(By Michelle Snippe)
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
It was a question the disciples asked of Jesus. In their earthly thinking, if He was about to set up an earthly kingdom, they wanted to know who would be the greatest within it. I actually marvel that they could even pose that question, obviously confident it must be one of them, to the greatest One standing in their midst.
However, for me, their question begs another: In whose eyes did they want to be great? We can’t truly be the judge, but I have a feeling it wasn’t in God’s eyes as much as it was in man’s that they sought their status of “great.”
But can we really condemn them? Each one of us has a deeply rooted desire to be seen, to be known, and to be found “great” in the eyes of someone. And when we feel ourselves lacking the fulfillment of these desires, the associated emotions can be a springboard for insecurity. Left unchecked, we may even react in ways that propel us toward a dangerous, prideful pursuit of our own glory, robbing God of His.
Like the disciples, we can stand before the Lord telling Him, the greatest One, it is we who want to be great. I don’t know what they were banking their greatness on, but it likely wasn’t too far off from the avenues we fall prey to in finding our greatness: abilities, accomplishments, power, popularity.
I love how Jesus, in His gentle manner, using the example of a young child, sets out to alter the disciples’ — and our — view from earthly greatness in an earthly kingdom to spiritual greatness in a spiritual kingdom.
Notice that He didn’t condemn the aspiration to be great. He simply redefined their definition of greatness. He did not give them a “to-do” list to help them elevate their status or tell them to go convert more men, catch more fish, or perform another miracle or two.
No…He told them that if they wanted to be great, they had to become like a little child. And what was it about the child he wanted His disciples — and us — to emulate?
The key to greatness in the kingdom of God is humility.
And that humility plays out in more than one way. In this passage, the pursuit of greatness in the kingdom scene begins with the pursuit of a deeper level of dependence and trust in God. Just like a child explicitly trusts their parents for their care, provision, and unconditional love, so should we fully trust our God for the same. He is our good Father. He is our Provider. He is faithful and entirely worthy of our trust.
Only a couple of Scripture pages over, the lesson continues. This time, Jesus tells the disciples that if they want to be great they must exercise that humility in another way: through service.
“Whoever wants to become great must first make himself a servant; whoever wants to be first must bind himself as a slave.”
The lesson is quite simple, yet, at the same time, it’s also incredibly hard. If you and I want to be regarded as great in God’s eyes and His kingdom, then we must make it our aim to serve others.
But, Jesus wasn’t done. He completed the lesson with the ultimate example of service and humility — the example of Himself. Listen to his closing words:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45).
It may cost you and me to humbly serve others, but it will never cost us what it cost Jesus. His service cost Him His very life. No one will ever be greater than Him. And not one of us will ever humbly serve others more sacrificially than He.
But, Friends, we can try. Not for our glory, but for God’s. Not for the eyes of man, but for God’s.
So, may we follow Christ’s exhortation and humble example of a life filled with joyful sacrifice that blesses and serves others. Then, we too will become great in the Kingdom of God.