"Who's the Greatest?"#85-02
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 10, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What is the Secret to Successful Relationships?)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 18:1-20
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus called a little child to Him and placed the child among them. He said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in My Name welcomes Me." Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Hallelujah!
Greatness. Let me begin today by asking you a question: what makes a person great? What makes someone truly outstanding? What quality is the most important quality in a human being? That's a challenging question, isn't it? I mean the disciples came to Jesus with that question. They said to Him, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" They weren't necessarily looking for Jesus to identify the most famous person or the wealthiest individual of their time. They were trying to understand the most important characteristic a person should have to be considered great. How did Jesus answer? The Gospel of Matthew tells us and calling to Him a child, He put the child in the midst of them and then He said this, "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom."
What makes a person great? What quality is most important? To be humble like a child. Now, that's counterintuitive, isn't it? I mean, honestly, that's one thing I love about Jesus' wisdom and His perspective. He's unpredictable to say the least. You and I would probably answer the question about greatness in a completely different way. My gut reaction to a question about greatness would send me looking for powerful athletes, business people who have established thriving organizations, and world leaders who are known for amazing feats of diplomacy. Instead of defining greatness in terms of achievement, Jesus defines it in terms of character. Instead of making greatness an impossible dream, Jesus made greatness a quality that all of us can live out. Most importantly, instead of equating greatness to temporary success or renown, Jesus connected greatness to life that is lasting and enduring, life given by God as a gracious gift, a gift of life that you can receive and renew by God's grace through faith in Him today.
What exactly then did Jesus mean when He said, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"? What does it mean to be humble like a child? Maybe the best way to answer that question is by telling you a story. You know, you may have heard of Rashad Jennings. His eight-year professional football career as a running back has put him in the category of an elite athlete, achieving what only a small number of athletes can actually do. Rashad didn't start at the top. He describes himself during high school as an overweight, chubby kid with glasses and asthma. His high school grade point average was .6. That's right, less than an F average.
As a high school football player at Jefferson Forrest High School in Forrest, Virginia, Jennings received a rare chance to try out his skills. He was the fifth-string running back. The odds of ever playing were slim, but after the first four running backs went down with injuries and after the coach tried someone else at the position, Rashad was asked to come into the game. On his very first play, he ran the ball 30 yards and scored a touchdown, and he scored three more touchdowns in that game. Everyone was amazed. A scout from the University of Tennessee happened to be at the game. He approached Rashad and asked him about his grades. After hearing his dismal GPA, the scout said to Jennings, "Son, you have potential, but you got to get your grades right." What did Rashad do? He and his brothers decided that the best course of action would be to have Rashad transfer to Lynchburg Christian Academy, repeat his junior year in high school, and become responsible for his academic work and athletic training.
What does it mean to be humble like a child? Well, first, your ego doesn't get in the way. Think about it. Your unhappiness may be the result of your refusal to ask for help. It's ego. Your relationship discord and misery may be at an all-time high because you won't say you're sorry, and you won't bend to listen and to walk with that person in your life. It's ego. You may not be moving forward in life because you refuse to change and you can't admit that someone else may know better than you do. It's ego. That pesky, joy-stealing, life-limiting, relationship-hurting ego can keep God's grace at arm's length, too. The arm of God is stretched out to you with the free gift of healing for your broken heart, restoration for your shame and failure, forgiveness for your sins, strength in your fear and frailty, and eternal hope in a world that drains hope from you and from me.
Jesus Christ earned these gifts through His suffering, death, and resurrection, and that is the good news I have for you today. God loves you with an everlasting love, and He has His heart set on blessing you with His new life. Will your ego stand in the way? Hear the truth, dear listener. The greatest person is not the one who achieves the most, but the one who receives and shares the greatest gifts. God's gifts of grace are for you today. Will you let the Spirit of God remove your arrogance, resistance, and ego? Will you be humble like a child, depend on God in faith, and receive God's new life today?
Rashad Jennings let his ego fall to the wayside. He repeated his junior year in high school and discovered that in giving up everything, there is everything to be gained. He went on to excel in both football and academics at Lynchburg Christian Academy. He was a two-time all- division player in football and even lettered in basketball those final two years of high school. Then he received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Jennings was only the fourth true freshman to start at running back there, and people were taking notice. Jennings' football career was taking off.
Then everything changed. Rashad saw his father's drinking affect the family. The distraction and harm of alcohol robbed Rashad of his father's attention. Rashad's father developed diabetes, and during Rashad's sophomore year at Pitt he had to have a leg amputated. Now in a wheelchair, Rashad's dad had needs beyond what his mom could handle, and that's when Rashad made an astounding decision. He gave up his football scholarship; he left the University of Pittsburgh; he sacrificed the limelight of Division I football; and he transferred to Liberty University, just five miles away from his home. Why? So he could help his father. Instead of holding onto hurt and resentment, Rashad Jennings stepped out in self-sacrificial love.
What does it mean to be humble like a child? In addition to putting ego aside, being humble like a child means you focus on giving and not gaining. It's so easy to wonder, "What's it in for me? What's in it for you?" Isn't it? It's always tempting to get involved only if you know that you'll be getting something in return. You'll take the first step only if you know you'll be vindicated. You'll agree to the plan only if your needs will be met. You'll do the hard work only if you're guaranteed a payoff. That's the selfish default we all have. Jesus did something radically different. We hear in Philippians 2 that Jesus "emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Jesus articulated a new and revolutionary way of looking at life. He said, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." Jesus redefined greatness. True greatness is not who gets the most, but who gives the most.
This is the new pathway Jesus opened up for you and me. Instead of striving to amass all you can, instead of pushing people down in order to lift yourself up, instead of being trapped in a dog-eat-dog frenzy that brings stress, anxiety, and trouble, Jesus showed that giving, not gaining, brings the ultimate fulfillment and works unlimited blessing in life. Jesus gave His life for you-His life. The result was your new life in Him. Jesus sacrificed for you, freed you from the mad scramble to get your just desserts. His death and resurrection gave you all you need. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." The apostle Paul emphasized, "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?"
You see, with Jesus in your life, you can't lose. Even if it looks like you're losing everything, no loss stops the gain that Jesus brings. That's why you can focus on giving, not gaining. You know, the Bible says it clearly. We love because God first loved us. You can love others freely without fear. You can bless people in your life abundantly without the worry of losing out. You can listen, help, apologize, and serve without thinking you'll be slighted. Children aren't worried about amassing an empire. To be humble like a child means walking in the steps of the Son of God who focused on giving and not gaining.
How are you being called to give your life away these days? Rashad Jennings played for two years at Division I AA Liberty University. While there, he set a Big South Conference record in yardage and touchdowns. He was also present almost every day to help his dad who ended up having his second leg amputated too due to the ravages of diabetes. Jennings showed love to his father and rebuilt that injured relationship, and he played football. After giving away the prominent spotlight of football at Pitt, a miracle happened. Jennings was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The spectacled and overweight boy with a .6 GPA who gave up a prominent football scholarship was now a professional football player. Rashad Jennings realized that becoming a professional player wasn't the mark of greatness. He said, "There's nothing special about me. I'm just in a special position. If I'm just known as Rashad Jennings the running back, then I failed." Jennings started the Rashad Jennings Foundation. Its aim is to bless kids who are enduring the same kinds of adversity he endured. This effort to bless-to bless others-is what Rashad Jennings wants to make his life's work purposeful.
You see, that's the third point about what it means to be humble like a child. It means you concentrate on blessing the people in your life, ego aside, a focus on giving and concentrating on blessing the people in your life. That's being humble like a child. That's the gift of life through faith in Jesus. Now, please remember this isn't a program developed by a football player. This is greatness demonstrated by God to you through His Son Jesus. In our imperfection and flawed lives, God could have cursed us and cast us aside. He could have harbored anger because of our disobedience and selfishness. But with a boundless love and generous grace, God picked us up and made us new creations in Jesus. He gave us the search and hope of His presence now and life with Him forever. He speaks to us through His Word. He washes us clean in Baptism. He lives in us through the blessing of Holy Communion. He blesses and blesses and blesses some more.
Who's the greatest? Not the cutthroat achiever, not the ruthless ladder climber, not the person who satisfies all of his or her desires, not even the person who blesses others because it makes them feel better about themselves. It's the person who loves others the way God loves them, period. Those who insist on blessing the people that God places in his or her life in and for His Name. Think about things this way. Reflect on how magnificent God's love for you in Jesus is today. Be in awe of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost because that's God in action for you. Then ask, "How am I blessing my wife, my husband, my children? How am I blessing the people who work with me and live next door? How can I bless the drivers who are rushing by me in the morning commute and the servers who are busy handling a heavy dinner crowd? How can I bless my fellow believers? How can I bless people who don't agree with me about almost anything?" Well, here's how: all in view of how God richly blesses me already. Just think about it this way. God put you here to bring His blessing to broken people in need of eternal hope.
Last spring, Rashad Jennings appeared on the television show Dancing with the Stars. One of his dances was designed to portray his love for his father. Not too long ago, Rashad's father had a stroke that further complicated his health situation. Now, think about it. With a dad confined to a wheelchair and finding it difficult to speak, a wounded and vengeful son could have walked away from his absentee father and chalked up his physical difficulties to getting what he deserved, but Rashad danced a dance that showed forgiveness after struggle and unconditional love that brought blessing. At the end of his dance, he approached his father in the wheelchair. He knelt on the floor next to him; he wrapped his arms around him; and he leaned his head on his dad's shoulder in a tearful, tearful embrace. True greatness was seen that night on a show like Dancing with the Stars, not in the dance but in a childlike humility that put ego aside, gave completely to someone who didn't deserve it, and brought blessing that lifted everyone up.
Who's the greatest? Who's the greatest of all times? Anyone who shares the love of God first shared with us in Jesus. Will you truly be great today in Christ by faith to others? Yes. Yes, you can by the power of His Spirit in His Name. Amen.
Action in Ministry for September 10, 2017
Guest: Mr. Troy Teuscher
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: And, Mark, I think we all aspire to greatness, don't we? Whether we dream of being a professional athlete, a best-selling author, or maybe even the greatest preacher of all time. Greatness. It appeals to our egos.
Mark Eischer: But in your message today you reminded us that an attitude of childlike humility is when God can be greatest in working through us, and I think a good example of that is Martin Luther.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Well, I think he is, and joining us today is our colleague, Troy Teuscher. He's associate producer of a new video resource titled, A Man Named Martin-Part Three: The Movement. It's the third and final part of our series on Martin Luther and the Reformation. So, Troy, thanks for joining us.
Troy Teuscher: Thanks. Great to be here.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Now to get us started, here's a sample of what you'll find in this new resource.
Speaker 1: So what we have to think about at the end of the 16th century is that the religious landscape was shifting.
Speaker 2: The Lutherans were officially a big problem.
Speaker 3: Because now the Protestants are organizing on a political scale.
Speaker 4: And the reformers are saying, "This is the God's truth. We can't let it go."
Speaker 5: We're not teaching anything new here. This is the Christian faith.
Speaker 6: This world would look very, very different and think very, very differently without the Reformation.
Mark Eischer: And Troy, how does this episode relate to the first two?
Troy Teuscher: Okay, well, Martin One is about the life and times of Martin Luther. So it covers the major events in his life, and the reason why he took his stand against the Roman Catholic Church. And Martin Two is a prequel, so it talks about the reason why there is a need for reformation, so it covers some of the unbiblical theology and practices that crept their way into the Roman Church-things like purgatory, indulgences, celibacy, and the worship of Mary. And Martin Three covers what happened after Luther took his famous stand at Worms in 1521, all the way to the end of the Reformation, which is the end of the Thirty Years' War.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: You know as some have noticed from the clip we just played, Troy, one of the fascinating aspects of this study is how it brings to life the political tension during the Reformation. This was not merely a religious or church issue. So tell us a bit about how politics played such an influential role.
Troy Teuscher: Yeah, this is an amazing time in history. There was so much going on. As the Reformation gets under way, the world is changing. The old feudal system is winding down. The printing press has been discovered. The New World has been discovered. People are looking for new ideas and new ways of doing things. So you have all of that going on while Luther is doing his work. And the pope really wanted the emperor to take care of this situation.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: You take care of that guy, right?
Troy Teuscher: Yeah. And the emperor considered this like a squabble among monks. So he really wanted the pope to deal with it. So you have the pope and the emperor. Neither one of them really did a whole lot to stop the Reformation for about 25 years. And so during that time the Reformation is just running at full speed ahead.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Yeah, I mean, you were talking about this: God actually seems like He's opening up some space for this word to kind of bubble up, right?
Troy Teuscher: Yeah, and every time the emperor started to turn his attention towards the Reformation, he got distracted by things like wars and other things that were going on in his empire that he has to deal with.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: That'll distract you.
Troy Teuscher: The papacy just had a hard time getting traction. From the time that Luther posted the 95 Theses, four different popes came and went before the Church began to seriously deal with the Protestants at the Council of Trent. So during that 25-year time span, the emperor and the pope are distracted. Lutheranism and Protestantism grew and became entrenched within Europe.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Yeah, the ideas had power, but they also had time. Troy and Mark, I had the privilege to be a part of this study along with some other wonderful theologians and historians. This is such a rich resource-one we want everyone to explore the video sessions as well as the study guide.
Mark Eischer: And Troy, what's your goal for those who use this resource?
Troy Teuscher: Well, we started this project because the 500th-anniversary of the Reformation is coming up on October 31st, 2017. So we wanted to give people a resource that they could use to remember and celebrate the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Mark Eischer: A Man Named Martin-Part Three: The Movement is available to view or download from our web page, and I'll give you that information in just a moment.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: And Troy, always a joy to work with you and what a phenomenal resource we have here. So thanks for sharing that with us today.
Troy Teuscher: Thanks for having me.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: And for more information about this video resource go to lutheranhour.org, or call 1-855-John316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 10, 2017
Topic: What is the Secret to Successful Relationships?
Mark Eischer: And we are back with Pastor Gregory Seltz, responding to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener says one of the greatest stresses of his life is dealing with other people. Whether it's at home or outside the home, he's constantly being challenged by that. He wants to know what is the secret to successful relationships.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Mark, the particulars of this question might be better asked of my wife, Yvette, who's a coach and counselor. Let me acknowledge up front I've got no special knowledge on this except the Word of God and applying that Word is something that I need to hear and work on in my life, too. Let's go to the Word of God for some expert advice for us all.
Mark Eischer: Right. Let's hear what God's Word has to say about relationships.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Here it is. Ready? One word. I can sum up God's answer to the question in one word.
Mark Eischer: That word is ...?
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Don't wince and roll your eyes at this. Let me explain after I say it, okay?
Mark Eischer: Right, the one word that sums up the secret to successful relationships.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: It's love: L-O-V-E, love.
Mark Eischer: Yeah, it's a beautiful word, but I understand why you might think it's somewhat of a cliché.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: That's the challenge with the word love these days. We overuse it. We love all kinds of things from good cheeseburgers to fun vacations.
Mark Eischer: You know, I do love a good cheeseburger every now and then, especially with bacon.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: That's right. I love them that way, too. You can see already, Mark, the word love has lost some of its power. I mean real love is about being radically and devoted to self-sacrifice for others. The biblical word is agape. That's a powerful love that gives up everything and expects nothing. Self-sacrificial love-that's true love, and it makes the people around you better and more beautiful.
Mark Eischer: That's not easy, is it?
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Actually, on our own, it's impossible, but as Christians, it's God's love in our life that we can then begin to learn and to share with others. Listen to the apostle Paul's words in Ephesians five. He's speaking to husbands in particular but his words articulate what love really is. He says, "Husbands, love,"-agape love, self-sacrificially-"love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." You know how Jesus gave Himself up for the church too, right?
Mark Eischer: Right. He suffered unjustly. He died on the cross for our benefit. He gave up everything so that we could gain everything in Him. He forgave us even though we didn't deserve it. God's Word says that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Yeah, because Jesus died for us, He put us back in relationship with God the Father. Even though we didn't deserve it, Jesus restored our walk with God. He reconciled us to the Father. That's agape in action. That is the secret to successful relationships.
Mark Eischer: In 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul also says this reconciliation through Christ now gives us the ministry of reconciliation.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: There's another connection to the secret of successful relationships. The ability to be successful in relationships doesn't lie in our own power, in our own emotional resources. In fact, relationships are where we often see our greatest weaknesses. Our ability to show love is rooted in God's relationship already with us. We're called to show the self-sacrificial love that God has first shown us in Christ.
Mark Eischer: We draw from His rich resources of unconditional, lavish love and, in gratitude, blessed by that love, we're then called to show love in all we do, speaking God's truth and serving that into others' lives, but doing it all in love.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Yeah, when people are mean, we're called to show God's love. When someone is at fault, we're called to show God's love. When a child is disobedient, we're called to show God's love. In all things, we're trying to reflect God's truth in love for the sake of the other.
Mark Eischer: But you can't let people just walk all over you.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: No, you can't, Mark. God's love in action is to share His truth in love so everything's not up for grabs but, honestly, I see more of a need for self-sacrificial love than worrying about being taken advantage of by others. Instead of getting defensive, becoming inflexible, trying to get your way, not listening to others, or just being plain mean to others, we're called to be patient and to kindly love people.
Mark Eischer: To set up a proper tone by giving up our need to be right or to be first or in charge, then we'd be amazed at how successful our relationships can be.
Dr. Gregory Seltz: Yeah, you'll be shocked at how much you receive when you make it your aim to give to others as your Savior gives to you.
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)