Stories with Luke Week 15:

Greatness

Pastor Terry Inman

07-30-17

 

My youngest son Jason put something on Facebook last week that’s interesting. He listed the five living people he would like to meet and then invited his virtual friends to list the five they would like to meet. Here’s his five. 1. Eugene Peterson 2. Barack Obama 3. George W. Bush 4. Jimmy Carter 5. Oprah. He is interested in politics but at least he picks people from both parties. I’m glad he chose Eugene Peterson but Oprah?

 

We all have different perceptions of greatness. Today Luke wraps a series of events in chapter nine around the theme of greatness. Who’s great? What makes people great? Most of us, like the disciples, are learning what true greatness is all about. Jesus has something to say.

 

They had just come down the mountain from Jesus’ supernatural transfiguration. He appeared in all his heavenly brilliance with a couple celebrities from the past—Moses and Elijah. They talked about his final journey to Jerusalem where he would fulfill his rescue mission, with His own crucifixion and resurrection. Clearly this was Messianic confirmation.

 

Peter, James and John were so impressed with this manifestation that they wanted to build shrines—maybe host pilgrimages or conferences. God spoke out of a radiant cloud covering. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (v. 35) This was a voice mail from the cloud!  

 

They weren’t listening. Jesus already told them once that he was going to be rejected, suffer and die in Jerusalem. Peter told him, no way, not you Lord! Jesus rebuked Peter. His pain avoiding advice was inspired by Satan.

 

The disciples had signed up for the “greatness” tour. All along, they thought they were following the Messiah, the King, Israel’s great liberator. This was sounding like a failed mission. We hear what we want to believe.

 

God said, listen to my Son, not yourself. Satan’s channel is self-interest. It’s not wrong to want to be great, follow someone great or do something great. We just need to get right our understanding of real greatness.

 

So let’s go to the theme verse and then look at the stories. In the afterglow of their mountaintop experience the disciples get into an argument. Who will get the top positions in Jesus new administration? Jesus holds a toddler next to him and says, “Whoever is least among you all—he is the greatest.” (v.47) This could be translated the least, the less, or the little. The smallest status stands the tallest in kingdom greatness.    

 

Let’s define greatness! Is it large and in charge or small but significant.

The ancient Greek word used here for greatest is (megas) It’s something big, high, large, loud, mighty, or magnificent. Like a megastar, megabyte, megabuck, or megaflop--maybe even a Megalomaniac! Jesus suggests—

“If you really want to be mega think mini!”

 

It not wrong to want to achieve greatness. But we have to ask ourselves are we looking for importance or influence? In the national best seller, “Good to be Great” Jim Collins looks at the most successful companies in the world and what made them move from good to great.

 

He says, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life--knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”

 

He adds, “Perhaps your quest to be part of building something great will not fall in your business life. But find it somewhere. If not in corporate life, then perhaps in making your church great.” WOW that’s a thought!

 

As Jesus washed His disciples feet, He said, “The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matt. 23:11-12 (NLT)

 

Elevated status can impede our greatness. The higher we stand the lower we must stoop to serve. Luke begins at the bottom of the mountain with a humiliating problem. The disciples were sent out with authority over sickness and demons—but now they can’t expel an afflicting spirit.

 

The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” Luke 9.37-40 (NIV)

Woops--failure to function! What happened? You would think after coming out of a glory cloud with Jesus, Moses and Elijah they would be mega-star apostles! Suddenly these big shots were downsized. They couldn’t deliver freedom and healing for a desperate father’s only little boy.

 

Jesus says something a bit unsympathetic. “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Luke 9.41(NIV) Godless cultures are vulnerable to the demonic. Spiritual ignorance, superstition, false religion and so called spiritually become Satan’s playground.    

 

This chapter began with Jesus sending the disciples on a mission empowered “to drive out all demons and to cure diseases. He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Luke 9.1,2 (NIV)

 

What he directs us to do He empowers us to do. They could not assume because miracles worked on a previous outing they would happen here. This is why the spiritual gifts like faith, knowledge and wisdom go hand in hand with supernatural ministry. We can’t make miracles happen. We can only listen to the Son of God and do what His Spirit tells us to do!

 

Now Luke says, “Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.” (Luke 9.42-43 NIV)

 

Matthew says the boy had epilepsy. Luke’s the doctor, but he doesn’t diagnose this condition, he simply prescribes the treatment. Luke focuses on Jesus not the disease or the demon. Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father! Notice this: “they were all amazed at the greatness of God!”.  

 

Greatness is not about our giftedness its all about God’s greatness! While the crowds are still marveling about this mega-miracle Jesus mentions for the second time His “greater” mission. To his disciples Jesus says,

 

“Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.” (vs. 44-45)

These disciples were grasping for greatness! They were hoping the mountaintop experience was evidence that they were up for a big promotion. They just didn’t get it! Their reality was hiding the truth. What do we grasp for? What clouds our understanding of real greatness?

 

Their ambition led to competition. They got into an argument about who would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 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.” (Luke 9.46-48 NIV)

 

Children had very little status in this ancient culture. On another occasion Jesus countered social and religious culture and welcomed children to receive his attention. While Jesus followers were telling them to stay away he reached out, touched them and blessed them. He said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Matt. 19:14 (NLT)

Greatness according to Jesus is welcoming anyone considered by culture to be of little or no status. When we love the least, we love Jesus!

 

The scenario here gets worse, the disciples with all their status as chosen apostles couldn’t free a child of demonic affliction. Then they have the audacity to tattletale on someone who isn’t part or their group.

 

“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9.49-50 (NIV)  

 

First they were vying for position and now they are trying to exclude other rivals. Jesus says these exorcists are not your adversaries Satan is!

 

Unfortunately we still struggle for power and influence in the church. Leaders often struggle for influence. We don’t consider other churches or ministries the enemy we just don’t act like real partners.

 

Now for the second time Jesus sets the stage for his final destiny.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9.51 (NIV) He came for healing and freedom but primarily to give his life for ours. This is greatness! Jesus is the servant of all.

 

Luke shares one more travel detail in stark contrast with greatness. Jesus sent an envoy to make arrangements in Samaria on the way to Jerusalem.

 

The Samaritans weren’t hospitable. James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (vs.55-56)

 

OK first these guys couldn’t cast out a devil what makes them think they could call fire down from heaven—maybe because they had just come off the mountain with Elijah. They are still impressed with their importance.

 

Here’s how Luke ends the chapter. As they’re walking along the road to Jerusalem, someone says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” (v. 57)

Jesus says you won’t like the accommodations. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (v. 58) Then Jesus called a couple more to follow him. One said, let me burry my father first. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (v.60)

 

After a while the bones of loved ones were taken out of the tomb and placed in an ossuary, (a small box) and buried. Jesus was not telling him to ignore family funerals. He was just saying rescuing people form spiritual death is more important than relocating a box of bones.

 

The second recruit said, “I will follow you Lord, right after I say goodbye to my family.” Jesus says follow me—don’t get side tracked by anything. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (v. 62)

 

God is calling us to His greatness. He is not asking us to reject our humanity. He is calling us fully commit our life, our work, our gifts, our relationships to His leadership. We may not rise to prominence but we will rise to our purpose! Don’t seek importance seek spiritual significance!

“Whoever is least among you all—he is the greatest.”