Jesus Again Predicts His Death
30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn't want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead." 32 They didn't understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
The Greatest in the Kingdom
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, "What were you discussing out on the road?" 34 But they didn't answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else."
36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me."
Jesus is again on the move, intentionally avoiding the crowds in order to spend time with and instruct his disciples. Again Jesus tells them of his impending death, but they don't know what he means and are afraid to ask. The disciples argue about who is the greatest, and Jesus instructs them concerning true greatness.
Betrayed ... will rise (Mark 9:31)
Once again Jesus warned his disciples of what lay ahead for him: betrayal, death, and resurrection. Here "betrayed" (Greek paradidomi) carries the meaning of: "to deliver a person into the control of someone else, involving either the handing over of a presumably guilty person for punishment by authorities or the handing over of an individual to an enemy who will presumably take undue advantage of the victim - 'to hand over, to turn over to, to betray.'"831 This term "was used both of Judas' betrayal of Jesus (Mark 3:19; 14:41; Luke 24:7) and of God's delivering up Jesus to death for the redemption of sinners (Isaiah 53:6, 12; Acts 2:23; Romans 8:32)."832 According to Mark's account, Jesus said that he "shall arise by his own power and might,"833 whereas Matthew records that "God shall raise Jesus up" (see Matthew 17:23).834 Is there a conflict here? Not at all. Besides the fact that "will rise" does not mean of one's own power without any help from God (see Matthew 12:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:16), the Bible makes clear that all three persons of the Trinity were involved in Jesus' resurrection and will also bring about our own:835
Father: John 5:28-29; Acts 2:24, 32: 3:15, 26; 10:40; 17:31; Romans 4:24; 6:4, 9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:4; 20; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 4:14; Galatians 1:1
Son: Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19; 6:39-40; 10:17-18; 11:25; Acts 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Holy Spirit: Romans 1:4; 8:11; 1 Peter 3:18
Beyond that, it is worth noting that: "There is no inconsistency ... between Jesus' 'being raised' by the Father and his 'rising' by his own power. As the obedient Servant of the Lord, who took the sinner's sins and curse upon himself, he had to wait for the Father to raise him up, thereby proving that Jesus' atoning work was indeed finished (John. 19:30). On the other hand, as God incarnate he had also the authority and power to take again the life he had voluntarily laid down, thus actively abolishing death, bringing life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10), being 'appointed the Son of God in power' (Romans 1:4 TNIV)."836
Afraid to ask (Mark 9:32)
We know from Mark and the other gospel writers that the disciples responded to Jesus' announcement with "sorrow, bewilderment, and fear"837 (see Matthew 17:23; Luke 9:45). Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus what he meant by all his talk of suffering and dying? In simplest terms, it was because "they did not want to know."838 Why not? Likely for several reasons:
The disciples did not want to face "the impending fate of their beloved Rabbi."839
They did not want to face up to their own probable suffering and possible death.840
They were too embarrassed, lest they not understand Jesus' explanation.
They feared being rebuked, as Peter had been.841
Jesus' premature death would crush "their hopes for a reigning Messiah"842 - including the accompanying power and status to which they felt themselves entitled as officials within his kingdom.
The greatest (Mark 9:34)
Jesus asked his disciples what they had been discussing, and they replied with embarrassed silence.843 They had, in fact, been arguing about who was the greatest in their group - and hence who would occupy the most prominent positions "in the political kingdom which they were expecting [Jesus] to establish."844 "Perhaps the privileges given to Peter, James, and John (cf. Mark 5:37; 9:2) fueled the argument."845 In any event, their "jealous rivalry"846 certainly reflected the prevailing attitude of the day which paid homage to "persons of authority and influence" while looking down on "someone with no rank, no authority, no privilege."847 Jesus turned this mindset on its head by proclaiming that the greatest must be the servant of all. What did he mean? "Being a 'servant' did not mean occupying a servile position; rather it meant having an attitude of life that freely attended to others' needs without expecting or demanding anything in return."848 As one source puts it: "True greatness does not consist in this, that from a towering height a person, in a self-congratulatory manner, has the right now to look down upon all others (Luke 18:9-12); but in this, that he immerses himself in the needs of others, sympathizes with them and helps them in every way possible. So, if any person - whether he be one of The Twelve or anyone else - wishes to be first, he must be last; that is, servant of all."849
Thus it was that "Jesus described leadership from a new perspective. Instead of using people, we are to serve them."850 Here Jesus used the word "servant" (Greek diakanos: "a person who renders service"851), but elsewhere he used the word "slave" (Greek doulos: "one who is a slave in the sense of becoming the property of an owner,"852 also translated "bondslave" or "bond-servant") (see Matthew 20:27; Mark 10:44; Luke 17:10). Every true Christian is a slave/bond-servant of Christ: we freely relinquish our rights in order to serve our Lord and serve other people in his name. Jesus was not condemning "the desire to improve one's position in life but He did teach that greatness in His kingdom was not determined by status but by service."853 Jesus was actually condoning, not condemning, greatness - not "the false, earthly idea of greatness that was in the minds of the disputing disciples," but true, spiritual greatness.854
A little child (Mark 9:36)
Jesus used a child as a living illustration of anyone who is weak, in need, and humbly dependent on others.855 "[C]hildren were held in little regard in late antiquity."856 The child here represents one who is helpless and unable to repay anything done for him or her.857 To help one in such a state is to offer sacrificial service.858 The true disciple of Jesus must be willing to assume a lowly position in order to serve those who are in a lowly state.859 Certainly "[i]t is possible for thoughtless, selfish people to gain a measure of worldly greatness, but lasting greatness is measured by God's standards" - the first step of which is to replace personal achievement with unselfish service.860 Rather than "seeking a place of service, [the disciples] were seeking positions of advantage. Jesus used a child to help his self-centered disciples get the point. They were to have servant attitudes, being not 'childish' (arguing over petty issues), but 'childlike,' with humble and sincere hearts."861 To humbly render service to someone and expect absolutely nothing in return is to perform a great act of faith - although "its greatness will not be displayed until the judgment day."862
The little child also offers some invaluable lessons on what it takes to enter God's kingdom: "When we receive Jesus, we actually 'enter' or are 'received into' his kingdom. The way into this kingdom is to turn to God from sin in the same spirit of humility that a child exhibits when he shows simple trust in someone he loves. A child comes to a trusted adult without achievements or personal greatness; instead, the child comes simply trusting that he will be received and loved."863
China's First Emperor
The story of China's first emperor is a story of the wrong type of ambition.
By the age of thirteen, Ying Cheng had become a warlord, and for the next twenty-five years he fought other warlords and amassed a million-man army. He had a well-earned reputation for completely devouring his enemies.
"At the height of his power he adopted a new title: Ch'in Shih Huang Ti - First Divine Emperor of China. It was because of this title that we call his land China today. He boasted that he was the head of a dynasty that would last ten thousand years."
Besides establishing a central monarchy, Emperor Ch'in "developed a uniform code of law, launched massive public works - roads and canals - and built a shining new capital." He had a massive palace that was one and a half miles long and a half-mile wide.
The Emperor's "greatest" achievement, however, was the great Wall of China. Built with forced labor, it is said that the bones of the tens of thousands of workers who perished on the job were ground up and added to the mortar. "If it were in the United States, it would reach from Los Angeles to New York and back again to Chicago. At its top was a roadway wide enough for eight men marching abreast, and it was connected by twenty-five thousand towers. Signal messages could be sent across ancient China in twenty-four hours."
Emperor Ch'in died at the age of forty-one, the victim of a plot by his prime minister. The conspirators also forged a letter to the Emperor's son, the end result of which was the son's suicide.
Rather than a ten-thousand year dynasty, Emperor Ch'in's was in fact the shortest dynasty in the history of China.864
"It is not wrong for believers to be industrious or ambitious. But when ambition pushes aside obedience and service, it becomes sin. We are all like the disciples and even like the Pharisees in this regard. Pride or insecurity can cause us to overvalue position and prestige."865 As Jesus taught by both word and example, true and lasting greatness begins with being ambitious to do God's will by offering sacrificial service to those who cannot repay us.
??? When you think of "greatness," what images come to mind? What can this passage teach us about true greatness and how we can attain it?