Text: Matthew 18:1-6, NLT
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” 2 Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. 3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 5 And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. 6 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Before we begin with Chapter 18, let’s briefly recap chapter 17 which begins with a glorious, awesome mountain top experience. The we have the frustration and failure of the disciples to cast out a demon. Then Jesus upbraids them for their lack of faith which was fostered by a lack of prayer. Then Jesus talks to His disciples for the second time about His death and everything gets quiet as the disciples are filled with grief. Then we have a story that seems out of place, Jesus and Peter paying their Temple tax. Note: I said, “It seems out of place.” Then chapter 18 begins with the disciples asking a foolish question, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” It is the wrong question. Reminds me of a time some ten years ago when a new member, trying to impress me I suppose, came to me and ask: “Do I tithe the net or the gross?” I said, “You are asking the wrong question.” His foolish question was a dead give-a-way that revealed an uncommitted heart. He attended our church for six years and it all that time, he gave $25. The disciples asked the wrong question. Their question revealed a deep problem with their attitude, their way of thinking and Jesus is on it like white on rice.
Note what Jesus said to them….unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You guys have put the cart before the horse. You don’t need to be concerned about greatness within the KINGDOM, you need to be concerned about getting into the KINGDOM. So, why don’t we talk about you getting in.” Jesus said to get in, you have to turn from your sins. The disciples were following Jesus in appearance but not in attitude. They were making every step He made but they were not thinking the way He was thinking. In attitude and thought, they were in fact, going in the opposite direction. Jesus said, “Boys, you are going the wrong way with this question and your thinking, you are going to have to turn and go in my direction if you want to get into the kingdom of heaven.“
I. FIRST OF ALL, THEIR QUESTION SUGGEST THEY WERE MOVING TOWARD PRIDE AND AWAY FROM HUMILITY–Jesus requires the opposite.
Pride is a subtle thing. It is the only malady that a man can have and everyone know it except himself. I see pride as a two faced coin-with a head and a tail. The head of pride is blatant arrogance, the opposite side [the tails] is self-pity but both are forms of pride and fully occupy your thinking with thoughts of yourself. The poor pitiful me syndrome that sells itself as humility is a subtle form of pride. Humility is not thinking little of yourself, it is not thinking about yourself at all. This question reveals that the disciples are preoccupied with thoughts about themselves.
Obviously, they knew that Jesus was the greatest but their concern was the pecking order under Jesus. Who was second to Jesus was their concern? So we have rivalry, jealously, strife which are all indications of pride. Warren Wiersbe says, “The selfishness and disunity of God’s people is a scandal to the Christian faith.” When we live primarily for ourselves and not for others, there is bound to be conflict and strife, so much so that even the unbelieving world picks up on it. Did not the pagan Pilate see envy in the religious Jews?
What are we to do about our selfishness and pride? I think the place to begin is to agree with God that it is a problem for all of us, some more than others and I would be a part of the some. As Isaiah said in chapter 53, “We, like sheep have all gone astray.” How so? “By turning to our own way.” By nature we are stubborn sheep, we are rebels who want to be celebrities rather than servants. Jesus served: the disciples wanted to be served–there is a huge difference. Would you agree with God today that you have a problem with pride and that you are constantly tempted to put yourself before others.
So, what if I acknowledge that I am proud, what can I do about it? Very little, but you can humble yourself at least to pray and confess your problem to God. Pride is as strong as the flesh itself and we are no match. When it comes to pride, we need a miracle of GRACE.
As most of you know, I was addicted big time to diet cokes, especially diet Dr. Pepper. I tried several times to get myself off and I went once for two weeks but then fell off the wagon. I never thought of myself as being addicted to coffee but three years ago I would drink two pots a day in the winter and 2-3 cups a day in the summer. I cannot lie, actually I can but I am not this instant, my morning coffee was one of the things that inspired by Quiet Time. I went to bed excited about getting up at 4:30 and starting on that pot of coffee. Over a year ago, coffee began to make me sick and I have to give it up. Listen, I kept trying to drink it but it created such discomfort that I finally gave up. Generally I drink one cup per week now and sometimes not an entire cup. I drink no cokes: Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Coke. I can drink a Mountain Dew now and then or a root beer. I still try to drink a diet Dr. Pepper on Sunday morning but seldom to I take more than a couple of swallows. Now I could tell you that by my discipline and strong will, I got myself off of diet drinks but that would be a lie. God in His infinite wisdom, mercy and grace gave me six ulcers in my stomach and I could not drink cokes without paying a price. I have drank a lot of water, milk and tea this last year. Unfortunately, I cannot get excited about water or milk but I am loving the tea. If you had ask my wife or one of my secretaries three years ago or even two: “Will Bro. Jack ever stop guzzling those diet Dr. Peppers? [12-15 per day], They would have said, “No way!” In many ways, pride is like an addiction, it is deeply rooted in our flesh. I know that pride is more than I can handle and I beg God’s mercy and help to overcome this vain monster that lives inside me.
II. SECONDLY, THEIR QUESTION REVEALS THAT THEY ARE NOT GIVING PREFERENCE TO OTHERS.
When Paul was teaching the Philippians about having the mind of Christ, this is a part of what he said… Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
I know some question Mother Teresa’s theology and I have not studied to subject enough to have an opinion but personally, I was impressed with this Catholic Nun. First of all, she laid down her life to serve others and under the worse conditions in the world…Calcutta, India where she ministered to the dying. I also admire her courage: she called Clinton out at a National Prayer Breakfast [Televised] for his position on abortion. You do not expect to find hypocrites ministering to the dying or taking a stand for the unborn. Princess Diana was being buried on the same day that Mother Teresa died. All the news was about the Princess, Mother Teresa’s promotion got almost no air time: in some cases none. The Princess was what this world calls a VIP and Mother Teresa was a Missionary. Our world defines a Missionary as “a crazy person who throws their life away.” Remember, our world thinks the opposite of Jesus.
With Jesus, there were no VIP’s. He treated Pilate like a person but He treated everyone like a person. He treated beggars like persons. He treated women like persons. He treated little children like persons. We live in a culture that is kinder to women and children. Jesus was kind to them in a world that looked on them with contempt. Jesus is telling His disciples, “Guys, you are going to have to change the way you see people…you are not seeing them the way I do…and He sat a child in their midst and then extolled the virtues of childhood that we often lose when we become adults.
Don’t look down on others, everyone including children can make a contribution. You are not better than they, you are not smarter. If you have the attitude that you know more, you will learn less. Children are great teachers. Jesus did not despise others: the Pharisees did but not Jesus. To think the way Jesus thinks, you have to turn from your prideful despising ways and give preference to others.
Many of you remember John Mark Stallings. John Mark was born with Downs Syndrome. One of the most moving speeches I’ve heard is Coach Stalling talking about John Mark. He said, “John Mark taught us by his example what it is like to love unconditionally. John Mark hugged everyone, he did not discriminate. He had no capacity for hate, jealously or contempt for others.” It is amazing, is it not, we refer to these children as being retarded. Jesus was tell us we have it backwards, they are light years in front of us when it comes to the proper attitude toward others.
III. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THE QUESTION REVEALS A DEEP ROOT OF PRIDE THAT BREEDS CONTEMPT FOR OTHERS
Robert Brown Parker was a novelist from Springfield, Massachusetts who wrote detective stories. He wrote nine novels about a Police Chief named Jesse Stone [played by Tom Selleck] Stone is fired from his police job as a homicide detective in L.A. and he finds employment in the fictitious town of Paradise, Massachusetts. The president of the town counsel, a man by the name of Hastings, is an organized crime lord and a big one. Even the crime lords in near by Boston answer to him. He masquerades as a dunce, wearing this goofy bow time which lights up. The kind of things my kid would die if they saw me wearing. Hasting is the ultimate con-artist because he looks like a dunce. He is the last person in town that you would identify with organized crime. Jesse Stone becomes his undoing. He not only figures Hasting out, he exposes him and puts him on the run. When my favorite character Luther “Suitcase” Simpson, asked Jesse why Hasting hired him. Jesse response is classic, “Because he thought he was smarter than I am and he gave me the appearance that I was much smarter than he.”
I want to ask you a question that we tell you where you are in your relationship with Jesus: do you think you are smarter than I am? What about your spouse? What about your children? What about your in-laws? Can you think of one person that you believe is more intelligent than you are? I don’t know what your answers where and it is not important that I know…you know and that is what matters. When we feel superior to others intellectually, socially or morally: it indicates a problem and we are definitely not thinking the ways Jesus thinks and we need to turn around and move toward His way of thinking.