We often hear of people talk about greatness. But what makes something or someone truly great? We learn in Scripture about a man who “will be great before the Lord” (Luke 1:15). This news came from the angel Gabriel when he announced to the aged Zechariah the priest that he and his barren wife Elizabeth will have a son. This is a reference to John the Baptist. John’s greatness had nothing to do with political power, public prominence, or personal prosperity. John’s greatness was seen in the character of a man that proclaimed God’s Word. Later on when he grows up he preaches repentance and announces to the world the arrival of the Messiah (John 1:29). He was a bold preacher of God’s Word. He even called Herod Antipas out for his sexual immorality, and this led to John’s death (Matt. 14:1-12). What we learn here is that true greatness does not come from the world’s opinion, but rather from God’s opinion. The world is seeking greatness, but if this is separated from what God calls great it is worthless.
Here is some helpful insight from JC Ryle as he provides some further comments on this announcement from the angel:
The measure of greatness which is common among men is utterly false and deceptive. Princes and potentates, conquerors and leaders of armies, statesmen and philosophers, artists and authors–these are the kind of men whom the world calls “great.” Such greatness is not recognized among the angels of God. Those who do great things for God, they reckon great. Those who do little for God, they reckon little. They measure and value every man according to the position in which he is likely to stand at the last day.
Let us not be ashamed to make the angels of God our example in this matter. Let us seek for ourselves and our children that true greatness which will be owned and recognized in another world. It is a greatness which is within the reach of all–of the poor as well as the rich–of the servant as well as of the master. It does not depend on power or patronage, on money or on friends. It is the free gift of God to all who seek it at the Lord Jesus Christ’s hands. It is the portion of all who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him–who fight Christ’s battle and do Christ’s work in the world. Such may receive little honor in this life. But great shall be their reward at the last day. Ryle, JC. ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’, Volume 1, Banner of Truth, p. 14