“Greatness on Jesus’ Terms”

Mark 9:30-37

September 19, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:30-37 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=404358195)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


A while back,

I read a book titled: Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration, by Maury Klein.

It is a detailed corporate history from 1969 to the present

Of the Union Pacific Corporation (UPC),

A holding company that ran businesses in numerous market sectors:

Energy, Information, Real Estate, and Transportation.

Of course, my interest comes from my love of the railroad industry,

And this corporation finds its roots in the Union Pacific Railroad.

What caught my interest is how deeply human a corporation can be;

Finding the right employee for the right job,

Firing the dead wood and fast-tracking the best and brightest,

Tearing down stifling, inflexible, historical culture

And replacing it with analytics, nimbleness, and efficiency.

When billions of dollars are on the line,

Egos must be stroked,

Compensation must be generous,

Scandals need to be swept under the carpet,

And job titles reflect more pride than purpose.

Though enjoyable, this isn’t pleasure reading:

I can apply this history

To the non-profit boards on which I’m privileged to serve.

Though scale, service, purpose, and incentives might be different,

What makes a company great,

And what makes an employee great,

Is debated just the same.

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?


Jesus weighs in on the topic of greatness.

His view of greatness is in stark contrast to the corporate world.

As his followers,

We should pay attention.

Jesus catches his disciples arguing amongst themselves.

They fell silent with shame when queried about what they were arguing about.

It must have been like

Asking a child whose face is covered in chocolate

What they’ve been eating.

Of course, Jesus knows the answer.

He knows what they’d been arguing about.

He knows the answer before he asks.

Here is a teachable moment;

An opportunity that Jesus won’t let slip away.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (9:35)

There are three details for us to pay attention to in his sentence:

1. A want, or desire, to be first.

2. Making the self last of all.

3. Making the self servant of all.

Beloved, strive to be first

By seeking Christ and his kingdom first

This day and

Every day of your life.

Take discipleship with mortal seriousness.

Learn about Christ, follow Christ, behave like Christ

To the very best of your ability.

Make the spiritual journey with Jesus Christ

Our ultimate concern and

Our deepest passion.

Making ourselves last means

That others eat first.

The needs of others,

Specifically, the needs of people like those Jesus reached out too,

Must take priority over our needs. 

Serving all means

We actually need to roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty

In Christian ministry.

It is vitally important to

Push ourselves away from the conference room table

And take our place in the serving line.

The only way to serve all

Is to descend the social ladder

And to welcome those who Jesus associates with.

“Throughout his ministry,”

Elisabeth Johnson writes,

Jesus “associates with the last and the least in society –

Gentile women (Mark 7:24-30),

bleeding women (Mark 5:24-34),

lepers (Mark 1:40-45), r

aging demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20),

tax collectors and other notorious “sinners” (Mark 1:13-17).

He even welcomes and makes time for little children, much to the disciples’ consternation (Mark 10:13-16).”

(As found at Working Preacher dot Org)


What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?


Jesus takes a little child into his arms

And teaching his disciples

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (9:37)

Jesus is making a few points about greatness that we shouldn’t overlook.

1. He uses a child as a teaching illustration.

2. He takes the child into his arms.

3. Jesus uses the word “welcome” to define what it means to be his disciple.

A child, except the first-born male,

Was considered as property,

An asset of their father.

A child was equal in social status

With women, slaves, and gentiles.

Go to the bottom of the social ladder

And there, you and I will find where God wants us to serve.

Taking a child into his arms

Reflects the love, respect, and dignity to which Jesus is calling us.

We are called to serve with the same quality,

The same tender loving care,

As we would hope to be treated.

Welcome, Jesus teaches.

To serve one

one must be committed

to welcoming one.

In other words we don’t simply serve and remain silent.

When we serve, Christ wants us to do so in his name.

Let the benefactors of our service know

That we serve because Jesus teaches us to,

And that, just as Jesus has welcomed me,

So, too, is Jesus welcoming you.

Service and following Jesus go hand in hand.

Missions and evangelism can never be separated.

Mission and evangelism are brothers from other mothers.


What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?


Our Gospel passage this morning begins with Christ’s second prediction

About his suffering, death, and resurrection.

The disciples didn’t understand his lesson the first time.

They’re so ashamed they didn’t get it

They were afraid to ask or inquire further.

The Gospel of Mark has its own unique characteristics.

It culminates in the crucifixion of Christ,

Treating the resurrection almost as a post-script.

This characteristic is highlighted when one conducts a careful comparison

Of each of the three narratives where Jesus

Teaches his disciples that he will suffer, die, and rise again.

The scale tilts heavily in favor of atonement;

To a lesser degree, on resurrection and eternal life.

Furthermore, when one considers the overarching trajectory of the Gospel of Mark,

It is important to note that not one of his disciples

Make it all the way to the cross with Jesus.

Peter denies Jesus.

Judas betrays him and goes out and hangs himself.

Everyone else scatter, for fear of the Jews.

Simon of Cyrene had to be volunteered out of a crowd to carry his cross.

Where’d they all go?

The only ones who made it to the end with Jesus were

Women “looking from a distance,

Mary Magdalene,

and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses,

and Salome.” (15:40)

The point Jesus is making with his predictions, response, and instructions

Is that greatness comes to those who journey with Jesus to the cross.

Are we willing to follow Christ to the point of death,

All our earthly days?

Are we willing to confess our sins and repent of our sins,

Allowing the atoning blood of Christ to wash us clean

All our earthly days?

Great faith doesn’t come from believing;

Greatness comes from following Jesus,

From cradle to grave, and beyond.

Follow Jesus to the cross.

Allow your temptations, burdens, sorrows, and pain to be crucified with him.

And you, my beloved,

Will taste greatness.


What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

Jesus tells us:

Serve others.

Lead others to become his followers.

Follow Christ to his cross.


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