The world in which we live is topsy-turvy from the one God created and the one for which Jesus died. When faced with the decision to obey God, which meant deny themselves and not eat from the tree of Good and evil. Adam and Eve chose to go with the devil, who called God a liar, and offered them a world of their own making. Unlike so many TV evangelists of today, Jesus preached a Gospel of repentance, which is to say, those who hear are to turn from their wicked ways and live as unselfishly as Jesus. There is a gospel of come and get and their is Jesus’ gospel of come and give. The evangelists invite us come to Jesus and He will give us everything we want, Jesus, however, told the rich man to give everything away and follow Him. The gospel that Jesus preached is diametrically opposed to the gospel of come and get; Jesus is Lord, and as such He is not to be used like some celestial bell hop.
In chapter 9 of Marks gospel, Jesus taught His disciples Kingdom of God living as a result of a worldly conversation they were having.
“Then they came to Capernaum. After Jesus was inside the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 After he sat down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him 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.” (Mark 9:33-37)
One thing we must say about the disciples, they didn’t mince words or beat around the bush; these boys literally argued about which one of them would be the greatest. They were looking to the coming kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the kingdom of God they had already determined which one of them would be the greatest. We could say they were speaking for God, since the place they were to hold would be in His kingdom. The sin of pride knows no bounds! The disciples of Jesus were being lifted to a higher plane as they sat under the Master teacher and Lord of the universe. However, apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit to fill them with power for holy living, they were simply sinful men.
Sin is explained in the scriptures by 2 basic characteristics, the first is a lack of acknowledgment of God, and the second is pride. By the first characteristic of sin man fails to acknowledge his dependence upon the eternal person of God, who apart from Him nothing would exist or could be sustained. By the second characteristic man actually exalts himself above everyone else, including God, if not in word, by deed.
When Jesus asked them about their conversation they kept silent; their consciences no doubt embarrassed them before the Lord. A conscience can accuse us of the wrong that we do, but it has no power to prevent us from doing it. Such a power over sin belongs to the Lord Jesus alone. We are told in verse 35 “After Jesus sat down…” He began to teach them. When a person taught in those days, as in a synagogue, they sat down to do so. So Jesus took the role of teacher by sitting down as He taught them. He taught them verbally and visually. First He made this seemingly contradictory statement, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” As in the sermon on the Mount He says things that are topsy-turvy to our present understanding, “Blessed are the poor?” It is common to think the wealthy are the blessed, certainly not the poor, but that is exactly what Jesus taught, at least poor in spirit. And similarly all the instructions He gave on the Mount were contrary to common thought. In Capernaum He said, “If anyone want to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” In our present world it is generally understood that one must claw their way to the top, or at least use people for one’s own personal benefit. However, Jesus taught that the greatest is the one who serves.
Then He took a child, probably young enough so that he was incapable of taking care of himself, and He stood him among His disciples. The picture is simple, they all stood with the child and our Lord sat; they were given the opportunity to see that they were no different than the child in our Lord’s eyes. Not to say they weren’t more mature, but no more capable of keeping their heart beating, the sun in the heavens, or the rotation of the earth. The universe is in God’s hands, let us make no mistake. The person who leads well according to our Lord, first understands their proper place in God’s universe.
He then seems to turn a corner and talk about something completely different but in actually He was quite consistent.
“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.”
By this teaching Jesus clarified the necessity of proper associations in the kingdom of God. To receive (Receive: welcome a visitor into your house or a stranger into your heart) a child, any child, is to receive Christ. Jesus pointed His disciples to the condition of their hearts by how they associated with other people. Greatness is not having the most toys or even possessing the most power over people, but greatness is relating to others properly, according to Kingdom requirements.
The history of the world is strewn with power mad tyrants that cared nothing for their people’s well being, their only concern was selfish, self-centered, and often cruel and violent. Jesus said, in effect, greatness in my kingdom is upside down from this present world, it means the greatest person serves everyone before himself, and by caring for others you become great.
After stating that to receive a little child is to receive Him (and thereby He associated Himself with those who understand their own incapability of sustaining their own life apart from the sovereign and unseen hand of God) He said and the one who receives Him, does not receive Him but the One who sent Him. Jesus always seems to contradict Himself, “The one who receives Me does not receive Me?” What Jesus taught in that seemingly contradictory statement was that to the disciples they were receiving Jesus, but to Jesus they were receiving the Father. Jesus always puts the Father before Himself as does the Father put the Son. The kingdom standards are always according to the heart of God. God always requires of His subjects that which He does Himself. Jesus is God, but He serves God the Father; God the Father exalts the Son. God’s heart and character is completely alien to this present world system.
In God’s kingdom, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and to give Himself as a ransom for many. God in Christ put on humanity in the greatest condescension the universe will ever see, and to express the servant heart of the living God. The best thing that any man can ever do is to receive the living and resurrected Christ into his heart, and thereby become a partaker with God, by faith, in the kingdom plan to be humble.