Message by: Pastor Dan Erickson Scripture: Luke 9:46-48
Date: January 27, 2019 Audio: Transcript:
“I float like a butterfly I sting like a bee I am the greatest Muhammad Ali”
That is something Ali used to tell everyone with some frequency. And for a while, he was one of the best boxers the world has ever seen. And he knew it. He once said, “If you ever dream of beating me, you better wake up and apologize.”
Yet, a few years later, a combination of too many punches and what maybe were early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, turned Ali into a very mediocre fighter when his career ended in 1981. The greatness didn’t last.
Friends, human beings find true greatness to be an elusive goal. Yet, it seems to be a goal many pursue.
When I was twelve years old, I wanted to be the greatest baseball player – ever. That was my dream! I wanted to play first base for the Baltimore Orioles and hit sixty home runs a year, breaking all the records of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Things didn’t quite turn out that way!
Yet, it is not just kids who dream of greatness. I think most people have a desire, maybe not to be the best in the world, but to excel in some aspect of life. In some ways, that is a good thing.
I want to be an excellent preacher. That is a role to which I believe God has called me, and I should strive to do it well. And the better preacher I am, the more you folks who listen to me on Sunday mornings will benefit.
The problem is that our desire to excel is often accompanied by a desire for recognition. We want other people to know that we excel. And often that leads to an unhealthy competition.
The key becomes not how well we do something, but doing it better than someone else or actually having people think we are doing it better. This quest for greatness has a way of leading to rivalry, tensions and conflict, and seldom results in true greatness.
Friends, today our journey through the book of Luke brings us to chapter 9:46-48 (page 867). Here we find that Jesus’ disciples were concerned about being the greatest. Twice in his gospel, Luke records disputes among the twelve disciples about which one of them is the greatest – here in chapter 9 and again in chapter 22.
In our text today, we see Jesus giving a whole new perspective of what true greatness involves. Let’s pause and pray that through his Word and Spirit, the Lord would enable us to find the path to true greatness.
Luke 9:46 – An argument started among them (among the Twelve) about who was the greatest of them.
Luke doesn’t give us details about the discussion. Later, according to Matthew 20, they will argue about who gets to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in God’s Kingdom. It would be interesting to have a recording of this argument and hear the various disciples’ reasons why he should be considered the greatest.
Maybe John says, “I am the smartest.” Matthew claims, “I sacrificed the most to be a disciple.” Peter insists, “I am the most committed.” And Judas says…I can’t imagine what Judas would have said.
To me, it seems like a very strange conversation for followers of Jesus to have. Yet, there are churches and even denominations that claim that they are more faithful to Jesus Christ than anyone else. Some people even argue which church has the best pastor. A skeptic might say that is simply part of the apostolic tradition because here we see the twelve disciples arguing about who is to be considered the greatest.
Let’s take a look at Jesus’ response:
Luke 9:47-48 – But Jesus, knowing their inner thoughts, took a little child and had him stand next to him. He told them, “Whoever
welcomes (or receives) this little child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. For whoever is least among you – this one is great.”
The first thing to note is that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for desiring greatness. There is nothing wrong with being great or wanting to be great. Aspiring for greatness can be a healthy, God-given desire.
Jesus’ message is that the disciples, and pretty much everyone else, tries to attain greatness the wrong way. We tend to go down a road that doesn’t lead to greatness at all. The common view is that greatness means being better than anyone else.
Some people think Tom Brady is the NFL’s greatest quarterback because he has led his team to more Super Bowl victories than any other quarterback.
We would probably label the U.S. Air Force as the greatest in the world because, in combat, it would likely defeat any other air force.
We usually think greatness is about being on top. Thus, the path to greatness involves climbing over everyone else to get to the top. It is kind of like playing “King of the Hill.” We used to play that frequently when I was in grade school. There was almost always a big snow bank in the school yard at this time of year. The goal was to get to the top of that snow bank and push everyone else off.
That is how most folks seek to find greatness – climbing to the top and pushing others down. Thus, greatness occurs either when we rise higher than everyone else or when others sink lower than we do.
With that type of logic, Peter could claim he was the greatest disciple because, even though he denied Jesus, at least he didn’t run away after Jesus was arrested and go into hiding like the others. Jesus says all these claims and arguments are silly because this is not what greatness is about at all.
Luke 9:48b – “For whoever is least among you – this one is great.”
Jesus uses an interesting illustration to explain the path to true greatness:
Luke 9:47 – But Jesus, knowing their inner thoughts, took a little child and had him stand next to him.
Now, our culture has kind of a confused attitude about children. Sometimes, they are abused, and we fail to protect them as we should. Yet, in many ways, we are a child-centered culture. We rightly recognize that the future of our society depends on the well-being of our offspring. Sometimes, we even become a bit too child-centered, assuming children should be given the same rights and privileges as adults.
In the first century, children were not always valued and were rarely respected. What a child thought or felt was often viewed as insignificant. And there was nothing children could do to combat that attitude.
When someone thought of greatness in the first century, he/she didn’t think of a child. That is why it is somewhat shocking for Jesus to say:
Luke 9:48 – “Whoever welcomes (or receives) this little child in my name welcomes me.”
A common view is that the path to greatness involves, not so much what we know as who we know. Getting connected to people of influence and power is often seen as the road to success, the way to climb the ladder, the way to become king of the mountain.
Jesus says the way to greatness is a whole different path. Instead, it involves welcoming, receiving, helping, and loving those who seem helpless and unlovable. Greatness involves giving to those who have nothing to give back. It involves serving or putting one’s self underneath those who society thinks of as being at the bottom.
Then, when we think we are far removed from greatness, we hear the words of Jesus:
Luke 9:48b – “For whoever is least among you – this one is great.”
Perhaps what Jesus says in Matthew 20 makes it a little more clear:
Matthew 20:25 – Jesus called them (the disciples) over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them.”
That tends to be the world’s path to greatness – power over others.
Matthew 20:26-28 – “It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Friends, that is the measure of true greatness – what Jesus Christ did for us. As the eternal Son of God, he came to earth as a human being. He lived and died on behalf of people who were in rebellion against God, people who were really his enemies and who had nothing to offer him. Yet, he willingly died in their place.
Jesus was the eternal “King of the Mountain.” Yet, he came down and picked up people who were laying at the bottom of the snow bank, face down in the snow. He picked us up and set us on top of the mountain. Friends, that is the model of greatness. Being a servant is the path that leads to true greatness.
And friends, this is a better path to follow than the road to greatness which is often advertised. Greatness in our society is very temporary. Someone may be the greatest piano player in the world today, but that doesn’t mean he/she will be tomorrow. Once someone gets to the top, it often seems the only direction to go is down.
On the other hand, those who are servants get only a taste of greatness in this life. They will, however, reap the reward of greatness forever, permanently, in God’s eternal Kingdom.
Greatness in this world is pretty much an illusion. It is usually far less than it appears on the surface. Those of us who have had the opportunity to meet a celebrity or someone who is famous often are disappointed because that “great” person is very human and has imperfections just like anyone else.
Someone said, “The closer you get to a great mountain, the more impressed you are with that mountain, but the closer you get to great people, the less impressive they are.”
I would suggest, however, that the closer you get to those who are great servants, the more impressive it is because that greatness is real.
One of the amazing things about Billy Graham was not only was he considered a great man by the world’s standard, but he was a great servant. How do we know that? Because that is pretty much the unanimous testimony of those who knew him personally. The better someone knew this man, the more impressed they became.
Another weakness of the common view of greatness is that there is room for only one at the top. There can be only one “Greatest Scrabble Player” in the world, and the odds are that it is not going to be anyone in this room. Yet, all of us can attain greatness if we follow the path of servanthood. Some Bible translations give the impression that only one person can attain the greatness of servanthood. For example, the NIV translates the last part of Luke 9:48b this way:
Luke 9:48b NIV – “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Yet, Jesus actually said that anyone, meaning everyone, who is faithful following the path of servanthood will be great. So friends, true greatness comes from being a servant. I pray the Lord is using what I have said today to convince you of this fact.
Now, let’s turn our attention to some of the practical aspects of being a servant:
#1 A genuine desire to serve others flows out of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the simple spiritual rules we always need to remember is that faith comes before good
works. Faith in Jesus is an essential prerequisite for finding the greatness Jesus is talking about.
For one thing, most people, until they have experienced God’s grace in Jesus, are too focused on themselves to really be servants. Their goal is to convince themselves and convince the people around them that they are OK, that they are a worthwhile human being whose life has some significance.
Accomplishments, achievements and being the best at something are a big part of that. When that is the focus of your life, you often don’t even notice the needs of people around you.
Jesus, however, frees us from this need of approval. He gives freedom to focus not on ourselves, but others. How? Well, when we trust in him to save us, we are adopted into God’s family. That becomes our identity – a son or daughter of God.
We don’t have to prove anything to others or to ourselves. We are OK because of who we are in Jesus. And we are then free to look at the people around us and focus on their needs. And that, friends, allows us to follow the path of servanthood – the only road that leads to true greatness.
Yet, even then, as a believer in Jesus, it is not an easy road. Being a servant is not always fun. Many times it seems we would be better off looking out for ourselves rather than focusing on the needs of another person.
I am convinced that being faithful in serving others is not something we can really do in our strength. It is only as God, through his Spirit, works in our lives and creates love in our hearts, that we are able to faithfully serve those around us.
Thus, we cannot even get started on the path to greatness without trusting in the Lord Jesus as our Savior. Once we are on the path, we will not make any progress unless the Lord is beside us – encouraging and strengthening us and reminding us of the joy that is ahead and that, in the end, it will be worth it for those who have chosen to be servants.
#2 It is very hard to be a servant when there is no one willing to be served.
Often times, when people are in need, they are too proud to ask for help or even accept help. That even happens in the church. Maybe you have an unexpected bill that you don’t have enough money to pay. Or maybe there are some things around your house in need of repair and have been that way for quite a while because you don’t have the ability to fix them. Or maybe your car is in the shop, and there are a couple of places you should have gone but didn’t because you needed a ride.
Friend, when you need help, are you too proud to admit that? Are you too proud to let others know of your need? Are you too proud to allow others to serve you?
Now, we should be careful here. Some people are way too good at letting others do for them what they should be doing for themselves. No one has a right to expect others to pay their bills for them or even give them a ride to the grocery store. We should not expect others to be our servants. However, we sometimes need to swallow our pride and tell others about our needs. And we need to be humble enough to accept help when it is offered. It is not always easy to do that, but it is important that we do.
One of the strengths of Chisholm Baptist Church is that many folks here are willing to serve others. Our spiritual health depends on people willing to be served. Maybe you remember this song:
Brother, let me be your servant Let me be as Christ to you Pray that I might have the grace to Let you be my servant too We need the grace to let others serve us.
#3 When it comes to serving, we just need to do it.
We need to take those first steps down the road that will lead to true greatness. Now, there are numerous people who are great theoretical servants, who love to talk about serving others and profess their willingness to do so, but seldom get around to actually doing it.
Friends, the Lord wants us to just do it! Whenever we encounter someone in need (especially a brother/sister in Christ), we need to ask, “Lord, is there something you want me to do to help that person?” In fact, if you have the ability to help that individual, it probably would be a good idea to just do it – unless there is a pretty good reason why you should not.
Friends, though Jesus is clear that the path to greatness is servanthood, it still is not often a very heavily traveled road. Christians today often seem to focus more on leadership than servanthood.
Cal Thomas, the long-time newspaper columnist, was once referred to as “a Christian leader.” He said he was not exactly sure what that phrase meant. Yes, Thomas believes it is a privilege to have met and worked with many other so-called leaders. He is very grateful that people buy and read his books and considers it an honor when someone asks him to sign their copy.
Thomas adds, “It always seems strange when people want me to sign their Bibles because I didn’t write that.”
But then Thomas makes this important observation:
“I wonder if we have got things mixed up. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. In the church I used to attend, there was a man who had tremendous faith. His wife was an alcoholic. His daughter had psychological problems. He was often in poor health. Yet, week after week he never complained. He always smiled and asked how I was doing. He faithfully brought to church a young blind man who had no transportation. He always sat with the blind man, helping him sing the songs by saying the words into his ear.” Thomas, concludes, “I hope someday to be as much of a Christian leader as that man.”
Friends, at CBC, we don’t have any Cal Thomases. My columns in the Chisholm newspaper don’t quite match the 500 newspapers in which his columns appear. Yet, I do think there are people here like that man Thomas describes. Despite a variety of challenges, these people, without complaining, without being really noticed, serve others in the name of Jesus. Week after week after week. It seems unfortunate that these folks don’t get more recognition, but it’s OK. Why? Because as Jesus says, one day those who have faithfully served others will be considered great in God’s kingdom.
May the Lord enable us to be faithful servants!