Jesus just doesn’t understand! Humility and weakness doesn’t cut it. The last shall be first? How can that work? Many people in Jesus day were looking for a strong leader to overthrow Rome, get rid of this oppressive regime now. But think about it. Suppose Jesus had been that kind of leader, perhaps like Judas Maccabaus 200 years earlier. Things may have been good for a while, but history tells us that one regime is often taken over by another in fairly short order. What Jesus established was entirely different. His kingdom began with His death, a most humiliating one at that. But that death brought salvation to all mankind, not just a few Jews in Israel. That death made possible a change of heart for all people. That death and His glorious resurrection brought true freedom of life regardless of governmental regimes. Jesus’ willingness to humble Himself and become obedient even unto death established a Kingdom that can never be over come, and one ultimately to which “every knee should bow, … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11)
Attitude equals altitude, a saying goes. That is, the way one thinks of himself is the way he functions and achieves in life. Does this mean that we puff ourselves up with pride, and constantly point to what we have done? No. Paul has taught us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.(Romans 12:3) Also, in humility to value other above ourselves.(Philippians 2:3) So what should our attitude be? Speaking about his own walk in life, Paul says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”(Philippians 3:12) Our life is Jesus first. God has reached out to us in Jesus before we ever thought to come to Him. He has loved us and redeemed us. Therefore, we understand that we are children of God for Jesus sake. He called us, and made us alive. That is the attitude we have about ourselves. Not something we have done or accomplished, but the most wonderful gift that God has given in Jesus. This is who we are. Now, Paul invites us to “live up to what we have already attained.”(Philippians 3:16) Our altitude is living to the glory of God in the redeeming power of the cross of Christ. No pride of self accomplishment here, but the greatest joy of living and serving daily as children of God’s household.
When one attends college they usually choose a major field of study to pursue. In order to reach the degree level, a specific series of courses are required. They proceed in order from the 100 level, to the 200 level, and so forth. A person can’t obtain the degree by taking any courses that strike their fancy, simply seems easy, or in any order they choose. The educational process simply doesn’t work that way. Earth is our college course for all that comes after. It is the Lord who determines the course load, and the requirements for graduation. He has an eternal purpose for us, and is training us now for that work. He will not work against our will. We have many choices to make, but we cannot follow any old path in this life and expect to fulfill His purpose. We have receive admission through faith in Jesus Christ. He is now our guidance counselor. He knows us personally, and loves us deeply. His desire is the same as that for any student, that we be humble and teachable. We need to seek Him for our direction, and strive to do our best. His Degree is of the greatest worth.
We have seen a deluge of automobile recall notices recently. There were five just for cars in our family. Three of them were on my ’91 Ford! As you have learned, I’m prone to errors in spelling, or missing letters at ends of words. Yesterday, I had to send out a rather important letter that was copied to two other individuals. After mailing, I discovered I had used the wrong first name of the man I was writing about. The error was easily corrected, but it cost me time, postage, and e-mails of explanation. My point – small mistakes, errors, short cuts, sins, at one point, can cause bigger problems on down the line, problems that can be very costly. So it is with any sin, even those things we label as “not so bad”. We will never be free from them in this life. I sure won’t, but it calls us to humility in all we do, and a willingness to repent before God and others as necessary. Life is difficult and complicated, and as a society we continue to make it even more so. Our God has come into the midst of this world inviting us to walk humble with Him, seeking His wisdom in all we do.
There are life lessons to be found in all kinds of places. For some reason I was reminded recently of the 1971 film Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory. If you remember anything of the story, the children who were filled with pride and greed were the losers. The one who was humble and caring was looked down upon, but was ultimately the winner. It was the same conflict Jesus faced between the prideful Jewish leaders versus the tax collectors and sinners He associated with. He said that the first shall be last and the last first. He made His point dramatically at the Last Supper by getting on the floor and washing the disciples feet. He said, “If I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet. You also ought to wash one another’s feet.”(John 13:14) People spend a lot of time creating images and gaining advantages. The Lord has to continually remind us, as He did for Samuel, that “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”(I Sam.16:7)
I sometimes think we treat God like a celestial vending machine. We put in our prayers and expect Him to immediately act for us. Don’t get me wrong. We certainly are to pray for our needs, and raise before God all of our intercessions. Scripture promises that our prayers of faith are powerful. But I think of Job. God never really did give him an answer to all of his questions and complaints. He simply upheld His sovereignty before Job, and Job yielded to that. We don’t get the answers to all of our “why” questions. As children, we bring all of our needs and cares before our Father, but in humility and trust we leave them with Him. We come before our sovereign and holy God believing that He cares deeply for us, and will give His best. We hold to this truth even when we don’t see everything happen just as we have asked. We rest in the hands of our gracious Lord.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of their day, and called them hypocrites, and empty tombs. He said if your want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all, to be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense in them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
On a couple of occasions Jesus pointed to a little child as an example of the humility and faith that God seeks. It is the opposite of pride which exalts self. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful definition of humility in his book The Screwtape Letters. He said, God “wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more or less or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. (God) wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor (pride) that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents…” If we truly understood this it would end all striving for self esteem, give glory to God for the abilities He has given us, be able to use those abilities to the fullest for His glory, and be able to take great joy in the results. We wouldn’t have to compare ourselves to anyone else. Our value and our joy is in knowing that we are a child of God and that it is He who is working His good purpose through us.
Why were Jesus and the Pharisees at such odds with each other? Jesus didn’t reject the Jewish worship at the Temple or the synagogue. He didn’t reject the laws of Moses. In fact, on a couple of occasions he sent people to them to do as they instructed. Rather, they had established such a rigid system with the laws that they lost all sense of grace and caring for the good of the people. And because they were keepers of the law, their pride of position elevated themselves above everyone else. They had lost sight of all that the law and the prophets were pointing to. It’s easy for us to sit here 2000 years removed and judge them for their hardness of heart, but we must always be careful not to fall into their same patterns of life. Rigidity for the way we’ve always done things is at time a church characteristic that can get in the way of ministry and service to others. And the specter of pride of position is present in any leadership task. Our call is always to love as Jesus loved, and remind ourselves that He was the One who washed the disciples feet.