Mark 9:33
The selection of Peter, James, and John for exceptional association with Christ; the primacy of Peter suggested by the words of their Master on a certain occasion; and the spirit of the sons of Zebedee, shown in the request made by their mother, a little later, on their behalf (Mark 10:35-41), were circumstances that soon attracted the attention of the others, and gave rise to discussion as to relative superiority. In dealing with this unseemly dispute, our Savior showed -


1. His question elicited no reply. They were ashamed that he should have detected them. It was evidently contrary to his spirit, as they felt, although they might be unable to explain.

2. That it is foreign to the genius of Christianity is further shown by the evils it has created within the Church. A vast percentage of the failures and scandals of Christians has arisen from this contention, whether carried on in silence or expressed, Nevertheless that it is deeply seated in human nature is shown by its persistency from age to age. A motive of action we are ashamed to confess when a sense of Christ's presence is upon us cannot be a right one. And in proportion as the presence of the Master's spirit is felt, it is suppressed or destroyed.

II. THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH IT SHOULD BE SETTLED WHEN IT ARISES. (Ver. 35.) "If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all." This is, and probably was meant to be, slightly enigmatical. Without altering the future of the sentence ("he shall be") into the imperative ("let him be"), as some, without sufficient warrant, have done, it is still possible to read in it several distinct meanings. It might mean that that was to be the penalty of such presumption; that God would so regard presumptuous men; that this was a discipline to which they should subject themselves; that the avenue to official pre-eminence was the greatest serviceableness and humility; or, lastly, that the highest excellence in the kingdom of God is his who abases and forgets himself altogether in the benefit and advancement of others. It is in the last sense that Christ should be understood, if we are to take the general spirit of his teaching for our guide. In the Christian the Virtue and usefulness are ends in themselves, and not stepping-stones to external, official pre-eminence. At the same time, there is a colourable suggestion, supported by experience, in the first three interpretations. The second last is the spirit of the Roman curia, which in literal expression looks so like the precept it contradicts. The sitting down of Christ, and his summons to all, prove the importance of the lesson.

III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE PRINCIPLE. (Vers. 36, 37.) "A little child," perhaps one of Peter's family. He gives an example in his own behavior, simply and ingenuously, by embracing the child.

1. The lowliest in the kingdom of God should receive the purest sympathy and consideration. This is the most disinterested and unselfish service. The noblest deeds in God's world are of this kind: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). We can "receive" to the heart when we cannot to the home; to kindness and love when we cannot to great earthly advantage.

2. The motive which distinguishes this conduct from ordinary human tenderness and affection. It is to be "in my Name," i.e. "on account of me," impelled by my example and spirit, and for the sake of my cause. It is only a "grace" or quality of the regenerate nature as he inspires it.

3. So regarded, the object of our love and compassion is really the representative of Jesus and of God. Christ has thus commended the children and the poet to the care of his people. And their sympathies thus awakened and directed are to be looked upon not as supplementing the deficient provisions of the Divine love, but only, in our own degree and measure, expressing and executing the infinite, loving Will of "our Father in heaven." Herein, therefore, the lowliest service and the highest coincide. "See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). - M.

What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
What is the true child like?

I. HE IS UNCONSCIOUS OF HIMSELF; self-dissection or analysis is unknown to him.


1. He never worries or is anxious about the future; sufficient to the day, for him, is the evil thereof.

2. So also, though always aspiring, he is never discontented in the ungrateful or peevish sense; sufficient likewise for the day is the good thereof; he would not have it otherwise.

III. HIS PLEASURES ARE SIMPLE, pure, natural, fresh from the hand of God. The least of His gifts, even a cup of cold water, has value in his eyes, so that he wastes not wilfully.


V. HE KNOWS NOT HOW TO SNEER OR BE CYNICAL: but instinctively shrinks from a sneer as from a blow or a sting.

VI. HIS AVERSIONS AND DREADS ARE TRUE AND SYMBOLICAL (until, like his tastes and likings, made artificial by example and training). E.g. —

(1)Darkness and all that is black;

(2)bitterness, sourness, all that is acrid or sickening;

(3)all that wounds and kills.


VIII. HIS HEART RESPONDS TO THE TOUCH OF TRUTH, if honestly and faithfully appealed to.


Children are patterns of humility in these respects.

1. They are not so puffed up as older people with conceit of themselves, or of their own good parts and gifts; they do not think the better of themselves because they possess these advantages. nor do they boast of them.

2. They do not disdain or despise others, but think as well of them as of themselves, even if inferiors.

3. They are not ambitious in seeking after vain glory.

4. They are not given to strife and contention, but are of a quiet and peaceable disposition.

5. They do not envy the good fortune of others, but rejoice in each other's prosperity.

6. They are tractable to admonition and reproof, ready to submit to it, and easily reclaimed from a fault.

(G. Petter.)

I. The humility and trustfulness of children should be preserved by men.

II. They who have most power should render most service.

III. They who descend most in love will rise most in honour.

IV. God is served by obedience to Christ, and Christ by kindness to the least and lowest who belong to Him.

(J. H. Godwin.)

I. THOSE WHOSE CONDUCT IS BEFORE US ARE THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST. Externally, really and spiritually; hence, this spectacle is one within the bosom of the Church.

II. THEY DISPUTED AMONG THEMSELVES BY THE WAY. How fitly did the College of Apostles foreshadow the state of the Church in after ages.

III. THE CAUSE OF DISAGREEMENT AMONG THEM — "Who should be the greatest." Worldly ambition was the rooter bitterness. The secret of most of the contentious of seeming Christians.


V. CHRIST, THOUGH HE SUFFERED THEM TO END THEIR CONTEST, CALLED THEIR TO ACCOUNT. Divisions are most offensive to Him. He will call the sowers of division to account.


VII. CHRIST TAKES ADVANTAGE OF WHAT HAD OCCURRED, IN ORDER TO INCULCATE THE DUTY AND RECOMMEND THE GRACE OF HUMILITY. Beware of disputes, and therefore of pride. Cultivate true Christian greatness — Christ's example.

(Expository Discourses.)

I.What is it?

II.Proof that it is evil.

III.Means of cure.



1. Because it is inconsistent with our relation to God as creatures.

2. It is inconsistent with our relation to God as sinners.

3. Because Christ always reproved this desire of preeminence.

4. This trait of character did not belong to Christ.

5. We always approve of the opposite temper whenever we see it manifested.

6. It is inconsistent with our being governed by right motives and affections.


1. Cultivating a sense of our insignificance and unworthiness.

2. Having our hearts filled with Christ.

3. By constantly refusing to yield to this evil desire; refusing to cherish it or to obey its dictates. By uniformly avoiding to seek the honour which comes from men.

(Chas. Hedge, D. D.)

I. THE WORLD'S OPINION. The world's great men are usually great conquerors, or great philosophers, poets, etc. Many of them small men, viewed in their moral relations. Alexander wept for another world to conquer. "Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." See the world's great ones described (Matthew 20:25, 26). Haman was one such, yet a very little man. It is said there are three classes of great men.

1. Those who are born great.

2. Those who have greatness thrust upon them.

3. Those who achieve greatness. The world sees no greatness in lowliness.

II. THE DISCIPLES' WISH. Even they wished to be great. Not, indeed, after the world's fashion, but each one wanted to be above the rest. Each one might think he deserved to be first, or had qualities that fitted him for preeminence.


1. The kindness of His manner. "Speak the truth in love."

2. The simplicity and clearness of illustration. Might have argued, but took a little child in His arms.

3. The nature of the lesson. Goodness is greatness.Learn:

1. Not to be deceived by the world's notions of greatness.

2. Not to give place to ambitious desires.

3. To aim after goodness, and let the greatness follow if it may.

(J. C. Gray.)

I. Let us begin with THE MISTAKE SOMETIMES MADE, WHICH WILL CERTAINLY NEED CORRECTION. Our Lord does not teach by any implication that children are sinless little creatures.

1. For the argument and illustration of the discourse He gave are all against such a supposition. According to the authorized version, Christ says that they are "lost," that the Son of Man needed to come to "save" them, and without the will of the Father they would "perish" (Matthew 18:11-14).

2. The story offers no proof of any innocence even in the child He chose. Ecclesiastical tradition, not reliable, states that this boy became afterwards the martyr Ignatius, and was in the subsequent persecutions thrown to the wild beasts at Rome. That is the best which could be said of him, and we do not know even so much to be true. Surely, he was never offered as a model child, and we do not suppose he was born unlike others.

II. So now let us inquire WHAT IS THE TRUE SPIRITUAL DOCTRINE OF THE PASSAGE. It is evident that our Lord was rebuking His disciples for a foolish dispute they had had "by the way." And he did this by commending to them a child-like disposition.

1. A child is remarkable for his considerateness of ethers. It is the hardest thing we ever try to do to teach our children to be aristocratic and keep up "style." They are instinctive in their fondness for what is agreeably human. It was asked of the good Cecil's daughter what made everybody love her? She thought a moment with a curious sort of surprise, then answered with her own kind of logic, "Because I love everybody."

2. A child is remarkable for his obedience to rightful authority. His subjection is instinctive as his charity is. He accepts the parental will as law. So his fidelity is spontaneous; he does not recognize any merit in it. He does the exact thing he was set to do. When the young girl in the class heard the teacher say, "How is the will of God done in heaven?" she answered, "It is done without anybody's asking any questions."

3. A child is remarkable for his contentment in the home circle. There is only one mother in the world, and where that mother is, there is home. Disturb him, wound him, frighten him, maltreat him, and his earliest wish is, "Please let me go home."

4. A child is remarkable for his persistency of trust. Children are the most logical creatures in the world. A lady asked the small daughter of the missionary Judson, "Were you not afraid to journey so far over the ocean?" And the reply was, "Why, no, madam: father prayed for us when we started!" Do a boy a real kindness, and nothing on earth can keep him from insisting to all the others that you are a kind man. Help him once, and he will keep coming with a pathetic sort of confidence that you like to help him. For one, having stumbled around a good deal in this muddle of a world, in which nobody seems to stick to anything, I am ready to say I know nothing more beautiful than the sweet forgiveness, and renewal of confidence, which a child shows when, having met a rebuff once and been turned away, it sits wondering and waiting, as if sure you would come round by and by and be good again.

III. Thus, now, having studied the real meaning of this incident, let us try to find out ITS PRACTICAL BEARING.

1. In the first place, consider how it would modify our estimates of human greatness. Here is the point at which our Lord meant His instruction should be felt earliest. These disciples had been contending about preeminence. Perhaps Peter began the jealous dispute, reminding them that he kept the house where Jesus was entertained. Perhaps John asked him to remember the place Jesus usually gave him at the table. Perhaps Andrew suggested that Simon might as well bear in mind that he had led him to Jesus down in Bethabara. Perhaps Matthew hushed them imperiously, declaring that none of them were business men as he had been. And perhaps James insisted that age and experience had some rights in the reckoning of precedence. Thus they worked themselves up into a passion. All this petulance was met by the spectacle of a tranquil little boy, who possibly wondered how he came to be put into show: and while they were looking curiously at him, Jesus said, calmly: "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

2. Next, let us consider bow this teaching would modify our aims for attainment. We need more of this child spirit in our hearts. Does anyone ask how it may be attained? In the old fable which the Hebrews used to teach their children about the fallen angels, they said that the angels of knowledge, proud and wilful, were cast down hopelessly into hell; but the angels of love, humble and tearful, crept back once more into the blessed light, and were welcomed home.

3. Again, let us consider how these words of Christ would modify our intellectual processes of study. Yes: but the Bible says do this thing like a child. Study with your faith rather than your intellect. A man needs conversion, not conviction. Our Lord here reverses human terms of counsel. We say to a child, "Be a man," but Jesus says to a man, "Be a child." That is the way to enter the kingdom.

4. Once more: let us consider how this doctrine will modify our formulas of belief. There is something for the great divines to learn also. Do we never force our theories beyond the confines of the gospel? A child's theology is frequently wiser for real human need than a man's. It often comes to pass that when a mature intellect has been worrying itself into most discouraging confusion, it is startled by the keen penetration and almost oracular deliverance of an infant trust. Ask one of our young girls, "What is God?" Perhaps she will give answer, "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." And perhaps she will reply, "God is my father in heaven." For all availableness to deep experience of need, some of us think that, little as this seems to say, really it says more than the other does. Faith cannot climb up on the north side of a doctrine in the shade. She took her notion out of the prayer, and not out of the catechism; that is all. These great formulas ought to be explained in the very warmth and light of the figures and relationships of the gospel.

5. Let us consider likewise how Christ's teaching would modify our advice to inquirers. Some of those who claim to be honest seekers after truth completely invert the order of relation between belief and duty. Much of the difficulty they profess to find in the gospel is irrelevant in the matter of obligation, and entirely illogical in the matter of faith. Any sensible child is aware that its father's relationship by marriage, social standing in the community, form of daily occupation, political influence in the party, or citizenship by naturalization, has nothing to do with the question of its own obedience to his just commands. To reckon how much money he owes or owns, does not come before minding what he says. But inquirers will often insist on having the Trinity made clear, before they will take up repentance. They say they are stumbled about praying, because they cannot understand the Incarnation. Now the child spirit knows that taking the yoke comes even before learning of Christ (see Matthew 11:29). Jesus says, Do My will (John 7:17).

6. Finally, let us consider how this teaching will modify our tests of experience in grace. It is only a strange perversity which makes us seem to prefer the more subtle evidences of a change of heart. Here a plain test is proposed. The last result, the positively completed picture, of regeneration, is found in a child's temper and disposition. Anyone ought to know whether he possesses that or not. He can find out. His life will answer his questions, when possibly he cannot exactly find out about so mysterious a thing as his heart. Nobody is going to be excluded from heaven because he cannot find out his election or his regeneration, if he is holy, and truly believes in Christ, "as this little child."

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last (Mark 5:35). There is no way in which men are surer to outwit themselves than in looking out for themselves over everybody else. The poorest servant in the world is the one who always puts himself before his employer. The poorest place to buy anything is where the dealer never regards the interest of his customers. He is less than nothing as a friend who gives his friend the second place in his plans and course. No politician can be a leader while it appears that he cares only for his own advancement, and nothing for the voters. What would a soldier be worth whose aim was to look out for his own safety and comfort in times of service and battle? And if this principle be applicable in other fields, how much more does it apply to Christian service! He who is intent on what he can gain out of his religion, will be behind the poorest servant of Christ who is a servant in truth as well as in name. Self-seeking is self- destroying in the kingdom of God.

(H. Clay Trumbull.)

This means, for My sake, and it includes

(1)because they belong to Christian parents;

(2)because they partake of the nature which Christ took upon Him;

(3)because they belong to the race which Christ redeemed;

(4)because, like Christ, they are poor;

(5)because, Christ may be honoured in their after-life.Such children are received in Christ's Name, not only in orphanages or in Sunday schools, but by many of the Christ-loving poor, who have children of their own, and yet take into their homes some poor waif or stray, and cherish it as their own flesh and blood, for no reward except the Lord's approval.

(M. F. Sadler.)

The grace of this promise seems almost incredible. What an honour would any Christian have esteemed it, if he had been permitted to receive Christ under his roof for a single hour, and yet that receiving might have been external and transitory; but the Lord here undoubtedly promises that to receive a little one in His Name is to receive Him effectually.

(M. F. Sadler.)

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