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Entries in Greatness (3)

Tuesday
Feb092016

True Leadership

Luke 22:24-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 7, 2016. 

We have been looking at the Passover Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Each of the disciples was destined to have a critical role in the work of Jesus moving forward.  Yet, this brought great temptation with it.  They renewed an old favorite pastime of squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest disciple.  This argument gives rise to great insight from Jesus into what makes a great leader.

Who is the greatest disciple?

It is common in any group to have a clash of inflated evaluations of self and the disciples were not immune.  Verse 24 brings this out.  Of course, self-evaluations are always there and are not wrong necessarily.  However, Jesus taught that judgments should not be according to appearance, but rather should be righteous (John 7:24).  Clearly the disciples failed on this evening.  Yet, they become an example of what we should not do.  Take joy in the fact that, even when you fail, you can provide an example to yourself and others.

The word translated as dispute is a bit unclear.  The word that is translated here means more than just a dispute and the strife that goes with it.  It is literally a “love of disputes” that is referred to.  Thus this was not just a difference of opinion, but a love of arguing with each other.  Sometimes when you argue with someone you realize that either you or they fall into the trap of arguing for arguments sake.  You may use logic for your point but then refuse that same logic from the other side, which is both illogical and hypocritical.  Such love of dispute is not anchored in a love of God, or a love of righteousness and truth.  It is anchored in contention itself.  Conflict can become a habit that mimics addiction.  However, Christians are called to be peacemakers, not lovers of strife.  Their question of which of them is the greatest stirs up a spirit of arguing within the group.

Jesus steps in and uses the situation to teach about true leadership.  Notice the word “considered.”  They are all concerned on how they are considered by the others.  They each think the others should consider them the greatest.  Jesus points this out as a problem.  They are thinking like the world about power and position.  He reminds them that in the world the rulers exercise dominion and rule over the people.  The people in turn often admire them and give flattering titles like “benefactor” to them.  Thus in the world leaders are often seeking the admiration of the crowd and the titles that they may give in consideration of them.  People will often take pride in an oppressive leader if they think the leader is benefiting the status of the nation within the world.

Greatness is defined by Jesus

Our knee-jerk answer to the question of which of them was the greatest might be to exclaim, “None of you are great!  Only Jesus is great!”  Yet, take notice that this is not how Jesus responded.  None of them are claiming to be greater than Jesus.  They are only thinking among themselves, and Jesus gives them an honest explanation of what greatness is in God’s eyes, rather than men’s.  So who do you want to “consider” you great, God or people?

Christian leadership must not seek privileges nor to be served by others.  Jesus points out that in the systems of this world the older ones obtain privileges the higher they move up in leadership.  To become like the younger is not to use the system for these privileges.  In fact it is to be as one who has none.  One of the problems with our government today is the many privileges that they have legislated for themselves.  This is also seen in the way that great leaders of this world are served by lesser leaders.  To move up in leadership is to have more servants at your beck and call.  This creates a kind of sycophantic system in which younger leaders serve greater leaders in flattery and unhealthy ways in order to obtain position and privilege.  Think of how corrupt religious and secular institutions can become through this dynamic.  Even in the sciences there is a system in which the younger plebes do research and write papers in order to please the older ones who hold the power of their advancement.  In a perfect world this would not be a problem.  But, welcome to Earth.

How does the Lord respond to this?  “Not so among you!”  It is sad to see how often we have tossed such words aside in the heat of the moment in order to obtain what our flesh desires, greatness.  Whether in local churches, within denominational structures, or among the body of Christ as a whole, we have continued to transgress this command and to our own detriment.

Yet, Jesus then points to himself.  The example that Jesus gave of servant-leadership is contrary to the way of the world.  It would be interesting to know exactly when the foot-washing of the disciples occurred.  Even so, it works the same whether he had already done it or did it right after these words.  As Jesus washes their feet, he takes a lowly position that would be given to the lowest plebe in any worldly system.  All of the disciples would have stated strongly that Jesus was the greatest among them.  Thus Jesus highlights the inner dissonance that exists.  They know that he is the greatest and yet they continue to follow the world’s ways in order to obtain their own greatness.  The greatest leader in God’s eye is the one who will come down off their throne and serve those under them.  The world serves for the privileges and the accolades of men to the expense of pleasing God.  The disciples of Jesus must not follow that model.  The believer must reject privilege and use the position and power to serve those “under” their authority.  Even then, the service must be done not to please those you help, but instead God.  Of course Jesus was within 24 hours of his ultimate service.  He would become the substitute for the punishment of their sin.  If Jesus led to please his disciples, he would have never gone to the cross.  They didn’t want a crucified leader.  They wanted Jesus to walk into Jerusalem and take over.  They wanted the fame of the world, not the hatred.

The rewards of following Jesus

In verses 28-30 Jesus changes his tone.  Though he has verbally stripped them of any appearance of being great disciples, he transitions to what they have done that he thinks is truly great.  On top of that he tells them they will be rewarded for it.  Many had left Jesus over the course of the last months.  The crowds had quit following after him.  Even Judas was in the middle of leaving him.  The disciples themselves would scatter in unbelief of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  Even today, followers of Jesus are being challenged.  Will we leave Jesus in order to give allegiance to something else?  Or, perhaps we will simply redefine Jesus and thus serve “another” Jesus, a Jesus of our own making and in our own image?  These men had remained with Jesus through his trials.  The word has the sense of a trial that is intended to prove the genuineness of something.  Jesus was enduring a test to prove whether he truly was the Anointed Son of God.  His teachings and way of living life was undergoing a test.  And, as he is being tested, so those who are learning his way are to be tested.  Jesus was joyous to have these men in all their weakness and frailty, who had nevertheless stuck with him.  “Who else has the words of Life, Lord?”  The truth of Christ and his way is undergoing a test in this generation.  Will we stand by Jesus unwavering, or will we betray him?  Will we learn to seek his approval, or will we seek the consideration of each other, striving to be seen as great?  His testing is our testing.  So, learn to trust the master.  His way leads to life.

Verses 29-30 are interesting.  In a sense Jesus speaks of two kingdoms: one that he is giving to his disciples and one that they will join him in later.  The way they lead in the kingdom that he gives them will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom later.  He will not be present as they lead the Church after his ascension.  Thus their faithful service in the first century to lay down a foundation for the Church to be built upon would be rewarded in the coming millennial kingdom.  If we will listen to the commands of our Lord then we will find sure reward later.  Do not worry about the level of your authority and strive to get higher and higher.  Whatever authority comes your way in life, use it to honor Jesus and not yourself.  Use it to serve those under you in a way that will cause the Lord to think you are great.  At times that may make people under your influence to think less of you.  But that must not matter to us.

Do not embrace worldly thinking in any part of your life, much less within the Church.  It is high time that we drop the ways of the world and adopt the ways of the master, our Lord Jesus.

Leadership audio

Tuesday
Aug262014

Misunderstanding Greatness

Luke 9 is filled with situations that deal with the issue of greatness: the greatness of Jesus, the greatness of his disciples, and the world’s idea of what greatness means.  Today’s passage is Luke 9:51-56 and focuses on Jesus being rejected by a Samaritan village.  When Jesus is rejected several of the disciples want to destroy the village.  This story forces us to ask the question, “How should a great person react to rejection?”  Isn’t greatness defined by how many people receive you?  In truth, Jesus was great.  The crowds initially flocked to him for self-interest.  But, the closer he came to the cross the fewer people there were around him.  So let’s look at this passage.

The Resolution of Jesus

It says in verse 51 that when Jesus knew it was time to be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.  This Hebrew idiom of setting ones face towards something is a picture of resolve.  If you want to go somewhere you first turn yourself in that direction.  Christ intentionally headed towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion.  It was the next major stop along his destination of sitting at the right hand of the Father.  However, this Samaritan village was along the way.

Now let me just point out that when it says Jesus was to be received up (also to be taken up) it is pointing to the ascension into heaven.  This same word is used in 1 Timothy 3:16, “He was…taken up into glory.”  It is easy sometimes to know the wonderful things ahead of ourselves and not pay attention to the difficult things that lie in the path to it.  Jesus is headed towards ascension, but rejection and crucifixion lie on the path to it.  It takes firm resolve and a steadfast spirit to stay on such a path.  In order to be glorified our Lord must first be killed.  He bravely marches towards his death because he knows it is a necessary step towards the heavenly work he is doing now.  If he is not crucified and resurrected, then he will not be able to be that high priest who intercedes for us before the Father.  Thus, it is important for us, as believers in Jesus, to understand the purpose of God in this day and age.  We have a glorious future ahead of us that God has promised.  And yet, there are many difficult things that we will encounter throughout our life on our way to that glory.  We may not understand all that they are as Christ did.  However, we must prepare ourselves to be resolute and steadfast.  I have to learn to firmly march towards things that I do not want to deal with in order to reach the good things that God has for me on the other side.

A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus

Though John 4 records the Samaritan village of Sychar receiving Jesus, here we have the opposite.  As Jesus is headed towards Jerusalem, certain ones are sent ahead to prepare a place to stop, rest, eat, and most likely minister as well.  This would prevent a situation where they all arrive weary and hungry while someone looks for a place to stay.  Plus, it would enable the word to get out to the surrounding area that Jesus would be there.  He could minister to far more that way.  Yet, at some point, the destination of Jesus comes up and the villagers are not happy.  Jesus is headed to Jerusalem.

The racial and religious difference between the Samaritans and the Jews comes to a head here.  The wall of hostility between the two was because of the attitudes of both sides.  They were willing to embrace Messiah if he promoted their side of the religious argument.  Of course Jesus was not a partisan in this debate.  He pointed out the errors of the Samaritans and the Jews.  In fact, the religious Jews were rejecting Jesus for many of the same reasons.  He wasn’t supporting their view.

Now it is most likely that it was the elders of the village who were standing in the way of Jesus staying there.  Either way, the effect of that decision is that they will miss out on a blessing.  The blessing of healings, being set free from sin, and salvation, could have come to this village.  Pride and stubbornness often cause us to miss out on blessings that God has for us.  He is not going to force them upon us.  Yet, we push them away because of things we are not willing to experience.  Are you so tied up in the interpretations and traditions of your ancestors that you are missing what God is trying to do today?  Even the secular world has its own traditions and views of life.  Yet, whether for religious or non-religious reasons, our pride and stubbornness can wall us off from God’s blessing.

James And John Rebuked

James and John’s violent reaction to the offense of rejection is rebuked by Jesus.  But let’s look a little deeper here.  Why would James and John be so offended that they want to destroy the village?  We are given no description of what is going on inside of James and John.  However in Mark 3:17 we are told that Jesus had nicknamed these two, “Sons of Thunder.”  They both seem to have had stormy, quick tempered personalities.  We definitely see such here.  There is probably some bigotry going on here as well.  Jesus had been rejected in other places too.  But this Samaritan village receives their greater wrath.

Either way, James and John ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven and destroy the village.  Yes, they were probably offended on behalf of Jesus.  But they were men just like you and I.  They were offended on their own behalf too.  They don’t want to scare the villagers, or give them a sign to impress them.  Rather, they want to destroy them.  They ask Jesus because he is the master and because it is in keeping with what happened earlier in Luke 9.  Jesus had given his disciples authority to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  He hadn’t given them authority to do this.  Thus they are more than asking permission.  They don’t have the ability to bring fire from heaven.  They are asking for God to back up their pronouncement.  Have you ever prayed such a prayer?  “Lord, give me the power and strength to crush and destroy those who stand against me!”  We need only look at how our Lord responded to those who stood against him to know his response to us.

Now the newer translations only say that Jesus rebuked them and they left.  This has to do with the fact that when the older translations were done we didn’t have all the manuscripts we do today.  It seems that early on some notes were added (whether by Luke or others we do not know) to explain further. 

So, the words “like Elijah” appear to have been inserted.  This explains the reason the disciples would have thought of such a drastic action.  They are clearly thinking back to the story of the prophet Elijah in 2 Kings 1.  After Ahab’s death, Ahaziah ruled.  One day he falls and is injured.  So he sends messengers to the false god Baal-Zebub in the Philistine city of Ekron for a prophetic word concerning whether he would recover or not.  Elijah intercepts the messengers and tells them to tell Ahaziah that he is going to die.  When Ahaziah hears the news he is angry and sends 50 troops out to capture Elijah.  The captain of the troops refers to Elijah as “man of God.”  To which Elijah responds, “If I am a man of God then may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.”  Fire does come down from heaven.  Ahaziah sends out another 50 men with the same results again: fire comes down and consumes them all.  When Ahaziah sends out a third group of fifty soldiers, the captain is a humble man.  He tells Elijah why he has been sent but also begs for his life and the life of his men.  Elijah then relents and goes with him.  In this story Elijah represents God’s Law and is not going to be killed by Israel’s king.  When we approach God in arrogance and the might of men we can only expect to be judged by His law. But when the man approached in humility and begged for grace, he was received.

Now that situation is very different from the Samaritan village.  We can be too quick to use examples of godly men for our own justification.  Christ had been rejected before and no such thing was ever encouraged.  He had told them when he sent them out that if they are rejected they are to shake the dust off of their feet and move on.  In the case of Elijah they sought to apprehend the man of God outside of God’s will.  But, here they do not want to apprehend Jesus.  They are simply saying, “Go somewhere else.”

Jesus rebukes this attitude.  Whether these words were added or not, anyone who has studied the teachings of Jesus knows that this is exactly the reason he would rebuke them.  The spirit of Christ was not motivating them to destroy the villagers, but rather it was the spirit of Satan.  What manner of spirit am I?  That is a powerful question.  The Bible says in Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”  They wanted to judge quickly out of hurt pride and revenge.  This is not how God judges mankind.  When God’s judgment comes it will not come out of pride and hurt.  It will come from a pure holy understanding that nothing more can be done to reason with those who have chosen rebellion.

Even the teachings of Christ stand in opposition to this vengeful request.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who do you wrong.  Bless them that curse you.  Jesus commands this, not because it is okay.  But, he commands it precisely because the long suffering judgment of God has been appointed for a specific day and it will come upon them.  This is the day of God’s grace.  This is the day where God wrestles with man and cries out, “Why will you die?  Come let us reason!”  The spirit of this world is quick to judge and quick to destroy.  But, the Spirit of God is slow to judge in order to leave room for repentance.

Thus Jesus rebukes his disciples because he is here to save people not destroy.  It is impossible for fallen men to perfectly perform the judgment of God.  Only Jesus can do that.  He is the one whom God will send to judge the world and many will be destroyed in that judgment.  Judgment is final and we are too quick to pronounce eternal judgments.  There is no overturning it and no coming back from it.  Thus God is slow to judge.  Don’t let your emotions misrepresent God.  We too often get God’s greatness mixed up with our own.  Jesus says to us, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  This will take a steadfast resolve and a humble understanding of what a great person does when they are rejected. 

Misunderstanding Greatness Audio

Tuesday
Aug192014

Greatness in God's Kingdom

Today we are going to be in Luke 9:46-50.  Here we are going to see some rivalry between the disciples of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible we run into different kinds of rivalries: between siblings, within marriages, between nations, and here among God’s leaders.  At the heart of rivalries is often the desire to have the attention or favor of a parent, or spouse, or even God himself.  There is nothing wrong with wanting favor.  However, when we want that favor at the expense of another it is wrong.  These situations can take on a whole life of their own, in which even siblings who are now adults continue to fight each other long after their parents are gone.

The disciples could not understand that the powerful workings of Christ were leading to a cross, rather than to the throne of Israel.  In their mind power means greatness and greatness means the throne.  This is the kind of worldly thinking that causes us to chafe against the ways of the Lord.  We need to change how we view greatness and lowliness in serving God.

Which Of Us Is The Greatest?

So let’s look at verses 46-48 to discover which of us is the greatest.  Somewhere along the road the disciples began to have strife with each other.  This strife developed into a dispute among them as to which of them was greatest.  Now the word “dispute” here is literally reasoning or a line of reasoning without reference to whether it is in one’s head or actually spoken to others.  The term “among” them also is general in nature.  Whether every single one of them thought they were the greatest or not, a spirit of self-promotion had come into the group and had lead to friction.  Apparently these disputes were not happening in front of Jesus because it says that he “perceived” their rivalry and the source of it.

Now if we were to answer the disciples we might piously state, “Knock it off!  Jesus is the greatest, period!”  However, the disciples are not thinking they are greater than Jesus.  They really are arguing over 2nd place.  Which of us will have the prestige of being the Right Hand of Jesus?  So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  In truth some will serve Christ greater than others.  In the coming Kingdom some will have greater positions of authority than others.  Who will it be?

Now we need to recognize up front that we pretty much always see things in our favor and this not righteous.  Let me describe a scenario for you.  So you are watching a sporting event in which you don’t care about either team.  However, you have two buddies who are each strong supporters of different teams.  As penalties and friction happen in the game you will see them arguing strongly against each other.  “That was a foul!  No it wasn’t!”  Of course when the situation is reversed the guy who thought it was a foul before will suddenly not see it as a foul now, simply because he doesn’t want it to be a foul.  Our sin nature infects the way that we think and tends to bring up thoughts and lines of reasoning that justify ourselves and condemn others.  This self-promotion over the top of others is not good.  In fact, it is contrary to the way of Jesus.  It is the source to their inability to understand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Think about this truth.  Our thinking will tend to go against the way of Jesus and towards our own self-promotion, or greatness.  Such things lead to division and dissension among Christians, and is an open door to the work of the enemy.  If we want to follow Jesus we are going to have to drop the concern of our own promotion.

Now Jesus answers this by using a child as an object lesson.  In this situation the child represents someone who has zero status.  He may belong to Jesus, but he is low on the scale of greatness.  To receive this child can mean many things.  But, in this situation it probably focuses on ministry.  People were often coming to Jesus asking for help.  When he “received” them, he was allowing them not just to come to him, but also be healed.  Jesus equates ministering to those of zero status as the same as ministering to God Himself, who has the greatest status.  Notice that we don’t tend to think that way.  Wouldn’t you rather be the right hand man of the King rather than the right hand man of a pig farmer?  Doesn’t one seem like a position that is “greater” than the other?  Yet, Jesus is equating them.  This is a hard lesson to learn emotionally.  We may understand it intellectually, but our heart and desires resist this way to which Jesus points us.

Jesus then tells them that “He who is least among you all will be great.”  He is basically telling that if they want to be great they need to seek the lowest place.  His answer is really challenging our definitions.  The least, by their definition, would be great, by God’s definition.  The beauty of this answer is that Jesus tells them to quit seeking what they think is the “greatest place” and start seeking what they see as the “lowest place.”  It is a rebuke to humble their minds and hearts.  This is more than simply refraining from promoting yourself.  This is a radical 180 degree turn to actually demote their self.  In this world you will probably never see anyone ask for a demotion.  All of this hinges on changing our worldly reasoning and definitions about greatness.  John the Baptist understood this when he said to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Though John would be tested on this declaration when he was put in prison, He understood that It was not about him.  It was all about Jesus.  This is a principle we need to live by within our own life.  The thinking and actions of Jesus need to increase in my life and the old thinking and actions need to decrease.  Jesus must be promoted in my life and I must be demoted.  Seek the lowest place.

Before we leave this; notice that Jesus does use the word “greater” or even greatest.  He merely says great.  Greater and greatest are terms of comparison.  Whereas great is a term that simply describes one despite its relationship to others.  This attitude of comparison is something that we need to flee.  The disciples are not simply wanting to be great, but wanting to be greater than each other. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul states, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  The disciples were being foolish and opening a door for the enemy in their lives.  In Christ all ministry is measured by our faith in God and faithfulness to what He gives us.  If he sends us a small child then we will minister unto that small child as if it were God himself.  We can be great because we do it out of love for Him and by His direction.  If we are given a task by the greatest one it is by definition a great task.

Our Desire For Greatness Squelches Ministry

In verses 49-50 we see that our desire for ministry can get in the way of ministry and even stop it.  Sometimes instead of trying to completely shut down ministry we can simply try to control it.  Jesus rebukes such activity.

When Jesus tells them to receive a small child in His name, John is remind of a man that they had not received.  He tells Jesus the situation and Jesus tells him that they had acted wrongly.  They had come upon a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  They told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the 12.  Up to this point they are the only ones that Jesus had told to do this.  They were being territorial over this kind of ministry.  “Who do you think you are?”  It is most likely that this guy had seen the disciples themselves ministering and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had decided to follow their example.

Now one thing we need to recognize is that this guy must have had faith in Jesus.  He is doing the same thing the disciples did.  Whereas in Acts 19 the 7 sons of Sceva, who are not believers in Jesus, tried casting out demons “by the name of Jesus that Paul preaches…”  The demon states that it knows who Paul and Jesus are but not them and proceeds to beat the guys up.  The ability to cast out the demons demonstrates that the guy had true believing faith in Jesus.  So why shut down a fellow believer who is only doing what Jesus told us to do?  There is no room for such rivalry in the Kingdom of God.  It is a wrong spirit and opens the door for the enemy to sow seeds of dissension and destruction.

Jesus states that “He who is not against us is for us.”  This man was not speaking against Jesus.  In fact, he was clearly promoting Jesus.  This statement is the Lord’s stand against cliques that develop within His kingdom.  Now a denomination is not the same thing as a clique.  But it can develop these kind of attitudes of superiority and rejection of others, based merely on their own reasoning and not the reasoning of Christ.

Walking humbly before God and our fellow man is not an easy thing for our flesh.  It runs counter to our sinful nature.  This is why we are told to daily crucify our sinful nature.  There is going to be friction, and we are going to have to continually die to our self, and humble ourselves before one another, and forgive each other. Greatness for the believer is about following Jesus who laid his life down for us.  It is about laying our lives down for each other.

Greatness Audio