and what Jesus actually did when faced with situations and circumstances.
One of the first steps for any of us when it comes to being a truly heartfelt and committed follower or Christ is to fully understand the concept of being a servant. In Mark’s letter we see a pattern surfacing in Mark 9-10. Jesus explains His death and resurrection and the disciples don’t get it but beyond just not getting it they are focused on personal success, personal achievement and personal recognition. Jesus uses an illustration in Mark 9 to try and show them what is really important.
Just prior to our passage in Mark 9:33-37, Jesus had sent the disciples out to the surrounding areas for ministry. They were sent out in Mark 6:6-13. In that particular instance and in Mark 6:13 it says, “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” But in this episode the disciples were found lacking and were not able to “fulfill their mission.” After their other successes, they were baffled. They wanted to know why or how their new toy, authority over demons, had broken. Why did everything go so well previously and now they failed? Evidently, the disciples had lost their focus. They had forgotten what they were to be about.
Their failure was because they went from spreading God’s kingdom to obsessing about their own importance in that kingdom. We can sometimes wonder why we are not happy? We just can’t seem to figure out why we are not experiencing power in our Christian life? It might be because we are not pursuing what Jesus would have us pursue. We might be focusing on our kingdom and not His Kingdom. The goals we set might be our goals instead of Jesus’ goals. Our lives might be about promoting us instead of promoting Jesus.
If you have your Bible turn with me to Mark 9. If you don’t have your Bible it will be on the screen so you can follow along with me. As we read this and work our way through this passage I want you to think with me about our Big Idea for today . . . If you really want to GO BIG, you really have to think small! “33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he 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.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37).
In our passage for today, Jesus notices that they had been talking as they were walking along and when he asks them what they were talking about they immediately go silent. If you look earlier when Jesus has been talking about His death it says, “32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:32). I think it is interesting that they did not understand about His death and the price He would pay for all our sin on the cross but they fully understood what He was asking them about their recent conversation. They were silent because they knew that what they were discussing was not what they should be focusing on.
They were trapped in what I would call “The Lobster Syndrome.” If you have ever seen lobsters in a fine restaurant you will find that they are kept in a shallow cage without a lid on the cage. But yet you don’t see the lobsters getting out of the cage and running lose in the restaurant. So, why is that? The reason you don’t see them running loose is that when one lobster tries to crawl out of the tank, the other lobsters will grab that lobster and pull it right back into the tank with them. They can’t escape because they consistently pull each other down. They don’t want the others to get ahead of them so they keep pulling them down.
If you really want to go big You Must Let Go Of Pride. Despite hearing Jesus teach about self-denial, dying to self and losing their lives for Christ and the gospel, they still don’t understand that they must be servants. They remained deaf about what Jesus has said about the road to true greatness. David Brainerd once said, “It is sweet to be nothing and less than nothing that Christ may be all in all.”
They were focusing on all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. Instead of being focused on Jesus and trying to understand what He was going to be going through, they were focused on what they could get out of this situation. Rather than focusing on what they should be giving, they were focused on what they could get. Matters of rank and recognition were important to the Jews in that day and nothing has changed today. It is still the same for us today.
When you look at society, culture and the business world it is consumed with an “I, Me, Mine” philosophy. It is all about how you can get ahead, how you can get the glory and the praise, how you can rise to the top, etc. Trust me when I say, there is nothing wrong with motivation and a desire to be successful. But when it comes to the Christian life, I have to admit it is not about me. It is all about Jesus and His Kingdom. It is all about how can I get Jesus the glory and praise, how can I get Him to the top, how can I promote Jesus, etc. It’s not about what I have done but what He has done. It’s not about what I can do but about what He can do through me.
Larry Phillips has said on this topic of humility and greatness, “Why does the modern church often seem so powerless in the face of need? Because we also worry too much bout who will get credit, who has the style God likes most, how we can get noticed or promoted, who gets to lead worship at the big Sunday service instead of hanging out with the preschoolers in the back and so on.
If you really want to go big You Must Not Focus On Position. “35 And he 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.” (Mark 9:35). Right here Jesus doesn’t deny that the desire for greatness should exist. He simply redefines what greatness should be. In one brief statement Jesus turns everything that has to do with how we typically define success upside down. He encourages us to be great in the things that matter to God and not to concern ourselves with the things that matter to man. He says if you want to be first, you have to be last. If you want to become great in His Kingdom you have to become a servant to all people. You have to be willing to “bend down” to meet the need so you can “look up” and see Jesus.
In getting ready for our experience in Guatemala we read the book Kisses from Katie. It is about the journey of young Katie Davis following her calling to an orphanage in Uganda and what God has taught her along this journey. “We bend. I bend to sweep crumbs and I bend to wipe vomit and I bend to pick up little ones and wipe away tears… And at the end of these days I bend next to the bed and I ask only that I could bend more, bend lower.
Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant. He lived bent low. And bent down here is where I see His face. He lived, only to die. Will I spend myself on behalf of those in front of me? And people say, “Don’t you get tired?” and yes, I do. But I’m face to face with Jesus in the dirt, and the more I bend the harder and better and fuller this life gets. And sure, we are tired, but oh we are happy. Because bent down low is where we find fullness of joy.”
If you really want to go big You Must Overcome The Desire For Prominence. “36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37). Jesus then illustrates what it means to be a “servant of all.” He does something that many of us today would get the point of but in Jesus’ day what He did was really radical.
He takes a child and has that child stand among them and He then picks up the child in His arms. Back in Jesus’ day the infant mortality rates were really high so they did not typically look at the merits of children like many modern cultures do. (Show picture of Samantha). So when Jesus puts a child it is the perfect example of the last or the least. Jesus using a child as an example made a much more powerful statement than it even does today.
So often what we get focused on is personal award, personal reward, personal recognition, position of prestige and position of power. We come to Jesus like James and John did later when they asked Him, “35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37). Then Jesus very emphatically says, “43 But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45).
Sometimes we can totally forget that we are called to be a servant just like Jesus was a servant. He is our model of how we are to live our lives and truly make our lives count. Katie Davis says in Kisses from Katie, “People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes.
She gone on to say, “Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world. People who want to make a difference get frustrated along the way. But if they have a particularly stressful day, they don’t quit. They keep going. Given their accomplishments, most of them are shockingly normal and the way they spend each day can be quite mundane.”
On the days where helping just one more person seems like too much, help me to choose you. On the days when Satan whispers ‘You can’t save everyone, why are you trying?’ let me choose you.”
It may take place in a foreign land or it may take place in your backyard, but I believe that we were each created to change the world for someone. To serve someone. To love someone the way Christ first loved us, to spread His light. This is the dream, and it is possible.