Sunday, March 3, 2019
Who Will Be the Greatest?
Once upon a time there was a king who wanted to build a church that would honor him. He would personally supervise the work and only he would provide the money for its completion. The glory was to be his.
It was intended that by this means his name would be revered and remembered by successive generations. In due course the church was finished. Upon its completion he commanded that a tablet be placed on the side of the building. On this tablet, his name would be carved. Also, they would carve the information that he was the sole builder and benefactor.
The church was opened with great pomp and ceremony. The king retired that night well pleased with himself. But that night he dreamed that an angel came down from heaven. The angel erased his name from the tablet and instead put in its place the name of a poor woman.
When the king awoke the next morning, he dismissed the dream from his mind. But, the next night he had the same dream. Again, the angel erased his name from the tablet and replaced it with that of the poor woman. He awoke next morning. He was irritated but soon put it from his mind.
The third night again the angel came and, again, his name was removed and replaced with that of the poor woman. He arose next morning very angry. He demanded that a search be carried out for a woman of that name. In no time at all, they found her! She lived in that village on the side of the hill on which the church was built. He sent for her.
She came frightened into his presence. He demanded to know what she had done to spoil the glory of his work. She answered, “Sir, I love the Lord. I was so pleased to see the church being built to His glory. I wanted to give something, but I knew your wish. So all I did was to give the horses some hay and water as they toiled up the hill with the building blocks. I did nothing more, Sir."
Suddenly the king was brought to tears. He saw that an action so simple and full of love to God had done more to endow the building than all of his money. She had done more for the glory of God with her handfuls of hay and water than he had done with his magnificent gifts. So that it might be a lesson to both himself and his people, he commanded that his name be erased from the tablet and the poor widow's name carved there instead. And they all lived happily ever after.
This story ends much like a fairy tale is supposed to end. Everyone is happy; No lasting problems or effects from the king’s actions. But how often do we as human beings allow our pride to get the best of us? And our stories don’t always end “happily ever after.”
Sometimes in our pursuit for glory & honor, we destroy those around us. Instead of taking care of the ones we love, we, just like those closest to Jesus, are often more concerned with the answer to the question: “Who is the greatest?”
If you remember the last time we read from Luke’s Gospel, Peter and the other apostles were trying to figure out what “Messiah” meant. When Peter called Jesus, “Messiah,” he envisioned a certain type of person: powerful and great—the ruler of the world! But Jesus began to reorient his friends toward another vision of Messiah. One who would suffer, be rejected and finally murdered.
Now, you might think that would end the discussion, but you would be wrong. Only a few days later, His disciples are at it again!
"An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, 'Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.'” - Luke 9:46-48 (NRSV).
Well, if they didn’t feel small before, I bet they did after that. Jesus has to explain it to them again. Can you believe they were having that conversation? Trying to decide who would be the greatest. In other words, trying to decide who Jesus would pick! After all, they evidently have not been convinced that Jesus would not be an earthly king!
Who will Jesus pick to rule with Him? Who will be 2nd in command? Who will be the greatest? Evidently, it takes them a long time to get it.
Just before Jesus and His disciples head to the Garden of Gethsemane—wouldn’t you know it—they are having this same conversation again! Sometimes people can be so stubborn!
Being a part of God’s kingdom does not mean you will be the best, the richest, the most powerful or the greatest! More often than not, being a part of God’s kingdom means you will be last...at the bottom...like a little child.
When people of God’s kingdom fail to understand this simple concept, nothing good can happen. If you don’t believe me, just look at what happens next in this text.
"John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” - Luke 9:49-50 (NRSV).
What happened here? John has failed to understand the inverted nature of the kingdom. He is greatly offended that someone else is getting a part of the action: “Jesus, I thought we were the only ones who could do that! That’s not fair Jesus! We are your chosen ones…not them! How dare they serve your kingdom!”
Pride can hinder much more than our individual egos if we let it. Just like the apostles let it on this day. Pride can actually hinder the work of God’s kingdom! Will God’s people ever learn this lesson?
There is a congregation in Singapore right now that is facing a very difficult time. The congregation was established in the 1950’s. It has seen much growth. It is a pillar of Christ in that community. Literally thousands of people have been brought to Christ because of its influence over the years.
If you know much about that area of the world, you know that the price of real estate is unimaginable! In the 1950’s, the missionaries who bought the building got a great deal. The economy of Singapore was not what it is today. The cost of real estate was much cheaper. But since the development of that island and because of the influence of the West in that part of the world, prices have skyrocketed!
For instance, the small building they meet in weekly would sell for many millions of dollars. A small auditorium, 2–3 classrooms. That’s all! In order to understand their predicament, you have to understand a bit of their history.
The missionaries who started this congregation lived and worked there for many years. Then they returned to the United States to work. They left the building in the hands of the congregational members, but held the deed in their own name. Over the decades, the church has become self-sufficient with its own leaders and ministers. As a missionary would say: It is now an indigenous congregation!
But a few years ago, this now much older missionary returned in his retirement and he wanted the power he had when he left. He wanted to call the shots. After all, he helped establish that congregation. He got it all started! He held the deed to their building! He was the greatest!
Well, he showed them! He has refused to leave the congregation the deed to the building. Instead, he is handing it back over to the government of Singapore. In a short time, there will no longer be a church building in Singapore for that congregation. The many members will have to split up or find a different place to meet. The state will take control of the property and sell it for millions. Hey, but at least this missionary got his way! At least those Christians in Singapore will stop doing the work of God without him!
Why is it that so many of us are still engaged in this conversation? No matter how many times Jesus corrects us, no matter how many years pass, we can still be heard following in His footsteps asking, “Hey, Jesus, who is the greatest?”
I remember when I first entered ministry in Stamford, TX. During those years, that community had been in a horrendous drought. People lost their farms. Others had to move away. Families were decimated because of the lack of rain! Several members of that community got together and thought it would be a good idea to pray for rain. In fact, the idea originated with the Methodist minister.
So, for several days, many of us gathered in the town square and prayed. And here is what was really disturbing to me. First of all, even though we represented one of the largest gatherings in Stamford on Sunday morning, on each of those occasions, we might have had 4–5 people show up. But that is not the worst part. The worst part involves the excuses I heard:
* “We can’t go there.”
* “We can’t do that.”
* “We don’t want to be associating with those denominations!”
You know what? Sometimes people you don’t agree with on everything still do some really good things. Sometimes those people meet in a different building on Sunday morning. Sometimes they sit next to you in this building. Sometimes they don’t meet in any building on Sunday morning.
The question is: How will you respond? Will you thank them for their help? Will you join them in their efforts? Or will you stand back and sneer and ridicule their efforts because, after all, “He’s not one of us!”
We would do well to remember the words of Jesus:
“Whoever welcomes this child in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me, welcomes the One who sent Me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”