October 8, 2006: Hallmarks Of Greatness

Let us pray: Dear Savior, since we are creatures of our egos, we constantly like to compare ourselves to others. We like to think of ourselves as wiser, kinder, and superior to those around us. And we like to think that such behavior somehow makes us more acceptable to You. Today teach us to measure our lives solely against Your Word of truth and the commandments. Teach us to never gloss over our sins. Move us along the pathway of true humility. And may we always find comfort, not in our own actions, but in Your loving sacrifice on the cross given to us through faith. Amen


TEXT: Mark 9: 30-37

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

My mother has always collected silver, specifically the kind that needs polishing. That is, teapots, creamers, plates, urns, and general antique collectibles. As the youngest of her children, I learned at an early age all about polishing silver. From about 9 years of age I had an intimate relationship with Wright’s silver polish saturated upon a cotton rag. I would rub, rub and rub some more to get it shiny and sparkling. For old, blackened silver, caused by exposure to sulphur dioxide isn’t very attractive.

It takes time to properly polish silver. So, you get to know the piece you’re working on intimately. And that’s when I learned about hallmarks. You see good silver has little markings, stamps made by its creator, upon the bottom. They vary in shape, size, and type and they identify who made it and usually how old it really is. Those markings are called hallmarks. Once you get to recognize them you soon learn which pieces are valuable, “great” pieces, and which are also-rans.

Our lesson outlines the reality, or lack thereof, of the Godly marks of faith in our lives. And so, let’s look at our own lives and consider:



Prior to this lesson Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration where He had shed His earthly mantle for a moment to reveal His divinity, His greatness, to them. Then it was off to cast out a demon inhabiting a small boy—again revealing His divine nature. After that He quietly instructed His disciples in the future, His future greatness, which would entail God’s eternal Son dying on a cross and rising to life three days later, all to save their souls and pay for the whole world’s sins against God.

Finally, they arrive in Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum. “When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”

The disciples really were thick-headed weren’t they?  Here they have been exposed to miracles, to visions of heaven, and to Jesus’ daily instruction. They have been direct recipients of His love and compassion. They have seen His loving self-sacrifice and heard even more about it talked about in advance. Their Lord and Master wasn’t pride-filled. He didn’t compare Himself to others in order to boost His ego. And yet, these thick-headed men did! If ever there was a passage which should quash the view that they were super-holy, or not as sinful as the rest of us, it is this one!

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” What an ego-crusher! For right here Jesus is saying that the hallmarks of greatness include: humility, sacrifice and service. Now, we know Jesus is right. We’ve been taught that truth from little on at church. It’s one of the hallmarks of Christianity, isn’t it? And yet, our own egos often downplay and/or ignore that blessed truth. Maybe we don’t show it so much by our actions, but our heart’s motives reveal it to both ourselves and to our God. For example, so-and-so is singled out for praise over something they did. Have you ever thought: “Well, what about me?” And thus had your joy over their example diminished? Likewise, some Christians think that church officers or leaders are somehow on a higher plane than the rank and file. And those officers sometimes end up believing it, too. And then the idea of mutual service to each other, mutual sacrifice, sharing in all those mundane jobs that make up a congregation’s life become a competitive burden born of resentment, instead of a joy. To put it bluntly, no one in God’s Church is too special to not clean the toilets, vacuum the carpets, pick up the children’s messes, or help rake leaves. And if you think you are, well, where’s your humility? Aren’t you walking down that same road of inner arguing—just like the Twelve?


No task was beneath Christ. Not suffering. Not death. Not reaching out in love to the littlest in His Church. He now tells that to the disciples while at the same time outlining hallmarks of true greatness. “He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

Here there is no ego involved. No accolades. No kudos. No “I’ve done this for you so now you can do that for me.” After all, the little kids could not really repay the disciples, could they? So, here we see pure love in action. The simplest task of welcoming a little child, of loving them, of making them feel special is one of the hallmarks of greatness. Yes, humility, sacrifice, and service to all people, without expecting anything in return, marks Christ and those who wish to bear His name.

When judged against God’s perfect law which analyzes both our actions and motives, who of us can say that we possess greatness? That’s right! None of us. And yet, we really are great! We really do possess the hallmarks of greatness! For through faith Christ has given us His greatness. He has given us His perfection. His humility. His sacrificial spirit. His attitude of service. Moreover, He has died on a cross to pay for our lack of greatness and thereby makes us great by putting His holiness into our hearts. So, to borrow the imagery from my introduction today, right now He’s polishing you and removing your black corrosion. And in the end, the polish of His loving sacrifice given to you through faith, will enable you to let your light shine! That truth eventually rubbed off on the disciples. May it rub off on each of us, as well. Amen