The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-14
A question of rank: V. 1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? In the same hour in which the striking miracle with the Temple-tax had taken place. Only a small interval of time had elapsed since their return into the house. And on the way they had quarreled among themselves as to rank and degree in their own circle. Thus early was the devil of pride raising his ugly head in their midst. Although their discussion had been carried on secretly, Jesus knew of the quarrel and questioned them about it, Mark 9:33. They state their supposed difficulty in the form of a query: Who, then, who, in your opinion, ought to be considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus had repeatedly tried to show them that His kingdom, strictly speaking, is not a visible, physical, temporal kingdom, but consists of His reigning in the hearts of His believers. But that idea was still too difficult for them to grasp. They want plain, concrete evidence.
The demonstration: V. 2. And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, v. 3. and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. V. 4. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. V. 5. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.
Christ determined to make His answer very plain, His demonstration very palpable. Calling to Him a little child, perhaps one of the household. He took him in His arms and embraced him, Mark 9:36, reassured him by these signs of loving regard, and then let him stand in the very midst of the disciples.
The little child furnishes the subject for a very impressive lesson with a very solemn introduction. Most emphatically He declares that they must be converted, turn around and head in the opposite direction. They had indeed accepted and confessed Jesus, but the thoughts which they just now voiced showed that they were still far from possessing that condition of mind and heart which is indispensable in a servant of Christ. Their faith could never last at that rate.
As children they must become, in simplicity of faith, in unqualified acceptance of Bible-truths, in trusting humility. In the proper relation of a child toward his parents, all self-consciousness, all forwardness, all arrogance is absent. Instead, there is a simple, unswerving belief in the truthfulness, in the ability, and in the care of the parents.
This same condition of mind and heart is necessary in disciples of Christ if they wish to enter into the kingdom of heaven. There must be no considering of honor and glory before men, no false ambition, no scheming for power, all this being contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ.
Do not think, as Luther says, about becoming great, but about becoming small. The elevation will come in due time, if you but practice humiliation first. To become humble as a little child, that is true greatness in the kingdom of heaven, not only to feign humility by symbolic acts and dresses, whose very unusualness makes them doubly conspicuous, for the latter may be the very essence of pride.
As though He would say: I see that your carnal mind is not affected by mere words; therefore I present this child to you, in order that ye may afterward and always think of it. Behold, here is a child! Now tell Me whether it is prepared for a worldly or temporal kingdom, of which you undoubtedly dream. That would be a poor kingdom, yea, none at all, which would be ruled by this child. But now, as much as this child is prepared to rule a worldly kingdom, so foolish it is to think that My kingdom is of this world. For the kingdom which I begin is of such a nature that all worldly-wise understand much less of it than this child may understand of a worldly kingdom. Therefore the idea and the thought of a worldly kingdom must be laid aside entirely if ye want to speak of My kingdom. For My kingdom will be of such nature that ye must become children in it, that permit themselves to be ruled, but do not rule in their own person, just as this child in the worldly kingdom does not rule, but is ruled.
Jesus now turns the argument slightly, in order to emphasize the importance of properly appreciating the souls of children. Whosoever, every one that accepts, receives like a true father, with all the evidences of such regard, even a single little child of this kind in the name and for the sake of Jesus, receives the Lord Himself, in and with the child. Every one that, for love of Christ, shows such Christ-like kindness to poor, forsaken children, has the promise that he, in doing so, receives Christ Himself, and with Christ His Father in heaven, Mark 9:37.