Who Is The Greatest?
A daily devotion for January 17th
30They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him 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."
38"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
39"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
42"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where
" 'their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.' 49Everyone will be salted with fire.
50"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.(Mark 9:35)
Our Lord evidently knew what these disciples had been talking about. So when they get into the house at Capernaum, He asks them,
What were you discussing on the way?--a simple, normal question--but He is met by embarrassed silence because they had been discussing who was the greatest among them. Somehow that did not sound right in the presence of Jesus. It would be wonderful if we always had this awareness that what we say and think is being done in His presence. It would make us feel differently about many things.
We are not told how this argument came about. I suspect that it was occasioned by the events of the transfiguration. James, Peter, and John had been chosen to go up on the mountain with the Lord and to observe this marvelous sight. Jesus had strictly charged them to tell no one what they had seen. I believe they kept this charge. But it is quite possible to keep a secret in such a way as to make everybody agog to find out more. When they came back, the others probably asked,
What happened up there? And they said,
Oh, we're not permitted to say. One of these days perhaps we might be able to tell you, but you ordinary disciples are excluded from this for now. And then, of course, the argument readily arose as to who was the greatest.
To answer this, Jesus gave them a marvelously revealing statement. He told them the truth about ambition. Notice He did not rebuke them for wanting to be greatest. Never does He take them to task because of their desire. God has somehow built into every human heart the desire to succeed at whatever we do. He did not rebuke them, for this is part of our humanity--to want to succeed. What He did do was to tell them the true way to greatness.
It is not by seeking to be first, He said.
It is by a willingness to be last. It is not by getting people to serve you; it is by becoming a servant of all.
There are two kinds of ambition. There is the ambition to be approved and applauded by people, and the ambition to be approved and applauded by God. There are those who want to gain fame and attention and influence and power. The measurement of the ambition to be great before people is always
How many serve me? How much power do I exercise over others? How wide is the extent of my influence? Who of us has not suffered many times from this desire to be known, to be admired, to be considered great?
But Jesus points out that true greatness is never found there. The measure of true greatness is
How many do I serve? How many can I help? This is the mark of greatness in the eyes of God. Christianity is a radical faith! It is exactly the opposite of the natural instincts of the heart. Our natural inclinations will get us deeper and deeper into trouble. Though we may achieve a form of greatness in the eyes of people, it will turn into cobwebs and ashes in our hands.
Teach me the meaning of these words in the depths of my heart. Help me to strive for that greatness that will shine throughout eternity.
Life Application: What does Jesus teach as a radically different criterion for greatness and power? Do our lives reflect a growing understanding and application of His teaching & example?
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