A trio of old veterans were bragging about the heroic exploits of their ancestors one afternoon down at the VFW hall. One declared proudly, “My great grandfather, at the age of 13, was a drummer boy at the Battle of Little Big Horn.” Another one boasted, “Mine went down with Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.” “I’m the only soldier in my family,” confessed the third vet, “but if my great grandfather was living today, he’d be the most famous man in the world.” His friends were more than curious, “Really? What’d he do?” “Well, he really didn’t do anything.” “Then why would he be so famous?” “Well…DUH…he’d be 165 years old!”
Tonight, we continue our current Sunday evening sermon series- The Journey to the Cross. We’re walking through Jesus’ adult ministry, stopping at some key places along the way to see how they lead, ultimately, to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter morning.
Week 1, we stopped along the Jordan River,watched Jesus get baptized and then talked about why. Week 2 saw us walking with Him along the Sea of Galilee as assembled His team. Week 3, we stopped in to find Jesus being challenged by the Canaanite woman. Last week, we climbed to the top of Mount Tabor for the Transfiguration. Tonight, we are a fly on the wall as the disciples argue over their place in Jesus’ ministry.
Matthew 18:1-9 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said:”I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin 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. And if your eye causes you to sin, 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.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan was talking about bragging rights. He said, “I think it’d be great if you had a kid that ended up being pope. That would be the ultimate bragging rights. ‘Oh, your son’s a doctor? Yeah, ours is pope. Oh, he has a house? Ours has his own city!’”
The disciples come to Jesus, They had heard Him talking about His kingdom and they wanted to be a part of it. In fact, they wanted to be an IMPORTANT part of His kingdom. I mean- they gave up a LOT to follow Him! They deserve it! The want to be first. Us humans are strange: we want the front of the bus, the back of the church and the center of attention! But great isn’t measured by attention, power or pride. Jesus, in true Jesus fashion, reimagines what it means to be “first”.
A young woman went to her pastor and said, “Pastor, there’s a sin I need your help with. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t help it. Can you help me with it?” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake!”
Peter- the Rock LONG before Dwayne Johnson came along- is the spokesman for the group. Surely he’s the greatest. But then there’s John who says that, even though Peter has a big mouth, John is Jesus’ favorite, because he’s the disciple Jesus loves. And Matthew takes the opportunity to point out the fact that he left a very lucrative position as tax-collector to follow Jesus. Andrew reminds them that he was the FIRST to follow Jesus. And Judas, the money handler, no doubt mentions his trustworthiness.
They can’t come to any agreement, so they turn to Jesus and wait for Him to settle the dispute. And Jesus sighs, shakes His head and starts to teach them that the direction you have to climb on the ladder to get to the kingdom isn’t up…but down. He says they have to be more…childlike.
A four-year-old granddaughter asked her grandma why she was wearing the brightly colored scarf she had on. “I thought it would make my blue suit look much prettier!” After a moment’s consideration, the little girl replied sympathetically, “It didn’t work, did it?”
A 7-year-old girl won $2 for her memory work in Sunday school. After the morning service, the pastor’s wife congratulated her. The little girl proudly announced, “And I put it all in the morning’s offering!””My, how wonderful!” the pastor’s wife exclaimed. “I’m sure God will be pleased.””Yes,” the girl replied. “Now maybe God will let me do some of the things I want to do!”
Kids can have great entertainment value, but here Jesus says that there’s much more to children than mere entertainment value. He says children are actually models of what it means to grow in the kingdom of God. Jesus makes it clear: the key to spiritual life and growth is a childlike faith.
Author Robert Fulghum said, “Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom wasn’t at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
The disciples wanted greatest to mean “most important”, but Jesus told them it meant “being more grown up by being more childlike”. What does that mean? To the Jewish people, a child wasn’t despised- they were loved. But although they were loved, they were also the most powerless members of society. It was only as they grew, in both age and stature, that they were able to be heard and given rights as members of the community. As kids, they had no power or privileges.
The truth is that children model trust and dependence WAY better than us “evolved” adults do. Jesus says that greatness is measured by humbleness.
We struggle with who is the greatest. Muhammad Ali once said, “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” He also said. “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.” Then there’s, “My only fault is that I don’t realize how great I really am.” And of course there’s the ubiquitous and eponymous, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” Muhammad Ali also said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
4-year old Hannah began to ask her parents to leave her alone with their new baby. But they were worried that she might be too rough with him, so they said no. Over time, though, she showed no signs of jealousy, so they changed their minds and let Hannah have her private time with the baby. She happily ran into the baby’s room and shut the door. Unable to stand it, her parents crept up and opened the door just a crack so that they could listen in. They watched as little Hannah walked quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and said, “Jacob, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.”
Do you ever feel that you’ve “outgrown” God? If there are days when the answer is, “Yes”, let me assure you that’s it’s not too late to turn back to the One Who created you with a renewed, child-like faith. Jesus says that to enter the kingdom of God, we need to receive it with faith like a little child. Jesus reminds us what God is like and what WE need to be like if we want to know Him. God wants to be your Heavenly Father, but the only key that unlocks that door is found in being like a child- turning away from sin…and turning away from self…and turning toward Jesus. Trust Him, and Him alone, to save you. And He promises that if you do that, He’ll adopt you into His family, and make you a brand new person with a new destination- Heaven!