Matthew 18

Matthew 18:  Like A Child

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  For almost 3 years now, beginning with John the Baptist, the message had been- ‘ repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The disciples envisioned an earthly kingdom, with Jesus crowned King like David and they would be the ‘in’ group, they would rule and reign with Jesus in his earthly kingdom and enjoy power and prestige . We can gather from the accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke, this was often a discussion they had and even argued about. In Matthew 20, even James and John’s mother got in on the act and requested that her sons be seated at the right and left of his side in his kingdom.

The teaching that followed these requests and arguments was aided by a visual aid- a child brought into their midst.  Because Jesus referred to the child as ‘little’, we can assume probably under 5 years of age.

Let’s pick up the story following the question and  argument  among the disciples- who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

“ And Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst of them, and said: Verily  I say unto you, except you be converted and become as a little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child , the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” ( Matthew 18: 2-4,KJV)  “ If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”( Mark 9: 35, NIV)

After all, Jesus came to serve- not be served.

Now before we write these disciples off as a bunch of prideful and arrogant bunch, keep in mind this is before the crucifixion, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They did not have the knowledge they would later have and had always believed the Lord Jesus would establish his kingdom on earth and rule and reign from a throne in Jerusalem like King David. They envisioned ruling and reigning with him and enjoying the positions of power they imagined they would hold and of course- there would be those who would be in the highest positions in his kingdom.

These disciples were worldly minded, they were prideful and they were self-seeking. Before we were born again, so were we. In fact our old nature quite often rears his head and wants his/her way, no matter how much we disguise it. We were self-seeking. We wanted to have fun, be happy.  *Everyone comes to a crossroads at some time in their life. The cross roads occur when the quest for happiness intersects with the quest  for truth.*   We are lovers of self-aren’t we?  Yet we are told to love one another as Christ loved us. I Corinthians 13 is about this type of love. Listen to how it is described:  “ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This was the role of the lowest servant in the household and Jesus had humbled himself to perform this duty. Listen to what he said: “ When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place ( where was his place? At the head of the table) “ Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord , and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I,  your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things- you will be blessed if you do them.” ( John 13)

Looking for happiness? Blessed? Joy? Contentment? Here is the way.  If you want to be first- you must be the very last, and the servant of all. Could this really be the secret to real contentment?  To serve others- to place others before yourself?  What is interesting is this is something everyone can do. It does not require intelligence, special talents or skills, just the willingness to serve others. Jesus said now that you know this truth- you will be blessed- have joy if you do it.  What did our Heavenly Father say at the Transfiguration? This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.  And Jesus’ mother: ‘ whatever Jesus tells you to do- do it.    J.O. Y. = Jesus first, Others second- you- last.   Are you listening? Are you doing what He tells you to do?

So notice what must happen first: “ Except you be converted.”  Conversion- born again, regenerated, changed. This occurs at salvation and involves repentance.  A change in direction from habitual sinner to holy saint. One becomes a new creature- born again. A child.

Gina and I are enjoying being grandparents- it is wonderful.  Here are some things we are reminded of as to how it is to be a child.

Innocence- listen to what Paul said of we human beings- ‘ they invent ways of doing evil.’ (Romans 1) ‘ Lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful,proud.. ( 2 Timothy 3) We know we are born with sinful natures, but yet there is a child-like innocence present in the young.

Simplicity-a child’s life is not complicated is it?  Our lives as adults certainly tend to be so filled with complexities-we spend a lot of time trying to figure out life

Frankness- a grandchild will tell his/her grand parent-their breath smells bad- or they look funny. Honesty without any pretense.

The Power to wonder- watching them explore the wonders of nature, a trip to the zoo or in your own backyard.  A curiousity about everything new and different. Eager to learn.

Enjoyment- a child can spend hours enjoying something as simple as a balloon on a string.

Enthusiasm- a childlike excitement and energy to do something new or something they enjoy over and over without tiring

Children are not class conscious or racially biased. The child of the millionaire can have as much fun playing with the gardener’s son as anyone else. Income levels are not important to them- nor are social standings important. In fact they may find what the work the  gardener does for their parents is fascinating and enjoy watching him work.

Trust- children trust their parents completely. They trust them to meet all their needs. Their father can toss them up in the air and they never doubt he will catch them.

What happened to us as we grew up?  We quit trusting- and lost that child- like qualities that provided us with the quality of life we enjoyed.  A time we look back on now as wonderful time.  When did we learn to- not trust? When  did we learn to be cynical?   Remember what the Lord said to Adam and Eve after the fall when they were hiding?  They said they heard the Lord and they were afraid because they were naked.  The Lord said who told you that you were naked?    Who told you – you cannot trust the Lord? Who taught you to be cynical?

Life comes at us from every angle doesn’t it?   We experience disappointments and endure hardships and we become cynical, don’t we?  Take someone at their word? No, you cannot trust people. Get it in writing. What happened to us along the way?  Life in a fallen world happened to us. We got sick. We got hurt. We got disappointed. We also develop some prejudices and biases along the way.  The disciples were biased against the Samaritans, Gentiles, and somewhat of women. They thought they knew what would make them happy.

Our quest for happiness intersected with the quest for truth. And we had to make a decision which would we follow after?  Happiness, joy, peace- however you want to describe it- is what we want. Elvis Presley was asked in an interview once what did he, the ‘ king of rock and roll’ want in life?  He replied- ‘ I always only wanted three things:  someone to love; someone to love me; and something to look forward to.’  Sums it up pretty well, doesn’t it. We all need that. Jim Carrey (of all people) said: “ I hope everybody could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of- so they will know that it’s not the answer.” Not the answer?

So began our search and pursuit for happiness. But somehow the pursuit for happiness eluded us for the most part. Nothing seemed to last very long. Jesus is saying if you focus on others- family, friends, those around you with needs. And as you work and serve the Lord, meeting others needs and forget so much about pursing happiness- all of sudden- surprise- surprise- happiness, joy and peace will find you.

Now as we look back on the  Sermon on the Mount we realize Jesus is sharing his Christian manifesto. A manifesto is a public declaration of policy and aims. These would be the policies of the ‘ kingdom of heaven.’  This would be in political jargon- your platform. In business it would be your mission statement.  It is published, broadcast and declares the programs to be initiated.   Jesus also was contrasting his teaching with the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes.

Let’s look at those again and you will see how child- like qualities are highly valued.  For as adults we have been conformed by a society and culture that honors the self-assertive, the self-made man or woman, the confident, the rich and the powerful. The rich don’t hang around with the poor- the world is run by the movers and shakers- the smart, the rich, the powerful, the good looking.

In fact Jesus offers exactly the opposite advice.

“ Blessed are the poor in spirit- for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Interesting the first characteristic Jesus uses in his most famous sermon is poor.  Being poor means being dependent and recognizing your needs.  A child has no money and guess what – no worries. A child has to trust someone- a parent usually, for everything they need.

The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption. The poor rests their security on people not possessions. The poor have no exaggerated view of their own importance. The poor know the difference between necessities and luxuries. The poor have learned to wait. When the poor hear the Gospel it truly sounds like good news to them.

Interesting the last church Jesus mentions in Revelation 5 is the church of Laodicea boasts: “ I am rich, and have acquired wealth- and do not need anything.”

Do you see what a child and a poor person have in common? They readily depend on others to have their needs met. A child’s relationship to their parents is the basis for their security.

In the closing verses of his Sermon on the Mount , in Matthew 7, Jesus encourages us : ‘ to enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’

Dependence, sorrow, repentance- a longing for change- these are the gates to God’s kingdom. These are not what the world system teaches will bring success and happiness according to the world’s standards.   Maybe that is what Jim Carrey discovered.

Look at the list:  blessed are the : poor, meek, mourners, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Does this reflect the ambitions of your life? Do these appear on your list of things to do?  Probably not. Yet each one has a reward that goes with it.

The Poor? – Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The mourners?- Comforted.

The Meek?- Inherit the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? They will be filled.

The merciful? Will be shown mercy.

Those who are pure in heart?  Will see God- a higher level of intimacy.

The peacemakers? – Be called the sons of God. We are family.

The persecuted?  Rejoice- for great is your reward in heaven.

Have you come the place in your life- that possessions are more of a burden than a blessing? Have you realized  the simple things in life are the most enjoyable? Interesting the more we learn to depend on the Lord, the more child-like we become.

Have you come to treasure your relationship with the Lord as your greatest possession? And I am sure by now – you realize with each passing day- you are dependent upon Him for everything. And that relationships are what are important more than possessions or positions.

Did our children worry about their life what they would eat or drink or the clothes they would wear when they were growing up ?  No. They knew their parents would provide what they needed.  In Matthew 6- Jesus is reminding us of our days as children. Days when we did not worry about our needs being met- but trusted our parents.

So as we grew older, it is sad to say we lost some of our child-like qualities that Jesus is saying are important. .  A father realizes he will only be his children’s hero for  a short time. Then life happens and children get older and seem to want to find happiness according to how their friends and peers define happiness.  We all did the same things. Quite often leaving behind the values our parents taught for the values as defined by a fallen world. Like the Prodigal Son- we left in search of what we thought would make us happy.

Guess what? We had to come our senses just as the Prodigal Son did. We had to be converted. We had to be changed. We had to change directions, repent and be born again.   We had to become like little children- dependent now upon our Heavenly Father. We had to turn back home to our Heavenly Father.  The Prodigal was willing to only be a servant.  But his father would not think of treating him that way- how great was his love and joy for his son who was lost and found- who was dead and now alive. “ How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!” ( I John 3) Children again!  And children of God who longs to lavish us with His love and welcome us with open arms. His son , our elder brother whispers- there is now no condemnation! Why? For we have been born again and are in Christ Jesus and He is in us.  We are partakers of His divine nature. Re-gened- regenerated- new creatures.

Need something?  “ Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks , the door will be opened.  ….If you then , though your are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.”   Notice what He gives- good gifts.  Gifts that keep on giving.  Not gifts that will harm you, distract you from what is important.

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry….blessed are those who take refuge in Him.”  Psalm 2

“ To whom will your  run for help?” Isaiah 10

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower- the righteous run to it and are safe.” ( Proverbs 18:10)

As children if we were afraid or hurt – who did we run to for help?  Our parents- our father- our mother.

What did Jesus say we must do?  Except you be converted and become as a child.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14