At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [Matthew 18:1 ESV]
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the home to giant trees, sequoias, mammoth in size, ancient and battered and strong. The park does not have the biggest of these trees but once you see them it’s hard to imagine anything bigger. California’s coastal redwoods are tall and old. Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains are large in girth and ancient, some growing for 2500 years and more.
As you enter the park you drive by a tree felled by loggers in the 1850’s. It took 20 men 22 days to fell a tree 96 feet in circumference. You can line up 20 people, side-by-side, across the breadth of the stump. Seeing a challenge to their strength and endurance the loggers cut it down. Their strength was comparatively puny when you imagine the strength and endurance of the tree they killed. They would live a few more years, it another thousand. They, impressed with its hugeness, decided to conquer it, ignoring its majesty. They used the tools of their trade, and the corrupted image of God in them, to decide its fate. Men, compelled by a sinful nature, attacked and destroyed a small example of God’s greatness, just because they could.
I am not opposed to logging trees. God gave us this world to use, for His glory, not our own. However, the questions we ask and the decisions we make reveal our arrogance toward God, our rebellion against Him, and the undercurrent motivation to ignore Him. We are not awed by Him, having so misused the word “awe” to rob it of its true meaning. We do not think about Him, seeing only something to conquer, not Someone to adore. We have not been taught the concept of submission, instead demanding our rights, and seeking our wants as rights. We measure all against our pitifully small selves, unable to comprehend the hugeness of our Creator. If we would but pay attention.
It took years for me to realize what was wrong with the question asked by the disciples. I admit my slowness in thinking through such perplexing circumstances. They asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of God. So focused upon themselves they could not see they were standing in the presence of the King. So completely humble and human was the King before them they could not see His majesty, His strength and grandeur. They were so at peace with Jesus, and while with Him the world around Him, they had not yet learned to think and feel and act like a citizen of His kingdom. They stood in the presence of a giant, the Ancient of Days, and did not know it.
Think for a moment. Imagine yourself in the presence of an earthly king, either benevolent or malevolent in nature, but in his presence as his servant or counselor or subject, either at peace with him or judged by him. Would you have the arrogance to stand in his presence and ask him who in his kingdom is the greatest hoping he would say it was you? He is the king. Is he not the greatest in his kingdom? Would he misunderstand your question and brush it off? Would he ignore the ramifications of the question? Would he continue to let someone with the audacity to ask such a question the pleasure of continuing in his presence? When someone begins to think they are as great as, or greater than, the actual king, they become disloyal, cannot be trusted, are viewed as a usurper. Who does this sound like?
Is there not the very seed of rebellion buried in the question, waiting to germinate and grow? Those at peace with God will know their place before Him. To think such a question, and then to ask it out loud to the One who is the greatest, reveals a lack of understanding and focus. True peace with God will instill within the citizen a focus upon Him which is unshakeable. Such peace is known intimately. We must be aware when anything, anything, seeks to compromise the peace given by Him, a warning that we are not seeing Him for Himself.