God’s Word for You
Mark 9:33-35 last of all and servant of all
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 6, 2020
Last of All and Servant of All
33 Then they arrived at 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 with one another about who was the greatest.
As we noticed before, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to give up his life for the forgiveness of our sins. So this brief stay (just one day) was his last visit to Capernaum. The house is described as “the” house; the one Jesus always stayed in when he was there, dating back to the earliest days of his ministry (John 2:12) after he was rejected at Nazareth, the home of his childhood. But this house was not set aside for Jesus alone. Some family lived there; perhaps that of one of the disciples, or perhaps some other family who were there as caretakers. There was at least one child in the household who, of course, was not the child of Jesus (Mark 9:36-37; Isaiah 53:8).
There at home, he asked his disciples what it was they had been “arguing” about. The Greek term dialogizomai means more than “dialogue.” It means to discuss by arguing opposing points of view. It was the usual way to talk about matters of philosophy, religion, or even preference. In this case, it turned out to have been a matter of preference. Jesus knew this by means of his divine nature, but he had a lesson to teach, so he asked them what it was all about.
Their reluctance to say showed that they felt guilty about having said what they said. But we should remember the culture in which they lived. Practically every social encounter in Israel touched on social standing. Jesus had talked about it himself in the parable of the wedding feast: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited” (Luke 14:9-11). While that parable carried a spiritual message about humility and repentance, it also illustrated a practical concern: A person’s social standing dictated where he sat at dinner. Questions of precedence seemed to pop up everywhere. In the Dead Seas Scrolls, we read passages like this: “Each one [will take his seat] by his rank: The priests will sit down first, the elders next and the remainder of all the people will sit down in order of rank” (The Rule of the Community, 1QS vi:8-9). But since Jesus had already warned his followers to be humble, the disciples were ashamed to have fallen back into this kind of a discussion.
35 Jesus sat down and called the Twelve. He said to them, “If someone wants to be first, he will be last of all and servant of all.”
Mark has condensed what was a longer discussion in Matthew and Luke, but Mark has the summary, which was phrased by Jesus as a mashal, an enigmatic sentence which could only be understood through faith. Jesus is talking about those who want to be first in the kingdom of heaven, which was a noble and worthy aspiration; not sinful in the least. But for anyone who does not understand this, it would seem as if Jesus’ words are a kind of a curse, as if aspiring to be first will result in humiliation and disaster; the one who aspires will be reduced to being a slave or servant. But Jesus means that anyone who desires to be a part of the kingdom of God and to excel in the work of the Lord will want to be last and servant in his mind; least in attitude (thought), in word, and in deed. Jesus shows this in other places where the same subject is addressed, especially the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).
We who are God’s children do not need to argue about our place in heaven or about our rank among one another. We will want only to serve the King of kings. In this, we have the angels as our examples. The angels do not argue about which assignment they have. One of them announces the birth of Christ, another keeps sinners from the Garden of Eden, and another goes to yank Lot from Sodom before the volcano erupts. Yet another tells Paul he will preach before Caesar, another one announces the resurrection of Jesus, and yet another one watches over you as you pray to be spared from virus and plague. None of them balk about their service, and neither should we. One of us is called to serve during a war, and another during a time of peace. One is called to be the mother of a family with specific and special needs. Another is called to be the oldest brother who will guide his siblings and care for his parents in their old age. Still another will be set aside by God to live to a great age, serving the church of God into a distant decade or even century, and buoying up the church of Jesus Christ with her prayers and her quiet wisdom. You yourself have a special place in the kingdom of the Lord. Do the task before you today; tomorrow, another task will come. Do it all for the glory of God.
Pastor Timothy Smith