Many will remember the famous prize fighter Muhammed Ali, and his larger than life persona. We mainly recall his continual onslaught of statements claiming to be the greatest. There is something in our culture that enthrones greatness, yet most people have widely varying definitions as to what greatness is, if they can even define it at all.
When we consider local gatherings of Christians who meet in the Name of the Lord Jesus, we may not typically see the numbers of people or the size of the assets that some other religious organizations flaunt. To anyone who is uninformed or perhaps unimpressed with what the New Testament church truly is, simple assemblies of Christians may seem inferior by comparison.
We may also find ourselves giving our own assembly a “user review” type of rating based on what is visible from our vantage point. These ratings could be based on things such as the building, the programs, the committees, the quality of preaching, what we think of the elders, the size of the congregation, etc. These things have their place, but they are not true measures of a local church’s value in our Lord’s eyes. And since it is His church which He has purchased with His own blood, perhaps we should mature to the point that what matters to Him matters more than what matters to us.
Here are three Biblical examples of greatness to think about, which may be helpful if we need to realign our own values and priorities from time to time.
The Great Temple (2 Chron. 2:1-5)
The temple which Solomon built over a seven-year period of his reign was famous for its size and beauty. According to the biblical record, it took 70,000 people to carry materials for it, 80,000 masons to carve and lay the stonework, and 3,600 foremen to oversee the work. The final structure was approximately the size of a modern 10,000-seat indoor sports arena. It was so great; the Queen of Sheba was awestruck by its size and beauty (2 Chron. 9:3-6). Was it the greatest gathering center?
The Great Preacher (Jon. 3:1-6)
The account of Jonah is usually used as a warning about disobedience. A parallel part of the account is his incredible effectiveness as a preacher, which should not be overlooked. When he finally obeyed God’s command to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh, the results were astounding. Here was a city which took three days to walk across, with an estimated population of 600,000 people at that time. In the short time of Jonah’s preaching we read that the entire city repented, from the lowest to the highest-class citizens (Jon. 3:5). We have all heard some powerful preachers in our lifetime, but would any of them compare to Jonah? Was he the greatest preacher?
The Great Ruler (Eccl. 2:4-10)
As monarchs go, throughout history there are few that can compare to Solomon. His wisdom was legendary, and the inventory of his wealth as described in Ecclesiastes 2 was vast beyond understanding. His estimated net worth in modern currency would be well in excess of $400 billion. Job satisfaction among his staff was higher than most of us could imagine, and his international reputation commanded respect and admiration from all nations at that time. Was he the greatest ruler?
We certainly cannot dispute the greatness of these three elements. They were each magnificent in their own right, and their fame secures a place for them in history. In Matthew chapter 12, our Lord Jesus Christ gave His own assessments of greatness, which are well worth our time to consider.
The Great Temple in Matthew 12:6
“Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple”
Our Lord was responding to yet another Pharisaic challenge from their Talmudic traditions. He referenced David’s entering the tabernacle to eat the showbread, and the temple priests who often profaned the Sabbath with their conduct. They had placed the symbols ahead of the realities in their estimation, which occupies so much of the book of Hebrews.
All of these things, (i.e., the showbread, the altar, the priesthood, and even the temple itself), were but figures of the true (Heb 9:24). As the fulfillment of every type and picture, the Lord Jesus was greater than the sum of them. Signs and maps are used to point us to a destination, but they are not the destination. The Lord Jesus Christ was present in their midst, and He was greater than the temple in every respect.
The Great Preacher in Matthew 12:41
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”
While our Lord was here, He often had large audiences following Him and listening to Him. Often they had selfish motives, but they heard Him nonetheless. Many of His audiences numbered in the thousands, many believed on Him as He spoke, and many followed Him wherever He went. Yet neither the size of the audience nor the number of converts is used to assess His value as a Preacher.
The greatness of the Preacher has to do with both His character and the content of His message. Our Lord continually taught what the Father had spoken to Him. His audiences did not always react positively, but that was not an indicator of greatness or success. He was pointing people to God, which is the greatest message any preacher can preach.
The Great Ruler in Matthew 12:42
“The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”
The expansive domain and influence of Solomon were without equal in the ancient world. There have been very few rulers since who have achieved anything close to what he did, and that by peaceable means. His rule was characterized by industry, a productive and happy society, and the just application of his vast knowledge to the varying circumstances encountered. As rulers go, he was one of the finest.
The scope of our Lord’s jurisdiction is the entire universe. It spans all of time, all cultures, all distances, and all systems of government. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. While citizens of this or that nationality may salute their flags and make grandiose claims, He who will one day rule all things is the greatest of rulers. His rule will be in righteousness, and of His dominion there will be no end. If the magnificence of a ruler is anything to boast of, then Christians have Someone to boast of Who is peerless in His magnificence.
How do we assess greatness? If we only use visible com-parisons as standards, then we are missing the intrinsic eternal value of the twos and threes who gather together in His Name all over the planet. This is the church which He loved and gave Himself for. May we never underestimate its worth to Him, and never under value it by temporal means of evaluation.