If your elementary school experience was anything like mine, moving about anywhere in the school meant forming a long line. In reality there were probably only twenty to thirty students in that line, but at seven years old, the back of that line felt miles away from your destination—especially if that destination was recess. Oh, the coveted position of “line leader.” Whether chosen for this spot based on some merit or because you happened to be the first to rush to the door, it was the position to have.
You might think we grow out of this way of thinking, but have you ever seen people line up to board a plane? How about for a sporting event or a concert, or even worse, a Black Friday sale? As Ricky Bobby’s father famously quipped, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” I would humbly suggest that the desire to be first, to be at the front, to be at the top, really never goes away. Sure, it looks differently today than it did in grade school, but it can still be a driving force in our lives.
Luke 13:30 is perhaps one of the most famous teachings of Jesus: “Note this: Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.” Most people are aware of it in some form or another, even if they’re not active readers of Scripture. It’s one of those sticky, memorable sayings.
But our key verse for today is more than a nice slogan for a bumper sticker. You see, Luke 13 is all about the kingdom of God. Each of Jesus’s teachings, interactions, and healings in this chapter tells us something unique about what the kingdom is like.
Jesus isn’t merely teaching us to be nice to one another. He’s revealing a key component of the kingdom; elbowing for a prime spot at the table won’t get you where you think it will. This teaching of Jesus was designed to challenge the expectations of His hearers, and it should have the same effect on us today.
We live in a day and age that loves a good underdog story: Rudy, Rocky, the Karate Kid, etc. Not so in the honor-and-shame-driven world of the ancient world. Honor for leaders came from being at the front of the line and staying there. Jesus flips this way of thinking on its head. Instead of reinforcing a front-of-the-line approach to the kingdom, He suggests that the humility and charity of the “line-lagger” would actually generate more influence and eternal impact. The kingdom is built on humility and selflessness, knowing that God is the one to lift people up.
Even if you’ve given yourself over to a life of following Jesus, the temptation will be to jockey for power, measure yourself against your neighbor, and race to the front of the line. Jesus’s teaching for today encourages you to work hard and intentionally, but also to work humbly and charitably. My friends, this is tough, but let’s link arms in prayer and in encouragement as we embark on a journey to the back of the line.
Written by Andrew Stoddard