Summary: There is a lot of room for greatness in the kingdom of God. It’s not a competition, it’s a condition!
Pastor Jim Luthy
An interesting scene developed as Jesus and his disciples headed south along the road from Caesarea Phillipi to Capernaum. There seemed to be a bit of tension among his disciples. A heated discussion was taking place among them. Occasionally, the discussion would burst into an uproar.
Bartholomew yelled at James, "How can you say that?"
"Think about it!" snapped Andrew in the direction of Matthew and Judas as he walked alongside his brother Peter.
As they took a water break, you could hear Thomas reply, "Oh, I doubt that!"
You knew the discussion was in full swing when they called John as he walked along with Jesus: "John, come over here. We want to ask you something." Surely if anyone had an answer, it would be Jesus’ closest friend.
Finally, after arriving in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were arguing about on the road. They were silent. But Jesus knew their thoughts and persisted with them until they broke down and asked Jesus to settle their debate. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" they asked.
I don’t know this, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Peter was at the center of this debate and that it has something to do with the fact that he was one of three disciples who witnessed the transfiguration and were told not to tell anyone. You know Peter had trouble keeping his mouth shut, so he at least had to blurt out something along the lines of "You wouldn’t believe what I got to see!" So a debate breaks out among them about who is the greatest. It would be quite comical if it wasn’t so much like us.
We love to debate greatness. Who is the greatest right-handed hitter of all time? Who is the greatest President? Who is the greatest preacher you ever heard? (Well, that’s obvious…so who’s the second greatest?)
We have a fascination with greatness partially because greatness is a fantasy to us. It is a fleeting thought of what many of us once hoped to be but gave up hope of becoming long ago. You want to be a great teacher. You want to be a great mom. You want to be a great athlete or businessman or youth leader. But very few of us get to be the best. Even when we try our best, we find that we still make a ton of mistakes. And even if we seem to do whatever we aspire to do well, along comes Martha Stewart or Bill Hybels that does it better. So greatness is quite elusive, and we begin to strive for something less, something more manageable, something less risky to our pride.
The problem in this is that it keeps us from becoming all that God intended us to be. It keeps us from utilizing all the potential that he planted in us when he made us in his image. He intends for us to be significant and to look forward to hearing his own voice say, "well done."
The confusion for us comes from a misappropriation of the word "great." Clear back at the fall of man in the garden of Eden, we exchanged the truth for a lie when it comes to greatness. Man bought into the notion that greatness comes from the things we do rather than from the things we are. In sin, we’ve tied greatness to achievement, leaving many of us wary of ever becoming great.
These men who were following Jesus had given up on greatness. They were fishermen, farmers, merchants, and a tax-collector. For years they lived in survival mode, just hoping to get by, having given up on dreams of significance.
Maybe that’s where you are today. It’s safest, you think, to stay in survival mode--just get your work done. Greatness left your agenda long ago. Would you love to know that you’re great at what you do? Absolutely. Would you love to know that what you are doing is significant? Of course you do. But you either gave up that hope long ago or you find yourself beating your head against the wall with every effort. Every time you think you’ve got it right, you find yourself doing something wrong. The search for significance can be a curse.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I told you that people who are great at what they do are not always great people--just ask the people who worked for Walt Disney or the guys who played with Babe Ruth.
The disciples were with the most amazing man ever known. They were seeing things no one else had seen. They were this close to a king who was about to establish the greatest kingdom ever. With a new arena for greatness and with thoughts of grandeur they began to debate which of them was the greatest.