The “Upside-Down” Logic of Heavenly Greatness
Last Sunday, Jesus asked the disciples the question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered correctly, stating Jesus’ identity as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
It must have been a bit disheartening for Jesus, then, when, a little later, these same disciples asked him “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). I wonder if Jesus thought: “If you really knew who I am, you wouldn’t ask that question.” Clearly, if Jesus is the Messiah, then he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Not only did the disciples overlook the obvious fact that Jesus is the greatest; they also didn’t know the first thing about what “greatness” means from God’s perspective. When it comes to the idea of “greatness,” the logic of the kingdom of heaven and the logic of the kingdoms of this earth are on a collision course. They are opposite. They cannot co-exist.
On multiple occasions (see earlier blogs from this week), Jesus tried to explain the logic of heavenly greatness to his disciples. Words didn’t seem to get through. In the end, he showed them...and us.
For example, we see the logic of heavenly greatness played out in the upper room. John wrote: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power...so...he began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13.3,5). Of course, the greatest demonstration of the “upside-down” logic of heavenly greatness was Christ’s death on the cross in our place, for us.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul captured Christ’s counter-intuitive descent into greatness. Jesus, who was “in very nature God,” “made himself nothing,” took on “the very nature of a servant,” “humbled himself” even to the point of “death on a cross.” From our perspective, that all seems to be going in the wrong direction. But that is because we don’t understand the logic of heaven. What’s the next word?
Christ’s humble, obedient service was the cause. According to the logic of heavenly greatness, here is the effect: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name.”
We are saturated, soaked, steeped in the world’s logic of greatness. Muhammed Ali, who brashly and publicly claimed that he was the greatest, represents our attitude more accurately than we would like to admit.
Jesus didn’t just teach a different path. He walked it. He showed us that only by humbly submitting to God’s good plans and willingly serving others do we tap into the logic of heavenly greatness.
I guarantee that you and I will have the opportunity in the next days to choose between the self-aggrandizing and self-serving logic of the kingdoms of this world and the “upside-down” logic of heavenly greatness. By God’s grace and in dependence on the Spirit, let’s choose to take the path less traveled, following Jesus.
Humility Should Adorn Us
Jesus counsels his disciples, “…all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). As disciples we monitor our internal selves as well as our public demeanor. As disciples we have reasons to be thankful as well as humble.
We are thankful because God invites us to Heaven’s great celebration banquet of Christ’s victory. We are humble because we know the invitation is purchased by the sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ.
We celebrate God’s generosity even as we observe our own hearts and behaviors. We seek the Spirit’s encouragement in this endeavor, for spiritual checkups on our own do not automatically occur. This practice of self-monitoring can reveal seismic cracks hidden by artificial constructs within our lives.
Ignoring eroded and cratered fault lines is perilous. It is profoundly comparable to saying we were not aware of the San Andreas or New Madrid fault lines which run beneath California and southern Indiana.
We particularly focus on humility-faults lest we fall into a demonically laid trap of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. Disciples faithfully declare that spiritual benefits come to us not as earned awards, but as sovereign gifts. God remains the Giver of all perfect gifts (James 1:17).
Life Application Questions
What parts of your life bring a smile to God’s face?
What pattern of spiritual reflection do you find helpful?
When was the last time you choose to provide an act of service to another person?
If in a typical day you often find yourself using the pronoun “I,” what are the implications of this verbal emphasis?
What parts of your discipleship are pleasing to God and where is there room for growth?
Help Wanted: Pharisee
Wednesday, 15 June 2022
Before we begin to fill this position, let us understand some background of the role we are seeking to fill. What do we know about the scribes and Pharisees? Were they all hypocrites and false teachers? Were there any redeeming qualities about them? Jesus reveals much about them from His perspective in this passage in Matthew 23. Jesus said they sit in Moses’ seat, and were experts in the Law, so the people were to listen to their teaching, and observe (give heed to) what they teach them to do. In reading John 3, we understand that there were a few, or at least one, Pharisee who was not condemned. Nicodemus shows his open heart, seeking the truth about Jesus. He was teachable and asked how to be born again. He listened and learned from Jesus.
Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees spoke good things but did not do them. So, false teachers or hypocrites might have the right words to say, at least initially. Identifying them as false teachers may not be apparent in observing only their teaching.
“In the first twelve verses of chapter 23, Jesus had declared that the scribes and Pharisees, typical of all false spiritual leaders, were without authority, without integrity, without sympathy, without spirituality, without humility, and therefore without God’s approval or blessing. Now speaking to them directly, He asserts they are under God’s harshest condemnation” (John MacArthur. Was Jesus Polite to False Teachers? Grace to You. May 6, 2022).
Unless you are a member of the paparazzi, you may never see the lifestyle of the false teacher to be able to discern if the teacher is a hypocrite. Their unrighteousness is rarely on display. In recent years, several church leaders have had their unrighteousness revealed and their ministries destroyed, sadly in the media, which casts doubt on the cause of Christ on the earth. Their lives are not matching their message. Or as Jesus says, in verse 3, they do not practice what they preach. Since sincere believers realize we aren’t sinless, we might be conflicted with these who are obviously not sinless. However, even as sinful men, God calls leaders to be examples: "to be above reproach…and free from the love of money" (1 Timothy 3:2-3).
Jesus said, "They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23:4). They aren’t living out their message with their own actions. This shows the absence of a true sense of ministry. We anticipate a servant’s heart in a minister. We are blessed to have leaders who demonstrate servants’ hearts at Winona Lake.
The deeds they do are done to be noticed by men. They know how to perform well on stage. They put on a great show of religiosity as we see in the verses on phylacteries and long tassels. We might see in hypocrites a stronger sense of “how do I look?” or “how am I seen?” vs. “how pure is my heart?”
Returning to the subject of the job search for a Pharisee, we might anticipate the resume of the hypocritical Pharisee to follow this outline of Matthew 23:1-2 in bulleted points:
The hypocritical Pharisee demonstrates a:
However, if the job search is seeking a position for the position of servant leader (NOT the hypocrital Pharisee), a bulleted list of qualifications might be as follows:
Life Application Question
Which am I?
The Cup of Not Enough
Matthew 20: 20-28
June 14, 2021
In the “Land of Enough” there lived 3 distinct groups. The first group had a perfect and merciful king. He always met their needs. This group of 12 was in the king’s court. One day, 2 men decided to hold up their “cup of not enough” and ask that the king fill it up. These courtiers and their mother asked that they be elevated above the other 10, and actually elevated above the whole kingdom. They asked to be seated on the king’s left and right. Read Matthew 20: 20-28. Why did these sons of Zebedee desire to sit on the right and left of Jesus? Despite, the King who offered the bread of life and living water, the 2 courtiers’ “cups of not enough” were being held out to be filled as though they were empty.
In the “Land of Enough” there lived another group. There were masses of them who followed the perfect and merciful king, who offered to meet their every need. They exalted him in their cathedrals. They held festivals of celebration for his natal day and other momentous occasions in his life. They owned the book with his very words of “enough” in it. They asked him to fill up their empty “cups of not enough” with better jobs, more water in their wells, and crops in their barns. Yet, even as the king of the “Land of Enough” filled their “cups of not enough”, it drained away. They waved their “cups of not enough” in the air and demanded more as they began to believe it was their “right” in the “Land of Enough”. What do people ask God to pour into their empty “cups of not enough”?
In the “Land of Enough” there lived a third group. The king’s servants are this group. They served the perfect and merciful king, who always met their needs. They held up their empty “cups of enough” and the king filled them to the brim. Then these full cups overflowed onto family, neighbors, co-workers and friends. The people of this kingdom gathered around the life giving servants and longed for just a drop of this “enough” for themselves. The servants’ cups are never empty, nor did they wave their cups and demand their portion. “…Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…” (Matthew 20: 26-27) Paul is an example of this servant group. In Philippians 2:17, Paul said, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice.” Paul’s cup in the “Land of Enough” was poured out but never empty. Why was Paul willing to be poured out as a drink offering?
In this “Land of Enough” with our perfect and merciful King Jesus, what is the “cup” you are holding up? Is it “the cup of not enough” that is always empty and full of cobwebs because of your own insatiable demands of the King that are never satisfied and seek to serve your own perceived needs? Or is your “cup”, the “cup” of a servant of the King that is constantly being poured out, but is never empty?
Who's The Greatest?
June 13, 2022
Jesus called a little child to him and said, “. . . anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven," (v. 4).
Sadly, the world has no idea what this means. The very ones that Jesus calls us to emulate are the ones being aborted, sold into sex slavery, and taught lies about themselves—robbing them of the very innocence children are meant to have.
The good news is that children can know and understand that Jesus loves them, that he died for their sin, and that they can become God's child when they trust him as their Savior. Who knows how many of these precious innocent children we will meet in heaven one day?
What keeps us from becoming “as humble as little children"? Part of the answer is pride, the attitude of arrogance, conceit, smugness, and self-importance which little children don't have. Another factor is our misunderstanding of the meaning of greatness.
So, what is true greatness? In Matthew 20 James and John's mother had the temerity to ask Jesus if her sons could sit next to him in the coming kingdom. Needless to say, this upset the other ten disciples, but rather than rebuking them for their desire for greatness, Jesus gives them a new definition; ". . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant," (Matthew 20:26).
Author David Kaywood quotes C. J. Mahaney’s definition of greatness in Humility: True Greatness, “As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency to pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. Contrast that with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it.”
Kaywood adds, “So, it’s not the desire that’s bad, per se, but the definition. And Jesus completely redefines what greatness is, which is serving others to the glory of God.” (From "The Meaning of Greatness in the Bible.")
For Further Thought:
Who is the center of man’s definition of greatness?
What is the focus of the biblically great man or woman?
Other than Jesus, who can you think of who personified greatness by their humility?
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor (1 Peter 5:6).
jbd & gmd