Alfred Place Baptist Church

9:33-37 How Can We Tell A Great Christian?

Mark 9:33-37 “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.'”

People are fascinated with such questions as the greatest Englishman ever, or the greatest footballer, or the greatest author, or composer, or painter. The Times newspaper runs an annual Preacher of the Year competition. All this reflects an ancient attitude. The Lord’s apostles, out of earshot of Jesus (so they thought), had been arguing about who was the greatest amongst them. Andrew could have claimed that he’d been the first of the twelve to have met Jesus, and that it was he who’d gone to Peter and told him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41). Then Peter could have made his claim that he’d been the one to have said to Jesus himself, “Thou art the Son of the living God,” and Christ had told him that he had been specially blessed by God because this truth had been revealed to him by the Father. He was surely the greatest apostle. Hadn’t Jesus given him a special name, and told him that as he confessed that Jesus was the Christ that that declaration of Peter’s would be the rock on which Christ would build his church? Then the apostle John could have gone into another dimension of love and pleaded that a unique affectionate relationship existed between Christ and himself. He was the disciple that Jesus loved. You can imagine the argument going on amongst the apostle with even Judas piping up and telling them, “Don’t forget about practical matters. I’ve been appointed the treasurer. I’ve the responsibility of keeping the money,” and so on.

The Saviour had heard the raised voices, and when they entered a house in Capernaum and sat down he asked them what they were arguing about. They didn’t say a thing. There was a long embarrassed silence. Jesus had been talking to them about his betrayal and cross and resurrection, and they hadn’t understood why he was talking about such a fate in that way. In fact we are told that they were afraid to ask him about it (v.32). In other words, their own spirits were not in tune with Jesus’ spirit. The Lord Christ is the most approachable person in the world, but his disciples were afraid to approach him. They thought, how could the Son of God ever be killed by men? He had power over death. How could he be the one to suffer? If he were going to die in that way then what in the world would happen to them? They were afraid to talk to him about such things. He was deeply serious when he spoke to them about the cross. He was totally committed to this goal, but whenever he raised that theme there was disharmony between them. They didn’t want to talk to him about it – even Peter was afraid. It happens today. A preacher opens up a certain biblical theme very gravely, and returns to it again, and shows from the Scripture that this is so. He is serious in speaking about these things, so earnest that men and women in the congregation are a little intimidated. They don’t like what he’s saying, but they won’t talk to him about it, even though he might be a very approachable man. It’s obviously something of deep importance to him but they can’t see it. So there is a silence in the fellowship about this theme, not the silence of agreement but the silence of fear. It was much easier for these disciples to argue about personalities, and who was the greatest. They had been with him for about two years. They had seen him raise the dead, and calm the storm. They had heard the sermon on the mount, but as yet their own spirits were not in tune with his spirit. So it is time for him to teach them once again. That is the way, steady repetitive instruction examining truth from different angles. The Lord has important things to say to them about what is true greatness.

Are we permitted even to think let alone speak in terms of one Christian being ‘greater’ than another? Are not all Christians equally made in God’s image, and equally sinners in need of salvation, and equally granted marvellous redemptive privileges? Of course that is true; we are all one in Christ Jesus. Every Christian is in God’s eternal Hall of Fame. But it is in gifts and in maturity that we differ from one another. Some are novices, while others have kept the faith and lived lives of credible godliness for fifty years. Some parts of our bodies are more important than others. When the early church chose deacons they looked around for men who were full of the Spirit of God and wisdom. They didn’t pick the first seven men who walked into the meeting that morning. So what is real greatness? It needn’t be the fact that you had met Jesus Christ before anyone else did, or that you have a better theological knowledge than others, or that you have a good head for figures, or that you have strong feelings and emotions towards Christ. Such facts needn’t be allied to greatness. The Lord Jesus tells us three things which are indispensable to what is great in the eyes of God.

1. THE GREATEST MUST BE THE VERY LAST.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last,'” (v.35). Let me remind you of those great words of the apostle to the Corinthians, “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men” (I Cor. 4:9). Remember that it is the ‘Twelve’ whom our Lord is addressing, and Paul is writing about the ‘apostles’ being put on display. They are both referring to the men of greatest gifts and authority in the whole world, to these men who have had the mightiest privileges of any people on the face of the globe. These men saw the risen Lord. They were sent out as Christ’s own delegates. On the day of Pentecost they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Christ stands in closest identity with these men saying, “If men actually receive you then they receive me and they receive the one who sent me.” That is Christ’s estimation of them, but where are they in the estimation of the world? The answer is that they are found exactly where Christ was, and where the Christian church will always be if it is faithful to its Master.

The Corinthian congregation had the tendency to put its various teachers on pedestals, one group claiming that Peter was the greatest, and another that Apollos was the top man, and another bragging in Paul. Where had God put these men? “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.” Do we have a secret discontent with our status as Christians in Great Britain? “Why doesn’t the world honour evangelical Christians? Why don’t we have a seat in the House of Lords? Why aren’t we made the Queen’s Chaplains? Why aren’t we TV personalities? Why don’t they carry us around on a throne like the pope?” The answer, of course, is that whenever the world treats the church like that it’s been an absolute disaster for the gospel. If the world can’t intimidate us with its frowns it will buy us with its smiles. So what God does to make sure that the salt doesn’t lose its savour is amazing. He puts the church on the scaffold, and on the rack, and in the concentration camp, and chains it to the flaming stake. To promote the kingdom of God the apostles are put on display at the end of the procession.

Such suffering is God’s will. We have to say as tenderly as we can such a hard message to the grieving widows of those brave pastors in Iran who were murdered by its fanatics in the last decade. “It was the will of God for those men to die and go home to heaven.” We have to say it to the church in Nigeria and in Southern Sudan and in China where it is being persecuted and imprisoned and killed all the day. The great Saviour whom you follow is teaching you what is true greatness as he allows you to suffer for him. He says to you, “Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you . . .” In that prison, or facing that firing squad, is exactly where God has placed you. You are at the end of the procession.

That picture would be very vivid to the Corinthian church. It is the scene of the victorious army returning from battle. They have waited outside the city for the great triumphant entry. First there are the generals, the commanders, and the men who have distinguished themselves by acts of heroism. Then come the troops – your father and brother and son, and you shout your welcomes and hurrahs throwing bunches of flowers before these soldiers. Then come the prisoners, the leaders of the defeated nation, kept for ransom, booed and hissed at by the crowds. Then right at the end are the condemned men, those on their way to the arena to fight with the gladiators and thrown to the beasts, demoralised men covered in mud and the filth that’s been thrown at them, bruised and bleeding from the rocks which young and old have hurled, torn by the dogs that have been turned on them. These despised ones, who are the very last, are off to a cruel and unavoidable death

Paul says to the Corinthian church, “That is where I and Peter and Apollos and John are to be found. We are not leading the troops into Rome to shake hands with Nero. We are at the rump of the procession, hated by the world.” The false teachers were self-promoting; “We are the greatest!” But the apostles of the Son of God were on their way to crucifixion or to being burnt alive. There was going to be no commando raid of a legion of angels who were going to deliver them at the last moment. They were going to die. They were not going fishing; they were not going to the library; they were not going to the cinema; they were not going on vacation; they were not going to die on a bed surrounded by their loved ones. They were going to an unspeakable death, hated by the world. Disciples are never above their Master. If it hated him then the closest to Jesus these men live then they are certainly going to be hated too. The more faithful they are to his message, the more identical will be the response of the world. Jesus makes the peril spectacularly clear; “I send you out as sheep amidst wolves.” So Paul says, “We apostles are off to the arena, shuffling along at the end of the procession, the condemned men.”

“We have been made a spectacle,” says Paul, “to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” You know that word ‘spectacle’ how it is used by a parent waiting for a badly behaved child to get home, and eventually rebuking sternly, “You made a spectacle of yourself today and we were ashamed of you. We look for some modesty and dignity and self-control not that behaviour.” Fathers are concerned for their children’s behaviour. But our Father in heaven didn’t spare his own beloved Son from being stripped naked, and hung on a cross suspended by nails through his hands and feet, mocked for hours as he died, and God nowhere makes a promise to spare us from suffering and death at the hands of the world if the hatred is caused by our truly following him. Jesus was made a spectacle before the world, and all who walk close to him will be considered a spectacle too.

There can be no Christian testimony in Islamic countries today without knowing something of this hatred. When the late Albert Fallaize was a missionary in Morocco forty years ago there were many times when he faced the hatred and rejection experienced by many Moroccan Christians. His biographer, Roger K. Snook, describes Albert going to the weekly market in their local town of Sale where he had a stall from which he would sell the Scriptures. He would often stand up and read a part of the Bible out loud. People would gather round and sooner or later someone would ask what he was reading. Many would stay to listen and some bought copies for themselves. On one occasion a number of young men gathered round Albert and started mocking him; then they began to chant, “God is Great! Allah is Great!” circling him so that he could not move away.

People in the market were drawn by the noise and the abuse intensified, and went on for what seemed like an hour. Then, as they worked themselves up to hysteria, the first stones were thrown. One struck Albert on the face; he bore the scar for the rest of his days. He stood quietly, a sheep amidst wolves, just committing the situation to the Lord. The rocks were whistling down on Albert, when suddenly someone pushed through the crowd, and came to stand next to Albert. God sent someone to protect his own sheep. God often does that. It was a young man, but with some presence and an air of authority. He actually subdued the crowd with a few words and the rain of stones stopped. Then with an unhurried pace, he walked with Albert towards the crowd; they parted and the two of them passed through to safety. It was not the first time the two had met, Albert having had many conversations with the lad on previous occasions. He was a Muslim and objected to the Christian position. Nevertheless, the impact of Albert’s witness to Jesus Christ had made a real impression on him – as was seen by what he did that day. He came very near to becoming a Christian before he left Sale. God can use all means to protect his people, but he never promises that we will be always be delivered from pain. The history of missions in north Africa was soaked in the blood of the martyrs. In 1913 a man from Ulster called Cooper was distributing Christian books when he was shot dead. In 1942 an 82 year old missionary named Nairn was working in the Kasbah in Marrakesh. He had been serving the people of Morocco for 60 years and that morning as he entered the dispensary and was greeting the people there a young man jumped up and plunged a knife into his back. At his trial he pleaded, “Nairn blasphemed. I head him say that Jesus is the Son of God. By our law a blasphemer has no right to live.” He was imprisoned for a few months, but then set free. Mrs Nairn was comforted by the Fallaizes. They knew the dangers of working in North Africa.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and made reference to the apostles at the back of the procession his memory was fresh with an incident that had just occurred. It is recorded by Luke in Acts 19 which describes the gospel’s arrival in Ephesus. Soon the mob was roused by the preaching of Christ and they seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s companions, and dragged them to the arena to kill them. Since the time of Stephen those who have lived for Jesus and spoken up for him have known the hatred of the world. Those Christians in the Anglican church who today are resisting the recognition of practising homosexuals as ordained preachers of Christ are meeting the contempt of the Media. They are being set at the very end of the procession in the eyes of the world. They are rubbished as fools because of Christ.

This must happen to every true Christian. Let’s bring it home by this simple story recounted by Peter Jeffery. He was working one summer when he was a theological student in the local cemetery. The superintendent was utterly contemptuous of his faith and one day he pointed out a man walking past. “You see that man?” he asked Peter, “Christianity ruined him.” “How is that?” asked Peter. “In the war he led the black market in Neath and he could get you anything – petrol, chocolates, cigars, silk stockings, whiskey, tyres. He became one of the richest men in Neath, but then he got ‘saved,’ and he gave all that up. Christianity ruined him!” That man became a fool in the eyes of the worldly people of Neath. They regarded him as the very last person they would admire, putting him right at the end of the procession, a hopeless man. But Christ esteems such people. They are the great in his eyes. If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last in the world’s estimation.

2. THE GREATEST MUST BE THE SERVANT OF ALL.

“‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the . . . servant of all” (v.35). You remember that unforgettable scene the night before the crucifixion in the Upper Room? It is recorded in John chapter 13. After they’d walked through muddy streets and entered the house there was an awkward fidgety time of restlessness. Before the Lord spoke to them, and prayed with them, and broke bread there were more basic things to attend to. Everyone was dodging the commonplace duty of washing the others’ feet. They saw the bowl of water and the towel that had been set out, but everyone was avoiding it. Everyone was steadfastly looking elsewhere, until eventually Christ himself arose. He left the place of honour at the centre of the Supper, as the chief guest, the host of the evening. He vacated that place and walked towards the bowl and the towel. There’d been a time over thirty years earlier when he’d left a far more glorious gathering at which he had been the Lord of everything. He had left the right hand of God and the presence of his Father and the Spirit.

In the upper room we are told that Jesus took off his outer clothing because there was a work to do. He laid those garments aside. Thirty years earlier he had laid aside all the trappings of deity. Though he were rich yet for our sakes he became poor. All the appearance of divinity he discarded; thrones for a manger did surrender, sapphire-paved courts for manger floor. Jesus was found in fashion as a man. That’s all he seemed to be, a mere human being, indistinguishable from anyone else. Then that night in the Upper Room our Lord wrapped a towel around him as any servant would. He had taken that very nature of a slave. That is what God the Son did. He laid aside his glory and wrapped himself in our clay. Then he poured the water from the pitcher into the basin and he began to wash the disciples’ feet. He was the one who dealt with all their dirt and all the defilement that had stuck to their feet as they walked long. He cleaned them all, but in a day or so he wasn’t pouring out water, he was pouring out his precious blood.

“I know a fount where sins are washed away;
I know a place where night is turned to day;
Burdens are lifted; blind eyes made to see;
There’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.”

That is what Jesus did, all by himself, on the cross he washed away all their defilement, and when he could say with a loud voice, “It is finished,” then he returned to his place. So it was with our great Saviour, when all the redeeming work was done, then back he went to his place in glory. He hadn’t come to be served but to serve, and this was the climax of his service, to give his life a ransom for many.

But even in the Upper Room, after being with Jesus for three years, the disciples hadn’t learned about the greatness of a life of service. Peter is the one who breaks the silence of the foot-washing. He can’t stand the embarrassed awkwardness of it all as they wait in turn for their feet to be washed, so that when Jesus reaches him Peer has to speak up, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” This is Jehovah; the Lord of life and death; the Lord over disease; the Lord of the winds and waves. A Lord does not wash his own retainers’ feet. Peter thought that at least he could ‘see’ this even if the rest of them hadn’t. Peter will protest. Peter is so respectful, and theological, and orthodox, and totally wrong. Peter says to himself, “Is this unthinkable thing going to happen to me? Is Jehovah Jesus going to stoop so low? Others may let him do it to them but not to me. They can’t see the humiliation. They don’t grasp the greatness of Christ. They don’t have this doctrine of the Lordship of Christ that I have, and I’ll protest. Lord, are you going to wash my feet? Do you think I will tolerate you doing something so menial and degrading to me? Not my Lord. He shall not. I know who he is. I know his transcendence. I have seen his transfigured glory. I know that he is worshipped by an innumerable company of angels who all call him ‘Lord.’ I know he dwells in light unapproachable. Such a Lord must be stopped short. Enough is enough. He is not going to wash my feet. I know that this is unacceptable.”

Then Jesus replied to Peter saying to him those words which the Lord often has to say to every single Christian, “Peter, what I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” So often on our pilgrimage we don’t understand God’s ways. They seem utterly unacceptable to us, without any good reason at all. Why this pain? Why this death? Peter didn’t understand foot-washing. Yes, but Peter didn’t understand the cross. This act of service was destroying Peter’s faith. This foot-washing, so full of redeeming love to the defiled and ignorant, was to Peter utterly degrading and humiliating. This action of Jesus was the distilled essence of divine love and wisdom and grace, but to Peter it was weak and pathetic. Peter was present at the high point of the self-disclosure of God. God was beginning to unveil his glory so dramatically in the Upper Room and the trial and on Golgotha. Here the light of God’s grace was going to shine so brightly, but Peter was uncomprehending. He hadn’t a clue why the Lord was behaving as a servant. “There is no glory in being a servant,” thought Peter. So Jesus says to him, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

Peter will not be silent. He speaks again, totally rejecting the service of Christ, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” The idea of a God who humbles himself, who gives without measure, who humbly serves, who contracts himself to a span for the sake of others, all this is utterly unacceptable to Peter. He finds the whole doctrine offensive theology, and it is offensive still, that only this way we can be saved – we may enter heaven only by the Lamb of God, by another giving himself, laying down his life, dying as a sacrifice for our sins, enduring pain and weakness so freely in order to deliver us – it is all too hard to bear. A God who washes feet? That this could be a revelation of the mighty love of God? “Never,” said Peter. When he heard Jesus at Caesarea Philippi telling them that he must go to a cross and a tomb Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him (Mk. 8:32). He is still rebuking him in the Upper Room! A crucified Messiah is not Peter’s Christ. How many of us have such difficulty coping with the staggering dimension of the Creator God giving his very self, going so low? Consider all that is involved in the Servant God, and our being in such debt to him!

What did Peter want? He wanted to wash Jesus’ feet. “If I wash your feet then I’ll feel great. I’ll feel that I’ve really done something, but to depend on the living God for this . . . for clean feet! To depend on him for such meniality, for such abasement, to be wholly in God’s debt? Where can a man go with that? Where’s a man’s self-worth? Where’s a man’s self image? Where’s your pride if you are hanging on to God for every bit of your salvation?” But Jesus is utterly unyielding: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Let’s all be absolutely clear about this, that this is the only salvation there is. It is through Jesus Christ alone, by his service, by his emptying himself and becoming a servant and laying down his life. That is the only means of us sinners being reconciled to God. And the only Christian life is the life of service, we follow him and his example. We live like him. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus our Lord. Blessed are they that serve. “‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be . . . the servant of all'” (v.35). He must love his neighbour as himself. He deems each one better than himself. So the greatest Christian is at the very end of the procession, and he is the servant of all. Lastly there is this:

3. THE GREATEST CHRISTIAN IS OBSESSED WITH THE NOBODIES.

We are told that Christ “took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me'” (vv.36&37). For whom did Jesus come from heaven? For the great philosophers from Greece and the emperors of Rome? No. Did he come for the powerful and the mighty and the righteous? No. He came to seek and save the lost. He came for Mary Magdalene out of whom he cast seven devils, and the much married woman of Samaria, and the little quisling Zacchaeus, and the blusterer Peter. He came for lepers and the outcast, for a terrorist justly being put to death, for brutal soldiers and for their very opposite, zealot nationalists. These are the people he came to serve, nobodies in the eyes of the world.

I remember one Christian organisation which worked with teenagers and its philosophy was to home in on the prominent young people – the athlete, and the top of the form, and the leader of the pack, the assertive and the outspoken. “Go for them. Spend time with them and bring them to a decision,” they told their workers, ” and then you will get the whole circle where they have influence.” That may be good philosophy, but it is bad theology. I thought, “They’d never have bothered with me.” Where did Christ grow up? Amongst what sort of community and what sort of family did he live for thirty years in utter obscurity? What sort of men did he choose as his apostles? Of most of the Twelve we still know nothing more than their names, and we are not absolutely sure by which names to address some of them. He spent his time with anonymous people sitting in their homes, eating with them and talking to them about the kingdom of God and urging them to repent. He didn’t build up a gathering of aristocrats, and artists, and intellectual geniuses, and sophisticated personalities. Anything less like the London Bloomsbury Set or the Camelot of Washington under the Kennedys could hardly be imagined. Not such people but sinners Jesus called around him. I fear that one unplanned and unfortunate legacy of Francis Schaeffer was that American seminaries made too much of the L’Abri model for evangelism, focusing on middle-class students and would-be intellectuals.

So Christ must get this point across to Peter and the Twelve. In the house in which they are sitting is a toddler. Jesus draws him into the circle, and then he picks him up in his arms. He says to them, “This is the sort of person we welcome into our circle.” Can you make a cultural leap back two thousand years to the middle east? It was one of the best places in the world to be born, better than Wales in those days, but still a fearful place for a child. Babies were aborted, children, especially baby girls, were exposed, that is, left outside overnight in the cold without any wrapping for ravenous animals to destroy. Young girls and boys were sex toys, sold into slavery to brothel keepers. The virtues of childhood weren’t trumpeted in those days. The children’s charter was unknown. This was a society with a high infant mortality rate, where the demand for work was so great that parents couldn’t be sentimental about kids. Children were considered ‘not to have arrived’. They made no economic contribution at all. They took, took, took, and needed as soon as possible to start putting in the family pot. They were insignificant and a burden to many parents.

The Lord Jesus takes one such anonymous child. He was a helpless little boy. “These are the ones we Christians go for,” said Jesus. “We target them and welcome them, and if you do so then you are in effect welcoming me.” Whom did he target? Where did the Son of God himself go? Where the darkness was; where men dragged a woman before Jesus and told him they were going to stone her to death there and then; where soldiers blindfolded and hit their prisoners; where death was by crucifixion, and where they lashed men’s backs until the blood ran. That’s where he came. In the midst of them he preached so freely, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

What is the most significant thing about this wee boy? His vulnerability. You couldn’t say to such a child, “You have lived here with us for five whole years. We’ve looked after you, feeding and protecting you all this time, and now it is time for you to tend for yourself. Out you go. Goodbye.” You couldn’t do that to a ten year old. You brought a child into your life and you cared for that little one for many years. You took on that burden. You were responsible for it. Each day the child came back from the fields or the school or from the well and from being with its friends and you welcomed it. Some days it was in a mood, other days it was sick or had been injured, while other days it came home silent and sulking and slammed the door and went to a corner somewhere and wouldn’t talk to you, but you still welcomed the child. Your voice was warm, and your words were sincere and the child felt loved whenever it came back home. Jesus told of the father of the rotten prodigal son, and how he ran to meet his wayward boy and welcomed him home with hugs and kisses and tears. A child is a lifelong commitment. A person comes to this church for a year and then gets sick and develops a form of senile dementia and you find yourself visiting that person each month for years, singing to her and praying with her and talking of Jesus with her, years after the time she was welcomed with her husband for a brief time into our services on Sunday. You have taken this childlike person, who cannot now speak a word to you or anyone, into your life.

What does the Lord Jesus do in his house in Capernaum? He takes a child in his arms. I don’t read of him taking the chief priest in his arms or that he was touchy-feely when a centurion had come to talk to him. I am not told that he embraced a ruler of the synagogues. He didn’t take people like that into his arms, but we are told that here in Capernaum he took a little boy and hugged him, and he told his disciples that these are the ones we welcome. “We always have room for the insignificant and the vulnerable and the ones no one else wants. If you welcome them then you are welcoming me. I identify with them. All those who believe are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh – however bad the past, however vile they’ve been, they are mine.” When Saul of Tarsus was indiscriminately taking and killing the powerless little people who loved Jesus that same mighty Lord Christ met with him on the road to Damascus and halted him in his tracks; “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” he asked him. Jesus stood in solidarity with those who had entrusted themselves to them.

In the tremendous day that lies ahead of us all the Lord Jesus will say to many of his people whom he will welcome into heaven, “I was once sick and in prison and naked and hungry and all alone but thank you for coming to help me.” And when they protest and ask him, “When did we do that to you?” Then he will say that when they welcomed his suffering sick people then they were welcoming him. The Lord’s people don’t sound like the good and the beautiful and powerful people do they? Here is the man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and the woman with learning difficulties, and the peasant with scarcely two pennies to rub together, and the stodgy boring middle-aged couple whose idea of a night out is to go to the prayer meeting in some Tabernacle chapel as they always do on Wednesday nights. To welcome that kind of people is to welcome the mighty Lord of glory, the King of kings before whom the seraphim cover their eyes, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Judge of all mankind. And to welcome the Son of God is to welcome God the Father who sent him into the world. Your welcome goes right to heaven itself. It links you with Almighty God.

If you understand what I am telling you then you are a great person, but if you do what I am telling you then you are a greater person. That is what greatness is. It is a willingness to be last in the eyes of the world. It is a life spent serving men and women in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a life spent welcoming the needy and vulnerable and the world’s untouchables in the Saviour’s name, because when you welcome them you welcome him and welcome the one living God who sent him to be the Saviour of all who believe in him.

9th May 2004 GEOFF THOMAS