Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 9:46-48

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 18, 2018

Luke omits the details leading up to the following scene. Following the exorcism at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples went back to Capernaum. It was not until they arrived at the house where Jesus usually stayed that he confronted them about their argument (Mark 9:33-34), which had happened on the road while they were on their way.

46 The disciples started arguing about which of them might be the greatest.  47 Jesus knew their thoughts. He took a little child and had him stand beside him.  48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever is least among all of you is truly great.”

During Jesus’ years of ministry and the years in which the New Testament was written, the Greek form (actually a “mood”) called the optative was passing out of use except in certain expressions like “May this never be!” (Luke 20:16; also translated “Not at all,” Romans 3:4, etc.). But classically trained writers like Luke use this form a little more often. Here, “might be” is this sort of form. The disciples didn’t think that one of them was already the top dog, but they were wondering which of them would rise up later on above the rest, perhaps to become a rabbi like Jesus, or who had the most success driving out demons, or holding an audience on the edge of their seats with his excellent preaching. It’s the kind of thought that tempts many pastors. It’s also the kind of thing that we don’t need to bother with. It focuses on success from the preacher’s point of view, and that doesn’t count. What matters is success from God’s point of view, and God is the one who reads hearts.

Jesus simply took a child who was there and his stand beside him. This child was probably the son of one of the disciples, or else was the son of the person who owned the house. While the disciples were thinking of themselves and their own place in God’s kingdom, they should have been thinking of everyone else, inside the kingdom and out. For those in the kingdom—like this little boy—what could they do to serve him, instruct him, nourish his faith and take care of his other needs? For those outside the kingdom, what could they do to bring the message of Jesus to them?

To have the attitude of a servant is what is great in the kingdom of God. Notice that the last word of verse 48 is not the superlative “greatest” nor even the comparative “greater,” but simply the adjective “great.” The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is God—any other attitude is a sin against the First Commandment. What God wants from us is to serve him, and to bring more people into the kingdom. That’s what’s truly great. As for anybody’s relative position or rank in the kingdom? That’s for God alone to decide, and certainly not for any of us to dream of, let alone argue over. Better to fill up all the corners of heaven with the faith of everyone you meet than to worry about the table at which you’ll be sitting.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

Browse Devotion Archive