The Least Among You, Part I (Mark 9:33-37)

The Least Among You, Part I (Mark 9:33-37)


I.) Think Highly of God, Lowly of Self

Jesus’ lesson here is one of humility. Not only have the disciples ministered with faithless hearts, they have been found guilty of possessing proud ones as well. Afterall, if your faith does not rest in God it will ultimately be resting in yourself. Everyone who thinks highly of themselves must be humbled.

Jesus’s lesson here is of great importance to us, because our depraved nature means humility is not our default setting; pride is our natural inclination. Humility is:

“To be free from all pride and arrogance, and to possess a modest estimate of one’s own worth.”[1]

Pride is when one possesses:

“Inordinate self-esteem, unreasonable conceit of one’s own superiority, manifesting itself in reserve, airs, and evident contempt of others.”[2]

Pride manifests itself in many ways, and in various degrees through out our lives, because it is rooted in the depths of our hearts. It is the metaphorical voice inside of us that does not correctly assess our “own worth,” but beckons us:

a.) To a disproportionate esteem of self.

b.) To have an “unreasonable conceit” of our own self-importance.

c.) To live in a way which demonstrates nothing but “contempt of others.”

This is what resides in us!

We must consider:

Q.) Why do we not love God today as we ought to?

A.) We think so little of Him, and highly of self.

We posses a low view of God, which always leads low view of sin, and inevitably a high view of self. There are teachers who care more about humanity having a higher esteem of self, rather than having a higher esteem of God. Such teaching feeds the pride of man and distorts the message of the gospel.

Jesus did not die for people, because they possessed some innate worth. The gospel is not about us; it is all about the Living God from beginning to end. It is the message of how the One of eternal worth humbled Himself and died in the place of those worthy of death. He covers their sins with His blood. He propitiates God’s anger and hatred towards them with His body. He suffers the death they deserve. On the basis of faith alone in this work He has promised to justify the ones worthy of death, by giving His righteousness to them.

We; therefore, do not find worth in ourselves before God, but in the One of eternal worth Who died on the cross. We have absolutely nothing to boast of before God, but Christ in us.

In the middle of the 20th century, A.W. Tozer said:

“The church has surrendered her once lofty view of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men…The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us…Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them… What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…The gravest question before the church is always God Himself…Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God…Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him…The Christian church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him…”[3]

My duty as your pastor is not to get you to think highly of me or yourself, but highly of God. When we falter in our estimation of God’s worth, we will falter in our estimation of ourselves, thinking more highly than we ought.


II.) God Hates Proud People

We must ask ourselves:

Q.) What does God think of those who possess a disproportionate esteem of self?

The quick answer is that He abhors them:

a.) “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate.”[4]

b.) “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.”[5]

c.) “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.”[6]

d.) “For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty, and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased.”[7]

e.) “…’God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”[8]

Pride is repulsive to God!


III.) The First is Last, and The Least is Greatest

In our text this morning, pride is manifested among the disciples by their desire to know “which of them was the greatest.” Jesus has just taught them about His passion, which entails His utter humiliation, and they are more concerned about who will be greatest in His kingdom.

We see this discussion occurred “on the way” to “the house,” most likely Peter’s, in Capernaum. “Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart” began to question them:[9]

“What were you discussing on the way?”

Q.) What did the disciples do?

A.) Undoubtedly in embarrassment “they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed which one of them was the greatest.”

Jesus breaks the silence by “sitting down,” which signified He wanted to teach them something important, so He says to them:

“If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

Luke records Jesus saying, “He who is least among you, this is the one who is greatest.”[10] Those who seek humility will be honored, and those who seek honor will be humiliated. This is the spiritual principle.

Having been brought up under the self-righteous works-based system of the Pharisees, there is but one thing the disciples would have seen: A complete and utter exaltation of self:

“They do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.”[11]

So not only did pride come naturally to them, but there entire culture encouraged and normalized it, thus making humility foreign to their thinking. Jesus’ teaching to them is clear: Do not be like these proud hypocrites:

“Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers…the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”[12]

Jesus employed a parable to teach this:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both shall come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles Himself shall be exalted.”[13]

Not only will pride sever your focus on God, and consequently His favor with you:

1.) It will divide those who are to be united, for attention will be on self and not others.

2.) It will ironically keep you from the very honor you are seeking you obtain.

Paradoxically speaking:

“If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

He will consider himself “least among all.”


IV.) Childlike Humility

It is not seen here in Mark, but Matthew records them eventually building up the courage to ask Him:

“Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[14]

Q.) What does Jesus do?

A.) “Taking a child, He set him before them.”

Some believe this was Peter’s young child. The child would have been old enough to stand on their own, but young enough to have been cradled in the arms of Christ. So most likely toddler age.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus’ use of the child here is not restricting the application of His teaching to only children. In other words, this is not a manifesto for children’s ministries in the church.

This may be difficult to see here in Mark, but Matthew makes it absolutely clear that children illustrate the spiritual children of God:

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[15]

Notice what He is saying: Unless you are turned around in thought like children you cannot even enter the kingdom you want to be considered great in.

Q.) Why do little children provide us with the perfect illustration of humility?

A.) Little children are powerless, dependent, vulnerable, and incapable of any contribution. Due to their situation they display an unwavering confidence in the one they depend upon.

Those that glory in their power, independence, strength, and capability will never see the kingdom, for their confidence is in themselves. Their skewed estimation of self will scoff at humility and trivialize the work of Christ.

Only those who humbly acknowledge their utter hopelessness will have the hope of entering the kingdom of God. This can only be done by grace, through faith in Christ, Who is our hope:

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[16]


V.) To Care for God’s Children is to Care for Christ

In regards to Jesus’ illustration with the child, Mark goes on to say:

“And taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.’”

Now, Jesus loves children, but His statement here does not pertain to receiving actual children. To “receive one child like this in My name” is not about taking a literal child into your care. A “child in My name” is a believer. It is one who has humbled themselves like a child and trusted in Christ’s Person and work:

“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will or man, but of God.”[17]

Q.) What does a “servant of all” look like?

A.) It looks like one who cares for his brothers in Christ more than he cares for himself.

Pride will destroy the love, and unity, and care believers are to extend to one another. If our unity with one another is severed by pride, so is our favor with God, because:

“‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.’”

If you care for a believer you care for Christ, and whoever cares for Christ cares for His  Father who sent Him.

Pride is a poison that must be purged!


VI.) Clothed in Humility of Mind

Let’s get at least one question answered:

Q.) Can we completely rid ourselves of pride?

A.) No we cannot.

Pride is rooted deep within us in our fallen state, and it continually beckons us to love ourselves. After acknowledging this, we must:

1.) “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, will all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[18]

2.) “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…”[19]

3.) “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”[20]

One may then wonder:

Q.) How do we do this?

A.) “With humility of mind.”[21]

Q.) What is the model of humility God has given us to know, and to understand, and to love, and to set our minds upon, not just temporally, but eternally?

A.) The Person and work of Jesus Christ:

“Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”[22]

Christ has modeled humility for us, and we are commanded to “have this attitude in” ourselves:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”[23]

Q.) What did the Father do with His humble Son?

A.) “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[24]

May our pride be crushed as we set our minds on the humility of Jesus, the Christ, and:

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”[25]


[1] The New Twentieth Century Dictionary; Humility, Page 838

[2] The New Twentieth Century Dictionary; Humility, Page 1339

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy; pp. 6-12

[4] Proverbs 8:13

[5] Proverbs 16:5

[6] Proverbs 21:4

[7] Isaiah 2:12

[8] James 4:6;1 Peter 5:5; Cross Reference: Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34

[9] Luke 9:47

[10] Luke 9:48

[11] Matthew 23:5-7

[12] Matthew 23:8,11-12

[13] Luke 14:7-11

[14] Matthew 18:1

[15] Matthew 18:3

[16] Matthew 18:4

[17] John 1:12-13

[18] Ephesians 4:1-3

[19] Colossian 3:12-13

[20] 1 Peter 5:5

[21] Philippians 2:3

[22] Philippians 2:6-8

[23] Philippians 2:3-4

[24] Philippians 2:9-11

[25] 1 Peter 5:5b-6

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