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“Who Is the Greatest?”
Mark 9:30-37


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventeenth Sunday after PentecostSeptember 27, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our message is based on today’s Gospel Reading from Mark: “‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ Jesus asked his disciples.  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who would be the greatest. . .  Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.’”

To understand what the disciples were arguing about, we must realize that they had some really distorted ideas about Jesus’ mission here on earth.  They thought Jesus would be a great and powerful worldly king, who would start a political revolution, drive the hated Romans out of their country, and establish his kingdom here on earth.

More than once, Jesus tried in vain to set his disciples straight, to explain that his kingdom would not be of this world, not an earthly kingdom, but heavenly, a spiritual kingdom of all who believe in him.  In our Gospel Reading, he bluntly makes clear to them that he will not be a glorious earthly king: “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.”

Betrayal, suffering, and death—not what the disciples were expecting for Jesus in Jerusalem, and not at all what the disciples wanted, for Jesus, for their nation, but most of all for themselves.  They wanted power, they wanted honor, they wanted to be very important people in King Jesus’ glorious kingdom here on earth.

Mark adds, “But they did not understand what he meant.”  The disciples were so blinded by selfish ambition they could not understand even Jesus’ blunt, plain prediction of his betrayal, suffering, and death.  Because that would not fulfill their plans for power and glory.  In their self-centered mindset, what Jesus predicts about himself is simply unthinkable!

And so Jesus and his disciples walk along the road, all going the same direction up to Jerusalem, but with their thoughts miles apart.  Jesus is thinking about what lies ahead for him: “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.”  And the disciples?  Even while they walk with their master to the place of his execution, their selfish thoughts are centered on themselves, bringing themselves power and glory, arguing with one another, arguing who among them will be the greatest in the court of King Jesus.

Sad to say, isn’t that often still the same situation with Christ and his disciples, as we walk with him on the road of life?  How often our thoughts are not with Christ on sacrifice and service, but selfishly centered on ourselves.  How often, like the disciples of old, we argue with one another along the way.  As James says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? . . . envy and selfish ambition in your hearts. . .”  How often, like the disciples of old, we are blinded by “envy and selfish ambition,” blinded to what it really means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ. 

Paul says in Philippians, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who . . . made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

“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.”  As he walked the way to Jerusalem, Jesus knew what was ahead.  “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Christ gave his life as a ransom for you, a sacrifice to pay for your sins.  Christ humbled himself unto death on the cross for you, to earn you forgiveness.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”  God does not count your sins against you, because they are all forgiven because of his own Son’s sacrifice in your place.

“And after three days he will rise.”  His sacrifice for your sins complete, on the third day he rose from the dead for you, so that you will rise with him to eternal life. As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness . . . and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life . . . just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  This morning in Holy Communion, you are reminded again how much your Savior loves you.  Loves you so much that he gave his body and shed his blood for you.

Today’s Gradual from Philippians says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. . .  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all. . .  Just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Who is the greatest?  Christ gives only one reason for greatness: humble service.  As Paul says in Galatians, “Serve one another in love.”

Amen.

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