The disciples are badly mistaken in their reaction to the Lord’s foretelling of His Passion — arguing among themselves, as to which one of them is the greatest. Tacky doesn’t even cover it.
They do not understand what real greatness is, because they do not understand Christ or His Cross. And they are afraid to ask; because, actually, they don’t want to know or understand!
If the Cross awaits Him, it awaits His disciples, too, and that is the opposite of what they want.
It is the same for you, by sinful nature. You don’t and cannot understand the Cross and Passion of Christ. And you are afraid to ask, because you don’t want to know. More than that, and more to the point, you don’t want to be crucified and die.
You want to live; and you want to be great, to be well-liked, admired, respected, even popular. And you want to do it your way, on your own terms, by your own efforts and accomplishments. Not only as a matter of personal pride, but because you don’t trust God. You don’t trust anyone else, either. Instead, you strive to protect yourself, and you compete with everyone else, to get ahead at whatever cost, by whatever means you can get away with.
So, on the one hand, you are consumed by your pride and self-righteousness, relying on yourself. And on the other hand, you’re driven by your lust and envy, covetous idolatry and selfishness.
Your heart burns with jealousy and resentment. You get angry, and you become bitter. You harbor grudges and assume the worst about your neighbor. Outwardly, you mutter and complain and gossip against others. You quarrel and fight, and in various ways you murder your neighbor.
In all of this, there is the worldly appearance of strength, and the promising smell of success.
But it is a false and misleading dream. It is no true wisdom or righteousness; it is not divine and heavenly, but demonic and deadly. It does not make you great, but destroys you.
Don’t you know that friendship with the world, and competing and contesting on its terms, puts you at odds and at enmity with God? The way it went with Cain and Abel!
But humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Turn away from temptation, from your sin and every evil. Repent, and trust the Lord. Submit yourself to Him, to His Word, in faith.
He will exalt you in His mercy, which is His greatness in Christ Jesus.
You not only see it in Christ, as an example, but He has accomplished it for you, and He has made it possible for you.
He humbles Himself, and becomes obedient unto death. He makes Himself nothing, small and weak, like a little child. In faith toward God, He makes Himself the Servant of all. His divine Wisdom is exercised in mercy and kindness: toward those who are not merciful or kind to Him!
By His righteousness, He justifies you, and He grants you peace through the forgiveness of sins.
This is the Glory and Strength of God, and this is real greatness — by the Way of the Cross.
Instead of supposing and striving to take care of yourself, to make a way for yourself, to protect yourself, and to take what you want for yourself, in competition with and at the expense of others — rather, commit your way to the Lord; entrust yourself to Him, in both life and death, and wait quietly and patiently for Him to deliver you and give you all good things. He will.
Even if you are persecuted and put to death, do not despair, and do not give up hope, and do not take matters into your own hands. Do not fret yourself, but know that the Lord, He is God, and He will vindicate you and exalt you.
You know that He will do it, because He has already done so in the Resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ. To be His disciple is to be crucified and die with Him, yes, but it is also to be raised with Him, to live with Him.
For God has received you as His own dear child in Christ. The Father has taken you into the embrace of His beloved Son, into the arms of Him who was crucified for you. And already in this, the one true God has given you Himself, so that you truly lack nothing in heaven or on earth.
There may appear to be little or no safety in those crucified arms of Christ. For He Himself, with all His gentle meekness, was like a Lamb led to the slaughter.
"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit," they plotted and conspired against Him, "to cut off His life from the land of the living, that there be no remembrance of Him."
How easy to conclude that God abandoned Him; that no good could ever come of such a Cross.
But, no, in fact the Cross of Christ is the Victory of God, His greatness and His glory. There the Lord reconciled the world to Himself, and established Peace for you with God (and one another).
The tree of the Cross thus bears the fruits of life, which remain; and by the eating and drinking of that fruit from that tree, by the crucified body and shed blood of Christ, the Name of the Lord is remembered and hallowed; not only in itself, as it surely is, but in every generation, and also among us. And so also for you, who bear His Name in His Peace.
Here, then, take delight in the Lord, and He shall give you your heart’s desire.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.