WHO IS THE GREATEST
Luke 22:24-38 Key Verse: 22:26
“But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
In the last passage, we learned that Jesus was eager to have the last Supper with his disciples in order to teach the true meaning of the Passover, even though he knew that he was going to die on the cross next day. Jesus would give his body and blood for the sin of the world as the Lamb of God, establishing the new covenant with all believers. Thank you, Jesus, for giving us the new covenant through your body and blood sacrifice!
But the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. Jesus’ words came in one ear and went out the other and they began to argue with each other, not about Jesus’ teaching but about a strange thing, “Who is the greatest?” Today, Jesus is teaching his immature disciples how to be great not in the sight of this world but in the sight of God as the new covenant people. Jesus has been showing his own example of what greatness is and planting the hope of the kingdom of God. There are three parts.
Who is the Greatest? (24-30)
Jesus and the disciples were still having the last Supper. Look at verse 24, “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” Right after having the communion of Jesus’ blood and body, the disciples were arguing about who the greatest was among them. Then, why all of sudden, did they begin to talk about it? It was because they believed that Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at any moment as the Messiah as prophesied. This meant a lot to them, because they would have a political seat as one of Jesus’ 12 cabinet members in his new kingdom. Before that happens, they want to straighten the order among themselves so that they do not need to worry about it afterward: who is going to sit at Jesus’ right and left. In fact, John and James brought their mother to ask Jesus for those seats beforehand. The competition was fierce among the disciples.
This is not just the 12 disciples’ problem but most human beings; either believers or unbelievers. I like to watch soccer games. When I googled, I found the GOAT in soccer is Cristiano Ronaldo and next Lionel Messi. The ranks are based on some criteria, comparing one with others. There was a famous pastor who confessed that he also experienced the same when he attended a pastor’s conference, as they introduce each other, asking how many members and/or how great church building they have.
Jesus knew what they were talking about. The disciples were not listening to their teacher and were uncaring about his upcoming suffering and death. They were so selfish, only interested in what kind of position they would get. They were like students who come to the last lesson before the final exam and try to find the best way to get an A without studying. What would you do with such disciples? I would be sad that they were not getting any point and very angry that they were so selfish. What did Jesus do with them? How did Jesus help them? Jesus taught them three lessons to be great; 1) not to be great in the sight of the world, 2) be great in the sight of God and 3) the true hope in God’s kingdom.
First, not to be great in the eyes of the world. Look at verses 25-26a, “Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that.” Jesus taught them not to be great in the world. The best example of worldly greatest people are kings who lord it over others. Ironically, however, they call themselves a benefactor while exercise authority over their citizens. King Herod might be the best example; He was a gentile but became king of Israel. In order to maintain his power and authority, he killed innumerable people, using military power. At the same time, he rebuilt the temple, appeasing the religious leaders and Israelites, bringing a lot of money, saying that he was the Benefactor for the nation Israel. It seems strange, but this kind of people are everywhere. Even a clerk in the DMV may exercise their authority over others.
As disciples of Jesus, we should not follow the pattern of this world. In fact, people may vote for such a politician who may be a lesser evil, but they will never truly respect them who exercise authority over others. Yet, there is a temptation due to our natural desire to be greatest in the world, comparing ourselves with others, thinking that I am a little greater than others. Therefore, we should renew our minds through the word of God, finding ourselves before God. When we stand before God, we are humbled as Apostle Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace to me was not without effect, no, I worked harder than all of them. Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Co 15:9) When we find ourselves in the grace of God, we do not think of ourselves more highly than others but honor them as God has given each one his image and talent to edify the church. May God help us renew ourselves in the grace of God and live in humility of Jesus! Amen!
Second, how to be great in the sight of God. Look at verses 26b-27, “Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus did not say that they should not to try to be the greatest. Rather, they should desire to be the greatest in God. The greatest in the sight of God is the youngest. It does not mean that we should act like the youngest, wining with temper tantrums to get what we want, but that we should act as the lowest, who serves all others. The one who serves is the one who truly moves others’ hearts. Usually, a mother always serves food to all her children at the table. Who is greatest, children or mother? Have you seen a ruler who serves his subjects? Even people of the world consider such people who serve others great. Recently, the President Zelenskyy earned a lot of respect from Ukrainians, not leaving the country to save himself from the danger of being killed but staying in order to save his people and to encourage them to fight to the end.
Jesus is the best example. He visited a Samaritan woman and served her living water, quenching her thirsty soul. He visited the man who had been invalid for 38 years and served him until he got up, picked up his mat and walked. He healed the eyes of the blind man with his mud saliva and touched the leper with his compassion. He was ready to serve, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” to people who came to him. He was the teacher, bearing the bunch of 12 hillbillies who were full of themselves, training them, washing their feet and raising them to be great servants of God whom God could use to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. He was the King of kings and Lord of lords but died on the cross to ransom all sinners from the bondage of sin and of the devil. Before the good shepherd Jesus who gave his life for his sheep, I am humbled and pray to follow his footsteps. I thank God for our members who are ready to serve with the talent God has given them. You are the greatest in the sight of God. Amen!
Thirdly, true hope in the kingdom of God. Look at verse 28-30, “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Though the disciples seemed spiritually dumb to our eyes, Jesus saw their greatness. The 12 disciples stood by Jesus at the time of persecutions. The religious leaders not only persecuted Jesus but also the disciples. Once when so many followers deserted Jesus because they could not understand when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” They answered, “To whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life,” and stood by him when most of the disciples were gone.
As they participated in Jesus’ suffering, Jesus promised that they will participate in his glory in his kingdom, just as God promised the kingdom to Jesus. This reminds me of Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” They will have a feast with Jesus in his kingdom and sit with Christ in order to judge 12 tribes of Israel. This may happen in the kingdom of God. Also, it may mean that the disciples set good examples of obeying God’s calling for Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation as 1 Peter 2:9 says. Thus, their exemplary life is revealing the sin of 12 tribes of Israel who were called to be but disobeyed God’s calling. In this way, Jesus planted the hope of God’s kingdom in the heart of disciples. The hope of God’s kingdom should be the true motivation of the one who desires to be the greatest in the sight of God.
Jesus Prayed for the Disciples (31-34)
Look at verses 31-32, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus suddenly paid attention to Simon Peter, saying that all of the disciples will be in trials because Satan has asked to test them as a thresher sifts wheat, beating each one of them without missing one. Satan knows every weakness Peter has and is going to beat them. But Jesus said that he has prayed for him to hold on to his faith in Jesus. Jesus knew Peter’s weakness and revealed it so that he may be prepared for the time of failing.
Jesus knew that he was going to be restored. When he is restored, he may strengthen other disciples to stand firm. Yet Peter was hardheaded and bold, saying that he was ready to give his life to prison and even to death. He did not know how weak he was. He thought that he could do it by his own strength. He did not learn to depend on God through prayer.
How did Jesus help him? Look at verse 34. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’”
Now Jesus had to predict what would happen to him because Peter could not overcome the fear of death and would deny Jesus not only once but 3 times, even before a servant girl. This might be hard for Peter, but through prayer Jesus had to tell him so that he will remember it and be restored.
Just as the 12 disciples were sifted, we will go through the times of trials. At that time, we may struggle due to condemnation, yet we should remember that Jesus prays for us just as Roman 8:3 says, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” Thank you, Jesus, for praying for us to overcome our weaknesses and strengthen other brothers. May God help us not to depend on our own strength but to pray at the time of trials so that we may overcome the temptation of the devil. Even if we may fail like Peter, may God help us to believe in Jesus’ prayer and overcome condemnation, be restored and strengthen other brothers who are struggling with the same weakness. Amen!
Prepare for the future spiritually and physically (35-38)
Look at verses 35-36, “Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Jesus told his disciples not to have a purse or bag or cloak as he sent them to preach the gospel and heal people with his authority and power. They simply believed and obeyed Jesus’ commanded and experienced God’s protection and provision for the mission journey. Now, they should put what they learned into practice even after Jesus will not be there. Now Jesus asked them to buy a purse and a bag and a sword because he would not be with them any longer on earth. It is fulfilling God’s will for him to die with the transgressors on the cross for the sin of the world. They have to learn to prepare their future, spiritually and physically as we live with body and spirit. This means that we must not only learn to live by faith in God’s protection and provision but also practically prepare our life of faith with necessary things. For example, if you pray to be a missionary, you need to learn not only to live by faith but also to prepare money, necessary knowledge and language, even a passport. It was a figure of speech about buying a sword but the disciples only understood outwardly and brought two swords. Later Peter used one of them to cut the ear of the servant of the high priest, and Jesus stopped him. They should have brought the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. May God help us to learn to prepare ourselves spiritually and practically.
Through today’s passage, we learned that Jesus taught his disciples how to be the greatest. It is good to desire to be the greatest, but not in the sight of the world but in the sight of God through serving others with humility as Jesus did. When we remember the grace of God, we may be able to do so. Most of all, our motivation should not be for earthly glory but for heavenly glory in the kingdom of God. Jesus also prayed for his disciples, not to fail but be restored to help others. Today, Jesus is interceding us to overcome our weaknesses and encourage others who struggle with the same weaknesses. May God help us to learn to prepare our life of faith spiritually and practically. Amen!