Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
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September 23 – Pentecost 17 – Mark 9:30-37 – Ambition And The Kingdom

Introduction:  Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Our text is the Gospel Lesson just read, from Mark 9.  We begin with prayer.

Dear fellow disciples of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ:

  • Ambition is a good thing – after all “sloth,” or laziness, is one of the “seven deadly sins.”  However, just like other positive attributes, sin also perverts and corrupts ambition and can turn it into a very horrible thing. 
  • We can’t really get completely away from our ambitions – from little on up we’ve had them, and they are closely linked with “survival,” and also with our selfishness and pride.  Ambitions are at the core of our being, our sinful nature.  What begins with simply wanting the toy, or wanting mom’s and dad’s attention, can grow into insisting that we have good things even though others are suffering, and even demanding that everyone acknowledge our power and superiority – dominating others.
  • However, the lack of ambition can also be a very evil thing – laziness, lack of care and concern for others and even for our own well-being, can lead us to just sitting around and doing nothing even when there is much good that we could be accomplishing. 
  • So we have to take care to “manage” our ambitions, and to continue “purifying” them as much as we possibly can – or we may end up being accurately described by the Apostle James in the Epistle Lesson for today:  “unspiritual, demonic, vile,” and wicked.  For it is certain that:


I.  Selfish Ambition Can Be Murderous And Destructive


Epistle:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. . . .  What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”


OT Lesson:  “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.  I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”


Statement:   The Old Testament Lesson is prophetic in regard to Jesus, the Son of God, Who became flesh and took on the great saving role of being “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”  So, the animosity described is actually animosity against God.  This animosity against God began in the Garden of Eden – with AMBITION, the selfish and sinful ambition to “be like God, knowing good and evil.”  The fruit of this sinful AMBITION is also seen in the account of Cain and Abel – and it ended with murder. 

Application:  All too often we look at these sinful impulses and inner dynamics as though they were relatively benign and harmless – or even look at them as being laudable and good.  Amongst hardworking, energetic, and ambitious people like good “Germans,” this can be and has been a very serious difficulty – confessing all our sins with the exception of the things that James warns us about – selfish ambition, jealousy, selfishness, coveting, fighting, and quarrels. 

No, we don’t take them to the level of violence or murder, but we are certainly willing to overlook the harm that our selfish ambition does to others – and a bit of alms and charity here and there isn’t going to make up for it.  So we too need “the Lamb of God” Who was “led to the slaughter” for our sins, to bring us God’s forgiveness, mercy, and cleansing.  And we also need to keep careful watch on our own ambitions, for we see in our text that:


II.  Selfish Ambition Can Also Infect Those Within The Church, And Can Destroy The Health And Growth Of The Church


Text:  “When He was in the house Jesus asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”


Statement:  This description might be just sadly humorous if it didn’t so aptly describe many of our own “arguments.”  Oh, we are not so gauche and rude as to argue this point outright – we are much too subtle for that, so we use our logic, our “experience,” our “wisdom,” and innuendo [snide comments]  – to put other people down and make sure that everyone knows that we are superior to them.  We mention our wealth, our prerogatives, our accomplishments, or even the successes of our children – to elevate ourselves over others and make sure they know how “great” we are.

Application:  Now this may make for more aggressive salesmen, executives, or “builders of businesses,” but what does it do to the life of the church?  It destroys it!  And if we remember that the church is “the body of Christ,” His own beloved bride, and that “whatever you do to one of the least of these My brothers you have done it unto Me,” then we understand that the aggression of our selfish ambition is actually directed against God! 

So again, thank God that He was willing to suffer as the Lamb of God, and to take away our sin – for we are just like Adam and Eve, just like Cain, and just like the disciples: in desperate and dire need of God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy!  And this is what we have received from God in Christ Jesus – instead of the condemnation and punishment that we have deserved.

Transition:  But surely consideration of all of this helps us to understand that:

III.  We Must Turn Away From Selfish Ambition And Learn To Become Childlike – As Our Lord And Savior Jesus Christ Is


Text:  “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’  And He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in My Name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.”


A.  So We Are To Learn To Be Last Of All And Servant Of All – Ambitious For This, Not For Wealth, Power, Or Privilege Over Others


B.  We Are To Become Willing To Be Like Christ, Willing To Be Lambs Led To Slaughter, Willing And Eager To Take Up A Cross In Love And Service, For The Good Of Others


Statement:   Oh, we are so eager to grow up and be adults, great adults and leaders within the church.  And we are so infatuated with the “great” people of the church – with the great apostles and “saints” of the church.  We learn these things from others – somehow we have picked them up from those who preceded us, and they have resonated in our sinful hearts, even the wicked ambitions of the perverse “hierarchicalism” of Roman Catholicism which nearly destroyed the church! 

But again, we are far too sophisticated and sanctified to do this openly – so we do it subtly, perhaps not even noticing the evil in our hearts.  Lord, have mercy!

Application:  Now what would the church look like if we were all filled with great ambition and eagerness to be “last of all” and “servant of all,” eager and ambitious to “receive” all people as Christ’s dear children – blessing them and serving them “in Christ’s Name”?   I would suggest that this would make the church a most blessed place to be, and a wonderful family to be a part of.  It would certainly make the church stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the human groups we participate in in this fallen world of sin! 

Conclusion:  This is the will and plan of God for His dear people of faith, people for whom He was willing to be a “lamb led to slaughter” – that we might have His forgiveness, new life and salvation! 

We have this same potential – to turn away from selfish ambition and “disorder and every vile practice.”  We have freedom to serve one another in love – to avoid God’s opposition to the proud, to receive His grace in humility.  Certainly this will be better for us – and better for those around us, especially within the life of the church. 

So let us consider carefully our own “ambitions,” as we consider the great ambition of God – His love and His desire for our blessedness and good.  May our ambitions become more and more like His.  Amen.

Votum:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in the true faith, which is in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting, Amen.