At the transfiguration of Jesus, three disciples observed the difference between heavenly glory and earthly bleakness. Jesus had spoken to all the disciples of what was about to happen at the Passover. They probably thought that the kingdom of God would suddenly transform into this great earthly kingdom as soon as Jesus rose from the dead. There was no other way except supernaturally that this kingdom could happen because Jesus had gathered no army, no cache of weapons of war, or horses with which to conquer the Romans. The must have reasoned that God would take over, and rule supernaturally, but to their way of thinking it would be an earthly kingdom.

So now, they thought, was the time to organize their places in this kingdom.

Isaiah called Jesus the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus talked much about how He was to suffer, but only one word about the glory. The disciples seemed to ignore the suffering part and latched onto the glory part. Their problem is that they grasped for the crown and rejected the yoke and the cross. This truth is evident when they ask, “Who is the greatest?”

Visions of the cartoon character Tom Terrific (most of you are probably too young to remember him), or Superman, Spiderman with his spidey sense come to mind. Although fictional, they at least had some super power to fight evil with while these followers of Jesus had yet to receive the Holy Spirit. They really did not know what they were asking. Here are some of the things they assumed:

  1. It was an earthly kingdom, and earthly throne, therefore Jesus would need heads of state and “advisors” in His cabinet.
  2. Everyone in the kingdom is great.
  3. There are different degrees of greatness.
  4. That Jesus’ chosen disciples would hold high positions because they had left everything to be with Him. Therefore, each one had some sort of claim to be the greatest.

Jesus’ answer is an admonishment to every leader and member of His church.

The disciples wanted to be leaders without understanding what that meant. This is the classic description of the servant leader.

First and foremost, they had to be converted as a little child. That’s the Greek word strephō that means strengthened from the base (foundation) to turn around, about face. These disciples had to change their thinking from being the greatest to one of humble service. To realize they really had a lot to learn. They had to change how they thought about the kingdom, the church, and themselves before they could be ready for leadership in the church.

Leaders must be humble as little children. People should never look upon children as beneath them. They should guide and instruct them, and should learn from them as well. Remember, Jesus was a child of twelve when He taught the priests in the temple.

We must put first our desire to please God, to desire the “pure milk of the word to grow” as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:2. We must be harmless with no malice (1 Corinthians 14:20), be submissive to authority (Galatians 4:2), and have no great aims to high places (Romans 12:16). Without these things, we will not enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3).

Jesus moves from humility to responsibility of leadership.

He states that offenses will come. I think He means enticing people away from the things of God into evil things, and being under the influence of Satan. Sin does open the door to Satan giving him authority over a Christian. For a leader to know better, but to deliberately sin dragging others with him or her because of the follow-the-leader way of people, it is a great cause of woe to that leader. We know this happens. We need only study some of the failings of church ministers to see this is true. Not true of all ministers, certainly, but enough for us to be wary.

These problems arise in the church because of Satan’s malice and because of the weaknesses of men and women. We must understand that God allows these things to happen for His own purposes, mainly so we are sure that our sins will find us out as well as that those who are righteous and those who are not will be exposed (1 Corinthians 11:19; Daniel 11:35). Just remember, we are told that wolves in sheep’s clothing will appear in our midst so we should beware.

Although God allows the sins of sinners to be used for His good purposes that does not protect the sinners from His wrath. Thus woe to whoever entices anyone away from the things of God. Woe to whoever prevents the salvation of another, or is a stumbling block to one of His children.

Jesus warns against the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life in verses 9,10, and 12.

Next, Jesus takes a moment to explain how offenses within the church should be handled. I have never seen a church handle sin in this way. I have known of numerous church members and church leaders deliberately sinning, but either the church family gets in an uproar and tosses the leader out of the fold, or they simply ignore the sin. Ignoring the sin will never, ever make the problem go away; it only makes the problem grow bigger and uglier.

I have seen Jezebels in churches crush women and men with caustic gossip, or flirt and flaunt themselves with the specific purpose of tempting some unwitting church leader into sinful relationships. The gossip is overlooked or rationalized, while the other is allowed until two families are torn apart by sin. Neither is good for the church.

Jesus explains the way any kind of offense should be handled. The one who is offended has the responsibility to confront (in a gentle and loving way) the one who committed the offense. Now be completely honest here. Have you ever done that? Did you go the second step? The third?

I tried to do this when my husband was unfaithful to me. I tried to get my pastor to talk to my husband when my talking to him did no good. But my pastor told me flat out he wouldn’t do it. He said if I could get my husband to the church, he’d consider talking to him… Really. He said that. There was no help for me from anyone at my church. I changed churches.

John talks about the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life in his first letter. He might have been thinking about Jesus’ admonishment to the disciples here to be like the little children in faith, to guard against thoughts that draw us into desires to have, or desires to do evil, or desires to lord it over others in selfishness.

It is church discipline that Jesus is speaking of here when He talks of two or more gathered together in His name. It is that same kind of thing with two or more witnesses testifying in court. They must tell the same story for their witness to establish truth. So, too, must God’s children have the same mind and in communion with each other as well as Him as we pray. When we have an eye toward Christ as our Intercessor and Mediator, and we depend upon the Spirit to translate our hearts concerns, and we pray within biblical principles for the good of others, Jesus says it will be done for them by the Father in Heaven. What a fabulous promise!