Greatness in The Kingdom
by Ken Barnes
Published on December 5, 2023

Greatness in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (Matt. 18:1). Before we look at Jesus’ response to this thought-­provoking question, let’s look back to the Old Testament and the life of Moses.

The Life of Moses

One central theme in the life of Moses rises above the others, what I call “kingdom-mindedness.” Let me explain.

In Numbers 14 the people were grumbling and complaining, threatening to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. It seems that the Lord had had enough when he said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they” (vv. 11, 12).

What an offer! With Moses, God was going to start over again, and this time without all those complaining and grumbling people. The new nation would be better than the former one. I often wonder how I would have responded if God had made this offer to me. Moses could have had it all, but he responded humbly. “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now” (v. 19). And God graciously pardoned them according to Moses’ request.

I am inspired by the life and character of Moses, because he exhibited this kingdom-mindedness. Kingdom-mindedness is the attitude of the heart and mind where one is more concerned about the good of the kingdom than one’s own good or the good of one’s ministry. To put it simply, a kingdom-minded person is an unselfish person. I have come to the conclusion that most of Moses’ character traits were developed over time and not just inborn or bestowed quickly. They were learned during Moses’ forty years on the backside of nowhere, serving his father-in-law and his herds.

The Life of Jesus

Now let’s turn back to the New Testament. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ answer is startling: “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). Let’s examine another story from Jesus’ life that sheds some light on this response.

Jesus, in the last major interaction with his disciples, modeled what to them was a strange and maybe even bizarre act. After he ate his last meal with them, he took a basin of water and wrapped a towel around himself. He then proceeded to perform a task that astounded them. John 13:5 records, “He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

That night the gates of hell must have rattled as the powers of darkness pondered the revolutionary nature of this act of service. Though not fully birthed, a new mentality was conceived in the hearts of Jesus’ followers. This new mindset brought a swift reaction from the people of his day. “Here comes the man that is trying to turn the world upside down,” people exclaimed. They were partly right: he was trying to turn the world around. But he was not turning it upside down. Instead, he was turning the world right side up. Since the Garden of Eden, the world had been inverted; Jesus was just righting it.

A distinct part of this radical turnaround that Jesus initiated was an others-orientation in our thoughts and actions—a kingdom-minded attitude like Moses’. In Philippians 2:3–7 (nasb) the apostle Paul instructs us:

 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

Jesus, instead of pointing others toward himself, pointed himself toward others. This was the antithesis of the mentality of the world. Even the disciples missed what he was trying to do. In John 13:6–8 Peter puts his foot in his mouth.

[Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

Peter had a pecking-order mentality of value and ministry. Jesus, we wash your feet, and those under us wash our feet, and so on. Jesus blew a hole right in the middle of this mindset as he put himself at the bottom of the pecking-order. The most valuable (Jesus) became the least valuable (the servant), so that all people could know their true value. Jesus instructed his disciples to go and do likewise if they wanted to be great in his kingdom.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

Most of the disciples were drawing a blank as they watched the Lord of Glory wash their feet. God was doing something in their lives, but what was he trying to do through their lives? Was Jesus trying to give his disciples and all who would follow a secret weapon, one that would open the hearts of the masses to the gospel?

The old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Jesus was leaving with his disciples a tool that would validate their words and penetrate the hearts of those they desired to reach. This was the last night Jesus had with his disciples, the final time before he was glorified to influence their thinking and actions. He forever etched an image on their minds and hearts, the impression of the Son of Man washing feet. He was teaching them the “power of the towel.”

“Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The life of Moses and the life and teaching of Jesus instruct us. The answer is the kingdom-minded person who willingly takes on the lowly position of a servant and, together with Jesus, works to turn the world right side up.

Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 24–27.

Ken worked with Youth With A Mission for seventeen years, primarily involved in discipleship training and evangelism. He is the author of The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places, published in 2011 by YWAM Publishing, and Broken Vessels in 2021 through Kindle Direct Publishing.  He holds a Master of Science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in Curriculum and Instruction. He currently is a freelance writer.

Featured Image from Walpaper Cave





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