Topsy Turvey means to turn something from its top to make the top the bottom and the bottom the top. The Christian worldview has this idea that flows throughout its thought. This is understandable because if what the world calls good, we call evil, or what we call evil the world calls good, then we will come to a world view of the opposite understanding. What we value is what they despise. In the next section in Mark, we see focusing on the disciples. Jesus had explained, “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mark 9:19). He knows what is to come. However, his disciples have not grasped everything. They are not ready for the ‘real world.’ Christ does bear with them, and he teaches the disciples a series of lessons of discipleship. We see in the passages the absence of the crowd. He takes them aside to give them teaching so that they might understand. Today we will look at three lessons in discipleship and some more next time.
I. Christ tells his disciples a second time (30-32)
Jesus, for the second time, tells them that the Son of Man is going to suffer, die, and be raised again from the dead. He had told them previously, plainly, that this is what he had come to do (Mark 8:31-34). This was when Peter rebuked him. The change has happened after Peter confessed to Jesus as the Christ. His eyes are set towards Jerusalem. Luke explains that following these lessons, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem (Mark 9:51). Jesus has been ministering on earth for about two to three years. In the Gospel of John, we are told that he traveled to three Passover feasts in his earthly ministry. Jesus has been with his disciples probably for about two and a half years, “bearing with them.” He still has to prepare them for what is to come. Again, to them, Christ crucified was a paradoxical statement. Christ came to conquer, not to be killed. He was coming to free his people, not to be delivered into the hands of men. He was to rule, not to be ruled over. We also see the disciples did understand it after Jesus died. Mark recorded this for Peter. It didn’t make sense at the time but did after he was raised on the third day.
II. A Disciple serves as Christ serves (33-35)
They arrive in Capernaum, and he asks them what they are talking about on the way back to the house at Capernaum (most likely Peter’s home). They did not want to talk about it with him. They were silent. However, Mark records what they were talking about. They had an argument over who was the greatest. You could hear the discussion as they walked from the region around Mount Hermon. Peter explained that ‘I am the greatest because I was called first.” John turns and explains, “I am the beloved disciple.” Levi said, “used to be a tax collector.” “I have cast out more unclean spirits,” says another. The conversation would have been fascinating, like our two children and their strong arguments about which character they will be from a TV show. These grown men were arguing over who was the greatest, yet in their midst was the second person of the Trinity in flesh. James Edwards, a commentator, highlights the topsy-Turvey thinking from Jesus to his disciples, “Jesus speaks of surrendering his life; the disciples speak of fulfilling theirs. He counts the cost of discipleship; they count its assets. The disciples have yet to learn that the rewards of discipleship come only as a consequence of following Christ on the costly way to Jerusalem.”
Jesus knows what they were discussing. I tend to think not from supernatural revelation but from physically hearing the conversation. He sits them down and explains, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” If you want to be first, you should be last. Jesus takes the world that they know and flips it on their heads. How can the person who is last be first and first be last? Everyone wants to be their own boss, not a servant of someone else. Freedom is measured by independence, not dependence. That’s why we say you want to reach the top, not hit rock bottom. Jesus explains that the disciple doesn’t think about reaching the top but scraping the bottom. The disciple thinks not of himself more and others less. But others more and yourself less. However, this is not a formula of come last to be first. It is a formula that a disciple follows their master, Jesus, their master has come to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. The disciple then is like his master. The disciple serves because Christ serves. This is why men are called to love their wives like Christ loved the church, not with victory and going first, but sacrifice. Peter, who was a part of this argument and maybe was the winner of the who is the greatest debate, instructs servants to be subject to their masters. He reasons in 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” We serve and suffer because Christ served and suffered.
We pray to become more Christlike, but do we want that? Christ came down from heaven to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Do we pray that we might be Christ-like, that we might be able to serve and sacrifice? Many times, an opportunity to serve my wife, family, or friends can be done with ungrateful thoughts. Selfish desires. Do I serve to be last? Or do I serve to be last, so one day I might be first? The call to serve and sacrifice is a call to be more like my master Jesus. Do I love to be more like Jesus? I should do so joyfully and willingly that I am able to be more Christlike.
III. A Disciple welcomes others as they welcome Christ (36-37)
Societies often have spoken or unspoken hierarchies in simple terms, a food chain. Often because of sin, this can create divides in a community, such as the Jews and Hellenists in Acts chapter 6. After moving to America, others knew me as ‘Sarah’s husband,’ then ‘Stella’s dad,’ Calvin’s dad, or ‘Nora’s dad.’ I became the last person people would say hello to. Everyone wants to talk to Nora. In terms of greetings, I moved down the list. This is a humorous way to explain the ‘food chain.’ However, in the first century, children were not high on this list. I would argue that today often, this is the thinking of many people. Children are a burden and nuisance. Children are not seen at important events, not given valuable seats at the table. However, Jesus takes a child, possibly one of Peter’s children. Peter had a mother-in-law who was sick. You don’t have a mother-in-law unless you have a wife. Quite possible that Peter had children. Jesus takes this child and explains another lesson for the disciple, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37). Jesus is not speaking about coming as a child but how disciples are to receive children and others. The simple principle is this as you receive others in Jesus’ name, it is like receiving Jesus and God the Father who sent Jesus.
What a challenging thought, do I receive others as if I was receiving Christ? Mainly, in this topsy-turvy view of the world, do I receive those in society who are not generally accepted, like Christ? How do we welcome people in our homes and church? Jesus explains what separates the sheep, and the goats in Matthew 25 is what we have done for the least of these (Matt 25:40). What is the difference between sheep and goats? How they receive the least in society. What a challenging thought? Ask the question, what would happen if our church grew overnight, many people came through the doors and became followers of Christ. We would be overjoyed. However, what if they didn’t look, smell, sound, or vote like us? What if they came from different countries or religions? Would we welcome them like we would Christ? I pray that God would build his church, this church. I pray that he would change people’s hearts, which would include mine. I need to be careful that I don’t think I know whose hearts he will change. I pray we would welcome the refugee, the prisoner, the person who has more tattoos than all of us combined. I pray that we would welcome all as Christ welcomed us.
IV. A Disciple bears Christ’s name and not theirs (38-41)
John explains to Jesus a situation that they saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him. The reason John gives in interesting, because he was not following us. It seems that John and the other’s disciples reasoning was that he was not a ‘real’ disciple. Therefore, how can he have the authority to cast out demons? Matthew 7:21-23 says that someone can cast out demons but not know Jesus, for Jesus said “depart from me for I do not know you.” However, Jesus’ third principle is that “the one who is not against us is for us.” Jesus was not concerned about his name as much as the disciples were concerned about theirs. The disciples were worried about their ‘camp’ and not about Christ’s church. However, is Jesus’ words in Mark 9:40 contrary to those in Matthew 12:30? I think the difference is the relationship between the person and Christ. Mark 9:40 is the association of the one who casts out the demon with Christ’s name (Insider) compared to Matthew 12:30, which speaks more of those anti-God (outside). Or, to put it another way, there is a difference between someone being against Jesus and another who believes they are with Jesus though they might not be.
Maybe a practical example. We live in a heavily church area. I have firm convictions. That is why I am a Presbyterian Minister; however, if I treated the Baptists like the enemy, it would distract me. We might have different stances on the mode and who we baptize, but we should not be against each other. One friend I meet up with occasionally and talk to and pray with is a Baptist pastor. However, some people are anti-church; they hate Jesus and his word. Within context, Matthew 12:30 is speaking of the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. We should not be worried about whose ‘camp’ they are in but do they love Christ and his word. In this example, I would call one my brother in Christ, and the other would be someone you would explain is outside of the church.
The wrong understanding of what Christ came to do gives us the wrong understanding of what the disciples of Christ are to do and be. The disciples were constantly thinking like the world. They thought they needed to be first, with a hierarchical structure where those on the top required special treatment and that it was all about them and their name. However, discipleship views the world in a topsy-turvy way from the world. True discipleship looks at the world the correct way. We do not look at the world but the word. Before Jesus leaves, he prays a prayer in John 17:14-17; Jesus prayed that his disciples would not be shaped by the world but by the word.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:14–17)
The world seeks to put ourselves over others, but the believer puts God above all and others over self. We should strive to be shaped by the word and not but the world. We should seek to be last, while everyone else is seeking to run to be first. We should welcome all as we would welcome Christ, as the world includes some and not others. We should not seek to build a name for ourselves but be Christ to all. We pray that we will not be taken from this world but be kept from the evil one as we are sanctified by the word.