The Greatest in the Kingdom
If you've ever been through a job search, you know that people use a bit of creativity when they put their resumes together. Here's what they say and what they mean:
I seek a job that will draw upon my strong communication & organizational skills: I talk too much and like to tell other people what to do.
I take pride in my work: I blame others for my mistakes.
I'm willing to relocate: As I leave Kingston Penitentiary, anywhere's better.
I am adaptable: I've changed jobs a lot.
I am on the go: I'm never at my desk.
I'm highly motivated to succeed: The minute I find a better job, I'm out of here.
Thank you for your time and consideration: Wait! Don't throw me away!
If God was taking resumes, what would you put on yours? In other words, what makes a good Christian? What would really impress them when you arrive in heaven? Experience, qualifications, references, character traits.
The reason I asked is because followers of Jesus Christ have sometimes asked these questions. Matthew 18:1: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'"
They didn't seem to care that Jesus had just told them that he was about to die. Imagine Peter: he'd walked on water, been on the mountaintop, even had his taxes paid through a miracle.
Their assumption: that greatness in the Kingdom comes from human endeavor and heroic accomplishments.
The way that Jesus responded tells us that greatness in the Kingdom doesn't come from any of that.
He called a little child, whom he placed among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)
Jesus wasn't saying that children were innocent. Anyone who has children know that children are anything but innocent.
This story took place at a time when only adult males really counted. While Israelites saw children as gifts from God, children weren't always viewed all that highly. They were valued primarily for the benefit they brought to the workforce. They had no rights or significance and were powerless in society. They were seen as only half-human until they entered puberty. In the Greek language, children were not referred to as masculine or feminine (he or she) but in the neuter – "it."
They were seen as the most insignificant, the most vulnerable, the weakest of human beings. They had no rights, powers, or privileges.
I imagine that Jesus brought a child over – not just a child but maybe a girl, who would be even less regarded in that society.
Here's what I think Jesus was telling us: Greatness in His Kingdom does not come from human accomplishments, but from receiving and sharing the grace of God.
It doesn't come from anything we accomplish – We analyze our performance, and think that we are greater in the Kingdom if we do certain things (quiet time) and avoid other things (sins). Greatness doesn't come from anything we accomplish. Jesus' words are a pronouncement of grace on those who are unworthy, and a pronouncement of condemnation on those who think they are worthy.
It comes from receiving the grace of God – Children have no status apart from love, no privilege apart from what they receive.
When we receive that grace, we also share it – "And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5). Many think that Jesus isn't talking about literal children here. He's talking about what happens when all of his followers become like children and enter the Kingdom through grace. They create environments of grace where people are present not because they measure up, but because they have come empty-handed and been filled with the abundant grace of God.
The weakest, most vulnerable, least significant human being you can think of is a signpost to what the kingdom is like. The church becomes the kind of place that welcomes people like this, because we're all like that.
Think about this in three areas:
1. Your relationship with God – you don't earn it
2. What he has called you to do – not about your own skills
Here is God's leadership model: he chooses fools to live foolishly in order to reveal the economy of heaven, which reverses and inverts the wisdom of this world. He calls us to brokenness, not performance; to relationships, not commotion; to grace, not success. It is no wonder that this kind of leadership is neither spoken of nor admired in our business schools or even our seminaries. (Dan Allender, Leading with a Limp)
3. As a church – an environment of grace
Without this, you don't even get in the Kingdom, never mind find greatness.
Our response today: To come as children, with nothing. Greatness in His Kingdom does not come from human accomplishments, but from receiving and sharing the grace of God.