Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Greatness is a Childish Attitude

Mark 9:30-49

I like to be useful. I like to get things done. In fact, some people might call me "driven" though I rather like the word "productive" instead. Someone told me recently that driven people have obsessive focus - and its actually wired into your brain.

I've often wondered how God ranks us as His workers. Do the most points go for the most productive? What can you do to get ahead in God's kingdom? I want the career track to the head of the line!

Well, as we are going to see today - there are three qualities that God looks for in a person who wants to excel in His kingdom: they are not: 1) a driven personality 2) the ability to give orders and 3) plenty of chutzpah.

In fact they are: 1) the willingness to serve, 2) the ability to trust, and 3) the openness to be molded.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

Sometimes leaders will say things that we don't understand - and because of who they are, we don't want to look stupid by asking for further explanation. The disciples would have been well served had they asked Jesus and not been afraid of looking ignorant.

We should not be afraid to ask the Lord or our fellow brothers and sisters to explain something - even if it appears pretty basic.

2 Peter 1:12-13 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body?

As it turns out - Jesus is setting them up. In chapter 8 we talked about the things of God being different than the things of men - that Lucifer's way was to short-circuit God's plan by going around suffering.

Now Jesus further hones in on the difference between man's ways and God's by talking about the character of a leader. Jesus' character is that of a servant - but His disciples think that whoever is most important ought to have the highest place, not the lowest.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

They were probably at Peter's house - Jesus apparently already knew about their argument - over who was the greatest. These guys still thought of Jesus as an earthly king - had simply not grasped the enormity of the plan, or the enormous difference in character.

There is an awkward silence, then Jesus gives them a hard lesson.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

The idea here isn't that those who want to be first will be sent to the back of the line - but that ranking in the kingdom of God is measured by those who serve, not those who are served. "Servant of all" could be translated: "do errands for everyone."

Do you think of yourself as pretty important? Do you want other people to do things for you? Then just realize that in God's economy it is the servants who are honored - by what they give, not what is given to them.

This isn't some kind of self put-down. Paul says:

Philippians 2:2-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

"Don't be show off" Paul might say - and never think you are better than someone else. Instead, do nice things for others because you can.

This is a good set up for what Jesus does next - show the type of innocent trust and character that is the most like the members of His kingdom:

36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

The word for "child" here is the same as "servant" above. We must come to Jesus like little children - who trust that an adult will receive and love them. Have you ever had a little child reach up with their hand to have you help them across the street? That's the kind of trust we need to have with Jesus - instead of reaching out to Him and expecting Him to grant us relationship and blessing and position because of how wonderful we are, we should become like a child and fully trust Him because we know He is good - we don't deserve it, but He loves and receives us.

Children were seen as second-class citizens in that society. Jesus is changing that by encouraging the members of His kingdom to treat children with kindness and gentleness.

For some reason, John is still hung up with the prestige thing it seems - as he asks Jesus about how he had stopped someone from driving out demons when he wasn't part of their "club."

38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

It's kind of ironic in that the disciples were unable to drive out a demon - yet this man, not one of the 12, could. Just because someone doesn't belong to your church or isn't an "important" person in the church, doesn't mean they can't work for the Lord.

Sometimes we think that only Billy Graham or someone else really big should be able to work great things for God. Some of His most incredible servants wear the most unobtrusive garb.

Obviously this man was open to Jesus - and Jesus makes the point that even if someone doesn't yet have a relationship, if he or she is openly speaking or doing things that are positive about the Lord - that they are probably close.

It doesn't mean that you can remain neutral about Jesus - everyone must chose to be with Him or against Him - but we must realize that we are not all going to look the same and act the same and that's okay.

The Message paraphrase renders the last part of verse 41 this way: Mark 9:41
41 Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

So people coming with innocence and with incomplete knowledge are okay - Priscilla and Aquilla helped Apollos better understand what he was preaching so forcefully in Acts - but the opposite is also very important - that if we cause one of these innocent believers to stumble - look out!

42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

These large stones were pulled by a donkey to crush grain - certain death awaited you if you were thrown into the lake with one of these stones around you neck - you would certainly "swim with the fishes."

Jesus is talking about purposefully setting about to cause a sincere believer to sin. I picture him thinking like a parent - if you were to watch someone try to lead your little trusting child to jump off a cliff - what would your response be?

I'm sorry to say this, but a very harsh punishment awaits those who pull sincere believers into a path of sin. Don't do it! God takes care of His children.

But there is a lesson for the individual too and temptation:

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

"'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

A couple of things here - Jesus is not telling us to cut off our hands or poke out our eyes. The hands represent what we do - our feet where we go, and our eyes what we take in. If we sin - do things that are against God's pure character - and if we could rid ourselves of that sin by cutting off a hand or foot - it would be worth it rather than going to hell.

You can't, of course - the only way to avoid hell is by allowing Jesus to take the punishment awaiting you on Himself. You need to appropriate His sacrifice for you personally.

The picture Jesus paints of hell is that of a place called Gehenna. Gehenna is named for the valley outside of Jerusalem where at one time children were burned in sacrifice to Moloch and what became a garbage dump where fire burned constantly and worms infested the rotting garbage.

He's painting an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. Some people have a hard time admitting that there is a hell - a place of torment that is separated from God.

Jesus actually spoke more of hell than of heaven. Hell was not made for us, but to punish Satan and his demons in their rebellion. But all those who have not escaped from Satan's grasp will share his fate - and we are born in his hold because Adam rebelled against God and gave over his allegiance to the serpent.

The statement at the end about the "worm dieth not" actually comes from Isaiah 66 - but doesn't appear in all manuscripts of Mark. But it bears looking at:

Isaiah 66:22-24 "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. 24 "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."

I don't know exactly what this means - but all I know is I don't want to be with the worms or the fire. The Bible describes hell as a place of "outer darkness," a lake of fire and a place of torment and utter separation from God and all that is good. Its not that demons with pitchforks punish you - like the evil prison warden - the demons are being punished too.

It is really hard for me to imagine anyone going there - but know this, that people will get what they want - if they don't want to have anything to do with God then He will grant that wish.

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

There are various interpretations of this verse- I'll give you what I think it is - that Jesus is picking up on the entire section - starting with the painful trial He was about to undergo - and running through the arguments over who was greatest and into the idea of pure and innocent devotion.

The "salted with fire" I think is a reference to the sacrificial system where sacrifices were to be "salted" before they were burned.

Salt represented a purifying agent - just as our trials purify us.

Peter would later write:

1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin

Trials humble us because we realize how useless and hopeless and weak we are without God. By trials God removes impurities and instills His character into our lives - that's when we become useful to Him.

50 "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

The salt gathered from the south end of the Dead Sea was susceptible to deterioration into tasteless crystals. We should always maintain salt in ourselves - that is, as a useful agent to God, willing to be purified by Him.

If they disciples had had this attitude they would not have been arguing about who was the greatest.

So, in conclusion:

Don't be afraid to ask for clarification and explanation about God's true purposes
To be great you have to become like a servant
Be a little child in your innocent devotion to God
Watch out for those who make the innocent stumble
Be willing God to bring you through trials to purify you and make you useful for Him.

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