Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
“We’re Number One” is the chant of our land. The United States has been the world leader in military might, economic strength, and technological advancements for some time. The USA boasts having the first, biggest, fastest, largest whatever in the world.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s peewee football, cheerleading, recreational youth basketball, high school sports, college athletics. At the end of each game, at the end of the season, when the playoffs are in progress or completed, there is an uncontrollable need for the winner to celebrate with their hands raised in the air, telling themselves and everything that they are Number One.
But to be Number One means more than to be first. It means to be the most important. The foremost. Being Number One, also means to be the one that everyone thinks about whenever a topic comes up.
This explains our obsession with endless and fruitless conversations, discussions, disagreements, shouting matches over who is the Greatest Of All Time. Also known as the “GOAT.” Sports shows, websites, and blogs the world over are forever preoccupied with endless bantering back and forth about who is the GOAT.
Jesus takes this same obsession, desire, and goal, but redirects and refocuses it away from ourselves and turns it on its head. He says that to be Number One, to be first, the one at the top, the GOAT is not who’s in first place, but who places others ahead of themselves. Jesus converts and repurposes the idea of being first, being the greatest, being the most powerful into someone who uses their power for someone else’s benefit.
And there is no missing the point of what Jesus says. We are to purposefully make two choices that lead to new attitudes and actions.
· Choice 1 - Move ourselves down the list from first to last. This isn’t just moving a few pegs down in our view of ourselves, or even how others view us. This is a thoughtful and deliberate choice to allow ourselves to be purposefully placed on the bottom-most rung when it comes to importance.
· Choice 2 – Move ourselves from being self-centered to others-centered.
Or, to shorten this up and to use Jesus’ words, the servant of all. This choice is a bit harder. Moving from first to last is mostly an internal perspective and estimation about ourselves. But becoming the servant of all comes out in how we talk with and help other people. You can’t hide behind words and theories when you are the servant of all. It must break out into observable and helpful actions.
And when you move from first to last, becoming the servant of all, it’s not just to the people you like, or the people that like and agree with you. No, it’s to be evident and expressed to everyone, to anyone breathing air here on planet earth.
Jesus wasn’t making it easy for his disciples. And he’s certainly not making it easy for us. His purpose is not to make life easy for us, to pat us on the head and say, “There, there. Feel better. Have a cookie.”
No, Jesus is telling us how the best possible life is to be lived. To live any other way is to settle for something much less. Much lower than second place. He is telling us not to accept anything less than the best. His best. And that only comes by being last.
He’s pointing out in very clear words that this life is not about being comfortable, feeling warm and fuzzy all the time. We’re not to be the center of our little slice of the universe. Just the opposite. We’re to achieve joy, fulfillment, meaning and purpose by using all our time, energy, talents, and resources for the benefit of others.
To put it bluntly, Jesus is saying that there’s no higher calling, there is no better way to live than to live out our lives as the servant of everyone. This certainly doesn’t match up with what we’re taught from our earliest days. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
The road to greatness, to being Number One, is more than the road less traveled. It’s very seldom thought about. Almost never traveled. rarely attempted. But we settle for a totally inferior life all the time. True greatness, true joy, true fulfillment only comes as we follow the example of Jesus.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
It is time to take the first steps towards true greatness, true joy. Truly being “first” is to think and act as if we’re last. To achieve being the true Number One, we need to think and act to be the servant, the helper of all. Making their welfare, putting their needs ahead of our own.
Now, that’s really being Number One. Not for our few moments here on planet earth, but for all eternity.
 Philippians 2:6-8