The Greatests!

Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on

The Olympics have provided high drama and intense competition over the last two weeks. We have witnessed world records and photo-finishes. We have watched heart-warming stories about athletes. We have seen athletes push their bodies and minds to (and even past) the breaking point, sharing their tears in victory and in defeat.

Every Olympics has its special moments and unbelievable accomplishments. “The Miracle on Ice,” “The Dream Team,” and “The Fab 5” bring back memories of great Olympic teams. Names like Comaneci, Spitz, Owens and Retton remind us of great individual performances. The 2016 Olympics are no different and may go down as the most significant Olympics in regards to great individual performances.

The August 22 cover of Sports Illustrated pictures Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles with their medals, proclaiming the three Olympians as “The Greatests.” With the addition of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the argument can be made that 4 of the greatest Summer Olympic athletes of all-time competed in Brazil.

What does it take to become one of “The Greatests?” Certainly, each of these athletes is blessed with a high degree of natural talent. But greatness does not happen through talent alone. These Olympians have purposed to become great and paid the price to become great. Along with their natural talents, they have disciplined and buffeted their bodies and minds through years of sacrifice and training. They have given themselves at a cost that most of us will never know or understand. They have endured pain, fought through injuries, learned from defeat and persevered when others quit. Their quest for greatness could only be realized through total dedication.

What if these Olympians inspired each of us to greatness? What if we committed ourselves to becoming the “greatest” person we could become? What if we looked to Jesus to understand this greatness?

Just as Olympic greatness is defined by gold medals and world records, earthly greatness is defined by success, power, fortune and fame. Jesus critiques earthly greatness as exercising and lording authority and control over people and possessions (Mark 10:35-45).   

But in the Kingdom of God, “greatness” is defined and lived out differently. It is demonstrated through humility and service to others, not in being served. Greatness is “sacrificing oneself for others,” not “sacrificing others for oneself.”

The disciples of Jesus resonated with his teachings about a new kingdom, but struggled with this radical expression of greatness. They sacrificed everything to follow Him. They wanted to be great. They wanted their “gold medals” and the fame and fortune they felt entitled to receive.

Soon, Jesus would offer them the ultimate example of greatness when He sacrificed His life on the cross. The turning point of history, Jesus embodied greatness through His death and resurrection.

In response to Jesus’ self-sacrifice, God the Father highly exalted (made great) Jesus so that every tongue would confess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus humbled himself by serving and sacrificing. Then, the Father awarded the “gold medal” by declaring Jesus “the Greatest” to ever live.

True greatness is found in serving and sacrificing on behalf of others. It is hard work. It takes dedication and practice. Inconvenience, discomfort, and even pain are inevitable. Greatness requires a life-time commitment. But for those who persevere, a medal ceremony awaits (2 Timothy 4:8).

We have been blessed to watch some of the greatest athletes of all time in the 2016 Summer Olympics. I hope that we don’t have to wait another 4 years to watch greatness.   

Instead, let us embrace Jesus’ teachings of greatness and commit ourselves to serving each other. Indeed, that would be worth watching!