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To Be The Greatest

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


DavidJohnson  To be greatest is the title and the topic. I read about King Louis XIV of France. He called himself King Louis, the Great. He reigned over France for 72 years and he believed in the divine origin of the monarchy. He lived in a lavish palace there in Versailles. And his court was the most magnificent in Europe in his day. But of course, being just human, even the great died in 1715. His funeral was spectacular. His body lay in a golden coffin in a cavernous cathedral in which only one candle above the coffin flickered in the dim light and thousands waited in this tremendous cathedral in hushed silence. When the bishop presiding over the funeral stopped speaking, he reached down and snuffed out that one candle and he simply said, “Only God is great.”

But beware, even as Christians and sometimes especially as Christians, we have a tendency, as my father used to say, toward delusions of grandeur. We can get the big head. We can get puffed up even with spiritual pride. Jesus Christ described for us true greatness in Luke chapter 22 verses 24 through 27. Let’s look at it more closely. In verse 24 it tells us that a dispute arose among the apostles as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Imagine, even the Lord Jesus’ own hand picked apostles wondered which of them was the greatest. As Christians, we certainly need to beware of spiritual pride. We sometimes can get too contented. We can also have the other extreme and get so disgusted with others that we get contented with ourselves in our own goodness and greatness, not remembering that we are all sinners. The difference is we are saved by grace through faith and we put our faith in the Lord Jesus, who is the only true great one.

In verse 25 Jesus went on to illustrate to his followers, which is applicable to you and me today, that the kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and they call themselves benefactors. We, as God’s people, certainly must not Lord it over any people in our own households, on our jobs, in the Church, or anywhere else nor should we consider ourselves better than someone else. We may be saved, but it is by the grace of God through our obedient faith, and not because we are better than any other human being.

We understand that benefactor was the title, the self applied title, of many Gentile leaders and rulers, self assumed as tyrants and lording it over the people, promoting their own power and their own prestige, their own pomp, and seeking popularity, a false popularity, really, from the common people. So they called themselves benefactors. They claimed to be benefiting the people, but they were really just looking to benefit themselves.

As Christians, even today our mind set should be not to benefit self, but to genuinely benefit others. Not for show, but because we really care about people, about one another in the church and outside the Church. We need service above showmanship.

In Luke chapter 22 and verse 26 Jesus, speaking to his own, said to his apostles, “Don’t be like that.” Don’t be like those Gentiles that lord it over others. Don't be like the benefactors looking for showmanship. And Jesus affirms that as his followers were not to promote our own goodness or greatness and certainly not lord it over anyone. We are not to seek titles and tributes, but instead seek the greatest one. Jesus said, “The greatest should be like the youngest.”
What does that mean, that the greatest should be like the youngest? Well, youngest in the sense of humbleness, youngest in the sense of being more submissive, subjective. Certainly the apostle Peter would have been one of those that thought he was the greatest. And Peter learned this over the years in listening to Jesus and learning from Jesus, and in his own personal life as he matured and developed and grew spiritually on the inside, the inner man. Notice what Peter wrote many years after the cross in his first epistle, 1 Peter chapter five and verse five which gives us the insight of what Jesus meant when he said, “To be great is to be like the youngest.” In 1 Peter 5:5 it says, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And Peter knew what he was talking about because he had to learn that himself.

And then also in Luke chapter 22 and verse 26 Jesus said, “If you really want to be great, the one who rules should be like the one who serves.” In other words, even as leaders, whether in church, at work, at home, whatever our leadership position may be, we should lead as servants. We are people of service, not subjugation. We should not be trying to lord it over anyone but have servant leadership, sympathy and concern, not control and domination.


Do you remember that even the Son of God washed feet? A menial task done by the very lowest of slaves in the household and yet Jesus Christ, the highest and holiest of all men, washed 24 feet. He stooped even to Judas Iscariot. It was done particularly for us to learn that loving service, even in common every day menial duties or chores, is the mindset that we should have. Then in verse 27 Jesus said, “But I am among you as the one who serves.” The Son of God himself stooped. He lay down his life to become the Savior and is our Savior. The Son of God himself became as servant of servants. The Son of God himself even became one of us.

It was Martin Luther that wrote this, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ is that he sunk himself into our flesh, which is beyond all human understanding,” What a wonder that the creator could become a creature, that the creator could become part of his own creation, voluntarily. He chose to do it. The wonder of it is that our great Emmanuel, immaculate in every way, became incarnate mortal man with a corruptible body. I am saying corruptible physically. There was no corruption in him spiritually, morally or ethically. He knew no sin. But he took on mortal flesh. Why? To save and to serve the human race that includes you and me.

Jesus Christ is the great. He is the greatest of great. His birth split the calendar into BC, before Christ and AD, which doesn't mean ‘and died’, but in the year of our Lord in Latin, anno domino. And today every country, every culture knows Jesus Christ, even though he lived on this earth but a scant 33 years on a tiny piece of territory and did not travel very far. And yet the story of Christ’s birth and death and resurrection is kept alive around the world after 2000 years. He is the author of the sunrise and the sunset. From the manger to Mount Moriah the Messiah lives and he is coming again for his own. And in the meantime Jesus Christ is still serving at the right hand of God, interceding for you and me. And yet with all of the authority and all of the achievements and all of the accolades in the greatness of Jesus Christ, he is also simultaneously lowly and meek and humble.

Jesus Christ is not even a tyrant when it comes to accepting him. He doesn't lord it over anyone to receive him, to accept him, to believe in him. Look at this magnificent passage in Matthew chapter 11 beginning in verse 28. These are the words of a meek and humble and lowly Son of God. Matthew chapter 11 and verse 28.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Notice in verse 28 that Jesus said, “Come to me.” He is not dictatorial. It is not a demand, but from God himself it is a personal appeal. Come to me. Jesus Christ says, come to me, not to a church, not to a denomination, not to a religion, but to the man Jesus, to the Savior, to the Son of God, to the servant of God the Father. And notice he not only says, “Come to me,” but he says, “Come to me all of you.” He has a universal appeal to every single human being of accountability, to anyone and everyone. Not just the elite, not just the powerful, not just the prestigious, but to everyone, even to a young child that is old enough to comprehend that he or she is a sinner and needs a Savior. “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened.”

You understand. This can include all kinds of weariness and burdens. It can be a physical weariness or burden. It can be mental, emotional or spiritual. You understand for example that in Jesus’ day, probably as he was speaking to the Jews of his day, much of what he was specifically referring to were the religious legalists, the religious elite of his day, the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the scribes and the teachers of the law that had authority on the people, on the common people, in that they had to keep the law. They had to keep the Mosaic law. They had to be law keepers and they had to keep it perfectly, legally and every minute detail, which no one can do. They couldn’t do it then and it can’t be done today. But there are still the legalists today that claim that you need to perform, that you need to work your way to salvation. It cannot be done and it is still a great burden to so many countless millions across this earth.

So what are you weary or burdened about? You and I can never do enough to please God. That doesn't mean we don’t serve. We serve because we are saved, not to be saved and it makes all the difference in eternity. What are you burdened with today? Do you think that you are good enough? Or the other extreme, do you have low self esteem? What kind of burden are you carrying? What kind of guilt? What kind of a mess do you have in your life when you feel like you have the inability to make things right?

Jesus called the weary and the burdened to come to him, and he desired that of the self-righteous. They think they have got it covered. They can do it their way. They are already good enough or they are already doing enough good things. They already think they are great. They don’t think they really need a Savior. But it is only Jesus that can truly give them rest, rest from the endless impossible futile efforts to save themselves, even if they believe they do not need saving, believing they are good enough.


Real rest, Jesus can give us real rest from the rat race of this life in an everlasting life with God. In Matthew chapter 11 and verse 29 Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” meaning: harness yourself to me, Jesus said. Harness yourself to the Lord. Team up with Christ. Work with him. Learn from him. Don’t be stubborn. Don’t go your own way. Don’t do it your way. Don’t go alone. Don't think that you are an island and that you need no one. But let Jesus lead. Learn from him. And a person that thinks he is too good or too great or is good enough on his own can’t team up with Jesus unless he comes to him with a new attitude – a lowly attitude. Jesus Christ is not a fake benefactor. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” Imagine, the King of kings does not flaunt his greatness, but his gentleness. He doesn't flaunt his high position as the Most High God. He is not haughty. He is humble. And yet Jesus Christ is God almighty.

In Colossians chapter two and verse nine it tells us very clearly that in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man at the same time. And how is that possible? He is God and Christ promises and he doesn't give empty promises. He is not only the great promise keeper. He is the great promise maker and he promises you will find rest for your souls.

And finally, in verse 30 Jesus says, about his yoke being easy to team up with him. That yoke cost him his life on the cross. Nothing is free, not really. It cost the Son of God his life’s blood, which he freely shed for you and me. If we will simply receive him by faith, a genuine faith, an obedient faith, Jesus, by his grace, by the grace of God that we don't deserve, will save us through genuine, saving, persevering, obedient faith, because we cannot save ourselves. It is a burden that we cannot carry. Jesus did it all on the cross. And yet Jesus says, “Come to me.” We can choose to resist him. We can choose even to reject him. The sovereign God, Son of God, appeals. Won’t you receive him by faith?


David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, Indiana

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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8