God Gives Grace to the Humble

Text: Mark 9:30-37
Date: Pentecost XVII + Proper 20 + 9/20/15

Today’s Gospel may seem, at first, to be a bit disjointed. The first part is another of our Lord’s passion predictions and the second part a lesson on humility. But if we are here to be proclaiming Jesus Christ, it is all about Him. Today’s Old Testament reading hints at the passion part with the prophetic words, “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” Then today’s Epistle from St. James seems to point at the second half of today’s Gospel when it says, “‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” If we are here only to encourage a lesson in ethical behavior of a so-called Christian life, that’s easy enough. But if we are here to preach and proclaim Jesus Christ for the life of the world that is quite another though related matter.

Last week we left Jesus going through the foreign, Gentile territory. Today we follow Him through Galilee when they came to Capernaum, His home town. This group of followers had witnessed some amazing things at the hands of Jesus. Mark told us how Jesus healed a deaf man, fed four thousand people in a desolate place, and healed a blind man. As these were all very public events more and more people began to follow Him. Now it appears what people were thinking about this great rabbi from Capernaum. And as with any popular celebrity people jockey for positions to be seen or acknowledged as closer or more favored by Him than others, sort of a first century “selfie.” “Well, I knew Him ever since” this or that great work.

Now He comes to His house and asks His twelve chosen disciples, “What were you discussing on the way?” As if He didn’t know! But they knew He knew. And He knew that they knew that He knew. So….they kept silent. They knew how petty was their argument as to who is greatest among them. And this wouldn’t be the last time they would stumble into this sin (Luke 22:24). So Jesus takes one of the children in the house (they knew Him and so were completely at ease). He first stood him in the middle of the floor and then taking him into his arms said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

At first we are to consider others, especially children to be His favored, so much so that we are to treat and protect and love them as if they are Him. At first the child represents Him. But let the child represent us, you and me and all mankind being received and gathered by Jesus, the truly humble one, into His kingdom of salvation.

To become a Christian the heart and center of it all is faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. According to the small catechism we lay the groundwork for the faith with the Ten Commandments, the Word of our Creator with whom we then begin in the Creed. The life of faith is then taught by the Spirit through the Lord’s Prayer and the means of grace, the sacraments. In the center of it all, the crux of the matter is this: the Son of God, incarnate of the virgin Mary, crucified, risen again and ascended to His heavenly throne. So Jesus taught his disciples privately, personally, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.” Notice that since He is to be the greatest, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, He first is humble, last of all and servant of all. He calls Himself “the Son of Man.” Only faith calls Him the Son of God. Here He uses the word “kill” twice. a word almost more shocking than the word “crucify.” What? Are they going to behead Him? Torture Him? Justify Him by the sword? Since we know the story so well it is hard for us if not impossible to imagine how those first disciples “processed” this strange, horrible prediction. “They can’t really kill Him,” they must have thought. “He’s more powerful than anyone! He’s the greatest!” And if He’s the greatest then we His followers must be right in line of greatness. And so it goes.

If it was impossible to believe that He really meant He really was going to die then how doubly impossible for them to understand what this “after three days he will rise” means. Sure, we all believe, as did the disciple Martha when she said of the promise for Lazarus her brother, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn 11:24). What she didn’t yet know, and what never entered the mind of these disciples, was as Jesus said to Martha, “I AM the resurrection” (Jn 11:25). Resurrection is not only an event reserved for the Last Day. It already happened to a young girl, to a man the only son of a widow, to Lazarus at the hand of Jesus. Resurrection is the power through which by His death Christ conquered death and the devil. Alleluia! Jesus is risen! When one has faith in Jesus it is as if one has already died with Him and is raised to newness of life, already now. We live in the faith and hope of the Last Day which will be but the first day of eternal life in the resurrection of all flesh.

True greatness is found in the humiliation and exaltation of the cross of Christ, both for Him and for us. When we make the sign of the cross over ourselves it is a confession of the faith that gladly takes the last place in the sure and certain hope of winning the prize as the apostle Paul put it (1 Cor 9:24). That prize is the imperishable wreath when this perishable body puts on the imperishable.

“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:53-57).

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).