Real greatness consists of humbleness, an attitude of service, and godly character
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For whom is the greater, one who reclines at the table or the one who serves. Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
“Simon, Simon, behold! Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Peter said to Him, ‘LORD, I am ready to go with you both to prion and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times you know Me.” And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no money bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, “Nothing”. He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be filled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about Me has its fulfillment. And they said ‘Look, LORD, here are two swords!’ and He said to them, ‘It is enough.”
- Luke 22:23-38 (ESV)
When my children were still living at home with us, we did our best to have a set time for dinner each night and talk about what had been going on during the day and just have a time where we could be together as a family. Our dinner table’s location over the years we lived in New Orleans changed, from high-chairs and small apartments on the seminary campus, to a couple of spacious parsonages, to suburban townhouses. I watched my children grow from toddlers to teens, and when we moved to Oklahoma in 2005, the time arrived where my oldest went to college and there was one less person around the table. My youngest is living on his own, and the dinner table is now a piece of furniture in our formal living room, used every so often for holidays and the occasional guest. I am not “waxing nostalgic”, but look back with gratitude that, as quickly as time passed, we did better than many families experience today.
As the days get darker for us as believers and as a country, I am looking forward to the day when we who belong to Jesus Christ will be with Him at the coming Wedding Feast in heaven all together as a family, giving Him the praise, honor, and glory that is due Him. Because of His love, mercy, and grace He bestowed upon us when we did not and do not deserve it due to our wickedness, He grants us salvation and freedom from the bondage of sin and death. His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection paid the price that we could never even begin to attempt to do on our own (John 3:16, 10:28-30, 11:25, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23, 5:6-11, 6:23, 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 3:10).
The Lord Jesus has been with His disciples around the table where the Passover meal has been undertaken according to the Law of Moses and as a remembrance of the night so long ago where the children of Israel left their bondage in Egypt and journeyed to the Promised Land, led by Moses (Exodus 12:1-28). Jesus has given the bread and wine to the eleven (Judas had gone by now to undertake his act of betrayal), telling them that these elements now represented His body and blood that would be shed on their behalf and for all who would trust Him as Lord and Savior from that time on. His act of sacrifice showed them that He was the perfect sinless Lamb of God who would take away the “sins of the world” (John 1:29-34).
Jesus turned His attention toward His motley “band of brothers” who were still, after all of this time together, engaged in irrelevant and unimportant fussing and fuming over who was His “favorite” and “the greatest among them”. He had taught them not to have such an arrogant attitude, but to come to Him as a little child, in trust, love, and void of any preconceived notions about rank or honor (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:16-18). It seemed as if this lesson, as well as some others, went in one ear and out the other. He had rebuked them for their inability to think on situations and teachings (Matthew 16:5-12). He had also told them this night that the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and be within them to remember and proclaim what He had taught them (John 16:4-15; Acts 2:1-38).
In this last night before His approaching trial, physical trauma, and horrid death on the cross, He had a series of important conversations with his disciples as a whole, and with who would be the leader of the group, Simon Peter. They would learn a lesson that defined real greatness, and Peter would get a harsh taste of his sinful nature that would be borderline apostasy, yet end up as a means of forging this big fisherman into the fearless apostle who would have the privilege days later of seeing over three thousand Jews give their lives to Christ. Jesus would conclude this time by telling all of them to rely on provisions and a means of self-defense as they began their respective journeys throughout the Roman Empire and beyond with the message of the Gospel, and to face both harsh times and brutal endings in the years to come.
Jesus told them that true greatness was not as the world demonstrated it through the relationship of master and servant, and degrees of social, mental, and material superiority. Real greatness as it applied to His disciples then and now consists of humbleness, an attitude of service towards others regardless of status or lifestyle, and the possession of godly character that would be a model of behavior and life for others who would hear the Gospel and imitate them as they imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The disciples were promised that they would share in the coming kingdom of God not in terms of rank or distinction, but as heirs of salvation and joy.
Jesus then turned His attention on Peter, warning him that Satan had asked permission to “sift him like wheat”, or to get him in some way to destroy his walk with the LORD and render him ineffective. Jesus had prayed for the big fisherman that his faith would not falter and that after his time of apparent failure and repentance, he would be commissioned with the task of strengthening his fellow disciples. Peter, ever ready to make his feelings known, declares his sworn allegiance to Jesus, telling Him that he is ready to be imprisoned and if need be, die for Him. Jesus knows Peter’s impulsive behavior and alleged devotion and tells him plainly what his boasting will lead to before the night is over.
As Peter reels from this prediction of denial and cowardice, the LORD asks them if they had lacked for anything while He was with them over these three and a half years. They told Him, “No”. He said that he would not be with them much longer, and now the time had come for them to begin planning as what to carry with them from now on. They would need essential supplies such as changes of clothing, food, and a means of protection against evil, malicious actions from those who would oppose the Gospel message. Whatever commotion arose from this series of conversations at the Passover dinner table, the Lord Jesus quieted them down. He knew as the night lingered that no sword would protect Him from what was to come.
Even in His final moments before His approaching arrest, their concern was on His mind. He wanted to prepare them for a life beyond His physical presence. The next seventy-two hours would be a time of sorrow and tears that would seem to these men like the end of everything, but they did not know that victory was on its way with the empty tomb. They walk with the LORD to the Mount of Olives and a place with which they are familiar, the area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. They end up asleep, while Jesus enters into a time of struggle and grief that we will never comprehend, but yet embrace as He finalizes the plan of redemption with the Father that made our access to Him possible.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.