Growing up in Southern California in the 60’s and 70’s I heard a lot of claims about the greatest! Some new invention such as the Veg-O-Matic or Flo-Bee was always being touted as, “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” The great Prize Fighter and three time Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali would proclaim in a loud voice to anyone anywhere, “I’m the Greatest. The Greatest of all time.” Invariably, after one of Ali’s interviews with Howard Cosell on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the racially charged environment of the 1960’s-70’s, I’d hear someone say, “He just thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.” But as in the case of Muhammad Ali, long after his Boxing career was over, in 1998 Ring Magazine ranked him number 1 of all Heavyweight Champions from all eras. So at least his boasts had a basis in merit.
In the Church there has always existed this carnal nature to want to be the greatest in the Kingdom, especially by those who seek to manipulate their way to the top as in other social groups. Remember what happened after descending the Mount of Transfiguration, after The Lord had shown Peter, James and John His Glory, the Glory He had with The Father before the world was?
When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him. “What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked. One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” Mark 9:14-18 NLT.
“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!” Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up. Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer. Mark 9:21-29 NLT
v. 24 …”I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
This should be a prayer for all of us. Help us overcome our unbelief, Lord. Increase our faith; our faith in You!
After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37 NLT
v. 35 …”the servant of everyone else.”
Greatness is found in serving! Serving the needs of others. Spending the one commodity that you cannot buy with money; TIME, and spending your time meeting another’s need. It is called redeeming the days. The time we have on Earth is so brief, we are as the grass, here today and gone tomorrow. So let us all spend some of our time being kind to others, helping them bear their load and be our brother’s keeper.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. Mark 9:38-41 NLT
v. 38 “…but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
I’ve found that there is nothing else that will get “religious people” to hinder the work of God, like the work of God being done through people who are not in their “group” or who don’t follow them. It’s just carnal, human nature to want to control the work of God, to co-opt the work of God and if they can’t join them or lead them, they oppose them.
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” Matthew 18:1-7 NLT
This is the same event, but Mark is such a brief account that it is important to examine all that The Lord said about, ‘The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The Lord loved the little children. You know He was busy proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, healing the sick and teaching as he traveled around Israel by foot. Sometimes they had no place to stay, nothing to eat or drink and at other times people would open their homes to Him and the disciples. The disciples would try and limit access to The Lord, you know keep the crowd at arm’s length as they thronged Him. And they tried to keep the children away! Maybe they thought, “The Master is way too busy and His time is too valuable to waste it on children.”, but Jesus had a different view of His time and mission.
I think back to the Jesus People days. We were for the most part untrained. We had not been to a seminary or received any formal theological training. We were not licensed by the State to marry, bury or get paid for it. We were just excited about Jesus and wanted to turn people on to Him. We didn’t have the “right kind of Bibles”. Most of us had abandoned the Authorized King James Version for something we could read. A new Bible had recently been published, it was titled, The Way. It was a paraphrase of the 1901 American Standard Bible; thick as a brick and just as heavy. With its mod design of simple letters forming the title and three bright faces of happy Jesus Freaks, it caught on and the Living Bible in 1972 and 73 became the best-selling book in America. Many people complained when we’d attend a Bible study with one and when asked to read a portion of scripture some of the older church members would sneer, snort or complain, “That’s not the real Bible”. The old religious establishment types would harass us and ask, “By whose authority are you preaching on the streets”? “Who gave you this authority”? I still hear this every now and again, usually from the “Christian Cults”, but also sometimes by the younger Pastors in the very same nondenominational churches we Jesus People helped to establish; Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard and a plethora of other spin-off, nondenominational mega churches. I just smile and remember the days before the tent and at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa that’s like saying, “before the flood.”