Week of March 15

For Whose Glory Do I Serve?

Read: Numbers 30-31; Mark 9

“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.’”
Mark 9:35, ESV


“The only way you can serve God is by serving other people,” says Pastor Rick Warren. We are likely to say, “Amen,” then go about serving our own interests. Not so with the Savior. Jesus has a way of getting the attention of his disciples by communicating the message on several different levels. I write what you may already know, but I do so because we often fail to see it in our own contexts. Mark sets the scene here by telling us that the disciples previously had been arguing among themselves who was the greatest (9:34). Jesus teaches a lesson that will return to their minds and that they will not forget it once He dies on the cross. Let’s listen to His words today.

A Biblical Lens

Jesus goes inside a house in Capernaum and calls the disciples to him (9:33, “asked” = “began to enquire”). In other words, he calls for them to pay attention. How does he get them to listen? He is seated which is the typical posture when teaching takes place (9:35). He also sets a child in their midst which was his object lesson (9:36). Sorry, no flannel boards back then. So, we get this, but why do we have trouble recognizing and applying his words in our own personal lives as disciples? I believe the difficulty in application lies with the trajectory of our hermeneutic. Let me explain. In other words, we interpret such words eschatologically meaning we see them as intended for the time when we are all in the kingdom of heaven.

I agree partly with this perspective because these things will be true of all His disciples in the kingdom. However, Jesus came heralding that the kingdom had dawned! So, his point was profound. He called for a radical reversal in values from earthly to Kingdom goals right now! I have transitioned to “ethics speak” here, so please reread the previous sentence. The key words are “values” and “goals.” I intentionally used the word “goals” instead of ideals to make a point.

There is a whole school of some mighty smart scholars that argue well the point that Jesus set ideals before people that were impossible to attain in this life (cf. much scholarly interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount). They hold to, what I will term, a “coming-world” interpretation. I did not receive a scholarship to that school of thought, so I did not attend there (I’m winking). Jesus, in Ashlock-speak, always enrolls his disciples in “trade school.” He expected them to learn and apply a skill called service. It held profound ethical implications. They, in fact, were to prize their education, and reorient their lives to this new end (8:34). Got it? Good. There is more.

Therefore, the way to greatness in the kingdom is the way of service. Slow down all you PhDs in Leadership. Some of my former students are already completing the thought by running ahead to “servant leadership” (I’m laughing). Jesus was not making that point in this context. I write this because the way of Robert Greenleaf, a pioneer in servant leadership, even while noble, falls well short of the way of Jesus. How do I know this? Look to whom Jesus called their attention.

Children in Jesus’ era were innocent, vulnerable, and helpless. This we know, so to use them as symbols was insightful. It helped the disciples to flesh out the point of Matthew 5:5. There is virtue in humility, but Jesus was also teaching them to place value on those who are helpless and to “welcome them,” “care for them,” and “show them kindness” (9:37; cf. John 21:15-17; see esp. 21:18; cf. self-glory in Mark 9:33 with God’s glory in John 21:19).

He called them to accept the outcasts and oppressed as a sign that they have accepted both God and Jesus. Isaac Watts once said, “In matters of equity between man and man, our Savior has taught us to put my neighbor in place of myself, and myself in place of my neighbor.” You think, “Ashlock, give me one concrete reason today why on earth this matters?” Two words, “Gentile mission” (cf. Acts 10 and Cornelius). The effectiveness of Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, in my view, rests upon the embodiment of Mark 9:33-37.

A Moral Pathway

I recall a pattern that began to emerge in the latter years of my teaching roles. A growing number of potential students started asking different questions in pre-enrollment interviews. They formerly wanted to know with whom they would study and their access to scholars and research in a particular field. They more recently wanted only to know the least amount of time that it would take to receive a degree. New values were in full view! They saw education as a brief pause on their ascendancy to the summit of success.

Jesus' disciples were already positioning themselves for leadership before they had even completed Christ’s school of discipleship! Jesus reminds all of his disciples, including me, that the diploma in Kingdom leadership hangs best on a cross. Such a view requires a radical values reversal (Philippians 2:5, “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”). It will be evident whether we are dropouts or graduates by the manner in which we serve others.

For Your Journaling

1. First, ask yourself why you serve Jesus. Answer sincerely. Is it for your advancement or to advance His kingdom?

2. Secondly, ask yourself how you are serving. Are you serving unto Christ? If so, then it will be evident in the lives of the helpless today.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock