Who is the Greatest?


Peninsula Community Church 

April 14, 2019 

Luke 22:24-27 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 

Our theme today is who is the greatest? That was the debate of the day for the disciples at the Last Supper and it is a debate that continues today for many. The reason debating and arguing over who is greatest is a problem is because most people who argue over this question are usually self-serving and we have seen what self-serving leaders have done to our nation and the society in which we live. They do what is best for themselves in the moment and not what is best for those they serve. They serve on a whim rather than the truth that sets us free. 

I love it when you get a couple of guys together. If they love sports it will not take them long before they are debating about their team or a particular member of a team. Many times a discussion will ensue on who they think is the greatest or the best. I thought of some amazing athletes and people who have been considered great. I thought of Johnny Unitas, Muhammad Ali, Jim Thorpe, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, Mary Lou Retton, Dale Earnhardt, and many others who have been considered great in their field. I thought of Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, John Wesley, and other great men of God. I thought of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, Doris Day and other giants in the movies. The fact is, we could spend the rest of the day just listing those considered to be great men and women. To note, greatness is not the issue as much it is the issue of arguing over one’s greatness. 

It probably does not surprise us that the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. In this passage, we find a contrast between the disciples and Jesus’ response to this question. One group argued over greatness while the other demonstrated true servanthood. The text tells us that the disciples were having a discussion or as the Bible says a “dispute.” The word here for “dispute” means “contention” and comes from the root word that means “fond of strife.” This was nothing new for the disciples. They seemed to be bickering all of the time about something. They were fighting and arguing like little kids. 

The point however is that in this case they are arguing over who is the greatest. This was happening while Christ is bringing His last days into focus. He was wanting them know what was to come. He was initiating an illustrative process that would keep the vision and heart of Christ alive through the Lord’s Table and communion. Instead of celebrating and acknowledging this, the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. The testosterone was flowing in the room. Jesus is at the end of His life and they are arguing over greatness. Because they were arguing they were missing one of the greatest moments in history.

You would think, of all the people in the world, the disciples would have gotten it. You would think they would have understood His mission and His purpose. They should have gotten it, but they missed it. He was sharing His heart and yet they missed it. They were focused on the wrong thing. They were self-seeking and self-motivated rather than being servants who would listen to God’s heart. 

You see greatness in itself is not a bad thing. We are to excel in everything we do. We are not to settle for mediocrity. I love the commercial for AT&T that is out now. One of their commercials shows a wife who asks the nurse if Dr. Francis is a good doctor. The nurse replies, “He is okey.” Just as the nurse gives her response the doctor comes in and proclaims “guess who just got reinstated, well not officially.” The tag line is “just okey is not okey.”

The fact is we need to do our best to glorify and honor God, but we do not need to self-promote ourselves. I love the Scripture’s response to this idea. Listen to a couple of passages. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips (Proverbs 27:2). The problem of self-promotion is that we often exaggerate who we are to make ourselves look better. Here is another passage that drives this home. Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Did you catch that? Rather than boast in ourselves and what we can accomplish through our wisdom, our might, or our riches, let us boast in the fact that we know God and He knows us. Let us boast that we know the living God who is greater than anything we can do. We are to boast in the fact that it is the Lord that practices steadfast love. Let us boast that He is just, and righteousness in the earth. We are not to boast in ourselves but in God. 

As we return to our story, we find that Jesus makes some powerful statements. The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 

Jesus is saying if you want to be the greatest, if you want to be a leader, then you must serve. He is saying that the model of the worldview around them is to exercise lordship and rulership which in essence is control. They lord over others and think they deserve something from those they rule. But I love this statement from Jesus. He says, “But not so with you.” It might be that way with them, but it is not so with you. They do that, but not you. You have a different mind set. You have a different worldview. You have a different mentality and outlook on life. You look at people not as your servants and what you can get from them, but rather how you can give and serve them. You see true leadership is a process of influence and less about forced authority. We are all influencers and our best influence in serving others to guide them to truth and reality. 

Jesus then explains the course of action that is to be taken. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. In other words, do not argue about your position or authority, but rather become like the youngest among you. He who is a leader let him serve. In other words do not sit around and talk about it, just do it. That is the model of Jesus. He came not to condemn but to choose all mankind in salvation. Does God punish sin? Absolutely, but God’s ultimate desire and design for mankind is that they would come to a saving knowledge of Christ, the greatest servant of all times. 

It is then that Jesus does something pretty amazing. We do not find it this passage. We have to turn to John 13:3-20 to see what Jesus does. He does not just talk it, He illustrates the concept of humility and surrender. Jesus does not just make some off-the-wall statement, but He demonstrates that attitude and mindset in a very real and practical way. 

What does Jesus do? He washes their feet; their dirty, filthy feet. John says that Jesus took off His outer garment, took a towel, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet. Do you see it? Jesus the King of Kings, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Savior of the world,, literally the greatest of all men, bows low and takes a towel. He does the most humiliating thing that could be done in that culture. He washed the disciples feet. Why did He do it? He did it to illustrate an incredible lesson about greatness. To be the greatest you become the servant. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 13:16-17. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus is saying you are not like the others because to wash someone’s feet is beneath the prideful and arrogance of the Gentile leaders and leaders within the Jewish world. Washing someone’s feet is a humbling act. We are servants first and foremost. In serving He exalts us. Jesus made this statement in this regard The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12). We are exalted best when we bow low and serve others. 

As I share this I can hear the arguments already. This all sounds good but I do not want to become someone’s door mat. Listen that was never God’s intent. We are not to be someone’s door mat, but we are to humble ourselves and be servants to all men. I challenge you to become a secret servant of God. Make it a habit to serve God by serving others, and when possible, do it in a way that does not draw attention to yourself. Wash someone’s feet. It might be leaving that last parking space to another driver you know is right behind you. It could be learning a new person’s name and making them feel valued. It might be treating someone better than they deserve, instead of repaying rudeness with rudeness. As you serve others without drawing attention to yourself, you serve God. And believe me, God takes note!

In a world where people feel used and manipulated, a servant Christian is often an anomaly. Look at Jesus’ day. The Pharisees put so many laws on the people it caused more bondage than freedom. People want to know we care and in caring we have a door opened to share the gospel. People need servants who will be willing to care for them and offer them a better way. People need servants who will sacrifice and go out of their way to share Christ. We share Christ by presenting the truth and not arguing from a place of superiority and pride. In the end, it is all about the heart. Do we have a heart to serve or is our heart hardened by a desire to be the greatest? 

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/messages.

Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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