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Bandar Baru Methodist Centre 12 September 1999

Christian Greatness

Matthew 23: 1 - 12


Stop, Look, Go illustration.

In this passage, the Lord Jesus wants us to stop, take three looks before we go on with our lives.

1. Look At The Scribes And Pharisees - Avoid Their Delights

The Gospels in the New Testament records for us many occasions when our Lord Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees. In His teachings, He exposed many dark secrets of their wickedness. For example, the passage we just read tonight is also mentioned in Mark 12, Luke 11 and Luke 20.

In Mark 12, our Lord told the multitudes who were listening to him, that the scribes who go about in long robes, and love greetings in market places, actually cheat widows of their houses and pretend to make long prayers.

In Luke 11 we read that Jesus went to a Pharisee's home for dinner and told him face-to-face that Pharisees are like cups and dishes which are clean only on the outside, but inside they are full of greed and wickedness. Later in the same chapter our Lord rebuked both the Scribes and Pharisees by saying that they are like graves which are not seen, and people who walk over them are not aware of them.

If you read through the four Gospels you will come across many other records of Christ rebuking the scribes and Pharisees and warning other people about them.

Tonight, in Matthew 23 our Lord Jesus warns the multitudes and his disciples against doing the same things which the Scribes and Pharisees like to do. In particular, we can read of three things which they delight in. Jesus tells us to avoid these delights ...

Verse 5 - "to be seen by men".

"They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments."

In Mark 12 : 38, 39, it is recorded that the scribes also like to go around in long robes

Illustration - name plaques in associations and school halls.

Verse 6 - "love best places at feasts, best seats at synagogues".

In ...

Illustration - Richard Wurmbrand's visit to Assunta Girl's school hall.

Verse 7 -"love greetings in the market places, and to be called Rabbi, Rabbi".

Illustration - lawyer who became a judge and demands to be addressed as 'Justice', even at home.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do we want to be great Christians tonight? Are there people among us here who want to be better disciples of Christ? Do we frequently wish to be great and powerful in the sight of our Lord? Then we must start obeying this teaching of our Lord Jesus. Do not be like the Scribes and Pharisees. Today we have many modern day scribes and Pharisees, walking around us in the form of doctors and engineers, lawyers and politicians, managers and directors, teachers and lecturers, actors and actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, even Fathers and Priests, Pastors and Preachers. Many of them are rich and famous, they are powerful and influential. They delight in popularity, position and power. Everywhere we go, we come across such people. We sometimes wish to be like them. How we wish to have their popularity, their position and their power. But our Lord Jesus tells us: Abandon these delights. Let go of them. Look at the Scribes and Pharisees and avoid their delights. This is our first step towards greatness in Christian living.

2. Look At The World - Avoid Their Desires

Quote 1 John 2 : 15 - 17:

"Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."

'Pride of life' - one of the things in the world around us we must not love. It is part of our human nature, our flesh that we desire to love to be proud of ourselves in life. Right from a very young age, every boy and girl in this world begins to harbour this desire to be proud, to be successful, to be highly esteemed. Even after we become adults we carry along with us this deep seated desire - to have high sounding names, to hold respectable titles and to be looked up to highly by society around us.

This desire to be esteemed highly, to be proud of ourselves, somehow came to be regarded by psychologists as a very important part of our personal growth and development. (Narrate concept of not damaging students' 'self-esteem' in teachers' training.) Even

Tonight, our Lord Jesus is teaching us: to look at the world and to avoid this kind of desire: the desire to be proud, the pride of life, which is not of the Father but is of the world.

In verse 8 - Christ teaches that we should avoid the desire to be called Rabbi or master (Chinese si-fu). This is because only Christ himself can be our rabbi, our master. We are all brothers and sisters under one master, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In verse 9 - Jesus went on to teach that we should avoid the desire of being called Father. Today there are many religious groups, including so-called Christian churches, where it is compulsory for the members to address their leaders as Fathers or Mothers. Our Lord teaches us to avoid such practices, because there is only one real Father - our God who is in heaven.

In verse 10 - Christ also tells us that we should not be called Teacher. Again, because we only have one Teacher - our Lord Jesus himself.

So we see here in verses 8 to 10, that in order to be a great Christian we have to avoid desiring after great names. Whether it is Master, or Father or Teacher, only God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord are worthy of such names.

Illustration: argument during Bible Study regarding the acceptability of using worldly designations in addressing fellow believers.

This seems very ironical. It is a paradox of Christian living. In order to be great, we have to put away great designations. We must not put on great names. Instead, we must give glory and greatness to God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. We must look carefully at the things of the world and avoid its desires.

3. Look At The Lord - Adopt His Design

Verse 11 - " ... he who is greatest shall be your servant.'

Verse 12 - "... whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Humble: comes from a Greek word which means low-lying. To humble oneself , when written Greek actually means to make oneself lower than others.

Exalted: on the other hand, may carry two possible meanings. One meaning is "to praise highly, to talk very highly about somebody". So, one of the things we do when we assemble here every Sunday evening is to exalt the name of our Lord - to praise him highly, to sing highly of his name.

However, the word 'exalt' used in verse 12 tonight carries another meaning. In this verse the words 'exalts himself' means 'to lift himself up or to promote himself" to a higher level. So when our Lord says 'whoever exalts himself shall be humbled', he literally means whoever lifts himself up will be made lower than others. And similarly when our Lord says, 'he who humbles himself will be exalted', he means anyone who lowers himself will be lifted up high.

Earlier in Matthew 20 : 25 - 28, our Lord called his disciples to Himself and said to them:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - Just as the Son Of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Later on, in Romans 12 the apostle Paul similarly wrote:

v3 Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement ...

v10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.

v16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Thus we can see here that our Lord has his own design for Christians to be great. He wants us to humble ourselves so that we can become exalted. The greatness of a Christian is achieved by lowliness, by humility, by making ourselves lower than others around us. Eventually, we shall be exalted, we shall be lifted up. We can then become truly great members of the body of Christ.


Brothers and sisters in Christ. This evening I recommend to you this teaching of our Lord Jesus in Mathew 23. I urge you to stop at the Stop - Look - Go road sign . Take three looks before you continue your journey towards God's Kingdom

First look at the Scribes and Pharisees . Avoid their delights. Do not be delighted in gaining popularity, in achieving high position and in getting great power.

Secondly look at the world around us. Avoid their desires. Do not love the world. Do not love the things in the world. Avoid the desire for worldly pride. Do not desire to be called Master, or Father or Teacher. Only God is worthy of such high esteem and honour.

Finally look at our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us adopt his design for our lives. Let us humble ourselves so that we may be exalted in His Kingdom. Let us bring ourselves low so that we may be lifted high.

After stopping at this Stop-Look-Go sign, may the Lord help us to become truly great disciples of our Lord, to become exalted and honoured according to His will. Amen.