An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, 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 9:46-48

What a strange thing to say! The least is the greatest in God’s Kingdom? In his sermon Sunday, Pastor Davis called the Kingdom of God the “Upside Down Kingdom”, and I think that is a perfect description. After all, Jesus turned what the people in Israel thought they knew about God and the coming Messiah and turned in onto its head. They believed a political ruler was coming to end the tyrannical reign of the Romans over the Jewish people. Instead, the Messiah came to earth, average in appearance and a carpenter by trade [Isaiah 53, Mark 6:3]. They didn’t recognize him because he wasn’t what they were expecting.

If anyone deserves to be called great, surely it is the Son of the Most High! The Holy One of Isreal, come to bring eternal salvation to all the world. All who accept Jesus as Lord would call their Savior great. And yet, Jesus made it his lifestyle to serve others and glorify God instead of himself (even though he was/is God in flesh) [John 8:49, John 17].

In my personal Bible study, I am reading through the gospel of John. It is tempting every time I see the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching to scoff and think, “How blind can you be?! They couldn’t see that their Messiah was standing right in front of them!”

But really, who among us believed everything the Bible said about Jesus the first time they read it or heard it? Even though I grew up in a Christian household, and said the prayer of salvation at a young age, there have been many things over my life that have made me question, doubt, and stare at the pages of my Bible in confusion. I don’t know if you have ever felt this way, but I have felt in the past that not understanding God or His Word meant I was in some way failing as a Christian! However, God’s Word says something very different in 1 Corinthians 1:20-31:

“Where isthe one who is wise? Where isthe scribe? Where isthe debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For Jews demand signs and Greeksseek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The greatest in God’s kingdom is not the most powerful, not the most influential, and not the wisest. That is the thing with being a citizen of an “upside down” Kingdom: it goes against pretty much everything the rest of the world is telling us. Instead of “please yourself- do what makes you happy!”, the Bible tells us “crucify your flesh with all its passions and desires” [Galations 2:20, 5:16-24] and “whoever keeps his life loses it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep eternal life” [Matthew 16:24-25].

Instead of “if someone hurts you or wrongs you, you have every right to repay them for what they did” we are told to “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, and “pray for those who persecute you” [Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14; etc.] A very upside-down kingdom indeed!

Now let’s get back to this whole “greatness” thing. Who again is the greatest?

For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.

The least of all. Those as seemingly insignificant as a child. I think about “the least” as being the people that don’t make a dent in the world’s eyes, who seem to live life without ever doing anything noteworthy or important. The people that are easy to overlook, and often go largely unnoticed for what they do.

God calls these people the greatest in the Kingdom. Can you believe it?! Just think about that for a moment: all the shouting we hear every day from the world around us, to live big, do great things, make a name for yourself… it’s all empty hype. “Living Big” is not God’s style, it seems. He calls us to moment-by-moment obedience. It isn’t flashy or important-looking. It is an everyday action of laying down ourselves for His glory.

Jesus laid down his life- not only in dying the terribly painful and shameful death by crucifixion but by his continuous choice to be obedient to his Father and love the lowly, broken, and “unimportant” people. Although Jesus became well known throughout Judea as a prophet and healer- and by those who believed in him, the Son of God- he never sought his own glory. He always pointed back to the Father who sent him into the world. To end this blog, let’s read through Philippians 2:1-18. I encourage you to not skim it, but to read the whole thing:

“1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is your sin Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Pause here. Read verses 5-11 again. I don’t think our human minds can quite grasp the significance of what Scripture is saying here. Christ Jesus, who is the Son of the Most High God, the Alpha and Omega, the Word become flesh, who was there at the creation of the universe [John 1]… even He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant …” Truly, our Savior is King of all kings and Name above all names! There is none like our God!

Onto verses 12-18:

“12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,so now, not only asin my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who worksin you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine aslights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life,so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

This is what we are to do, the application of this passage in Philippians: living as lights in the world, ambassadors of the “Upside down” Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It isn’t about doing big things in ministry, work, or anywhere. It isn’t about making a name for yourself or making a “big difference” in the world.

It’s about being obedient, walking as Christ walked, and allowing God to work in and through you, to the glory of our Heavenly Father.