March 30, 2014

Redefining Greatness - Mar 30, 2014

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I’d like to begin our sermon time today with a little exercise. I’m going to read off a few names, one by one, and I’d like you to just raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of these people. Okay? Don’t worry, I won’t call on you to tell us anything about them, just raise your hand if you know who they are.

William James Sidis
Terence Tao
Christopher Hirata
Kim Ung-Yong
Garry Kasparov
Marilyn Von Savant
Leonardo da Vinci
Judith Polgar
Albert Einstein
Stephen Hawking

According to one listing, these are ten most intelligent people who have ever lived. Well, at least they had the highest IQ’s ever estimated or recorded. William James Sidis tops the list with an IQ between 250-300. Since the average IQ score falls around 100, that’s pretty amazing. And yet, most of us would say, William James Sidis? Who’s that?

IQ tests attempt to measure a person’s ability to think and reason. And yet, registering a high IQ score doesn’t mean you’re great. It just means you have potential.

Greatness isn’t just having a huge IQ, or superhuman strength, or extensive power and influence. In our sermon reading for today, Jesus teaches that true greatness is found in using what power you have to serve others.

Matthew 20:17-28 (NASB)

  17   As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them,
  18   “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,
  19   and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”

  20   Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.
  21   And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”
  22   But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”
  23   He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
  24   And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
  25   But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
  26   “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
  27   and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
  28   just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The disciples of Christ were an awkward group of men from many different walks of life. There were blue-collar fishermen, a tax-collector, a former political radical.

As could be expected, these men didn’t always get along. We’re told that on a number of occasions they argued over which of them was the greatest. Fueled by little sinful egos, they were constantly looking sideways at each other, judging and ranking each other according to their own way of seeing things. Judging their own greatness by holding themselves up to the rest.

But if we are to see what true greatness is, we must first look to our Savior. For in Christ Jesus we see what true greatness is.
We can easily see greatness in Jesus. He was, after all, the eternal Son of God, made man. He was absolutely sinless. He could perform astounding miracles with ease. Christ had immense power, but his greatness is revealed in how he used that power.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he had been staying away from Jerusalem because the Pharisees were out for his blood. But now, Jesus purposefully turned to go to Jerusalem one final time.

As the disciples traveled with him, they were afraid. They knew that they were walking right into the lion’s mouth. The powerful religious leaders of Jerusalem weren’t about to welcome Jesus, or his followers.

On the way, Jesus took his fearful disciples aside and told them once more what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He would be given over into the hands of his enemies. They would condemn him to death. They would hand him over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. But on the third day, Jesus would be raised from the dead.

Ever since Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus had begun to tell them what was going to happen. He foretold his cross, and his resurrection. And in the final words of our text he states exactly WHY he would willingly go to the cross, and the tomb.

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NASB).

Greatness is not found in power alone, but in what you do with that power. And this is why Jesus stands as the greatest man who ever lived. He possessed all glory as the eternal Son of God. He possessed all holiness as the sinless God-Man. He possessed all wisdom and power. But instead of serving himself, he used these things to serve sinners. He took our sins on his conscience. He accepted mockery, scourging, and even crucifixion. He suffered the hell our sins had earned, and gave us the gift of eternal forgiveness.

This is true greatness. This is our Savior.

Now, there are plenty of people today who realize that greatness can be found in service. We are encouraged to volunteer, to give to homeless shelters, to fill food banks, to give to charitable organizations, to build homes for the homeless, etc. These are noble pursuits. But Christ’s service exceeds anything charitable service we might provide. For Christ’s service to others doesn’t just get them a place to spend the night, or a meal to fill their stomach. Christ’s service erases the record of their sins, and opens the gate to eternal paradise at God’s side. His “charitable giving” was given for all sinners, and by faith in Christ we receive benefits that extend beyond into eternity.

This is true greatness. This is the Savior of the world.
Though the disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah, they didn’t fully understand what that meant. When they were drawn to Jesus, they saw his greatness, but they couldn’t grasp the fact that in Christ’s life, service would come before glory. Before Christ could appear in glory with all the angels of heaven, he would first have to walk the road of service and self-sacrifice.

And they also didn’t understand that in their lives, service would also come before glory.

Did you notice that Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” in our sermon reading? That was one of Jesus’ favorite titles for himself. When he calls himself the “Son of Man” Jesus isn’t just calling himself human. He’s referring to a vision from the Old Testament.

About 530 years before Jesus Christ was born, God gave a vision to the prophet Daniel. Daniel wrote…

13 “I saw in the night visions,
       and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
       and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14     And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
       that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
       his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
       and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV).

By calling himself the “Son of Man”, Jesus was saying, “That was ME in Daniel’s vision. I am the King of the eternal Kingdom. I am the Messiah.”

The disciples gladly latched onto this idea! Jesus is the Messiah! Great glory and dominion is coming his way! All people will serve him!

And they wanted in on this greatness.
We’ve already mentioned that the disciples of Jesus weren’t exactly humble men. We know how they argued about greatness. We know how forward Peter was. And James and John were pretty bold also. In our reading they come right up to Jesus, using their mother as a go-between, and they ask Jesus to give them the top two positions of honor and glory in the kingdom to come.

You see, they didn’t understand. When they saw Jesus going into the lion’s den at Jerusalem, they apparently figured that now was the time. Jesus was now going to boldly reveal his glory and seize his glorious and earthly kingdom. What better place than Jerusalem?! Now was the time for them to cement their claim to glory at his side.

Jesus tells them, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 NASB). They didn’t understand that before Christ’s glory would come horrendous suffering. Christ’s day of glory was approaching, but that was FAR off. Now was not the time of celebration. Now was the time of SERVICE.

Fast forward with me for a second here. After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he appeared to two disciples traveling the road to Emmaus. Jesus made it so they couldn’t tell who he was. And then he asked them what they had been talking about there on the road. They were all confused about what had just happened to Jesus. They said, “Oh, we thought that this man named Jesus was going to be the the Messiah. But then he got seized by he Romans and crucified.” They were confused, disappointed, and sad. In response Jesus told them…

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NIV)

Just like James and John, those disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t understand that Christ’s SERVICE had to precede his GLORY.

Before James and John would stand in glory, they too would pass through a life of SERVICE. Their sins would be erased by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but still, their SERVICE would precede their GLORY.

James would be beheaded for his faith in Christ in the year 44 AD. John would live longer, but would also suffer persecution for his faith before being received into glory.

It’s pretty human to look for a short-cut, isn’t it? We want a pill to take away that extra weight, instead of change in our lifestyle. We want a lottery ticket to erase the debt, instead of hard work and careful spending. James and John were the same. Let’s just ASK for glory at the right time, before anyone of the other disciples think to! But before glory, and before greatness, comes diligent service to our Savior.
My college roommate once told me a story about a couple of his friends who lived in Mankato, MN. They noticed a good deal on some office space and decided to rent it for a time. They didn’t have a business to run, they just thought it would be cool to have a place of their own where they could hang out. So, they rented the space, and printed up some business cards. The business cards read, “Mad Skills, Incorporated. Serving Ourselves Since 1998.”

If Jesus’ disciples lived in Mankato, they probably would have hung out there too. They were, after all, pretty interested in serving themselves.

And when the rest of the disciples heard about what James and John had done, they were upset. How dare they try to get the jump on us! And the group that already made a habit of arguing over who was the greatest, was ready to squabble some more.

But Jesus took this opportunity to teach them another way. If they were to be his representatives, the disciples would have redefine their idea of greatness. Look at verse 24 again.

24   And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
  25   But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
  26   “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
  27   and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
  28   just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:24-28 NASB). 
Lets get one thing straight, the way the sinful world looks at things, is not the way God looks at things.

Historians look at people who amassed great riches, or carved out huge empires as being truly great. But Jesus redefines greatness for his followers. Greatness is not just having power, riches, or influence. Greatness is not just being able to tell people what to do, and have them do it. Greatness, in the kingdom of Christ, is using whatever we have, to serve others. And not just to provide for their physical needs. Greatness is using who we, and what we have, to introduce people to Jesus, our only Savior from sin, and theirs too. Greatness is using our time, our words, our patience, our effort—to build up the faith of our fellow Christians.

I mean, think about it. The only things in this room that have lasting value, are the people. Everything else will perish in flames at the final judgment. But those who are united to Christ, and to the salvation of his cross—they’ll live in glory for all eternity.

This is why God’s Son didn’t come to create an awesome earthly kingdom for his disciples to rule over. This is why God’s Son didn’t come to make us millionaires. He didn’t come to eradicate cancer. He didn’t come to fix the economy, or show us how to be really nice people. He came to save us from hell.
None of us is going to make the list of top ten most intelligent people who ever lived. We probably won’t be recorded in the history books as great men and women. But because of Jesus, we’ve been placed on a better list—the list of the redeemed. The list of those who have a place waiting for them in heaven at God’s side.

God not only redefines our concept of greatness, he redefines US. In Christ, the sinner is declared a saint. In Christ, the humble servant is declared great.

Dear Christians, don’t accept the world’s definition of greatness. Look to Christ to see greatness defined. Serve him with gladness, building up each other’s faith. Let your service to your Savior, be your greatness. Amen.

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