Faith to Be Great
Topic: Faith Passage: Mark 9:33–9:37
Grace Community Church
June 2, 2019
Faith to Be Great
As Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Capernaum, the disciples get into an argument about which of them is the greatest. It would be nice to think that they were fighting to pin that title on each other: “You’re definitely the greatest, Peter.” “No, John, be real, Jesus obviously loves you more than he loves me. You’re the greatest.” It would be nice, but that’s not how the argument went. Each of them were fighting to promote themselves as the greatest. “I’m the greatest!” “No, I’m the greatest!” That’s why when Jesus asked them what they were discussing they all suddenly got quiet. They were embarrassed to say to Jesus what they were saying to each other.
This may surprise you, but God created you to be great. He created you to want to be great. It comes out in a longing for our lives to mean something, to leave something behind, to have a legacy. Something beyond ourselves. We have some high school graduates who are ready to launch out into the next chapter of your life and you’re probably asking the question “what do I want to do with my life?” and in that question is, what do I want my life to accomplish? Count for? We all want our lives to matter, to mean something beyond ourselves. That longing was put there by God. Jesus doesn’t rebuke his disciples for wanting to be great, he redefines what greatness is: If anyone would be first (greatest)…and he lays out a different path and a different definition of greatness. And this is where faith comes in. We are in a series called Only Believe and we’re talking about the necessity of a healthy, growing faith in our Christian walk, and what Jesus says is greatness doesn’t square with what the world says is greatness. God created the desire in us to be great but sin corrupted the desire in us to be great.
In the aviation world, there is a condition called vertigo where an aircraft pilot's sense of direction contradicts or does not agree with reality. On the evening of July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. was piloting his wife Carolyn, and her sister Lauren to a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard when they crashed into the sea. The probable cause was determined to be spatial disorientation or vertigo. Kennedy was an inexperienced pilot and because it was night and foggy once they were over the ocean there were no visual reference points and Kennedy would have to fly by his instrument panel. However, when vertigo hits, what the instruments say can feel wrong and apparently Kennedy listened to what felt right rather than what his instrument panel said was right and he followed his feelings and crashed the plane into the ocean killing them all.
Sin has given us “greatness disorientation”. What we think is great is the opposite of great – it’s what the Bible calls “vainglory” or empty glory. Empty greatness. People who the world applauds as great come to the end of their life to find a hollowness to their achievements, an emptiness to their greatness. They think they’ve been heading upward, but really they’re heading to a crash. We need to learn to ignore what our minds and hearts think is greatness and fly our lives by faith in Jesus’ word.
The title of this message is Faith to be Great. Notice the word “be”. Faith to be great. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He’s talking about what it takes to be great. This is about who we are more than what we do. What we do plays into it, but it needs to come from within – God isn’t concerned just with the outward, He looks on the heart. He sees what we are. And that’s where God does His work – on our hearts. This is about being great, having great character, which then leads to doing great things, which results in a great life. Let’s look at three points from this passage about being great.
- Be Humble – And Believe God is Great
If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”36 And 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 9:35-37
The fight is over pecking order. Who’s #1? Who’s top of the pile? Jesus says, if you want to be #1 in this group, be #12. If you want to be at the head of the line get to the end of the line. Lower yourself and you will be great. To emphasize his point, he took a child and said you need to receive such a child. In Matt. 18 he says you need to become like a child. In that day children had a very low status in society so to become like a child would be to take a low status upon yourself. To receive a child would be to associate with one of low status, and since we tend to measure status by who we associate with, that risks lowering our own status.
This goes against everything that feels like greatness to us. It feels like greatness means exalting ourselves, not humbling ourselves. We climb the ladder, promote ourselves, associate with important people in the hope some of their importance rubs off on us. Our feelings say pull the control wheel back so we’re pointed in the direction that feels upward. But pride has given us spatial disorientation so that what feels upward is downward and what feels downward is upward.
Jesus says be humble. Not just act humble but really be humble. This takes faith: believing Jesus when he says that the one who would be first must be last of all. When we look at the instrument panel of God’s word this is what we see: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matt. 23:12
That takes faith. And dying to our pride. Pride says, “my way or the highway.” Humility: “what’s the best way?” Pride: “I’m right and I’ll argue until you’re convinced” Humility: “Help me understand”. Pride: Do people like me? Think well of me? Humility: “Am I loving people? Thinking the best of them?” Humility thinks of the interests of others, not just our own interests. There really is a painful process of dying to our pride but it comes down to this question: will our lives revolve around God or around ourselves? Will we put God or our egos at the center? It’s an issue of faith. Do we really believe that God is great? Greater than we can know. Greater than anything the world can offer. Greater than life itself. The more we believe that, really believe it, the more the hidden promise in Jesus’ teaching excites us:
And 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 9:36-37)
The promise is this: the more we humble ourselves to serve the Lord and others, the more we lower ourselves to love others, especially the lowly and unlovely, the more by doing so we are receiving Jesus and God the Father. The deeper our friendship with Jesus and the Father. And we see the goal isn’t greatness, the goal is God! That’s what being great is – being a man or woman whose life isn’t centered on our greatness but on God’s greatness.
One more thing about humility – it’s honest. I don’t know if this is part of what Jesus meant when he said become like a child but children tend to be pretty honest. They haven’t learned to put up images. They are who they are. We can be tempted to try to look great by coming off as better than we are, by emphasizing our strengths and hiding our flaws. God says, be honest. Be honest about who you are. Humility doesn’t mean putting ourselves down, it means an honest assessment of who we are. That’s why confession of sin is so important: it’s being honest about our sin to God and man, and that gives God the chance to forgive us, clean us from the inside out and remake us. To God, being honest about who we are, flaws and all, is a vital part of being great. Be humble and believe God is great.
- Be Weak – And Believe God is Strong
Another quality about young children is that they are weak. They are physically weak, and they are dependently weak. They depend entirely on their parents and others to protect them and provide for them and guide them. There is a way that greatness means being weak.
Don’t misunderstand me. We are meant to mature and develop and toughen up as the years go by. It’s part of becoming a mature, responsible adult. But there is a way we should stay weak, a way that God wants us to be weak. Paul prayed three times for God to take a thorn in the flesh away from him but God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 11:9
The battle here was with Paul’s pride. God didn’t want him becoming puffed up with pride. God didn’t want Paul to grow independent from Him. So He allowed some kind of persistent trial into Paul’s life – we don’t know exactly what it was – to keep Paul feeling his weakness. And Paul got to the point where he wasn’t ashamed to admit his weakness, in fact, he learned to boast about his weakness so he could brag about Christ’s power.
We can’t get God’s power until we admit our weakness. As long as we’re trying to control everything and look like we got it all together and do it in our strength, we are saying, “God, I don’t need You. I got this.” God says, “no, you don’t ‘got this’ – everything I call you to do is impossible for you to do apart from Me. Apart from My power.” So in His love God brings us to the place where we feel our weakness – our inability – and have nowhere else to turn but to God, asking for His power. Desperate for His strength.
I can say from my own experience, some of the most powerful moments in my life have also been the weakest moments in my life. Usually for me it takes some kind of trial or setback to get me to that point, and I don’t like it, but there is a kind of sweet relief to giving it back to God and saying. I can’t do this. I don’t got this. I need You Lord. When we feel strong we hold on tight, white knuckle it. When we are weak, our grip becomes weak too. Weak enough to give it over to God. To give up. Not give up as in stop, give up as in surrender. We surrender our lives, our efforts, our trials, our dreams, everything to God. We’re ready to see what God can do and we’re ready to boast, not about our strengths – which is what pride wants to do – but about our weakness because in that weakness, Christ’s power rests on us. God’s power is perfected in weakness. Be weak – and believe God is strong.
- Be Ready – And Believe God will Use You
There’s no escaping that Jesus connects greatness with serving.
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35
25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:25-27
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28
Jesus, the greatest of all, came not to be served but to serve. To give his life as a ransom to serve a lost and perishing world. If we want to be great, we need to follow in his footsteps. Serving others is how God defines greatness.
It’s also how God has designed you and me. He has given us gifts – spiritual gifts – specifically to serve the church with. 1 Peter 4:10 encourages all of us, Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
God has given you a gift to serve others, a grace to serve others! Use it! The question isn’t ability, the question is availability. God has given us all ability to serve others, the question isn’t whether we can, the question is whether we will. Be ready and believe that God will use you. Ready means looking for opportunities. It means getting out of our comfort zone when the Lord leads us to walk through a door that isn’t totally familiar to us. It means believing that what God has given us, He’s given to be shared. And that especially means sharing the gospel.
For Jesus, serving meant saving the lost. And that should be top of our definition of serving too. We can’t save anyone but we have been given a message that can save people for eternity. If we keep that message to ourselves so people don’t reject us or laugh at us or think we’re Jesus freaks, we are serving ourselves. Jesus commands us, church, to serve the lost, to lay down our lives for the lost, by loving them enough to tell them about Jesus. We’ll talk more about that in another message but Jesus came to seek and save the lost and he calls us to do the same thing. let’s ask God to give us courage to open our mouths and share the love of Jesus with those who don’t know him like we do.
Sometimes we feel like something is missing. We feel spiritually dry, maybe we feel like we got nothing to give. Maybe, just maybe, what’s missing isn’t something we need to get, it’s something we need to give. We might be asking God for more grace and He’s saying “use what I’ve given you. Be faithful to steward the grace I’ve bestowed on you and I’ll give you more. Sow the seed you have and I’ll supply more seed.” In God’s economy, greatness isn’t measured by how much we get, it’s measured by how much we give. Be ready to serve and believe God will use you.
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