I once heard a story about Dr. Harry Ironside when he was the pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. A family had been heavily influenced by Dr. Ironside’s teaching. As a result, they saved their money for months to take their children on a special trip to Chicago to hear this well-known preacher in the Moody pulpit.
When they finally visited the church, the parents were thrilled with the worship experience and were excited to have heard Pastor Ironside’s teaching in person. As they left the service, they thought their children would also have been overjoyed with the experience, so they asked them to share their thoughts. After some reflection, one of the children said, “I’ve always heard how great Pastor Ironside was supposed to be. But he wasn’t that great. I understood everything he said.”
In a way, that’s how it was with Jesus. The religious leaders of His day weren’t inclined, or even able, to relate well with those they saw as insignificant people. Jesus, however, displayed how true greatness naturally and effortlessly bridges gaps between people.
In first-century Israel, few things were more insignificant than children. Yet Jesus loved children, and they were comfortable with him. Jesus even used a child as an illustration of true greatness:
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (LUKE 9:47–48).
Even today we are conditioned to think that children should be “seen and not heard.” It’s easy to have the same sentiment W.C. Fields had when he said, “Go away, kid. You bother me.” But children were not insignificant to Jesus.
From the smallest sparrow (MATTHEW 10:29) to the lilies of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow (6:28–30), Jesus consistently placed the value of greatness on the things the world viewed as insignificant.
Ironically, as Jesus embraced insignificance, He openly exposed the relative insignificance of those who sought to present themselves as great. In Matthew 20:25–26, Jesus addressed that issue head-on:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
Jesus brought a heavenly perspective to our earthly paradigms by reminding us of the danger of being consumed by great riches when He dealt with the rich young ruler (MARK 10:22). He warned against measuring greatness by achievements that cannot last when he exposed the temporal nature of the temple (13:1–2). He even warned against the tendency of self-important people to flaunt their religion as if it were the emblem and badge of their greatness (MATTHEW 6:1–5).
Jesus surprised the people of his day by redefining the terms and standards of what was truly great and what was surprisingly insignificant. And because he himself was (and is) truly great, his willingness to give value to that which the world saw as unimportant was unsettling. He made the people of His day uncomfortable by consistently disdaining the “great” in order to embrace the “insignificant.” It forces his followers to examine their own ways of thinking and ask, “Am I valuing those whom Jesus valued, or do I allow significance to be defined by the those around me?”