Who is the Greatest?
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.”
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Thanks, Peter, for asking, because I wanted to ask that but just didn’t have the guts to. Why would anyone even ask this if it wasn’t to prove something?
“We must be the elite group, Jesus, since you chose us as disciples.” Who doesn’t want to be great? Jesus does not criticize them for wanting to be great. Jesus wants us to be great, but Jesus explains what the metrics inside His family look like.
I’ve never asked my coaches how I could be average. Actually, lukewarm or middle of the road wasn’t Jesus’ ideal for His disciples either. The problem is that we need Jesus’ answer to this question. It is upside down to what the disciples were thinking and frankly what I would be thinking.
Comparing, competing, controlling, and condemning others are the normal measurements for greatness. We can’t all be great right, because my sense of worth comes from being better than! My first tendency is to compare myself in some way in order to feel good. If I can compete with you I can try and show you that I am better. If I can control your actions I feel like I have power over you. And if I can find some reason to judge you I can feel better than you in some way, secretly feeling good when you fail at something to have some sense of reason to think I’m doing ok.
I use positions to prove I am above another. I know I have an evil bent and you may not have stooped to my ways, so feel good about yourself for one moment. Now let’s listen to Jesus’ answer.
The very fact that that they asked the question shows they had no idea at all what the Kingdom of Heaven looked like.
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sin and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Dan mentioned last week that we live in a post-Christian society that defines itself with individualism and self-made metrics. A post-Christian society organizes themselves without God.
Jesus said, “Unless you turn.” He was warning them that they were going in completely the wrong direction, away from the Kingdom of Heaven and not towards it. As long as we consider our own self as the most important thing in the world, our back is turned to the Kingdom.
What is Jesus then asking them to repent of? Repent of my own metrics that I use to measure my worth and who I am. Repent of thinking I have what it takes to get into the Kingdom. You must be converted, you must be of another mind set.
Keith Miller says, “Sin is the universal addiction to self that develops when individuals put themselves in the centre of their personal world in a way that leads to abuse of others and self.”
Let me remind you that Mathew is a message about the Kingdom of God, rulership of God; “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, you be glorified not me.” God decides the rules not me.
Let me take a moment because you might be recognizing for the first time that you relate to what Keith Miller describes about man. If you do, Jesus has something much better to offer you. I want to encourage you to respond to God’s offer to be your Father and Jesus is explaining how this can happen.
I need to repent of my independence and pride. We are totally dependent of our God and Creator and we do not know it. I need to be rescued from myself. It is the poor in spirit who are the greatest. Those who know they are spiritually and morally adrift and need rescuing. The pride, ambition, and addiction to honour and dominion which appear in us must be repented of.
Jesus says that this conversion occurs as we repent and become like children. What are the qualities that Jesus is referring to when he mentions little children?
- The child’s humility. Dad is hero, not the child.
- There is the child’s dependence because his vulnerability isn’t a secret. For the child, a state of dependence is perfectly natural. He never thinks that he can face life by himself. He is perfectly content to be utterly dependent on those who love him and care for him. If we would accept the fact of our dependence on God, a new strength and a new peace would enter our lives. Secure people do not need to prove their importance.
- The child’s trust. The child is instinctively dependent, and just as instinctively he trusts his parents that his needs will be met.
When we are children we set out on a journey with no means of paying the fare, and with no idea of how to get to our journey’s end, and yet it never enters our heads to doubt that our parents will bring us safely there. Jesus demonstrated these three things as a Son of His Father while here on earth.
It takes humility to enter into the Kingdom. The greatest recognize how they became children of God. Having rank with God has to do with turning from my pride and recognizing my utter need and dependence on what my Father does for me.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus.
It is what Christ has done for us that gets us in. A gift is a gift, and it is not earned. No pride possible.
The passage goes on to say that the humility that allows us entrance is also demonstrated afterwards by our treatment of others. When I said yes to Christ defining me with His forgiveness and acceptance He placed me in a family. We will see that if I define myself as a son or daughter of God, as Dan encouraged us to do last week, then I have to recognize how I treat my other siblings within the family. The rest of this passage and next weeks’ teaching will continue to develop this theme.
How do we know if we are walking humbly? Humility allows me to recognize my siblings’ worth and honour.
“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” Jesus identifies with His children like me with my sons and daughter. I hate seeing one of my kids disrespect the other. I will bless you if you treat them well.
We must remember that the Jews used the word child in a double sense. One being a young child age wise and the other as one young in the faith who were susceptible and vulnerable to influences.
The disciples often had no time for the kids, as if they were a bother to the agenda at hand. Sound familiar, only the strong survive.
Worth of a child is based on the ransom paid by Christ not for how high they have climbed some ladder. Your ransom says more about how God values you than how you value yourself. It’s God’s value of man that took Him to pay a ransom for your life.
“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
WOE! Jesus, you are being harsh. Jesus is describing the terrible weight of responsibility in how I treat one of His vulnerable children. Young in the faith. The grindstone, which was to pulverize wheat, was so big that it demanded a mule to pull it around in a circle. The very size of the millstone shows the awfulness of the condemnation.
Let me just say, you’re going down if you mess with His children. The very picture of drowning had its terror for the Jew. Drowning was sometimes a Roman punishment. To the Jew it was the symbol of utter destruction.
Your treatment of my children is a gift or slam to me.
Let me paint a picture: kidnapped children who have been used in the sex trade. Ransomed and delivered and I take them back to the streets where it all began, where they will be vulnerable again. What would you want to do with me? The ransom payment and liberator of my soul is Jesus. Don’t mess with my children. I rescued them with my blood and you are encouraging them back into the slavery I delivered them from. Don’t minimize what I did on the cross for them.
“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” Wow! This flies in the face of our independent worldview.
We know that this is a tempting world; it is therefore the Christian’s duty to remove stumbling-blocks, and never to be the cause of putting them in another’s way.
It only makes sense if we recognize the cost of Jesus’ rescue and ransom. Let me mention some ways we can do this:
- Playing basketball with my two young adolescent sons who were not impressed with my anger.
- Parents, do not exasperate your children with such harsh treatment. Provoking our children to discouragement.
- Inviting others to sin. Join me in creative book keeping or in undesirable sexual practice.
- Flaunting our freedom in Christ in front of those who do not have the same freedom (Romans 14). To help them go against their conscience.
- For the sake of your brother or sister to give up some of your personal rights (COVID).
Let me encourage those who are from Calvary Baptist for a moment. It is easy in this time of COVID and our personal hurts or pain or loss to close ourselves off from others and concentrate only on our own lives. But inaction can hurt as much as wrong actions in these times, where silence and lack of communication sends a message of unworthiness. If God is stirring you to pick up the phone and communicate with someone who may need encouraging I strongly urge you to do so. Each conversation encourages or discourages others. Am I being a source of encouragement to my fellow brothers and sisters?
The tendency is to think, no one cares what I have decided to do but that is not true. If anything, I need to grow in my understanding of family rather than keep promoting societies norm of individualism and independence. My brother or sister in the faith was bought with the same blood that bought me. If my silence has hurt you in the past months please let me know and help me be accountable to the family.
In conclusion, greatness is demonstrated by:
- Humility, dependence and trust in our Father.
- Repenting of my addiction to self and my own metrics of self-worth.
- Repent of how I have treated others.
- Resting in being a son or daughter of our Father
So that I can treat others with dignity.
“The fatherhood of God is the only possible basis of the brotherhood of man.” William Barclay
God has placed a high value on the lives of your brothers and sisters.