How Great Art Thou?

When Jesus entered the world, people were curious about him. In at least two conversations, people asked Jesus something to the effect of, “how great are you, really?” In the Gospel of John, we see two conversations where people seek to compare Jesus to great men of the past. In both conversations Jesus demonstrates his greatness. The people with whom he is conversing have surprisingly different responses. Check them out…

At one point in his ministry, Jesus needed to go through Samaria. They stopped outside a town and his disciples went to look for their next meal. Jesus, however, rested beside a well and started a conversation with a lady who came out to draw water. During the conversation he made the claim that he could give her living water, if only she asked for it. She looked at him, saw that he had no bucket with which to draw water from the well, and asked him two questions: the first was, “So, where do you get this ‘living water’? The second was, “You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock” (John 4:11-12 CSB).

Through the dialogue that followed, the Samaritan woman concluded that Jesus was, indeed, greater than Jacob and that the water he offered was better than that which could be drawn from Jacob’s well. She returned to the town and invited the townspeople, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah”


A little while later, Jesus had a fiery encounter with “the Jews,” a group of people devoted to following the law of Moses. During the exchange, Jesus made the claim, “Truly I tell you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). The Jews scoffed at this, considering that Abraham and the prophets had all died. They wondered how this man, Jesus, could make such a claim. So, they asked him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham who died? And the prophets died. Who do you claim to be” (8:53)?

Jesus then told them that God was his father and that Abraham “rejoiced to see [his] day” (8:56). In essence, “yes, I am far greater than Abraham. I existed before Abraham. And Abraham rejoiced in my incarnation, knowing of the eternal life I offer.”

On hearing this, the Jews picked up stones to stone him.

In these stories we see two similar claims to greatness and two vastly different responses. How do you respond to Jesus’ greatness? Have you come to believe that Jesus is, “…the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:3) and greater than any other person who has ever lived?

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