1. Great in the Kingdom of Heaven


Different people have different reactions to the topic of Jesus’ invitation for every single person to be great in the kingdom. It is an invitation to be great; when some people first hear that, they have an aversion to being great. They say, “I do not want to be great. I just want to love God.” There is a conflict, or a seeming contradiction in their mind. This is the first of a few posts about Jesus’ kingdom on earth and what is happening on earth in these days, as I believe that we are in the end times and the revelation in Scripture about the coming Kingdom gives the church strength to endure, as we will see later.

Matthew 5:19: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

This from is the Sermon on the Mount, and most of you are aware that the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is the centerpiece of the theology of the kingdom in terms of ethics, character, and behavior. Often called the “constitution of the kingdom of heaven”—the Sermon on the Mount. It is the way that God intends for His people to live.  The centerpiece of this conceptually is that Jesus invites His people to pursue being great in His sight. Jesus says this in Matthew 5:19; He gives a wide-open invitation when He says, “whoever.” This “whoever” that we find a number of times in Scripture is related to the invitation to be great.

When Jesus warns in Matthew 5:19: “Whoever breaks one of the least one of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven”— though this person is a born-again believer, this person shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. In the gospels, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are synonymous. So Matthew almost always says the kingdom of heaven, and almost all the other exact verses in the other gospels say the kingdom of God.

Matthew continues to offer the other direction, “Whoever does and then teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19). Matthew is not talking about being great in this age. He is talking about being great in the age to come. Most of those who have obeyed the Lord with intensity are mocked in the Church and outside the Church. Actually, Paul the apostle had as much trouble in the Church because of his obedience, as he had persecution outside the Church. So when Matthew describes being called great in the kingdom, He is not talking about this age. Every once in awhile, someone is called great who is unique in their obedience to the Lord, but that is not who the promise is for. This promise is primarily for the age to come when the kingdom of God is fully established on the earth, which happens at the second coming of Christ.

We can’t repent of the desire to be Great

We cannot repent of the desire to be great. Why? Because God designed us with this longing. The desire to be great is built into our human spirit by the great God who put a longing for greatness in our spirit. You can say it another way. It is part of our emotional and spiritual DNA to long to be great. I realize that goes completely counter to the way some of you have previously thought, but it is not a peripheral subject in the Bible. It is a primary teaching of Jesus, though it is not a teaching that you hear much about in the Body of Christ. We cannot repent of the desire to be great. What we repent of is seeking greatness in the wrong way and in the wrong time frame. The promise of being great is related to the age to come. We also must repent for neglecting to seek greatness. I know that is like, “What? I thought that we were supposed to repent because we wanted to be great.” No, you repent because you were seeking it in a wrong way.

Many in the Church need to repent of their passive attitude to this glorious, divine invitation to the human race. When we neglect this, what we are really saying is, “Jesus, You meant well, but You missed it. You are really getting us kind of distracted by giving us this invitation. It would have been better if You would not have kind of muddied the waters with these kind of ideas.” We need to repent of that because Jesus’ leadership is perfect, and He understands what He is offering to us. 

A Journey to Greatness

Without the paradigm of being on a journey to greatness, without this mindset, the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle is too difficult to sustain. When you read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, we must take it at face value. I mean we must take it literally for what it means. I look at that and say, “This is intense. It is hostile to my sense of wellbeing. This is hostile. This is invasive. This is extreme. Lord, frankly, this seems unnecessary. Come on!” That is what I say in my natural mindset; but the Lord, who lived out the Sermon on the Mount as a man in a flesh and blood body really insists that we have to take the Sermon on the Mount as the norm for the kingdom. I will say this: if we do not have a vision to be great before God and great in God’s sight, you can use other language if you want, but I recommend using Biblical language, which is to be great in God’s sight.

If you are not on that journey to be great in God’s sight, you will distain your focus on the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle. When I get tempted to back off of it, which is all the time, the sustaining thing is not my love for God. I wish that were enough. I really do, but I am just being straightforward with you. My love for God waned, and I make lesser choices. When I look at what Jesus teaches on this subject, I get convicted to sign back up. I call it “sanctified selfishness.” It is going to be worth it to make deliberate choices to live the Sermon on the Mount. It is going to be so worth it in the age to come to do this right.

New Paradigm

Jesus revealed a new paradigm for greatness. He has a very different paradigm than the secular mindset. We are to focus on being great in His sight instead of the sight of men. We are still to focus on being great, but it is just before the eyes of the right Man. Number two: we are to understand that our greatness will be fully manifest in the age to come—not in this age. Number three: our greatness is going to be based upon our heart responses and not on our natural gifting or our resources. One guy just says, “I do not have any great gifting.” I heard that many times over the years of pasturing, as people would say, “I do not have any special gifts. The Bible is confusing, my mind is not that clear, my emotions are muddy, I do not talk well, I do not think well, I am bad at math, and I get confused easily. I do not have any gifts.” I have heard that kind of thing over thirty years of the ministry. That is not true. Everyone has gifts, but your greatness in the age to come is completely unrelated to the amount of gifting, or the amount of resource that you have, meaning the amount of open doors.

We think, “If Billy Graham, or the President opens a door, or they put me on TV, then I will make a big impact.” Beloved, your ministry has nothing to do with the size of your impact— nothing. The size of your ministry is based on heart responses. It is not based on the size of your impact at all, or the amount of your gifting. The paradigm for greatness that Jesus gave is available to everybody regardless of your background. People think wrongly that greatness is only within the reach of a very few. We think that a very small amount of people really have the circumstances within them, or within their reach to attain greatness as men and women of God. Beloved, everybody can if they will do it God’s way.

Now as you already know, God’s way is hostile to the flesh. If we do not obey His commandments, we will be called least in His kingdom. I want to say this: in thirty years of ministry, almost everybody I know in the kingdom is very content with living a lifestyle of ignoring many of God’s commandments at the heart level. Jesus’ words will not be broken. They will be called least in the kingdom in the age to come. This is an absolute fact. I do not like that fact for my own life. You have to do the commandments, and then you have to actively promote them in the life of others and teach others. Teaching of this is not public teaching, although it involves public teaching. Most of the teaching in the Body of Christ is not done publicly. Most teaching in the Body of Christ is done one on one: for example, by a mom or a dad teaching their children at home, or by a friend driving in the car with another friend, or maybe with two friends at the airport who are talking.

Most of the teaching in the kingdom is done one on one, one on three, and with twos and threes talking. No one is even thinking that they are teaching, but they are influencing one another. They are encouraging one another, and I find it to be a really disturbing trend in the spiritual culture of America. It is that most, and I am using the word most in a calculated way. I am not trying to be mean. I am not happy about this. Most of what I hear of God’s people is actually encouraging people to take a minimized view of radical obedience, especially in the things of God’s Word. The doctrine of grace is being so abused in the church in America. So many things are called grace that is not grace at all. Grace has been reduced to thinking that if you do not like something, do not do it and call it the grace of God. Grace is not immunity by not being accountable as believers before the Lord.

True Grace vs. Sloppy Grace

Grace is not a delete clause if something gets in our way, bothers us, or is inconvenient. That is not what grace is. Grace does not give us the ability to break the Word of God, and go on without any concern whatsoever. Grace gives us the ability, when we blow it, to give us a new beginning to repent, to get right back into the game, and begin to declare war on the things that God disagrees with. I blow it many times. Many times I come up short in terms of the Sermon on the Mount attitudes, lifestyle, speech, time, and money. Many things I come up short in, and grace does not say, “Well, boys will be boys.” That is not the doctrine of grace to say, “that is OK; it does not matter.” Grace means that if I really repent of it, the Lord says, “Mike, I am going to give you a brand new beginning right now. If you will repent of it, you will get right back up into the war, declare war on that thing that you just stumbled in, and set your heart to obey Me. Grace will forgive you for blowing it, give you power to go after it, and give you a brand new beginning—a fresh start.” That is what grace does.

Grace is not immunity to a life of slothfulness, laziness, and carelessness about God where there will be no consequences, nothing will matter, and we will never regret it. That is a false doctrine of grace, and it is all over the church in America. I turn on the TV, and it is not just the TV. It is far greater than that. The common way that people encourage, bless, and comfort one another while in spiritual sloth and compromise is what Jesus was talking about—making it easy for others to disobey God, and get your approval. I do not mean that you have to go into every setting and poke everyone in the eye that you can figure out.

I talk with people, and I say, “Well, truthfully, what I would do, and I am not trying to be a hotshot, but I would not do what you are doing.” They say, “Well, brother, I thought we were friends.” I answer, “I am thinking about my retirement plan right now when I am talking with you. I am thinking of Matthew 5:19. Think of the Lord looking at you and saying, ‘Hey, little guy, you cannot change the Word. Do not change it. Hold the line.’” I find that doing it is actually easier than teaching it. Teaching it in a pulpit is easy. One on one with eye contact with a friend—that is where it is hard. Jesus said that we must do it in the secret place of your heart. If you will stand for truth with the people who are influencing you and you are influencing them, then you will be called great in the kingdom.

It is actually in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount that we actually stumble in it more than in just doing it. I find it pretty easy to teach it in a platform. It is much harder to do it one on one where there are just two or three of you talking, and they say, “So, you are saying that I am wrong?” I gulp with a fear of man! That is what that verse means in Matthew 5:19: we must hold the line in your relationships.

Invitation to Greatness, without regard to outward impact

Jesus taught that there would be a large range of degrees of glory and greatness in God’s kingdom from the least to the greatest. Look at the passage, 1 Corinthians 15:41-41: “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also in the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” There is one glory of the sun. There is another glory of the stars for each star differs from another star in glory. Paul is comparing as one stars differs from another star in glory, so every one of us in the age to come will differ in glory.

Promotion available to all

The opportunity for promotion and for greatness in God’s sight is available to everyone. He gives two more “whosoever” here in the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 20:26-27: “Whosoever desires to be great” and “whoever desires to be first”— we obviously know that the condition for becoming great is becoming a servant.

OBEDIENCE, HUMILITY, AND BEING A SERVANT There are three basic conditions in the Bible. They are all synonymous as far as I am concerned. To be a servant, Jesus talks about meekness and humility. Being a servant, meekness, and humility all seem to be the same. The third condition is comprehensive obedience to the least of God’s commands. Those are the three conditions. I do not have that in the notes, but you run into it everywhere; so I just sum it up as obedience, meekness, or servanthood. You can say anyone of the three conditions because whichever one you use, it encompasses the other two. But I do not want to look at the servant part right now. We all understand that. I am not saying that we do it well, but we understand the concept. What we really lose out on is the invitation for greatness. That is something the Body of Christ really minimized and neglected.

We are talking about the great God. We are talking about the greatest Man who ever walked on the earth saying to your heart, “You can be great in My sight if you will do this thing that I am telling you.” Beloved, I unashamedly have a desire to be great in God’s sight. It has been a life vision for some decades now. Unashamedly, I want to be great in God’s sight. I do this by how I spend my time, my money, relate to my enemies, speak words, and I make choices with this goal in mind. I do not do this always; I am not trying to claim something that is false, but for the most part this is my goal. I want to impact people, do well for others, and all kinds of other motives for saying yes to God. This issue of being great in God’s sight in the age to come is a gigantic, controlling idea in my thinking.

If you make this decision, you will live very differently the next ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Unfortunately, I have witnessed this for the last years: if people do not make a heart connection, they will go hard often for about ten years, but normally they do not last longer than five, or ten years. Then they get cynical, jaded, and all kinds of different attitudes. They feel ripped off by God, by people, by the Church, and that life did not work right. It did not happen— the healing, money, honor, anointing, and there are 1,000 reasons why they have a complaint. They say, “Ah, I have been there, or done that.”

Mostly, I have not seen many people stay sustained in intensity for the Lord more than five or ten years. I have seen many people on fire, and almost always at the five, or ten-year mark, they are already dialing down, and choosing a more broad path. They still love God, but they do not have the fire that they had back in those days. Jesus is not only the creator, but He is the great psychologist. He understands how the human heart works. I say, “Jesus, the longer the years go by, You were really right about this. You were 100 percent right.” He answer, “Yeah, I meant it back then, and you do not even understand how right those verses are.” Look at this in Matthew 20:26-27: “Whoever desire to great among you, let him be your servant. Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” Jesus emphasizes, “whoever wants to be great” and “whoever wants to be first;” He is talking about first in authority and honor in God’s sight. It is a paradox that we find it is easy to live in compromise, but we have an aversion to being great. The Lord wants it the other way around. He wants us to have an aversion to compromise, and have a vision for greatness and to be great in His sight. We have it just the opposite. We find ways to cheat on our time, money, words, and all kinds of things, but we have an aversion to being great in God’s sight. It really needs to be flipped around because it is a real contradiction that we are too humble to seek being great before God, but we still find a way to live in compromise in the areas of our life.

Jesus, in Matthew 23:11-12: “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He says it again. Jesus says it over and over that the humble will be exalted. That is talking about in God’s sight. We will talk just a little more on that tonight as well—some of the ramifications of this.

Jesus taught on God’s invitation to greatness more than anyone in Scripture

Jesus taught on God’s invitation to greatness more than anyone in Scripture. He talked on it directly and indirectly, and He called it different things, but it is the same thing. Sometimes He would just call it great or exalted. Other times, He called it rewards, or treasure in heaven. These are direct teachings of Jesus in the gospels, or in the book of Revelation where Jesus is standing before John talking to him face to face. Jesus called people to be great. He called them to receive riches in heaven. He called them to be ruler over many things, to have authority over cities in the age to come, and to have power over nations in the age to come. Sometimes what happens in this age is that there are tokens of these blessings now that happen now; however, by far, the majority of this happens in the age to come. That is not to minimize the tokens now because the tokens are exciting and important. They are good. In the age to come, the amount of influence the saints will have on the earth is going to be staggering—the kind of authority that God is going to give His people is astounding.


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