Flashback Episode — Greatness in God’s Eyes: Luke 9:46-48

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If you have ever believed the disciples were somehow spiritually superior to you or I because they walked with Jesus, you probably haven’t read much of the gospel record. When reading the gospels, it doesn’t take too long to discover a point where the disciples behave in a way that shows their flaws.

Our passage for this episode focuses in on one such time, and when we look at Jesus’ response, we discover a profound idea surrounding God’s character and some things He values when looking at our lives. While our passage for this episode isn’t very long, don’t let its length deceive you from thinking it isn’t relevant. This passage might contain one of the greatest spiritual, and non-spiritual, truths in the entire Bible.

This episode’s passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 9, and we will be reading it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 46, we learn that:

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 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 it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

In these three short verses, we not only see the disciples behaving like children by arguing about who would be the greatest among them, we also see Jesus step into their debate and reframe it with a concept that is quite powerful.

To set the stage for the big spiritual truth, Jesus calls a child over to Him. While we don’t know where this child even came from, or whether this child had been following Jesus from a distance, or if this was a toddler who was with his parents near Jesus, all of these details are irrelevant in the big scheme of things. Actually not knowing any details about this child is relevant to the truth Jesus is about to share.

The big idea Jesus wanted to illustrate in this passage is the contrast between where we think greatness is and where God sees greatness. While we see greatness as a stepping up and associating with people who are more important than we are, greatness in God’s eyes is the exact opposite. Greatness in God’s eyes has to do with stepping down and welcoming those who are unknown in Jesus’ name. It is when we welcome those into our lives who cannot do anything special for us that we welcome Jesus, and by welcoming Jesus into our lives in this way, we welcome God the Father, the One who sent Jesus, into our lives as well!

This is a huge spiritual truth, because in this first portion of verse 48, we discover the way to invite Jesus into our lives and hearts.

Jesus follows this truth up with a general principle that is both spiritual and non-spiritual, and while this truth doesn’t sound logical on the surface, it is actually very true. Jesus finishes verse 48 by saying: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” In Jesus’ statement, we are challenged with the truth that serving, helping, and welcoming the most outcast among us is where we develop greatness in God’s eyes.

While culture and society place a lot of emphasis on the people at the top being the greatest of any organization, company, or group that has a structure, the truth is that in any structure, the people who get things done are rarely high on the ladder of status. Those who serve well might be stars among their peer-group or team of employees, but they are likely still on the level of doing work rather than the alternate.

In this discussion, the alternate is the managerial group. While typical organizational charts place the managers “above” those doing the work, we would be mistaken to think that managers are more important than the workers are. A manager is only as good as the workers he or she has on their team, and this is true moving all the rest of the way up to the highest levels of management. While the top levels of management might look on the surface like they are important because they have greater responsibility and greater influence than the working group they are responsible for, the workers are still the most important part of the process.

While Jesus shares a counter-cultural truth about greatness in the last part of this verse, this truth is also very spiritual as well. When we look at this statement a little closer, we find the flaw present in the original sin and the self-focused attitude Lucifer had before being kicked out of heaven.

Jesus’ statement in this passage speaks to an eternal truth about God’s kingdom: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Lucifer pushed back at the idea of serving and stepping down being significant for gaining greatness in God’s eyes. Many Biblical scholars point to a passage in the book of Isaiah as describing Lucifer’s character and focus. In Isaiah 14, verses 12-14 we read:

How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”

In Lucifer’s mind, we see his desire to ascend higher than he was and to become like God. While this sounds ridiculous for us to think about, the principle in this attitude is where we will focus some time discussing. Jesus describes stepping down and serving as the path to greatness, while Lucifer is completely focused on stepping up and increasing his position in heaven.

Lucifer’s sin was pride – specifically a pride that focused on exalting himself above others. We could call this form of pride arrogance, and whether or not he displayed an outward form of arrogance when dealing with other angels, Isaiah’s prophecy and passage teach us that Lucifer’s heart was full of arrogant-pride that was counter to God’s path for greatness.

To contrast Lucifer, meet Jesus. Everything in Jesus’ life was aimed at stepping down and helping others. Jesus is God, and many Bible scholars understand that Jesus first chose to give up His divine form to become an angel (described at the angel Michael in parts of the Bible). When humanity was created, plans were made for Jesus to step down from His role in heaven and become human to teach us what God is like and to save us from sin.

When we read the gospels, we find Jesus loving and helping the lowest in society almost unquestioningly, and Jesus pushes back against the arrogant, religious elite. Jesus even stepped down so far that He took our punishment for sin when He didn’t deserve it.

Jesus models His statement the best, while culture leans towards a Lucifer-inspired model. Jesus modeled how to step down and serve the least among society the best – and Jesus has called His followers to model His life, His focus, and His character. Jesus has called each of us to step down and serve the least among us and when we do, we are seen as great in God’s eyes. When we welcome and serve others in Jesus’ name, we welcome Jesus into our lives, and God the Father with His Holy Spirit comes into our lives as well.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Seek God first in your life by serving others. As you move through life, pay attention to opportunities where you can serve others, and especially look for people who cannot repay you back for how you serve them. As God opens your eyes to opportunities where you can help others, know that when you serve and welcome others in Jesus’ name, you are serving and welcoming Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and even God the Father.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself, because in the pages of scripture, we can discover what God is like and we can grow a personal relationship with Him. While a pastor or podcaster can share what they have found that is fascinating and relevant to their own lives with you, only when you personally open the pages of scripture will you grow that personal relationship with God and learn His message for you!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 22: In three short verses, Jesus shares one of the biggest spiritual concepts in the entire Bible, and in what He shares, we can discover Lucifer’s error, and how Jesus modeled how God wants us to live!

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