In our homeschool this year, my children and I are reading a fiction book that takes place during the time of Jesus called The Bronze Bow. It is about a group of Zealots who longed to fight against Rome and free the Jews from its tyranny. Many of Jesus’ original followers thought he might be their ticket to freedom. They followed him, expecting Him to march right into Jerusalem and take over. Though the book is fiction, it paints a clear picture of what the Jews expected and hoped for at the time of Christ.
The Bible also shows us that many of Jesus’ followers anticipated Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, including His very own disciples. The mother of the sons of Zebedee certainly thought so and she wanted her boys to be front and center when Jesus came into His Kingdom.
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before Him she asked Him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to Him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-22)
However, Jesus’ response to James and John’s mother wasn’t what she expected. Jesus said:
“‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (Matthew 20:23-28)
In our own day, we also aspire to that place of honor, that place of importance and greatness. Yet rather than military power, in our society, we view true greatness as fame and being known by the masses. Greatness in our society is defined as the number of friends you have, followers, retweets, pins, subscribers, and likes. Whether its having your own reality show, being a much sought after speaker, or having your tweets retweeted over and over, greatness comes through seeking fame.
In the biblical economy however, true greatness means being last. It’s putting others in the limelight and remaining in the shadows. It is working hard and expecting no accolades or reward. It is serving rather than being served. It is loving those who would be overlooked by the world. It is sacrificing for the benefit of another.
Christ paved the way for such greatness, showing us that greatness comes not through defeating people and kingdoms, but by defeating sin itself. He came not as a royal prince, but as a helpless baby, born into poverty and raised by a simple carpenter. He touched the untouchable, dined with sinners, and washed the feet of his disciples. He served his people to the point of death, substituting himself for us and taking the punishment we deserved.
It may be confusing compared to what the world teaches. It may seem upside down, but it’s true. True greatness comes by serving. It comes by being last and least. It comes by taking no light for ourselves but reflecting the light of our Savior to the world.
So when our days not glamorous and we have nothing witty to say in 140 characters or less and no one seems to care anyway, we have no need to despair. Because changing diapers, folding laundry, and wiping away tears is taking that position of greatness in the Kingdom. Working hard, standing for what is true and right, helping the helpless, and living out the gospel day in and day out is what it means to live a life of greatness. Pursuing Christ’s glory rather than our own puts us at the front of the line in God’s sight.
While Jesus’ followers mourned the loss of the great king they thought would conquer Rome, He was conquering sin and death on their behalf. Rising from the dead, He proved his greatness in all things. And as His followers, we too can live lives of greatness. In seeking the last place, we will find ourselves in first. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).