Jesus Redefines Personal Significance

 
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One of my favorite children’s books is titled Fool Moon Rising, it is a parable about the moon stealing glory from the Sun.

Dear God, I heard a cosmic story and wondered if it’s true. The Moon was stealing glory and this is what he’d do.

He bragged each night that his great might could make the darkness flee. And like a kite he scaled the heights and said, “Hey look at me!” The pompous moon would only croon the songs that praise his name. He hoped that soon the cosmic tunes would bring him greater fame.

It’s really strange, but he could change his shape throughout the year. His face would change, then rearrange and sometimes… disappear. He loved the thought that astronauts had danced across his face. And cosmonauts and monkeynauts would visit him in space.

He bragged that he could cause the sea to rise and swell each day. Then all could see how mightily he’d pull the waves away. He’d boast away and loved to say, “I am the greatest light!” Until one day a piercing ray showed him a shocking sight.

He saw his pride and then he cried for all that he had done. For he had lied when he denied his light came from the Sun. So now each night a new delight is what he loves the most. Reflecting light with all his might, the sun is now his boast!

So God I pray for grace each day to find the joy that’s true, in all my days in all my way in making much of you.

I love the book because it illustrates in a way that a child can easily understand, and an adult can be freshly challenged the folly of the idolatry of worshipping your own significance.

If we are honest this is an area that even after becoming a Christian, we all struggle with. I had a mentor once that would refer to this sin as a bosom sin. By that he meant something that we hold dear, something that we don’t part with easily, and something that is revealing about who we are.

The folly of this idolatry is that you have nothing that you haven’t been given. Your life is given to you. Your gifting is given to you. Your resources and relationships. None of it is intrinsic. The lie is that you are the source of who you are and what you have and what you’ve done. But God is the source of all these things.

As foolish as it is for the moon to boast about light that actually comes from the sun, so foolish it is for us to think highly of ourselves, when all that we have is from the Lord.

The disciples are going to get their own version of Fool Moon Rising this morning. These men are believers. They love Jesus. And yet, at this point, Jesus isn’t worth giving up their personal significance. He isn’t valuable enough to flush their reputation, and to flush their position, and to let go of it all…

Jesus is going to give them a vision for the glory of God as it pertains to their own significance. Summed up well by a friend who said:

Spiritually significant people live out their own insignificance—it liberates them to live for the glory of God.

With that said, let’s dive into our passage together this morning as Jesus flips the paradigm of what true greatness is on its head.

Jesus Redefines Significance in 3 Situations with the Disciples

  1. The Spurned Instruction (30-32)

(30) From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it.

The from there is the place they were at in Caesarea Philippi. It’s where they had the embarrassing public ministry failure that taught them a lasting lesson in self-reliance. They had grown accustomed to being successful in their endeavors. And they had stopped praying and depending upon the Lord.

So, Jesus graciously causes their plans to fail. It was the most loving thing He could do.

Mark says, they went out from Caesarea Philippi and began to go through Galilee. He’s going through meaning it is the first leg of the journey toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the goal. This is temporary as Jesus heads to the city where He will give up His life to make atonement for sinners.

We are back in Galilee. These are the old stomping grounds, as it were. This is where Jesus spent majority of his life on earth, and most of his ministry as well. He well known throughout Israel by now, but this is where most of the action had taken place.

Not a normal trip back to the roots. I was talking to my brother this week and he’s planning a trip back to the Northwest. And what do you do when you are coming back to the roots? Make a list of the people to see. Contact people and let then know you will be in town.

Well Jesus is feeling a little anti-social it seems. He did not want anyone to know about it. Of course, Jesus isn’t anti-social. But He is agenda-driven. His agenda is focused right now on two main priorities:

Get to Jerusalem to accomplish the ultimate purpose for which He came to earth. And get these 12 individuals ready to take the mantle when He leaves them on earth to continue carrying out His mission. It’s an important time of preparation.

And as we will see, they need all the time with Jesus they can get.

(31) For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”

Here is Jesus talking about his death again. Here the nuance Mark records is a little different. Jesus has already said that He would be rejected.

But here that part is left out and instead Jesus provides some new information when He says: The Son of Man is to be delivered… literally handed over. So, who handed Jesus over? The first response is Judas. He was the one who delivered Jesus over to the religious leaders.

Yet this phrase is communicating something greater than Judas betrayal as significant as that was. This phrase is answering the question, “who gave Jesus over to Judas?” God gave Jesus over and Jesus gave Himself over into the hands of men.

To deliver up” or “hand over” is an important concept in the context of lawsuits and in the Jewish theology of martyrdom. More than simply the coming of an individual into another’s power, the term connotes the actual fulfilment of God’s will as expressed in Scripture. Particularly in martyrdom, God is the one who permits (or hinders) the handing over in fulfilment of his deeper purposes.

Gives Jesus significant credibility when He says, do not fear when they hand you over. It’s all coming as part of God’s unfolding purpose and plan.

Now let me ask you a question. Are these words complicated? No. Simple to understand. Nothing challenging here.

I was reading a research paper this week and I came to a sentence that said:

The challenge of any era, be it modern rationalism, phenomenological empiricism, or postmodern existentialism, makes the issue of epistemological authority and foundations more important than ever.

That sentence is hard to understand. What Jesus is saying is not hard to understand. Furthermore, this is a message that these men have heard before. He is repeating the same basic substance. Yet look at their struggle…

(32) But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

Studying this text it was hard for me to understand what was so hard for them to understand about a statement that was so easy to understand… especially after they had already heard it. Our first thought is that it must have been too hard to conceptualize for them.

But that doesn’t hold up. We aren’t talking about Old Testament saints who aren’t understanding the passages of suffering in connection with the Messiah. Jesus has been saying everything plainly (reference).

No word pictures, no parables, no poetic imagery, no enigmatic statements, no deeper significance. No hold bars, what you see is what you get.

So, what’s the deal? Well, I think we are helped to examine other data nearby included by Mark for us. If you are into statistics this is the second of three conversations recorded for us that are the same basic message of Jesus impending suffering and death.

Probably there were much more than just three conversations. It is a massive theme they had hundreds of conversations not recorded in the Gospel. For this section is clearly a theme of their discussion. But we have three examples. And in each one of them you have the same pattern.

  • 8:27-33—clarity on suffering + ambition = misunderstanding
  • 9:30-37—clarity suffering + ambition = misunderstanding
  • 10:32-34—clarity suffering + ambition = misunderstanding

Without this data we might be tempted to think that the disciples just had less clarity. We have more clarity, so we understand, and they didn’t. But that would miss the point. It was clear to them, and they didn’t understand.

The meaning had escaped them... greatest access to Jesus, yet still blind. Luke 9:44, Jesus said: Let these words sink into your ears… Jesus know it was going to be hard for them to hear it. And the very next verse, Luke 9:45 says that it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it…

They were supernaturally blinded from understanding the plain meaning. They were not only lacking comprehension (how the Messiah was going to die and be raised), but they what they did understand, broke their hearts.

Matthew 17:23, the parallel account adds that… they were deeply grieved. Anguish. Heartache. Sorrow. Tears.

And yet, they compounded the problem. They didn’t fully understand. What they did understand broke their hearts. And then they willfully kept themselves in the dark.

they were afraid to ask Him.

It is willful because the men didn’t ask. Have you ever been afraid of the truth? Afraid of an honest answer? Afraid to know where you really stand with someone? Afraid to know the full story? This topic is so difficult for them, they don’t even want to know any more.

I’d rather not know is the thought. I’m afraid of what I might find out if I understand it all clearly. But Mark doesn’t say they didn’t ask because they were sad, but because they were scared. Fear is driving their understanding of truth.

There is a great lesson here for us from this first situation. Fear is a factor in your ability to understand the Scriptures clearly. It is very difficult to see this in your life, and to recognize it even when people point it out. It is something that we all deal with, even as the disciples did here.

Fear of what the truth will cost you. Fear of what you might lose. Fear of a circumstance that you don’t want. Fear of not having control. Fear of losing your reputation. Fear of losing your sin. Jesus dying represents a threat to these men. It is threatening their view of their future, happy existence. And as that idol is threatened, they give in to fear and fail to ask, and it impacts their understanding of Scripture.

What’s the remedy? Humbling approaching God’s Word and asking Him to teach you, whatever it costs you. Whatever you have to give up. If you have to say, “I’ve been wrong for 30 years in my interpretation” who cares? If you have to let go of an idol you’ve not wanted to actually crush into pieces, glory to God, get rid of it.

Only a fool, would cling to a fear and not let God speak to an issue. These men are sorrowful, they are fearful, they are not asking clarifying questions even though they are confused, and so they have spurned the instruction of Jesus.

And now, we get a little more in the story.

Jesus Redefines Significance in 3 Situations with the Disciples

  1. The Spurned Instruction (30-32)
  2. The Guilty Silence (33-34)

(33) They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

You remember Capernaum. It was home base for all of Jesus ministry so far. The house is Peter’s house.

Jesus starts a conversation with the men. He asks a probing question. What were you discussing on the way? The way Mark writes keep us on edge. We get the question, and his narration, he didn’t tell us what the disciples were talking about, so we see the drama unfold right before our eyes.

We come to a strange response.

(34) But they kept silent,

You know you’d do the same thing. Brutal. You have twelve guys there and none of them are talking.

for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

Coming from what we have just discussed this seems almost impossible. How did this conversation go down? Jesus says, “well guys, the Son of Man is going to get handed over…” The disciples, “Wow, that is really heavy and deep and sad… so do you guys think I’m going to get a corner office of a middle office in the kingdom?”

I just can’t imagine what this discussion sounded like. “So, I’ve been pondering something. I was thinking about when we were back in Galilee and I did such and such, I’m pretty sure I’m better than all the rest of you.” We might think that we are better than other people, but actually telling them that?

These men were way beyond the fronting stage. Some of them were brothers. Picture that level of competitiveness. These guys have had a tremendous level of comfort with one another. If you spend a couple of days and nights traveling and you get close. You could trade two years of Sundays for a few days and nights together. They have been doing this for 18 months or more together.

Perhaps Peter, James and John were reminding the others that they had a special outing with Jesus. “We’d love to tell you about what we saw, but Jesus told us to keep it as our little secret…” Or maybe they were telling the other nine, “if we would have been at the base of the mountain when the boy with the demon came, we would have cast him out no problem… we are totally prayer-warriors.”

Being around Jesus has elevated the disciples sense of self-importance. Being around important people is intoxicating. Being a part of something exclusive. Being on the inside track.

In my reading, I came across statements about how important rank and honor was in Jewish culture. The Jews of course, had their own version of honor codes. The did actually have a defined system of ranking in the kingdom of heaven: first priests, then Levites, then everyone else, ranked by their standing in God’s eternal plan.

I’m sorry, but this is not a Jewish problem. This is a human problem. I want to get very practical here, and help us spot personal ambition in our hearts. This isn’t exhaustive, but here are some signs that you have a problem, like the disciples, with selfish ambition:

  • An inability to rejoice from the heart when others succeeding around you.
  • You fight for recognition and need credit (especially upset if someone got wrongfully credited with an idea or an accomplishment that you had a role in; long for recognition or accolades… irritated if you aren’t thanked for your service.
  • Favoritism, you make time for people that you get something from or enjoy, but lack similar zeal when it comes to people that only take and don’t give back to you
  • If you are married and you are focused on what your spouse could or should be or be doing for you and isn’t… opposite of a servant mindset, perverted marriage into being about the furthering of your own agenda and goals in life
  • A mom who wants to be respected
  • View people who are more gifted than you as threats
  • Covet opportunities or privileges that others around you have
  • Others around you succeeding beyond you is upsetting and it nags at you
  • You want people to notice you and affirm you. Either in real life, or on a social media profile. You are deeply concerned about what others thing and thrive off of affirmation.
  • A high view of own opinions (you express your perspectives frequently, strongly, without being asked, believe you know more than experts who have dedicated years of study in a field)

This is no small sin. James says that where there is selfish ambition there is disorder and every evil thing. Why is that? Because selfish ambition will cause you to sin in so many other areas.

James 3:14–17—14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

You are defining importance and significance from an earthly, human perspective. You are rejecting God’s valuation system, and you are competing with God for glory. John the Baptist understood this:

John 3:30—He must increase, but I must decrease.

But back to our narrative. The disciples just got caught sinning in their thought life for loving their own importance by Jesus. He asks one question and it totally exposes you and it levels you. What should be the response? How does a believer respond in this situation?

Confession and repentance.

Confession: saying the same thing. Agreeing that you are in the wrong. Self-indicting. Repentance: turning away from you sin. Stop doing it in the grace and power of Christ.

Where’s first-to-speak-Peter, now? Man, he’s always first to talk. Why couldn’t he do the same here?

Lord, honestly, you know our hearts. I blew it.

Could have been an opportunity for repentance. Where’s Peter now? Lord, I blew it. Jesus, help me die to my own personal significance.

But instead? Crickets. Their hearts aren’t tender yet in this area.

It’s hard to be brutally honest when you fail. To drop excuses. A mark that someone is willing to deal with their sin is that they are willing to indict themselves. Lord, against you and you alone I have sinned.

This conversation is the last one we have recorded in Peter’s house. How would you like that for a memory when you come home and reflect on your short time with Jesus. At the same time, this is such a blessing for us.

Peter had some unpleasant memories of failing his Lord. But for Peter it didn’t result in self-pity, but rather a zeal to live for his Lord. Peter knew he was forgiven, and so he didn’t wallow around in the failure.

Well no one said anything, but in their silence, they said everything. It was a silent confession, or a guilty silence as we called it here.

Jesus Redefines Significance in 3 Situations with the Disciples

  1. The Spurned Instruction (30-32)
  2. The Guilty Silence (33-34)
  3. The Gracious Lesson (35-36)

(35) Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

For the Jews, sitting was the posture adopted by a rabbi when he was teaching. Jesus then gives them a powerful lesson. You guys are all obsessed with your importance and significance, let me tell you what true significance is.

In my professional career I’ve had the privilege of working with some tremendously gifted individuals over the years, and when someone wise stops to explain an important principle for leadership or success, you want to hear it. This is valuable information.

Jesus begins with a statement that sounds hypothetical, but it isn’t hypothetical. If (for the sake of argument) anyone wants to be first (you almost picture him clearing his throat and winking at the guys).

You might think, well I don’t like the limelight, so I don’t have a desire to be first. This is about the desire to be great, the desire to be successful, the desire to be esteemed.

  • Highly regarded and respected
  • Being viewed as spiritual
  • Getting your preferences
  • Getting your own way
  • Coveting and desiring what others have
  • All types of jealousy and envy
  • Being popular or well-liked and valued by others

Honesty time. Who doesn’t want to be personally significant? Who doesn’t want to feel personally valuable and have other creatures around them affirm that value?

Notice Jesus doesn’t say, don’t aspire to greatness. He leaves the aspiration part where it stands, but redefines the path to get there. He is setting forth a paradigm that is counter to everything this world tells you is worthwhile.

he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Paradox: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Those who seek prominence in this life, get it now, and lose it later. Those who seek to make Christ prominent in this life through serving without expectation, those will gain it later.

Jesus is telling his disciples, rather than competing and dreaming of personal greatness, they ought to daydream about obscurity and servanthood. Daydream about not being thanked. Daydream about everyone else getting famous and popular, and you contentedly getting passed-over.

The point is to still have ambition. Still have a goal. Still pursue. But now direct your ambition toward loving others, not making a name for yourself. That is your new pursuit and goal.

A servant here isn’t a slave. This isn’t about becoming subservient to others. It isn’t about becoming a doormat. Frankly, it isn’t saying that progress or a rise in status is wrong. God determines those things. If you are diligent in your work and God is blessing that and you opportunity in career or you home to prosper and excel, that’s wonderful. In God’s common grace he gives you things to enjoy, and the opportunity to give generously. It’s wonderful. The idea here is viewing others as opportunities for service not for self-improvement.

The point is that you are to freely (meaning without expectation) give yourself away in the service of others. Servants didn’t have self-regard. In other words, it wasn’t about them.

You find ways to serve behind the scenes, without credit. Doesn’t meant that service is always behind the scenes. My heart is encouraged when I see others serving, it is healthy for that to take place. But the issue is self-forgetfulness in the process of serving others.

The best way to describe it is that a servant was to come in and do their business and be invisible, and that was okay. In another gospel it said, “you don’t get thanked because you were just doing your job.”

I have a question for the children in the room, if you have siblings, do you find it difficult to serve your them from the heart? I mean, to really, truly want to see their joy, and their fulfillment, and their betterment, even when it means dying to self.

Adults in the room, can you relate. What is our typical approach to solving this problem? A lecture on being selfless?

Perhaps, we all need to hear the words of Jesus freshly here. He is setting forth a path that is valuable in the eyes of God. It isn’t merely stop being mean, or you should really love one another (both are true), but you should choose the way that will make you great in the eyes of God. God rewards humble servants.

Luke 22:27—Jesus models it when he serves the disciples around the table.

You don’t determine the gifts you are born with (or without). Many factors in your life are beyond your control. Some have great privileges, and others have great lack. Some of opportunities, some have nothing but opposite? But those things aren’t what determine greatness in God’s economy.

You could be the prince of preachers, the wisest of counselors, the most effective discipler, or have musical gifts that leave whole congregations awestruck, you could write books on parenting or Christian-living. If done with a right heart that is all pleasing worship.

In God’s program, greatness is attainable by all. You can’t lead music at the church unless you are qualified to do so. Character and gifting required to get the job done. But being a servant great in the eyes of God? You have nothing more or less than anyone else because it isn’t about the gifts you have, but rather your disposition toward personal sacrifice when you have nothing personally to gain.

How about serving people who don’t deserve it? People who aren’t like you. People who are personally costly to love. People who suck your resources and don’t give back. People who don’t reciprocate or reach out, and you are the only one pursuing. People who want your counsel and want you to listen, but don’t heed what you say. That’s what we are talking about here.

This is a critical message for moms. Do you feel limited? Desire impact? Patiently train a little one who doesn’t learn quickly or easily, but continually give yourself away for their betterment and the glory of God. When you serve little ones, and no one sees it, your work is great in the eyes of God.

This is a person that doesn’t need credit for doing what is right to feel good about it.

You want to see a godly church? A church full of people who are servants of all. The is the death of cliques. Why? Because people no longer hang out with just the people they personally enjoy. People don’t want to be exclusive, they want maximum service and ministry to others. Freed up to think of relationships, not in terms of what benefits “me” but rather what is useful to Christ and a blessing to others?

Not one place in Scripture does God say He regards the highly gifted as great. Not once in Scripture does God say that people who are popular, or pretty, or wealthy are greatly esteemed by him.

Is this how you view reality? If I were betting I would say probably not.

We are so fleshy, aren’t we? We define value and success the way the world does. I know I do. God’s paradigm for value and worth is totally different than our human assessments.

Really, this instruction is just the practical outworking of the second great commandment. In comparison to God, you and I are all nobodies, privileged to serve anybody.

That’s the point. Well Jesus, wanting to drive home the point with an illustration, gives a tender picture here at the end.

(36) Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them,

Where are we? Peter’s house. May have been one of Peter’s kids. We don’t know. Normally we picture Jesus grabbing some random kid and using him for an object lesson. Probably not the best way to render that in your mind’s eye. Probably a familiar friend. They are back in town.

Why a child? Not regarded as particularly innocent or obedient. The point isn’t here to emulate children. The point was that children were insignificant. From the perspective of cost-benefit analysis, adults had little gain from children. Children didn’t have power, influence, they didn’t have significant rights.

First century had a different view of children than we do. We have to deal with a tendency as a society to be child-centered, not so much in the first century.

Jesus’ point then is to highlight that a true servant serves the lowly. A true servant serves the kind of people that you don’t get receive any benefit from. More or less from a social perspective, children were invisible.

Some Caperniam kid. He’s a nobody.

Jesus is loving a nobody. Jesus is flipping their world on its head.

(37) “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

His point is that if you adopt the position of lowliness to serve someone who cannot benefit you, and you are serving Jesus, you honor not only Jesus, but in turn the Father.

It isn’t superficial—if you receive Jesus, and all that he says, you are receiving God Himself.

It’s an illustration of the disciples being insignificant like children.

So, what does this practically mean. Favoritism.

Matthew 25:40—“The King [Jesus or the Father?] will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

God takes it very personally when we serve those who we don’t personally benefit from. Specifically, in Matthew 25, Jesus is talking about believers.

Look, Jesus doesn’t say that greatness is the problem. The problem is an inflated view of your own importance. Too much self-esteem. You are to view yourself as nothing more than a servant. You exist to meet needs of those around you, in the service of Christ.

True humility doesn’t work against your joy, but actually brings fullness of joy. It brings fullness of joy in the future. You have the opportunity to maximize your heavenly enjoyment. And it is freeing to live for God in this way.

The picture is of someone who is truly humble, that is happy to serve, and as a result so many of these things aren’t even a priority. Competitive? Oh, no! This is where the Lord places me, and I’m able to serve Him, so that’s all I need.

A person like this is impressed with God, and Him alone.

There are so many helpful truths in this passage. It has been the same conclusion for us each week here with the disciples. I hope that you were convicted about perhaps people who God has providentially given you to serve, that the only resistance in your heart is that you don’t get anything out of serving them.

Also, that you would be able to identify those areas where you are still seeking personal prominence.

Such a greater vision that God has given us here of these things. Isaiah 2 type of clarity. And then finally, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These men were so far away from spiritual maturity at this point. I mean to be openly arguing about personal prominence is appalling. But Jesus is patiently shepherding them. He knows their weaknesses. And guess what? In time, they mature beyond these things. That’s the transforming power of God’s grace.

He takes selfishly ambitious people and he makes them into servants of all.

Lastly, this is kind of Him to expose. He is loving these disciples and loving us. How terrible to get to heaven and find out that you had it all wrong. You had been building your house upon the sand of personal ambition, but didn’t discover that until it was already over. What a kindness of the Lord to give us that encouragement now.

I’m encouraged that I see this type of servant-mindedness in our body, but may we continue to excel in it, as our Lord has demonstrated for us (Philippians 2:5-11).

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