DUNCAN/Who is the greatest?
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 18:1-6. In this passage, Jesus is going to direct the disciples’s attention precisely to the issue of their own humility. The rule of life in the kingdom of God is not the rule of selfish ambition. We will see three things from this passage. First, the nature of greatness in Christ’s kingdom differs from the world’s idea of greatness. Second, the way we enter the kingdom is directly connected to the life of the kingdom. And third, true humility manifests itself in our care not to cause stumbling.
I. The Nature of Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom Differs from the World’s Idea of Greatness
In verses 1-2, you see the questions that the disciples are grappling with, and ultimately the one question which they set before the Lord. You then see the object lesson which Jesus uses to respond to their question in verse 2. We read in verses 1-2, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them.” In verses 1-2 we learn something absolutely profound, and that is that the nature of greatness in Christ’s kingdom is utterly different from the world’s idea of greatness. See the attitude with which Jesus approaches the disciples. Jesus is trying to teach these men how to be humble. Jesus could have raged at these men for the sin they had committed. But in a very gentle and kind way, He teaches them to be humble, and we learn as much from how Jesus does it as we do by what Jesus says.
Jesus’ object lesson forces on His disciples the question of “What is greatness?” When they put to him the question what greatness is, He brings a child and sits him on His knee and looks them in the eye. He forces on them the issue of rethinking their idea of greatness. He plops a child down and He says, ‘This is greatness.’ And He’s saying to them, ‘Your idea is all wrong about what is great.’ His object lesson forces us to ask what our aspirations are. What do we think is greatness? For us, what is success? More cars, more house, more money, more prestige, more clothes – what is success? Is that greatness? Influence, significance, prestige—is that greatness? Great men are so given to doing what the Lord has called them to do, they never stop to think about their personal greatness. Small men are so wrapped up in themselves that they never realize that they are tiny. God calls us to that kind of self-effacing, self-forgetful quest for kingdom greatness which is utterly different than the greatness and success that the world offers.
II. The Way We Enter the Kingdom Is Directly Connected to the Life of the Kingdom
In verses 3-4, Jesus specifically defines the nature of kingdom greatness. He defines it as trustful humility. In verses 3-4, He is showing us the necessity of that kind of attitude in believers. He says in those verses, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He argues in verses 3-4, that the way we enter the kingdom is directly connected with the life of the kingdom. Jesus declares in verse 3 that a heart changed from pridefulness to humility is absolutely essential to belonging to His kingdom. Jesus is reminding us about the doctrine of conversion. The heart change which He is speaking about here is the conversion of our hearts which is worked and operated by the Holy Spirit when He breaks us of pride and opens us to trustful humility. Jesus says that that posture of humble trustfulness in the Lord is precisely the posture that the believer is to live the rest of his life. In the kingdom, the least is greatest. In the kingdom, the one who is the most trustful, who is the humblest is the greatest in the kingdom.
Humility does not mean a permanent inferiority complex. Humility does not mean that you’re the person who hangs your head the lowest and you walk around with a dark cloud over your head, here and there in sackcloth and ashes. Rather, humility is self-forgetfulness. Do we have that kind of humility? Every member of the kingdom can exercise that kind of humility. Every member of the kingdom can achieve that kind of greatness. The world’s greatness only allows a few who make it to the top to achieve its kind of fleeting greatness. Kingdom humility can be experienced by every member of the kingdom and therefore kingdom greatness can be experienced by every member of the kingdom.
III. True Humility Manifests Itself in Our Care Not to Cause Stumbling
In verses 5-6, Jesus reminds us that it is not only the attitude of humility that we have in ourselves, but it is our attitude of humility as we relate to one another which is an evidence, sign, and indicator of God having worked a change of heart in us and given us true kingdom humility. He teaches us in verses 5-6 that true humility manifests itself in our care not to cause others to stumble. He says in these verses, “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Jesus says two things in verses 5-6: He says that your receiving of these little ones is receiving Him and that if you cause these little ones to stumble you are not only displeasing Him. You are displeasing Him in such a way as to injure those that He loves and He will cast you into the deepest sea with a heavy, donkey-drawn millstone wrapped around your neck so that you will never come back up.
Jesus uses strong words here, my friends. The Lord Jesus is looking out for His people, but His prime message here is for His disciples in taking care in the way they manifest their humility to others. It is timely for us to evaluate what real greatness means, what real success means in life, because the world wants to hold up for us a very different model of success. If you buy into the world’s model of greatness, the world will come crashing down around your ears because it cannot support reality. Only the greatness of the kingdom gives joy and happiness and lasting satisfaction. Everything else is a fable, a fantasy, a fiction, a falsehood. May we seek the greatness of the kingdom together and may we help one another seek that greatness above everything else.