In Mark 9:30-50, Jesus redefines what it means to be great. Jesus gives us an understanding of Gospel-Centered Greatness. If a person is achieves greatness it means that they have in some way proven themselves superior to others. A great person has achieved a level of wealth, fame, or influence. Greatness isn’t a description we give ourselves, but one others give us. Kenny Rogers had a song in 1999 called “The Greatest“. There is a business book that has been a phenomenal success in the church leadership subculture called “Good to Great“. But, for those of us who are simply trying to love Jesus and other people, we need to understand greatness in Jesus’ terms. Many poeople are more worried about just making it through this life, rather than being great. But that’s the funny thing about the life God gives us in Jesus. We either think to highly of ourselves with pride and arrogance, or we thing to low of our selves forgetting we are created in God’s image and that we are being renewed and restored in that image if we are in Christ. For those of us who are trying to just get through life, Jesus gives us something more than survival; there is a way you can be great in the Kingdom of God. For those who are too arrogant about the status we may have been able to achieve, Jesus redefines greatness so we ought to be careful in our assessment of ourselves. Greatness isn’t something we give ourselves, it’s something others recognize. We can avoid greatness or we can strive for it improperly, but Jesus took an occasion with his disciples to explain how it works in our lives in Mark 9:30-50.
First of all, in verses 30-32 Jesus’ teaching give us perspective for defining greatness. At the end of chapter 8, Jesus told his disciples and a crowd of people if anyone was going to follow him they had to deny themselves and take up their cross. These three verses are a reminder of the nature of what it means to follow Jesus. Here Jesus speaks again about the way in which he is going to rescue Israel, he is going to do it through being rejected and dying, and then rising from the dead. But verse 32 says they still didn’t understand what he was talking about and in spite of their lack of understanding, they didn’t ask him to explain it because they were afraid. Jesus teaches us in chapter 8, here, and in many other places, that greatness is not framed by wealth or success or things this world offers that will not last. We must understand what it means to be great in reference to the Kingdom of God and the work of Jesus. Just because we think ourselves great, doesn’t mean it’s so in the Kingdom of God. Just because we think we could never be great, doesn’t mean it’s so in the Kingdom of God. The Cross enlightens our understanding of what is great. A definition or an understanding of greatness that has not been framed by the Cross of our Lord is a false greatness that is merely temporary. Jesus shows that there are much more important things than our status in this life, and he shows us this by going to the cross himself. He is the King of heaven and earth, yet he humbles himself on a cross. No one is of higher status, yet he humbles himself to the lowest status. And if the King humbles himself, then our understanding of being great ourselves needs to be adjusted.
If you want to be great in the eyes of your King, then be great in reference to the cross. This means our goals and pursuits in this life must be integrated with a thorough understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our careers, our families, our church, and our own personal aspirations should be guided by Jesus and should have the ultimate goal of honoring Jesus. However high our status might be in this life, it should bring us to humility when we consider the status of our King who humbled himself. And however low our status might be in this life, we find hope in our King who endured a cross to prove his devotion to us. The cross of our Lord frames our pursuit of greatness.