ON BEING FIRST
Mark 9:30-37 Text: Mark 9:35 Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.
Did you ever get caught passing a note in class when you were in school? Did you ever talk in class when you were supposed to be quiet? Did you ever talk about something you shouldn't have been talking about? Or, someone? And that person overheard you! How did it make you feel? Embarrassed? Guilty? That’s how Jesus' disciples felt in our passage this morning. He had overheard His disciples arguing among themselves as they walked along the road to Capernaum. He asked them what they were arguing about. They didn’t want to tell Him.
It’s interesting how Jesus handled it. The last few weeks had been a busy time for Jesus. Together with His disciples, they had traveled through the region of Decapolis, a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, east of the Jordan River where two cultures lived under Roman rule: Greek colonists and Arabs. The disciples had just enjoyed the wonder of Jesus’ Transfiguration when Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. They, also, had witnessed Jesus heal a boy possessed by an unclean spirit. Now, they were staying at the home of the Apostle Peter, where they had stayed on many different occasions. Jesus took this time of rest as an opportunity to make some needed corrections in His disciples’ thinking.
Let’s put it like this. He knew their argument had been about greatness, ambition, power and control in His Kingdom and who was the greatest of the twelve. So, He sat down, and called the Twelve over to Him and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all. Rather than being upset with them, He took the opportunity to sit with them and calmly explain some very important lessons. He revealed to them the way they could, in fact, achieve their highest potential as His disciples. Wow! That wasn’t how they saw it at all! What He said to them was, if anyone of you wants to be first, he’s going to have be the least and last of all. Which means, the least important one in the eyes of God.
Jesus wanted them to understand the value of being such a person. It’s called, humility. It’s humility that elevates a person in the eyes of God. Humility puts you in His highest regard. In other words, God respects you, if you’re humble! Paul wrote in chapter 4 of his letter to the Roman. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about! – But, not before God!” You see, order has to have a first. And order has to have a last. But, the order of God’s Kingdom is that, the last shall be first! And it begins with humility! Here, Jesus was talking to His twelve disciples. (A disciple is someone who accepts, and helps spread the teachings of a famous person.) So, Jesus’ disciples were, in effect, ministers. They were spreading His teachings. And He said, as ministers, they ought not seek places of prominence and dignity. Because, the one who wants to be first in those things, will be last!
He said, if anyone would show kindness to another person, it would be like it was being done to Him. And what kindness was shown to Him, would be known by his Father who sent Him. Kindness is that something which makes you want to do good things, even if you don’t get anything in return. When you show kindness, it brings joy to your life! When you do good things from your inner desire, then there’s kindness in everything you think, and say, and want to do. Today, kindness for you, may be opening a door for an elderly person, helping a blind person get onto and off of an escalator, helping a distraught mother with a crying child pick up something she has dropped in a store, making a personal visit to a friend in a nursing home or hospital, or taking them some soup when they are sick! There are lots of acts of kindness you may think of, or you may have done. But, the main thing is, for you to keep on doing them!
Look at what Ephesians 4:31-32 says about what has to go along with true kindness: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you”. In a 2003 study of 37 cultures around the world, 16,000 subjects were asked about their most desired traits in a mate. For both sexes, the first preference was kindness! People want to be treated kindly. But, they have a harder time being kind, themselves. A large-scale study of school bullies was recently conducted to learn why kids bully other kids. The conclusion? Most do it, because they enjoy doing it! And that illustrates how cruel, mean and viscious raw human nature is. Hatred can be taught. And so can kindness! Many children, today, are not being taught kindness. In fact, much of the media young people are exposed to, today, teaches just the opposite. Violence, and other terrible influences in media entertainment, such as MTV, cause young people to become de-sensitized and calloused toward the needs and feelings of others. Some people even think kindness is weak. It’s not something for “go-getters”.
Big mistake! If you want God to be kind to you, you’d better be kind to others. Ephesians 4:32 says, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. And Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. But, people have a lot of excuses when it comes to being kind: “I’m too busy for that stuff!” “That person deserves to suffer.” “God is probably punishing him” (like Job’s friends assumed wrongly in the book of Job). But God doesn’t accept excuses for anyone failing to show kindness. The lack of kindness in our world is like a widespread deadly infectious epidemic. The apostle Paul accurately foretold in 2 Timothy 3:1, the world would be a cold and hard-hearted place “in the last days”, and, that’s where we are today! Many believe, in the last days! People are starved for human kindness! But, kindness is hard to find anywhere – politics, newspapers. TV, neighbors! Remember what Jesus told His disciples. Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all. And, to do that you need to live the Golden Rule found in Luke 6:31, Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. Listen, it’s not hard to be first, if you don’t mind being last! AMEN