Friday, 24 May 2013

I am the greatest! (Matthew 20:20-28)

I am the greatest!
The famous American boxer Muhammad Ali was known for his tag line ‘I am the greatest!’ The media, his rival boxers, everyone around at the time were left in no doubt as to what he thought about himself. 

  As a Christian I wonder whether you have ever thought of yourself, even for a short-while, as being a ‘great’ Christian?  What does it even mean to be great in the Kingdom of God anyway? We know what it means to be great in the world of football – everyone can see that Messi is a great player (if not the greatest) because of the staggering number of goals he has scored.  We know what it means to be great in the business world – we consider people like Mark Zuckerberg to be a great businessman because of the products and wealth he creates.  But what does it mean to be great in the Kingdom of God?

  In Matthew 20:20-28 we see Jesus, in response to an audacious request from his cousins; James and John, define for us what greatness looks in like in the Kingdom of God. 

His definition?


To be great in Kingdom of God is to be humble.
If we love Jesus we should want to be great on His Kingdom terms, so here is three things we can do to cultivate humility in our hearts and lives.

1.     Change our thinking
  One of the problems with James and John was that they took their societies definition of greatness and applied it to the Kingdom of God.   Back in Jesus’ day if you had asked any Jewish person what they thought the Messiah’s mission was going to be like the idea of Military or Royal territorial power and influence would have probably come into their minds because of the sort of world that was around them.
  Of course we know that the Roman Empire was at the height of its power during the time of Jesus; from England to Africa and from Syria to Spain, one in every four people on earth lived and died under Roman law.   The Emperors such as Augustus and Tiberius had enormous power and even the leaders of provinces such as Herod King of Judea enjoyed a huge amount of influence.
  To be great in the Kingdom of God means not as James and John thought, the same as being great in the Roman world, to “lord power and exercise authority over people” but rather to serve.   Not to be proud but to be humble.   “Not so with you,” Jesus says, people who are part of God’s Kingdom should not have the same attitude as others, “instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
  They needed to have their thinking realigned with Christ’s way of thinking.  As Paul writes to the church in Rome, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds”.  In fact, the word repentance, in Greek Metanoia, literally means a change of mind or thought.   
If we are Christians we need to consciously align ourselves with the rule and reign of God in every area of our lives and that includes our thinking.

2.   Check our pride
  Another problem with James and John’s definition of greatness was that it was tainted with pride.  Their hearts were still full of self - centeredness.  They could see Jesus was someone very special and as they were related they saw the opportunity to get some of the glory.
Pride is the root of all sin. The German reformer Martin Luther described sin as “man curved in on himself.”
  Right back at the very beginning in Genesis we see Adam and Eve’s pride, their desire to be God, bring about the fall across the earth.   A few chapters later in Genesis 11 we read about the Tower of Babel, a short story which elucidates the pride that sits within the hearts of mankind.  A phrase in this story that stands out as being representative of the ambitions of so many societies and people throughout the ages is the phrase: “Let us make a name for ourselves”.
  Everywhere in our culture we see people who are out to make a name for themselves.  On television shows such as The X-Factor, for example, young men and women desperate to be famous.   In business and enterprise often people will stop at nothing to be successful and make a name for themselves.  And in sport who doesn’t want to be the one who scores the winning goal and receives all the glory and accolade that goes with it.
James and John wanted to make a name for themselves and if we look into our own hearts I’m sure we can think of occasions when we wanted to make a name for ourselves.
Tim Keller describes pride the carbon monoxide of sin.   It silently and slowly kills you without you even knowing.   We need to be awake to the reality and danger of pride in our lives and consciously be checking ourselves for traces of it.

3. Cling to Christ
  Like any great value of the Kingdom; giving, praying, healing, sharing, loving, whatever it is we are called to look to Christ as our great example. 
If we want to know what it means to be humble, if we want to know what true greatness looks like, we need to turn away from the world and the pride in our hearts and look to Jesus ,“who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our great King and Lord humbled Himself and served us to such an extent that He gave up his life, in the most painful of ways, to pay the ransom for our arrogance and pride.

  James and John did eventually come to understand what greatness looked like in the Kingdom of God when they humbled themselves. They did eventually drink from Christ’s cup when they laid down their lives in service of the Gospel.  James became the first apostle to be Martyred (Acts 12:2) and John suffered persecution and exile (Rev 1:9).  I wonder if they did end up sitting next to Jesus after all?

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