Devotional: “Act Like a Child” (Mark 9:30-37)

July 31st, 2013 | | No Comments
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This story opens with Jesus predicting his brutal death for a second time. The disciples are either unwilling or unable to understand what he means by this. They expect a conquering military king, so his death makes little sense to them. But they are afraid to ask him anymore about it—probably because they are scared to hear the answer he might give. They prefer their uncomprehending delusions.


As they continue on their way to Capernaum, they do not keep silent—even if they won’t ask Jesus about the cross. Instead they fall to arguing about which of the disciples is the greatest. Presumably this quarrel arises because three have seemed to be favored by Jesus (Peter, James and John), and so might have a claim to greatness, and the others have failed to cast out a demon in the meantime, and so might be disparaged as less than great.


Whatever the cause of this schoolyard squabble, we cannot miss the absurd incongruity of the moment. Jesus has just said he is going to die an ignominious death for the sake of his people—the fullest expression of self-sacrificing love the world will ever know; his disciples respond by playing spiritual King of the Hill. A more striking contrast in attitudes about self I cannot fathom.


Rather than rebuke them sharply, Jesus gives them an object lesson. One of the most profound kingdom reversals—when Jesus takes an upside-down world and flips it right-side up—concerns greatness. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (verse 35). That is true greatness—the greatness of the Servant King. To illustrate his point, he takes a child in his arms—a child accorded no status in that cultural context. In fact, in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), the word for child and servant were the same. Effectively, Jesus says, “You must become like this little child, who owns neither status nor significance in the eyes of the world, whose very name means servant.” This is what we embrace when we embrace the call of Christ.


As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” One of the weightiest deaths we die in following Christ is to our own status-seeking. Do you want to be great like Jesus? Then act like a child. Make yourself nothing, the servant of all.


Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. In what ways do you still seek status and recognition? How will you put these desires to death in the Spirit for the sake of Christ?
  2. Would those closest to you think of you as one who loves to serve or one who loves to be served? How will you pursue a lifestyle of service towards others?
  3. Think of at least one practical way you can humble yourself and serve someone else (anonymously, ideally) each day for the rest of the week.

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