True Greatness

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. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”—Mark 9:33–35 (NIV)

Have you ever asked a question, despite knowing the answer? I do this with my kids. I know who broke the mug or went behind my back and did something they weren’t supposed to, but I ask anyway. Why? I want them to have that moment of confession and repentance. That way, we can work through it together, I can teach them about God’s heart, and they can experience forgiveness and reconciliation.

Throughout the Bible, you see God ask people questions despite knowing the answer. And Jesus constantly asked the disciples, Pharisees, and others questions in order to engage in transformative conversations, expose bad doctrine, and reveal life-changing truth. And in Mark 9, we see Him do all three!

You see, the disciples were arguing about who was going to be the top banana in His kingdom. Of course, they had a different idea of what His kingdom actually was, thinking it would resemble an earthly empire, overthrowing the Romans, and becoming the dominant power in the world. In other words, bad doctrine. They didn’t realize the kingdom Messiah came to establish with His first coming was a spiritual one that broke down all barriers and operated in humility and surrender to Jesus. So, they squabbled about who would be highest on the totem pole of power. And when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about (knowing the answer), they all kept quiet. Why? Theologian John Gill put it best: “Fearing a reprimand, for their vanity and affectation of worldly grandeur.”

Jesus then engages in a transformative conversation to reveal a paradigm-shifting truth, saying, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The word for servant is diakonos, where the word deacon comes from. At its core, it speaks of someone who isn’t above doing the lowliest work, like sweeping up dust or washing feet (John 13:1–17). And more specifically, it refers to a person the Lord has inspired to carry out His plan, one through whom God is delighted to work and thereby minister to others by means of service. Why? Because that person is willing, available, and of humble heart to do whatever the Lord has placed on his or her heart.

Jesus tells them the greatest in His kingdom are the ones who devote themselves to serving others. The only ambition welcome in God’s kingdom is to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, to see His plans and purposes carried out in reverence and respect, in meekness and humility, and in sincere love and devotion. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV).

Pause: Why does Jesus ask the disciples about this instead of just telling them what He would eventually reveal? Why frame the conversation in this manner? How does this practice help?

Practice: Be a servant this week! Intentionally look for ways to serve those around you. Start with those closest to you and then work your way outward.

Pray: Jesus, help me to be like You! Help me to be a servant to those around me. Speak to me, reveal Your will to me, and provide me with opportunities to serve, love, and build up those You have put in my life. Amen.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.