Mark 9:30-37 (NIV) 30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 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. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child 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.”
Jesus and his disciples were returning from a visit to the villages around a place called Caesarea Philippi. It was the last time Jesus was visit here. Jesus is kind of on his farewell tour because as we know Jesus had big plans with his life. He’s was going to die so that all people can live. Since Jesus was going to be killed for the sins of the world, be raised from the dead, and later ascend into heaven, he needed to prepare his disciples. The accounts in the Bible show they really really had a lot to learn. They were a lot like spiritual infants. And Jesus wanted to welcome them further into his kingdom. Teaching them was the current priority. So as they passed through Galilee (another last time), Jesus didn’t want anyone to know where he and the disciples are located.
This sounds a bit odd to us. Why would Jesus want to be alone? Wasn’t the whole point of his ministry to bring people into the kingdom of God? He still did all that, sacrificing his time for others. But in order to teach his disciples, he was going to need a little bit of quiet. People were following Jesus everywhere. They were constantly yelling his name and reaching out to touch him. It’s great that people were trying to get to their Savior, but it had to be hard to teach in those conditions.
By keeping their location a secret, Jesus finally got to spend some teaching time with his disciples. If these were the men who were going to go out and spread the gospel message to the world, then Jesus had to make sure they understood what had to happen to the Messiah. Remember, Jesus has big plans and here he told them his plan. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. There was a false idea going around of what the Messiah would be like. They thought the Messiah was going to be a king who would rule an earthly kingdom and bring the nation of Israel to great wealth and power. A king like that wouldn’t be cut down any time soon. You see, the disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah and he hadn’t done those things so how could he die? Why would he even need to die? Being killed didn’t did not fit into their idea of the Messiah.
Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t new information to the disciples. They had heard it before and didn’t quite understand then either. But there was some new horrifying information Jesus revealed this time. The Messiah was going to be delivered. The word in the original Greek shows the meaning to be along the lines of being handed over or allowed to be taken. It also means betray. Someone was going to give him up. Someone was going to switch sides. Someone close was going to turn on Jesus and bring him to the end of his life. And the tense of the verb in Greek shows that this was all going to happen very soon. This was a horrible idea for the disciples to digest, especially since no one was closer to Jesus than his disciples.
Perhaps it seemed too horrible for the disciples to talk about anymore. Even though Jesus had told them he would rise again, even though Jesus was trying to teach them the things about to pass, even though Jesus was teaching them about the fundamental doctrine of faith, they didn’t bother to listen. They ignored the Savior of the world because they didn’t want to address the consequences of sin or deal with the pain. They were still spiritual infants.
Are you a spiritual infant? I’m not talking about your age. You could be 120 years old and still be very young and immature in your faith. And often children are the ones with the strongest faith. But are you a spiritual infant? An infant can’t do much on its own. They need someone to take care of them. To feed them, to clothe them, to shelter them, to give them love. Parents with newborns almost always look really tired because infants take a lot of work. So are you a spiritual infant?
The disciples showed themselves to be spiritual infants by pushing away the message of a Savior. This is something they needed to know, something they needed to hear. Do you do the same thing? Do you push away the message of Jesus because it makes you uncomfortable or it doesn’t hit you just how badly you need it? Or maybe Jesus’ message is an afterthought to you. You think to yourself, this is a part of my life rather than a lifestyle and the only time you spiritually nourish yourself during the week is when you listen during the service, if the sermon’s not too dry that is. If that’s the only time during the week you get spiritual nourishment, you probably won’t make it. If you don’t feed an infant for a week, it will die. If you don’t get spiritual nourishment you will die. Jesus being put to death is not something we can push to the side. It’s important to note that, at one point in time, when Peter told Jesus he didn’t need to die, Jesus told him, “Get behind me Satan (Matt. 16:23).” We need to hear about and understand Jesus’ death on a cross.
It’s an ugly truth, but it’s meant to be ugly to show the consequences of sin. It’s atrocious that a perfect man with no faults would be pinned with the sins of the world and unjustly be put to death. But it is also beautiful. The type of message that can bring a tear to your eye and warm your heart. Because Jesus did this for you. He died so you could live and learn about his love. You are his children, whether an infant in faith or spiritually mature and he welcomes you into his embrace to learn more. 1 Peter 2:2-3 tells us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Jesus is the word and oh man does it taste good! It tastes like freedom from sin. It tastes like the certainty of finding your self-worth as a Christian. It tastes like salvation that can only be given as a gift. God welcomes the spiritual infant and brings you safely into the solid walls of his kingdom. And we see more of that in the remaining verses of our account.
Jesus and his disciples continued traveling through Galilee and finally came to Capernaum. The disciples seem to be lagging behind whispering about something behind Jesus’ back, trying desperately to keep their voices down so he wouldn’t notice. When they reached a house, presumably Peter and Andrew’s, Jesus sat down. I imagine he did this calmly and without looking at the disciples. He asked, “What were you arguing about on the road?”
The disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest among them. I don’t know how it all went down, but because of the nature of the argument, you can be sure there was pride, jealously, greed, and a bunch of other sinful egotistical feelings and actions going on. How do we know what they were doing was wrong? They immediately fell silent out of guilt. No one wanted to speak up and say, “Oh Jesus, we were talking about silly things with sin in our hearts!” Their reaction must have been priceless, staring at each other, probably thinking, “Way to go James! Way to not shut your giant trap around the Savior of the world! Maybe we should have walked a little further behind Jesus.” Of course Jesus knew what was going on. He knew what was in their hearts.
The disciples had once again shown themselves to be spiritual infants. Jesus filled the silence of the disciples with teachings and spiritual nourishment. With elegant wisdom he gave them and us a chilling lesson. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and servant of all.” The disciples were confused again. That’s not how it works. The people who are the smartest and strongest and best have earned the right for other people to serve them and in my mind I’m always the best. Not in Jesus’ world.
Jesus immediately took this principle he taught them and showed how to apply it. He took a child in his arms. “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.”
There are two types of kingdoms you can build in this world. You can build kingdom of self and kingdom of God. The more you build of one the less you build of the other. It’s as if they are only so many building materials and you have to choose where to put them. In the kingdom of self, everything you do is to raise your own glory. You puff yourself up, telling only stories of your own greatness and how other people should praise you for what you’ve done. You focus on pleasing yourself and are overly worried of how others think of you. You always wonder if you are a better person than everyone else. Jesus flips that type of thinking upside down. In his kingdom, the purpose is to raise God up and the things you do don’t puff yourself up, but encourage others and bring them closer to God. Everything you do is for the glory of God and you become a servant to all people.
I know you don’t need me to tell you which one is the right kingdom, but it’s hard to consistently carry it out. You may have great intentions and yet your sinful nature might be tugging you to build the wrong kingdom. Let me give you an example. Every time I write a sermon I have to catch myself. Because deep down, I want to write it in a way that you will think I am smart, funny, tough, and yet eloquent. But that’s not the purpose for a sermon is it? The purpose is to bring us all closer to Christ, not me. It’s meant to look into God’s word and bring glory to him. I have to be careful I’m building the right kingdom when I’m up here.
So how can we help ourselves build up the right kingdom. Jesus shows us in our text. He gives an example to the disciples. “Welcome the children.” I assume the disciples looked at that child and thought, “but what does a child of 4 to 5 years know? Surely not as much as us adults.” And Jesus turns around and tells them this. “children are wonderful, if you welcome them, you are welcoming both I and the Father.” He’s giving them a concrete example of how to serve. If you care for a child, especially spiritually, God views it as if you were showing your love by taking care of God himself.
He wants us to do the same. We don’t want to ignore the message of salvation, but rather embrace and share it. Whether spiritual children or physical children or simply children of God. Jesus wants us to serve them by giving them nourishment from the one thing they need: God’s Word. It’s comforting to know that when this is the focus of how you live your life, everything else will come naturally. Humility, purity, honor, integrity, patience, wisdom. The way you live will bring glory to God. And don’t worry about being perfect. As we look through the Bible we see so clearly that none of the heroes of faith were perfect. No one is perfect…well there is one. And that is comforting too, because Jesus, the only perfect one, died for our imperfections. The greatest of all time made himself the servant of all. He will be there as you pursue the holiness that comes from reading his Word. He will be there to lean on as you serve others. He will be there to help you build the right kingdom. In the end you will bask in the presence of his glory in heaven. Nothing could be better. You are his children, whether spiritual infants or spiritually mature. And remember what the text taught us: He welcomes all his children.