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Mark XVI: Servant of All - Mark 9:14-50

The difference between the faithlessness of the disciples and the faithfulness of Jesus even unto death is the made clear by Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9:35: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” The disciples don’t want to be servants; they want to be in charge. They want to command demons, rather than praying to God for deliverance. They want to be the greatest, rather than taking the lower place. They want to silence others who speak for Jesus, claiming that honor for themselves. They want to lead others as they follow Jesus, but because they are not walking the way of servanthood, the way they are going will actually cause others to stumble into sin. This requires a serious course correction so that they don’t miss the kingdom of God altogether and end up in hell. And so Jesus tells them to become servants, and then explains just what sort of servants they ought to be.

The conflict that reveals the faithlessness of the disciples centers around a boy with an unclean spirit. Although they had cast out demons earlier, the disciples are unable to work deliverance in this instance. Their unbelief in Jesus’ mission results in their inability to share in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is able to set the boy free, and He credits this to prayer, teaching us a lesson about servanthood: Servants pray to God before they act for God. You need God’s strength before you can do anything for God, and so if your efforts to overcome sin and serve Jesus haven’t been effective, this is a call from Jesus to get on your knees.

Next, the disciples fail to understanding and accept Jesus’ second explanation of the Messiah’s mission. Instead, they argue over which of them was the greatest. In response, Jesus took a child, gave him a big hug, and taught them that kingdom of God was as much about changing diapers as rebuking demons, for Christ’s followers are called to be servants of all. The disciples are fighting for superiority, while Jesus is embracing weakness and dependency. The second servanthood lesson is that servants are not superior.

But John is eager to preserve some shred of dignity for the disciples, and so he reports that they have successfully stopped an unaffiliated exorcist from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. And so Jesus has another lesson for them about servants: servants are not jealous! Your way of serving Jesus is not the only way, so don’t discourage others from serving just because they aren’t part of your group!

In the final section, vv. 42-50, we see that the disciples have so badly misunderstood what following Jesus means that their failures are causing others to sin. They need to fight their own sin first, so that when they serve, they aren’t leading others astray. The kingdom path is narrow, and hellfire is on either side. Jesus is showing people the path of life, but the disciples are tripping people, causing them to stumble into the fire!

And so Jesus, using drastic and disturbing imagery, exhorts them that servants take sin seriously. Cut off your hand, gouge out your eye. Why? Because eternal fire will destroy you and insatiable worms will consume you if you don’t. Now, Jesus doesn’t want you to mutilate your body, but He does want you to take drastic measures to put sin to death. If you are His servant, take sin seriously.

In the last few verses, we see that servants are salty. Having been salted with fire, faithful disciples season their speech with grace, and purify and preserve others through their influence. Salty disciples don’t rebuke Jesus or the little ones who seek to follow him. And above all, salty disciples don’t argue: in response to the conflicts in v. 14, 34, and 38, Jesus tells His disciples to salt down their speech and be at peace, because Jesus’ servants are peaceable.

Discipleship is not about lordship. It’s about becoming a servant of all. And serving Jesus means praying before acting. It means self-denial, not superiority. It means letting go of jealousy and accepting Jesus’ other servants. Serving means taking sin seriously, which Jesus did by taking our sin to the cross, and which we do by putting our sins to death. Jesus’ servants are to be salty, having a purifying and preserving influence on others, not discouraging them or causing them to stumble. As servants, you are not called to argue. You are called to peace.

This is the way of Jesus; the way to greatness. You must be a servant of all.

Posted on Thursday, July 05, 2018 by CJ Bowen