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The Gospel of Mark: Practicing Humility

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Developing humility as a part of Christian character.

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Text: Mark 9:30-37
Theme: Developing humility as a part of Christian character.
Date: 03/31/20 File name: GospelOfMark22.wpd ID Number:
The title of my message is practicing humility. Humility is an attribute that does not come naturally to the human spirit. It must be cultivated. It must be practiced ... regularly. James 4:6 tells us that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Now think about that for a moment. God actively resists us when we foolishly live according to our own stubborn will. I long to be included in the body of believers who are “humble.” I want to be among the humble saints who serve Christ by serving others. But it’s not easy. C.S. Lewis had it right when he said, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.” In our text for this evening, Jesus deals with the pride of his disciples head-on.
As we shall see, Jesus tells his disciples: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." It was a lesson, however, that the disciples were slow to learn. Each was always trying to out-maneuver their fellow disciples and ingratiate themselves to Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 20, we see Salome, the mother of James and John, come to Jesus with a request:
“And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”” (Matthew 20:21, ESV)
Now, we cannot be 100% sure, but when you compare the list of women who were present at the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the four gospels, we learn that Salome is, most likely, the Virgin Mary’s sister. That makes Salome Jesus’ aunt and James and John His first cousins. Learning that Jesus’ aunt was actively promoting her two sons, the other disciples became incensed. They went spastic:
“And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:24, ESV)
To put it mildly, it really bent ‘em out of shape. Even at the Last Supper, envy, rivalry and pride surfaced among the disciples (Luke 22:24). As Jesus readies himself to wash the disciple’s feet, I think he says to himself, “Oi, vai, ain’t these schlemiels ever going to get it?”
I think that Jesus must look at us sometimes and still go, “Oi, vai, ain’t these guys ever going to get it?” We live in a proud and egotistical generation. In American today, people push and promote themselves in ways that would have been totally unacceptable only a generation ago. Yet in a great part of modern culture, pride, exaggerated self-esteem, and shameless self-promotion have come to be redefined not only as virtues but as the supreme virtue.
Americans are obsessed with self-esteem, self-fulfillment, and self-glory. Tragically, the cult of selfism has even found its way into evangelical Christianity. Books, seminars, conferences, magazines, and organizations that promote “self” under the guise of personal spiritual development abound. The movement has found little resistance in the church, which often seems determined to beat the world at its own fleshly game. From countless sources, claims are heard that God’s great design for His people is health, prosperity, success, happiness, and – of course – self-fulfillment.
The Bible’s teaching of suffering and cross-bearing and humility for Christ’s sake are either ignored altogether or foolishly explained away. Like the disciple’s, we frequently argue about who’s number one instead of becoming a servant to all.
This evening, I want you to consider cultivating an attitude of humility.


ILLUS. Humility is like a watermelon seed. The moment you think you’ve got a firm grip on it, it squirts away from your grasp.
1. dauntlessness is another word for fearlessness — it's the idea of pushing ahead regardless of our trepidation
a. as believers we must fearlessly pursue humility in a world that will walk all over us when we do
2. humility of character, however, is essential for the Christian if we are going to emulate the servant-attitude of our Lord, Jesus Christ
a. you cannot have a haughty “me first” attitude and be a servant to others
3. American culture programs us to be winners at all costs
ILLUS. I recently saw a documentary on the Discovery Channel on the rigorous training one must go through in order to become a Navy Seal. In one section of the show, there were four teams of trainees that were to navigate their inflatable raft over choppy, high seas in a race to the beach. The team that came in first was congratulated by their training officer. The commander then got up into the face of the lieutenant of the boat that came in second, and bellowed, “What does that make you seaman?” The lieutenant responded, “First Looser, Sir.”
a. thinking quickly, the lieutenant found a unique way of denying that they had come in second
b. being #2 in our culture just doesn’t cut it
4. Christians are to have a different attitude about success, self-esteem, and being #1


“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”” (Mark 9:35, NIV84)
1. the logic for pursuing humility as a Christian character trait is pretty simple
a. Jesus called for us to exercise personal humility
1) Jesus was blunt about how to do that – we become the willing servant of all
2) being a disciple means deliberately identifying yourself with God’s interests in other people
b. Jesus epitomized the mind and life of humility
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3–8, NIV84)
“and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:27–28, NIV84)
c. Christians are to emulate Jesus
1) the Apostle Paul tells us in the Philippians passage, Let this mind be in you ...
2) even though Jesus deserved to be exalted and worshiped, he emptied himself of his glory, was made in the likeness of men and became a servant
2. does God expect anything less from us?
a. are we above the Master?
b. the Apostle Peter, in calling his readers to humility, reminds us that Christ is our spiritual model " ... leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps," (1 Peter 2:21) NASB95
3. the reason the believer must cultivate humility is because it was such an essential character trait of our Lord whom we are to emulate
... We Need to Dauntlessly Pursue Humility


1 pride is not so much bragging as it is the illusion that I am at the center and can manage everything on my own without help
a. bragging may be a symptom of pride, but pride itself is much deeper
2. humility, therefore, is the opposite of this attitude
a. it's not merely a self-deprecating attitude
b. humility is just living the truth about ourselves ... that truth is "I am not God, I'm not the center of my life, I have things I can't control, I am dependant on God."
c. that's humility
3. we need to pursue humility, because pride is destructive
a. we see that in our text


“But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:34, NIV84)
1. during the walk from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum — a two-day walk — the disciples had been having a prolonged and heated discussion
a. it seems to have been a regular conversation among the twelve
2. not wanting to admit what they had been discussing, the text says, they kept silent
a. the two verbs in vs. 33 are noteworthy — they are both in the continuous tense
1) Jesus kept on asking what they were arguing about
2) the disciples kept on being quiet every time he asked
b. obvious they're embarrassed
c. the discussion has been another episode in their long-running debate over which of them was the greatest
3. Jesus had just been teaching them about his impending humiliation (vs. 30-32), but all they could think about was their exaltation
a. a lot is riding on these twelve men — they're the first generation of gospel preachers, and would be the leaders of the Church that Jesus would soon establish
b. humility is a lesson they must learn
c. if they don't the church will be destroyed before it gets off the ground
ILLUS. Remember the situation at the church in Corinth? This is the most dysfunctional church in the New Testament, and its dysfunctionality was due to pride among it's members. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”” (1 Corinthians 1:10–12, NIV84)
4. pride destroys unity among the people of God


“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”” (Mark 9:35, NIV84)
1. ironically, pride keeps people from obtaining the very honor that they so desperately seek
a. proud people battle for position and seek to promote themselves, usually at the expense of others, and end up forfeiting tru honor
2. like many in our day, the disciples viewed spiritual pride as normal, desirable, and legitimate
a. after all, pride characterized the most revered men in Jewish society — the Pharisees
ILLUS. These were the guys who "did all their deeds to be noticed by men, who wanted the place of honor at banquet gables, and who desired, the chief seats in the synagogues.
3. but Jesus calls them together and tells them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.””
4. in the Kingdom, pride forfeits the honor most men are desperately seeking


“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”” (Mark 9:36–37, NIV84)
1. a profound reality is that how Christians treat fellow believers is how they treat Christ
a. Matthew's account of this incident elaborates on this theme
“And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3, NIV84)
2. the implication in Matthew's gospel add to the story
a. after repeatedly prodding them to tell him what they were arguing about, the disciples come to Jesus with a generic question, and ask him to settle an issue
1) they ask Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2) they're fishing
b. without letting Jesus expressly know that they're arguing about which one of them would be the greatest, they ask an open-ended question hoping that Jesus will tell them which one of them will sit closest to his throne
3. but Jesus knows their hearts, and he won't bite
a. instead he takes a child into his arms (some think perhaps Peter's own child) to illustrates greatness in God's kingdom
1) in Matthew's gospel he adds a warning
“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6, NIV84)
4. Jesus used children on several occasions as illustrations because children are guileless
a. they're naive, unsophisticated, transparent, unpretentious, and usually disgustingly honest
b. they are not yet accomplished or achieved anything, they have no power, but are weak, and dependent
c. these are the characteristics that bing honor to God's saints
5. pride keeps us from know God


““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:3–6, ESV)
1. I think that the road to humility is to remember from whence we came
2. Christ Himself – in His Sermon on the Mount – told His disciples that it is the poor of spirit who are to be congratulated for they are the ones who will see God
a. the word translated poor in Matthew 5:3 is a word which means to be so poor that you have to beg
1) it describes a person who has no means of support
2) it was a term used to describe beggars who had no skill, or someone who was disabled to a degree that they could not function in a job
b. such people are utterly destitute
3. Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to people who come to God with nothing, who know they are nothing and who have come to understand their spiritual bankruptcy ... i.e. those who can confess "I'm not God!"
ILLUS. In Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells a story that contrasts religious pride with. spiritual bankruptcy. It’s the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee, Jesus says, boasts with pride, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” But the Publican – that is a tax collector – beats his chest in contrition, hangs his head in shame and whispers, “God be merciful to me for I am a sinner.” Jesus concludes the story, saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”


1. the road to humility is paved with the stones of brokenness, contrition, and penitence
a. in other words, Jesus says that those who are most truly happy in the Kingdom of God are those who have an absence of pride
ILLUS. The truly humble sing along with the hymn writer,
“Not the labors of my hands, Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone
In my hand no price I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.”
(Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me by Augustus Toplady)
3. when Jesus says, ‘happy are the poor in spirit’ He is referring to an inner state of being emptied of self
4. the poor in spirit are people who are characterized by three attitudes . . .
a. first, mourning over sin as you contemplate your desperation and agonize over your rebellious condition
b. second, your mourning is characterized by meekness – almost a timidity – in approaching the throne of God because you realize your utter unworthiness to do so
ILLUS. like Isaiah, you cry out “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts,” (Isa. 6:5)
c. third, your hunger and thirst for righteousness propels you to your knees in repentance and contrition and you confess – like the publican of Luke 18, God, be merciful to me a sinner!


ILLUS. Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and then replied, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
1. friends, humility means always being willing to be second fiddle to Jesus Christ
a. and yes, it means considering yourself second fiddle to every fellow believer in Christ
2. you are no more worthy of God’s goodness and grace now then on the day you first came to Christ
a. you’re still a sinner and it is still God’s grace that sustains you
b. perhaps this is why the Apostle Peter tells his readers," . . . and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble,” (1 Peter 5:5) KJV
1) the word clothe in this passage means to tie a piece of clothing to oneself
ILLUS. Peter could be referring to a common practice of that day where slaves used to knot a white scarf or apron over their clothing to distinguish themselves from freemen.
2) I think that Peter is suggesting that Christians ought to tie humility to their conduct so that everyone is able to recognize them
3. saving grace is for the humble
a. it is for those who have a Beatitude-attitude – for those who are spiritually bankrupt and know it
4. always remember that God’s grace does not make you better than anyone else, it merely makes you better off than those who do not know Him


1. Jesus humbled Himself, and then God exalted Him
a. this is what Jesus preached will happen to us
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12, ESV)
b. now the question is, what does that mean?
2. Christians shall be exalted in this world
a. we will be exalted by His blessings
1) in his sovereign rule, God has seen fit to bless and to elevate those he has chosen
ILLUS. Abraham and Isaac enjoyed God’s spiritual and material blessing (Gen. 24:35; 26:13). In the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River Joshua was exalted as the leader of Israel, (Josh. 3:7). Psalms 75:10 and 112:9 say that those who are righteous are lifted up and given honor. 1 Sam. 2:7–8 tells us that God takes special delight in raising up the poor and humble.
b. we will be exalted by receiving Truth
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16–17, ESV)
c. He will exalt us by Christ's presence
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV)
1) what more glorious exaltation can the believer desire?
3. we shall be exalted in God’s eternal Kingdom
a. He will exalt us when He glorifies us with Christ, His Son
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2–3, ESV)
4. the question of the evening is: How do we cultivate an attitude of biblical humility and incorporate it into our character?
a. let me offer you three suggestions ...
1) by remembering from whence you came
2) by living in daily obedience to Christ
Luke 9:23 “ . . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” KJV
3) by being a servant to others
The early church father and theologian Agustine, once told a story to illustrate the importance of humility. "A certain rhetorician, when asked by a student what was the chief rule of eloquence, replied, 'Delivery.' What was the second rule, asked the student. 'Delivery' came the reply. What was the third rule of eloquence, then, inquired the student. Again came the reply, 'Delivery.' So if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, 'Humility.'"
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