Series B Pentecost 18
Jesus’ definition of greatness
October 15, 2000
Mark 9:30-37  

Introduction: What is Jesus’ definition of “greatness”? What is His standard, His measuring stick? Jesus answers that question in the Gospel of Matthew with very clear and specific words. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus asking ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  Calling unto Himself an infant Jesus placed him in front of them and said ‘whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones; who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea…see that you do not despise one of theses babies, for I tell you that their angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in heaven” {Matthew 18:1; 4-6; 10}

These words sound familiar to us. They have been read over one hundreds of times over the past fourteen years, as they are included in the baptism order of service that has been used at this parish. And now to the question for this morning; Are we surprised at these words?  Are we offended by these words of the Savior?

Jesus is quite specific when it comes to defining greatness.  In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus gives further instruction of what it means to be great according to His definition. The disciples had been engaged in that very conversation.  Like any parent who can clearly over hear the bickering and arguing that goes on Jesus asks them once they enter the house “What were you arguing about on the road?” {v. 33} Jesus has them dead to rights as Mark informs us that they kept quiet because they have been bickering about who was the greatest among them. {v.34} Consider Jesus’ clear and definitive response.

I.  To be great, according to Jesus, you first must be the very least. You must become the servant of all. Jesus said “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” {v. 35}

  A.  Jesus’ definition of greatness differs from the ways of this world.  The world defines greatness in a number of smart yet catchy phrases. “The one with the most toys wins!”  “I’ll meet you at the top” “Luck is when preparation and opportunity collide” Power, control and a stockpile of cash are just some of the parts that make up the whole that determine the world’s definition of greatness.  Jesus’ understanding of greatness is summed up in one small yet powerful word -–to be a servant. Jesus said “For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” {Matthew 20:28}

  1. Jesus became the servant of all in His cross and suffering. There, at the cross, He took the sins of the entire world and carried them. The hymn writer reminds us: “a lamb goes uncomplaining forth the guilt of all men bearing. And laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing…” (TLH #142 stanza 1)

  2. “Stricken, smitten and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree” He hangs there, for you and for me, taking the sins of the entire world unto Himself. He suffered that we might receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  As He suffered there is now “peace on earth, good will toward men” “God and man are now reconciled” - for in Jesus Christ all sin is forgiven – period!

B.   St. Paul tells us the very same thing about greatness. He says: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a -servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” {Philippians2: 5-8}

  1. Jesus was rich toward God in every respect. He was the perfect. Holy, Son of God.  But in that great exchange He took our sin to Himself.

  2. He became poor for us, that we might be rich toward God. He became a slave that we might be called an heir. No one can be too low for Jesus because He sank to the lowest point possible that we might be lifted up. He was the “true light” and yet He allowed Himself to experience the “outer darkness”. He was forsaken by God and by man that we might never have to sink that low.

Transition: Jesus demonstrated what it meant to be a servant in His humiliation, suffering, passion and death. Thus we are called to recognize Him and acknowledge those who He determines to be great among us.

II.   To be great in the Savior’s eyes means that we must acknowledge Him by recognizing those who He places before us as great in His kingdom.  Listen to the Savior’s words: “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.” (v. 37)

A. Jesus’ words are simple. “Whoever welcomes one of these babies in My name welcomes Me.” The old axiom says “children should be seen and not heard”.  In our time, since 1972, at the rate of 1.5 million a year, children have forfeited their legitimate right to exist because of   “ A Mother’s right to choose”.   Life is full of choices.  Let’s look at how Jesus decides how we should choose.

  1. The true mark of faith is to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As the Father draws us we acknowledge Jesus as our true and One Redeemer. 

  2. Baptism is our entry point. This is our new birth, our second birth, and our welcome into the family of Christ. Should we deny a child entry into the kingdom? Certainly not! They are to be welcomed; they are to be recognized as great in the kingdom. Whenever we witness a baptism, whenever we remember our own baptism we are not only acknowledging God’s wonderful goodness we are witnessing those that He considers great in the kingdom.

B. In Baptism we witness a great and mighty wonder, a mystery, and a miracle. All who are baptized are ushered into the kingdom, and placed front and center and acknowledged as great in the Father’s kingdom. This is pure Grace, we have the privilege to welcome an heir into our midst.

When Princes Di gave birth to her first son William, the world took note that the heir to the British throne had been born.  When we witness a baptism, an heir to an eternal kingdom is born and placed before us!  No wonder Jesus says they are the greatest in the kingdom! Remember your baptism! Remember you are a child of the King and heir to His eternal kingdom! 

  1. Jesus is specific. When we welcome a child in baptism we welcome Him. When we welcome Him we welcome the Father. 

  2. We welcome the Father when Jesus and His activity are placed first and foremost in our lives.  When we witness a baptism and remember our own baptism; a crown of everlasting life is given to us which will not tarnish which can not be snatched away by the enemy!

Conclusion: The old song sings: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight. Jesus love the little children of the world.”  That’s not child’s play. That’s our reality.  That’s what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God. In baptism you are declared to be a child of the King. You are an heir. You and all the baptized are great in the Kingdom! 

+ Soli Deo Gloria+