Have you ever longed to be great; rising above average; seeking to outshine the dross that surrounds you? You leap for the stars and barely leave the ground. It may be easy to blame your life-situation, pointing at your neighborhood or your family or your school, but others seem to be able to rocket above their circumstances. Maybe what weighs you down is something more elemental or maybe it is a combination of things. Oh, sure, it takes hard work, but you have come to realize that it involves other things as well. Things like natural ability, charisma, and just plain stupid luck. Sometimes, people are noticed simply because they were in the right place at the right time. So, where does that leave the rest of us? Are we meant to spend our life wishing and longing for what is out of our reach? Maybe we need to reboot our definition of greatness.
In Luke 7:24-28 Jesus answers the question, “Who is greater in the kingdom of God?” The two messengers of John, who had been sent to ask Jesus a question, have gone their merry way. Jesus addresses the crowd and asks them what they went out into the wilderness to see. Was it a reed shaken by the wind? Is Jesus asking, “Did you go out to see a wishy-washy man out there in the desert?” And the obvious answer would have been “No!” Many seem to think this is the point. But maybe the point was how common place reeds in the desert were. Sure, you can find many a reed out there, but is that why you went? Either way, John was neither wishy-washy nor common. How about a man dressed in soft indulgent clothing? Now that is rare, but are you likely to find such a one out in the wasteland, getting his luxuriant garments all dusty and sweaty? No, if they had wanted to see someone so dressed, they would have gone to the royal palace where they would have most likely been turned away.
No, they went out to see a prophet – a proclaimer of a divine message. We hear the word “prophet” and we think “a proclaimer of future events.” But the Hebrew word for “prophet” simply means “proclaimer.” The Greek word has the idea of “one who stands before to proclaim.” It is used in the Bible for a man or woman who is standing before the people to deliver a message from God, whether that message be about what is about to take place or an interpretation of what has already happened. So, the crowd went out to the desert to see John stand before them and proclaim a divine message. But John was more than a prophet; he was the one sent by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Other prophets may have announced his future coming, but John was the one who was chosen to make his road ready, and that would make John the prophesied coming of Elijah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5).
And then Jesus wraps his comments up about John by saying that among those born of women there is no one greater than John. What? Jesus was born of a woman. Is he saying that John is greater than himself? And shouldn’t we avoid all of these making comparisons? Jesus just goes on and makes another comparison: even though no one is greater than John, the littlest or least, which can refer to age or importance, in the kingdom of God is greater than John. What? Will John not be in the kingdom? Back it up a minute. What if Jesus is speaking of roles and position? What did they flock out into the desert to see? The one who was preparing the way for the Messiah. That is what made John great. His role. Not royal status or ability. He was chosen to proclaim the divine message to get people ready for the Coming One. And that role, given to him by God, is what made him greater. And who is he preparing the way for? Jesus, the Messiah, the Coming One. And the least, the normally discarded and dismissed, who are in the kingdom, will be doing kingdom work. That makes them greater than John.
There may be some who will disparage you and your contribution. You may feel as if your life is little, mundane, insignificant. But if you belong to the king, he makes you great. You are doing kingdom work. Will people discuss your greatness in coffee shops? Will your face be seen in newspapers or on the TV? Will you outshine the dross of mundane life? If your definition of greatness is recognition, you may never achieve it. But if your definition of greatness is the gift of kingdom existence, kingdom ministry, well then, you can and will be great. And this is the shame of the gospel. It is not about your ability; your intelligence; your charisma; your luck. It is about the greatness of the Giver. He has a kingdom and kingdom work for you. Enter in and be great my friend. Peace, Walter