Matthew 18: 1-9
Intro: Have you ever asked a question that revealed how little you know about a subject?
A famous scientist traveled around lecturing at universities. One day his driver said “I've heard your lecture so many times I could give it myself.”
“Let me hear you,” said the scientist and as they droveto the next college the driver repeated the lecture. It was so good the scientist made him deliver the talk. All went well. The scientist sat in the back row. Then came the question time and the wheels fell off – well, not quite. After the first scientist in the audience asked a question the driver said: “I'm surprised at you professor – the answer to that question is so simple even my driver could answer it – in fact, why don't I let him.”
The question was then answered from the back row .... and there were no more questions after that!!
Today we have a very revealing question:
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?
It presupposes that there'll be ranks in heaven. It’s the question you ask when you secretly want to know your chances of being up there among the great ones.
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Imagine yourself asking Jesus that question. Jesus takes the question and then He uses comparative statements and illustrations to answer it. He takes the question and then sets it against a background of Personal Pride.
The Question is then set against Preventative Protection.
Next He sets the Question against Pursuing Purity.
Asking "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" will get you a strong answer – but it may not leave you feeling very satisfied that you've got an excellent chance of hobnobbing with heaven's great ones.
A. The Question set against Personal Pride
- This was a question put to Jesus by His disciples.
I wonder about the setting. Was it among families? Was it out in the streets? Please notice the illustration with the little child:
(2) He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.
No immediate answer to the question – but oh, I just KNOW this is going to be good!
Did Jesus talk with the child a while before he answered the question:
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?
We come now to the implication by the little child
(3) And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Never mind “who is the greatest” you might not even get in if your heart is puffed up with pride! Can you see how Jesus is setting the question against the background of the swelled chest and the self-important demeanor?
We come now to ......
The invitation to be like this little child.
(4) Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The answer to their question doesn't get much clearer than that – but the answer also shows that they have hardly understood a word He's been saying for almost 3 years. He's been talking to them for almost 1000 days about the Kingdom of Heaven and they are thinking of thrones and robes and trumpets to herald their arrival.
Jesus is talking about being willing to CHOOSE the lowly position. They are talking about ascending to the greatest spots.
Jesus is talking about willingness to take the low seats at the banquet and they are talking about elbowing the weak out of the way to get the best seats.
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? – not the proud... but now Jesus takes the answer even further:
B. The Question set against Preventative Protection
- Jesus now starts talking about The identification with a little child
(5) And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
It’s not just that the question revealed that they were self- focused, but when your ambitions get large you don't see others – especially what the world thinks are “insignificant others.”
What if your station in the Kingdom of Heaven were to be measured by what the least important people in this world thought of your character?
Oh, now we get into some difficult applications. Choose which one would matter most to you today:
EITHER - A high honor at a banquet in Trenton during which the Gov. of NJ gives you a scroll thanking you for your selfless service to the state
OR the half-smile of a beggar at the railway station that takes the subway sandwich you just bought him.
Hear this again: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? It’s not just that the question revealed that they were self- focused, but when your ambitions get large you don't see others – especially what the world thinks are “insignificant others.”
When you can't SEE them you can't help them. Jesus begins to talk about:
- The imperiling of a little child
(6) “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Be very careful when you are striving for fame and power. There's a price you have to pay for those two things ... but even more sadly, there's a price that others have to pay for your glitz and glamor.
You and I need to be careful that the effort to become great doesn't trample in the dust the hopes of those around us. Now that Jesus has set the question against the background that helps us see through the intent of such a question, consider this:
C. The Question set against Pursuing Purity
- Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Oh, what if the aim of this life isn't greatness? What if it's Personal Purity?
Imagine a world in which God wants everyone to help each other keep from Sin.
Imagine a world wherein your responsibility is to keep yourself from touching impure things, seeing impure things, saying impure things, thinking impure things, listening to impure things....
Get this: Purity is polluted by the unchildlike
(7) Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
Your life – a stepping stone or a stumbling block.
Which is it to be?
Your life – it can be a crutch people lean on or it can be a tripwire bringing disaster to some unsuspecting friend.
Your life – an aid to the purity of others or a poison to their inner being.
You get to choose.
You get to choose the effect you'll have on others in public by the things you allow for yourself in secret.
Choose to LOVE purity.
- Purity must be preferred above the instinct of self-preservation
(8) If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
(9) And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
There are eternal consequences for impurity. Those who are greatest in the kingdom will have understood that this life is about being made pure. Sin happens – but be also aware that there's a large price for victory over sin that was paid at the cross of Jesus and then there's a small price for victory over sin that is paid when you take up your cross.
Conclusion. In this world your concern isn't honors – it's purity. There'll be plenty of time for honor in the world to come. Get your attention where it needs to be.
I don't often quote Kenny Rogers but how about this line from the song The Gambler:
“You never count your money while you're sitting at the table – there'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.”
The question for this life isn't "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" but rather "How can I be the purest in the Kingdom of Heaven?"
And there's only one answer to that: The one who leans most on grace.
(13) Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. (14) Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such........ as........... these.”
In this world your concern isn't honors – it's purity. Can you affirm this song:
Holiness, holiness Is what I long for. Holiness is what I need. Holiness is what You want from me.
What will it take? Surrender. Surrender of heart, mind, soul and strength.
But there's a verse – PURITY. What does that mean for you this morning?