Greatness That Doesn’t Have a Shelf Life
Text: Mark 9:33-50
Proposition: Every definition of greatness we have ever known fades quickly with time, has a short shelf life, until Jesus redefined it by the cross.
Introduction: I was watching a documentary this week about a football player called Ryan Leaf. ‘Who?’, you might be asking. Ryan Leaf was likely the greatest quarterback to come out of the state of Montana. He was selected as the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft after Peyton Manning. He was signed by the San Diego Chargers for a contract worth 34 million dollars, 11 million guaranteed. But Ryan had an attitude problem. Leaf once joked, “What’s the difference between Ryan Leaf and God? God doesn’t think He’s Ryan Leaf.” Then, as Paul Harvey might say, comes the rest of the story. His first season in the NFL was a disaster. By 2010 he was addicted to prescription drugs, was in and out of prison three times and his life was in ruins. As of March 2017, Ryan Leaf was working as a Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community after staying sober the last four years. When he started working there he said he was making $15 an hour and for the first time in his life he was happy about who he was.
Greatness, we see it in sports, music, the arts, education, finance, politics, even in religion. But when I mentioned Ryan Leaf’s name or Paul Harvey’s name the greatness factor seems to have evaporated. Every definition of greatness that’s defined by a person’s skill sets has a short shelf life which means that by our estimation greatness is always momentary. But what if greatness was defined from a different viewpoint other than the ability to generate wealth or to excel competitively. What if greatness was made common and yet was still greatness? Look at Mark 9:33–50.
I. What If Greatness Begins From an Ambition of Dependence.
The disciples clearly understand that Jesus is going to emerge as the Messiah which means the Messiah will need a Chief of Staff, a Press Secretary, a Chief of Defense and lots of handlers to advise Him of what to say and when. To some degree that’s what the disciples were disputing about when they walked towards Capernaum that day. So when they get to the city Jesus asks them what they were fussing and bickering over and they were embarrassed to say. That’s a good sign because it had been all about who was going to be the greatest in His kingdom. So Jesus sits down and begins to redefine with them what greatness really looks like, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”. To be first was what greatness was all about. What if real greatness came from the opposite direction, what if greatness begins from an ambition of dependence? Well look at what Jesus had been modelling for the disciples, was Christ in fact greatness incarnate? Absolutely. Yet what Jesus consistently showed them is that He depended completely on the Father for every outcome. He showed them how to serve others, how to be last of all, especially at the cross. What is it that dependence on God directly opposes and even corrects? It’s our self- dependence, our independence which if left to itself generates pride and a host of other sins. Scripture warns about where sin is going to take us, “There is a way that seems right to a man but the end is the way of… death.” (Prov.14:12; 16:25) To be clear, we want our children to grow up and have a healthy sense of independence, but that’s an independence from us not God. If greatness begins from an ambition of dependence on God then it would mean that it’s God’s opinion that we’re most concerned about and way, way less the opinion of others. If greatness begins from a motive of dependence is that why Jesus set a young child in front of the disciples? Was it the healthy dependence of a child upon their parents that Jesus was thinking of when He said ‘last of all, servant of all’? So you might be saying to yourself, ‘A child has no choice but to depend, that’s different than choosing dependence.’ I think that the idea of choosing to be a servant is the picture of a bond servant. That’s a servant that was once a slave and is now set free and they choose voluntarily to serve out of love for the master. Choosing dependence upon God, like choosing to be a bond servant, brings you into the presence of the Master. Make it your ambition to choose dependence on God.
II. Greatness Is More Given Than Achieved, More Discovered Than Created.
So what is the ‘upside’ of choosing an ambition of dependence on God? That’s a good question to ask because Jesus is about to answer it in verse 37, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”. Would you say it would be a great thing to receive Jesus, to honor Him and even care for Him? What about God the Father, what would it look like for you to care for Him, to provide for Him in some way, would that be greatness beyond this world’s? If you are answering ‘Yes’, then that’s what Jesus is inferring rather plainly in verse 37. If you receive, accept, grant access to, give ear to, embrace… those are all what the Greek word for ‘receive’ mean, if you ‘receive’ a little one in Jesus name, you receive Jesus. Then He amplifies it yet further, “and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”, meaning God the Father. All that… in the moment you bent down to receive a little child and offer to them, you. Did you achieve greatness by doing that, No. It came as a gift to you wrapped up in the tiny person of a child. Did you create greatness by serving them, No. You discovered it. So what is the operative principle here, what is happening in these words of Jesus? Is it that God extends to us the opportunity to care for others as a way of expressing our love for Him? Yes, in part, the innocence of children God highly values for in it their faith is very alive. What’s that verse in Matthew 18:10, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Greatness is given to us when we love and care for and give an ear to and embrace God by doing these very things for the ‘little ones’. You discover greatness because they don’t look like God, in fact it’s almost the other way around, you look more like God to them in authority, power and position. Perhaps it’s God’s way of saying, ‘Hey, it’s Me they see through you, look like Me! Love them well, receive them in My Sons name and as I receive My Son, I will receive you.’ Greatness is given to us, discovered through obedience and sacrifice.
III. Greatness Is Like Salt, It’s Both Precious and Preserving.
In verse 41 it’s as if Jesus gets back to the importance of being a servant. He speaks about the idea of reward and punishment when it comes to being a servant. If you pursue greatness in Christs kingdom for His name and for His glory even the simplest gesture like a cup of cool water will be rewarded. But if you pursue greatness in Christ’s kingdom for your glory it will cause people to stumble and for that there is consequence. Verse 42 says, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” What’s inferred here is accountability, responsibility and sensibility. If you make a child stumble because of being a poor servant you are accountable for that. Knowing that you are responsible, go and be the best servant you can be. So be aware that there is before a wonderful opportunity for greatness, the greatness of Christ to be grasped yet more by a small child. Lastly, verse 49 says, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” In essence what this is saying is that all your efforts at greatness will be tested. Then to that is added the thought that greatness in Christ will cost you. Every sacrifice is seasoned with salt is a phrase that speaks of sacrifice being made yet more precious with the expense of salt. The greatness of Christ in you is precious, it’s an essential component to any sacrifice you would bring to God. It’s precious and it also has a preservative effect in you. “…Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”