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.” Mark 9:35
Have you ever met anyone who needed an attitude check? You know the kind of person I'm speaking of. Everyone has met one of those people who is living in their own world and doesn’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves. Everything is caught up in how their day is going and if something messes with their agenda for the day, then it seems like their world has come to an end. Or maybe you’ve been that person who needed the attitude check. Perhaps you can point to a time when someone had to stop you and say, “Hey, check the attitude.”
That’s sort of what Jesus has to do in our passage this morning. It is a passage about attitudes. More specifically, it is about attitudes for Christian discipleship. This passage presses us as readers to ask the question: what sort of attitude should we have if we are going to be disciples of Jesus?
The passage begins with Jesus’ second prediction of his betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection. And, like the first time, the disciples do not understand what he is talking about. Jesus had recently begun to speak of his coming death and resurrection, but they did not have categories for a suffering Messiah king. How could anyone be God’s chosen king, if he ended up dead? It just didn’t make sense to them yet.
During their journey, the disciples got into an argument. And as they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were fighting over. Mark tells us they remained silent, and that shouldn't surprise us when we find out what they were arguing about. They were arguing about which among them was the greatest. This may seem kind of strange to us, but remember they believed Jesus was the Messiah king, which meant that when he established his rule, they would be in the running for the top jobs. It's not so much that they were having an abstract argument about which of them was greatest; they were quarrelling over who deserved the best positions in the expected kingdom.
So, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them what sort of attitudes ought to characterize his followers. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms to which they were accustomed. His is the kingdom of God, and not only are the players different, the rules are different as well. If they are to be a part of what Jesus is doing, then they need an attitude check. They need to know what attitudes Jesus expects from his followers.
Christian discipleship requires an attitude of sacrificial service (35).
These guys are absolutely consumed with themselves. They want the top positions. They want the power. They want the influence. They want everything the world has to offer. There’s just one problem. Jesus doesn't do things the way the world does. So, he tells them: "If you want to be first, then you've got to take the last place. If you want to be in the lead, then you’ve got to become a servant." It's easy to see that Jesus expects his disciples to have an attitude of sacrificial service.
This is why they don’t understand Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection. They think leadership is about power. Jesus understands that leadership is about sacrifice and service. He is the one will be betrayed for their sake and for ours. He is the one who will suffer for their sake and for ours. He is the one who will be killed on a cross for their sake and for ours. He is the one who will give everything to be obedient to his Father unto death, even death on a cross. With his death, he serves us by taking the wrath of God against our sin upon himself, by dying the death we deserved. It is through that death that we are reconciled to him that we may become his followers in service to God and to the church for the sake of the lost world. Our response to his service is to have faith in his name. Then he empowers us to go out to serve others. This passage prompts us to ask: how have we sacrificed in order to serve others lately?
Christian discipleship requires an attitude of acceptance (36-38).
To make this point, Jesus took a child in his arms and told the disciples that anyone who welcomes a child also welcomes Jesus. To understand this, we need to remember that children in the ancient world really had no social status or rank. They were dependant upon parents and family. You did not gain from having children in your movement. But Jesus says that its important to have an attitude of acceptance with regard to those, like this child, who can do nothing for you.
When we speak of acceptance, we do not mean acceptance of unrepentant sin. Jesus is talking about acceptance here with no regard for social or economic status. If you want a proper attitude for discipleship, take on an attitude who will love and serve someone who can do nothing for you. Such an attitude should characterize us as individuals and as the church body.
Christian discipleship requires an attitude of affirmation (38-41).
At this point, John pipes up and tells Jesus how the disciples tried to stop some guy from casting out demons in Jesus’ name just because he was not part of their group. Jesus’ answer is basically this: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND? If he is not against us, then he is with us. If he is ministering in my name, then don’t stop him.
You see, the disciples have gotten a sort of spiritual tunnel vision. They thought all ministry revolves around them. And Jesus has to let them know that his work is bigger than their group.
It’s easy for this to happen in churches. We get caught up in what our group is doing, and we’re not all that interested in what other Christian groups are doing. We are much more likely to make cracks about other denominations than to compliment their work in the gospel.
Baptists and Methodists are well-known for making derogatory jokes about one another. I have come to believe that such jokes are not pleasing to our Lord. He would rather us affirm the good aspects of each other’s ministry in his name. If the church down the street gives a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, then praise be to God for the work he is doing through them. And may he so work through us as well. Christian discipleship requires an attitude that affirms ministry that is consistent with the priorities of Christ.
G. K. Chesterton once said, “The world is upside down; Christ has come to turn it right side up.” In our passage from Mark we see just this. The disciples are thinking like the world. And their thinking is upside down. Christ must instruct them to turn their attitudes right side up. Christian discipleship is not about stepping on others to get to the top; it is about sacrificing yourself in ministry to others. Christian discipleship is not about ignoring the insignificant; it is about welcoming those who can do nothing for you. Christian discipleship is not about unnecessary criticism of other believes; it is about affirming all work done consistently in the with the name and in the power of Christ.
We are the ones who need to be adjusted. We are the ones who are upside down. We are the ones who need an attitude check. Christ tells us what attitudes we should have if we are to be his followers. May God give us the grace to have our attitudes conformed to that of Christ our Lord. Amen.