“What were you arguing about?” (Mark 9:33)

No wonder they wouldn’t answer him.

After all Jesus has said and done, after all his miracles and the repeated teaching, what are these guys talking about on the road? They were arguing about who was the greatest. Unbelievable! In the Jewish society of that day, as in most societies in every generation, there was a huge emphasis on power, position, prestige and titles. "Who’s number one?” is still the operative question. Because he knew their hearts, Jesus knew about their sinful ambition even before he asked what they were arguing about. Like little children caught misbehaving, they were ashamed to answer him.

At that point he could have rebuked them again, but instead he chose this moment for an unforgettable teaching experience. He does it by giving another of his pithy sayings. To be first you must be last. In the kingdom of God the way up is down. Jesus overturned worldly notions of power and replaced them with the paradox of servant leadership. In essence he is saying, “It doesn’t matter who has the title. Look for the one with the servant’s heart and there you’ve found your leader."

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He died like a servant is supposed to die, giving all he had for the sake of others.

If you’ve got to argue about who’s the greatest, you can be sure it’s not you.
If you’ve got to tell me how great you are, how great can you be?

Grab a basin and a towel and just start serving. Leave the bragging to others. That was Jesus’ plan, and it still works today.

Lord Jesus, you came to earth as a servant. We know you as Savior and Lord. Show us what it means to know you as a servant. Amen.

Going Deeper

Are you surprised that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest? Why are we so obsessed with power, position and titles? How does Jesus turn that thinking upside down? Would you rather be a servant or a leader? How might your life change if you were both a servant and a leader?