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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Help us, O Lord, Behold we Enter

Help us, O Lord, for now we enter
Upon another year today.
In you our hopes and thoughts now center;
Renew our courage for the way.
New life, new strength, new happiness
We ask of you — oh, hear and bless.

May ev’ry plan and undertaking
Begin this year, O Lord, with you;
When I am sleeping or am waking,
Help me, dear Lord, your will to do.
In you alone, my God, I live;
You only can my sins forgive.

And may this year to me be holy;
Your grace so fill my ev’ry thought
That all my life be pure and lowly
And truthful, as a Christian’s ought.
So make me while I’m living here
Your faithful servant through the year.

Jesus, be with me and direct me;
Jesus, my plans and hopes inspire;
Jesus, from tempting thoughts protect me;
Jesus, be all my heart’s desire;
Jesus, be in my thoughts all day
And never let me fall away.

And grant, Lord, when the year is over,
That it for me in peace may close.
In all things care for me and cover
My head in time of fear and woes.
So may I, when my life is done,
Appear with joy before your throne.

– Johann Rist

 

Luther on Self Righteousness

“Whenever we, on the ground of our righteousness, wisdom, or power, are haughty or angry with those who are unrighteous, foolish, or less powerful than we . . . —and this is the greatest perversion—righteousness works against righteousness, wisdom against wisdom, power against power. For you are powerful, not that you may make the weak weaker by oppression, but that you may make them powerful by raising them up and defending them. You are wise, not in order to laugh at the foolish and thereby make them more foolish, but that you may undertake to teach them as you yourself would wish to be taught. You are righteous that you may vindicate and pardon the unrighteous, not that you may only condemn, disparage, judge, and punish. For this is Christ’s example for us, as he says, ‘For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:17). He further says in Luke 9:55-56, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them.'” Martin Luther

Man’s Maker was Made Man

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.
– Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)