He Who is Least Among You All

July 5th, 2009 • Posted in Messages/Sermons • 2,963 views

Luke Lesson 32 (2009)

(True Greatness)

Luke 9:46-56
Key Verse: 9:48

“Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.’”

Oprah Winfrey, a talk show host and one of America’s wealthiest and most successful women, once said that she always knew that she was destined for greatness. Was she born in a palace? No. She was born into extreme poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, including sexual abuse and molestation. Her life seemed to be destined for permanent misery. However, despite her seemingly doomed past, she became one of the most influential women in the world today. How could she know that she was destined for greatness when she had so many things working against her? It must have been some kind of divine inspiration that gave her such a positive hope. I know that most of us want to become great. I don’t necessarily mean the greatness of being rich and famous in the world, like Oprah. And yet, how many of us actually knew that we were destined for greatness? I certainly didn’t know. I learned it when I studied Genesis that I was created in the image of God. (Gen 1:27) But then I forgot that I was destined for true greatness. Jesus’ disciples in today’s passage act extremely petty, exclusive and intolerant. They seem to be the most unqualified leadership material. Had Jesus made a mistake by choosing them to be his representatives in the world? Of course not! In today’s passage, Jesus teaches us how we can become truly great in the sight of God, no matter what our situation on earth.

Look at verse 46. “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” A while ago, they were rebuked by Jesus because of their unbelief. They should have repented of this, but they didn’t. After all, not long before, Jesus had given them a serious warning that the Son of Man would suffer many things, be betrayed, rejected by the elders, be killed and raised to life on the third day. (9:22, 44) But they weren’t paying attention to Jesus’ warnings at all. Instead, they only argued among themselves as to which of them would take the highest position. To them, the one who ranked the highest among them would be the greatest. They were preoccupied to secure their position in the coming kingdom which they thought Jesus would soon establish in Jerusalem. Their view of greatness was secular, not so different from that of the people of the world, and their argument among themselves revealed a strong sense of competition among themselves and glory-seeking mentalities.

What did Jesus do with these disciples? Jesus could have said to them again, “O, unbelieving and perverse generation! How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (9:41) But he didn’t. Look at verse 47. “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.” In those days, little children, along with women, were disregarded in society. But Jesus took the child and made him stand right beside him, which is a gesture of giving him the spotlight as a very important person. Recently, Susan Boyle, an ordinary British lady, got worldwide attention because of her beautiful singing voice. People were amazed at her great performance. We often like to make distinctions, such as between the gifted and the ordinary. If we are not gifted or special in some way, we don’t have much chance in this competitive world.

But why did Jesus honor the child? It wasn’t because he was extremely talented, like a prodigy. It wasn’t because he was the child of a national celebrity. This child just happened to be there. But Jesus let him stand beside him in order to demonstrate the truth that there are no unimportant people in the world. To Jesus, everyone is special and important. The greatness of a person does not depend on one’s socio-economic status or talent but on the fact that he or she is made in the image of God (Imago dei).

King David said in Psalm 139:14 and 15, “Thank you (Lord) for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.”(NLT) Did you know that you are wonderfully made and a masterpiece of God? If you are not sure about this, you might be spiritually blind. By highlighting the value of a child, Jesus raised everyone’s stature. After all, we are all very special and important to our Lord Jesus who suffered and died for our sins. Our life which is custom designed by God will be made whole through our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said in Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We who bear the image of God are already unique and special, destined for greatness in the sight of God, and we do not need to compete for more recognition from people.

Read verse 48. “Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.’” In this verse, Jesus makes a connection between serving the little child and serving God the Father. According to Jesus, to welcome a little child is to welcome him who was sent by God. And to welcome Jesus is to welcome God the Father who sent Jesus. No one can separate them. It means to his disciples that if they minister to a person who has no social status, like the little child in the passage, as though he is ministering to Jesus, they are actually ministering to our Lord Jesus and to God the Father. Here we see that there is interconnection between the little child, Jesus and God. If we ignore anyone simply because of his or her human status is like ignoring Jesus and God who created them.

The passage in Matthew 25:31-46 confirms it. In the passage, when the King came with his angels, he put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. It was the time of judgment. The King said to those on his right – the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous people answered him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The king replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” He also said to those who was on his left, the goats -the unrighteous, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The unrighteous were shocked and asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger… and did not help you? When?” He replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Mother Teresa was a woman whose name has become synonymous with greatness. She welcomed the little ones in Jesus’ name such as the poor, the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared, those who were a burden to others and rejected by them. What she did was really great in the sight of God, but not easy at all to do. She said, “We can do no great things, but only small things with great love.” There are many around us who need our attention and care. It’s easy to neglect their needs while we try to do something big. But as Mother Teresa said, we may not always be able to do great things but we can do something very small with great love every day. Jesus was telling his competitive and ambitious disciples that instead of seeking status for themselves they should give their attention to the needs of people regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic or religious status.

Jesus concluded the phrase by saying “For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.” What does it mean to be “least among you”? It does not mean that the least talented person is the greatest. It means that the greatest of all is a humble person. In light of today’s passage, we know that we are all destined for greatness. We are created in the greatness of God’s image. God wants us to be humble, not arrogant or proud no matter how talented or accomplished we are. Jesus also said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Humility is not a sign of inferiority but a sign of true greatness. When we are proud and arrogant, we are easily irritated and become restless. Humility gives us rest and peace for our souls. Saint Paul said in Philippians 2:3, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Look at verse 49. One day John saw that a certain man who was not one of the Twelve was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Obviously, there were many other disciples who followed Jesus besides the Twelve. In fact, in Luke chapter 10:1-24, we see that Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples for a mission journey. Perhaps, the one John saw driving out demons in Jesus’ name was one of the seventy-two disciples. Not long ago, the Twelve were humiliated for not being able to drive the demon out of a child. So when they saw a guy successfully driving out demons in Jesus’ name, they didn’t feel so happy about it. Not only that, they went too far by stopping the man from doing the work of God. Perhaps they said to the guy, “What’s going on here? Who told you to do that? You don’t belong with us. This is our territory. Stop and go away.” This reveals the exclusiveness of the twelve disciples at that time. Before this incident, they were competing with one another within their circle of fellowship. Now, they are united to exclude those outside the circle.

But what did Jesus think about their exclusiveness? Look at verse 50. “’Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’” Jesus was inclusive of everyone, from all the different groups of his followers. Perhaps, the Twelve were exclusive because they felt not only special but also superior to the rest of the disciples because they had been specially chosen by Jesus. But if they wanted to be truly great, they should have been humble and learn to welcome those from outside their circle. They should be inclusive, viewing other groups of believers as associates and partners, not as enemies or competitors.

Look at verse 51. “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” By this time, Jesus was fully aware that his time of passion, his suffering and death, was imminent. Yet, according to Luke, was approaching for him “to be taken up to heaven”, which means Jesus’ ascension after his resurrection. Jesus could resolutely set out for Jerusalem because he was aware not only of the coming pain, sufferings and death on the cross but also of his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven. This reminds of Hebrews 12:2, which says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” The life of faith is not easy. We often feel stressed out and weary. It’s easy to be discouraged by many difficulties. Our sufferings in the Lord seem meaningless. But we must rejoice in the midst of sufferings, remembering that our present suffering in the Lord is nothing compared with the glory that will be revealed in us through our Lord Jesus’ second coming.

Look at verses 52-54. Jesus, who had been doing his ministry in Galilee, had to travel through Samaria in order to get to Jerusalem. It took nearly 3 days on foot. At that time, the Jews were reluctant to travel through Samaria because of their hostile ethnic conflict with the Samaritans, whom they considered traitors. Yet, Jesus chose to travel through the area perhaps because he wanted to broaden his ministry beyond ethic conflicts. Jesus sent messengers ahead to prepare the way for him because they needed a place to stay overnight. Yet, the Samaritans rejected them because they were heading for Jerusalem. Perhaps they put the sign, “No dogs, no Jews!” The disciples were greatly offended. Perhaps, James and John were the messengers who were sent. They were furious and asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” It’s no surprise that their nickname was “Boanerges” which means “sons of thunder.” Perhaps, they remembered the prophet Elijah who called fire down from heaven when he was rejected by King Ahab. (2 Kings 1:1-18) We see that these disciples had not only a temper problem but also racial prejudice against different ethnic group of people.

What did Jesus think of his disciples’ suggestion? Look at verse 55. Did he say “Go ahead, my loyal disciples. They are like pagans anyway. Destroy them all?” No. Jesus turned and rebuked them. The disciples had no idea what it meant to be truly great in the sight of God. They needed a lot of spiritual discipline to be truly great and to be a source of blessing to the people whom they were called to minister to. They needed to see each individual as one bearing the image of God, no matter what their human status was. Instead of competing each other among themselves for a higher position and human recognition, they should pay attention to the needs of other people instead. They should learn to be humble before God and before men. In order to be truly humble before God and men, they are to overcome their exclusiveness and ethnic pride toward different groups of people. We need to be inclusive of others as Jesus was inclusive. Being a disciple of Jesus means to be like him in every way. We can learn many things from Jesus. But above all things, we are to learn his humility. Philippians 2:5-7 reads, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus is the prime example of humility. Jesus is the humble God who became a man. Even though he is the holy Son of God, Jesus is humble and inclusive of all people. Not all of us may be able to do great things from a human point of view. But we can all do something very small and practical for the needs of those around us with great love. We are indeed destined for greatness because we were created in God’s image and are being recreated in our Lord Jesus Christ. May we not remain proud and exclusive but learn Jesus’ humility and his inclusive attitude toward all people, regardless of their cultures and ethnicity. Jesus said, “He who is least among you all – he is the greatest.” (48b)

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