daily biblical sermons


Everyone that makes himself little in this world for the sake of Christ and his gospel will be great in the world to come
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 26th Week of the Year, September 28, 2020
Job 1:6-22, Psalm 16, Luke 9:46-50


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.’ John answered, ‘Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you’” (Luke 9:46-50).

 

 

Today’s gospel deals with human pride and the desire to be superior to and lord it over others by gaining a higher status or a more prestigious position or job. This is obviously not a problem confined to the first century or to Jesus immediate group of disciples, but is with us today as well.

 

 

First of all, when the disciples want to be first in the kingdom of God, they are not thinking about being the greatest preacher or the greatest saint or being the one that lives most profoundly in God’s love and peace, but rather they were thinking in purely human terms of an earthly kingdom of the Messiah, with Jesus as its glorious king, and they wanted to know who would have the most prestigious position in his kingdom.

 

 

“They expected [that the kingdom of the Messiah] would be a temporal one: wherefore the dispute was not about degrees in glory, nor in grace; nor who should be the greatest apostle and preacher of the Gospel; but who should be prime minister to the king Messiah, when he should set up his monarchy in all its grandeur and glory” (John Gill, 1697-1771).

 

 

So, the disciples were not seeking after spiritual greatness, which would have been a good thing, but rather after merely human and worldly glory and greatness, which in Christ’s kingdom is not a good thing to seek. So, Jesus admonishes them to associate with simple, humble people of no worldly importance if they want to be the greatest in a spiritual sense in his kingdom, which is not a worldly kingdom.

 

 

So “he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:47-48). It sounds like Jesus is not really answering their concern about who is greatest in the kingdom, when he talks about receiving a child. What does that have to do with their question about who is the greatest?

 

 

It seems that the answer is that if we associate ourselves with people of no worldly prestige, and with little children, not necessarily in age but in simplicity, that is, with humble, lowly, ordinary, everyday people, instead of wanting to always be seen standing or sitting next to an important, well-known, and distinguished person, we are on the right track, for we have made ourselves lowly like the lowly people we associate with. The conclusion is that if you humble yourselves in this way, “He who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48). So, Jesus tells us, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4).

 

 

So basically, Jesus is telling them not to seek the first place in a worldly sense in a worldly kingdom and in human society, but rather to be lowly, meek, and humble, like a little child, and associate with people who are lowly, meek, and humble like little children, for then you will be great in the kingdom (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1405-1406).

 

 

John Gill quotes a rabbinic saying that “Everyone that makes himself little for the words of the law in this world, shall be made great in the world to come” (John Gill, 1697-1771).

 

 

Preaching the gospel is a way of making yourself little in this world for Jesus’ sake. Many worldly people despise the gospel as something too simple to be worth their attention, namely that Jesus is our Savior who died instead of us on the cross as our substitute to pay our debt of suffering and death that we have with God in punishment for our sins so that we won’t have to pay it. So, when we put our faith in Christ, God will consider our death penalty served for us by Christ’s suffering and death on the cross and so will declare us ungodly sinners righteous and reckon to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5).

 

 

This, in two sentences, is the basic gospel message that Christians are to preach to the world. It is far simpler than many complex philosophies that people make up, but it is far superior and far more effective, for it saves us from our sins and enables us to be justified by God, when we put our faith in this simple message and in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Preaching this way can make us appear to be simpleminded in the eyes of great academics and professors in their various fields. But by making yourself little in their eyes in this way, you will be great in the world to come.

 

 

St. Paul was a respected Pharisee, well-educated in the Scriptures and in the law and the teaching of the fathers, but he left all this to travel from city to city throughout the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and being whipped, imprisoned, mocked, stoned, and chased out of one city after another by the sophisticated Greeks and Romans. He left his former distinguished and honored status to preach the gospel, making himself like a little child in this world, lowly and despised for the sake of Christ; and Jesus says today, “He who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48).

 

 

Next comes a dispute in which the apostle John tells Jesus, “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us” (Luke 9:49). Why did the apostles forbid this exorcist from using Jesus’ name to successfully cast out demons, simply because he did not belong to their group? Calvin thinks that the reason is that they wanted the prestige of being the only people able to cast out demons, because they were followers of Jesus, and so they were offended and jealous of someone else, who is not a part of their group, exercising the same powers. They felt that he reduced their worldly glory and status (John Calvin, 1509-1564). So, these two events are linked together, namely the disciples’ wanting to know who is the greatest among them, and their forbidding this strange exorcist from using Jesus’ name to cast out demons.

 

 

“If the disciples had not been more devoted to their own glory than anxious and desirous to promote the glory of their Master, they would not have been offended when they saw that glory heightened and enlarged in another direction. Christ declares that we ought to reckon as friends those who are not open enemies” (John Calvin). And Jesus says, “Do not forbid him [the strange exorcist]; for he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50).

 

 

I think this is an important message for us today as well, when there are so many different denominations of Christians proclaiming Christ and his gospel. Basically Jesus is telling us today through this text, “Neither directly nor indirectly discourage or hinder any man, who brings sinners from the power of Satan to God, because he followeth not us, in opinions, modes of worship, or any thing else which does not affect the essence of religion” (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821).

 

 

But “he [Christ] does not enjoin us to give a loose rein to rash men, and to be silent while they intermeddle with this and the other matter, according to their own fancy, and disturb the whole order of the Church: for such licentiousness, so far as our calling allows, must be restrained. He only affirms that they act improperly, who unseasonably prevent the kingdom of God from being advanced by any means whatever … So far as they do no harm, they are useful and profitable: for it is a proverbial saying, which reminds us that we ought not to raise a quarrel till we are constrained” (John Calvin).

 

 

The fact is that by the many preachers of different denominations, different than our own, Christ is being preached, the basic gospel message is being heard by these means, and good is being done to people in need of the gospel that we ourselves and the members of our own Church haven’t reached.

 

 

We can also learn from the writings, whether devotional or scholarly, of other Christians that do not belong to our own particular denomination. While we might warn our fellow Church members of the errors of other groups, there is also much good that can be learned from the research, study, reflection, and writing of other Christian scholars and preachers of other denominations than our own, and it would be foolish to turn our backs on this treasury of learning, for many have derived great benefit from it.

 

 

We also who are preachers and teachers of the gospel can ourselves learn much from their studies and writings. Any scholarly book on the Scriptures has learned much from other scholars of different denominations than his own – a fact that you can demonstrate for yourself by simply looking at their footnotes to see who they are reading and quoting.

 

 

So, we need humility. We need to admit that we do not know everything about Christianity and that great discoveries and expositions of the gospel have been made by people that do not belong to our denomination or Church. While taking care that we are not be deceived and misled by their errors, we should not deprive ourselves of the wealth that their writings can make available to us for better understanding God’s word. So, this too is humility, namely learning from believers in Christ that do not belong to our group or Church.

 

 

Let us remember that “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). Those that are first in this world, advancing their own cause will be last in the kingdom; while those that are last in this world, humbly preaching the gospel and associating with humble, ordinary, and lowly people will be the first in the kingdom of God.

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