Summary: How to be great in the kingdom of God. The last become first - we become less, so Jesus becomes greater, we become great because of Jesus authority. Practical, clear, concise.

First things first, who can argue with wisdom like that? It is the essence of Stephen Covey’s book of the same name, “First Things First”. Covey claims that his organizing process will help you categorize tasks so you focus on what is important, not merely what is urgent. Covey claims that using his book will help you create balance between your personal and professional responsibilities by putting first things first and acting on them.

The essence of this conventional wisdom should be obvious to us, shouldn’t it? But, Jesus is anything but conventional. As we see in our Scripture today, Jesus wouldn’t agree with Stephen Covey…first things first? No, it’s last things first. In fact what we may see as our first priorities, Jesus might say are our last priorities. Jesus tells us to stop, turn around and look at life from a different angle. High is low. Up is down. Top is bottom. First is last. Last is first.

Jesus isn’t giving us some philosophical nonsense, or vague semantics. Jesus is telling us how the kingdom of God really works, how we are to live our life as Christians, which, it turns out, goes against our conventional wisdom.

Jesus is giving us a basic key spiritual understanding today: How to be great in the kingdom of God.

As we look at our Scripture today we see several separate elements, which at first glance may appear to be about several different subjects, {who is the greatest, welcoming children, those who are for us are not against us, being maimed and salt} but they all are speaking about the same exact thing: Greatness; who, in the eyes of God is great in the kingdom of God. All these elements come together to give us a fuller understanding of how the kingdom of God works.

Our Scripture opens up with Jesus and the disciples back in the town of Capernaum. If you have been able to take a trip to Israel you probably know that Capernaum is a beautiful place. It is lush, abundant in produce and has mild weather, when it is snowing in Jerusalem, it is in the 70’s in Capernaum. It is no mystery why Jesus spends so much time here.

After they arrive in town Jesus asks what they were talking about as they traveled, and they hesitate to tell him what they were talking about. Understand that for Jesus, this is a rhetorical question – Jesus already knows, He’s God incarnate. In verse 34, we see why they are hesitant, they were arguing about who is the greatest, they inherently knew this was wrong, but still they argue about it. This isn’t surprising, questions of precedence and rank were constantly arising in the culture of first century Palestine. This was of very high importance to them. It arose around literally everything, from administration of justice to meals. At a meal there was concern about where to sit, who was served first, who drank first out of the sometimes one cup available, just to name a few – all of these issues just around a meal revolved around who was great. In everything that Jesus deals with when He is working with the disciples, this question of rank was in the background. Knowing this, Jesus calls the disciples to him with the intent of teaching them about biblical greatness, and He hits them from several different angles to reinforce His point. Jesus starts with the first way to be great in the kingdom of God – the example of children.

As Jesus calls a child to His side, He gives them a paradox of the true spiritual nature of being a Christian: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Notice that not only does Jesus turn their understanding of greatness, and ours too, on its head, but He adds a little extra – not only do we have to be last to be first, but we have to be a servant, a servant of ALL. Jesus is not playing mind games with us here, He is quite serious. Jesus gives us a hint of this in Matt. 19:30 where He says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” See, Jesus is referring to the end of time when we stand before the Lord, and we will be surprised by many who we see as being first in the kingdom, that God sees them as last. We will be surprised because this is a difficult concept for us as Christians to understand, because like the disciples we have our culture impregnated into our lives and it is difficult for us to discern true Godly wisdom. By the way, Jesus is both the first and the last, Rev. 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

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