If we minimize Christ, we'll idolize ourselves

One of our greatest desires as people is to be valued. We want our opinions to be considered, our ideas to be applauded, and our presence to be noticed. Certainly that's not all bad, but when those desires become extreme in nature, they can quickly find themselves in conflict with the greater purpose Christ has outlined for our lives.

The danger of taking this to an extreme can result in us over-valuing ourselves and under-valuing Christ. That certainly seems to be an issue that was at play in Christ's interaction with the scribes and other prominent local leaders.

Jesus was being tested by people who thought rather highly of themselves and rather poorly of Him. They questioned His motives. They questioned His teaching. At the same time, they elevated their ideas, thoughts, and preferences as if their mental capacity was of a higher order than the God who created them.

When a person minimizes Christ, they forsake His wisdom, and they begin to idolize themselves. How can we avoid doing that? What does Scripture reveal to help keep us from drifting in that direction?


I. What does Jesus reveal about His true nature?

But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”
— Luke 20:41-44, ESV

When we read through the gospels, it becomes clear that the religious leaders of the era struggled to accept who Jesus was. They are presented as continually questioning Him, debating the origin of His power, and trying to find some way to get Him in trouble so that He would stop threatening the nature of their power and influence over the people.

Looking at the events that transpired earlier in this chapter, it's clear that they didn't understand who they were really speaking to, nor did they understand the meaning of many of the Scriptures they claimed to be experts in. With that in mind, Jesus attempted to enlighten them with more truth from the Scriptures that they were clearly overlooking. As He did this, He was revealing to them the fact that He was God in the flesh, standing right there in front of them.

Jesus, after being questioned repeatedly by the religious leaders, posed a question of His own. Essentially, He was asking them, how could it be said that the Messiah was going to be a son of David. To answer that question, He quoted to them from Psalm 110:1. What was Jesus getting at? What was He revealing to them?

In quoting that verse, Jesus was pointing out that while the Messiah was going to be a physical descendant of David, He was also going to be more than just David's natural son. In fact, David calls the Messiah his Lord. That's a fascinating statement that reveals much about the Messiah's full nature. I have to say, I have four children, and the idea of calling one of them "Lord" is a very foreign thought to my mind. But, with divine inspiration, David was granted the privilege to understand something deeper and far-reaching about the descendant who would be born through his line.

In that Psalm, The God of Israel says to the Messiah that He is to sit at His right hand, which is the place of honor. The Messiah isn't merely the son of David. The Messiah is the eternal Son of God. Jesus was explaining to these so-called knowledgeable leaders something that theologians call "the hypostatic union." Jesus was 100% human, yet at the same time 100% God. From eternity past, His nature has always been divine, but in His effort to rescue lost humanity, He took on a human nature with the goal of saving all who would trust in Him.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
— John 1:14, ESV

Jesus revealed His true nature to us. How willing are we to call Him "Lord" like David did?


II. What does a boastful attitude reveal about a man's spirit?

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers....
— Luke 20:45-47a, ESV

I have a personal philosophy that, to be honest, is completely a preference, not a mandate. It goes something like this... I consider it a good day when I don't have to comb my hair or wear a tie. Truthfully, I can tolerate combing my hair, but I'd much rather wear a hat. But I can't stand wearing a tie. I'm quite grateful for the fact that I preach and lead in a context that doesn't seem to mind my disdain for neck ties.

But some people in this world try to derive their sense of value and worth from their appearance and the attention that what they're wearing draws to them. Sometimes people make a point to wear expensive clothing in the hope that you'll notice them. Sometimes people wear very revealing clothing in the hope that you'll notice them. In the case of the scribes Jesus was speaking of this passage, they liked to walk around in long robes that helped them stand out from those who wore more common or modest attire. They wanted attention. They wanted to be treated special.

Jesus also shared some other traits of scribes that He cautioned those who could hear Him to be aware of. He said they liked to be greeted or acknowledged as being special when they were in the marketplace, they wanted seats of honor wherever they went, and they took advantage of the finances and estates of widows who made the mistake of trusting them. Jesus also said they liked to give lengthy prayers in public, more for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves than for bringing glory to God.

It's not hard to see why Jesus was cautioning us about this kind of attitude or manner of living. It certainly isn't the fruit of genuine faith, nor does it express a desire to bring God glory. It's actually evidence of self-idolization. 

As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
— James 4:16, ESV
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.
— Proverbs 27:2, ESV

When I was a new pastor, I used to get together with other area pastors for a time of prayer and fasting, (that didn't involve much fasting because when we were done meeting, we would all grab lunch). The pastors would sit in a circle and pray for a while. It was a good idea, but of course there were some men who didn't seem acquainted with Luke 20. I was told that one time, after one pastor prayed for a very long time, the man who followed him simply prayed, "Lord, please save us from long and pretentious prayers."

Truthfully, a boastful spirit reveals quite a few things about a man's heart. It reveals his insecurities, because we usually boast about what we're afraid of being deficient in our lives. It reveals his immaturity, because a person with mature faith learns to boast in the Lord, not in their flesh. It also reveals the fact that he cares more about himself than he cares about whoever he is boasting to because boasting often crushes the spirit of the person who has to hear it being done. Christ hasn't called us to be boastful. He's called us to be faithful.


III. What kind of future awaits those who take advantage of those who trust them?

They will receive the greater condemnation.
— Luke 20:47b, ESV

How much do you think about the future? I certainly try to enjoy the present, but I'll admit that I think a lot about the future in both the natural and spiritual sense. One of the things that I've been thinking a lot about lately is the end date of my mortgage. That probably sounds like a boring subject to think about, but it's my last debt and I'm trying to pay it off as aggressively as I can with the goal of relieving my mind of the pressure of its existence each month.

In the spiritual sense, I think about the future frequently as well. I want my life to be used up in service to Christ. God's word tells us repeatedly that He has crowns and heavenly rewards in store for believers who are faithful to Him during their time here on earth.

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
— Matthew 6:20, ESV
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
— 2 Timothy 4:8, ESV


But Jesus also makes it clear that while those who trust in Him will be rewarded and live forever in His presence, there are also many people on this earth who have a future of condemnation awaiting them. As they reject Christ and hurt their fellow man, Jesus, the righteous judge, takes note. Those who trust in Jesus will never be condemned, but those who reject Him absolutely will. And in regard to this group of religious leaders who were able to look Jesus in the face, reject Him, attempt to steer others away from Him, attribute His miracles to the devil, and take advantage of those who trusted them, they will receive what Jesus describes as "the greater condemnation."

What is this greater condemnation Jesus is referring to? Some people debate what Jesus is getting at, but the most plain reading of what He's saying is that while all those who reject Him will experience Hell for all eternity, there must be degrees of punishment for those who will be present in Hell. Whatever those degrees are, these scribes will be receiving the worst of it. The severity of their condemnation will be experienced forever and they will have no one to blame for their suffering other than themselves. It will be directly tied to the affections of their own hearts and the actions of their own hands.

Not long after a wealthy contractor had finished building the Tombs prison in New York, he was found guilty of forgery and sentenced to several years in the prison he had built! As he was escorted into a cell of his own making, the contractor said, “I never dreamed when I built this prison that I would be an inmate one day.”
— Today in the Word, July 12, 1993

Christ's calling on our lives isn't that we would waste the efforts of our hands investing in what imprisons us. His calling on us is that we would trust and glorify Him. He has revealed His true nature to us. He has displayed His humility to us and invites us to walk in the same fashion. And He grants us a future hope that can be looked forward to in the midst of every circumstance we're living through. If we minimize Christ, we'll idolize ourselves. But if we glorify Christ, we can be blessed with His presence and perspective both now and forever.

© John Stange, 2017