Please turn with me to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The most enriching thing in my ministry through the years, to me personally, has been preaching through books of the Bible. I have learned more in deeply studying the Word of God in the context of a book than in any other way. May pastors and Christians have also testified that it has built them up in the faith and in their understanding of what God has revealed to us in his Word.
As I am considering and praying about what book to study and preach, I think of books that I have not yet preached. It would be too easy to pick up old sermon notes, but there would be little personal growth and little excitement about growing in grace and the knowledge of the Word of God.
More recently I have tried to give an overview before launching in a series. I did that for the first time with the epistles of John. As I was considering Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, I was wondering about the best way to hit some of the high points in Galatians. I looked through my files to see what I had preached from Galatians. I have taught it a number of times, but I could not find a sermon.
As I was thinking about it, I remembered reading some years ago a summary of Paul’s emphasis on the cross in this epistle. In the closing chapter of his book, The Cross of Christ, Pastor John Stott gives seven points that Paul makes in this epistle that I will share with you.
Let us remember that the churches of Galatians were founded during the first missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas. These were the churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. He and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria and in a short while heard the news that the new Christians of Galatia were turning away from the gospel of the cross to another gospel that was not the gospel at all. It was a gospel, based not on what Christ had done on the cross, but on what we can do to make ourselves right with God. Paul writes correct the Galatians to bring them back to the gospel of the cross of Christ.
1. The Cross and Salvation (1:3-5)
ESV Galatians 1:3–5 — Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
1. First, the death of Jesus was both voluntary and determined.
who gave himself…
according to the will of our God and Father
2. Secondly, the death of Jesus was “for our sins.”
3. Third, the purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us: “to deliver us from the present evil age.”
4. Fourth, the present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace:
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
5. Fifth, the eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever.
“to whom be the glory forever and ever.”
2. The Cross and Experience (2:19-21)
ESV Galatians 2:19–21 — through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Was Paul crucified with Christ? Not physically. It is an established historical fact that Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Paul was not there. I was not there. You were not there. But spiritually, Paul was there. I was there. Were you there?
ESV Galatians 2:16 — yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
In Galatians 2:15-21, “law” is referred to seven times.
Three times in verse 16, the Apostle Paul insists that nobody can be justified by the law.
Why? Paul answers that question in Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
“The law condemns sin and prescribes death as its penalty. Thus the function of the law is to condemn, not to justify.
“The function of the law is to condemn, not to justify.” — John Stott
“How can I possibly be justified? Only by meeting the law’s requirement and dying the death it demands.” That would be the end of me! “So God has provided another way. Christ has borne the penalty of my law-breaking, and the blessing of what he has done has become mine because I am united with him.
Galatians 2:19 “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
3. The Cross and Preaching
ESV Galatians 3:1–3 — O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
O foolish Galatians! Twice Paul calls them foolish. “Who has bewitched you?” Has someone used black magic on you to deceive you? Remember the gospel that Barnabas and I preached when we were with you. If you think that you are saved by the works of the law, you are completely deceived!
First, gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross: “Jesus Christ was publically portrayed as crucified.” Of course, he was born of a woman and under the law (Galatians 4:4), and raised from the dead (1:1; 2:19-20). “One of the greatest arts or gifts in gospel-preaching is to turn people’s ears into eyes.” — John Stott
Second, gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross visually: “before your eyes” (3:1). “One of the greatest arts or gifts in gospel-preaching is to turn people’s ears into eyes, and to make them see what we are talking about.”
Third, gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually as a present reality. It has been 15 to 18 years since Christ had been crucified. Paul had not been there. The Galatians had not been there. We were not there nearly 2,000 years ago when Christ was nailed to the cross, but the preaching of the cross makes it a present reality because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Fourth, gospel-preaching proclaims the cross as the object of personal faith.
We do not preach Christ crucified so that people can be astonished or feel sorry for Christ. We preach Christ so that people will put their trust in him. Galatians 3:2-3 “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul is astonished that the Galatians “should imagine that they could continue in the Christian life by their own achievements. It was a contradiction of what Paul had presented before their eyes.”
4. The Cross and Substitution
ESV Galatians 3:10–14 — For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
This is most shocking.
1. First, all who rely on the law are under a curse. Gal 3:10 “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
This means that everyone is under God’s curse because no one has ever continued to do everything the law requires. No one except Jesus. The rest of us have failed.
2. Second, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law be becoming a curse for us: Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23)
3. Third, Christ became a curse for us so that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles by faith: Galatians 3:14 “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Paul moves “from the language of cursing to that of blessing. Christ died not only to redeem us from the curse, but to secure for us the blessing of God.”
And what is that blessing?
Justification: Galatians 3:7-8 “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.””
The Holy Spirit: Galatians 3:14 “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
5. The Cross and Persecution
ESV Galatians 5:11 — But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
ESV Galatians 6:12 — It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Notice in these two verses that persecution and the cross are mentioned. Paul is being persecuted for the offense of the cross. The Judaizers are avoiding persecution by avoiding the cross. They are putting the emphasis on circumcision.
There are no Judaizers today, but there are plenty of preachers who put the emphasis on the flesh, on what you can do, on being a better you, on fulfilling your potential. You can do it. You can succeed. Just try harder! They “emphasize human potential and human ability.”
And Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4).
ESV Philippians 3:3 — For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
6. The Cross and Holiness
ESV Galatians 5:24 — And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
There are two kinds of crucifixion in the Christian life. There is the crucifixion that is the result of our union with Christ: Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ…” This is passive.
There is a second crucifixion is the action which we take to crucify our old nature.
ESV Romans 8:13 — For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Christ’s crucifixion speaks of our freedom from the condemnation of the law. The second crucifixion, that of our sinful nature, speaks of our freedom from the power of the flesh.
Luther writes that Christ’s people nail their flesh to the cross, ‘so that although the flesh be yet alive, yet can it not perform that which it would do, forasmuch as it is bound both hand and foot, and fast nailed to the cross’.6
7. The Cross and Boasting
ESV Galatians 6:14 — But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
There is no one word that translates the Greek word for “boast” in this verse. It means to glory in, to trust in, to rejoice in, to revel in, and to live for.
The KJV has it, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Some people are obsessed with themselves and their money or fame or success or power or winning. The false teachers in Galatia were obsessed with the number of their converts.
Most people regarded the cross as an object of shame and disgrace. For Paul and for the Christian, the cross must be the subject of our glory.
First, to glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the only way of acceptance with God.
How are we lost and guilty sinners to stand before a just and holy God? Only by grace of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, to glory in the cross is to see it as the pattern of our self-denial.
Paul only writes of one cross, but he writes of three crucifixions:
1. Christ himself was crucified.
2. The world has been crucified to me.
3. I have been crucified to the world.
What does it mean that the world has been crucified to us? It does not mean the people of the world for we are called to love and serve them. It means the values of the world, its godless materialism, its hypocrisy, its ungodliness.
ESV 1 John 2:15–17 — Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
We need to keep Christ’s crucifixion and ours in close relation to each other. As we look at the cross of Christ, we will be encouraged to take up our cross.
First, the cross is the ground of our justification.
Christ has rescued us from this present evil age (1:4)
and redeemed us from the curse of the law (3:13).
Second, the cross is the means of our sanctification.
Because of the cross, there are three crucifixions.
1. We have been crucified with Christ (2:20).
2. We have crucified our fallen nature (5:24).
3. And the world has been crucified to us, as we have been to the world (6:14).
Third, the cross is the subject of our witness.
We are to portray Christ crucified publicly so that they may see and believe (3:1).
The cross is the only way of salvation (5:11; 6:12).
Fourth, the cross is the object of our boasting.
The cross must fill our vision and be the center of our lives. We must glory in the cross.
If the cross is not central in our justification, our sanctification, our witness and our boasting, then we are enemies of the cross (Philippians 3:18).
Self-righteous or justified?
Self-indulgent or sanctified?
Self-promoting or Christ proclaiming?
Self-glorifying or cross glorifying?
If we are self-righteous instead of looking to the cross for justification,
if we are self-advertising, instead of preaching Christ and him crucified,
if we are self-glorifying, instead of glorying in the cross,
We are enemies of the cross of Christ.
ESV Galatians 6:17 — From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Paul suffered for the cross. Writing to the Galatians, he is probably referring to the fact that at Lystra he was stoned and dragged out of the city and left for dead. He bore the wounds and scars for proclaiming Christ crucified, the marks, the “stigmata” which branded him as Christ’s authentic slave.
Campbell Morgan expressed it well:
It is the crucified man that can preach the cross. Said Thomas ‘except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…I will not believe’. Dr. Parker of London said that what Thomas said of Christ, the world is saying about the church. And the world is also saying to every preacher: Unless I see in your hands the print of the nails, I will not believe. It is true. It is the man…who has died with Christ,…that can preach the cross of Christ.
￼  John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, 1986, p. 350-351. Material above adapted from John Stott, The Cross of Christ.
Sometimes Christians fantasize about what it would have been like to walk the roads of Israel with Jesus. What would it have been like to hear him teach? to witness the miraculous healings? to hand out the loaves and the fish to the crowd of 5,000 plus? What would it have been like to walk with Jesus? In Mark 10, we get a glimpse into what it was like to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.
In Mark 10, Jesus is making his last trip to Jerusalem. What awaited him in Jerusalem? Was it a Triumphal Entry of the King? Or would the King of the Jews be nailed to a cross? Both would happen. Jesus makes this final voyage to Jerusalem in the shadow of the cross. We read in…
Mark 10:32 NLT They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear…
Opposition against Jesus had been building. From the beginning of his ministry, the religious authorities had increasingly opposed him…
They opposed him when he forgave sins (Mk. 2:7).
They opposed him when he ate with sinners and tax collectors (Mk. 2:16).
They opposed him because his disciples did not fast (Mk. 2:18).
They opposed him because his disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Mk. 2:24).
They opposed him when he healed on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:2).
They accused him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mk. 3:22).
They opposed him because his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders (Mk. 7:5).
The opposition had become so intense that for a while, Jesus went into Gentile territory. There he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, unstopped the ears and loosened the tongue of a deaf mute, opened the eyes of a blind man, and fed a crowd of 4,000 plus. The gospel was for the Jew first, but not for the Jews alone.
But now, Jesus had left Gentile territory. He had returned to Jewish territory and was, in fact…
1. On the Road Again… to Jerusalem
Mark 10:32 ESV …they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid…
Jesus is walking head on to Jerusalem, the seat of the opposition. Jerusalem was the not only the seat of opposition; it was also the seat of political power. And Jesus is walking ahead of them, leading the way.
Luke 9:51 ESV …he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
He set his “face like a flint” to fulfill the purpose for which he came (Isaiah 50:7).
The Third Announcement of His Death
Mark 10:32-34 ESV …And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him…”
This is the third time that Jesus has told the Twelve that he would be killed and after three days, rise from the dead.
1.1. The death of Christ was not an accident.
Jesus’ foreknowledge of his death shows that it was no accident. The death of Christ on the cross was not a tragedy. It was not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus tells his disciples in detail exactly what is going to happen to him:
Mark 10:33-34 ESV saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
This is the third time that Jesus tells his disciples about his imminent death, but it is the first time that Jesus announces the place of his death. It would take place in Jerusalem.
He calls himself the Son of Man: “the Son of Man will be delivered…” “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title. It refers to his incarnation and his mission. He is the Word that became flesh. He is the God in the flesh. He is the God-man.
Hebrews 10 tells us that the Son of God became a man in order to offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sin.
1.2. The Son of Man will be delivered.
Several times in the Gospels, the religious authorities tried to arrest him. They even tried to kill him, but it was not his time. On one hand, he would give his life:
John 10:17-18 ESV For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
On the other hand, he would be delivered: “the Son of Man will be delivered.” He would be delivered by God the Father. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached
Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
This is what we mean when we quote John 3:16,
John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God gave his only Son. He delivered him up for us.
Romans 4:25 ESV who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Romans 8:32 ESV He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave himself.
1.3. Jesus has exact knowledge of what awaits him.
This third announcement of his death is the most detailed. Jesus announces that two groups of people will be involved in his death: the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities:
The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and
they will condemn him to death and
deliver him over to the Gentiles.
And they will mock him and
spit on him, and
flog him and
And after three days he will rise
“Jesus’s prophecy concerning ‘the things [that] were about to happen to him’… is not portrayed by Mark as coming via a revelation from God.” No, Jesus has direct and precise knowledge of the various details of his death. Mark wants us to know that…
Jesus’s death was neither a tragedy nor an unfortunate turn of events. Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well that he would be put to death. He knew the precise details of what would be involved, but he nevertheless went because this was a divine necessity (8:31; cf. 14:21a), and he desired to fulfill his Father’s will (14:36).
Mark 8:31 ESV …the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 14:21 ESV For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him…
He will pray in the garden,
Mark 14:36 ESV …”Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
The prophet Isaiah had said of Christ, 700 years before,
Isaiah 53:10 ESV Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
2. The Jesus Holdup: Give Us What We Want!
The disciples still understand none of this. On the one hand, they follow Jesus with great fear and trepidation, not understanding what he is talking about. They are blinded by their own misunderstanding of what they expect and hope the Messiah to do, and by their own ambitions. They are blinded by their lust for power.
In Mark 9:31, when Jesus teaches the disciples a second time about his death and resurrection,
Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Then Jesus asked them what they had been discussing on the way,
Mark 9:34 ESV But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Arguing about who was the greatest? They are not arguing about theology or the best methods of healing. They are arguing about who is number one!
Who is the greatest? The answer is obvious. Jesus is the greatest. Now he must show them true greatness.
Mark 9:35 ESV 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.”
What do they know about greatness?
We fast-forward back to chapter 10 where Jesus has just told his disciples that he will be delivered in Jerusalem to be killed.
Mark 10:35 ESV And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
That’s quite a request! They want a guarantee from Jesus that he will give them whatever they ask. They are asking Jesus for a blank check.
Mark 10:36-37 ESV And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
James and John are asking for positions of power along side Jesus in his coming kingdom. They want to be number two and number three in the line of authority. They are asking for the best seats in the house.
Where was Peter in all this? You will remember that Peter and James and John were the closest of the 12 disciples. Those three disciples had accompanied Jesus when he raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. Jesus had taken Peter and James and John with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter is not mentioned in their request. Where they trying to shut him out? Where they afraid that he might get in line before them?
It is no wonder that we fail to understand suffering and rejection and the cross when we are carried along by blind ambition, trying to be number one. We want to get ahead of everyone else in line. We want first place. Jesus’ determination to go to the cross is totally incomprehensible to us, and yet, he said,
Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus told James and John,
Mark 10:38 ESV … ”You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
2.1. Leadership involves suffering.
“Are you able to drink the cup?” Jesus is not asking if they will become his wine-tasters. “Nor is the cup the cup of victory (Pss 23:5; 116:13), though the disciples might hope that it were so. They will not be drinking from a silver chalice.”
In Scripture, the “cup” almost always refers to suffering. Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”
Closeness to Jesus means sharing his suffering and death, just as he has said that anyone who follows him must deny himself and take up his cross.
James and John gave a quick and easy response:
Mark 10:39 ESV And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,
Suffer, they would. James would be beheaded (Acts 12:2), and John would be exiled.
Leadership involves suffering.
2.2. Leadership involves a divine assignment.
Mark 10:40 ESV but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
We do not choose our positions or the conditions of our service. We deny ourselves and submit to the will of God.
We can and should prepare ourselves and offer ourselves for service.
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteen president of the United States of America. Over 150 years ago, before Lincoln became president, slavery was lawful in the United States.
Long before Abraham Lincoln was in public life, he saw a slave being traded at a public market in New Orleans. The sight, he said, went like “steel into my soul,” and he told himself that if he ever had a chance to do something about it he would. “I will prepare myself,” he resolved, “and some day my change will come.” And his time did come.
It is one thing to prepare for service; it is another thing to seek for promotion.
Mark 10:41 NET Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.
Who did James and John think they were? Did they think that they were better than the other disciples? Self-promotion breeds division. When people begin to grab power for themselves, trouble begins. But the reaction of the other 10 disciples was no better. They were upset “because James and John thought of the idea and got to Jesus first!” They are “still clinging to the same values of the world in terms of power-seeking and self-assertion.”
It is interesting to note that Jesus said that it was not his place to assign those positions. Though he was God, he was not the Father. He distinguishes between his position as Son and his Father’s position. The Scriptures everywhere affirm three things about God:
There is only one God.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons within the one true God.
It is mystery, but it is not contradictory.
2.3. Leadership involves servanthood.
Mark 10:42-44 ESV And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Jesus describes leadership principles according to the world’s standards. The rulers of this world use power and authority to lord it over others. The so-called “great ones exercise authority over” others.
We do not force our views upon others. We do not force or coerce faith. That is actually impossible, for faith comes from the heart. We do not take up the sword to convince people to convert. When Peter took up his sword to defend Jesus, Jesus rebuked him, told him to put up his sword, warned him that those who take up the sword will die by the sword, and then Jesus healed the man that Peter had injured.
Sinful man exalts himself to the place of God. The serpent in the Garden of Eden promised that we could be like God. Man has displaced God and wants to be his own god and to lord it over others. We have turned everything upside down, so Jesus has come to turn things right side up.
There are great problems when we bring worldly methods into the church, when we run the church following the methods of the world. But when that happens, we are no longer the church! Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus is not encouraging us to behave in a certain way. He is not telling us that his kingdom does not operate according to the world’s methods of leadership. Those who operate according to the world’s methods are not part of his kingdom; they are not following Jesus: “It shall not be so among you.”
Now, there are many who claim to follow Jesus but who lord it over others and exercise authority over others. The Apostle Peter tells us that pastors are not to lord it over the people assigned to their care but to lead them be their own good example (1 Peter 5:3).
James Edwards comments on this verse,
Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.
The highest virtue in God’s kingdom is not power. It is not even freedom. The highest virtue in the kingdom of God is service. “Greatness belongs to the one who is not great.” Greatness belongs to the one who serves.
This is not about me, and it is not about you. It’s about Christ in us serving others through us. “Service is love made tangible.” Service is love in action.
The church does not exist for the benefit of the ministers and leaders. Pastors and congregational leaders exist for the sake of the people. The Christian leader is not above the congregation; he is part of it. “The congregation does not belong to him; rather he belongs to it.”
3. Why Jesus Came
Jesus has now told the disciples for the third time that he must die. Now, for the first time, he tells them why he must die.
Mark 10:45 ESV For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
First, Jesus came to serve. Those who follow Christ will not be driven by lust for power and authority. Rather, they will follow him to the cross, as Jesus explains: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”
The Apostle Paul explains…
Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Those who follow Christ will seek to serve.
Second, Jesus explains that he came to give his life as a ransom for man. He did not come to grab power. He came to give his life.
John 10:11 ESV I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Romans 8:3-4 NLT The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Jesus offered his life as the ransom price for all.
As God’s own delegate, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus freely and obediently offers his life as a substitute in behalf of humanity. Jesus is supremely conscious of offering a payment to God that can be offered by no one else… The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice of obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and a full satisfaction of God’s justice.
The Justice of God
God is a God of justice. As the Judge of all the earth, he cannot finally allow sin to go unpunished. There is a penalty for sin. A great price was paid for you to be set free from sin. God himself bore the penalty and paid the price for your freedom. Will you not walk with Him on the road to the cross?
 Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427-12433). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How do you define greatness? Being at the top of your game? Being number one? The world is looking for greatness and defines it from the top down. Jesus says that we’ve got it upside down. He defines greatness from the bottom up. Do you want to be great?
1. Looking for Greatness in All the Wrong Places
The desire for greatness can be found in most every one of us, in one way or another. We may define greatness and success in different ways, but we have a deep need for greatness, for significance. We seek meaning and purpose in life. It is often suggested that we may pursue greatness in trying to find something bigger and greater than ourselves.
Historically, the rulers of Europe were often given the attribute “the Great.” There was Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”, d. 814), Frederic the Great of Prussia (1712–1786), Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796), and Napoleon the Great (1769-1821), as well as many others.
In Bible times there was Cyrus the Great (c. 600–530 B.C.), kind of Persia; the Syrian ruler, Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.), and Herod the Great (73/74-4 B.C.).
Jesus spoke of these “great ones” when he said,
Mark 10:42 ESV … “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
1.1. Greatness according to the World
You do not have to be a ruler to pursue greatness. Perhaps you define greatness as being at the top of your game. Perhaps you want to be a great athlete, or a great teacher, or a great administrator, or a great leader. Perhaps you define greatness in terms of financial success, living in a nice home, eating the finest of food, and having people wait on you hand and foot.
Perhaps you define greatness in terms of intelligence, or scientific achievement, or as an artist. Or you may define greatness in terms of “the rich and the famous.”
According to the Wikipedia,
Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work…
Here greatness is defined in terms of comparison, being better than others, having abilities that are better than others, have a clear advantage over others.
This is certainly how the disciples understood greatness. In Mark 9:34, the disciples “had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.” They are each arguing for their own superiority over the others. They are vying for position.
Then we read…
Mark 9:33-34 ESV 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.
They were “on the way.” “On the way” to where? Jesus and his disciples were “on the way” to Jerusalem.
The disciples could not get beyond their ideas of greatness. In spite of all that Jesus had told them, and in spite of their fears and apprehensions, they knew that they were “on the way” to Jerusalem, and they remained hopeful. They are en route for Jerusalem, and “…the journey to Jerusalem has been fanning the flames of messianic and eschatological hopes in their minds. Surely the kingdom would break forth in Jerusalem, with Jesus — and they with him — at” the head of the kingdom!But Jesus was on the way to the cross.
1.2. Fighting for Greatness
So the disciples are arguing about which one of them will be the greatest in the kingdom.
This passage is thick with irony. Jesus has just announced a second time to the group of his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem not to be crowned as king, but to suffer, and to be rejected, and to die — and the disciples just do not get it.
Let’s retrace briefly what has happened in the last few sections of Mark. In Mark 8, Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ (8:29). Then Jesus told them plainly for the first time that as the Christ, he would suffer many things, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again (8:30). Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but then he rebuked Jesus because suffering and death were incompatible with his understanding of what Christ the Messiah would do.
In turn, Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for expressing not the thoughts of God, but those of men. And then, Jesus turns everything upside down
Mark 8:34-35 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Here is the paradox of the gospel: If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, you will save it. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.
One week later, Jesus took Peter and James and John up to the top of a high mountain where he was transfigured before them with the glory that was his before the creation of the universe. Surely following Jesus would be worth the risk. Coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells those three disciples to tell no one “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).
Now in Mark 9, Jesus spends time teaching all 12 disciples a second time about what he was going to do.
Mark 9:30-31 ESV 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.”
This is not public teaching; this is a private teaching session. As Jesus is en route for Jerusalem, he does not want anyone to know his traveling plans. Jesus does not want any interruptions from outsiders as he explains to them what will happen to him. This is a private teaching session with his 12 disciples, teaching them lessons which they must — by all means — learn.
The first time, Jesus had spoken of suffering many things, of being rejected, and of being killed. This time he adds an element: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”
Jesus will be delivered — betrayed — by Judas, one of his own disciples (14:10-11, 18, 21, 41-42).
He will be delivered by the high priest’s council into the hands of Pilate, the governor. They will force Pilate’s hand so that he decides to execute Jesus (10:33; 15:1, 10).
“Pilate will deliver Jesus into the hands of the soldiers who will crucify him (15:15).”
Yes, the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners (14:14). All of “humanity falls into this category.”
“But there is another hand behind all this handing over. It is the hand of God, whose purposes are being fulfilled unbeknownst to any of the actors in the drama.”
After the resurrection of Christ, it is clear from the preaching of the apostles and from the New Testament epistles that God had delivered his one and only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans:
Romans 8:32 NAU He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Jesus told them plainly that he was going to be delivered and killed and after three days, rise from the dead.
Jesus is talking about his suffering; they are arguing about their own significance.
Jesus is talking about being rejected; they are arguing about reigning.
Jesus is teaching them about his death; they are arguing about domination.
The disciples simply embody man’s normal and sinful ambitions. The world defines greatness as
Getting to the top
Being number one
Securing wealth, power, and position
Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
How could they understand what Jesus was saying? What Jesus was saying was totally incompatible with their notions of greatness. They were not looking for a crucified Christ. That was an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. The cross was incompatible with their notion of the crown and the kingdom. How could they possibly understand? Jesus was not fitting into their categories. He was not conforming to their way of thinking. But our way of thinking should not be like the world’s way of thinking because the world has it all wrong. That’s why the Apostle Paul tell us,
Romans 12:2 NLT Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Jesus has now told his disciples twice that he was on the way to the cross… “he was teaching his disciples…”
Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
They did not understand, but apparently they understood something, for they were afraid to ask him. Perhaps they remembered before when Peter had rebuked Christ and had been in turned rebuked for setting his mind on the things of man instead of on the things of God (Mark 8:33).
We recreate a gospel to suit us, a gospel of health and wealth and prosperity. Like the disciples, we do not want to hear about denying ourselves, or suffering, or rejection, or death to self, or losing our life so that we may yet save it.
We recreate our gospel to suit ourselves, but it is not a full gospel; it is a diminished gospel. It is a gospel that tells us to repeat a prayer and all will be okay. Get yourself baptized and you have a sure ticket to heaven. Make sure you go to church on the right day of the week and all will be okay. But that is our contemporary gospel and not the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the apostles, and not the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
2. Greatness according to Jesus
Greatness according to the world is diametrically opposed to greatness according to Jesus. The world lives according to the principle dominance, “looking out for number one,” being first in line.
Mark 9:33-34 ESV 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.
2.1. Jesus Redefines Greatness as Serving, Not Dominance
So Jesus sits down and takes the position of a teacher:
Mark 9:35 ESV 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.”
Once again Jesus is turning their categories upside down. Jesus has already declared that whoever would save his life must lose it for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.
2.2.1. First is last, last is first
Now Jesus gives a second paradox: To be first, you must be last.
Mark 9:35 ESV … ”If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
You want to be number one? Then you must be last. Do you want to be great? Then you must be last of all and the servant of all.
Jesus is not telling us that we should not pursue greatness; he is redefining greatness. We think that greatness is being at the top; Jesus says that greatness is serving someone at the bottom. We think that greatness is going first; Jesus says that greatness is letting everyone go ahead of us. We think that greatness is ruling over others; Jesus says that greatness is serving others.
We are so concerned about pride of place. The Rabbinic writings (the writings of the Jewish rabbis) “frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels.”
We talk about “bigman” and even in the church we introduce guest preachers as “a great man of God.” We are to give honor to whom honor is due, but we disobey Christ and dishonor God when we exalt man in the presence of God. This is what Jesus said about the Pharisees:
Matthew 23:6-12 NLT And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
The disciples are fighting for first place in the kingdom, but they have not understood that to go up, you must go down. If you want to go high, you must go low. If you want to be great, you must be a servant.
How horrible it is in the church today when people fight for position and power and dominance! How ugly it is when pastors campaign like politicians to get the votes of church members! That is not the way of servanthood. That is not the way of the cross of Christ who said,
Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
On the other side of the cross, perhaps the disciples had an excuse for not understanding, but we are on this side of the cross and the resurrection. We are on this side of Calvary. We have the New Testament Scriptures which had not yet been written, not even the first word. The disciples may perhaps be excused for failing to understand, but we have no excuse.
Mark 9:35-37 ESV 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.”
2.2.2. Jesus Illustrates Greatness by Taking a Child in His Arms
Jesus took a child and put the child in the midst of them. Here in the middle of the disciples was a child. Children were of no account in Roman and Jewish societies. Today, more and more, to our great shame, children are becoming throwaway commodities. But Jesus not only took the child, but he took the child in his arms. He cherished and loved the child.
Now Jesus was not using the child as an example of humility. No, the child was “an example of the ‘little’ and insignificant ones whom followers of Jesus are to receive.”
Mark 9:37 ESV “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Disciples are thus not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be “the servant of all.”
2.3. Jesus Redefines Greatness as Openness, Not Exclusion
The second worldly way of seeking of greatness is through exclusion. This is greatness by monopoly. This is being great because you have eliminated the competition. You have become the only source for the commodity that you offer.
Mark 9:38 ESV 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.”
Let’s note that…
This person was casting out demons.
He was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, that is, with the authority of Christ.
He was successfully doing something that the disciples had just failed to do earlier in this chapter when a father brought his son to the disciples to have them cast out the demon, but they were not able (9:18).
John tried to stop this man because he was not one of their group: “because he was not following us.”
This is seeking greatness by excluding all others, but this is not the way of Christ.
Mark 9:39-41 ESV 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.
Remember that John was part of the inner circle. Peter and James and John were the only disciples that Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Those three were the only disciples to witness the transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop. John has begun to think that he is part of an exclusive group. He was one of the twelve. He likes being part of that special group. And he wants his group to be exclusive. He wants them to be the only ones.
And then John sees someone else doing what the disciples are called to do. He sees someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus had previously sent out the 12 disciples and had given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 13). Perhaps this man had seen the disciples casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He believes and does the same thing: he begins casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John sees him casting out demons in Jesus’ name and tries to stop him because he did not belong to their group.
Mark 9:39-40 NLT “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
Some churches claim to be the only true church. They want to exclude all others. That is one of the marks of a false cult. Some churches claim to have apostolic authority. Apostolic authority does not come from apostolic succession or having the right person lay his hands on you; apostolic authority come from believing and preaching what Christ and his apostles preached.
2.3.1. The One Who Is Not Against Christ Is for Christ (9:38-40)
This is all about Jesus. It is not about me or you or my church or your church. It’s about Jesus. The question is not, “What church do you belong to?” The question is, “What Christ do you preach? What gospel do you preach? Are you preaching the Word of God or the vision of a man?” You may not be a member of my church or of my denomination, but if you are following my Lord, if you are preaching the Word of God, if you are proclaiming Christ and him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, then I rejoice that Christ is being preached! The first missionaries that came to this country and laid down their lives, they did not preach their church; they preached Christ. They did not preach a certain day; they preached Christ. The question is not whether you are Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Nazarene or Anglican or Assemblies of God or apostolic. The question is, “Do you know Christ? Do you preach Christ?”
2.3.2. The One Who Serves Christ Will Be Rewarded by Christ (Mark 9:41)
Mark 9:41 ESV 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.
“Whoever” means you. Jesus is telling the disciples that anyone who identifies with Christ and shows his allegiance to Christ by serving those who serve Christ, that person will not lose his reward. Jesus sees. Jesus knows. He will “reward the smallest and humblest acts of service done to others” in his name.
2.3.3. Warning: Do Not Cause Believers to Stumble
Jesus promises a reward to the humblest believer who serves Christ by serving others. But he warns us not to cause these believers to stumble. We must not hinder the humblest of believers in their service for Christ.
22.214.171.124. Learn the Lesson of the Great Millstone (Mark 9:42).
Mark 9:42 ESV “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.
Do we see the danger? Forbidding people to do what they can for Christ may cause them to stumble. It would be better to be drowned in the depth of the ocean than to offend the humblest believer in Christ.
126.96.36.199. Learn the Lesson of Self-Mutilation (Mark 9:43-48)
But then Jesus expands the warning. He tells us that saving faith is a fighting faith. We must pursue holiness “with passion and discipline.” Jesus speaks of our hands, our feet, and our eyes: what we do, where we go, and what we see:
Mark 9:43-48 ESV 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. 4445 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. 4647 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.’
Jesus uses the language of hyperbole, or the language of exaggeration because the importance of what he is saying cannot be exaggerated. Cutting off our hands and feet, and tearing out our eyes will not solve the problem because Jesus has already told us that sin is deeply rooted in the heart (7:21). But Jesus is telling us that we must be violent with the sin in our lives. It must be cut out. Three times he tells us that it is better to be crippled, lame, and one-eyed than to be thrown into hell. He tells us that hell is a horrible place where the fire never goes out and the worm never dies.
What are you doing to get the sin out of your life? You must kill sin or it will kill you.
Romans 8:12-13 NLT Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
188.8.131.52. Learn the Lesson of Good Salt (Mark 9:49-50)
Mark 9:49 ESV For everyone will be salted with fire.
Jesus picks up the word “fire” and tells us that everyone will be salted with fire. The unbeliever will be salted with “the perpetual fires of final judgment in hell.” The believer will be salted with “the preserving and refining fires of trials and suffering that mark the road to true greatness.”
Then Jesus adds,
Mark 9:50 ESV Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?
Salt preserves, but “unless we maintain the purity of our own lives (plucking out the eye, etc.) and are purified by the flames of testing, and remain faithful to Christ, our lives will have no preserving influence on this corrupt world.”
Finally, Jesus tells his disciples,
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They were vying for position and superiority. Jesus showed them that greatness is not found at the top; it is found at the bottom, serving one another.
It is no wonder that the early Christians were described as those who had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Conclusion: An Upside Down World or a Right Side Up World?
The world thinks that Christian values are upside down, but in reality, the world is upside down. Jesus came to set it right side up. The world fights and clamors to get to the top, but Jesus showed that the way to be exalted is to humble ourselves.
Philippians 2:4-11 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What kind of a world would this be if
Instead of trying to get to the top, we began serving those on the bottom?
Instead of lifting up ourselves, we would humble ourselves
Instead of putting people down, we tried to lift them up
Instead of seeking to be served by others, we served others
Instead of trying to be number one, we were last
Instead of trying to stop others who are serving Christ, we rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached.
What kind of a world would this be? You can begin to make a difference today. You can demonstrate true greatness.