There’s a Little Caesar in All of Us, and it’s Filled with Pride

In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare tells of the plot to kill the Roman leader, and the civil war that ensued. He portrays Caesar as an arrogant, delusional, man whose unrealistically high opinion of himself blinds him to other’s disdain for him, and ultimately leads to his downfall.

For example, in act three, scene one, Caesar gives a speech that reveals the true extent of his narcissism. He says…
“I could be well moved, if I were as you:If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:But I am constant as the northern star,Of whose true-fix'd and resting qualityThere is no fellow in the firmament.The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks,They are all fire and every one doth shine,But there's but one in all doth hold his place:So in the world; 'tis furnish'd well with men,And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;Yet in the number I do know but oneThat unassailable holds on his rank,Unshaked of motion: and that I am he,Let me a little show it, even in this;That I was constant Cimber should be banish'd,And constant do remain to keep him so.
In a gist, Caesar is claiming to be better than all other men, because other men aren’t as steady and stable as he. Ironically, though, just a few moments later, Caesar is killed by the very same people he believed thought so highly of him.

In many ways, we’re a lot like Caesar. Though we probably aren’t as boastful, we‘re not immune to pride. In fact, at times we’re all guilty of self-importance and failing to represent Christ as we should.

Perhaps we refuse to confess our sin because we don’t want others to think we’re broken. Maybe we look upon our own sin less critically, or believe our sacrifices are greater. Or, Perhaps we believe that what we bring to God’s kingdom is more valuable than what others bring, as the disciples do in today’s passage.

Like Caesar, they believe they’re better than others, because the think they have more to offer and contribute, and that is PRIDE; for you see, pride starts with COMPARING ourselves to others, as if everyone is our competition. It thinks things like: I work harder. I do more. I do better. I deserve more, and so on.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” He goes on to say that people aren’t proud of being rich, clever, or good-looking. On the contrary, “They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”[i]

The point is, pride starts by comparing ourselves to others which leads to self-satisfaction. It says things like: I can’t believe they did that. and I would never do something like that.
Robert Rayburn once wrote, “The insidious nature of pride is such that men and women rarely appreciate how proud they are, and the index of pride’s power over the heart is that even the purest motives of the Christian soul are deeply affected by it.”[ii]

Pride starts by comparing ourselves to others, leads to self-satisfaction, and ends with wanting to be God. It refuses to see it’s own weakness, accept any guidance; or acknowledge failure. It is, cynical of other’s motives, skeptical of their abilities, critical of their actions, but confident of it’s own. Pride is self-righteous, in that it deep down it wants to be God, and damages our relationship with him. That’s the very reason Adam and Eve got into trouble. They listened to the serpent’s lie that they could be like God if they ate from the tree.

Pride comes out when we boast, criticize, gossip, or lie, hate, envy, or grumble. Pride comes out anytime we Ignore God’s commands and thus, try to take his place in our lives. Though it may seem a bit disjointed at first, that’s what today’s text is all about. It’s an ongoing discussion between Jesus and his disciples about how They are called to imitate his humility. For those who love and obey him are expected to humble themselves just as he did.

Unfortunately, as last weeks passage proved, the disciples were spiritually slow and prideful. Despite Jesus’ stern rebuke and the revelation of his approaching death, Mark describes how they revealed their pride, by bickering about who would be the greatest in heaven, and so missed what Jesus was saying.

Mark writes, “they did not understand, and were afraid to ask.” Though they Jesus say it, they were clueless, because that’s what pride does. It obscures our view of the Savior. It makes it difficult to recognize him, and see that hope and grace he provides.

Of course, it’s hard to be too critical, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all been so focused on our ourselves that we’ve missed God’s blessing in our lives. That’s how pride blinds us. It makes us narcissistic and self-focused.

In a way it’s like trying to drive in heavy fog at night. Though you turn you headlights on to see, the fog simply reflects the light back at you. At the same time, pride is like murky water that keeps you from see beyond yourself.

A number of years back, a friend had found this out when he lost his wedding ring while swimming in a lake. Though he had hopes of finding it in clear, shallow lake, every time he swam to the bottom, he stirred up so much silt and the water became murky, making it impossible for him to see beyond his own hands, even with goggles, That’s what pride does to us.

It obscures our view of the Savior, making it difficult if not impossible to see the hope of forgiveness, redemption, healing, and restoration he provides, by grace through faith in him.
Interestingly, Matthew’s account of this event says the disciples “were greatly distressed,” by what Jesus said, while Luke’s account says that Jesus’ teaching, “was concealed from them.”[iii] 

Though some believe God “concealed” the truth from the disciples, and others believe it was Satan, it seems the actual reason they couldn’t understand Jesus, was pride. Specifically the pride they demonstrated when arguing about who would be 1st in the kingdom. Think about it.

The first time Jesus predicted his own death in Mark. 8:33 Peter tried to stop him; but J said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The “things of man” refer to the disciples’ belief that Jesus came to lead a revolution, overthrow the Romans and free them from oppression.

Since that’s what they expected him to do, when Jesus started talking about dying, they got nervous, because it meant their plans would come to an end, and so would they.  Consequently, when Peter rebuked him, he was implying that they knew better and their plans were more important.

Now, fast forward to what Matthew said about them being “greatly distressed.” Their reasons were the same. Sure, they were worried about J, but probably not as much as they were worried about themselves. Peter’s actions after Jesus’ arrest confirm that. That’s why they were so afraid to ask Jesus what he meant, because by asking, they’d revel what was in their hearts. Pride.

Pride says, I don’t care what you say, because I know better. I don’t care as much about you as I do myself, because I deserve better. The disciples’ pride started with a comparison to one another, but it lead to their desire to be God. It lead them to believe that their plans were better and more important than Jesus’ plans. Thus they couldn’t understand what he was saying about the hope of the resurrection, because their pride obscured their view of their Savior.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”[iv]
Pride obscures our view of the Savior, and leaves us hopeless. It rejects the immensity of his grace and fails to see him working in and through other people. As we see in the next few verses. where John expresses concern about the man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, Pride distorts the ministry of the gospel.

Though it’s likely some of John’s concerns about the man were driven by jealousy, there seems to be more to it than that. In his commentary on Mark, James R. Edwards explains. “Being in Jesus’ inner circle had at least some deleterious effects on John — as inner circles often do—for John’s elitist attitude toward the unnamed exorcist… repeats a similar attitude… when he and James desired to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritans[v], and when they asked if they could sit next to Jesus in glory.”[vi]

Instead of heeding Jesus’ teaching from the previous vs. John continued to see his call as one of entitlement, authority, and exclusion. He reveals these feeling when he says, to Jesus, “we told him to stop because he wasn’t following us.” He should have said, “he wasn’t following YOU.” The difference demonstrates his inflated ego and suspicions toward those who weren’t disciples, something he likely learned from the other, disciples.[vii]

Consequently, it much of the disciples animosity stemmed from pride that distorted their ministry of the Gospel. It made them think that anyone who was not with them, was against them; a view Jesus corrected in verse 40, when he said, “Those who are not against us, are for us.” They are on our side. Though we may not agree on all the finer points of theology, they are not our enemies. They are our allies.

They’re here for the same reason we are, to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Their ministry is the same: to share the news that while we will still sinners Christ died so we might be saved by grace through faith in him. It’s not a competition to see who can collect the most souls, raise the most money, build the biggest building, or develop the most programs. It’s God using broken people to build his kingdom for his glory.

That’s what humility looks like. It’s glorifying God with our lives, whereas pride, obscures the view of the savior, distorts our gospel ministry and dismisses our need for grace. It discounts grace’s value and extent of our need, but only for ourselves. When it comes to others, pride does the opposite. It points out their failures and magnifies their flaws. But when it looks at us, it fails to recognize the gravity our sin, and so keeps us from seeing how much we need G’s grace.

In verse 42, Jesus warns, that anyone causing a “little” one, “who believes in (him),” to sin, would be better off drowning in the sea with a “great millstone” around their neck. Unlike verse 36, where Jesus clearly speaks of kids, verse 42 is not exclusively about children. Though they are included in his intent, the language and context suggest he is talking about a broader group of people.

When Jesus uses a term “little” in verse 42, he’s using it to compare, not describe. In the previous section, the disciples looked down on the man casting out demons because he a Disciples. They thought “little” of him compared to themselves. Now Jesus is saying, “Don’t cause one of these people you consider “little” to stumble.” Whether they are man or woman, young, old, Jew, Greek, slave, or free. Don't do it!” Jesus isn’t describing anyone as “little,” he’s simply throwing the disciples comparison back at them.

In fact, the word Jesus uses for “little” is often translated lower, lesser, fewer, or humbler. It reiterates the thought of verse 41, that whatever is done to one of Jesus’ followers, regardless of their status, is done to Jesus himself. In a gist, it’s an admonition against pridefully discounting another Christian’s faith or causing them to sin, lest we be cast into the sea with a millstone around our necks, indicating no chance of rescue or survival.

We must not inhibit the growth of those we think are lesser, by wishing they were more like us. If that’s what we truly think about someone, e, that’s how we’ll treat them, and they’ll know, for pride has a way of revealing itself.
We must not injure the spirits of those we deem weaker by suggesting the things they think, say, and do are more sinful. Remember, Christ paid the same price for their sin as he did our own. Therefore, they’re just as forgiven as we are. In fact, that’s the reason Jesus speaks so gravely of pride; because it suggests that his sacrifice wasn’t enough for some, making us into God.
We must not undermine the faith of those who, in many ways, are more “humble,” by representing Christ so poorly, that they are be tempted to walk away. Whether it’s our hand, foot, or eye, that causes us to do so, we must separate ourselves from it.

The word J uses for hell, refers to the Hinnon Valley SW of Jerusalem where kings Ahaz and Manasseh burned children as sacrifices and later, turned into a dump by king Josiah. J compares hell to that place. Referring to the burnt sacrifices, he quotes the Isaiah saying it’s a place, “where worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [viii]

The quote is intended to serve as the strongest possible warning against underestimating our own need for grace. For the truth is, we all need it, equally and desperately.

None of us are better than another, “We all sin and fallen short of God’s glory.” “We all, like sheep, go astray, and turn to our own ways; but God has laid all our iniquity in Christ.”[ix]
Consequently, though our pride dismisses our need of God’s grace, his word, and our experience remind us of our great need. We need his grace so we can “be at peace with one another.”

As John MacArthur once wrote, “the antidote to pride is humility,” and the source of humility is grace, and I’m not talking about a false humility that feigns modesty while quietly criticizing the efforts of others thinking we could do better. It’s what Tim Keller calls, “self-forgetfulness.” [x]
In his book, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Keller writes, “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or less of myself, but thinking of myself less.”

He goes on, “True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. “(It’s) not needing to think about myself. (It) means I stop connecting every experience, or conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

“A truly gospel-humble person isn’t self-hating or self-loving, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.”[xi]

Keller ends his thought, explaining that a person with true gospel humility does is not devastated by criticism, but listens to them and sees them as an “opportunity to change.”[xii]

Not surprisingly, another great apologist, C.S. Lewis, shares this view. In his book, Mere Christianity, he writes, "Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, 'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?' The point it that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride."

No doubt, Caesar wouldn’t have liked it very much, nor do we; because there’s a little, Caesar in all of us, and its filled with pride. But C calls us to imitate his humility, by his grace, because that’s what his Ds are supposed to do.

[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Christian Behavior, Bk. 3, ch. 8, p 61
[ii] Robert Rayburn, Pride and Humility, Table Talk, May 2008, p64
[iii] Lk. 9:45; Mt. 17:23
[iv] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Christian Behavior, Bk. 3, ch. 8, p 61
[v] Lk. 9:53
[vi] Lk. 10:35
[vii] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary 289.
[viii] Josh 15:8; 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6; Jer 7:31; 32:35; Is. 66:24; see also Is. 64:6 and Ez. 36:16-21 for a comparison of our sin to garbage.
[ix] Rm. 3:23; Is. 53:6
[x] John MacArthur, 1 Timothy; Facebook: Daily Keller.
[xi] Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness
[xii] ibid

TITLE: There’s a Little Caesar in all of us, and it’s filled with Pride
TEXT: Mark 9:30-50
BIG IDEA: Disciples are called to Imitate Christ’s humility
Pride obscures our view of the Savior
Pride distorts our ministry of the Gospel
Pride dismisses our need of G’s grace