The Invisible Crown
I graduated from Bible college in 1974 with an arsenal of knowledge, ready to do battle. I knew almost everything about the Bible and theology and was ready to set the world straight. I entered seminary in Los Angeles to pick up what little there was left to learn. I knew the real” believers from the—well, you know—the other people. Good doctrine was easy to recognize, it bore a striking resemblance to my own beliefs. I realized that people could be saved even if they didn’t quite accept my position on the millennium, but they were obviously deficient in their faith.
There is a Talmudic saying: “Arrogance is a kingdom without a crown” (Sanhedrin 105a). I had, at a rather young age, established a kingdom of “truth” and pronounced myself king. Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing the crown of knowledge—or humility!
Moishe Rosen must have gone through a similar stage because he saw right through me. In the fall of 1975, he decided to invade my “kingdom” of arrogance and have a little fun at the same time. He was scheduled to speak in Los Angeles at a Lutheran church of all places! This was confusing to me on two counts. First, I was sure that if Lutherans were really believers they would have become Baptists. Second, Moishe was scheduled to speak at their Bible study and I had been under the impression that Lutherans didn’t study the Bible.
When we entered the cathedral-like building that evening, I found to my astonishment that it was not only a Bible study but a prayer meeting as well! In all my five years of believing in Jesus I had never met a Lutheran who prayed, but then again, I had never met a Lutheran.
The people smiled as though they were really glad to be there. Most were carrying Bibles The pastor gave Moishe a warm introduction; Moishe began speaking to the congregation of over 100 people, then shifted his attention to me. He said, “Let me introduce to you my friend Mitch Glaser. Mitch, would you please stand up!” A bit red-faced, I stood and greeted the crowd with a smile and a nod. I was still standing when Moishe said, “Mitch received his theological training at schools where people find it hard to believe that Lutherans are really saved. He is trying to figure out whether or not you all are believers.”
The people chuckled. Their good-natured laughter communicated acceptance, and brought me face-to-face with my own narrow intolerance. Oy, was I embarrassed! I learned an important lesson though: I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I was in no position to set the world straight. Further, what I thought I knew kept me from enjoying an important blessing of being a child of God—oneness with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Bible has much to say about what can happen if we succumb to pride: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18). Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther, experienced a “destruction” which well illustrates that proverb.
The sixth chapter of Esther paints a comic, yet pathetic picture of Haman—an arrogant man who thought he knew a lot when, in fact, he knew precious little. One night when King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep, he opened the book of records and discovered that he was obligated to honor Mordecai for having saved his life.
“Coincidentally” Haman was hanging around, so to speak, when the king was contemplating how to honor Mordecai, who unbeknown to the king, Haman was planning to murder! The king was accustomed to asking for Haman’s advice and sent for him accordingly.
“So Haman came in and the king said to him, ‘What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor?’ And Haman said to himself, ‘Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?… (Esther 6:6) Can’t you just picture Haman rubbing his hands together with glee!
Pompous Haman came up with the most daring, creative and elaborate plan he could think of to honor himself since he couldn’t imagine anyone else who was more deserving: “…For the man whom the king desires to honor, let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor'” (Esther 6:7-9).
Haman’s daring plan seemed good to the king, so he instructed Haman, “Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king’s gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said.” (v.10)
Can you imagine the expression on Haman’s face? Better yet, can you imagine him performing for Mordecai the very honors which he had intended for himself? After all, the degree of honor attributed to the rider of the king’s steed would be measured by the status of the footman. The greater the stature of the footman, the higher the honor. That is why Haman had requested “one of the king’s most noble princes” to lead him when he mistakenly thought Ahasuerus was going to honor him. But it was Haman who would lead the king’s horse with Mordecai sitting in the position of honor.
Can you picture Haman, head lowered, mumbling under his breath, “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.”? Knowing Haman’s attitude toward Jews, the citizens of Shushan must have thought the spectacle hilariously funny. How they must have enjoyed laughing at powerful, wicked Haman serving as footman to a Jew!
I can just hear one of the townspeople calling out to Haman, “Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say?” Haman picks up his head, glowers and repeats a little louder, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.’ Someone else says, “I’m so sorry. I’m a bit hard of hearing. What are you trying to tell us?” I see Haman turning four shades of purple and screaming out, “THUS IT SHALL BE DONE TO THE MAN WHOM THE KING DESIRES TO HONOR, #&@*!”
Haman thought he knew the king, and he thought he understood his own place of power in the court, but his arrogance blinded him to the reality of the situation. As amusing as the scenario of Haman honoring Mordecai might be, his plot to destroy the Jewish people and his consequent demise was not so funny. In one of those sad yet just portions of Scripture, the writer of the Book of Esther recorded, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided” (Esther 7:10).
Arrogance sometimes appears harmless or simply foolish (especially when the arrogant person you’re looking at isn’t you!) but its effects are often tragic. We rob ourselves of God’s blessings when, in pride, we attempt to build our own little kingdoms rather than submitting our positions and perspectives to the King of Kings.
We take pride in many things. We are proud of our children, our homes, our work and our hobbies. We take pride in our congregations, our methods of evangelism, our theological positions, even our Jewishness-and certainly there is much to be thankful for. But there is a difference between thanking God for the good things he provides and the sinful pride wherein we glorify ourselves instead of God.
There is a devastating kind of pride which causes us to condescend and be critical of our brothers and sisters. Please pardon the three-point sermon, but what I have to say seems to fall into three categories.
Pride destroys our relationships with one another. This is especially true of Jewish believers. It’s not that we have a greater propensity toward pride than other believers, but since there are so few of us, pride can be more damaging in our ranks.
When we think our own spiritual life is purer, our own theological position more accurate or our own messianic identity more cogently expressed, we tend to look down on those who do not “measure up” to our standards. Of course, we rarely admit that these standards are our own. We often attribute to Scripture the standards which more often are based upon our personal interpretation of Scripture. We shouldn’t allow our views to become so sacrosanct that they keep us from fellowship and cooperation with others. We can’t afford to nip at one another’s heels when one of us doesn’t cross the “t” or dot the ‘i’ exactly the same way as another.
Perhaps this will help: if you know in your heart that you are going to be in heaven with someone, you might as well begin getting along with them on earth. Before you speak against a brother, a sister, a congregation or a mission, remember Haman. He had no idea of Mordecai’s importance to the king of Persia. We need to realize how important each believer is to the Supreme Lord of the universe. When we fail to do so, we run the risk of allowing pride to divide the body of Yeshua into factions. Such “partyism” is a terrible blight on the people of God. It prevents us from enjoying the people and things that the Lord has given us to enjoy.
When pride divides Jewish believers into various parties, it creates a climate for us to remain aloof from one another. It becomes all too easy to view fellow believers as I once viewed Lutherans—before learning the lesson I described earlier. The Lutherans I met that night in Southern California were children of grace, and they were gracious to me. And yet knowing them did not make me doubt our differences; it’s just that in light of their evident love for the Lord, our differences did not matter any more.
I appreciate attending Lutheran churches on occasion. The rich liturgy and godliness of the congregants uplift my soul and draw me closer to the Lord. But enjoyment need not turn to envy; I am happy enough to be accepted as a visitor. Within the family of Jewish believers there are also differences—but they need not divide us. Our differences should rather be respected and, if possible, appreciated.
Unholy divisions hurt the work of the Lord by causing us to squander human and financial resources the Lord has entrusted to us. I was encouraged to hear of a messianic congregation in the northeast that joined forces with another Christian group to build a shared facility. On the other hand, how many of us attend congregations that struggle to meet the demands of a building program when there are large, underutilized church facilities right in our community?
Are we willing to share one another’s books, songs and literature or do we insist upon limiting ourselves to materials we have developed for our own use? Pride instigates divisions that cause us to waste God’s resources by hoarding what’s “ours” and refusing to accept help from others. Humility causes us to multiply God’s provisions as we share them with our brothers and sisters.
Is failure to cooperate based on differences which are essential to the faith? Usually not. We often search for reasons to justify our divisions after we have decided to divide! It is our pride which causes divisions among us; it hurts our relationship to the Lord, to one another, and it damages the story to our people.
On the other hand humility unites. When our fellowship is graced by this crown of the Spirit, our witness and work together can flourish.
Pride distorts our view of ourselves. In a carnival mirror a fat person may appear thin or a thin person could seem huge. Such distortions might be fun at a carnival but in real life they could prove fatal. The obese person who sees himself as thin will continue to overeat and the thin person who sees himself as obese will become anorexic. When we view ourselves in the mirror of pride, our sense of who we are becomes distorted, causing us to overlook sin in our lives. We gain a false sense of righteousness, and so we refuse to repent.
Pride distorts our view of the Holy One. When we see ourselves looming so very large, our vision of the Lord becomes cramped, confined, and sometimes completely crowded out of our hearts and minds. Our petitions before the throne of grace become commands and demands when we overestimate our self-worth and forget that he alone is worthy.
When our vision becomes obstructed by our own importance, our view of reality becomes distorted. I’ve know some new believers, inflated by self-righteousness, who memorize five messianic prophecies and feel assured that they are now able to persuade their rabbi of the gospel. The same distorted sense of reality can cause believers to disdain, belittle and even be jealous of fellow believers and messianic groups.
When we hear of a successful evangelistic effort by another group, do we rejoice over the fruit of their labor or find reasons to justify why we would never do it their way? Do we praise the Lord for their courage to stand for the gospel or do we stand back and wonder about the depth of their theological understanding? When “someone else’s” group conducts a successful meeting, do we rejoice that Jewish believers found encouragement and fellowship with one another, or do we maintain an arrogant, fault-finding aloofness? Pride distorts our perception of others’ achievements because it makes the peripheral disagreements seem so large that we fail to notice the heart of their efforts.
Pride can also cause us to distort our own achievements, exaggerating our victories and exalting our competence while we keep silent about our struggles and shortcomings. We thereby rob ourselves of the prayer support and concern we need from fellow Jewish believers who would rise to the occasion. Why should we want others to see us as stronger than we are, when in fact, we need their love and prayers?
The very pride which caused Haman to seek the destruction of the Jewish people ultimately led to his own demise. Pride is a disease which can destroy our momentum. It is as infectious as influenza and extremely hazardous to our spiritual health. Pride causes us to devalue God and the people of God, and it is that “devaluing” that destroys.
A library of more than 10,000 volumes on Judaica was recently discarded as though it was trash. It seems that when a certain godly missionary to the Jews died, his books were put into storage in his grandson’s basement. When the grandson decided to convert his basement into a den, he paid someone a paltry twenty dollars to haul the books and boxes of sermon notes to the local garbage dump. The books alone would cost a fortune to replace—and the writings of this man who had studied and taught the Scriptures faithfully for 35 years were priceless and irreplaceable.
We feel a sense of loss when a library or great work of art is destroyed. And yet God views each of us as his treasure. We are a priceless people because we have been redeemed by the sacrifice of the Savior. When we devalue the precious blood of Yeshua by treating one another like trash, we are allowing pride to tear down and destroy what God would have us build.
Pride not only destroys by devaluing those things that really matter, it shifts our values over to the transitory things of the world—the wood, hay and stubble sort of things that moths and rust destroy.
Finally, pride destroys because it isolates us and keeps us from the fountain of life. The proud will refuse to eat the bread of life because it is merely bread and not cake.
In recent weeks we have spoken to a number of Jewish believers whose sense of pride has caused them to break fellowship with their churches and fellow Gentile believers. You might think such people would simply join a messianic congregation. Yet, according to our surveys, most Jewish believers are not located near a messianic congregation. And frankly, a number of these people would have been just as critical of a messianic congregation, because they are seeking the perfect congregation and won’t be satisfied with less. Pride can cause us to require perfection in others while remaining oblivious to our own imperfections. That is why at least 15% of the Jewish believers we surveyed are not affiliated with any church or messianic congregation. This leads to spiritual destruction. How can a believer grow in faith without being attached to a congregation of caring people?
If we can recognize the ailment—spiritual pride—the cure is obvious. (The fact that it is obvious does not make it easy to swallow!) Pride lifts up people, it lifts up our movements, methods and institutions but it never lifts up the Lord. Therefore, we must be more committed to exalting the Lord and less committed to exalting ourselves.
I have two daughters, each more beautiful than the other. Each one is an Esther, a real winner. But does that mean I must view everyone else’s children as losers? Of course not!
I drive a 5-year-old Oldsmobile. My younger sister and her husband recently bought a new Mercedes Benz. In order to be happy with my Oldsmobile should I delude myself into thinking that my car is superior to my sisters? I like nice cars. And I will be very happy for you to have a nice car—a Mercedes or even a Rolls Royce. But I will continue to drive an Olds. I pray that I can be the kind of believer who will always be thankful for what the Lord has provided for me and my family. Godliness with contentment is great gain. And if driving an older car could somehow result in more people receiving the Lord, then I’d want to be the kind of person who would drive the same car until it rots.
I don’t have to be the best or own the best. I don’t even have to attend the church with the best Bible teacher or best doctrine. I just have to strive to be all that God wants me to be and do my part to help others in the family of God do the same.
The Lord wants us to exercise sound judgment (Romans 12:3). Even if we come to the conclusion that we are more adept at something than a brother or sister, they are no less important to God than we are. We don’t have the right to put down brothers and sisters. Paul tells us to, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). He continues, “Be of the same mind toward one another do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Romans 12:16).
The apostle knew we would have differences and he called upon us to handle them in a godly manner. We are not to be haughty, we are to be humble. We are to honor and to have fellowship with the mishpochah, even if we don’t always agree on everything. Being of “one mind” does not mean we have no differences. It means our minds are focused on the same thing—Yeshua.
Perhaps Haman’s actions and their consequences are too severe an illustration of pride. And yet, if Haman could have brought himself to honor those who were precious to the king, he would have brought honor to himself and to his sovereign.
I’m reminded of a line from a chorus that I learned as a young believer: “If you can’t bear the cross then you can’t wear the crown.” We must bury our pride in the shadow of the cross. If we humble ourselves a lot more and assert our differences a lot less, we will get more than a crown—we will get along much better with one another and we will get on with advancing the work of the kingdom of God.
Humility is the invisible crown which makes visible the image of the Messiah in its wearers. Those who wear the crown are also better able to see Yeshua in their brothers and sisters. The invisible crown of humility does not sparkle with the bejeweled glitter of diamonds and emeralds; it shines with a far greater brilliance, because its light is a pure reflection of the Son.