Jump Start # 2807
Matthew 18:1 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?’”
Louisville’s legend, Muhammad Ali, declared, “I am the greatest.” That was partly true because of his first class ranking as a boxer and likely, a bit of showmanship, which he loved to display. But here in our verse, the disciples are asking Jesus a most unusual question, “Who is the greatest?” Easily, Jesus could have said, “I am.” And, He was. But that wasn’t the direction the disciples were going. Among them, which one of us, is the greatest.
It floors me that they would even ask that question. What did they expect Jesus to say? There are several candidates we might consider for that role.
PETER: His name always comes first when we find a listing of apostles. He was one of the inner circle. He will preach the first gospel sermon. He is the first to go to the Gentiles. He authors two N.T. books.
JOHN: He was the one that Jesus told to care for His mother. He was the last apostle to die. It is believed that he was the only apostle not to be executed. He authored five N.T. books. He saw the Lord years later in a vision. He too, was one of the inner circle with Jesus.
JAMES: The first apostle to be martyred. The third part of that inner circle.
ONE OF THE OTHERS: Thomas, turned believer when He saw the resurrected Jesus. Andrew, the one who took people to Jesus.
Here are some things to note:
First, by asking this question, the disciples revealed that they didn’t understand Jesus. Humility was important to the Lord. Very important. Among the things God declared that He hated was “haughty eyes” (Prov 6). Had they watched, listened and payed attention to Jesus, they would have seen that the Lord never acted arrogantly.
Second, any names that the Lord provided would have driven wedges between the apostles rather than puling them together. There was enough cultural differences among them. A tax collector and a zealot. One from Judea and the rest from Galilee. Some were family and others were not. So, had the Lord said, “Peter is the greatest,” you can easily see how the rest would have despised Peter and maybe even tried to undermine him and make him look bad.
Third, the spirit of who is the best can run through our hearts and our congregations. It’s easy for us preachers to believe that the doors will close and the place will collapse if we are not around. We can start talking about who is the most important, most widely known, who holds the most meetings and with that create a list of what we think are the greatest among us. That’s vain, artificial and definitely headed down the wrong path. Some of the hardest working preachers are not well known. Holding meetings is more about who knows who than anything else. Widely traveled, household names are all it takes for someone to get a head larger than the front doors. Some of the most dedicated workers in the kingdom are not even preachers. They are men and women, who outside of their own congregations, most would not recognize. Most don’t know their names. Most have never heard from them. But these wonderful disciples give life, time and money to the kingdom. They have held congregations together when the winds of division have blown by. They have taught, influenced and led the people of God for decades. Famous, not to us, but they are to Heaven. You’d pass them on the street and not even know them.
Fourth, the desire to be known can get one in trouble. This concerns me about young preachers. The drive to write books, to be published, to be known as an author can be dangerous. It’s one thing to write if you have something to say. But to toot your horn that you are a writer, won’t open any doors nor will it get you a free meal. To be noticed often tempts one to be different, unusual, out of the box and that can be a dangerous place, especially for one young in faith or experience. Arrogance is a poison that kills many of us. It’s hard to deal with criticism when one is arrogant. It’s hard to listen to others when one is arrogant. The more the head swells, the less people want to be around you. And, when one starts taking about things outside the box, he best understand what’s inside the box to start with.
Finally, Jesus answered the disciples question. It wasn’t what they were expecting. A child was used as an illustration. Humble yourself like a child and you’ll be great. The way up is down. I have a bunch of young ones in our family. Ten grandchildren, with number eleven on the way. They are all under ten years old. We get the toys out and make a mess. When it’s clean up time, they jump in and do their part. When I ask them to help me pick up sticks, they run with eagerness. They smile. They laugh. They tell stories. They never ask which one is my favorite, because I don’t have one favorite. They are all my favorites. The humble pitches in. The humble serves. The humble doesn’t ask, “what about that guy?” The humble is thankful to be included. Who is the greatest? The one who has the spirit of a child. The one who is sweet, kind and willing to get along. The one who isn’t going to be asking the very question that you disciples asked.
This is sure something for us to think about in our times. We become great when we are helping others. You do that without telling others what you do. God notices. Heaven is aware. That’s all that matters.