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Who Do You Say I Am?
The Gospel of Mark

This morning, we are going to pick up the pace and move through the rest of Mark chapter 9. 


But before we take off into Mark, I want to think about… greatness.


Now that we are ready to slap fight a tree, let’s go to Mark chapter 9 to see what Jesus says about greatness.




Mark 9:30-32 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And Jesus did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise."  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 


There is an urgency about the message.  Jesus did not want to take time for all the crowds with their demands.  Jesus needed the disciples to understand his message about greatness. 


This is the second time Jesus has attempted to get the disciples to understand that being the Christ means going to the cross.  This is a hard concept to get our brains around.  The disciples didn’t get it…

--The Messiah was supposed… conquer.

--The Messiah was supposed to be… powerful!

--The Messiah was supposed to be… successful! 

--The Messiah was supposed to be… great! 

Greatness and success and power and conquer were the Messiah!  It was hard for the disciples to wrap their heads around a dead Messiah. 


Interesting observation: In the Gospel of Mark Jesus predicts that the Son of Man is going to be killed three times.  After each of the three passion predictions, there is a discussion about greatness.

--After the first prediction of the Christ being delivered to suffer and die, Peter takes Jesus aside to fix his understanding of greatness.

--Here, in the second prediction, we are about to see the disciples arguing about greatness.

--In the third, James and John are wanting to sit on the left and right hand of Jesus. 


None of the disciples get that greatness in the kingdom is taking up your cross and following Jesus.  Greatness in the Kingdom is self-sacrifice.


Even though the disciples don’t understand, they hesitate to ask Jesus about this. 


After last week’s… "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me." The disciples are a bit hesitant to irritate Jesus again. 


Before we are too hard on the disciples, there are several hard-to-get-your-head-wrapped-around concepts about greatness in the rest of the chapter.




Mark 9:33-37 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.  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." And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." 


Jesus resorts to an object lesson to teach them.  Straight up teaching has not worked.  Perhaps, an object lesson.  Jesus finds a little boy.  One of Peter and Andrews’s nephews, probably.  Jesus sits down and hugs the kid.  Then, Jesus uses hospitality words…"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." 


Receive is a hospitality word.   Welcoming into your embrace. Serve a kid.  Then Jesus says the opposite of what the disciples would have understood. Welcome child = welcome Jesus = Welcome God!


In the context of Jesus’s world, servants and children as well as women, served the males of household!  Jesus says no.  Greatness in the kingdom is receiving kids!


--The kingdom of heaven is not about… making you feel good about yourself.

--The kingdom of heaven is not about… power in any kind of brute-force way.

--The kingdom of heaven is not about… greatness by any definition of success.


--The kingdom of heaven is about… putting the least of these, first.

--The kingdom of heaven is about… hospitality to the other.

--The kingdom of heaven is about… greatness that comes from hugging kids.


Our definitions of greatness need to be reevaluated.


There is more to get our heads around.  “I knew you were going to say that.”




Mark 9:38-40 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."  But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  For the one who is not against us is for us.” 


John sees some other believer in Jesus casting our demons.  “Wait a second.  We, THE 12!  We are the ones who have been trained.  We are the ones who are close to Jesus.  We have a franchise on exorcism in Jesus’ name.” So, John told this other guy to stop. 


Jesus explains greatness is not an exclusive thing.  Greatness is not based upon our side being better than their side.  Greatness is not being associated with the right organization. Greatness in the kingdom is not being a citizen of the superior country.  Greatness is not a function of being on the inside of an “elite” group!


Greatness is not about picking the winning team.  “Seriously, you are going to say that with NFL season less than a month away.”    Sorry.  Greatness in the Kingdom is neither inclusive nor exclusive.


“Is there more?”  I am afraid so…




Mark 9:41 “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”


Greatness is not in doing great things.  Greatness is in doing precious little things.  That is difficult to believe. 

--If I could preach a sermon to 1,000s that really changed the world…

--If I could write a book that reformed the way the world thought about Jesus…

--If I could go to Bonga-Bonga and baptize hundreds…

--If I could do something that would be remembered…


But giving a cup of water because I belong to Christ… is great.


“Seriously?  Are you sure Jesus?  Greatness is not in amazing accomplishments?  Surely, you are not serious?”


To show how serious Jesus is listen to the next words…




Mark 9:42-48 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'”


Jesus is so serious about his definitions of greatness that if you discourage a little one, you are in deep kimchee.  Or rather deep Gehenna. 

--If your hands were to slap a child… better off without them.

--If your foot ran over a child you would be off without them.

--If you eyed a kid maliciously…


Greatness is not in any kind of arrogance, hatefulness or hurtfulness or anything that gets in the way of a little one who believes in Jesus has serious consequences.


SideBar – the word translated hell in these verse is Gehenna.  It is the valley of Hinnon.  In Jesus’s time, it was the local garbage dump.  The fire kept burning all the time as garbage was thrown into it.  Jesus uses this a metaphor for the destruction of those who cause a little one to sin.   Next week, I plan on taking a time out and doing a sermon on Gehenna.  There is a lot of confusion about the doctrine of hell.  I suspect our hellology is more influenced by Milton’s “Paradise Lost” than Jesus. Tune in next week for…  What I believe happens to the wicked.


But the point here is arrogance or anything that would cause a kid to sin is a serious offense.


I’ve got one more point about greatness.  “The last?”  Yes.




Mark 9:49-50 “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."


I don’t know what this means.  It seems to be three different sayings about salt.  But I really don’t have a clue what Jesus means by these three statements.  Perhaps, they were popular sayings at the time.  Maybe, Mark wants us to realize we don’t know everything.


I have been working on another famous saying. 

--If it’s stupid…Don’t do it.

--Nobody wants… your advice.

--Nobody wants to be told want to do.

--Nobody wants your opinion, unless you are an expert.  You aren’t an expert unless you have spent 10,000 hours on the subject.  Or maybe, if you have spent 1,000 hours I might listen to you.  I will even give you 100 hours to have a valid opinion.  Reading an article on Facebook does not make you an expert.


You don’t have to have an opinion about everything. 


Greatness is not in always being right.  Greatness is knowing you are not an expert. 


Greatness is in humility!




Let’s put it all together.  Here is what Jesus says about greatness…Greatness in the Kingdom is a life of self-sacrifice lived in the humility of receiving children with little acts of non-exclusive service given without arrogance.


Or… (show poster)


Tim Stidham

August 13, 2017

Los Alamos Church of Christ


Los Alamos Church of Christ - 2323 Diamond Drive - Los Alamos, New Mexico - 87544 - (505) 695.5875