Mark 9:30-37

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

September 6, 2012


You may have heard or seen the story this past week about a woman who is obviously not too bright.  This woman, 53 year old Joyce Coffey, was arrested by police four times in a span of 26 hours!  Here is how the story was reported on the web:

A New Hampshire woman is on a highway to jail after being arrested four times in a span of 26 hours.

After the first noise complaint, police only issued a warning, but an hour later she was arrested for a second complaint. Then, five hours later, another noise complaint—followed by another arrest.

Union Leader reports her first two releases cost her $1,500 and she agreed not to play her stereo until after 10 a.m. Wednesday. But around 1 a.m. another noise complaint was called in, so police paid her another visit.

One of the officers who arrested her wrote in an affidavit: “When I walked up to the screen door at the side of Joyce’s house, I saw that the stereo was placed near the doorway and the speakers were pointed out the door.”

Her music of choice? Rock legend AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.” And if you’re keeping track, that’s only three arrests.

Sky News reveals the remaining arrest came after she reportedly threw a frying pan at her nephew’s head when he came to get some of his belongings Wednesday morning. Officers do suspect alcohol as a factor.

The judge released Coffey on $10,000 bail and recommended she stick to headphones in the future. Coffey is due back in court on October 15.


Those are not the actions of an overly intelligent woman!  In the Scripture we often see the disciples of Jesus doing or saying things which brings into question the matter of their intelligence.  Not that we would have been any different had we been in their place, but sometimes those early disciples appear to be awfully slow and dim witted.  In our journey through Mark's Gospel have come to passage which portrays them in that light.  Look at Mark 9:30-37.


The following notes are from Bob Utley’s excellent study guide:  The Gospel According to Peter:  Mark and I & II Peter:

9:30 “began to go through Galilee” This is still the setting of leaving the Mountain of Transfiguration and moving south through Galilee. Jesus wanted to personally speak to as many people as possible.

“He did not want anyone to know about it” This is another aspect of Jesus’ desire not to be known as a healer or miracle worker because the press of the crowds seeking physical help made it impossible for Him to teach and preach.

 “is to be delivered” This is a PRESENT PASSIVE INDICATIVE. The term means “to hand over to the authorities.” This was the third time that Jesus had clearly revealed to the disciples what would happen in Jerusalem (cf. 8:31; 9:12).

“three days” In Jewish recording of time, it was probably about 30–38 hours (i.e. a brief time on Friday before twilight, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday before dawn). This time period is linked to Jonah’s experience several times (cf. Matt. 12:39–40; 16:3; Luke 11:29–32).

9:32 “they did not understand” This is a recurrent theme in the Synoptic Gospels. Luke’s Gospel reveals the situation clearly.

1.   the disciples did not understand (2:50; 9:45; 18:34)

2.   they should have because Jesus’ words were interpreted for them (8:10)

3.   Jesus opened the minds of the disciples (24:45)

They were as blind as the crowds until Jesus’ words and the Spirit’s inspiration opened their closed minds and hearts to the truth of the new covenant. The fallen human mind cannot understand except by the help of the Spirit and even then it is a slow growing process from salvation to sanctification.[1]

9:33 “Capernaum” This town, the hometown of Peter and Andrew, became Jesus’ headquarters after the unbelief of Nazareth.

“when He was in the house” This was probably Peter’s home (cf. 1:29) or a rented house used by Jesus.

“What were you discussing on the way” They were arguing, not just discussing. He had told them of His death (three times) and they wanted to know which one of them would take His place as leader (cf. Matt. 18:1–18; Luke 9:46–48; 22:24).

9:34 “greatest” This shows the jealousy of the other groups of disciples against the inner circle of Peter, James, and John. It may also reflect their Jewish concept of a nationalistic earthly kingdom.

9:35 “sitting down” This would have denoted an official teaching session (cf. 4:1; 9:35; Matt. 5:1; Luke 4:20).

“If anyone wants to be first” This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE, which is assumed to be true from the author’s perspective. Jesus did not condemn ambition, but defined it in terms of the new ethic of the Kingdom of God. Greatness is linked to service (cf.10:31, 45; Matt. 20:26; 19:30; John 13:5), not control or power! God’s Kingdom is so different from human societies.

These words are a good example of how Jesus repeated His teachings in different settings and at different times (cf. 10:43–44; Matt. 23:11; Luke 22:24–25).

“servant” Jesus spoke Aramaic. This saying (i.e. vv. 35–37) may be a word play on the Aramaic word talya, which means both “child” and “servant.”

9:36 “Taking a child” Matthew 18:1–18, Luke 9:46–49, and here clearly show that Jesus is talking about new believers, not children.

“taking him in His arms” This is another eyewitness detail of Peter. It was even possibly Peter’s house and Peter’s child!

9:37 “ ‘whoever receives one child like this in My name’ ” “In My Name” means “in the character of Jesus.” There is no magic in the repetition of certain words. The power comes from knowing Jesus and emulating His actions. Our loving response to others because we are followers of Jesus is a way to express our love for Him (cf. Matt. 25:31–45).

From Acts 19:13–16 we know that Jewish exorcists used Jesus’ name, but with surprising results. From Matt. 7:21–23 we know that it is the personal relationship with Christ that is crucial, not just the flippant or even repeated mentioning of the name.

“ ‘and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me’ ” Jesus characteristically affirms the exalted position of the Father. This is repeatedly recorded in John’s Gospel. This submission to the Father is not one of inequality, but functions within the Trinity.[2]


As I studied this passage this past week, I was struck by the strong contrast between Jesus and the disciples, and by implication between Jesus and us.  And the basic difference between Jesus and the disciples I see in these verses has to do with the way in which they viewed themselves.  Jesus, who had every reason to feel proud, viewed Himself with a spirit of humility.  The disciples, who had every reason to feel humble, viewed themselves with a spirit of pride.  Two statements in these verses make that contrast quite clear:

·         First, notice what v.30 Jesus passed through Galilee, where He was a celebrity by this time, Mark tells us "...He was unwilling for anyone to know about it." ...that is, He didn't want to draw attention to Himself...He was content to slip through the area unnoticed...wasn't driven by giant ego which demanded recognition and praise and accolades...

·         Now, notice what v.34 says about the they were passing through the area where Jesus didn't want the applause of the multitudes, Mark tells us the disciples had been discussing "...with one another which of them was the greatest."...wouldn't you have liked to have heard that conversation?...can't prove it, but suspect the argument was started by Peter, James, and John...they had been up on the mountain with Jesus and saw Him in that mysterious transfigured state...had seen Moses and Elijah...had heard the voice of doubt, they thought that made them more important, more spiritual than the rest of the disciples ...and when they expressed that opinion the fight was on...

Try get visual image of what happening ancient east, the disciples/learners would always walk behind the teacher...never presume to walk abreast/side by side with teacher and certainly not in front of is Jesus, moving down from area of Caesarea Philippi, south through Galilee with face set toward Jerusalem where He was going give His life for sins of world...behind Him walked the disciples involved in petty dispute over which of them was the greatest!...that's an incredible scene...

And when they stopped in Capernaum for the evening, Jesus challenged their petty way of thinking...look at what told them in v.35 - "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all."...that principle is such a foundational part of the teachings of Jesus, it is recorded no less than six times in the gospels...and the reason Jesus said it so often is the disciples had a terribly difficult time believing it...


And the truth is, not much has changed about that in 2000 years...disciples of Jesus in world today still have difficulty with this principle...the first shall be last?...the least shall be greatest?...the one who serves shall be exalted? do you reconcile that to a world which---

--says winning is everything?

--exalts not those who serve, but those who have servants?

--teaches us always to ask, "What's in it for me?"

--believes that looking out for yourself, taking care of number one, is the main purpose of life?

And the answer to those questions is, "You don't!"...can never reconcile the teachings of Jesus to a world which lives by a completely different standard and philosophy...we need recognize that following Jesus cuts directly across the grain of our natural tendency, which is to build ourselves up...and following Him involves a radical departure from the standards of the world in evaluating greatness...

--world sees greatness in terms of getting; Jesus taught that true greatness is in giving...

--world sees greatness in terms of controlling; Jesus taught that true greatness is in serving...

--world sees greatness in terms of gaining praise, honor, and prestige; Jesus taught that true greatness points away from self to others...


This is a truth Jesus was constantly attempting to drive home to His of His more graphic lessons came in the night before He was crucified...had gathered with the disciples in the upper room somewhere in Jerusalem... apparently no servant was available to wash the dust off their sandled feet as they entered the room as was customary for that while the disciples were sitting around waiting to be served and probably debating in their minds if not aloud who among them was the greatest, Jesus got a water basin and a towel and began to go around the circle washing the feet of the disciples...imagine that!...the Incarnate Son of God washing the feet of those dense, prideful, arrogant disciples!...what an unforgettable lesson that was in humility and amazed and even ashamed they must have been when it later dawned on them who Jesus really was...


Must never forget  that in the end, only those who give themselves away, those who are willing to be servants will be exalted...and when you think about it, Jesus' entire life was an illustration of that... as Paul explained in Philippians 2:5-9 even though He was in heaven in the form of God, did not selfishly cling to that...chose to become a man, come to our world, and in humility went to the a result, God exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above every name...and Paul prefaces that entire statement about Jesus by saying, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus..."


At the end of this passage Jesus does a beautiful thing...takes a child in His arms...perhaps was one of children of the family hosting them in their home...since in Capernaum may well have been in Simon Peter's home and could even have been one of Peter's children...and made statement which Mark does not record but it's in Matthew's account of this event...said, "Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."...and interesting thing about that is in the Aramaic language, which Jesus and disciples spoke, the word for child and the word for servant are the same...was just another graphic way of driving home the truth that in God's eyes greatness = servanthood...




1.   Augustine, the 4th century theologian/philosopher, once said that there are three requirements to becoming a Christian...the first is humility...the second is humility...and the third is humility...

2.   While humility does not make a person a Christian, those who are truly followers of Jesus Christ will be characterized by an attitude of humble servanthood...

3.   Jesus put it quite clearly, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all."



[1] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (105). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[2] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (105–106). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.