We continue our study in the Gospel of Luke in this article by looking at Luke 9:46-56. It was the twenty-fifth of February, 1964, a twenty-two year old boxer had just defeated the world heavyweight champion and a microphone was thrust into his face as he left the ring. And he declared, "I am the greatest!" His name then was Cassius Clay. He later became Muhammad Ali and I think that the whole of the United States was shaken up by his braggadocio.

And you know we could "tisk, tisk," and shake our finger at such pride and then we come to this passage which indicates that even men who had been walking with Jesus struggled with pride and self preoccupation. And I trust you see yourself there because the problem with pride and self preoccupation is not one that the culture hoisted upon us, it's something that emanates from every sinful human heart. We are by nature turned in on ourselves. We are by nature self preoccupied. We are by nature selfish. We are by nature prideful. And even these disciples manifest this in this passage. And I want you to see a common thread here.

First of all there's the story that we're told in verses 46 to 48. The disciples are having a conversation amongst themselves about get this, which of them is the greatest. And you're going, "What is wrong with you? You're with Jesus and you're thinking about which one of you is greatest!" And yet my friends, does that not warn you that no one is immune from the temptation of pride and self preoccupation. If these men could walk with Jesus and still succumb to self preoccupation and pride, don't think that you can't. Don't think that you don't. These verses reveal that the disciples themselves had an overestimation of self and an underestimation of God. They took themselves very seriously. They were very ambitious. But it was a sinful ambition. It was about advancing self. An overestimation of self and an underestimation of God.

And Jesus, who's not party to the conversation, we're told by Luke nevertheless knows that they're thinking in their hearts and so He brings a child to His side and He says, "Look at the child. If you receive him you receive Me. If you receive Me you receive My Father." And then He says to them, look at these words - "He who is least among you all is the one who is great."

In Jesus' kingdom it is the least who get the prominence. In His kingdom it is not those who are self preoccupied and have delusions of grandeur who are great. In His kingdom it is those who humble themselves who serve and who consider themselves least."

Now another event occurs. The disciples are out and in verse 49 they see someone casting out demons in Jesus' name and they try to stop him. They try to stop him because he's not part of the party of disciples that is following Jesus around in His ministry and Jesus tells them, "Don't stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you." This is talking about a party spirit that exists in the disciples and reminds us not to be of that kind of a party spirit but to rejoice whenever the true Gospel is being proclaimed, wherever it's being proclaimed, and by whomever it's being proclaimed. But the party spirit here has its root in pride.

And then there's a third story in the passage. The Samarians are going to receive a visit from Jesus and the disciples are sent to prepare the way but the Samarians reject Jesus because He sets His face to go to Jerusalem. When they found out that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, they didn't want to hear any more of His message. They didn't want to have anything to do with him.

And John and James are understandably incensed. They're loyal to Jesus and they're offended for Jesus that the Samarians would treat Him like this and so they remember back to a time in the Old Testament when the prophet Elijah went into Samaria, the northern kingdom, and preached the Gospel and God was rejected and Baal was being worshipped and Elijah called down fire and consumed the prophets of Baal. And so they just applied the Scripture to their present circumstance. And so they said, "Lord, would you like us to call down fire and we'll consume the Samaritans?" And Jesus essentially says to them, "You just don't get it do you? You do not understand why I am here. The very fact that you would think that that is the right Biblical application to this circumstance lets me know that you do not get why I'm here." Now, pride is a part of that too.

In all of this, Luke is showing you that the disciples are not the heroes of this story. Oh, they'll write gospels and they'll preach the Gospel and they'll die for the Lord Jesus Christ, but they are not sinlessly perfected individuals. They are men with feet of clay. And Luke is showing you here that they all eventually understood that by just describing them to you. "Yes, we struggled with unbelief and we didn't understand what Jesus was saying and we were prideful and we had a party spirit and frankly we didn't understand the mission of Jesus very well."

Only the Gospel gives you the tool that you need to fight pride and there are two things in this passage that speak to us about fighting pride.

The first is recognizing who we are and you recognize, "I really don't have a reason to be proud." And we own up to our rebellion.

But the second part is in seeing God's greatness and there are two ways in which God's greatness are manifest in this passage that just take my breath away. In verse 51 - "When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem." Jesus looks around at these fumbling nincompoops of disciples and He says, "They're why I'm here. I'm going to Jerusalem, I'm going to the cross to die for them because it's the only way. They're not going to save themselves. They're not going to be the solution to the problem. I'm going to go die for them."

But then further, you remember when the disciples say, "Do you want us to call down fire on the Samaritans from heaven to consume them because they've rejected You?" And Jesus simply turns and rebukes them. This happened because Jesus' mission in the incarnation was not to call down fire upon sinners to consume them, His mission in the incarnation was to be consumed by God's fire in the place of sinners.

So if you love Him and you put your trust in Him, you put your faith in Him, how in the world can you ever think or act like you are the greatest? He's the greatest! If He's the greatest, and He humbled Himself to the consuming fire of God's wrath and death on your behalf, what then will that say about how you'll relate to one another and towards all people?

A proud Christian ought to be an oxymoron. So renounce yourself, have a realistic view of yourself - as one who deserves God's wrath, but has had God's wrath taken for you so that you could be with Him forever. That's true greatness and that's why in His kingdom the least among you all is the one who is great.