God’s Idea of Greatness
July 3rd, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
GOD’S IDEA OF GREATNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-3-77 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, the great KRLD that blankets the Southwest and a large part of our nation, and on KCBI, the radio of our institute, you are with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled God’s Idea of Greatness. When we have the Lord’s Supper—and we observe this memorial on the first Sunday of each month—when we have our Lord’s Supper, I try to prepare a message in keeping with this holy communion service.
Therefore, the message tonight will be an exposition of a passage in the twenty-second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. And we’re going to read it out loud together. All of us turn to Luke, chapter 22, and we shall read out loud verses 24 through 30. And if you are listening to the service on radio, we invite you to get your Bible and to turn with us to the Third Gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke. Luke, and in Luke, chapter 22, beginning at verse 24, reading through verse 30; now, all of us out loud together. Luke 22, beginning at 24, closing at verse 30, together:
And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
And He said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as He that serveth.
Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations.
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me;
That ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
We have just read a part in that evening when our Lord shared the Passover with His apostles and instituted, at the close of the Paschal meal, this holy communion service. He asked Peter and John to go into the city because a price was upon His head. What He did He had to do surreptitiously, clandestinely, furtively, secretly. And He said to Peter and John that, “As you walk through the city, you will see a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him. And when you accost him, say, ‘The Master has need of the room.’ And when you go there you will find everything prepared” [Mark 14:13-16; Luke 22:7-13].
It had been previously arranged, the Passover the Lord was to share that night with His apostles. You see, a man carrying a pitcher of water was a sign. Men didn’t carry water. That was a woman’s prerogative, and a woman’s duty. Her assignment was to carry water, a pitcher of water. But this was a man carrying a pitcher of water. It was a sign to Peter and John. Following him, then they came to the home. Almost certainly it was the home of the mother and father of John Mark, the one who wrote the Second Gospel, the one who was so close to Simon Peter.
Now when they walk into that upper room, there is of course a place for the Lord, the Master, the leader, and then the apostles, as they arrange themselves around the Lord. It almost certainly must have been in the arrangement that the apostles fell into this altercation as which among them should be accounted the greatest. There was a strife among them [Luke 22:24], which of them should be accounted the greatest, precipitated, I would think, by the quarrel over who would sit next to the Lord on His right hand and next to the Lord on His left hand [Mark 10:35-37].
Who will be closest to Jesus? They were constantly in some kind of a confusion, strife, about that in the kingdom of God. So much so, you remember, that the mother of James and John, the wife of Zebedee, came to the Lord and asked that her boys, her two sons, might one be on His right hand and the other on His left [Matthew 20:20-21], that one in the kingdom might be, say, prime minister, and the other, chancellor of the exchequer; very ambitious for her two sons.
So, because of the seating arrangement, there must have been the occasion of the strife, as they quarreled over who should be accounted the greatest. Now in the midst of that confusion and altercation and strife, the Lord does two things, teaching the meaning of true greatness. In the Gospel of John, the Lord does it by example. He takes off His garments, He clothes Himself with a towel, and He begins to wash the apostles’ feet [John 13:4-5]. That is in John, the Gospel of John. But in Luke, the Lord answers their strife by words [Luke 22:24-30]. In John, by example, washing feet, who is greatest. And now in Luke, by word, who is greatest.
So we expound for this moment tonight the word that our Lord says defining true greatness. So He begins: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors” [Luke 22:25]. Now when we read that in English here, it looks as if the Lord is just saying the same thing in different words. No, He is not. There is a great meaning and a great difference between “exercise lordship” and “they that exercise authority” [Luke 22:25].
The first: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them” [Luke 22:25]. There is a Greek word meaning “Lord,” kurios, and the verbal form of it is kurieuō, translated here, “exercise lordship” [Luke 22:25]. That refers to an outward exaltation. It refers to a man who, say, heads a great corporation, and has under his surveillance, he can fire or hire maybe thousands and thousands of men. It refers to, say, a king who reigns over a vast empire, such as a Caesar. It refers to a general in an army who has men under him, and if he says, “This is the day of our charge,” why, these men throw themselves into the conflict, maybe at the loss of thousands and thousands of lives.
So He says, in the world of the Gentiles, that is in this world in which we live, there are those who are kurieuō. They are great kings, and great lords, and great generals, and presidents, and chairmen of the board of vast corporations. And the world calls them great, and that’s their idea of greatness. Look at that man. Look at that Caesar. Look at this king. Look at this head of the corporation. Look at that great general. Look at this man exercising leadership. And the world says that is greatness! “But it is not so among you” [Luke 22:26], nor is it God’s idea of greatness. And I want you to look at it just for a moment.
You tell me: when the Lord Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate, he was the governor and the procurator of the province [Matthew 27:1-2, 11], and there wasn’t anybody who lived, unless it was a handful of disciples, but who thought that the Lord Jesus was as a slave. And of course in the eyes of the government, He was, because He was condemned to be crucified, and not even a Roman citizen, not even a Roman citizen could be nailed to the cross. Just a felon, just a slave, could be crucified. How low, low, low was the Lord Jesus when He stood in the presence of the Roman procurator; much less had the Lord Jesus stood in the presence of the Roman Caesar, the imperial emperor, in the Eternal City itself.
Now, you tell me. That day when the Lord Jesus, like a slave—and I haven’t time to describe His actual demeanor and His actual appearance as He stood before Pontius Pilate [Matthew 26:66-68]. They had beat Him, and they had crowned Him with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. He was blood all over. He was a pitiful spectacle. That’s the reason that Pontius Pilate brought Him forth to the maddening throng and said, “Ecce homo,” “Idou ho anthropos,” “Behold the Man!” [John 19:5]. He was such a pitiful creature, beat as He was and covered in blood [John 19:1-5]. But you tell me, of the two, who was the greater? Who was the greater? Or had He stood before the Roman Caesar himself, you tell me, as great as the imperial emperor was, who was the greater? That’s the meaning of that word kurieuō, these who exercise lordship [Luke 22:25], the world’s idea of greatness.
Now let’s look at the next one: “And they that exercise authority on them” [Luke 22:25]. That is an altogether different word. In the Greek there is a word, exousia, which means power, or authority, and the verbal form of it is exousiazō, exousiazō. Now that refers to the inward authority that a man has. He’s great in himself. Great in himself, just the man himself—not because he’s a general, and not because he’s an emperor, and not because he’s head of the corporation, but he is a tremendous man in himself. It rises out of the man himself.
All right, you tell me. There are many, many men that the world acclaims. They are gifted and successful in so many areas of life. You just name any of them. There’s no end to it. In the world of sports, “Look at that man. Look at that woman,” an eminently successful somebody. Or here is a man in the music world, here playing an instrument, or singing, or writing opera, or oratorios. He is a tremendously gifted man in the world of music. Or here is the man who’s gifted in science, or in politics, or in a thousand areas of human endeavor. He’s a marvelously gifted man. Exousia, the authority—his place arises out of himself.
All right, you look at the Lord Jesus. If ever there was a man who gave the appearance of absolute failure, Jesus is that man. His life is so filled with the story of frustration, and defeat, and despair until one of the great theological tomes of literature, written by Albert Schweitzer entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus, the theme and the substance of that theological tome is this: that the Lord Jesus expected the kingdom of heaven to fall down apocalyptically, and when it didn’t, He died crucified, disappointed, frustrated, a failure. That is the thesis of that volume by Albert Schweitzer. He gave the appearance to the world of being an absolute disappointment, an absolute failure. After He had lived His life and done His work, there was hardly, out of the millions of Judea and Galilee, there was hardly one hundred twenty who were left to believe Him [Acts 1:15]. The world’s idea of greatness—it certainly would not have included, as Albert Schweitzer writes, “This Man, the Lord Jesus.”
I want you to look again: the world’s idea of realized ambition. “Whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat”—the man who sits at the head of a flowing, abounding, abundant table—“or he that serveth, the one that is bringing in the food? Is not that man that sits there at the head of the table? But I am among you as He that serveth” [Luke 22:27].
Now isn’t that an unusual thing? The world’s idea of realized ambition. Why, there are just young men and young women everywhere; “We’re going to get ahead. We’re going to rule with an iron mace. We’re going win in this race. I’m going to sit at the head of the table. I’m going to be waited on. I’m going to have money. I’m going to have fame. I’m going to have success. The whole world is out there for me to conquer, and I’m on the way to conquer it.”
So our idea of success lies in these worldly accouterments and attainments. Money, prestige, servants, people hired to help—oh, this is the man passing by! When he dies, he has a whole retinue following him. He is a successful man. That’s the world’s idea of greatness.
But who thinks about a great man being the humblest servant in the kingdom of Christ, and in the name of our Lord? May I give you an illustration? You’ve heard me speak of it before. The reason I think of it now, I was preaching at a conference and a man came up to me and asked me, “Do you remember such-and-such man?” I said, “I do.” And then he told me about him, where he is now, so ill, so old, so invalid, waiting the call of the Lord.
Now the reason I was asked about him is this. I was in New Mexico, in a little tiny town, on the Lord’s Day. And I went to the little church, the little tiny church. And the man who was preaching there at that little church found out that I was in the congregation, and he came up to me with deepest apology. And he said, “I cannot preach in your presence. You’re the pastor of that far-famed and great First Baptist Church in Dallas. And I,” he said, “I’ve never been to school.”
He said, “I am a carpenter. I work with my hands, and I make my living with my hands.” The little place—it was a little home on wheels, a little mobile home. “My home is right back of the church.” And he said, “I built this with my own hands. There wasn’t any church here at all, and I came and put my little mobile home there. And I built this church with my hands. I’m a carpenter and I make my living as a carpenter.” And he said, “I have organized the church, and I am its pastor, but I’m not educated and I’m not trained, and yet God has called me to preach, and this is my ministry, and I am ashamed to preach in your presence.”
Dear me! I said to him, “You know, my Lord was a carpenter. He worked with His hands” [Mark 6:3]. And I said, “As for what you’ve done, why, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to build a church house. I have no idea how you would go about doing it. It would be impossible for me.” I said, “My brother, God has given you favors and blessings that I never experienced nor would ever attain to. Now, you stand up there and you open that Book and you preach the gospel. And I’ll be praying for you, and I’ll be your best listener and your most sympathetic attendant.”
You tell me, in God’s eyes, isn’t that man a great man? I say he’s greater than the governor of his state. He’s greater than the richest man who lives in that state. And in God’s eyes, he shall have a worthy and honored place in the kingdom of our Lord; God’s idea of greatness.
Will you look again? God’s idea of tenderness and care and love and concern. “With desire I have desired” [Luke 22:15]; epithumia, desire, epethumēsa. Isn’t that a strange thing? Epithumia epethumēsa. Just like it’s a Hebrew way of expressing intense emotion, such as “blessing, I will bless thee” [Genesis 22:17], or “seeing, you will see,” or “hearing, you will hear” [Isaiah 6:9]. He is expressing intense emotion, epithumia epethumēsa.
“With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” [Luke 22:15]. Now you look at that just for a moment. It is almost pitiful the way our Lord sought for encouragement and help from the apostles. This is His night of trial, of suffering, and the next morning, of His crucifixion [Luke 23:26-46]. And He looked to them with desire: “I have desired to spend this last moment with you” [Luke 22:15].
All right; what kind of folks were those, that He was “desiring with desire” to spend His last moment with them? Well, there’s Simon Peter. Simon Peter. It was in just a few hours later that Simon Peter would be cursing and denying that he ever saw Him, much less knew Him [Matthew 26:69-74; Luke 22:56-60]. That’s one of them. Another one of them was Judas Iscariot. In just a few hours he would sell Him for thirty pieces of silver, betray the Lord into the hands of the temple guard [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. And look again. Here’s Peter, James, and John, the men that the Lord asked to abide with Him and watch with Him and pray with Him [Matthew 26:37-39], and they are sound asleep [Matthew 26:40]. And then look at the whole group. Look at all of them. In just a few hours they will all forsake Him and flee. The Bible says, “And they forsook Him, and fled” [Matthew 26:56]. All of them. All of them. And yet our Lord, in tenderest love, in sweetest open-heartedness, in appreciation for them, sought their presence and their encouragement in this hour [Luke 22:15].
You know, dear people, I’m saying this part mostly for myself. That’s the world, to drop them. “Look at this sinner; curse him! Look at this friend who betrayed me; hate him! Look at this one who has failed. Look at this somebody who has an assignment and he didn’t carry it through.” And we are hypercritical and hypercynical. I want you to know, it is easy to be so buffeted by the world and its people until you lose confidence and faith in everybody, and you become cynical and bitter in your heart. Don’t. Don’t. All of these things are true about everybody. All of these things are true about somebody. There’s not anything that you can think of bad, that isn’t found in somebody’s heart, and somebody’s life.
But you look at the blessed Jesus. He loved those men just the same, wanted their love and companionship just the same, a precious, sweet attitude of our blessed Lord [Luke 22:15].
Know what He said to the woman caught in adultery? “Neither do I condemn thee: rise, and sin no more” [John 8:10-11]. That is the Lord Jesus. Wherever there is somebody, there is the compassionate concern of our blessed Jesus. That’s great. That’s great.
Hastily, just this one other. God’s idea of kingdom citizenship: “I appoint unto you a kingdom” [Luke 22:29]. Diatithemi, that is the word for “to make a will.” That’s the word for an assignment; to make a covenant. If I had my Greek New Testament—let me have it. He’s always following my sermon with his Greek New Testament. My land, you’ve worn the thing off! On your Greek New Testament there is written Hē Kainē Diathēkē, and then over here the same thing, Hē Kainē Diathēkē. That word diathēkē is the substantive form of the verb diatithemi, to make a will. Hē KainēDiathēkē, the new will, the new covenant, the new promise, the New Testament. Coming from this, “I appoint unto you,” diatithemi; the same verbal form of diathēkē, the substantive; “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me” [Luke 22:29].
The world’s idea of kingdom citizenship is always sensual and always carnal; never any other thing, never any other way. But the Lord’s idea of kingdom citizenship is always one of the substance and presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts, and in our lives; walking in the way of the Lord in beauty, in moral purity, in honesty, in excellency.
The Lord was tempted, saying, “You fall down and worship me, and I will give You the kingdoms of the world, and all their glory” [Matthew 4:8-9]. A shortcut, no cross, no suffering, just “Fall down and worship me,” the third temptation. And the Lord said, “Get thee behind Me Satan. . .Thou shalt worship God, and Him only are you to serve” [Matthew 4:10].
May I illustrate it? In the kingdom, it’s always at a cost, at a sacrifice, at a price. Always it is. The world tempts us. The shortcut: “You leave out that sacrifice; you leave out that commitment; you leave out that cross; you leave out that godliness; you leave out that Christian love and heart and consecration and devotion, and let it be sensual in your life, and carnal. Make that shortcut.” That’s the world, and that’s the world’s idea of achievement. Not so, God’s. Now, I want to show it to you.
There was a young man of unusual business acumen, a single young man who lived with his mother at home. He was very successful. He had the genius of business enterprise and achievement. So he came to his mother one night and he said to her, “Mother, I have an opportunity to make lots of money in this field. Mother, it’s a fabulous amount of money, and I have the opportunity to make it, Mother, in this one deal. But, Mother, it’s shady. It’s not quite right. And I don’t know what to do.”
And the mother said, “Son, in the morning, when I prepare your breakfast for you, I come to the foot of the stairs and I say, ‘John? John, breakfast is ready. John?’ And there’s no answer. “And I go upstairs, and I’ll open the door to your bedroom, and there you are, son, sound asleep. And I come over and I put my hand on your face, and I say, ‘Wake up, John. Breakfast is ready. Wake up, son.’” And the mother added, “Son, I would hate some morning to stand at the foot of the stair and say, ‘John? John?’ and find you wide awake.”
Troubled, burdened, worried, compromised—the shortcut, the carnality and sensuality of greed and of wrong—that’s not the citizen in the kingdom. “I appoint unto you a kingdom” [Luke 22:29], a diathēkē, a sacrifice, a covenant sealed in blood. And the way we inherit it is to walk in the truth, and the glory, and the honesty, and the purity, the morality, the height, the blessing, the goodness, the glory of God. It may be longer that way, and it may be more costly that way, but you inherit the kingdom that way.
My young friend, the world may convince you that the way of Satan and of the glory of the world has in it a thousand allurements and ten thousand enticements, and all of it better than the one before. He’s deceiving you. The way to true riches, and true success, and true happiness, and true greatness lie in the way of our blessed Lord, who suffered and died in the will of God [Matthew 26:39]. This is the one who is truly great in the eyes of the Lord.
Now we are going to sing us a song of appeal, and while we sing the song, a family you, a couple you, or just you, giving your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], coming into the fellowship of the church, answering God’s call with your life. While we sing this appeal, would you come and stand by me? I shall be here on this side of our communion table. Come. “Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God, and here I am.” In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle. God bless you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.
IDEA OF GREATNESS
A. Preparation of the
arrangement precipitated argument of who would be greatest
C. Washing feet – who
would do it? (Luke 22:24-27)
II. Contrast in ideas of greatness
A. The world –
exercising lordship (Luke 22:25)
B. Christ – serving,
1. Jesus before
Pilate (John 19:5)
III. Contrast in ideas of self-fulfillment
A. The world – exousia;
inward authority, greatness
B. Christ – as a
servant; ministry in a small place
IV. Contrast in ideas of realized ambition
A. The world – success,
worldly accoutrements and attainments
B. Christ – humblest
servant in the kingdom of God
V. Contrast in loving affection
A. The world – dropped
when you fail
B. Christ – Loving even
though aware of our imperfections (John 8:11)
VI. Contrast in kingdom citizenship
A. The world – a
kingdom of sensual enjoyment
B. Christ – sacrifice,
devotion, pouring out life unto death, assignment