It must have been a heady thing to be travelling around with Jesus. Yes, there was opposition, often from prominent people in both religious and civil governance. But the power of miracles and resurrections was clearly so exceptionally greater. Pretty much everywhere they went, there was a crowd waiting to see Jesus and be a part of what was happening.
How might you be feeling if you were one of the twelve? Likely, any of us might be thinking, “Hey, I’m kind of a big deal here. Look at what I’m a part of! The relatives are back in Galilee fishing, and here I am romping around the countryside as Jesus’ homie. Dog! I be some kind o’ special!”
The disciples truly did see Jesus as the King, the Promised One. They believed the Kingdom promised to Israel was right at hand. This was such a major part of their thinking that it was a last question asked of Jesus just before his ascension to heaven, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
If the King was there with them and if the Kingdom was about to come soon, and they were clearly the selected and closest companions to the King, surely they were in line to have some significant positions in the official cabinet! This sort of thinking (likely a part of each one’s minds) came blurting out in conversation between them, and Jesus heard it (though not as if he did not know already what they were thinking).
To combat that wrongful, self-centered thinking, Jesus takes a child and uses him as an illustration. This represented simplicity and innocence, a person with a lack of standing – dependent and weak, relatively speaking.
That is the kind of person the followers of Christ should be quickest to serve, befriend and minister to. Though not an explicit part of the teaching, that is who the disciples were – not from the greatest in Israel, but rather from the least and simplest. That is who Christ chose.
The following verses about rebuking some others who were casting out spirits in the name of Jesus naturally follow this discussion. John did this, not because what they were doing was wrong, but because they were not a part of the inner circle. Their exact belief status is unknown, but Jesus uses a parable of the time to teach the disciples again to not think so much about status or competition.
That is difficult to do, even in church ministry. It is easy to be competitive and not have larger Kingdom purposes in mind. It is easy to desire the greatest places in the Lord’s vineyard and to see the bigger successes of someone else as your own loss. If it was appropriate to name situations and circumstances, I could illustrate this with multiple stories. Allow it to suffice that I state the simple principle I’ve come to understand over years of experiences: my greatest personal blessing, and the greatest blessings of the church I’m leading, are most often in conjunction with my (or our) serving the least among us and around us. We can trust God with results, our need is merely to be faithful with the tasks before us. We were once the least – when God set his love upon us and called us to himself through the simple service of some follower just doing his or her vineyard work.
Luke 9:46 – An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”