Three people are the focus of these verses, Jesus, the Disciples and a child. Each one could be worked into a stand- alone sermon, but to put them together makes a fuller message.
Jesus and his disciples were talking and Jesus says that the Son of Man would be killed and then rise from the grave after three days. In this scene the disciples remained silent, no doubt thinking of Jesus possibly dying, maybe just being confused by the thought or perhaps they were tired and had been walking silently because they didn’t want anyone to know who they were so they remained silent after Jesus’ words.
The important point is that Jesus, their leader, the Son of Man, Son of God, Very God of Very God was going to lay down his life for others. In Romans 5:6-10 we are told he would lay down his life for those who were yet sinners or enemies, when almost no one else would dare to lay down their life for someone good. In John 15:13 Jesus tells his disciples that great love is to lay down your life for your friends. Jesus was saying he was going to do this. He was going to lay down his life for all people, friends and sinners alike.
Contrast that with what the disciples talked about in the next verses. Who was the greatest among them! Not how great Jesus was, but how high they ranked in terms of greatness. Pride. Simple pride lives in all of us. We think mostly, if not only, about ourselves and what we can get and how important we are. The disciples were just like we are today, self-centered and vain.
Enter Jesus again. He knows what they are thinking and talking about, even though they didn’t want him to. Jesus turns their thinking on its head. Instead of worrying about who is the greatest the disciples should be serving others. Jesus says that in order to be great a person needs to serve others. If you want to be first you need to be the servant of all. The only one who fully fits that is Jesus, he is the servant of all for he gave his life for all.
After telling them to be a servant, not the King or leader, Jesus brings a child into this situation. He was often bringing in object lessons to teach with, something that would be good for us to do more often. Jesus brings this child into the midst of them and then draws everyone’s attention to the child.
Jesus talks about receiving children in his name. This is the work they were going to be called into, bringing people to Jesus. They may not have understood this at the time but Jesus was preparing them to be sent into the world to make disciples of Jesus. This would be how they would serve the world and serve God. By bringing people, children and adults, to Jesus the disciples would be fulfilling their calling and receiving God in the process. In other words, Jesus is telling the disciples that the way to become great is to lose yourself in serving others and the Lord.
When you lose yourself in serving the Lord you don’t care who is greatest. That makes you great and makes you different than other people who care always about themselves.
What is our goal? To lose ourselves in serving Jesus! What is our model? Jesus, who gave his live for all people, even those who were his enemies. Maybe we cannot do that, but we can turn to Jesus and ask him to help us, for he has done it.