You Were Made for Greatness - Radical

You Were Made for Greatness

Do you want to be “great”? Before you answer that question, it’s important to get the right definition of greatness. Sadly, the world’s definition of greatness is often polar opposite to the Bible’s definition of greatness. In this message from Mark 9:30–37, David Platt points us to Jesus’ interaction with his disciples about what true greatness looks like. With the cross before him, Jesus taught and demonstrated for us that true greatness isn’t self-serving and it doesn’t seek to gain the approval of others. Instead, it finds its satisfaction in God and is therefore freed up to serve God and others. 

Well, if you have a Bible, a copy of God’s Word—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Mark 9. As you’re turning, I want to welcome those of you in other locations across our city, as well as those online who are not able to be with us in person today. It’s really good to be together around God’s Word, in God’s worship. 

It was really good to see so many of you on Friday night for late-night prayer, particularly those of you who were able to be there until a little after midnight. Something happened that only comes after seeking God together for four hours, that just can’t be replicated in another way. 

I pray that the Spirit, the zeal and the freedom in seeking God, shouting, praying, lifting our hands, being silent and bowing down on the ground that marks these Friday nights will work its way more and more into our Sunday mornings. Let’s worship God fearfully and freely.

As a reminder, if someone prays or says something you agree with, you are free at any point to say “Amen,” or “Yes, Lord,” or any number of other appropriate phrases. You’re even free to shout if you would like. I love being in the church together encountering God. 

I’d like to start today by asking you a question. Do you want to be great? I’m not talking about being great at specific things; I’m talking about your life. Do you want to be great in life? I think for many of us, we’re not quite sure how to answer that question, especially if you ask this publicly. We don’t want to be prideful or self-centered by saying, “Yeah, I want to be great.” At the same time, to say no doesn’t sound like that great of an answer either.

For example, if you’re a parent, do you want to be a great parent for your kids? Or do you want to be an okay parent? Children, do you want to be great kids or do want somebody to look at you and say, “Not a great kid”? Think about friendships. Do you want to be a mediocre friend or a great friend? Think about your profession. I don’t want to be a lame pastor. I’m guessing you don’t want to be lame at your job either. So do we want to be great at the vocation God has called us to, or is that prideful? 

I want to contend today that God made you for greatness. I want to show you in God’s Word that God wants you to be great, that God has made your life to be significant, that God wants you to come to the end of your life and feel that you’ve spent your life in great ways. The problem is sin has seriously warped our view of greatness and our desire for greatness in ways that lead to everything from self-exaltation to, surprisingly, self-degradation. A warped view of greatness can lead us to pride, despair and depression. 

I want to show you how Jesus redefines greatness and calls you to it. He doesn’t call you to it, He empowers you to be what God has created you to be—truly great. So read with me in our next passage in the book of Mark, starting in Mark 9:30:

30 [The disciples] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

Let me pause here and note that this is the second time in the book of Mark that we see Jesus predicting His suffering, death and resurrection. The first time is at the end of Mark 8, in verse 31. I want to point out a couple things, kind of as a side note here. These are not the main truths of the whole passage we’re looking at, but they are truths we see all over the Bible that are worth noting here. 

See divine sovereignty and human responsibility

Jesus says, “I am going to be delivered…” That’s passive voice, something that is going to happen to Jesus. Which begs the question: who is going to deliver Jesus. Some would say this is a reference to Judas who would betray Jesus. Yeshe absolutely played a part in delivering Jesus over. But the Bible teaches that ultimately God the Father was delivering over His Son to die. Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Verse ten in the same chapter says, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” and to “put him to grief.” Romans 3:25 (NIV) says, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement.” Acts 4:28 describes the cross as what God’s hand and God’s plan predestined to take place. Even John 3:16 makes this clear: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die.

So God was sovereign and ultimately in control over the death of Jesus. Yet at the same time, people were responsible. They killed Him. Judas betrayed Him. So just remember, whenever we think about sin and evil in the world—including the most evil act in all of history, the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God—people are responsible, yet God is sovereign. God is always ultimately in control. This is true even as we are making real, genuine choices for which we are responsible to Him. This is the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility that we see throughout Scripture.

See divine love and human sinfulness

This leads to the second thing we see here that I want to note: see divine love and human sinfulness on display in these verses, specifically in this play on words. Did you notice it? Jesus says, “The Son of Man”—referring to Himself, how He is God in the flesh, in human form as man—“is going to be delivered into the hands of men”—mankind. We see divine love through the Son of Man, that God would come to humanity and become man in Jesus, specifically to be killed by the men and women He comes to save. The Son of Man, given into the hands of men.

If you’re visiting with us today, or exploring Christianity, this is the most humbling and most happy news in all the world. We, as men and women, have all sinned against God and deserve eternal separation from and judgment before God. But God loves you and me so much that He gave His Son, Jesus, to live the life we could not live—a life of no sin—then, even though He had no sin for which to die, He chose to die on a cross to pay the price for our sin. Then the good news keeps getting better, because He didn’t stay dead for long. He rose from the grave in victory over sin and death, so that anyone, anywhere, who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God for eternal life. We invite you to receive His divine love in your sinful life today if you have never done so.

So here, Jesus is telling His disciples why He came and how much He loves them. Verse 32 says, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” We’re not told why they were afraid, until we learn what was really on their minds in the next verses:

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

What a scene! That makes me think of all the times  I, particularly as a kid, did something dumb or wrong, or dumb and wrong, and my mom or dad asked me a simple question about what I was doing. As soon as the words came out of their mouth, I thought, “Oh, no,” and I wanted to run and hide. 

Here Jesus asks, “So, what were you guys talking about?” and nobody says anything. They keep silent—why? Because on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Jesus has just told them He’s going to suffer and die and rise from the dead. I think that’s worth talking about. But they’re talking about, “Who’s greater in our group?”

Sin corrupts our quest for greatness

Let’s put ourselves in these disciples’ shoes and imagine how the conversation may have gone. In light of what Jesus just shared, specifically about His death—maybe they weren’t listening to the last part—maybe they’re wondering, “If He’s going to die, who’s next in line in this group?” 

Peter, James and John had just been with Jesus for the transfiguration at the beginning of this chapter. So in their minds, they were obviously at the top of the list. Peter is the one who confessed Jesus as the Messiah at the end of the previous chapter, so he may have been saying, “Guys, it’s clearly me.” To which James and John, known as “Sons of thunder,” may have reminded Peter that not long after that confession, Jesus called him Satan. 

Meanwhile the other disciples, thinking, “Well, you guys are always running your mouths and we’re out here working…” Jesus is overhearing this argument about who is the greatest. This scene—specifically this phrase—reveals and exposes the sin-corrupted quest for greatness, not just in them, but in us. I want to encourage us to think, not just about how we see the sinful distortion in these disciples, but how we see this sinful distortion in our lives, in at least two ways.

One, we compare ourselves with others. Notice the emphasis is not on who’s great, but on who’s the greatest. It’s a word that requires comparison, right? In order to be the greatest, others must be less great. Do you see how comparison is at the root of their sinful quest for greatness—and maybe ours? C.S. Lewis calls this “the great sin” in Mere Christianity. He writes, “The one vice of which no person in the world is free, which everyone in the world loathes when you see it in someone else, and which we are most unconscious of in ourself” —that vice is pride.

C.S. Lewis argues that pride is essentially competitive by its very nature. He writes: 

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich or clever or good looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer or cleverer or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich or clever or good looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It’s the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? You may think you’re proud because you’re talented, but when you meet someone who’s more talented than you, you’re not really proud anymore. Suddenly you don’t find the pleasure you once had in your talents, because your pleasure was not in your talents—it was in having more talent than the next person and being above the rest.

In the opposite direction, pride also reveals itself in the despair that comes when you feel like you’re below the rest. It’s despair that creeps in when you think, “I’m not as good as them.” How easy it is for us to look at others’ lives—whether in person or on social media—and think, “They have what I want. I wish I could be as _____ as they are. They’re a better person than me, a better parent than me, a better student than me, a better athlete than me. They’re smarter, better looking, more talented, more put-together.” This constant comparison of ourselves with others goes on and on. We compare ourselves with others and we crave approval from others. 

I want to be careful here, because this is not all bad. It’s good, for example, for a child to want to please their parents, or a student to want to please a teacher, or a wife to desire affirmation from her husband, and vice versa in all these situations—and many others. But notice what’s happening here in Mark 9. They are arguing with one another about who is the greatest. They’re not sitting back, thinking, “Well, I know I’m the greatest. I’m not even going to talk to these guys about it.” That would obviously be prideful, but they’re taking it to another level. They want other people to acknowledge that they are the greatest. 

Jesus warns against this over and over and over again. I think about the Gospel of Matthew—our Bible reading right now as a church—and how Jesus constantly warns against doing acts of righteousness such as giving, praying or fasting in order to be seen by others. Notice the sinful, subtle, significant distinction here: when it’s not enough to be great, you want to be known as great. “Giving, praying and fasting,” Jesus says, “absolutely be great at all those things, but resist the temptation in you to want other people to know how great you are at those things.”

To put this together, we have an equation here for worldly greatness. Worldly greatness is superiority above others plus acclaim from others. If we just look at this equation, we can think together of countless examples of this picture of greatness in the world, in so many arenas in life. We find it in sports, business, whatever. 

And this is true even in church. Who is in the highest position in the largest church? Who sells the most books? Who’s looked at with the highest esteem? Part of the religious culture in the first century was this quest to be in the highest position with the highest esteem. This is clearly what these disciples desired and we would miss the point if each one of us doesn’t examine our own hearts and lives, asking, “In what ways do you and I compare ourselves with others and crave approval from others in ways that reveal a sin-corrupted quest for greatness in our lives?” 

So what does Jesus do? How does He address this? How does Jesus change this in us? Listen to what He does and says in Mark 9:35-37: 

35 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.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Before we think about what Jesus just did and said, let’s make sure to notice what He didn’t do or say. Jesus did not criticize these disciples for desiring greatness or significance. Think about it. These are men made in the image of a great God. Not one time anywhere in Jesus’ teaching does He ever criticize anyone for desiring true greatness, or true significance in their lives. Instead, Jesus is radically redirecting their desire for greatness. 

Jesus does not crush or even criticize our quest for greatness. Instead, Jesus redefines our quest for greatness by calling His disciples—and you and me—to be great in what matters to God. “If anyone would be first, great, significant, noble, excellent, then he must be last of all and servant of all.”

This is not isolated teaching from Jesus. This is repeated over and over and over again in all four Gospels in the Bible. It’s in Mark 10 which we’ll look at in a few weeks when we get to that part of our journey through Mark. It’s what we just read this week in our church’s Bible reading in Matthew 20. It’s in Luke 22 and John 13, where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and redefines greatness with a towel and a basin. Jesus says, “To be great is to be selfless in serving others, to be last of all.” Don’t put yourself before anyone else; put everyone else before you. That’s last of all. Be the servant of all. The word for servant here means to wait on tables, to take the low position, do the menial tasks of a servant…for all.

To illustrate this, Jesus takes a child. It’s interesting. Jesus likely would have been speaking in Aramaic here and the word for servant would have been the same as the word for child. We need to realize children were seen as pretty insignificant in that day. We’ll come back to that in a minute. But Jesus pulls a little boy in, stands him in front of the disciples. They look at this lowly little boy, as Jesus then takes him into His arms. Now the picture is becoming really clear, really fast: this seemingly insignificant child is included in the “all.” Greatness is being last behind this child, putting his interests above your own. Greatness is serving this child, waiting on this child.

The reason I phrase Jesus’ teaching this way—being selfless in serving others—is because at least part of the point Jesus seems to be making here is that you serve people who can’t or don’t pay you back. You serve people whom it doesn’t help you to serve. Jesus knows we’re all eager to serve people when it helps us, even people who are particularly important to us. If you were to meet a hero of yours or someone who is famous in some way, you might go out of your way to do something for them. What an honor. But are you just as delighted to do that for someone very unimportant, the seemingly insignificant? This is greatness. 

Do you see how Jesus is turning this definition of greatness upside down? Worldly greatness is about superiority above others. Jesus is saying, “Treat everybody like they’re superior to you, especially the seemingly insignificant.” Worldly greatness is about getting approval from others, but Jesus is saying—particularly with His illustration of a child—“Serve people who won’t make a big deal about all you’re doing for them. In fact, they may not even acknowledge it at all.” Which is the point.

Follow this in verse 37: “You serve all in My name.” This is a crystal-clear indication that this is selfless service of others. You’re not doing this in your own name; you’re doing this in the name of someone else, in Jesus’ name. Then keep going. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” So Jesus says, “To receive or welcome a child, to serve a child like this, is to receive and welcome, not just a child, but Me. And whoever receives and welcomes Me, receives not just Me, but Him Who sent Me.” 

Wow! Follow this. This is so not the way we think. It’s definitely not the way we talk; it’s not even what we might expect Jesus to say here. He is not saying, “Serve children or the seemingly insignificant for their sake.” Jesus is obviously not saying, “Do this for your own sake,” but He’s also not saying, “Do this for their sake.” This is the way we would probably talk. Jesus is not saying, “Serve children for the sake of the children, for the sake of mankind, for the sake of the future of our country.” 

No, Jesus is saying, “Serve children, welcome children, receive children because you want to receive Me. And not just Me, serve children because you want to receive and serve God.” This is huge. This is greatness. Be selfless in serving others and be satisfied with having God. Serve others, not for your sake and not for their sake, but ultimately for God’s sake. Serve others because you want God. Serve others because you want to receive more of God, the One Who is the greatest.

This is so transformative. Contrast this with worldly greatness, specifically how we talk about craving approval from others. Jesus says, “Don’t serve to be seen. Serve unseen, because you’re satisfied with having, knowing, enjoying and exalting God.” It’s exactly what Jesus was saying in Matthew 6, when He told us to give, pray and fast in secret, not for others’ approval and recognition. Jesus said, “When you give, pray and fast in secret, your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Be satisfied with having God as your reward. 

Then in the process, be free. Be free from the constant quest and craving for approval from others. You do not have to live enslaved to what others say or think about you. You have the affirmation of God. So fix your gaze on Him, keep your gaze on Him and be content with Him. Be content with having, knowing, loving and bringing glory to God. Don’t seek or settle for the approval of others when your reward is found in relationship with the God Who is the greatest above all.

So here is the equation for true greatness: 

True greatness is lowly service on earth + glory to God in heaven

Just look at this equation. It makes sense on every level. Lowly service, giving your life, putting others before you, particularly those who can do the least for you, in a way that brings glory to God above you.

Think about a passage that just happens to be in our church’s Bible Reading Plan today, in Matthew 37-39. What does Jesus say is the first and greatest commandment? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second greatest commandment is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Lowly service on earth—love your neighbor as yourself. Glory to God in heaven—love Him with everything you have. Isn’t this equation the gospel? Philippians 2, what we walked through at Christmas, says:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Lowly service on earth, glory to God in heaven—Jesus is true greatness. So I come back to the question in your life: do you want to be great? I hope you hear God saying through His Word to you right now, “I want this for you. I made you for greatness, but not the way the world defines it, not through comparing yourself with others and craving approval from others.” God is saying, “I sent My Son to free you from those things.”

You do not have to live comparing yourself with everybody else and craving approval from anybody else when God has created you for real, true greatness. And not just created you for this, but when you put your trust in Jesus as Lord of your life, His Spirit dwells in you and He empowers you to live like this, to be selfless in serving others, to be a servant to all, even the seemingly insignificant, as you are satisfied and experience supernatural joy and reward in relationship with the God Who’s greatness knows no end.

So before we close and with this question before us, I want to specifically affirm you and challenge you in a way that I hope will give you a moment to let God, through His Word and by His Holy Spirit, apply it in your heart and life. I know there are many people listening right now and I don’t presume to know how this applies in every single person’s life.  But as I was praying through this sermon, I asked how might this apply across this group gathered right now? How might the Holy Spirit apply this Word in affirming and challenging ways, specifically in light of this picture of a child in Mark 9? I hope that parents today are affirmed in the countless things you do selflessly for your children. For children of any age, for single parents, for parents of children with special needs, for foster parents. I could go on with other challenging parenting situations on top of normally challenging parenting situations. You know the ways you’re serving your family right now. Hear God saying He knows, He sees and He affirms you as great. Hear that. Feel that. Be encouraged by God today and His affirmation of you as a mom or a dad. 

There are so many other examples I could go through, whether it’s those of you who serve in children’s or students or special needs ministries in the church and in our community. Or beyond children, those of you who serve for justice on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the abused, the displaced, refugees, orphans, widows. All the ways you serve selflessly, day in and day out, in your vocation, for the good of society. All the ways you are giving sacrificially and quietly to the church for the glory of God here and among the nations.

Consider right now any and every way that, by God’s grace in you, you are serving others as you’re satisfied in God and be affirmed by God right now. This is great. By the power and grace of God in you, you are great. So keep going. Do not grow weary in doing good in your life. Pursue true greatness in all of these ways and more.

This then leads to the challenge. I exhort you to also take a moment and consider any ways that God, by His Spirit, may be leading you to pursue more greatness in your life. Maybe that means confessing the ways you compare yourself with others and crave approval from others. Or to the extent that you’re doing any of the things I just mentioned in your life or family or work or wherever, maybe this means checking your motives to make sure you are serving selflessly and are truly satisfied in simply having God. I pray that God will cleanse and transform your motives. 

I would ask that you would pray for me in this way, that I would be delivered from comparison with others or craving approval from others. Pray that my life would not be marked by the size of the church I pastor or how many books I write, but that I would pastor, love and serve this church and my family selflessly, with a deep desire to decrease while others increase, to the glory of Jesus.

I was at Clint Clifton’s memorial service yesterday. It was so powerful to hear everyone— his wife and kids, his church family, church planters all around the world—say how he lived to serve and see others increase out of the overflow of his love for God. It was a beautiful picture of true greatness. 

For all of us, maybe the challenge from this word today means taking some steps toward greatness that we’re not taking right now. Maybe God is calling you today to give more sacrificially and quietly to the church, or to do justice in a specific way for the poor, the oppressed, the abused, the displaced, refugees, orphans, widows—we could continue on—for people who can’t or may not pay you back. Or maybe God is calling you to move to a place in the world where the gospel has not yet gone. 

Just take time this week to seriously ask God, “How are You calling me to greatness in new ways to selflessly serve others,” and just see what He says. In light of Jesus’ clear emphasis in this passage on how greatness involves serving children, we would be remiss if we didn’t challenge one another to specifically consider ways God may be calling us to serve children, to be great parents for those of us who are parents. How is God calling us today to be better in our love and selflessness to our children, with His promise in us to enable us to do that?

If greatness according to Jesus involves serving children, then it seems to reason that a church full of followers of Jesus would be overflowing with volunteers in children’s and students’ ministries, right? It seems we would be overflowing with people who don’t feel guilty, so they’re doing this, but actually are eager to serve children—and all the more so children with special needs. I want to challenge members across this church, followers of Jesus, to consider how you can serve children and students in our church. If you want to be great, consider caring for toddlers or teaching the Bible to teenagers. 

I’ve heard it said in different church conferences and other places, “There are so many gifted, talented people in the church. They’re successful in business.” That’s certainly true in this church family. So it’s said, “We need to come up with more ways for them to serve than just changing diapers or teaching kids.” I agree in one sense. There are many ways that people who are successful in the world can and should use their gifts for the building up of the church and the spread of the gospel in the world. But the moment we think it’s too low or menial to serve children is the moment we’ve lost sight of what it means to follow Jesus in the first place. We’re actually having to turn away children in our children’s ministry because we don’t have enough volunteers. Simply put, brothers and sisters in Christ, this should not be so among us. May our children’s and students’ ministries be overflowing with followers of Jesus eagerly and selflessly serving the next generation. 

Finally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are in this text on this exact day, when 50 years ago—January 22, 1973—Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in our country, leading to the death of millions upon millions of children in the years that followed. Obviously, there’s been a lot of discussion about that over this past year, with changes and increased debate. I was speaking at a Stand For Life conference downtown this week and many marched for life in our city. But we clearly have a long way to go in serving children in the womb, and their moms and dads. The reasons people want to have abortions are still there. So let us serve and work selflessly for just laws, leaders, policies and practices that protect children in the womb, that provide for women and men in poverty that address housing, health care, education and economic challenges among parents in need. Let’s foster and adopt children in need, as we come alongside families in need. Let’s do it all in the name of Jesus. 

Do you want to be great? Based on what we’ve just heard and seen in God’s Word, I hope the answer to that question is a resounding yes, because God has made you to be great in otherworldly ways. So let’s throw aside comparison with others and craving approval from others in this world, then let’s serve selflessly in Jesus’ name, out of the overflow of satisfaction in our relationship with the one and only great God.

Will you bow your heads with me, pausing the busyness of our lives and being quiet before God. Ask yourself, first and foremost, do you know this one and only great God? Are you in relationship with Him because you have placed your faith in Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to reconcile you to Him? 

If your answer to that question is not a resounding yes, I invite you in this moment to say to God, “Yes, I want to be all You’ve created me to be. I know I’ve sinned against You.” Simply pray this to God in your heart: “I know I’ve sinned against You, but I believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sin. Today I turn from my sin and put my trust in Your love for me, in You as the Lord of my life.” If you prayed and expressed that to God, He forgives you of your sin, He fills you with His Spirit and draws you into relationship with Himself. 

So for all who are in relationship with Him, who have His Spirit inside you, let’s just pray together. “God, make us great in all the ways that matter most.” I pray that over every single person within the sound of my voice, even as I pray that over my own life. “God, help us to live free from competition with others and craving approval from others. We pray for contentment in selflessly serving others and satisfaction in simply having You as our reward.”

What a reward that is. God, we praise You that You’re our reward. We don’t want any other reward. We don’t need any other reward. We have You. We love You. We glorify You. So help us to be last of all and servant of all in our lives, our families, our workplaces, in the city, among the nations. Help us do lowly service on earth, in Your name, out of the overflow of Your Spirit in us, in ways that bring all glory to Your name. In Jesus’ name we pray this. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

What does this passage say?

  1. Read Mark 9:30–37 aloud as a group and take some time to let group members share observations about them.  Don’t move into interpretation or application, simply share what you observe.
    • What do you see in Mark 9:30–32?
    • What do you observe about Jesus and about His disciples in Mark 9:33–34?
    • What are the key components of Jesus’ definition of greatness in Mark 9:35-37?
    • Summarize Mark 9:30–37 in your own words.

What does this passage mean?

  1. Jesus predicts His delivery, death, and resurrection. (Mark 9:30–32)
    • Why would Jesus teach His disciples privately in this passage, and what could that imply to us?
    • What is significant about the fact that the Son of Man would be delivered into the hands of men? (Isaiah 53:6, 11; Romans 3:25, 4:25, 8:32; Acts 4:28; John 3:16)
    • Why didn’t the disciples understand and why not ask Jesus what He meant? (Matthew 17:9, 23)
  2. Jesus’ disciples argue about greatness. (Mark 9:33–34)
    • Jesus is all-knowing. Why did He ask His disciples what they were discussing?
    • What do you imagine were the disciples’ key focus and points about their own greatness?
  3. Jesus redefines greatness for all time. (Mark 9:35–37)
    • What kind of service does Jesus reference in verse 35?  (Matthew 23:8–11; Mark 10:31, 43–44; Luke 22:24–27; John 13:1–17) What is a key component of gospel service?
    • The words child and servant are the same in Aramaic – What does Jesus’ demonstration with the child illustrate? How is humility a key attribute of greatness?

How can we apply this passage to our lives?

  1. Sin corrupts our quest for greatness.
    • Where are you comparing yourself to others for self-satisfaction and self-gratification?
    • How does your pride appear and where do you seek acclaim from others
    • How and where are you pursuing worldly greatness? And, what must you do to stop pursuing worldly greatness? (Superiority above others + Acclaim from others)
  2.  Jesus redefines our quest for greatness.
    • Greatness is selfless service to others. Where do/can you practice selfless service?
    • How do/can you serve the seemingly unimportant, insignificant people around you?
    • How does your selfless service to others demonstrate your desire for God and satisfaction with Him? (Matthew 6:1–4)
    • What must you do to pursue true greatness? Recognize that Christ Himself makes you able to pursue biblical greatness. (Lowly service on earth + glory to God in heaven)

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 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.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
– Mark 9:30–37

God Wants us to be Truly Great

  • See divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
    • God delivers His Son over to die.
    • God was in sovereign, ultimate control over the death of Jesus, and people were responsible.
  • See divine love and human sinfulness.
    • God loves us so much that He came to humanity – became man in Jesus – to be killed by the men and women He came to save.
    • Jesus lived a sinless life, suffered the penalty we deserve on the cross, and rose from the dead to eternal life so that we could trust Him as Lord and Savior of our lives so that our sins can be forgiven and we can have a relationship with God and eternal life with Him.

The Quest for Greatness

  • Sin corrupts our quest for greatness.
    • We compare ourselves with others.
    • We crave approval from others.
    • Worldly greatness = Superiority above others + acclaim from others.
  • Jesus redefines our quest for greatness.
    • Be selfless in serving others.
    • Be satisfied with having God.
    • True greatness = Lowly service on earth + glory to God in heaven.
David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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