Luke 9:46-48

I wrote this as my chapel message this week. It went a lot better than the last one. The idea was struck by a recent sermon I heard and an old blog post from Tim Challies.


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.”

Jesus has just finished remarking that he is going to be handed over to the Romans and crucified. He is about to make himself least for the sake of his disciples. What do the disciples do upon hearing this? Luke tells us they did not understand what he was saying and they were too afraid to ask him what he meant.

And it’s quite clear that they hadn’t understood the words of Jesus from the next passage, there we read that the disciples were arguing among themselves over who was the greatest. Previously Jesus gave them the power to heal and cast out demons, as our Lord himself had been doing; then he told them to take up their cross and follow him; a little later they witnessed the transfiguration and saw the Messiah in his glory. Perhaps the powers granted to them had puffed them up and caused infighting among them. After seeing the Messiah in his glory and hearing the voice of the Father, they must have learned something about the one they were following, but perhaps they took it to mean something about themselves too. That there was something in themselves that made them worthy of being Christ’s disciples.

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that pride was at work in the hearts of the disciples. The brothers began fighting among themselves and arguing about who was greatest. And what does Jesus say to all of this? How does he respond when he sees what is happening?

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Receive the least. Be welcoming to everyone, show hospitality to all, even the little children who can’t repay you. Take care of the ones you would otherwise overlook. Ultimately the message of Jesus here is: stop fighting about who is the greatest and follow my example by becoming the least.

So what is the message for us? We did not witness the casting out of demons and we haven’t been granted – as far as I know – the power to heal or exorcise unclean spirits. I haven’t heard anyone arguing they should be appointed as Archbishop of CRTS.

Yet I think we all face the temptation to compare ourselves to one another. We each have different gifts and talents, and these can become sources of envy and competition.

Instead we should focus on the fact that we bear witness to the work of God in us. You and I are living testimonies of God’s mercy. We are living testimonies that God does indeed receive the little children.

And if one person thinks they are better than another, how do they go about showing that? I have no one else to compare myself to because I can’t speak to the sins of others.

There’s a saying from William Law, “We may justly condemn ourselves as the greatest sinners we know because we know more of the folly of our own heart than we do of other people’s.” And this rings true. No person can know the reasoning or motivation or cause of another person’s sin. In the Christian context, if one person thinks he is better than another, he does not truly realize the depths of his sinfulness.

We can’t see what is going on in another person’s mind or in their heart. We can’t see if they have wept over their sins and repented of them, or if their heart has been hardened. What we do know, at least in part, is the motivation for our own sins. We do know how quickly we fall to temptation, it’s much more difficult to speak of how long our brother or sister resisted before falling. We aren’t witnesses of all of our brother’s or sister’s sins, but we have witnessed each one of the sins we committed. With that perspective how can we dream of arguing who is the greatest?

And the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus died for the greatest of sinners. He died to cleanse us of our sins and of our evil. He redeemed us by his blood but it didn’t stop at redemption from sin.

He redeemed us by his blood so that we could be called children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Before we were Christians there may have been some worldly value in finding out who was the greatest, some temporary benefit. Now that we are in Christ we are all co-heirs with him, we all serve the same King. We all have the same objective. We’ve all been given the same chief end by the one who is indeed the Greatest.

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Luther on Psalm 118

Psalm 118:5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. … You must never doubt that God is aware of your distress and hears your prayer. You must not pray haphazardly or simply shout into the wind. Then you would mock and tempt God. It would be better not to pray at all, than to pray like the priests and monks. It is important that you learn to praise also this point in this verse: “The Lord answered me and set me free.” The psalmist declares that he prayed and cried out, and that he was certainly heard. If the devil puts it into your head that you lack the holiness, piety, and worthiness of David and for this reason cannot be sure that God will hear you, make the sign of the cross, and say to yourself: “Let those be pious and worthy who will! I know for a certainty that I am a creature of the same God who made David. And David, regardless of his holiness, has no better or greater God than I have.” There is only one God, of saint and sinner, worthy and unworthy, great and small. Regardless of the inequalities among us, He is the one and equal God of us all, who wants to be honored, called on, and prayed to by all. (“Psalm 118,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 14 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958], pp. 58,61)

Loving Shepherd

Daily VerseLoving Shepherd,

Draw near to your sheep and preserve them from the wolves that seek to harm and destroy. Preserve their lives as they walk through dark valleys, and comfort them when they pass through places of loneliness and weeping.

You are the faithful Shepherd, seek out your wandering and lost sheep so that your flock might be whole and your name glorified. I pray that you would take special care of those nurturing young whether inside or outside of the womb. Be near to those dealing with sickness and trials of many kinds. Help them to cling to your promises and rest in your faithful love. All our lives are in your hands, enable us to live each moment for your glory. Deliver us from sin and give us the strength to resist the devil, the world, and our flesh.

I ask this in the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

 

John 10 (NIV)

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

Ninety and Nine

“He rejoices more for that sheep, than for the ninety and nine which went not astray.” Matthew 18:13

 

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless and ready to die;
Sick and helpless and ready to die.

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn;
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”

Eliz­a­beth C. Cle­phane