Summary: A sermon addressing what God wants us to do in our lives.

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The Real Marks of Greatness

Mark 9:33-50

Lessons from the hen house

Have you ever been around a farm?

Something I’ve learned about chickens is that there is a definite "pecking order" to the flock. Within the flock of hens, one of them always becomes dominant. She will peck away at any hen that makes her angry or gets in her way. At first, the other hens that get pecked don’t like it and try to retaliate. But when they see they can’t win, they begin to turn on each other.

Each chicken that isn’t the dominant one begins to take our her frustrations on the others. And soon there became a pecking order. The next strongest would picks on the next weakest, and so on and so on. Until one hen is left who is the lowliest and weakest in the pecking order. And she has no one to peck at, so she’ll just run away from all the conflict.


Well, that’s something like the situation we have here in the beginning of our passage this morning. As they are walking along the road, the disciples are trying to establish a pecking order among themselves. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that three of them were chosen to join Jesus on the mountain for His Transfiguration. Maybe it had something to do with the other nine disciples inability to cast a demon out of a local child, while Jesus was on the mountain.

But regardless of the reason, something spurred an argument about who of them was going to be the greatest in this new Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus was constantly talking about. Their question really had to do with significance. Not only who would be top dog after Jesus, but how would a significant human being be recognized in this new paradigm? What was the pecking order going to be?

Mark 9:33-34 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.

Now, the interesting thing in this opening incident is that when Jesus asked them what they were talking about, all of them clammed up; no one would say a word. They all kept quiet. They obviously were embarrassed about their conversation.

But Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about. He knew that it was inconsistent with the way His disciples should be acting. So, when they got to the house in Capernaum, Jesus decided to make this a teachable moment about what greatness and significance was all about in the context of the Kingdom of God.

The Overriding Principle

Mark 9:35 35 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."

Here’s God definition of being great… …You don’t achieve greatness by seeking to be first. You achieve it by a willingness to be last. …You don’t achieve significance by getting people to serve you. You achieve it by becoming a servant of all.

The Lessons of the Child

In order to drive His lesson home, Jesus uses an object lesson-in this case, it is a human object-a little child who happened to be in the house where they were having this conversation. And he uses this child to drive home His point about God’s idea of greatness and significance.

Mark 9:36-37 36 He 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."

What a beautiful scene. This was probably Peter or Andrew’s child that was singled out by Jesus. Jesus wraps His big carpenter arms around this little one, and says, "True greatness has a lot like to do with our relationship with a child." Then Jesus goes on to teach the disciples three specific things regarding greatness and significance in God’s Kingdom...

A. Love people

The first thing He teaches is you have to love people. Look at verse 37 again…

Mark 9:37 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."

The key to understanding this verse is found in the phrase "in my name". You don’t welcome a child into your arms because of how that child can help your career advance. You don’t take a child up in your arms because that will give you status or recognition in the community. You welcome a child out of love. Now, love is one of the ways we define who God is. God is love. So, receiving a child in His name is accepting that child in love.

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