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The Greatest

 

30[The disciples] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, 31for 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.” 32But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

      33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And 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.” 36And 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)

 

Because what Jesus says is important, for Jesus is God, His Word is necessary to hear and to believe.  To not do these things is to indicate that God’s Word is not necessary to hear or to believe, even though God says it is.

“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Third Commandment)

God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! (First Petition, How is God’s Name kept holy?)

Inattentive and thoughtless ears and thoughts to God and His Word indicate a cold heart and rejection of the very means by which God gives salvation.

Thank God that the Lord is merciful and kind, and not like us!

The disciples in the text were thinking and talking about matters of a selfish-nature, even after Jesus revealed the sacred truth of what would win their redemption.

Jesus used the content of their discussion to draw their attention to the truth of their condition, that they turn away from selfish ambition and self-centeredness and instead, turn to Him Who is the Greatest and Servant of all.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness reflected their own perception and judgment, that which is common to the sinner, and contrary to God’s will and Word.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness, contrary to greatness in God’s kingdom, is also our own by nature.

What is great among us is that of being first, not last; being held in esteem, having the place of honor, being recognized for accomplishments and activities, having the last word, praise by men.

These ideas concerning the greatest all have at least one thing in common—a comparison to another, and the advancement of self above our neighbor.

About comparing ourselves to others, our Lord speaks clearly.

St. Paul the Apostle writes this to the Christians in Galatia, “Let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).

In other words, be concerned about what you yourself are doing as God’s child within the calling that God has called you.  Judge your work according to what God says, not in how you compare with others.

In another place St. Paul writes, “Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Praise, honor, and recognition from others is there one moment and gone the next.

It is fleeting and is not the kind of recognition that really matters.

The kind of recognition that really matters is God’s.

What matters is what God says about you, not what others say.

Acceptance by God far outweighs the acceptance that we might desire from others.  The acceptance of the latter, though appreciated, won’t last and does not give eternal life.

The acceptance of the former, the approval of God, is that which is everlasting.

This kind of acceptance – the mercy of God – demonstrates the greatness of God, the greatness of God in loving the sinner, even the sinner like you and like me, who don’t deserve God’s love, kindness, or acceptance.

The way of the world is to merit approval, to earn recognition, to do for greatness.

This is not the way of God.

The way of God is to exalt the humbled, to recognize those who don’t deserve recognition, to approve of those who believe in the merit and work of Another, of His Son, through whom they have forgiveness, peace, and God’s full favor.

Our Lord Jesus, in saying to His disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all,” is speaking of a different kind of greatness than we and the world speak of.  Our Lord is speaking of a different kind of kingdom than the one we are accustomed to desire and live in, where the greatest is the master and the least is the slave.

Jesus here turns all of what we consider greatness upside down.  Instead of being served and seeking to be served and waited on, He speaks of serving.  Instead of the greater being the first, He speaks of the greater being “Last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus Himself is First and Last, the Alpha and the Omega.  Jesus, though He was truly first over all things, one with the Father and the Spirit and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became last of all and servant of all.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus made “Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

Our Lord God descended to us, coming “In the likeness of sinful flesh,” yet “without” the “sin” (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 4:15).  In doing so, He saves – through His death on the cross.

In doing so, God demonstrated His love for you (Romans 5:8).

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

Jesus Christ is the servant of all.

He served you in His life and in His death, and in His resurrection and in His ascension, that you have everlasting life.

Greatness in His Kingdom is not about being served by others (except by Him), but of serving others.  It is the serving of even the lowly and the humble in the eyes of the world.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

This kind of service, the kind of service that God reveals to be great in His Holy Word, is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, as Lord of lords and King of kings, is the servant of all, who sacrificed Himself in death and rose again the third day.

Through His service to you is life, new life, abundant life, eternal life, yours today.

Ponder His service anew.  In doing so, so you will also begin and continue to serve others, even as our Lord continues to serve you. Amen.

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Unprofitable Servants…

Augsburg Confession

Article VI: Of New Obedience

1] Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. (http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article6)

What do we do with our sins?

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Of whom does the prophet Isaiah write?  Certainly not you or me.  He speaks of the Lord’s Servant (Isaiah 52:13), the One who was to come to bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, who would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, on whom the chastisement of our peace would be upon, by whose stripes we would be healed, and  upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all.  This “Lord’s Servant” is none other than Christ Jesus (see Hebrews 9:28-10).

Since the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all upon His Servant, His Son, Jesus Christ, only those who have their sin on Him have no sin of their own for which to give answer.  In other words, if your sin is on Jesus, it is truly gone and not on you.

On the other hand, if you would bear your own sin, or try to take care of it yourself, your sin is still on you, and you will be held accountable.  Many devise ways to appease God and to ease their burdened conscience, but to no avail.  Guilt and shame cannot be taken away by what man does, but only by Christ.  And in Christ, it is.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).

If Christ’s death on the cross is not alone sufficient for your sin, then there is yet still more for you to do to take care of it before God.  But placing all your sin on Christ means that there is nothing for you to do except to trust in Christ, resting in Him as your Savior, for so He is.  Thanks be to God!

Luther

“The question is: What are we to do with sins—not only other people’s but our own? Paul answers that the man who is called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has given Himself for them. These are wonderful words of consolation and promises of the old law: that our sins are not removed by any other means than by the Son of God given into death. Such bullets and such artillery must be used to destroy the papacy, all the religions of the heathen, all ceremonies, all works, all merits. For if our sins can be removed by our own satisfactions, why did the Son of God have to be given for them? But since He was given for them, it follows that we cannot remove them by works of our own.”(Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p32-33).

Prayer: Gracious God, look not at my sin, but upon Your Son Jesus, who died on the cross for Me.  Help me not to trust my own works at all, but only in the merits of Jesus, Your beloved Son and my Redeemer.  Amen.

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