Table of Contents
Watch & Listen
In Matthew 18:1-14, the disciples were in the midst of a discussion that was not fit for the kingdom of heaven. In the opening verse of this chapter, you will see that the disciples came to Jesus and they asked Him, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Now, to me, it is really odd that the disciples asked Jesus this question; it is the kind of question that makes you wonder what exactly was on their mind? To me, thinking about greatness in such a manner speaks to an ambition that is worldly rather than heavenly.
So, in this passage of scripture, Jesus set forth to teach the disciples a very important lesson in His answer. In Matthew 18:2, Jesus called forth to Him a little child and set the child in the midst of them. In my key verse, Jesus said to the disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).” Jesus then said in the very next verse, “whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:4).”
Lost Searching for Greatness
Could you imagine the disciple’s faces when Jesus brought a child to stand with them and said that the child represents those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven? You see, the disciples, like many today, struggled with keeping their worldly ambitions in check. For example, in Matthew 20:20-22, both James and John had the desire to be at the right and left hand of Jesus in the heavenly kingdom. This, again, speaks of the worldly ambition that many have today — the ambition of power and to be great.
The disciples failed to realize that such ambition was hindering them from understanding what Jesus taught repeatedly. For example, in Mark 10 (Matt. 19), after Jesus had finished counseling the rich young ruler who was also hindered by his worldly ambitions, Jesus said to the disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! … It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23, 25).”
When Jesus said that, the disciples looked at Jesus astonished and they asked Him, “Who then can be saved (Mark 10:26)?” They asked this question as if the rich young ruler should have easily been saved because he had riches. Their thoughts were this: If a man of the stature of the rich young ruler who had very much could not be saved, then who could? These were poor men who desired to get to heaven and not be viewed as they were in the world, so they wanted to be the greatest in heaven.
Do you see how easily we are fooled by worldly ambition? Paul wrote, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).” Jesus brought forth a child to stand with them to show them true greatness; children are special in that they are not hindered by worldly ambition.
The disciples were hindered by that ambition, and Jesus was training them out of that ambition. For example, in Mark 10:13 (Matt. 19:13), at an occasion just prior to Jesus counseling the rich young ruler, people were trying to bring their children to Jesus so that He could pray and bless their children.
Now, as good as this sounds, the disciples were doing their best to prevent the people from bringing their children to Jesus. Specifically, in Mark’s gospel, it is recorded that Jesus was greatly displeased with the actions of the disciples. Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14).”
The Desire of God
So, because children are so special to God, is the thought presented that we must revert back to acting childish, like little children in order to be great?
To answer this thought, I want to call to your remembrance, Nicodemus. Jesus taught Nicodemus that in order for one to inherit the kingdom of heaven, they must be born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus, confused by the statement, asked Jesus if that meant a man needed to enter a second time into his mother’s womb and literally be born in the flesh a second time (John 3:4).
Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is the key: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).” Jesus taught Nicodemus that one must be born again spiritually in order to inherit heaven.
When one is born again through the spirit, they become like little children once again; it is essentially a second chance at life – a time to improve and grow. Greatness is taking advantage of the second chance you get and getting things right. You give me a second chance at anything, and I feel really good about my chances of getting things right.
The Lord does not desire for any of us to be hindered by a mindset that will not allow us to be great – God desires for us to be great! In order to be great, God desires for us to move with the spirit of a child in the newness of the spiritual life we have been born into.
God has given us a second chance through the rebuke of His only begotten Son! We have another opportunity to actually be great, not in the world, but in the Spirit! All that you and I have to do is look at the child that He has set before us and follow in His example! To be clear, the child we are to look at is the one whose birth we celebrate this season – Jesus Christ!
To have the spirit of a child
So, what is the spirit of a child, you may wonder? Well, weren’t you a child before? What were you like as a child? You see, the truly remarkable thing about children is their innocence of the world; they don’t know bitterness, hatred, wrath, nor selfish greedy ambitions. No, children are filled with a spirit of wonder, curiosity, love, joy, humility, imagination and hope.
When I was little, the world seemed so much bigger to me as I had absolutely no understanding of it. Like every other child, I had a billion questions for mom and dad because I wanted to learn and know what was going on. I believed that I could do and be anything as I had a great imagination and big dreams. My brother can tell you how I used to make a living world out of our toys as they could turn into baseball players, football players, and even wrestlers!
To me, that imagination and hope, and the lack of being hindered by the world is the most beautiful thing about the spirit of a child. Children truly do believe that anything is possible! They can go to a playground and play together, boys and girls, no matter the race, with one common goal in mind: to simply have fun and be happy. We were all like that once, weren’t we? I know that I was!
What happened to us? The world started to influence us and teach us; we realized that there were things that we could not do until we got bigger. I can still remember my dad telling me to enjoy my childhood and not to grow up too fast.
Sadly, we grew up, didn’t we? Gone are those days when we weren’t afraid nor ashamed to ask questions; they have been replaced with pride, ego, and stubbornness which leads to no growth and to the mindset of a fool. Gone are the days of dreams, imagination, and hope; they have been placed by “reality” and accepting things “the way they are”.
Truly, the saddest part about having grown up is the ripping away of the spirit of dreams, imagination, love, joy, and hope. All that is left is a sad, depressing, and miserable reality where many live with the desire to be great — above others. Consider what is applauded as making someone great: is it not if someone has more than the next person?
This is the notion that turns the heart into a lustful and covetous heart that can become apathetic and bitter. God does not desire for anyone to live with such ambition! This is why God commanded Israel in the Ten Commandments not to covet. In Luke 12:15, to a crowd gathered to Him, Jesus taught, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Jesus said to the crowd that it is better to be rich toward God than lay up treasure for yourself (Luke 12:21).
Cast away your hindrances
Do you desire to be great today? If not, God certainly desires for you to be great and He has shown us the way to be great. So, how do we become great? Follow the child’s example.
If you notice in Matthew 18:2-3, when Jesus called on the child to come to Him, the child simply went to Him without objection or question. How many of us would move towards Jesus in the same manner? Well, Jesus has called on us to come to Him!
Sadly, many of us are objecting, questioning, and hesitating to move towards Him — we are hindered by our ambitions. So many of us block ourselves off from receiving the blessings from Christ and truly being great. What is blocking us? We aren’t satisfied with Jesus’ offer because Jesus’ riches are not of worldly ambition, but rather His is an offer of peace, future, hope, and salvation (Jer. 29:11).
Many of us give up on hope and salvation because we can’t see that hope and salvation; many have to see hope and salvation in order for us to desire it. In Romans 8:24, Paul wondered, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?”
As we know, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). To attain true greatness, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that one must walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). This is a statement that is very similar to Jesus’ statement in John 4:23 where Jesus stated, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
Jesus then said in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The Father is seeking true worshipers in order to bless them with the greatness of His kingdom; He desires who are truly great in His eyes. Who is it that is greatest in the heavenly kingdom? Jesus said to the disciples, “whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt.18:4).”
If your desire is truly the greatness that God desires for us, then Jesus taught us that if our hand or foot hinders us in this desire, then we should cut them off and cast them from us (Matt. 18:8). If our desire is truly what God desires for us, Jesus said that if our eyes hinder us, we should pluck them out and cast them away from us (Matt. 18:9).
To be clear, Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense and not telling us to literally mutilate ourselves. As born again believers, you and I should cast away any attachments that will hinder us from moving with the spirit of a child.
The Lord, I want you to understand, desires for those that will inherit His kingdom to have a spirit of wonder, curiosity, imagination, love, joy, humility and hope! The “realist” that is driven by worldly ambition will have no part of God’s kingdom because they are of the flesh and the flesh will not inherit heaven.
Let Us Be Great
Again, in Matthew 18:1, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ answer: the child of God.
This is a season for which we celebrate the birth of the only begotten Son of God. Do you know that with the celebration of His birth, there is even more that we should celebrate? Maybe you do. However, for those that don’t understand my meaning by this, I want you to understand that through the birth of Christ we have another birthday to celebrate: our spiritual rebirth.
All of those who are of sincere faith have been born again into a new life and we start out in this new life as little children. In this new life, you should have a hunger that is not of worldly ambition about, but a hunger that is heaven focused. The question that we must answer is whether or not we have the humility, willingness, and openness as a child to learn from the Spirit or will we let ourselves be hindered?
Do you realize that through the birth of Christ, we have become heirs to the kingdom of heaven? John wrote in John 1:12, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
In Romans 8:15-17, Paul wrote, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” You have been given the right to be great!
I urge you to celebrate not just the birth of Christ but to celebrate what His birth has given to us in our spiritual rebirth. We celebrate our birth by moving as that unhindered child that approached Christ. We can celebrate with a heaven focused mindset where we let go of ego, selfishness, and stubbornness and live with a spirit of joy and compassion where we share, care, and help uplift others to be joyful.
Jesus, once again, said in my key verse, “Whoever [lives in the spirit of a child] is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” If you notice the tense that Jesus spoke with in that verse, Jesus was not speaking of a future greatness but a present greatness that can be attained now. I don’t know about you, but I much rather move with a spirit of joy and attain the greatness that God offers rather than be miserably great with all the riches of the world.