King of the Mountain - May 10th Service Gospel of Mark
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 9:30-41
May 10, 2020

Experience meeting with fellow pastors.

Six of us gathered together.

Of the six, the only one who had any experience streaming services before the lock-down was me.

I want to be king of the mountain.

Almost all of us want to be king of the mountain.

We are just like the disciples of Christ, because they too wanted to be the king of the mountain.

They too wanted to know who was the greatest.

Mark 9:30-50

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Who Is the Greatest? (33-37)

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Anyone Not Against Us Is for Us (38-41)

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 

For the one who is not against us is for us. 

For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

I suppose that we could spend the next half hour talking about the first three verses of our text.

In them, Jesus has sought out some private time with the disciples so that he could teach them.

And his teaching is succinct

Two sentences.

A virtual repeat of what Jesus had taught just a short while before.

After Peter made his great confession.

Jesus taught the same thing he says in our text this morning.

At the time, Peter either couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the teaching.

Jesus has been to the Mount of Transfiguration, spoken with Moses and Elijah. 

He has come down to join the 9 disciples who were in an argument with the scribes.

9 disciples who had failed to cast out a demon – a fact which will come up towards the end of this morning’s text!

And now Jesus returns to the message Peter rejected.

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

This seemingly simple sentence contains the bedrock of our faith.

We understand it from a post resurrection perspective.

Jesus died and rose again.

But for the disciples it was just confusing.

They didn’t understand what it meant and they were afraid to ask.

I wonder some times if I were given the opportunity to ask Jesus anything would I just be afraid to ask.

Maybe I’d be afraid of looking stupid.

Maybe I’d be afraid of the answer.

We don’t know why, but the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus to explain himself.

So they don’t miss a beat.  They keep walking with Jesus.  Supposedly it was customary to walk single file following the teacher.

That meant that some of the disciples were 12 people behind Jesus.  In today’s culture of social distancing that means that the last of the disciples would have been 72 feet away from Jesus.  Of course they weren’t practicing social distancing!

But as I envision the line of disciples following Jesus I think about places of learning – like college and seminary classes.

When you enter you have a choice to make, sit at the back of the class or the front of the class

I liked to observe, so I always wanted to sit in the back.

Others want to be at the front, close to the fountain of knowledge the professor represented.

Following Jesus on the path towards Capernaum, I’m guessing the front of the line was the place to be.

In the case of the disciples there was probably a pecking order.

Perhaps James and John and Peter at the front of the line.  Followed by who?

Andrew is a good choice.  Peter’s brother.

And I tend to think that Judas was probably seeking to position himself towards the front of the line.

And they started to debate, who belongs at the front of the line?

Who is the greatest?

This is a question which has plagued mankind since the very beginning of time. 

Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and had two sons.  Cain and Able.

Each offers a sacrifice to God, Abel’s is accepted, Cain’s is not.

Who has the greater sacrifice?

Who has the greater standing before God?

When you play the comparison game to determine who is greater or greatest, bad things are likely to happen.

Arguing about who is greatest creates embarrassment

The disciples remained silent in response to Jesus’ question.

Obviously, the disciples had been comparing their works.

Whenever you begin comparing ’who is the greatest’

an argument will usually happen.

And, when someone asks you what you are arguing about you wont want to tell them.

People often argue who is the greatest of all time.

It’s Mother’s Day – who is the greatest mother in the world?

How can they sell so many “World’s Greatest Mom” mugs?

And should we argue about whether my mom is better than your mom.

Perhaps as a part of the argument the disciples were a bit confused.  Peter, James and John had seen the transfiguration of Jesus.

And the nine had tried unsuccessfully to cast out a demon.

And to make it worse, they had seen others - who were not disciples – cast out demons in Jesus’ name.

Who is the greatest?

At other times they wondered who would sit at the right hand of Jesus in his kingdom.

And we do it all the time.  We want to be considered, if not the greatest, at least one of the best.

And if not one of the best in the world, we’d like to be seen as one of the best in our town.

Or at least I our office.

I have a certain advantage to many in that regard.

I can affirm that I am the greatest pastor of Living Hope Church.  Maybe not of all time, but I am the greatest pastor of this church right now.

But it is embarrassing to try to rate someone as the best – in part because most of us want to be the greatest – and also because in our hearts we know we aren’t.

Arguing about who is the greatest is embarrassing.

There is a second problem with such arguments. 

Arguing about who is greatest creates confusion

When arguing about who is the greatest we become confused about what it means to be great.

Because it is almost always based on the wrong standard of greatness.

Mankind’s gauge of greatness is relative and arbitrary.

From an early age, most of us, whether it is done intentionally or not, are taught that greatness implies power, strength, fame, wealth and all the other things that allow us to make things go our way.

A person is often thought of as a great success if they have a lot of money, drive an expensive car, live in a big house and it goes on and on.

The world tells you it is all about you, make yourself happy, pave your own way, but Jesus says the way to glory is through service and serving.

This was not an easy teaching for the disciples.

In the Greek world of the time, service was generally considered demeaning and undignified.

Serving didn’t make you great.


PLATO was expressing the sentiment of the day.

Arguing about who is the greatest is confusing.

It confuses what mankind considers great and what God considers great.

Jesus says, if you want to be first, you must be last and servant of all.

And then he takes it even further.

If we receive a child in His name we receive Him.

In the First-Century World children were viewed as socially inferior and kind of invisible.

Oh, of course, their parents loved them, but they had no rights, no influence, no standing.

They were utterly dependent, utterly vulnerable, utterly powerless

Jesus is saying that we are to welcome those who we do not see as significant and when we do, we are embracing Him.

So how could caring for a child count as greatness?

It’s crazy.  It’s confusing.

It’s not what we usually think of when we think of greatness.

So when we argue about who is the greatest we create confusion.

Our standards of greatness do not gel well with those of our creator.


Arguing about greatness creates division

Our text tells us that John interrupted Jesus’ teaching -  perhaps to enhance his reputation.

They – the disciples – perhaps lead by John – had seen someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  But they weren’t part of the inner circle.

They weren’t one of the twelve.

They weren’t one of the greatest.

So John says:

“We tried to stop them.”

You can almost hear the unspoken words.

Didn’t we do good?

Aren’t we great?

They thought it good to hinder someone from seeking to work in the power of Christ.

The argument about greatness has lead to division.

Division which continues to this day.

We’re the ones who’ve got it right.

We’re the ones who should represent Jesus.

Because we are closest to Jesus,

Because we have the best theology…

Because we “do it right”

We should discount what others do in the name of Jesus as inferior or counterfeit.

So we divide when Jesus wants us to recognize his power working through a broad range of individuals.

Do not stop anyone who does a mighty work in my name.

The one who is not against us is for us.

When we argue about greatness we create division within the body of Christ.

Others will differ in their theology.

Some will have downright horrible theology –

Some will have great theology

Should we spend our time questioning whose theology is the greatest?

Should we create division within the body of Christ?

Maybe it is time that we stop playing some grown-up version of king of the mountain.

Jesus gives us something better to do.

So what is better?

To just serve!

Receive those less fortunate

Give those in need a cup of water.

That wont take away that deep desire within each of us to be recognized for what we do, but it will remind us that no matter how the world measures greatness doesn’t matter.

God sees what we do and will reward us according to His standards of greatness.

Note the words of Jesus as we close out our text:

For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

God sees the big stuff and the little stuff.

He sees those who serve and he sees those who demand that they be served.

He sees those who demand their rights and those who dedicate their life to service.

At the end of the day, when the trumpet sounds it will not matter whether the world would all you great.

It will only matter if you are great in the eyes of God.

The true and only king of the mountain.