The disciples of Jesus were reprimanded for discussing who among them would be the greatest in the Lord’s Kingdom. However, Jesus himself taught about those whom God calls the greatest, and it may not be what you’d expect.
The Bible highlights two people who stand head-and-shoulders above all others as blessed by God: Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the Baptist. But they are no where near the top of God’s blessed list. Take a look at what Scripture teaches.
An angel from the throne of God came to Mary and informed her that she was “highly favored”. This declaration was not about her goodness or anything regarding her effort (for “all have sinned”), but because what would occur through her would be unique, holy, and of immense blessing for her and for all mankind. She was called blessed because she was the recipient of God’s incredible grace.
Such a status of being called “blessed” had nothing to do with her own righteousness. Much like when God told Moses to take off his sandals when at the Burning Bush, it had nothing to do with the specialness of that ground, but purely because God touched it. That truth–that her blessedness was due to God’s gracious choice to use her–was confirmed, however, by her amazing response of faith.
“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered, ‘May it be to me as you have said'” (Lu 1:38)
The Holy Spirit spoke directly through the mother of John the Baptist about both reasons for her being declared blessed:
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear”…
“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Lu 1:41-45)
Yes, Mary is blessed beyond any other person because God chose her to birth and raise Jesus the savior of all mankind. She is additionally considered blessed, because she responded with such amazing faith and submission to what likely was beyond her comprehension and could have stirred up a great deal of fear. Mary ought to be recognized as amazingly blessed by God, but this truth does not give any reason for her to be worshiped, prayed to, nor viewed as above others in God’s Kingdom.
Consider what Jesus had to say about clarifying this very issue.
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” (Lu 11:27-28)
Jesus makes a direct contrast to the belief that Mary should be called blessed. He does not refute that she is blessed, but makes a startling confrontation to the assumption that she is somehow to be viewed as blessed above others. He makes it very clear, that he (and thus God) views those who put faith in Jesus as to be considered “blessed rather”, or of greater blessed status than Mary.
The truth that Mary is considered blessed because of what God did in her, as well as because of how she responded in trusting submission to what was said, does nothing toward ensuring her status for eternity! Don’t miss this distinction. Her status as blessed for these reasons are earthly and limited. Notice why Jesus confronts her about her own view of what rights she has over him:
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him…’Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mk 3:31-35)”
Once again, the Lord confronts Mary’s view of herself toward Jesus, as well as the crowds view toward Mary. Jesus is not casting doubt on Mary being his biological mother, but rather that such a position does not automatically qualify her to be viewed as part of his eternal family. That greater blessed status belongs only to those who put submissive faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Notice what the Bible reveals about why Mary was confronted in the above passage about her blessed position as mother of Jesus:
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mk 3:20-21)
Mary thought that Jesus, the Son of God, the eternally existent Word of God who created her and allowed himself to be impregnated into her by the power of the Holy Spirit, the one who was perfect and sinless, was not doing what he ought to be doing and needed a mother to intervene and take control over him. Sounds like what Eve did in leading Adam into sin, doesn’t it? This second Adam was not going to fail by “listening to your wife”, or in this case, allowing his physical mother to exert dominance over the one whom she should have viewed as her Lord and Master.
Mary was being put on notice, that if she wanted to truly be blessed, to be blessed beyond this life and into eternity, she would have to submit to Jesus in faith for her salvation and let him lead her and not the other way around.
Like the Apostle Paul recognized about himself, that “whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”, so Mary would have to come to view her blessed status as Jesus’ earthly mother as loss compared to becoming a Christian who puts their faith in Jesus solely for what he has done for them.
This shocking truth is repeated about John the Baptist. You can’t find another physical human who is considered greater than him. Per the Lord’s own words:
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11-12)
John is being honored here, not as a believer in Jesus, but as one “born of women”. In other words, it is his blessedness as part of his earthly life, as one specially chosen by God, infused with the Spirit of God from within the womb, and who also faithfully did what he was called to do in preparing the way for people to accept Jesus. Such status, as the greatest human ever, still does not qualify him for eternity.
John himself, acknowledges that even though he knew by the Spirit who to point to as the Messiah, that in personal terms “I did not know him”. In fact, while in prison and just prior to his horrible death, he sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is actually the Messiah. His own faith may have been a death-bed conversion.
Eternal salvation can only apply to those who set aside relying upon their worldly status, rights, abilities, gifts, resources, wealth, power, positions, titles, race, membership, personal confession, goodness and blessedness, to rather do God’s will by obediently submitting to Jesus as Savior and Lord. The least in the kingdom should be viewed as greater and more blessed than the greatest and most blessed on this earth.
This is not to suggest that John the Baptist will not be in the Kingdom of God, but rather than such an eternal blessing applies only to Christians.
Such faith, as taught in Scripture, involves accepting Jesus as well as thereafter participating. Mary needed to choose Jesus as her Lord. John the Baptist had to show that he accepted what he taught about the Messiah by personally submitting to Jesus as his own Lord and Master. The Lord requires that those “who believe him” must “hold to my teachings” to remain viewed by God as “really my disciples” (Jn 8:31-32). Each believer must “become like a little child, or you will not enter the kingdom”. Salvation is not simply imposed, like impregnation in Mary, or Spirit-led-life-and-ministry in John. Jesus requires that believers freely and willingly respond in faith for the rest of their lives.
“Dear brothers, take not of this:…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you…not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” (Jms 1:19-25)
Do you hear the word of God? If you have put faith in Jesus to forgive your sins by what he accomplished on the Cross, and now submissively choose to live the rest of your life, not by elevating whatever might normally be to your benefit (even if caused by God), but rather to obediently serve Jesus as Lord, then the salvation you have been promised will be confirmed in you when Christ returns to gather his own. You will also be considered before God as more blessed than Mary, and greater than John the Baptist.
This gospel truth has already been announced upon Christians, just as if the angel Gabriel had shown up face-to-face with such a glorious promise of what God intends to do, but will you respond like Mary initially did? Will you demand proof, like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, who still received the promised son, but was rebuked for his lack of faith? Do you think, like Mary later did, that what Jesus is doing and allowing in your life is because he is “out of his mind?”
If God accepts you as a Christian, you are greatly blessed, beyond anyone or any reason for being blessed on this earth. Do you believe it, and does your living response demonstrate such humble and blessed faith?