Delusions of greatness and denial

Delusions of greatness and denial

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. – Luke 22:24

Luke 22:21-34

 21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.

 22 “For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

 23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.

 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’

 26 “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.

 27 “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;

 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 33 But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”

 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

It was 1963, a time when heavyweight champions go to battle. A rather loud and confident pugilist was on the scene. He was not the tallest boxer, nor was he as bulky as most other boxers of his time, his punches were not the strongest, but he was still the best fighter of his time. His agility was impressive, but what was most impressive was his confidence in himself.

Ali proclaimed to anyone who would hear:

I am The Greatest. I said that even before I knew I was” (Muhammad Ali).

Here are excerpts from his 1963 poem, “I am The Greatest.”

This brash, young boxer is something to see. And the heavyweight championship is his destiny.

This kid fights great. He’s got speed and endurance. But if you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.

This kid’s got a left. This kid’s got a right. If he hits you once, you’re asleep for the night.

And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts 10, you pray that you won’t have to fight me again.

For I am the man this poem is about, the next champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.

He is the greatest. When I say two, there’s never a third. Betting against me is completely absurd.

I am the greatest.

“I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and throw thunder in jail. You know I’m bad. Just last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”

To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

It was the spring of 33 AD, the week when the Savior went to die on the tree. It is the night of the last supper. The disciples are shortsighted. They miss the big idea and focus on irrelevant matters. They are driven by self-absorption and pride.

Imagine the scene. The Lord Jesus Christ has just finished explaining the meaning of Passover as it represents His coming sacrifice and death for sins. In no uncertain terms Jesus said that He is about to die. He tells the disciples that one of them will betray Him.

Rather than take this to heart and concentrate on this seemingly incredulous prediction, the self-centered disciples focus on their own potential importance and future opportunities. They want to know which of them is the greatest of them all, numero uno. Who will have the greatest prominence in the coming kingdom? 

“It is a terrible indictment of the human heart that immediately after the Lord’s Supper, the disciples should argue among themselves as to which of them was the greatest!” (MacDonald)

Barclay is even more direct, “It is one of the most poignantly tragic things in the gospel story that the disciples could quarrel about precedence in the very shadow of the cross.”

As the story reveals what is in the hearts of the disciples, what does it say about our own?

But it becomes a teachable moment. Christ explains that the greatest is not the one who is served, but rather is the one who serves (Luke 22:27-30). True greatness comes through service.

What an odd, unexpected twist. The Father’s kingdom is nothing like the kingdoms of men. Those who are truly great in the Father’s kingdom are not the powerful. The greatest are not those who are in control, benefit from the labor of others, and ostentatiously display their position. Rather, the greatest are those who serve. The kingdom of God turns everything on its head. “It is a law of life that service leads to greatness; and the higher a man rises the greater the servant he must be” (Barclay).

Jesus is exhibit A. He who was the greatest, was indeed the servant of all.

Mat 20:25-28

25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.

26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.

27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,


In the Father’s kingdom, delusions of greatness are displaced by proven character.

Father, if failure were a disqualification, who could ever serve You? Though we fall, we are not utterly cast down because You hold us up and never let go (Psalms 37:24).


Teachable moment two: Betrayal and failure lurk in everyone’s heart, even the most self-assured. Luke 22:31-38          

True greatness surfaces when extreme trials are faced and overcome. Jesus had great expectations for Peter. But the road to greatness was marked by tragic failure, crushing disappointment, and utter shame. Peter’s self-confidence regarding his commitment, character, and follow-through was to be totally shattered.

Peter was sure of himself yet when the chips were down, he utterly failed. He was faithless, frightened, and failed. He was unwilling to die for his friend, whom he loved, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had predicted that this would be so.

Luke 22:31-32

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;

32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

The Greek term translated sift is siniazo. It means literally to sift, shake in a sieve. It came to mean, to agitate and press someone to the verge of collapse. Peter collapsed under the pressure. But his story does not end there, it really only begins.

The Lord Jesus Christ had prayed for Peter and the ultimate outcome was certain. He had fallen. It was a tragic embarrassment. He was dishonored and humiliated. But Peter pulled himself together. Peter’s failure was reversed. The dross of his untested soul was refined. His tarnished self-image was purged. Unwavering character emerged

He came through the fiery test approved and ready for service. He emerged faithful and stronger than ever. The crushed and mortified Peter was only now prepared and ready to strengthen others.

Psalms 37:24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

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