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Summary: Everyone wants to be number one, even Jesus’ disciples. What is Jesus’ attitude toward this egotistical drive.

Who wants to be #2? Matthew 18:1-4

Big Questions...Real Answers Sermon #03

“Second place is okay, if you like being first in a long line of losers.” June, 1974, then President, Richard M. Nixon’s administration was drowning in the wake of Watergate. In an attempt to divert attention from his domestic political crisis, an international trip was scheduled to the Soviet Union, Israel and Iran. Two of his senior advisors, Alexander Haig, chief of staff and Ron Ziegler, the White House Press Secretary, were vying for the top slot in Nixon’s crumbling administration. The rivalry for position was so intense that the advance team was equipped with tape measures and meticulous instructions to insure that Ziegler’s and Haig’s beds were equal in distance from the president’s! These men were lusting for power and status, to be #1, though Nixon’s presidency was crumbling all around them. Within a mere two months Nixon had resigned under a cloud of shame.

Have you ever wondered why–whether it’s at the end of the world series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Playoffs, the Stanley Cup or even the World Cup, that though the defeated team is the 2nd best in the country or world, but they never leave the field of play chanting, “We’re #2!!” “Second place is okay, if you like being first in a long line of losers.”

The problem of pride and a lust for power isn’t just a political problem or an athletic complex. It’s a problem for the disciples of Jesus Christ. The deadly disease of “Who’s on first” infects the church as well.

What makes this even more appalling is that the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, never exhibited our self-seeking arrogance. He served others first; spoke to those to whom no one else spoke; dined with the lowest members of society; touched the untouchables. He had no throne or crown; no band of servants or armed guards. A borrowed manger and a borrowed tomb framed His earthly life. He wasn’t just #2, He became lower than the lowest, humbling Himself to die for our sins. So what’s wrong with us? Why do we crave to be #1? To be noticed? Why are we so contaminated with Who’s on first? Why are things so upside down?

Let me suggest you consider the difference between dogs and cats. The master pets a dog, and the dog wags its tail and thinks, “He must be a god.” But the master pets his cat, and the cat purrs, shuts its eyes and thinks to itself, “I must be a god.” Though Jesus in grace reached down to us, there is still a perverse human tendency to think like the cat!

Consider this, as Christians, we began well, humble, needy sinners who received the free grace and mercy of God. Like the dog, God was everything to us, and we gladly worshiped Him. But as time went by, the repulsive feline pathology began to shrink the recognition of grace in our hearts. Then, the Christian life produces some wonderful, positive changes within us. We become kinder, our language changes, destructive habits begin to wane. But those same changes can become a source of pride. While we may not think, “I must be God,” we often silently imagine “I must be pretty good.” We become proud of our apparent sanctification, our knowledge of Scripture, our evangelical routines. After all, we understand the mysteries of grace, while unregenerate dolts around us don’t have a clue. We become haughty of our spirituality.

While this condition is commonly internal, it has a telltale aroma, much like a ripe diaper. Others can usually smell it, especially those outside the church. Sometimes it is an acrid air of condescension or a subtle, smiling hostility, or aloofness or clubbish exclusivity. Or even doubt about God’s blessing on any who are not in the “approved circle.” Sadly, this stench has kept multitudes away from church and, more important, from a knowledge of Christ.

It’s Who wants to be #2? or Who’s the greatest? The disciples struggled with this deadly disease of Who’s on first and we still struggle with it today, Matthew 18:1-4.

This morning we want to examine What it really means to be Great in the Kingdom, vss. 1-4. Next week we’ll consider vss. 5-14 and How great people treat others in God’s Kingdom. So what does this passage tell us about greatness in God’s Kingdom?

1. Wanting to be the greatest is natural, it’s just not supernatural.

A Rabbi and a minster from New England were getting to know one another. Proudly, the pastor blurted out, "One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence." "I understand your pride," responded the rabbi. "One of my ancestors signed the Ten Commandments."

Spurgeon said “The demon of pride was born with us; and it will not die one hour before us. It is so woven into the very warp and woof of our nature, that, till we are wrapped in our winding-sheets, we shall never hear the last of it.”

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