“Jesus warns of pride, sectarianism, and sin” (Mark 9:30-50)

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In today’s episode of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus continues on his way to Jerusalem, where he will spend his final days on earth. Knowing that his death is near, he takes time to teach his followers more—about what it means to be his disciple.

Our passage begins with this verse, Mark 9:30. Let’s turn to it. “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.” He made sure that they were not distracted by the work of healing and helping people in need. This was a time to just listen to him and deepen their understanding of spiritual things.

For the rest of Mark 9, Jesus mainly warns them against 3 things: pride, sectarianism, and sin. Before we read the whole passage, let’s pray.

[Read Mark 9:30-50]

As we read, Jesus talked about a series of different topics. They may seem unrelated at first, but the topics are connected by certain words, such as “fire”, “child”, or “salt”. This style of teaching is typical of Jewish rabbis.

I’ll briefly go through these teachings, which I see as warnings against 3 things: pride, sectarianism, and sin.

Pride: Who is the Greatest? (9:33-37)

Firstly, Jesus warns about pride and teaches that humility is an important trait for a disciple. In verse 35, he says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Greatness in God’s kingdom is to be a humble servant.

Jesus himself showed what this could look like. In John chapter 13, he washed his disciples’ feet—which, normally, a rabbi would not do for his students. And the greatest example of Jesus’ humility was that he was willing to die on a cross for our sins. The Apostle Paul describes Jesus’ both humility and greatness so eloquently in Philippians 2:

“. . . though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . (Philippians 2:6-11)”

To make his point about servanthood, Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to one of the children in their group. Mark 9, verse 37: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” In the ancient world, children did not have legal rights or status. But throughout the Old Testament, God revealed his special love for people of low position, just like this child (references: Deut 10:18:Ps 146:9:Isa 29:19).
Jesus wanted his disciples to have esteem the lowly and care for them. The way we treat people of low position is a measure of how we treat God himself.

At that time, the disciples were preoccupied with knowing, “Which of us is the greatest disciple? Who is at the top?” That comes from an attitude of pride and insecurity. So, Jesus’ basically told them, “Who is at the top? Well, the one at the bottom.”

If Jesus—that is, God himself—came to serve us, we should also serve others. Even those whom the world considers low or unworthy. This was an important lesson Jesus wanted his disciples to understand. Otherwise, how could they later understand his death on the cross? Dying on the cross was not just a humiliating failure—as Jesus’ enemies might think. It would be a great act of servanthood, love, and victory over sin and death.

Sectarianism (9:38-41)

Moving on, Jesus also warned them against sectarianism. That is, being too exclusive or narrow-minded in supporting your own group. He taught his disciples to value inclusivity and unity.

In verse 38, the disciples reported that they encountered a man driving out demons by using Jesus’ name. He wasn’t a member of their group. But Jesus said, in verse 39, “Do not stop him.” And verse 40: “whoever is not against us is for us.” Most likely, the man believed in Jesus—he just wasn’t part of the group that followed Jesus around from town to town.

The Bible teaches us that all believers in Jesus are part of one big family of God. This is something we tend to forget when we meet other Christians that are different from us in some way.

In John chapter 17, shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united. It’s as if he knew that we would have difficulty getting along with each other. In John 17:23, he prayed like: “. . . so they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me.” Without unity and love of each other, Christians lose their credibility. How will the world believe what we say about Jesus’ death and resurrection and God’s message of love, if we fight bitterly among ourselves?

Therefore, Jesus took time in his last days to warn his disciples against being exclusive and to pray that they would be united. Then, the world could be blessed by their sharing of the gospel.

Sin (9:42-50)

Finally, Jesus warned his disciples against the effects of sin. He taught them to be careful not only to guard themselves against sin but also to not lead others to sin.

In verses 41 and 42, Jesus talked about reward and judgment. God will reward those who welcome a believer in Christ; but on the other hand, will judge those who cause a believer to turn away from Christ.

Then, in verse 43 to 47, he starts to say some really scary things like, “If your hand causes you to [sin], cut it off”! But don’t worry, Jesus isn’t asking us to actually cut our hands off. From time to time, he taught his disciples using hyperboles—that is, exaggeration. It helped to grab their attention and stick in their memory. Here, he’s saying: “Don’t take sin lightly.”

Finally, in verses 48 to 50, Jesus says a few things that are connected to the theme of “fire” and “salt”. In verse 49, he says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” Scholars have two ideas about what this means.

First, fire might symbolize trials and suffering. These are things that will accompany the disciple’s “living sacrifice,” to borrow the words of Romans 12:1. In the Old Testament, the animal sacrifices offered to God for forgiveness of sin always included salt (Leviticus 2:13). So, Jesus could be saying here, “Just as every sacrifice under the law required salt, so the living sacrifice my followers bring must be seasoned with trials and suffering.” That’s one interpretation.

The second interpretation is that fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “seasons” us believers. The Spirit purifies us, preserves us, adds flavor and enriches our lives. This “seasoning” makes our lives acceptable to God.

After that, Jesus says in verse 50, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?” If you want to run a successful restaurant, your food needs to taste good. It’s no point if your food is good texture, presentation, and price but lousy taste. Likewise, Jesus warns his disciples to not let sin ruin the flavor of their lives. To not become so bland or so bitter that you no longer attract others to taste the gospel.

Last of all, Jesus says, “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Paul uses a similar metaphor in Colossians 4:6: “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” In other words, when Christians are at peace with one another, the world will be drawn to Jesus.

To summarize, Jesus says that sin is a serious thing. It can cause us to lose our spiritual attractiveness. Although his death on the cross will cleanse of our sins, we still need to make an effort to combat sin in our lives—whether it is pride, disunity, or something else.


Good Friday comes in a few days. It is a good time for self-reflection, confession, and repentance.

During the last few years, I have been trying to observe the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days before Easter, which is next Sunday. It’s a time of fasting, confession, and repentance as we prepare ourselves to remember Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and to reflect on its significance. Traditionally, Christians who observe Lent would fast from some meals or from meat. I don’t do that, but instead I try to spend less time on social media. I found that partially fasting from social media has helped me be less distracted. I have more time for self-reflection. And that is another purpose of Lent: to create space for God in our busy lives.

This week I thanked God for a man in my judo class who is my senior (senpai). Let’s call him Mr. Bamboo (竹さん). He has been so kind in coaching me and letting me practice judo moves on him. Even during the judo exam I took last Sunday, he was whispering to me from the sidelines, giving me instructions when I was clueless or doing something wrong.

Judo is a competitive sport—you either win or lose; you can’t have two winners. But even in the midst of this competitive sport, I could see the humility and kindness of Jesus in Mr. Bamboo. He didn’t look down on me just because he is a black belter and I’m a white belter. He was patient with me even though I’m a foreigner who is slow to understand things. Though he’s not a judo teacher, he acted like a good teacher. Not like the kind of teacher who just criticizes you and only says “Chigau, chigau. That’s wrong” and doesn’t coach you properly how to do it right.

Likewise, I think Jesus was an excellent teacher to his disciples. He truly had the heart to teach them, not just to use them for his own agenda. His teachings weren’t just mere words; his very life was an example. And he never gave up on his students, even when they were slow to understand.

Let’s end with a prayer:

God, we come with hesitant steps and uncertain motives to sweep out the corners where sin has accumulated and uncover the ways we have strayed from your truth. Expose the empty and barren places where we don’t allow you to enter. Reveal our half-hearted struggles where we have been indifferent to the suffering of others. Nurture the faint stirrings of new life where your Spirit has begun to grow. Let your healing light transform us into the image of your Son, for you alone can bring new life and make us whole. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
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