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Great! in whose eyes?

Jan 19, 2011, 1:34 PM | Article By: Galandou Gorre-Ndiaye

Most people who seek greatness would stop at nothing to attain higher heights and this whether by ruse, by force because they are propelled by a natural inclination. The thought never seems to get away. It is greatness at all cost, and most times at the expense of innocent lives.

Those who seek greatness in the world fail to realise that once they reach the peak there is nothing more to achieve and they hover relentlessly. They stagnate because there is nothing else to conquer. All of a sudden they have to come to terms with their limitations. Death interrupts the process and quietly puts a definite end to it all.

Greatness therefore is vanity. Besides, greatness in the world amounts to nothing. King Solomon wrote “I undertook great projects: built houses for myself and planted vineyards: I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers and harem as well – the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9) And so what! All these achievements were intended to impress what audience? Not the Lord, but for the praise of men.

If however it is not God’s project, count it all loss. Meaningless! Self-aggrandisement in the eyes of God has never touched His heart. All our most precious deeds will all end up in the rubble. Greatness to immortalise self will one day ‘bite the dust’; it won’t last even a generation as it will be eclipsed by something else greater. King Solomon concluded: “My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing of the wind, nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10b-11)

Would that be the final evaluation of our work here on earth? It is far from complimentary. We need to strive for an evaluation for which God would say; “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25: 21)

King Herod in Jesus’ day bore the title ‘Herod the Great’ but was he great in the eyes of God? In the eyes of men, yes; because he was the representative of the colonial master of the day – the Romans. At the same time that he ruled Israel there lived a man who from birth was called great and whose life portrayed greatness in its true form. His name was John, the Baptist. The angel that appeared to Zechariah, John’s father, had declared: “Your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-14)

True greatness comes not from what we have achieved, the miracles we have performed, the books we have written, the mansions and highways we have built but from God’s acknowledgement of our achievement. Are we pursuing God’s plan or our own? 

John, the Baptist, would hardly strike one as great because he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He ate locust and honey for food. (Matthew 3:4) He did not consume any strong or fermented drink (alcohol). What then made him great? John, the Baptist, had a unique role to play in the New Testament. He was assigned to prepare the way for the Messiah – “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) His assignment was specific. Prophet Isaiah had prophesied of him: “A voice of  one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:4-6)

The angel had prophesied. “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:16) Indeed when he started his ministry the people came in large numbers to be baptised as he preached a baptism of repentance. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 1:7-8)

John the Baptist preached hard and was a no-compromise man. He lashed out at the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees for their evil deeds. “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10) That was enough to stir the hearts of the sinners. Prophet Isaiah had declared:  “He will go before the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” (Luke 1:17)

People had been living anyhow and had moved away from God’s precepts: John, the Baptist, like his predecessor the prophet Elijah, was sent to bring the people back to their senses. They had drifted too far and must be called to order. Thousands would be convicted by his preaching and would come seeking forgiveness from God.

Herod, the Great, could not stand John particularly after the latter had condemned him for taking his brother’s wife. “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:4) For this reason, he was imprisoned and later beheaded.

What made John’s greatness in spite of his brutal death? He succeeded in bringing about a spiritual revival that bolted the common people out of their ‘spiritual deadness and formality into liveliness and eagerness for the coming of the Messiah.’

John, the Baptist was great in the sight of God. He had no orchards or vineyards, nor did he heal the sick but he prepared God’s people for the coming of our Lord Jesus. He impacted his world and wanted nothing for himself. Herein lay his greatness. 

By beheading John, Herod thought he had put an end to his function, but John had completed his work as scheduled. He had declared: “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” That one was Jesus.