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Greatness – and how to achieve it

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him." But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. Luke 23: 13-23
Greatness has eluded me. So how on earth can I give you advice along the lines “Greatness - and how to achieve it”?

A few hours immediately before the AD 30 incident in bold above, a dispute arose among the disciples of Jesus as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Apparently (according to Luke, Jesus’ first century researcher-biographer) this dispute reared its head during the late evening meal on what we now call Maundy Thursday. 


‘Great men never know they are great; small men never know they are small.’ (Anon.)
If you had been there what would you have put forward to substantiate your claim to be regarded (by your peers) as the greatest? Financial success? Inherited wealth? The respect of the scientific, medical, or engineering community? The achievements of your family? How many Facebook friends? Your looks?

Maybe two things which Jesus then said – and one thing which he did – may help us to achieve greatness.

First, he said this: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them [the Gentiles] and those who rule over them [the Gentiles] are called benefactors [good workers]. But not so with you.” Do you get the picture? It’s rather radical. He’s saying that, in our world, the national leaders and rulers are extolled and praised and celebrated as worthy and good. They are great. This is not to be the case in Jesus’ kingdom.

During the past 2,000 years this conflict has arisen time and time again. It has been seen in particular in the conflict between “church” and “state”. The “state” leaders have been deeply concerned about the possible allegiance of “their” people to a higher authority than themselves.

Second, he went on to say this: “This Scripture must be fulfilled in me. ‘He was numbered with the transgressors’. Because indeed what is written about me now has its fulfilment.” Jesus was referring to a Scripture (a Book written by Isaiah around BC 600) in which Isaiah wrote of the future Messiah, “He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Yes, this man’s greatness was, in part, the fact that he fulfilled what had been clearly stated in the Jewish Bible Their Messiah would be counted as one of the transgressors – the law-breakers – those not worthy to live any more. Jesus would achieve that greatness. For transgressors he carried their sin and took their punishment.....even the punishment due to the murderer Barabbas.


‘No other man has ever humbled himself so greatly; and no man has ever been more exalted as a result.’  (John Blanchard, writer and evangelist)
Third, Jesus did this thing: He went under. He capitulated to all the evil in other human beings. He turned away from financial success and wealth. He did not seek to obtain praise for academic or practical ability. He relinquished reputation. He had no earthly children to bring him praise. All his followers and Facebook friends ran away from him. He relinquished looks (his face, according to Isaiah, was marred more than any other man’s). He became a convicted - a criminal - transgressor.

He achieved greatness. He went under. For others.

So special was that greatness in the sight of his Father above that his Father raised him from the dead. Easter Sunday’s resurrection will, yet again, be celebrated globally next week. But his greatness is in his cross.
Richard Syvret

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