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The First And The Last

I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the First and the Last...
Rev. 1:11

This thought was deeply impressed upon me yesterday. It was the Lord's Day. We were greeted at the church corridors by some youths from Boys’ Brigade. They were standing at their designated positions to receive donations for the ministry. As we walked from the outside to the inside of the church building, at least ten cheerful hearts and sunny smiles approached us. The last boy at the line was Jerry. His name was clearly displayed on his badge. I told him jokingly that he was the last in the line. Therefore, he would receive the least donations. And this human reasoning of mine was entirely wrong. At the end of the service, Jerry was still there. He was now the first in the line from the inside of the building. From the outside, he was the last but from the inside, he was the first.

Jesus is truly the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Greatest and also the Least. He was born in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, the least among the cities of Judah (Matthew 2:6).

This attitude and mind of Christ should also be in us. Though he was God, He did not demand and cling on to His rights as God. He laid aside His majesty, power and glory. He became a human being just like us. He was born not in ivory palaces but in a dirty manger where cattle had their feed. He came to serve and not to be served. He was both the Servant of all and the Lord of all. He humbled Himself even to the extent of dying a criminal's death upon a cruel cross. Because He was willing to be the Least, He became the Greatest. God raised Him up to the heights of heaven and gave Him a name, which is above every other name. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).

In Mark 9:34-35, the disciples of Jesus were disputing among themselves about who should be the greatest. Jesus said to them, "Anyone wanting to be the greatest must be the least. Whosoever desires to be great in His kingdom must be the servant of all! Whosoever desires to be first must be willing to be the last!"

In Matthew 19:29-30, Jesus said: "And anyone who gives up his home, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or property, to follow Me, shall receive a hundred times as much in return, and shall have eternal life. But many who are first now will be last then; and some who are last now will be first then." He then gave them this illustration of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 20:1-16;TLB):

The owner of an estate went out early one morning to hire workers for his harvest field. He agreed to pay them $20 a day and sent them out to work. A couple of hours later he was passing a hiring hall and saw some men standing around waiting for jobs, so he sent them also into his fields, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

At noon and again around three o'clock in the afternoon he did the same thing. At five o'clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more men standing around and asked them, 'Why haven't you been working today?'

'Because no one hired us,' they replied. 'Then go on out and join the others in my fields,' he told them. That evening he told the paymaster to call the men in and pay them, beginning with the last men first.

When the men hired at five o'clock were paid, each received $20. So when the men hired earlier came to get theirs, they assumed they would receive much more. But they, too, were paid $20. They protested, 'Those fellows worked only one hour, and yet you've paid them just as much as those of us who worked all day in the scorching heat.'

'Friend,' he answered one of them, 'I did you no wrong! Didn't you agree to work all day for $20? Take it and go. It is my desire to pay all the same; is it against the law to give away my money if I want to? Should you be angry because I am kind?' And so it is that the last shall be first, and the first, last.

God is righteous from the beginning to the end. All His ways are just. Even His blessings upon Israel was not just reserved for them. They flowed out to bless all the other nations and peoples. The gospel came to Israel first. They saw and heard the Messiah with their own eyes and ears. But they rejected Him. Since then the gospel had gone to the Gentiles on a westward journey from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. To Macedonia, England, America, Korea, China, Asia, Australia, Africa, Middle-East. And now it is coming back to Jerusalem again. The first shall be the last, and the last shall be the first.

The story of King David was a good illustration of this truth. After God had rejected King Saul, he sent His prophet Samuel to find and anoint the new king for Israel (1 Sam 16:1-14). He was specifically sent to Bethlehem – the least important among the cities of Judah.

When Jesse showed Samuel his firstborn son, Eliab, Samuel thought, "Surely this is the man the Lord has chosen!" But the Lord said to Samuel, "Don't judge by a man's face or height, for this is not the one. I don't make decisions the way you do! Men judge by outward appearance, but I look at a man's thoughts and intentions." The selection went on till all in the list of Jesse were rejected.

It was not the eldest, the strongest or the wisest chosen that day. The chosen one was not there in the line. He was out in the fields tending the sheep. He was the youngest son of Jesse. His earthly father did not even include him in his list. But God did not forget David. He was the last to be called before Samuel. But he was the first choice of God – a man after God’s own heart! When Samuel took the olive oil and poured it upon David's head, the Spirit of God came upon him and gave him great anointing and power from that day onwards. The last became the first. The least became the greatest! The rejected was the chosen! The weakest became the strongest.

When we look at how the world selects its own, we often will have to contend with worldly mindsets and standards. What are the selection criterion and parameters? In the eyes of the world, greatness is measured in terms of lordship and leadership. In heaven’s eyes, it is measured in terms of servanthood and discipleship.

When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king. When others see a Baby, God sees a Saviour. When others see the sufferings of Christ, God sees the triumphs of Christ! When others see the death, God sees the resurrection! When others put you last on their list, God may put you first on His list. God still uses ordinary people to fulfill His extraordinary purposes.

From the outside, you may be the last, but from the inside, you may be the first! Remember Jerry.

Written on:
29 March 2004