The Road to Greatness

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Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

 William Shakespear

 

How does the world judge a man to be great?

Often men are declared to be great if they have the ability to influence heads of state or leaders in society as Statesmen.  These are often found as Leaders of Nations, peacekeepers and builders of society.

James Madison, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, John Quincey Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, James Munroe and John Adams are a few names that come to mind.

Some men are declared to be great because they have a literary genius with the gift of writing a story in such a manner that it will entertain or enlighten the masses.

James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bayard Taylor,  J. C. Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving are but a few that I have read some of their great stories.

Other great men come from the ranks of those who have the ability to paint a picture in your mind by using words and phrases, creating poems, short stories and plays that will stir the heart and soul.

Frederick Schiller, Robert Browning, Edgar A Poe “quote the Raven “Nevermore”, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Shakespearem “To be or not to be; that is the question” and “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo”, John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness”, Robert Burns, Johann Wolfgang Goethe and John Milton and his “Paradise Lost” are just a few.

A few men throughout history have had greatness placed upon them because of their ability to discover the secrets of science and mathematics; bringing the whole of mankind into a new realm of knowledge and creating a better way of life.

Who among us have not heard of Sir. Isaac Newton and his study of gravity.  He discovered gravity supposedly when an apple fell out of the tree and hit him on the head and he couldn’t understand why.  Aristotle the philosopher and scientist, Galileo and his studies of the stars and inventor of the telescope, Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity; Marie Curie and the study of Radium and X-Rays, Thomas Edison with his light bulb and telephone, Louis Pasteur and his studies that made so many of foods we eat safer to consume; and good old Guglielmo Marconi who invented wireless telegraph and radio waves – the precursor to the cell phone

Most of us here have also been influenced by some of the great musicians and composers of the world, people who were declared great becasue of their gift of making sounds into a force to move both body and soul, or directing great orchestras to thrill the listeners.

Johann Sebastian Bach, George Handel and his “Messiah”, Peter Tchaikovsky and his work called “Sugar Plum Fairy”; better known to most of us at Christmas time as “The Nutcracker”, Frederic Chopin whose piano concertos are played at many a piano recital; and let’s not forget old Ludwig Von Beethoven and his 5th Symphony that begins with “ta-ta-ta-TA”.

In this world there is only one way to truly be considered a great man or woman, and that is to have the ability to use your talent and charisma to move the hearts and men and to influence the very culture and existence of the society in which you live.

It has been said that inside each of us are the seeds of greatness.  The problem is that for most of us, those seeds never produce what it takes to make us great in the eyes of the world.  Most people are born into this world to live in mediocrity; after all, if we were all great, then who would be truly great?  Greatness in the world can only be attained by doing more, accomplishing more or being more than anyone around you.  A man or woman who want to be great in the eyes of his neighbor must rise above the ordinary; reach for the impossible and achieve the improbably.  He or she must be willing to go where “no man has gone before”.  Most people will never pay that price or reach that high.  They do not believe that the achievement of such dreams is meant for them; and so they relegate themselves to being common, ordinary men and women who never truly experience the great thrill of victory or the tremendous agony of defeat.

Since I don’t see the seed of greatness according to the world growing too rapidly in most of us tonight, I thought it might be good to know that the standards of greatness used by the world are vastly different than those used by our Creator to establish who is truly great among men.

To be great in the eyes of the world is a wonderful achievement as long as that greatness came through moral and just means.  Too many people achieve greatness through subversion and deceit.  Even though the world may call them great, in the eyes of God they are poor, naked, wretched and blind.  They might walk with their heads held high in pride before the world, but one day they will bow their knee and their head before Almighty God in shame and disgrace.  I don’t want that kind of greatness.  I want that greatness that obtains the approval of my God.

There were 12 men who followed Jesus through most of his 3 ½ years of earthly ministry.  Today, as Christians, we look back upon these men as great men; at least most of them.  With the exception of Judas Iscariot, all of the disciples are great men of the faith.  We should note there that just being among great men; and following a great man; does not guarantee greatness to any of us.  It takes more than be a part of the crowd or following someone else.  It takes personal commitment and a willingness to stick your neck out, above the crowd, and take some risks that others would not take.

As we begin reading in Matthew chapter 18 and verse 1 we will find that this question of greatness also rests upon the minds of the disciples.

Matthew 18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples all wanted to be great in the eyes of God.  They wanted to be noted for their accomplishments; praised for their life’s work; and rewarded by the Lord himself for their faithfulness to his kingdom.  Isn’t that what we all really want?  Don’t you want to be called great by Jesus on that great day when you stand before Him?  Don’t you want to hear those words, “Welcome home my child and Well done”?

How would Jesus answer their question?  What would it take to be called a great man in the eyes of the Lord?  Jesus used an object lesson on this day to teach all of us what God considers to be the description of a truly great man or woman.

Matthew 18:2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

(picture a child or baby)  Here’s one of own little kids in the church.  I want you to look at that beautiful face and that wonderful smile.  Look at this baby good because Jesus is going to have some strong teaching for you right from the face of this little baby.

Matthew 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Could you get mad at this baby?  Really – could you?  Ask Sis. Becky if it’s possible to get mad at this baby.  I’ll bet there are times when you could get man, like when she feels bad and won’t let you rest; or when you have her all dressed up nicely like this and then she decides its time to get rid of both dinner and breakfast out of each end; and now you’ll have to start all over again.  No one ever said it would be easy to have little kids around, but Jesus knew how to use just such a little child to teach us a lesson on true greatness.

First of all let me tell you that greatness in the eyes of God doesn’t mean that everything you do or say is perfect.  This child can’t speak plainly; and the day will probably come when her mom will wish that she had stayed this way, but she won’t.  She will grow up, learning more every day, until one day she will not be a baby anymore, but will be growing into the lady that she will become in time.

Childhood is all too short sometimes.  The parents wish that the baby would grow out of diapers and get potty trained, and I don’t blame them.  But when that day comes, there’s a whole new set of things to deal with.  Now it’s keeping them out of the cabinets and watching every move they make.  Then, when they finally get old enough that you don’t have to watch that they hurt themselves, is when you have to worry about another set of circumstances.

I have discovered, as many of you have, that no matter how old your kids get, or how much they may grow and change, with every stage of life there comes a whole new set of circumstances for you to worry about, and the older they get, the more their mistakes can cost.
Some of us allow the circumstances of life to get us down to the point that we develop a face only a mother could love – like these poor folks  (slide

The most obvious point of Jesus’ lesson is that he picked a small child in the first place.  He didn’t pick out John and stand him up as the object lesson; and he certainly didn’t choose Peter.  Even though they were to become great men of God, their greatness was yet to be developed.

Why a child? Jesus picked a child because there was no man or woman on earth who would still have the childlike spirit to use as an example.  Children, especially little children, before they begin to learn that they can fight and argue to have their way, are humble, not filled with ego or pride and are not envious of anyone else.  They haven’t learned the art of fighting for my rights, and they have no ulterior motives and seek no pre-eminence.  They have no thoughts of who is greater or lesser.  They are just content to be little kids.

So the pathway to greatness in the eyes of God is that first we must develop the same spirit as that little child.

Matthew 18:4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Greatness in the eyes of God is not based on accomplishments that all men can see.  Greatness is based on the condition of the heart and the submission of the will to God’s will.  Greatness is not based on titles, offices or position; nor is it based upon how much we effect the lives of other people.  All of these things are accomplished because of greatness; they don’t make us great.  Greatness is something comes from the heart first of all and then shows up in what we do for God.

Matthew 18:5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

Greatness in the eyes of God can only be obtained by being more like God.  If we humble ourselves as that little child to become trusting, loving and forgiving; and become a perfect servant like Jesus; then greatness can begin to grow.  By receiving Christ into our hearts, we can begin that journey toward greatness, for that first step must always be to humble ourselves in the sight of God and let Him be the Lord of our lives.

Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

In this verse lies a tremendous key to obtaining greatness.  The key is that we must learn to first treat others as though they were already great – all of the time.  It also carries a powerful warning to anyone who refuses to recognize the greatness that is in all of us that God has already placed there.

This is a lesson that we all need to learn in the church.  Every argument; every disagreement; every sharp tongued remark; every hurt feeling; every church split every grudge that we might hold; and all thoughts of revenge for wrongs we have suffered would be forever abolished if we could just learn that all of us are but babes in Christ.  None of us have arrived.  None are perfect.  But we’re all striving for that perfection.

The problem is that we step out of the humble stage onto the “Me Stage” where suddenly it’s what I want; what I think; what I feel or what I know; that matters.

Pride enters the door of the heart and humility goes out the window of the soul.  Pride and humility cannot dwell in the same heart, at the same time.

I talked about that baby a while ago.  What is it that makes anger arise in us if that baby does something to make us mad?  Do we feel some sort of threat from the child?  Of course not.  That baby is just doing what comes naturally.  We just happen to be in the line of fire.  What causes anger to arise is that suddenly “I am inconvenienced” or “My plans are changed or delayed” or “My rest is interrupted”.  It’s all about the “Big I”; not about the baby.

And that’s the way it is in the church as well.  We don’t get upset at someone because they want to do something a certain way.  No, it’s because they don’t want to do it “my way”.  It’s not that they know something, it’s that they think they know “More than I do”.

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