P.AllanCoach (to his Little League players in the dugout}:  “Now, boys, this is the start of our season.  I’m counting on all of you to play your best so we can finish last!  Okay, everybody hit the field!”

* * * * *

Death Dominates.  After Peter acknowledges Jesus is Messiah (Mark 8:27-30), death dominates his teaching.  Mark reports it in 8:31-33 (Jesus will die), in 8:34-9:1 (disciples must be willing to die), in 9:9-13 (the Son of Man will rise from the dead); and 9:30-32 (Jesus will be betrayed, killed, then rise) . . .

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,  because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it (Mark 9:30-32).

Disciples Don’t Get It & Why.  Plain enough.  But the disciples don’t understand.  Why?  The Jews’ first-century messianic expectations explain.  Here’s what  Henri Daniel Rops wrote about that in his book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus . . .

[The Messiah] was one of the essential bases of Israel’s religion, as much part of it as its monotheism and the doctrine of the covenant . . . {The expectation of Messiah) was one of the most striking  characteristics which set it apart from all the other religions of antiquity.  The Jews, instead of setting their golden age in the remote night of the past, looked forward to its coming in the future . . . [This hope centered in] the imposing image of a heaven-sent being charged with making the hope a reality . . . This hope had never been so much alive, so vivid, nor its fulfillment so urgently awaited, as it was in this time of sadness and of deep, tormenting anxiety . . . How then could [the nation] fail to believe with all its strength, that the Almighty was to cause Israel to triumph, that He would revenge their enemies’ malignance, and that at the same time He would restore the Jews to their rights and their glory? . . . The Messiah, then, was the center of a vast mass of confused, involved and even contradictory notions, from which there arose a few certainties that were acknowledged by all:  the reign of the Messiah would begin a time of perfect happiness; the fullness of Israel’s glory would be restored; God’s justice would rule the world.

Think Donald Trump.  Polls show him the lead Republican nomination contender for president.  Why?  His followers call him “a leader,” “decisive,” “a man who will get things done.”  He’s “strong”, “assertive”, a “takeover kind of guy who takes no nonsense from anybody.” Now imagine Trump out-of-the-blue  calmly predicts his enemies will reject and betray and kill him and then he’ll rise again.  At best, we’d be shocked and confused.  My analogy may be over-the-top, but I think this is why the disciples appear so ignorant about Jesus’ death-talk.  And it also explains the disciples’ crassness in what follows . . .

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest (9:33,34).

How could they bicker about which was the greatest when Jesus had just again told them his enemies would capture and kill him?  Sure their thinking and desires were sin-depraved.  But I think their primary problem was flawed expectations.  Messiah would avenge Israel’s enemies, restore her to glory and establish God’s justice over the earth.

Expectations Upside-Downed. 

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “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” (9:35-37).

Aim for last place.  Be everybody’s servant.  That’s so radical we read right over it.  Think applying that in the church.  Every member should be nagging the pastor:  “What can I do?  Where’s there a need?  How can I serve?”  Instead we have 10% of the people doing 90% of the work.  Think how that might apply in the family.  If Dad and teenage daughter don’t get along, Dad humbly reaches out to restore that relationship instead of stubbornly saying, “She’s got to come to me!”

Jesus calls a little child and holds him in his arms.   By Jewish messianic expectations Jesus would have made King David in full battle gear the model.  Instead he points the disciples to a toddler-age boy.  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me . . . ”  Messiah, you are like this little child?    We’re not to welcome Messiah Warrior but Messiah Child? 

What will a little child do when handed over to the authorities and condemned to die?  Die!  He can’t defend himself.  He can’t fight back.  He’s a small, defenseless, vulnerable boy.  He’ll be killed.  “The  Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him” (9:31)  

This is why those who welcome Messiah must become bottom-of-the order servants to everyone—because Messiah is.  This is where Messiah leads his followers—not to the place of power but of weakness, not to the place of winner in the world’s eyes but loser, not to the place of leisurely comfort for oneself but the place of costly sacrifice for others for Jesus’ sake.

February 26, 2014 / Ashleigh Davids


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