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-Disciples of the King, Ambassadors of the Kingdom-
Date: December 11, 2016 (Advent 3, Year A) 1. Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10; Ps. 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: discipleship as reflection of the Kingdom of God. 4. Aim: encourage, challenge. 5. Proposition: “We are the Body of Christ and the glory of God.”


Jesus said this about his cousin, John the Baptist: Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.1 That sounds a bit extreme, especially to our ears. After all, John was the prophet who proclaimed the coming of the Christ. That’s gotta’ be more important than some archdeacon sitting in a place Jesus never knew existed.

But then, Jesus said something similar to the eleven remaining apostles at the last supper: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.2 So, Jesus’ disciples are going to be doing greater works than Jesus himself? Now that sounds really bizarre.

The chief reason it sounds so wrong to us is that we have been trained to be humble. Our mothers told us to not brag and our friends came down hard on us if we acted the least stuck up. The Church itself has frequently been accused of trying to be “holier-than-thou” and acting as if we were somehow spiritually superior to the non-believers. Oh, we know we’re supposed to be humble. In fact, Jesus said so. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.3
1 Matthew 11:11. 2 John 14:12. 3 Matthew 18:4.
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-Disciples of the King, Ambassadors of the Kingdom-
All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.4
I tell you, [the tax collector] went down to his home justified rather than the [Pharisee]; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’5 It is absolutely clear: we are to be humble. We are commanded to never be stuck up, proud and arrogant.

Then Jesus had to go and complicate things by saying that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist and by stating that his followers will do greater works than he.

But here’s something absolutely crucial in all this: it is Jesus, the Master, who is making the determination. He’s the one evaluating us and our works. We’re not claiming anything for ourselves—Jesus is the one assessing us. And, since he is the Master, the Christ and the Son of God, he has the power, right and authority to make that determination.

This does mean that his evaluation and assessment must be right. So the “least in the kingdom of heaven” must be greater than John the Baptist, who not only prophesied the coming of the Christ but was martyred for the faith. The mere disciple must be able to do greater works than Jesus did. Jesus’ evaluation and assessment of us must be right.

We’ll have to work this out.

John the Baptist prophesied the coming of the Christ. He even presided over Jesus’ baptism. But John had to ask if he had gotten it right. He died for his prophecies, but not because he was a disciple of Jesus. In fact, for many years people asked if John were the messiah.

And so it appears that Jesus wanted to distinguish between a prophet like John and his own disciples. His own disciples were citizens of the kingdom of heaven and would be recipients of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. His followers would be marked by the tangible signs of love and forgiveness
4 Matthew 23:12. 5 Luke 18:14.
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-Disciples of the King, Ambassadors of the Kingdom-
which all would be able to recognize. Faith, hope and love would be the hallmarks of his disciples and this would prove their citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.

So it was that the lowliest disciple of Jesus was greater than John the Baptist.

So it was also that the lowliest disciple would be doing greater works than the Master.

You see, Jesus’ reach was limited. Yes, he ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, but he started out with only 12 disciples. That grew to 72 but the impact beyond that was limited. And we know that some dropped away after Jesus began talking about crucifixion and laying the foundation for the Last Supper. He took only three with him to the prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane.

But then the miraculous happened: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of
Practice this and read it well. Being a long quote, it needs drama.
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-Disciples of the King, Ambassadors of the Kingdom-
all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.6 With the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the community of the faithful was able to extend Christ’s reach to touch many more lives than he could during his own lifetime. Such are the greater works of which he spoke.

So also are the care and compassion the Church lavished on its members. Gentile widows and orphans were care for. The hungry were fed. Funds were raised during times of famine. The oppressed were freed. The new Church seemed to be the tool through which Jesus fulfilled a prophecy he claimed for himself: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’7 These are the greater works we disciples perform in the name of our Master and in the power of his Spirit. As we perform them, we prove ourselves to be his disciples and citizens of his kingdom. We proclaim the gospel of salvation in our words and actions. There are no greater works.

This is what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and a disciple of Jesus. It is on this basis that Jesus declared we are greater than John the Baptist. Our greater works are the work of the Holy Spirit in us and through us. It is on this basis that Jesus will assess us.

So, we can continue to be humble in God’s eyes. We are not achieving greatness—God is granting it to us. We are not the victors—Jesus is. It is not through our own efforts, intelligence or strength that the gospel is proclaimed in word and deed—it is as we surrender to the Spirit in humility.

6 Acts 2:1-4, 41-47. 7 Luke 4:18-19.
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-Disciples of the King, Ambassadors of the Kingdom-
But you know what? It feels pretty nice that this is what Jesus wanted to achieve in and through us. He chose us to be greater than John and to achieve greater works than his own. That’s nice.