Flashback Episode — Fear and Greatness: Mark 9:30-37

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Continuing the theme we have been focusing on for the past few podcast episodes, we come to another passage where Jesus tries to warn His disciples about His upcoming death. However, this passage contains a unique detail in it which might shed light on why the disciples were so ignorant of Jesus’ repeated warnings.

Our passage for this episode is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read from the New International Version. Starting in verse 30, Mark tells us that:

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to 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 about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

In this passage, I find it interesting that Mark tells us that the disciples “did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it” when referring to Jesus teaching them and warning them about His upcoming death.

This teaches us that fear can stop us from asking the questions that God wants us to ask, and to push forward along the path God wants us to take.

However, why would the disciples be afraid to ask a simple question?

From what we have looked at so far, it seemed as though while Jesus stressed this warning and this prediction, the disciples remembered how Jesus challenged Peter when Peter challenged Jesus on this point. Jesus went so far as to call Peter Satan because of this lack of understanding. I wonder if some of the fear that the disciples had was because they didn’t want to be called out for not knowing or believing. This detail challenges us with the truth that pride in our lives can stop us from asking the questions God wants us to ask because we are afraid of what others might think of us.

We might be afraid because the question might sound inappropriate, because it reveals our ignorance or that we weren’t paying attention, or because we are simply scared of what the answer might be. Many things can stop us from asking the questions God wants us to ask, but we shouldn’t let fear control our journey with God!

This passage also hints at another reason the disciples did not understand Jesus’ clear warning about His upcoming death. When Jesus asks the disciples what they were arguing about while He was trying to teach them on the road while they were traveling earlier that day, the disciples refuse to answer because they knew they had argued about who was the greatest. While Jesus was trying to share with them what would happen soon, the disciples were too busy deciding who would take what place in the kingdom they believe Jesus would set up after overthrowing the Romans. The disciples had fame and status on their minds while Jesus was trying to teach them humility and that He would be crucified.

To help emphasize the point, Jesus called a child to Him and He uses this child as a clear visual illustration. Drawing our attention onto this point, remember that Jesus is in a home in Capernaum with His disciples. Remember also that Jesus doesn’t want everyone to know where He is because He wants more time to teach the disciples. This prompts the question: Where did this child come from?

Prior to reading this here, I had always pictured this event happening in a field, on a hill, or somewhere out in the open with crowds present. However, while there was at least one other time Jesus invited children to Him like that, in this passage and event, Jesus and the disciples were in a home with a closed door.

Two probable answers for this question come to mind. The first answer is that this child and his family had chosen to follow Jesus and they were included in the larger circle of disciples. One of the gospels mention a group of 72 followers of Jesus, and it is possible that this child was one of these followers, or that He was with his parents who were part of this larger group.

The other answer to this question about where the child came from is that the home Jesus was staying at might have had children in it. From other parts of the gospels, we can conclude that several of the disciples lived in Capernaum and we know that Peter was old enough to be married. If Jesus and the disciples were visiting Peter’s home, it is possible that this little child was Peter’s son or daughter.

However, while it may be fun to speculate about who the child is specifically, this detail is less relevant than who this child represents. While we can speculate about the details of this child, the bigger challenge is Jesus’ big idea: In order to be great in God’s eyes, we must welcome, help, and serve those who society believes are last.

While culture today seems to place an extraordinary focus on children, this was not the case in the first century. Prior to Christianity, children were seen as the lowest in society and in some cases, children were not even named until after a certain age because of high infant mortality and parents not wanting to get too attached.

Jesus’ challenge to His followers is to focus on service over status and look for ways to step down rather than step up. While many worldviews and religions stress the goals of stepping up, Jesus challenges His disciples to step down and serve. Stepping down is how we are seen as great in God’s eyes, and it is how we best represent Jesus.

When we welcome those who society has rejected, Jesus tells us we are not only welcoming Him too, but we are welcoming God, who looks down at this planet and sees all life as special and significant. Regardless of what culture tells you, in God’s eyes, you matter and regardless of what you might believe about yourself, Jesus came to redeem you from the punishment for your sins.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to step down and serve those who society looks down on. Never believe yourself to be above another person, but instead, choose to see the world as a place God has placed you in so you can help, serve, and be a light of God’s love to those He brings your way. While everything in culture focuses on building oneself up, choose instead to focus on building others up while giving glory and credit to Jesus.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each day. While pastors, authors, speakers, or even a podcaster can share or challenge you with interesting thoughts, take everything you learn and test it against the truth in the Bible. God wants a personal relationship with us and a personal relationship is best grown through spending time together. God does not want our relationship with Him to be dependent on anyone else.

Instead, bring your questions, your concerns, and your fears directly to God and let Him help you walk through the challenges of this life with Him by your side.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be afraid of going where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Mark – Episode 24: While traveling with the disciples, Jesus tries again to tell them what will happen to Him, but the disciples are too busy having an argument with each other to pay attention to Jesus’ words. Discover what the argument was about, and how Jesus later challenges the disciples about what they discussed and debated.

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