How do you define greatness? Who are your role models? What does it take for someone to be a “hero” in your mind; their occupation, wealth, power? It seems like our society, especially among the youth, is constantly migrating from famed star to athlete to performer to the next big name in search of someone we can look up to as a model of our life. This list certainly isn’t limited to Hollywood entertainers or sports personalities; our “idols” can be anyone- pastors, authors, co-workers, family members.
The problem with placing any of these people on a pedestal is that they are fallible, mere humans, nothing more, each one just as depraved as we are. Yet because of their platform they’re recognized as great examples of success and we, intentionally or not, give them a higher status in our lives and then become shocked when a fall inevitably occurs.
Despite the labels of greatness that we freely assign, the single greatest man in all of history was proclaimed such by none other than Jesus Christ and his platform transcends all time. In Luke 7:28, Jesus declares that, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist. John was called into service for the Lord nearly 800 hundred years before his birth as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi. John’s ministry provides a model for all those who are called the children of God because of the recognition of his calling, his wholehearted desire to answer that call, the boldness with which he preached, his lifetime of obedience, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life.
Without question he was great because he was given the highest, most honorable position ever, preparing the way for the Messiah. Think about this: it wasn’t anything that John earned, through no ability of his own, certainly no wealth as we know from his camel skin attire and meager meals of locust and honey. He had no status in society, didn’t come from a noble family. His father was a priest, but he was not priestly himself. He lived isolated in the desert of Judea, alone, with nothing. In fact, not only would he be called a failure by the modern definition of success, he would’ve been looked upon as a poor homeless man who was insolent toward government and religious figures because of their sins. Yet here he was, declared in the womb by the angel Gabriel to be great. Luke 1:15 states as the angel Gabriel is speaking to John’s father Zacharias, describing in great detail how he will be used by the Lord, he proclaims, “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” This verse suggests that it didn’t matter what man thought about John. He wasn’t to be measured for success based on the perception of society.
John’s greatness was defined by his character as Gabriel alludes to in the middle part of verse 15, “He is never to take wine or other fermented drink.” Here we see that his outward behavior was to be different than others, not conformed to the world, so much so that the Bible provides evidence that people considered him a “demon” based on his abstaining behavior. Matthew 11:18 At the end of Luke 1:15, Gabriel provides a second characteristic of John’s greatness, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” This attribute alludes to his internal character and allowed John to perform his mission of bringing back Israel to the “Lord their God” and turning the “hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” Luke 1:16-17
In John the Baptist we have a man that was declared “great” from the womb. His position was higher than anyone else’s in history, except of course that of Jesus Christ. His ministry was invaluable to preparing the way for the Savior. Yet he deflected all praise and glory to God by constantly declaring that he was not the light, but merely a “voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” John 1:23 As Jesus’ ministry began to increase, John declared that his own must decrease. John 3:30 He knew his role and did not try to share the spotlight, but despite this he was imprisoned and beheaded.
Considering of all this, his call, ministry, character, boldness, humility, willingness to die, Jesus followed up his comment on John’s greatness by declaring that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” Luke 7:28 Why would He claim John’s greatness and then assert that all those in the Kingdom of God are greater? The answer to this question provides the reason why we should not declare any of those people we mentioned earlier as role models or great heroes. It’s simple, spiritual greatness is always superior to human greatness, because it transpires through no work of our own. Our justification occurs through the redemptive saving grace of Jesus Christ. That’s what makes us great. There’s no doubt John’s ministry was special, but when we accept Christ as Savior we are called from the womb of rebirth and we too are filled with the Holy Spirit to likewise pave the way for the Messiah by serving as witnesses to the world.
Have you experienced spiritual rebirth that will allow you greatness in the sight of the Lord? Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Accept him as Lord and Savior of your life; believe and trust in Him and He will make you greater than greatest, that on the day you should stand before the Lord He might declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”