New Covenant Greatness
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Last week, I wrote about the movie I Can Only Imagine. My mom hadn’t seen it, and I wanted to see it again. I always get something new the second time I watch a movie or reread a book. I Can Only Imagine is about redemption, but it is also about greatness. Bart’s dad wanted to be a great football player, and, when he wasn’t, he wanted his son to become a great one. Bart wanted to be a great musician, and, when he was told he wasn’t, he wanted to quit. God wanted those two men to be great by his standards. Both men had to adjust their definitions of greatness before they could receive God’s definition.

Jim and I also saw the new movie about the apostle Paul. The most memorable moment for me was Paul awaking from nightmares in his prison cell. He had been dreaming about the Christians he had persecuted and killed. When he awoke from his nightmare, he quietly repeated the words, “Your grace is sufficient, your grace is sufficient, your grace is sufficient.” I think of Paul as one of the greatest disciples of Christ. I tend to forget he had also been a great enemy.

On Sunday night, I watched the new production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I had seen the original cast perform in the 1970s at an outdoor theater in California, and I understand now why Christians stood at the theater entrances to pass out literature and try to convince us not to go inside. My theology was young in those days. I felt sad as I watched it again on Easter Sunday and saw Hollywood “act” like they knew Jesus and what he taught. I grieved the misconceptions those watching might receive.

But I also remembered that night when my teenage self sat in that outdoor theater and watched God “show up.” That evening, when the actor portraying Jesus was hung on the cross, a thick fog moved in and the cross was almost obscured by the way the lights were reflecting off the cloud. As a young girl, I saw God’s story that evening, not Hollywood’s. I hope that happened for some people last night as well.

Sometimes in life, a lot of moments finally add up to a lesson God has been working in your life to teach. It seems God rarely teaches an important lesson in one sitting. And when God finally says, “This is what I want you to know,” we have a choice to make.

I’m finishing up the Bible study this year with a series of lessons from the Sermon on the Mount. One commentary called it Jesus’ inaugural address. This time, as I’ve studied those passages again, I’ve come to think of them as the lessons Jesus would teach and re-teach for the rest of his life. Finally, on the Mount of Ascension, Jesus concluded his earthly ministry saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Every disciple who witnessed the ascension chose to do what Jesus had asked.

The lesson for Easter week came from the passage when Jesus finished teaching new commandments, the Beatitudes. He told his disciples they were to “be” salt and light in the world. Jesus said, “Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). I had never really considered the Sermon on the Mount as the new covenant lesson for greatness.

The crowd gathered by the Sea of Galilee consisted of apostles, disciples, the curious, and those who would soon become Jesus’ enemies. Pharisees and Sadducees listened to Jesus preach that day. They heard him tell his disciples, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus would be hung on a cross two years after saying that because he redefined what it meant for a person to be “great” in God’s eyes.

What lesson did all the moments of my Easter week add up to teach?

The thought I woke up with this morning and felt led to write about is this: Jesus taught his disciples a new definition for greatness. Then Jesus lived that picture of greatness every day after. During Easter week, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and died for their sins. Later, he told them that through the power of his Holy Spirit they would become his disciples and teach others to be great as well.

God is perfect greatness. Jesus is God’s greatness in the flesh. Disciples are God’s greatness in practice. The challenge is that we have to understand and accept his definition for greatness. Jesus said, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s take a few moments to reread Matthew 5. Then, let’s go out and have a “great” day.