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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Depending on God

(I can’t remember where exactly I found this prayer)

O Jesus Christ, Thou Son of the Blessed, Lamb of God, Which takest away the sins of the world : In Thy all-sufficient merits alone we trust for the remission of our sins. Through the Blood of Thy Cross we hope for peace with God, for strength against the powers of darkness, for safety, and help, and salvation ; the communion of Thy Holy Spirit here, and everlasting bliss with Thee hereafter. In Thy unfathomable grace, and the unsearchable depths of Thy love, is our trust. In Thy Name standeth our help. Have mercy on all broken hearts, and heal them ; all struggling with temptation, and rescue them ; all fainting in despair, and raise them up. Have mercy on all that groan beneath their sins ; on all that fall away from Thee ; on all that waver in their faith, and stablish, strengthen, settle them. O Blessed Jesus, Who didst shed Thy Blood for our souls to save them, shed Thy Holy Spirit upon all, and heal them. Have mercy on all in misery, or peril, or pain. Preserve them, Thou Who didst on earth so mercifully relieve and succour the distressed. Thou God of all help and comfort, take us to Thy tender care, and save and succour both our bodies and our souls. Thou that didst redeem us all, keep us for ever Thine, we pray Thee, for Thine infinite mercy’s sake ; and keep us in the love of God, until we come with all the multitude of Thy redeemed saints to those eternal mansions which Thou hast prepared in the kingdom of Thy Father. Bring us in Thine own good time to share Thy glory, and to praise Thee, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, One God for evermore. Amen.

That bitter root, indwelling sin!

By John Newton:

The righteous are said to be scarcely saved, not with respect to the certainty of the event, for the purpose of God in their favor cannot be disappointed—but in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through! But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of Jesus—He becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves—but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (humanly speaking) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Savior, their shepherd, and their shield. When they were wandering—he brought them back; when fallen—he raised them; when wounded—he healed them; when fainting—he revived them! By him, out of weakness—they have been made strong! He has taught their hands to war, and covered their heads in the day of battle. In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the humiliating proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him—if they had not known so much of themselves!

Further, a spirit of humiliation, which is both the strength and beauty of our profession, is greatly promoted by our feeling, as well as reading, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to the Lord—he has promised to dwell with those who have it. Experience shows, that the exercise of all our graces, is in proportion to the humbling sense we have of the depravity of our nature.

That we are so totally depraved, is a truth which no one ever truly learned by being only taught it. Indeed, if we could receive, and habitually maintain, a right judgment of ourselves, by what is plainly declared in Scripture, it would probably save us many a mournful hour! But experience is the Lord’s school, and those who are taught by him usually learn that they have no wisdom—by the mistakes they make; and that they have no strength—by the slips and falls they meet with. Every day draws forth some new corruption, which before was little observed, or at least discovers it in a stronger light than before. Thus by degrees, they are weaned from leaning to any supposed wisdom, power, or goodness in themselves! They feel the truth of our Lord’s words, “without me—you can do nothing;” and the necessity of crying with David, “O lead me and guide me!”

John Newton, April 1772

Faith is a plant that can grow in the shade

How many, alas, of the precious saints of God must we shut out from being believers, if there is no faith but what amounts to assurance…. shall we say their faith went away in the departure of their assurance? How oft then in a year may a believer be no believer? even as often as God withdraws and leaves the creature in the dark. Assurance is like the sun-flower, which opens with the day and shuts with the night. It follows the motion of God’s face; if that looks smilingly on the soul, it lives; if that frowns or hides itself, it dies. But faith is a plant that can grow in the shade, a grace that can find the way to heaven in a dark night. It can “walk in darkness, and yet trust in the name of the Lord.”

—William Gurnall