Once upon a time some leaders were squabbling about “greatness.” These guys felt tremendous pressure to settle the question of “greatness” because they had been appointed to leadership positions by God Himself! However, these men were not what you and I would consider to be “leadership material.” They were in fact bad leaders! But these were the men God picked. The chief reason these guys were discussing “greatness” is because they were insecure; they were desperately attempting to convince themselves that they had what it takes to lead.
After arguing amongst themselves they decided to ask God directly, “What is the true measure of greatness?” God called a nearby child to come stand in the midst of this group of grown men. Of course the child was intimidated, and she felt small and frail standing in the middle of these apostolic leaders. And the intensity of the child’s intimidation was all-the-more amplified by the fact that she had just overheard these men arguing with one another, wielding all their apostolic authority and aggression in an effort to prove themselves right! All that to say, the child’s chief contribution amidst this group was: acute vulnerability and a pronounced sense of insufficiency.
And with this intimidated, frail, helpless, vulnerable child standing there, God said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like this child, you will never understand greatness. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest!”
Now, of course many people will attempt to relegate this teaching to the attic space of “figurativism,” but consider the first recipients of this leadership lesson. God deliberately ordained and appointed uneducated, uncredentialed, blue-collar, outcasts to fill the positions of apostolic leadership. The very reason for the apostolic argument regarding greatness arose out of their very keen sense of vulnerability and insufficiency. God looks at such lamb-like leaders and says, “Self-sufficiency is a myth. My unmerited favor is your sufficiency. My power is made perfect in your weakness.” It’s as if God is saying, “Lean in to your vulnerability, and lead with it!”
Eventually God did appoint an apostle with “impressive credentials.” But on the day that He appointed this man an apostolic leader, God made it very clear that this man would hereafter regard all his most impressive accolades and pedigrees as rubbish. This man, once venerated and esteemed in the world, would henceforth be regarded as a madman, and an enemy of dignified religion and traditional decorum. This man’s life was hijacked by the King of greatness, and subsequently this man contented himself with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. In fact, this man gladly boasted in his weaknesses, saying, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
The true metric of greatness is the opposite of what we most naturally imagine and admire as “impressive.” The King of greatness was raised in a town that boasted “nothing good” (see John 1:46). The most commended follower of the King of greatness received the chastisement of church leaders only moments before receiving her acclaim (see Mark 14:9). The greatest financial donor of the Kingdom tithed a penny out of her poverty (see Mark 12:44). The greatest short-story author of all time made the most despised people group the heroes of His stories (see John 8:48; Luke 10:33). The King of greatness rides no splendid war steed, but rather He rides the colt of a donkey. The greatest accomplishment in history is an act of emptying, servitude, humiliation, and fatal sacrifice. And even when we are told to behold the King of greatness as “the Lion” what we actually see is a lamb who appears to have been slain!