Markby Robert M. Solomon
It must have taken some time to return to Capernaum, the base of Jesus' ministry in Galilee. On the way, the disciples engaged in their favourite conversation topic: who the greatest among them should be (vv. 33-34). Still harbouring hopes about the glorious kingdom that Jesus the Messiah would bring about on earth, they were already vying for key positions in that kingdom. But although they whispered among themselves, Jesus knew what they were thinking.
Jesus sat down (meaning He was about to teach them) and explained to them what true greatness was. ″Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all″ (v. 35). Jesus himself demonstrated this. He was the greatest in the kingdom and ″the Father had put all things under his power″; yet He served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:3-5). Even ″the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve″ (10:45).
In His kingdom, Jesus expects His disciples to seek to be last (″the very last″; v. 35) rather than first, to be servant rather than ruler of all. This goes against the grain, for in this sinful world people want to be first and to be served. Despite the popularity of ″servant leadership″ the sinful human heart still desires to be first rather than last. This can be seen often enough, unfortunately, even in church. John writes in his epistle about a church leader, Diotrephes, ″who loves to be first″ (3 John 1:9). In the kingdom of God, the sinful ambition to rule must be transformed to the holy ambition to serve.
Jesus then took a little child in His arms and said that whoever welcomed a child like this was actually welcoming Him and therefore also His Father (v. 37). It is remarkable that Jesus dignified the little child by saying that he or she represented the Father and the Son. What a lesson for the officious disciples, who considered children ″nobodies″ and chased away them from Jesus (10:13). Demons harmed little children (9:17-22), but in God's hands they were safe and loved. They may have been ″nobodies″, but they represent how disciples should consider themselves.
Why is it in human nature that people want to be greater than others? What are they looking for, or what authentic need are they trying to meet wrongly?
In practice, assess your own attitudes in life and ministry based on this teaching of Jesus. How can you model your life after Him? As you need the power of the Holy Spirit to live in this way, turn your thoughts into prayer.