Happy New Year! We’re kicking off the start of 2023 with a brand new series: The Upside Down Kingdom of God. Throughout this 3 part series, we’re studying principles like the first will be the last, the greatest will be the servant of all, if you want to reap you must sew, if you want to be exalted you must be humbled, and many more of the upside down teachings of Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is the reality of God bringing about His will on Earth. – Pastor Jon Tyson
Pastor Alexa shares an encouraging message with us in New Year, Less You where we’re exploring Luke 22:20-30 and discovering how to be great in the eyes of the Lord as we learn from the teachings and behaviors of the original GOAT (Greatest of All Time)! She shares 2 key takeaways with us to help guide us into the new year and live out the charge God has for us.
As we study The Upside Down Kingdom of God, we see that Jesus’ teachings are a reversal or flipping of religious norms and our culture’s value systems. Our worldly values are very different from God’s–He utilizes a totally different operating system when it comes to greatness. The world values achievements, success, how much money we have, our career paths–the world measures greatness externally. We see in Matthew that Jesus measures greatness in a much different way:
Matthew 23:11 Let the greatest among you be the servant of all.
To be clear, this is not a message about avoiding or denying your dreams. This is not about not having ambition or wanting to be great in your career or expand your family. This is a message about our worldview in relation to greatness. We have the choice and the power to align with the upside down kingdom principles of greatness or we can allow the world to tell us what it means to be great. Let’s commit to seeing greatness through the eyes of Jesus this year! In New Year, Less You, we’re studying the principle of Matthew 23:11 and answering the question, what does it really mean to be great in the Kingdom of God?
There’s a trendy expression that’s popular right now identifying someone as the GOAT. This stands for “greatest of all time.” This acronym started with Muhammad Ali as he was considered the greatest boxer of all time and his wife coined the phrase referencing him. We can think of a GOAT in every sport and even other arenas like politics, educators, and even actors and musicians.
The reality is, this chase for greatness can often get the best of it. When it comes to humanity, we all want to be great. We have this internal desire that oftentimes has little to do with our tangible success and more to do with our identity. Rather than believing that we are children of God, deeply loved, absolutely cherished, and so valuable to God, we turn to the world around us to validate our worth.
We observe those who we perceive to be further ahead than us or those who have fallen behind us and measure ourselves against one another through the lens of comparison. All the while, Jesus is sitting at the table of our lives trying to show us a better way! We find ourselves trapped in narratives like this…
“I wish I had greater financial security like my sibling, but at least my kids aren’t crazy like theirs.”
“I wish I was able to retire like all of my friends, but at least our house is bigger and paid off.”
“I wish I was able to stay home with my kids, but at least I’m able to work and we have two incomes.”
We compare ourselves against each other in search of finding fulfillment in greatness. The desire to be great throughout humanity is not new; this concept is an age-old ambition as we see the disciples arguing over who would be greatest among them in the New Testament.
Luke 22:20-30 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Jesus said to them, “The king of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
The desire to be great is not bad; it’s actually a good thing! In New Year, Less You, we’re learning how to aim our desire to be great in the right direction toward the Kingdom of God, rather than striving to be great in the eyes of the world. Let’s dive into 2 takeaways that show us how to be great as followers of Jesus as we study the Word of God together.
What are your New Year's resolutions and why? How do they align with the concept of greatness?
Think about someone who, when hearing their name, you would say, “Oh yah, he/she is great.” What about that person makes them great? Are they great in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of God?
We must believe what Jesus said about what it means to be great.
Think about the verses in Luke 22–Jesus is just hours away from laying down his life on the cross, he knows what’s about to happen, and he’s had three years of teaching, mentorship, and discipline with his disciples.
With the greatest of all time sitting among them, the disciples have the audacity to argue over which of them is the GOAT! Even after all the time and devotion Jesus had invested into his disciples, they still did not get it! They did not understand this upside down principle of the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, this discussion in Luke was not the first time the disciples had argued over who would be the greatest. We see similar conversations in Matthew 18, Matthew 20, Mark 9, and Luke 9. Who knows how many more discussions weren’t even recorded! After 3 years of active, present, and hands-on discipleship, it wasn’t just that the disciples didn’t live out this kingdom principle of greatness–they hadn’t even renewed their minds and their hearts to believe and agree with what Jesus said about greatness. Instead, they aligned their beliefs with the world’s view of greatness.
Like the disciples, we too will likely need to go on a journey to truly believe and agree with Jesus’ principles of greatness. We must undo what the world has taught us and abandon cultural norms and rules and systems surrounding greatness. It’s time to renew our minds and align our hearts with God’s principles of greatness and truly follow the example of the one true GOAT. The greatest of all is the servant of all.
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ…
1 Peter 4:12 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…
It’s all too easy for us to define greatness with a little bit of influence from Jesus’ definition and also a little bit of input from the world’s view of greatness. However, the definitions are opposite! We cannot combine the two viewpoints. The world measures greatness through the lens of success, money, achievements, and status. Jesus measures greatness by the way we serve others. So which of these two standards will we believe?
Luke 22:24-27 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Jesus said to them, “The king of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
In this passage, Jesus contrasts two different styles of leadership–two different versions of greatness. The title “benefactor” was highly coveted and sought after because with this authoritative title came respect, awe, and worldly perceived greatness. People desired this title so that they could lord over people and be served. Jesus is looking for the greatness of servanthood as opposed to the desire to be served by others.
Like Jesus says in Luke 22, it’s not to be that way with us! He is looking at our hearts and understanding the level of purity in our motives. We don’t serve in hopes of praise or admiration or to be great or be served. We live to serve. And that is great in this Upside Down Kingdom of God. It’s time to change the way we see the world, see people, and see ourselves. Amen!
What do you truly believe about greatness?
Knowing we cannot pick and choose pieces of both the world’s view and God’s view, where do your beliefs fit?
Think about what Jesus said about Benefactors. How does this apply to earthly versus Godly leadership?
We must practice Jesus’ example of what it means to be great.
Once we rewire our brains and renew our minds to align with and believe what Jesus says it means to be great, we now must put this belief into practice! Not only did Jesus gently lead his disciples to understand this upside down kingdom principle and instruct them in the truth, but Jesus also lived out the greatness of servanthood and perfectly modeled the behavior for us. He is our servant King!
We see Jesus perform two substantially significant acts of service for his disciples and, ultimately, for all of humanity. He washes the disciples’ feet and then he goes to the cross. With his final hours on the earth, Jesus shows us what it means to be great and expresses his desire for us to follow His example.
John 13:3-4 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Jesus shows his disciples what it means to be great in the kingdom of God. None of the 12 were willing to lower themselves and serve each other, but Jesus was. They were too tied up in contention and comparison to believe and live out true greatness.
“Knowing that He came from God, and went to God, and that even when He was kneeling there before these men, the Father had given all things into His hands, what did He do? Triumph? Show His majesty? Flash His power? Demand service? ‘Girded Himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet!” – Alexander Maclaren
Jesus’ act of servanthood was a turning point in the disciples' understanding. Decades later, Peter writs this:
1 Peter 5:5 Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus says in these last moments before the cross as a final charge to his disciples:
John 13:12-17 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
When Jesus instructs us to wash one another’s feet, he means this figuratively and spiritually. He’s saying that anything we do as an act of service for one another, anything that washes away the grime of the world and the dust of defeat and discouragement, is the same as washing others’ feet. This is how we can be like Jesus and adopt his upside down kingdom principles as our own!
“In the world, they criticize: this is the business of the public press, and it is very much the business of private circles. Hear how gossips say, ‘Do you see that spot? What a terrible walk that man must have had this morning: look at his feet! He has been very much in the mire you can see, for there are traces upon him.’ That is the world’s way. Christ’s way is very different. He says nothing, but takes the basin and begins to wash away the stain. Do not judge and condemn, but seek the restoration and the improvement of the erring. (The mistake).”
– Charles Spurgeon
Jesus ends this special moment by explaining to the disciples and to us that if we know these things–if we know that in his kingdom it’s more blessed to give than to receive and to be the greatest of all it means to be the servant of all–then we won’t just know it in theory; we’ll be blessed if we put it into practice.
Philippians 2:6-11 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The servant of all, the greatest of all–that’s our King! Jesus came to the earth humbly as a baby and with his last breath of life, he showed us ultimate humility and took on the nature of servant, laying his life down for us as undeserving sinners. He is our great example of how to be great in the kingdom of God.
As we grow on our journey of discipleship, the upside down kingdom of God has to become more and more real to us. We are to become great in the eyes of the Lord by laying our life down for the world around us. This looks like serving our families, our spouses, our coworkers, our parents, and our community. This looks like giving our time, our finances, our energy, and our resources to better serve the kingdom of God.
Jesus modeled for us what it means to be great. How can we be great like Jesus and serve those around us?
Share a time when someone else was great like Jesus toward you. How did their behavior reflect their character?
We can believe and agree with Jesus; we can transform our minds and our hearts to align with the principles of the upside down principles of God like the greatest of all is indeed the servant of all. Amen!
Father, we love you and we glorify you. We lift you high in this new year and we ask for you to speak to each of us as we gather around your word. You are good, you are holy, you are mighty, and we love you. We want to model our lives after you, we want to follow you, we want to be disciples, and we want to be more like you, Lord. Please transform us into the image of your son and may Christ be formed in us and in our church. We seal it and we give you all the glory in the name of Jesus, Amen!