Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | September 30, 2012

Sermon on Mark 9:30-37

Jesus is first, last, and everything

  • Order of Service: Morning Praise, p45
  • Lessons: Jeremiah 11:18-20, James 3:13-18, Mark 9:30-37
  • Hymns: 484, 317, 593

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

The church historian Eusebius, writing in the early 300s, informs us that Peter stands behind Mark.  Mark began as an assistant to Paul and Barnabas and ended up working with Peter.  At some point Mark recorded Peter’s preaching and teaching as the Gospel we have today.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we must add.  Eusebius quotes three early sources to support his view:  a bishop of Rome from the late 90s named Clement; a theologian from the 150s named Papias; and another from the mid-200s, named Origen.  Thus, we have an ancient tradition:  Mark’s Gospel reflects the words of Peter. 

Keep that in mind as you read Mark.  Peter preached and taught these things.  Peter related these things to crowds great and small.  Perhaps he and Mark collaborated on Mark’s Gospel, though Eusebius’ sources aren’t unanimous.  Clement says Mark wrote alone.  When Peter heard, he made no objections.  Papias and Eusebius generally agree, with Eusebius adding that Peter was overjoyed.  Origen suggests that Peter did more than hear about the writing, but may have directed it in some way.  We’ll know for sure in heaven.

What we do know is that Mark and Peter were close; so close that Peter calls Mark, my son (1 Peter 5:13, NIV84).  Mark heard much from Peter both publicly and privately.  So, whether Peter directed Mark to record his words, or the Holy Spirit only took advantage of Mark’s eye and ear witness doesn’t matter.  However, it doesn’t beggar belief to think that Peter often talked to Mark as a father to a son, relating stories and events, passing on the Gospel, passing on bits of wisdom.  Like the words of the Gospel today, words which don’t bear the marks of revisionist history.  Here Peter doesn’t cast himself as a hero, the legendary Rock.  Rather, we find another in a long line of apostolic failures.

Skim over Mark chapters 8-10 and you’ll discover no great hagiography of the apostles.  Rather, Mark (really Peter) records a list of letdowns.  Jesus warns the disciples about the spiritual yeast of the Pharisees that might corrupt them and the disciples think he’s angry they forgot to pack food for the ride.  Last week we heard Peter’s response to Jesus announcing His suffering and death:  he yelled at Jesus.  Then the Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed His glory, and Peter says, “Let build some tents,” and on the way down the disciples can’t figure out what “rising from the dead” means.  Then they find the other disciples standing around impotently after failing to cast out a demon.  Then, when Jesus talks about dying and rising again we’re told that they don’t understand, they’re too afraid to ask.  Today we hear them arguing over who leads the group.  After that John wants Jesus to condemn someone who’s not an apostle and stop him from driving out demons.  Luke tells us around this same time, when some Samaritan villages didn’t welcome Jesus with open arms, James and John say, “We’ll call down fire from heaven to destroy these people if you’d like.”  Back to Mark.  We’ll soon see the disciples harassing moms and babies, right before James and John repeat the greatness argument as their mommy asks Jesus to put them on the right and left of Jesus in heaven.

 Whew!  What a fountain of flops. Imagine Peter relating this to Mark, and Mark diligently recording it all, and then saying, “Hey, Peter, did you guys ever do anything right?”  Peter pauses in his recollections, and says, “But that’s the way it was; that’s who we were.”  Or imagine Peter telling this story in church about the disciples being denser than a box of rocks and arguing about ranks and titles.  And then he says, “But that’s the way it was; that’s who we were.”

 Even into old age Peter repeats this story.  No doubt he gets as shame-faced then as he did when Jesus asked, What were you arguing about on the road (Mark 9:33, NIV84), because for Peter this isn’t the dim, dark past.  He still struggles, even as he approaches senior citizenship and martyrdom, even as he writes to other pastors that they should make sure not to lord it over their flocks, but serve, serve, serve them!  He tells this story because the prince of apostles is still tempted to act like a prince and not a servant.  He still needs to be confronted by Jesus with a little child.  So, again and again and again, Peter brings out this little child.

 What a portrait Peter paints.  The Twelve stand silent as Jesus sits in a chair.  He tells them, as He’s said before and He’ll say again, If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mark 9:35, NIV84).  And there’s a child in the room, perhaps Peter’s son, and they watch Jesus beckon the child and take him into his lap and surround him with a hug filled with all the love you know exists in a hug given to a young child, as if to say: “I came to seek and save this.  I’m preparing you to seek and save this.”

 Here Jesus tears through all the layers of adult cynicism and skepticism and bad attitudes and takes us back to childhood.  Matthew’s account of this moment has Jesus say, Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (18:3-4, NIV84).  Adults debate and argue endlessly about everything.  Children learn about and sing about Jesus joyfully.  They tell you about the songs they sang in Sunday School.  They come running out of Sunday School saying, “Look what I’ve got!  Let me tell you what I’ve learned!”  That’s not to say they’re sinless and don’t goof around or get disinterested. But where do they learn a lot of that from?  They learn it from Moms and Dads who grumble and complain about service times or boring Bible classes.  They learn it from Moms and Dads whose attention drifts in church or who fall asleep, who mumble the hymns, and complain about the length of services, who won’t do devotions at home.

 And now Jesus says, “This is being first and great.  It’s serving the young, the weak, the childlike, whether in body or spirit.  It’s not always glamorous or glorious.  It’s not always in incredible numbers or with outstanding facilities.  It’s not always obvious leadership.  But it is leadership nonetheless.  It is serving the least of these brothers of mine, the smallest, the most vulnerable.”  Last week James reminded us to make sure we treat everyone alike, whether they’re rich or poor, dressed well or shabby.  This week he warned us against envy and selfish ambition, saying that those things do not come from heaven, but that they are earthly, unspiritual, of the devil (James 3:15, NIV84).  Here Jesus does the same.  He levels the playing field and says, “Only serving others makes you great.”

 And then Jesus showed it.  Not just by taking a child into His arms, though that was important too.  Later in Mark when He tells the disciples to let the women through with their babies he will hold each infant in His arms, bless him or her and say, The kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14, NIV84), giving us the impetus to baptize infants and know that God grants them faith as well.

 But then Jesus went even further in His service.  He carried out what He began our Gospel teaching:  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 (Mark 9:31, NIV84).  Jesus clarified that later: [T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45, NIV84).  Jesus let go of this one child in order to hug the whole world with forgiveness.  He made Himself into the very last, the servant of all as He suffered and died, so that standing outside the tomb He could pronounce Himself the First, the Alpha, the Beginning, the Source of our salvation, our righteousness, our peace, our greatness!

 Peter always remembered this moment.  And he repeated it.  He told it over and over and over.  He let Mark write it so that the Holy Spirit could humble other hearts, our hearts.  He makes us children again, so that we can serve the children around us, children of all ages, races, colors, and economies.  Serving as Jesus served, not dying for their sins, but pointing them to the One who did die for their sins.  As we wrap them in our arms, our Lord tells us we wrap them in His arms, for through us the Spirit calls out to all the little children of the world and tells them about Christ, Who came to seek and to save children; Christ, Who by becoming the last and least of all, makes us the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  That puts an end to all the arguing about rank and place and greatness:  Jesus is first, last, everything.  Amen.

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