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What kind of greatness do you seek?

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Text:  Matthew 23:1-12 (key verses 11-12)

Theme:  Character Development

·        10 years ago, when I drove to Barrie from Flesherton to buy my fiancé an engagement ring, I met Jeff Walters in the mall.  He taught me about the 4C’s of choosing a diamond – You need to consider the Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat.    The most expensive diamonds have a well proportioned stone, cut accurately to release the diamond’s “fire” or “brilliance.   The Clarity of a diamond measures trace elements within or on the surface of a diamond.  These are called inclusions/ “blemishes”.  Nearly all diamonds have them, yet if none are present the clarity of a diamond is considered “flawless”.  The Carat of a diamond has to do with its weight and size.  The more carats, the weightier the diamond, the more expensive it is.

·        There is a parable here for us.  God, by His Spirit is about this kind of work within us isn’t He?  He is shaping not precious stones but precious people.   He is the Master diamond cutter, working away on our character.  In Christ, we’re all a bunch of diamonds in the rough.   Cutting. Proportioning.   Bringing out our “fire” or “brilliance”.   Polishing.  Refining, wanting us to radiate and reflect His light and Glory until Christ is fully formed in us.   None of us are flawless.  We all have “inclusions/blemishes”.  This parable of the diamond, this refining process for believers is called our sanctification.  You see Christ is born in us at Salvation, and he is formed in us through our sanctification.

·        Is this not what we’ve been predestined for?  Remember Romans 8:28-29.    

·        There’s a question we are asking as we launch this summer series on the Character of the Christian.  The question is this:  “What kind of greatness do you seek?   Are people born great? Are some just destined for greatness?  Or are people made great?  I believe people are made great by submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit at work within them.   What kind of greatness do you seek?  My assumption this morning is that God’s definition of greatness is a lot different than we’ve been cultured to think of greatness.

·        Out of our text this morning, if Jesus were asked that question, he probably wouldn’t answer it, but tell a story to illustrate it like He did at some many occasions.  Yet if he were to answer it plainly and directly, I believe he would answer, “I seek the greatness of humility and serving others”.   True greatness is about your attitude and state within, not your successes or appearance without.    He said it right there in front of you – Mt. 23:11-12.

·        For Jesus, the answer to the question “What kind of greatness do you seek?” has everything to do with character.

·        The context of these words in Matthew is very helpful has it totally contrasts the point Jesus just made.  These verses are a part of a scathing rebuke of the Pharisees by Jesus.  In fact the very words “servant” and “humble” scream out of this chapter in direct contrast to the character of the Pharisees.    As Jesus was an expert is self-giving and self-denial, the Pharisees had become experts in self-exaltation.

·        They exalted themselves to the point of God rejecting their leadership.

·        They exalted (lifted up) themselves:  1) For men to see; 2) By a preoccupation on the outside rather than the inside; 3) by caring only of their status – they wanted to be noticed and respected, have titles and honor;  4) they exalted themselves and their own teachings to the point of shutting people out of the Kingdom of God.  Read the 7 woe’s here in chapter 23.   This is serious stuff.  Jesus Christ takes legalism and self-exaltation quite seriously!!

·        And so Jesus greatly contrasts the arrogant ministry of the Pharisees with the type of greatness He was advancing.  Jesus’ way of greatness is the way of self-denial not self-exaltation, humility, love, and service!

·        Turn with me to Mark 9:33-35 and we’ll see it again. 

·        There exists and inherent tendency in the heart of fallen humanity to exalt ourselves over our Creator.  Sinful humanity, fleshly humanity are glory robbers.  We love to rob the Glory from God and bask in it ourselves!  That’s what the Pharisees were doing which Jesus harshly rebuked, but it was nothing new.  It was what Babel was all about way back in Genesis 11.  Babel is the pinnacle of human pride and arrogance – Babel is pure humanism - the very height of sin – where mankind united to rob the Glory from God.

·        Why am I mentioning all this?  Well look at what is happening in Mark 9.  At the start of it, 3 of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James, and John) get to witness Christ’s transfiguration up on the mountain where Christ’s glory was unveiled right before their eyes.  They saw the face of God up on the mountain and they were not consumed!  Moses was there  (Elijah too)!  Good old Moses – He finally got to see the very face of God!  Remember he couldn’t up on Sinai!    From this experience these disciples come down the mountain to join the others and again they witnessed a glorious miracle as Jesus powerfully delivers a young boy from demon possession!

·        So the disciples are witnesses, living and breathing witnesses of Christ’s glory, authority, majesty and power.  And immediately after these experiences, what do they do as they walk along and unpack what they’ve seen?  They talk about themselves!  What a contrast!   They argue – not about who Jesus is, but about themselves – about which of them was the greatest!

·        What a Polaroid moment!  What a snapshot of the human condition, in fact often the Christian condition.  Called to be witnesses of the pure glory of Jesus Christ we often end up talking about ourselves, arguing about how great we are, or how great so and so is, about non-essential doctrines, about how great the speaker was (or not), how great the music was (or not), making mountains out of molehills, and robbing the very glory of God in the face of Christ!  We miss the obvious right in front of our noses – the living son of God in our midst.

·        Jesus nails them!  Look at vs. 33-35!!  The servant of all!  You know who the greatest is – the ONE WHO SERVES!

·        You know God elevates a person, a Christian, a leader, even a whole church, not because of their gifts, or charisma or abilities, or outward appearance, but because they have the character of a servant.

·        Don Prince, the pastor I served alongside of for many years, told me a story once of a guy he knew.  This fella was on fire, was really growing in the Lord and wanting to lead a Bible study and start getting more involved in leadership at his perish.   He went to his priest to ask about leading a bible study.  His priest was a wise and discerning man and said ok, come with me and he took him to the shed out behind the church, opened the door and pointed to the lawn mower and said, “start with mowing the lawn”.  You see this wise Shepherd knew the importance of being a servant and cultivating a servant’s heart.  If you want to be first, if you want to be upfront, if you want to be the greatest, be the least, be a servant.   Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.   Oh the wisdom of Jesus and the stumbling block of the gospel.  People stumble over this concept so often, we just don’t get it.  We’d much rather be first, than last.  Promoted than demoted.  Up high and not down low.

·        We’re called to humbly serve.  This is character’s starting point.  The kind of humility that stoops to serve.  Christ himself is our best and greatest example –he modeled humility and service from his cradle to his grave.  Which is why God exalted him by raising him from the dead.   Even today in Bethlehem, if you visit the Church of the Nativity, you must stoop to get int.  Almost on your knees!  The way of Christ is the way of serving one another in love.  It’s the way of the bended knee!  God forgive me!  God forgive us!

·        One of the best lessons I ever learned was from Kathy, my first real boss when I was a stock boy at the Bi-Way in Cambridge.  “Never let me hear the words it is not my job”.  Those words were formative to me.

·        Lord, develop this kind of character within us – your kind of greatness not our kind, not the kind our culture models, not the kind even our Christian sub-culture can model, but your kind of greatness.  The greatness that serves.  Eugene Peterson has such a way with words, he translates Matthew 23:11 like this:  “You want to stand out?  Then step down.  Be a servant.  If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you”! 

·        You see some people even approach a local church with an attitude not to  serve it but to be served.   The unfortunate danger with that attitude is that you can be greatly disappointed in your church or even your pastor when either of them does not meet your expectations or your needs.  We need to approach each other around here, with the attitude, “I’m here to serve and not to be served”.  “I’m here to help meet needs, not to have my needs met”.  And I believe in doing so, in living that way, a lot of our own needs will be swallowed up in the joy of giving and serving and helping each other.  I don’t think we’ll ever know what joy is until we forget ourselves and see only Christ.   Then we’ll begin to see Christ formed in us, and we will be a people who do not rob glory from God, but will be a people who bring Glory to God and He will shine His glory through us

·        I close with this powerful quote from A.W. Tozer:  A Christian is one who’s “interests have shifted from self to Christ.  What he is or not no longer concerns him.  Christ is now where the man’s ego was formerly.  The man is now Christ-centered instead of self-centered, and he forgets himself in his delighted pre-occupation with Christ”!

·        When we are there, like a beautifully cut diamond we will shimmer, and shine and  radiate Christ’s character to the glory of God!

·        Let’s be a people who are willing to submit to God’s diamond shaping process.  Allowing Him to shape and polish our character into the image of his Son.

·         What kind of greatness do you seek?  What kind of greatness?

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