THE GOOD NEWS: Nothing gained at others expense is ever great
Can there be a more demonstrated will than that of a child? If a child does not want to be fed, will he be fed? If a child does not want to be rested, will he rest?
Yes, there can be. It is the will of an adult behaving as a child.
The Lord Jesus devoted himself to teaching 12 adult men. He spoke to them plainly. “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.” (Mark 9:31)
And in return those 12 adult men devoted themselves to behaving as children. The 12 did not understand Jesus’ teaching because they would not pay attention to it.
If an adult does not want to be fed on God’s Word, will he be fed? If an adult does not want to be rested in God’s Word, will he rest?
Rather than learning the humiliation lesson Jesus was teaching, they were more focused on playing bragging games at recess.
“What were you discussing on the way?” Jesus asked them, as if he did not know. (Mark 9:33) And, once again, the disciples turned quiet in their shame, “...for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:34)
Desire for greatness is the essence of arguments. And from such human desire comes friction among people.
In other words, our will to be great is so strong, that we exert it at the expense of people. We resort to thoughts and words and deeds. We employ our minds and our mouths and our hands. All to serve ourselves by exploiting our neighbor. To be the greatest.
But nothing that we gain at the expense of other people is great. It is great sin. It is failing to love our neighbor as our self. And it comes from replacing the will of God with the will of me.
It is not as much that the will of me is strong as it is that that will of me is wrong. It is corrupted. That is, we not only exert our will for the wrong greatness, we exert our will for the wrong greatness automatically. Because rather than will ourselves to feed on his Word or rest in his Word, we will ourselves onto the playground of our passions. At our eternal peril, adults behaving as children. And hell is no recess.
So see the particular irony that, to teach adults behaving as children, Jesus loved on a child.
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Jesus said.] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said ... “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37)
In other words, by God’s reckoning, the will that desires to be first will choose to be behind everyone and serve everyone. And to illustrate this, Jesus used a child as object lesson.
A child is needy and vulnerable. Weak and helpless. A child is low, least, little. Mega-last. Just ask the abortion industry — speaking of adults behaving as children. So that greatness is "receiving" one such as a child. That is, valuing others for their needs and vulnerabilities and willing oneself to protect and provide for them. To sacrifice oneself for the welfare of someone else.
Which makes plain there is, indeed, a more demonstrated will than that of a child and that of an adult behaving as a child. It is the will of God in Jesus Christ. God sent to become a child. To become needy and vulnerable to receive the needy and vulnerable. To become weak and helpless to save the weak and helpless. God humiliated, sent to sacrifice himself and give his life for the life of all people.
Every measure of greatness in the Kingdom of God is for us in the willful passion, suffering, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. On the cross, he took nails with his hands and embraced death with his arms in order to empty his bloodline. On the cross, his Father did not receive him. He “was delivered into the hands of men, and they killed him. And when he was killed, after three days he rose.” (Mark 9:31) So that from the greatest suffering comes the greatest blessing — the forgiveness of sins. From the greatest death comes the greatest life — the life of repentance.
The life of repentance is this: both believing great is my sin and believing greater is God’s grace. The life of repentance is daily confessing both "I am the greatest sinner’ and ‘God is the greater gracer."
For it is by God’s great grace that he humbles me to exalt me, kills me to raise me, and replaces my will with his will. The great battle of will within me is won by the greater grace of God whereby God’s will is made my own and is expressed in my willing obedience.
The Good News is every measure of greatness in the Kingdom of God is demonstrated through faith in Jesus. Because Jesus is the greatest.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.