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What Is Success?


How would you define success?

In America, our economy is based on healthy competition. We have an economy that competes to design, manufacture, and bring to market a better “widget." If you can bring to market a better widget at a more affordable price than your competition, more than likely you will be successful. Because of this sense of healthy competition, we have been able to produce some great products and accomplish incredible results. This sense of competition has also advanced the studies of medicine and science. It has pushed us to explore as far out and look as deep in as we possibly can. This has lead to great discoveries. This drive has in some ways, shaped our understanding of success. Success is often understood as being the best. It’s being on top of our game, being number one. Second place is just second, it’s not first and not the best.

Success is not just measured in manufacturing. The sense of competition is not just relegated to the marketplace but has also carried over to other areas of our life. Moms, are your homes Pinterest worthy? Daughters, do you feel free to post to Instagram without filters? Husbands and fathers, what defines you as a man? Sons, do you have the right credentials? How is success measured? How do we view success?

Has our drive for success and our understanding of success in some ways carried over to our understanding of Jesus and His mission? Has this influenced us in such a way that it’s hard for us to comprehend what Jesus is saying? Is what we are expecting what He is actually doing?

In (Mark 9) some of the disciples were struggling with an understanding of what success looked like. They were influenced by their understanding of the Messiah and had trouble seeing His mission.

The Mission

For the second time in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of His upcoming suffering, death, and rising from the dead.

Mark 9:30-32 (New King James Version)

"Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him."

[T]hey did not understand this saying”. This is just as it was earlier (Mark 8:32) when Jesus spoke of His suffering and Peter had trouble understanding the mission of the Messiah. Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him. The disciples were struggling in understanding the mission. Jesus, here, does not speak to them in parables but is clearly telling them what must soon take place. However, the disciples struggle to understand. The mission is not what they were expecting and it is not how they would define success. How was God’s Anointed, the Messiah to suffer and die? Because they had a misunderstanding of the Messiah’s mission, it prevented them from understanding His purpose.

I have to ask myself, “Do I understand the mission of the Messiah?” When the Lord is clearly speaking to me through His Word, has my understanding of what Jesus should be doing and saying, prevented me from hearing Him clearly?

The Misunderstanding

Being confused about what Jesus had said, the disciples play out their understanding of success and the mission of the Messiah among themselves on the way to Capernaum.

Mark 9:33-34

"Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest."

What is success? When the Messiah has completed His mission what does success look like? Who will be exalted? Who will be placed in charge? Who will be the greatest? Their misunderstanding had misled them in what Jesus was doing. Instead of hearing clearly what Jesus was saying, their understanding of the mission influenced what they heard and how they perceived Jesus’ words.

When Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing about on the road, “they kept silent”. We are told they were arguing about “who would be the greatest.” Their argument was a selfish argument and it’s almost as if they were embarrassed to tell Jesus about it.

Jesus has been teaching what it means to serve. Deny yourself, take up your cross (ref. Mk. 8:34ff). He has shared about success, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36, 37). Do we understand Jesus or has our understanding of success influenced our understanding of what Jesus is doing today? In His kingdom are we still concerned with our own status or prestige? Are we important and should things be checked by us first? It’s easy for us to look at the disciples and see the error in their thinking, but do we understand that we often think and act the same way?

Jesus is challenging us to understand His kingdom. He is challenging our thoughts and how we often think of ourselves. He is redefining our understanding of success as He shares His mission.

Mark 9:35

“And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

The Message

To help in understanding, Jesus calls a little child to Himself.

Mark 9:36-37

“Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Jesus, as He often does, uses this conversation as an opportunity for a teachable moment. A little child would have been quite the contrast from the prestige and status the disciples argued about when they considered “who would be the greatest.” A small child could not offer much but instead is humble as they rely on the support of others. A small child is teachable as they listen to the instructions of others. To receive (or welcome) a small child, would mean you are giving yourself without expecting something in return. What can the child return? If you were to consider a new mother and her newborn child, what sacrifices are made? There is a complete and selfless giving of herself for the interest of the child. Sleepless nights, tired days as she attends and serves the interest of her child. And for who’s benefit? It’s not for herself but for her child.

Jesus is teaching something different. Are we willing to welcome and receive others, to minister to their needs with no expectation of return on investment? To humbly serve even when it does not mean promotion? This is what success and greatness look like in God’s kingdom.

What Is Success?

What is success? I suppose there are many ways we could define success. As Christians, what influences our understanding of success or what it means to be successful? The disciples had difficulty understanding what Jesus was saying because they had a different understanding of what He was doing. Their idea of who the Messiah was to be and what the Messiah was to do, hindered them from hearing what Jesus was actually saying.

Do we hear and understand the words of Jesus today? Has our understanding of success and greatness influenced our understanding of what Jesus is saying?

Mark 9:35b

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”




New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Music for the simplyRevised Podcast provided by Eric Gwin.


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