The Pitfalls of Discipleship


Series: Mark

Title: 5. The Pitfalls of Discipleship Mark 9:30-48


  • 2015-10-17: White Rock Lake

  1. Introduction:
  2. Mark 9:30-32: Prelude: Jesus predicts His death and resurrection a second time
    1. Leave Mt. Hermon and pass through Galilee.
    2. A more secret journey, because Jesus is now turning his focus from the crowds to His disciples.
    3. The disciples’ reactions:
      1. Matthew’s account (17:23): “They were greatly distressed” (ESV). Jesus’ saying resulted in a sombre mood.
      2. Mark: They didn’t understand, and were afraid to ask.
        1. Didn’t understand: The Jews expected the Messiah to be a powerful king, and Jesus’ statement didn’t jibe with the disciples’ expectations
        2. Completely missed the part about the Resurrection
        3. Afraid to ask. Why?
          1. Perhaps they were afraid of what the answer might be.
          2. Or, maybe they somewhat deliberately didn’t understand and didn’t want that to be exposed.
    4. Verse 33a: So, they arrive in Capernaum and reach the house where presumably they are staying.
  3. The pitfalls of discipleship1
    1. The desire for greatness
      1. Verses 33-35a:
        1. Silent, probably out of embarrassment
        2. Jesus sat down: the traditional position of a rabbi
      2. Verse 35:
        1. Those who want to be first must be last
        2. “Servant of all”: διάκονος, not δοῦλος
          1. “The Greek word for servant, diakonos, describes someone who serves willingly. It does not describe the servile status of such a person, which doulos (slave) suggests” (Constable’s Notes).
      3. How much do we value status? How much do we desire position or influence?
        1. Luke 14:7-11: Context: Series of parables about banquets.
        2. Story: Women elders in New York who insisted on having the office, thereby disqualifying themselves.
      4. Verses 36, 37:
        1. In both the Jewish and Roman societies, children occupied the lowest social status. “The same Aramaic word means both ‘child’ and ‘servant.’ ”
          1. Constable’s Notes
        2. “Whoever receives [or welcomes] one such child”: “This verb, δέχομαι, is a term of hospitality.”
          1. NET Bible note on Mark 9:37.
        3. If we find ourselves unwilling to be hospitable to the lowest members of society, our desire for greatness, our pride, is out of line.
    2. The folly of an exclusivist attitude
      1. Mark 9:38-41:
        1. The person apparently was a believer, but wasn’t one of the ones traveling with Jesus. He wasn’t an impostor.
        2. Jesus had commissioned the Twelve to cast out demons (3:14, 15), but had not so commissioned this person.
        3. While Jesus was recently on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, the remaining Nine had failed to cast out a demon (9:14-29). This may have been on John’s mind, in addition to his attempt to protect Jesus.
      2. We need to be wary of an exclusivist attitude.
        1. Mark tells us that there may be others outside our circle who are also working for God. We shouldn’t oppose such work.
        2. There’s no room for jealousy in the church.
        3. Ill: Territorial divisions in Wichita, Kansas City
        4. Matthew 12:30: This doesn’t mean we accept everything; the context in Matthew is about the contrast between Jesus and Satan.
    3. Failure in self-discipline
      1. Verse 42:
        1. Great millstone: Greek: “The millstone of a donkey.” There had been a few executions carried out by this method.
        2. Being the cause of sin for someone who is spiritually “younger” or weaker is a grave offense.
      2. Verses 43, 45, 47, 48:52
        1. This is hyperbole. Jesus is not advocating literal amputation. Instead, He’s illustrating the seriousness of sin.
          1. Jesus illustrates different ways in which we can be led into sin.
        2. “Hell”: Greek γεέννα, from Hebrew גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם or גהנום (Valley of Hinnom)
          1. Valley just below Jerusalem
          2. Initially, where Israelite followers of Moloch offered child sacrifices (Jer. 7:31). Cursed by God (Jer. 19:2-6)
          3. Practice ended by King Josiah (2 Ki. 3:10). Later converted into a constantly-burning garbage dump.
          4. Some see this as proof of an eternal hell. But it says that the fire is not quenched, not that the fire never ceases. When there is nothing left to burn, it will go out on its own.
        3. Disciples of Christ must root out those things that lead us into sin.
        4. “Disciples should take prompt and decisive action against anything that might lead them away from their allegiance to Jesus” (Constable’s Notes)
  4. Conclusion
    1. Reminder of the three pitfalls of discipleship:
      1. The desire for greatness
      2. The folly of an exclusivist attitude
      3. Failure in self-discipline


  1. The title and the three-part basic outline are adapted from Constable’s Notes on Mark 9:33-50, as found at Lumina. The second part, though, is different from Constable’s version because I believe his interpretation is somewhat in error. 

  2. NET Bible note on Mark 9:44: “Most later MSS have 9:44 here and 9:46 after v. 45: ‘where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched’ (identical with v. 48). Verses 44 and 46 are present in A D Θ f13 𝔐 lat syp,h, but lacking in important Alexandrian MSS and several others (א B C L W Δ Ψ 0274 f1 28 565 892 2427 pc co). This appears to be a scribal addition from v. 48 and is almost certainly not an original part of the Greek text of Mark. The present translation follows NA in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations.” UBS4 rates the omission of these verses {A}.