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Mark 9:30-41 – You Don’t Seem to Understand

Our family began raising chickens and ducks a few years ago. It has been a nice hobby and has provided us with both entertainment and eggs. But there has been one thing that I have not understood. While we have enjoyed eating the eggs, we have not had any of our ducks hatch their own ducklings. We have male and female ducks but no little ducklings of their own. During a recent prayer meeting, I was informed that the female ducks need to sit on the eggs and keep them warm for any fertilized eggs to become ducklings. That was news to me.

In our passage today, we will find out that the disciples were still having trouble understanding things. They didn’t understand anything about Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. They didn’t understand the need for humble service. They didn’t understand the possibility of people outside their circle being used by God. Thankfully, Jesus took the time to speak to them about each subject. And as we study what happened, we will learn a few things as well.

  1. Jesus speaks about His coming death and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32).

    What does it say?

    Jesus and the disciples left the area and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know where they were going. He taught the disciples that the Son of Man was being betrayed to the control of certain men who would kill Him. But He would rise from being dead the third day. The disciples did not understand what He said and were afraid to ask any questions.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus understood His future and purpose.

    It is interesting that Jesus didn’t want people to know about their departure and travels through Galilee. Many times, this was due to the crowds wanting to make him king, but this time it was a different reason. Jesus was teaching His disciples about His main purpose for being on earth. He didn’t want any distractions from this.

    Jesus told the disciples about His coming betrayal, death, and resurrection to get them ready for it. He already knew His purpose: He came to die for our sins. To this point, Mark has not told us about that. But as you read through the rest of the gospel accounts and the New Testament, it is very clear that Jesus came to die in our place. This was His purpose and He would allow nothing to get in the way.

    The disciples did not understand any of this.

    The disciples heard the words that Jesus said, but they didn’t comprehend them. He said He would be betrayed, be killed, but rise the third day. But the words didn’t make any sense to them. Jesus had already verified that He was the Christ/Messiah. So, they probably thought He was speaking figuratively. To them something didn’t seem quite right, but they didn’t say anything to Him. “Perhaps this was because they remembered Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (8:33) or, more likely, because His words had a devastating effect on their hopes for a reigning Messiah.”1

    How does it apply?

    Do you understand the need for Jesus’ death and resurrection?

    Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact, we will be celebrating his resurrection at the end of the month. But do you understand why Jesus had to die and rise from the dead? Let me explain things with the following Bible verse.

    1 Pet. 3:18 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”

    Because of sin, we all deserved eternal punishment in Hell. But God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us. As the perfect Son of God, Jesus was able to give His perfect life to pay the price for our sins. He died and rose again the third day just as He had told the disciples. Now all those who turn from their sins and put their faith in Jesus will be forgiven by God and saved from the judgment we all deserve.

    As God has worked in your heart about this, have you put your faith in Jesus? God’s promise is still true today. If you will turn from your sin and trust in Jesus, He will apply what Jesus did on the cross to you, forgive you, and save you from the judgment you deserve.

  2. Jesus speaks about humility in service (Mark 9:33-37).

    What does it say?

    When they arrived in Capernaum, they entered a house. Jesus asked His disciples what they had been arguing about on the road. The disciples did not answer Him because they had been arguing about which of them would be the greatest. Jesus sat down and called the disciples to Himself. He told them that the person who wanted to be first would instead be the last and the servant of all. To illustrate His point, Jesus placed a little child among them. Then He picked up the child and told them that whoever received a little child in His name was in effect receiving Him. He also said that whoever received Jesus was not only receiving Him but also the One who had sent Him.

    What does it mean?

    The disciples did not understand true humility.

    Why were these disciples arguing among themselves? They were talking about which of them would be the greatest of the disciples. “Perhaps the privileges given to Peter, James, and John (cf. Mark. 5:37; 9:2) fueled the argument.”3 You can imagine that the three who were on the mountain with Jesus were perceived as greater in rank than the other disciples. Perhaps they were making their case to the others. But why was this important?

    “Their preoccupation with rank and standing is in character with what we know of Judaism in general. Rabbinic writings frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels.”4 I suppose we all want to be recognized at some point. We like our name to be mentioned and others to think well of us. But why were the disciples so keen on figuring out who was the greatest of the disciples?

    The problem was that they had not learned the truth about humility and service. Jesus had come this time as a humble man not as the victorious Messiah before whom everyone would bow. They were thinking so much about the coming kingdom that they missed the character that Jesus showed on a daily basis. He cared for the people. He healed the people. He allowed Himself to be looked down upon. He did all this as an example for us to follow.

    Jesus wanted His followers to be humble servants.

    Instead of arguing who would get the best seat in God’s kingdom, Jesus wanted the disciples to focus on being a servant to others. Sometimes, the word for servant in our Bible means a slave. But “here ‘servant’ (diakonos) depicts one who attends to the needs of others freely, not one in a servile position (as a doulos, a slave).”3 The idea is someone caring about others and trying to help them. Can you think of someone who did that? Yes, Jesus is our example of being a servant.

    But this type of service would include helping those whom society didn’t give much value to. Jesus picked up a child and used him as an example. If this was Peter’s house, it may have been one of his sons. However, the Jewish, Greek, and Roman societies didn’t value children.3 So Jesus told the disciples that being a servant of all included caring for a child like this. Caring for a child in Jesus’ name was like receiving both Jesus and God the Father who had sent Him. This gives a new perspective for serving others. When done in Jesus’ name, it is accepted as service to the Lord.

    How does it apply?

    Do you understand the need for humble service?

    Many years ago, the philosopher Plato made this statement: “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?”2 That attitude is still around today. Most people are self-centered and want others to serve them. What about you? Do you see the need for humbly serving people in Jesus’ name? If we are followers of Christ, we should follow His example and seek to serve others instead of ourselves. By doing this, we will accomplish two things. First, we will be pleasing Jesus by doing what He said. Second, we will be showing Christ’s character and love to others. Hopefully, this will make an impact in their lives as well as our own.

  3. Jesus speaks about working with others (Mark 9:38-41).

    What does it say?

    John told Jesus that they had seen a non-disciple casting out a demon in Jesus’ name. The disciples told him not to do this because he was not one of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus responded by telling them not to forbid the man from doing that. He pointed out that someone who could do a miracle in Jesus’ name would probably not speak evil of Jesus. If someone was not against them, He would actually be on their side. He also said that if someone gave a cup of water to someone in Jesus’ name, he would be rewarded.

    What does it mean?

    The disciples did not understand about working with others.

    I find it interesting that John’s response to Jesus was to change the subject. Jesus had corrected the disciples about their lack of humility and in response John tried to show something good they had done. Their good deed was to forbid a non-disciple from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. (Ironically, this is what they could not accomplish earlier in the chapter.) John and the others were thinking that they were the only ones allowed to do things in Jesus’ name. Once again, there was no humility or wanting to be a servant. Instead, they felt “an entitlement of privilege and exclusion.”5

    Let’s look at the other man for a moment. He wasn’t a false teacher or someone with bad character. He wasn’t like the seven sons of Sceva who tried casting out demons in the name of Jesus whom Paul preached (Acts 19:11-17). This man was actually a believer who was doing something good and who had successfully cast out a demon in Jesus’ name. The problem to the disciples was not that the man was doing something wrong but that he was doing it without their permission. He wasn’t on their approved list. In their minds, only the twelve disciples were allowed to serve God in this way. But were they right?

    Jesus taught them to see the good in other followers of Jesus.

    Jesus’ answer to John must have surprised him. Jesus told John not to hold this man back. His reason was that someone who performed a miracle in His name would certainly not be someone who would later talk bad about Him. In other words, “if one is working for Jesus, in His name (cf. Mark 9:38), he cannot work against Him at the same time. Though the man did not follow Jesus in exactly the same way as the Twelve, he nevertheless followed Him truly and stood against Satan.”3 Jesus stated that this person was not against them so he was on their side.

    At this point, the man had done an amazing miracle in Jesus’ name and that was good. But Jesus said that even giving a cup of water to someone in His name would be rewarded. What He was trying to communicate with them is that doing something in Jesus’ name was a good thing. The disciples were to be happy when someone did something good in Jesus’ name instead of being against him.

    How does it apply?

    Do you understand God’s use of other people?

    This is not a blanket approval of anyone who adds Jesus’ name to their event, publication, or actions. There are genuine problems with some things that claim to be done in His name. But this was not the point of Jesus correcting John’s take on this non-disciple casting out a demon. He was trying to show that God has other people besides those closest to us.

    We are not the only Christians serving the Lord today. He has people all over the world who may do things a little differently than we do. They may even be from a church with a different name. But if they are doing good things in the name of Jesus, we should be happy for the good that is accomplished. Are you okay with that? Jesus was. So be careful before judging someone just because they aren’t exactly like us. Instead, look for the good and praise God for it.


One of the recurring thoughts in these verses is understanding. In each of the situations above, the disciples did not understand something that Jesus wanted them to know. They didn’t understand the purpose for His death. They didn’t understand the need for being a servant to others. They didn’t understand that God might have others accomplishing things outside of their circle.

There are probably some things that you don’t understand either. But that is where Jesus comes in. Keep reading your Bible and listening to the teachings of Jesus. As Jesus taught His disciples with the hope of them understanding the truth, so you will grow in your understanding as you continue studying the Bible and applying the truths to your life.


1 Grassmick 145.
2 Edwards 287.
3 Grassmick 146.
4 Edwards 286.
5 Edwards 289.
6 McGee 202.


Alexander, Joseph Addison, The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980, reprint from 1858.

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.