Mere Discipleship (Mark 9:30-50)

Mark 9:30-50 | September 29, 2019

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24.


What appears to be a random collection of responses by Jesus is actually an inside-look at the essentials of following him. Take a peek into the DNA of discipleship in this message from Mark 9:30-50.


Who do you consider some of the great people living in the world today? Why do you consider them of great significance?

Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.

Read the Text

Mark 9:30–50 (ESV)

Jesus Again Foretells His Death, Resurrection

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Humility, the Secret of Greatness

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Anyone Not Against Us is For Us

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

Temptations to Sin

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention, so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

Summarize the Context of this week’s text.

After healing the demon-possessed boy near Caesarea-Philippi, Jesus continues to travel south towards Jerusalem, taking his disciples through Galilee in an effort to avoid the crowds.

As was typical of Jesus’ discipleship process, he used common times together to teach his disciples important lessons, ultimately preparing them to carry on His ministry when He is no longer with them.

Once again, Jesus mentions that the Messiah will be betrayed, killed, and resurrected. This is the third time He has foretold of His death (Mark 8:31 and 9:12).

In spite of the repeated prophecy, the disciples failed to understand what Jesus was telling them and, probably in light of Jesus’ strong rebuke of Peter the first time Jesus mentioned His death (Mark 8:33), they were now afraid to ask Him about the topic.

Why do you think it was difficult for the disciples to understand Jesus’ statement that He would be betrayed, arrested, executed, and then resurrected?

One of the incredible advantages we have today is living on this side of Calvary and following the completion of the canon of Scripture.1

We see in all of its majesty and mystery the complete story of God and His redemptive plan for mankind. I love how one commentator put it, “the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” Literally, the grand themes of the Bible make sense to us because we can read the end of the book!

We must remember that the disciples did not have this advantage. The only Scripture they knew were the Hebrew Scriptures we now refer to as the Old Testament. Their perception of the Jewish Messiah was fully informed by what was presented from the Hebrew Scriptures and how those Scriptures were interpreted and taught by the Jewish religious authorities. Also keep in mind that these same religious authorities were the very same ones who vehemently rejected Jesus as the Messiah and considered belief in this false teaching to be a form of blasphemy. The religious authorities were not seeking to kill Jesus simply because they didn’t like His teaching; they believed He was a false teacher guilty of blasphemy and, therefore, deserving of death according to the Law.

In other words, everything Jesus says and teaches his disciples appears to be completely contradictory of not only logic and reason, but of their understanding of the accepted teachings of Scripture.

David McKenna provides some helpful perspective as we observe the disciples at this point in time:

We must go easy on the disciples. They are in the middle of reworking every concept of the Messiah by which they have been taught. We who live on the other side of the Resurrection do not have the same excuse. When Jesus calls us to suffer betrayal and death with Him in order to rise in the newness of His life, do we still claim ignorance and fear to ask the critical question?2

What do you make of the discussion among the disciples concerning who will be the greatest among them?

As you launch into a discussion about this issue, it is important to keep in mind the context of the previous question. Everything the disciples know and understand about the Messiah is being challenged.

It is fair to say that at this point in time, the disciples believe Jesus is there at that time and place to establish the Kingdom of God, and that He will reign as King from Jerusalem.

Encompassed within this belief is an understanding that Jesus will overthrow and defeat the Roman authority over Israel and restore sovereignty to the Jewish people. They will once again be in control of their own laws and regulations and no longer under the laws of Rome.

As king, Jesus will establish His government in Jerusalem. This government will require officials to help Him govern. He will need to appoint a prime minister, a court of law, a military commander, and an entire cabinet of officials.

Who would fill these roles? Obviously, the disciples saw themselves as a part of this government. Prime minister? Peter seemed to be an obvious choice. Special counsel to Jesus? John would fulfill this role nicely. A judge? Perhaps Jesus would appoint James to this role?

Following Jesus was proving to be a huge paradigm shift for this group of disciples!

What does Jesus teach his disciples about leadership within His Kingdom?

It is important to note up front that Mark observes that Jesus sat down and called the twelve (v. 35). Barclay notes, “When a Rabbi was teaching as a Rabbi, as a master teaches his scholars and disciples, when he was really making a pronouncement, he sat to teach. Jesus deliberately took up the position of a Rabbi teaching his pupils before he spoke.”3

It is at this point Jesus takes up the question at hand: “who will be the greatest in His Kingdom?”

Like many of the lessons the disciples are learning from Jesus about the kingdom, this, too, can best be described as the opposite of everything they previously knew and understood.

In ancient culture, a sign of great authority and significance was how many servants a man had. The more servants, the greater the leader. Many times, a leader would accumulate more servants that he could possible keep busy simply because having a large number of servants was a obvious display of his greatness and wealth.

Jesus flipped this authority structure on its head: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35).

To illustrate His point, Jesus took a small child and put him in the midst of them. At this time, children held no social status within a community. In fact, it is more accurate to describe a child as property than as a person of value. Chuck Swindoll notes,

Before the influence of Christianity, pagan cultures valued people based on their usefulness to the family and to the state. Healthy, newborn sons were prized because they extended the family’s wealth and power and gave stability to kingdoms. Newborn daughters and unhealthy baby boys were frequently abandoned to the elements in a practice called exposure. They were considered a drain on valuable resources and didn’t produce a suitable ROI (“return on investment”).4

Jesus then instructed His disciples to receive this little child just as they would receive Him. It’s important to understand what Jesus meant when He used the word “receive.” Again, Swindoll explains,

In ancient Near Eastern culture, the act of “receiving” someone (9:37) meant you treated that person like a member of the family. This can be seen in the rules of hospitality, for example, which demanded that a traveling stranger be given shelter and provision. Jesus declared that giving kindness to a child, the lowest-ranking member of the social order according to the world’s system, was the equivalent of giving kindness to the top-ranking member of society in the new kingdom.5

In other words, in the Kingdom of God, the lowest ranking servant (with the social status equivalent of a child), was deserving of the highest honor that would normally be reserved for the highest ranking official in the Kingdom.

How does this understanding of Kingdom leadership and status influence our thinking about greatness today?

Barclay provides an excellent application for us from this illustration of discipleship:

There is a warning here. It is easy to cultivate the friendship of the person who can do things for us, and whose influence can be useful to us. And it is equally easy to avoid the society of the person who inconveniently needs our help. It is easy to curry favour with the influential and the great, and to neglect the simple, humble, ordinary folk. It is easy at some function to seek the society and the notice of some distinguished person, and to avoid the poor relation.6

In effect Jesus here says that we ought to seek out not those who can do things for us, but those for whom we can do things, for in this way we are seeking the society of himself. This is another way of saying, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Becoming A House of Prayer

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.

Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.

  • WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
  • PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
  • WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.
  1. The canon of Scripture refers to the list of books that met certain tests or rules and thus were considered authoritative and canonical. But it also means that the collection of canonical books becomes our rule of life. (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 118–119.)
  2. David L. McKenna and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Mark, vol. 25, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 186.
  3. William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Mark, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976), 222.
  4. Swindoll, Charles R.. Insights on Mark (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 2). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., pp. 253-254.
  5. Ibid.
  6. William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Mark, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976), 224–225.

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