Jesus uses the cross to frame our perspective of greatness. He teaches that the path to greatness is humility and service. He also teaches that Gospel-Centered Greatness is seen in different places and in different ways. He teaches that there is diversity in greatness. In Mark 9:14-29, the disciples tried to cast a demon out of a boy and they failed because they tried to do it without relying properly upon God through prayer. Well, it seems that since then, they have stumbled upon a guy who was doing this successfully, and believe it or not, this guy wasn’t one of the 12 disciples. There is an “outsider” succeeded where the disciples previously failed, so they naturally reject him. This little story in Mark 9:38-41 continues Jesus’ teaching on greatness from the previous passage. Here he teaches that there is and will be diversity among those he deems great in the Kingdom of God. There will be people we never expected that Jesus will say are great. And, there will be others we knew were great and Jesus will have no place for them in the Kingdom of God. The disciples’ status in the Kingdom is not contingent upon what they do better than other people. Verse 41 does limit this diversity though. The phrase “because you belong to Christ” is very important. This other man was working in Jesus’ name and performing miracles. Jesus says that those who identify with him are on his team, even if they are not one of the 12 disciples. He broadens this understanding in verse 41 to any who receive someone who belongs to Jesus on the basis of that alone.
In other words, he has just told his disciples to receive people of insignificant social status like and including children, and here he says that those who do this will be rewarded accordingly. Those who have believed in Jesus and repented will live this way and will receive the reward of entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God even if they didn’t begin their ministry with the 12 disciples.
To bring this forward to our day, I think we can simply say that there are churches that do things different from we do, and with some of those things we may disagree for good reason. But, if they have believed in Jesus as the King and aligned their lives accordingly, they are not working against God’s purposes. There are those who falsely understand Jesus and they can bring great harm. There is a story in Acts 19 where a man is using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and harm is brought. But, those who truly follow and proclaim the Gospel are included in the Kingdom and it is not our place to qualify their status. We have no biblical grounds to say we are greater than them and in fact, whether or not we are great in God’s eyes, has little to do with them, but only if we are obeying the Gospel. Our duty then, is to be sure that we are practicing the Gospel with humility and this is what he is calling his followers to in this passage as well. We are not called to critique other churches or Christians, but we should continually check our own hearts.
Greatness doesn’t come to us through critiquing others. There are enough obstacles to following Jesus within ourselves, we don’t need to concern ourselves with what others may or may not be saying and doing. Other people who are working in Jesus’ name will not hinder us from becoming great if we understand greatness the way Jesus is teaching it. The greatest obstacle to becoming great isn’t other people, but the sin that resides in our own hearts. We like being viewed a certain way, or living at a certain status, or having certain things and these can be obstacles for us if we are not careful. Pursuing the cross and humbly serving those who are undervalued in our world is what Jesus means when he speaks of greatness.