I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest Man who ever lived.
Paul of Tarsus, Mary of Bethany, John (the apostle), Lazarus, and Peter were also “great” individuals in my book.
However, if you interviewed the folks who met Jesus, Paul, Mary, John, and Lazarus at the time, you’d discover that relatively few of those folks recognized that they were in the presence of greatness.
This has always been the case, and it’s true today.
For the most part, people don’t recognize greatness when they are in arms reach of it.
And we take for granted those things that we do not recognize.
Unfortunately, Americans (even American Christians) measure greatness by external things like wealth. If wealth was the measure of greatness, then virtually everyone in Hollywood and the sports industry would be “great.” Not to mention drug lords, adult-film stars, and mafia bosses.
No, wealth is no sign of greatness.
Jesus was not a wealthy man. Neither was Paul, Peter, or John.
Since I was 16 years old, I’ve been around ministers. And I’ve gotten to peer behind the curtain.
I’ve always been fascinated that the most spiritual men — the men who were truly great — were rather “normal.”
They often had a keen and unique sense of humor. They had normal hobbies and past-times. They were quick to receive correction and adjustment, even from people who weren’t their peers. They were great listeners. But there wasn’t anything terribly impressive about them, except that when they spoke about the things of God … or wrote about them … there was an undeniable power, authority, and anointing.
But other than that, they were pretty ordinary and not terribly impressive. Yet they had a following of people whom they greatly influenced and whose lives changed through their spiritual service.
By contrast, I’ve met and known many ministers who put on a convincing facade of appearing to be spiritual. And most people who met them were left impressed. But when you saw these ministers behind the curtain, they were completely different creatures.
Yet in my observation and experience, truly great men and women are rarely recognized to be such and those who aren’t great are deemed to be because of the pretense they throw on.
As my friend Leonard Sweet says, “One of the saddest things that can be said about a person is that they were in the presence of greatness and let it pass by.”
For most first-century people living in Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth was merely “a voice in their streets” who enjoyed “eating and drinking” and nothing more.
Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks were distant mentors of mine. Meaning, they weren’t alive when I discovered them.
Strikingly, many of the people who met them were left unimpressed. Yet those who had eyes to see quickly knew that these men were giants in the land. If they were living today, I’d gladly spend $5,000 or more for the honor of sitting at their feet and hearing them speak. Even just once.
I’d regard it to be a landmark in my life.
Yet tragically, countless people met them, sat down with them at a meal, and heard them minister, never recognizing that they were in the presence of greatness.
So may I exhort you today:
Don’t make the mistake of not recognizing greatness if you are ever in its presence. And may God give you eyes to see and appreciate it.
Also, may you aspire to be great in the kingdom of God rather than in the eyes of men.
P.S. For those hyper-religious people who find this blog post, I’m well within biblical parameters to call some mortals “great.” Jesus Himself spoke about those who are great in the kingdom. They are the ones whose lives are marked by the menial symbols of a towel and a basin. Jesus also honored John the baptist with the word “great.”