The Cross and Greatness

One problem with the way we approach life is we often leave the cross out.

In other words, we think about life without applying what Jesus’ dying on the cross tells us about God and how God’s working in this world.

We act like what Martin Luther called “theologians of glory.”

In 1518, Luther he was called to explain the heart of his theology in what’s, now called the Heidelberg Disputation, where he exposed what he thought were some of the biggest problems in the church at the time. And one of the primary problems he saw was that many people were what he called, theologians of glory which meant they were getting their ideas of how God should work in this world, from how they as people worked in this world.

This is what power looks like to us so this is how God should demonstrate His power, in our lives and in the church.

And so while maybe they talked about the cross. Ultimately, when it came to life and ministry and how they thought things should go and how they thought about success and how they assumed God worked  and what they thought about what it meant to be a spiritual leader, Luther says, they were, actually leaving the cross out.

Which is a huge problem.

We can’t understand anything about God and how He works without starting at and centering in what He’s revealed on the cross. And,looking at the cross, shows us God is working right now in a way that’s totally different, than how we expect he would through suffering, through shame, through persecution, and rejection.

Which is what the disciples were struggling to understand in Luke 9, as well. 

It is one thing to hear God is working through the cross and God calling us to pick up the cross and another to really understand the implications for Jesus and the implications for those who would follow Him. And clearly while the disciple heard Jesus’ words, about the cross, they didn’t understand what it meant or its significance to them practically.

And in Luke chapter 9 verse 46ff I think you see what happens as a result.

This is what happens if you leave he cross out.

There’s three stories here.

The first iverses 46-48 about the disciples arguing with themselves.

And the second in verses 49-50 about the disciples getting upset with other followers of Jesus who weren’t following with them.

And the third in verses 51 to 56 about the disciples attitude towards unbelievers.

And in each story you’ll see Jesus has to correct the disciples.

Verse 47.

“But Jesus…”

Verse 50.

“But Jesus said.”

And verse 55.

“But he turned and rebuked them.”

This is Jesus correcting the disciples, and the verses that serve as an introduction, I think, to all these stories shows us why.

In verses 44 and 45, Jesus says, “Let these words sink into your ears:  The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

And the next verse is huge.

It says, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.”

Which helps us understand why Jesus is having to correct, these disciples, over and over.

It’s because in spite of what He had told them about the cross, they didn’t understand how God was working through the cross. And I think Luke is giving us three specific illustrations of what it looks like, when someone is trying to follow Jesus without understanding the significance of the cross.

This is what happens when you leave the cross out of the Christian life.

Let me just show you one.

First, it shows up first in the way they think about themselves.

They are focused on appearances, position, status and, prestige. They are all about looking great and looking important. And as a result, there is a lot of competition and comparison with others and even fights as well.

You see Luke writes, “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.”

Which was one of the disciples’ favorite things to talk about.

They were always trying to figure out, who was the most important, which, I think sometimes strikes us as a little bit strange. Maybe especially, because they are usually arguing about who is the greatest, right after Jesus has told them, he’s going to die, and more specifically, be crucified and, that’s one of those things, I hope, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you at first, because you wonder could anyone be thinking about who was the most important, at a moment like that.

Unless of course, and this is where the story starts coming into focus, you read the story, leaving what Jesus has said, out. I mean, we read this story understanding the cross, and so obviously, we are like, what are you doing, but maybe for a moment imagine thinking about what was happening with Jesus without this whole revelation of the cross.

As if you never heard it or understood it.

Because here, if you are one of the disciples, you have been chosen by the single most important person in the universe.

I mean, God’s chosen Messiah.

And you’ve been chosen, to serve as His authorized representative.

And he’s come, you think, to do everything, you’ve dreamed.

Overthrow Rome, and establish Israel, as the most powerful nation on the planet, and to set up God’s kingdom on earth.

Which means you are thinking, you are going to get a throne.

And there are twelve of you, obviously, you can count, which means, you are going to lead one of the twelve tribes of Israel, so, I am saying, if all that’s happening, and you leave this idea of the cross out.

You are probably feeling pretty special at this moment.

And yet, Jesus is a man and he’s walking around here on the earth, and you can see, there are some who are closer to him, than others, and that’s obvious, because, he chose just a few, to go up the mountain with him, and a whole bunch of others, he didn’t, and so of course, that’s, has got everyone talking about, wait, I wonder, which one of us, is the most important?

And I am saying.

If this is your assumption how God worked. Just to put it more simply, if it is like, we were all pretty good people down here on earth. And, God’s wanting to set up a kingdom and He can just come and set up this kingdom, without having to die on a cross. If we just take that out, then what’s He going to do when he comes to earth to get things ready?

We think He’ll do, what we would do, he is going to choose certain people, to be in that kingdom, based on their abilities, and their significance, and their importance.

I mean, obviously.

If you are going to set up a kingdom, and populate it, most people are going to populate that kingdom with people they think are important.

Which makes, things, like, prestige and status, very significant.

If Jesus is this great and powerful King, who is going to populate his kingdom, based, on who is powerful and important and significant, than, we are all going to be worried, all the time, are we powerful and important and significant enough?

And the way we are going to try to figure that out that, is by comparing ourselves to one another.

And so life becomes this race to look, like we matter more than others.

This is what happens when you leave the cross out.

And this is how a lot of people are living, even Christians, it’s like, they are in this race to validate themselves, as important, as significant, as something, special.

I have this big a church. I have this title. I did this. I did that.

When, the cross, blows that whole way of thinking and living up.

I mean, it demolishes it.  

Because one thing the cross shows us is that the Messiah couldn’t come and populate his kingdom with a whole bunch of good people, without having to die, because there aren’t all these good people out there for him to choose from.

And iHe had set up his kingdom like that, his kingdom would, be empty except for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and all the angels.

Jesus had to come and suffer and die  before He could come, to rule and reign because we are all so sinful, that, we all deserve, God’s wrath forever, which is what makes it so sad to spend your life worrying about looking like you are important, and looking like you are so much better than others.

If God worked like a, human king, that would make sense, because that’s what they base their decisions on, but the cross, shows us God doesn’t, make decisions on that basis, and He can’t, really, work like a human king when it comes to His kingdom because if He made decisions on the basis of merit, no one would be going in at all.

The only people who enter His kingdom are those who don’t deserve it and who know it.

Which should change, the whole way we think about greatness, as well.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we can’t leave the cross out.

Where, the world’s thinking  greatness, is something, you achieve, basically, if you work hard enough, which is why the people we looked up to as great, are people, who were supposedly strong, and powerful and gifted and who, just kind of grabbed, the greatness for themselves, when, we look to God, and start with the cross, that whole perspective changes, because we see Jesus there sacrificing Himself, and humbling Himself and making Himself weak, in order to rescue, people who really are weak, and insignificant, and unimportant and nobodies.

And in doing so, he’s exposing all those people out there who think they are great, through their own efforts, as frauds, absolute, frauds, because at the cross we see there isn’t one of them who is worthy of entering His kingdom. They are all only worthy of entering hell.

And he’s showing us, what true greatness looks like.

This is what truly great people do. They give themselves up for the good of others who have nothing to offer.

I mean.

Is this making sense to you?

I hope this is making sense to you, because Jesus, is going to some lengths, in this passage, to make it sure it makes sense to his disciples as well.

Verse 47.

“But Jesus knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side.”

Which is an object lesson, obviously.

It’s like, Ok. Let me give you an illustration to help rework how you are thinking, in light of the cross, and so, he takes this child one day, and he puts him, by his side, which was a little bit strange, in those days, because children, in that particular culture were thought more of an annoyance really, than anything, which is part, what gives, what Jesus says real force.Because he, looks at this person, they all thought of as unimportant.

And says in verse 48.

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives him who sent me.”

Which kind of makes, the child important, obviously. He looking at someone unimportant and saying treat him as someone important, because, receiving that child in Jesus’ name is the same thing as receiving Jesus, and receiving Jesus, is the same thing, as receiving God the Father Himself, which obviously, makes that child pretty significant.

And yet, at the same time, the disciples know, he is not significant.

That’s what so confusing. And awesome, really, because, who are the ones they would normally receive and treat with honor and dignity?

It would be people the world thought were important, who did something, and why, because they thought greatness was something a man could achieve, through his efforts through what he did. 

I treat you as great, because you did something great.

And yet here, Jesus is saying. No. The cross shows it doesn’t work like that, because, let me show you someone you really should treat as great.

It’s this child.

Receive him you receive me.

And at that moment, I think, the disciples are scratching their heads.

And they are like, but why?

Why would I ever treat that child as great, because that child has nothing that makes him great.

He’s just a child.

And Jesus is like.

Ah. Now. You are almost getting it. You are getting close. Because, why would you, ever receive that child as great, obviously, it has nothing to do with the child, that’s the point.

It has everything to do with Jesus. 

It’s not on the basis of the child’s merits or what the child has to offer me, it’s all about Jesus, which of course, we know, is how God receives us as well.

This is what makes for greatness in God’s Kingdom.

It’s Jesus.

It’s our relationship with Jesus.

Which is obviously, what makes all this comparing, and trying to look so important, all the time, so ridiculous for those of us who understand what God’s doing through Jesus on the cross.

Because that’s not what makes greatness.

That’s not what makes someone important to God.

The opposite.

Jesus says.

“For he who is least among you is the one who is great.”

In other words, the only one who ends up being great, is the one who realizes he is not.

I mean.

How can the least be great? Really?

It’s because, his greatness is not based on what he has done, but on what Christ has done, which is why comparing, makes no sense, in the church, when you start with the cross.

Because, our status before God is not based on our achievements or performance.

And because we know as long as we are trusting in our own achievements or performance, we are actually, unable to be great, because, it’s only the least, the people who come to God like a child, with nothing to offer, trusting in Christ’s work, who are going to accepted by God, and forgiven by God, and able to enter in and enjoy this coming Kingdom.

And so.

It’s craziness! If you are driven by trying to look great, and get all these achievements so you can be great, and constantly comparing yourselves with others, to make sure you feel great, you might say, you are following Jesus, but you are leaving the cross out because the first thing the cross shows us is that only one who actually, great is the one who recognizes he is not.

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