toddler wide eyed


Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive.

There is something else we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.”


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Matthew #61. Matthew 18:1-14

Thanks for making use of Clear Bible. We’ll be talking this time about true greatness, and the willingness to give up whatever we need to in order to enter the life that Jesus offers us. Before we get into all that, however, I’d like to remind you that we deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive everything we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. Click on the “Donate” at the top of the page for more information about how to give. But if the Lord doesn’t want you to give financially to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances and the ministry as a whole.

Now, on to the main message.

This teaching of Jesus begins, as so many of his teaching do, with the disciples messing up. That’s a happy thought for me. I think when I mess up that I have, well, you know, messed things up. But Jesus sees the mistakes of his followers as opportunities to help them grow.

In this case, their way of messing up was to seek greatness for themselves. It is just possible that Matthew was slightly ashamed of this incident: he merely records that the disciples raised the issue with Jesus. Mark and Luke both record that in fact, the disciples were arguing about it while away from the presence Jesus, and Jesus, finding out, spoke with them.

It is also encouraging to see how gentle Jesus is with them in this particular instance. He brings a child into their midst, and says basically, “turn from your ambitions and become like this child.”

Now, like any of Jesus’ parables or analogies, he has just a few main points in mind. If you can remember your own childhood, or if you can remember being the parent of young children, you know that children come with their own sets of issues. They can be selfish, angry, easily upset, stubborn, rebellious and so on. But Jesus didn’t mean that his followers should become like children in every possible way. Other places in the New Testament tell Jesus-followers not to be like children – at least not in our thinking:

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. Ephesians 4:14 (HCSB)

I think probably Jesus had three or four characteristics of children in mind. First, I believe, is humility. A young child does not usually have ambitions to rule the world, or to be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Particularly in the presence of adults, a child knows his limitations and accepts them humbly. Jesus is telling these men who are jockeying for position in the kingdom of heaven: “Forget all that. Instead, be humble, like a child.” In fact, he mentions humility specifically in verse 4. Psalm 131 portrays this childlike humility:

1LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me.2Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.3Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever. (Ps 131:1-3, HCSB)

Another characteristic of children that Jesus might have had in mind is innocence. I don’t mean children don’t sin – obviously, they do. But they usually haven’t been exposed to the full depth of evil in the world. So Paul writes:

Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking. 1 Corinthians 14:20 (HCSB)

A third possibility that Jesus might have meant us to understand is that a child’s main job is to learn. A child has not mastered any subject, but humbly learns from others, and in fact, at least until we ruin it with school, most children are naturally inclined to learn. Peter puts it this way:

Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, 1 Peter 2:2 (HCSB)

So, the followers of Jesus should regard themselves as learners.

Finally, I think one thing Jesus definitely meant by “become like children” was to learn to trust. Children know how to trust – they have to. Unless a child has been very unfortunate, trusting is the one thing that very young children are better at than anyone else. They are dependent upon adults for their entire survival. I think this is precisely what Jesus means when he says, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive. Psalm 131(quoted above) connects childlike humility to trust.

There is something very important we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.” I don’t mean they look like bad Christians, but what Jesus does mean is that He judges greatness based upon entirely different criteria than the world.

I think this is very relevant. We live in a culture that is obsessed with celebrity. The world reveres people who have managed to become famous, no matter how they achieved it. A large number of famous people today, regardless of their notoriety, have achieved almost nothing worthwhile. Think about it: the people we most admire and talk about either play games for a living (athletes), or pretend to be other people for a living (actors). Their lasting contributions to the human race are almost worthless. It would be hard to argue that the world will be a better place one-hundred years from now because of Leonardo DiCaprio or Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Anniston.

It’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how backwards our culture’s view of greatness has become. Recently Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner won an award for courage. What did he to do to merit the award? Rather than face his own brokenness with the courage to pursue healing, instead of learning to accept himself how he was, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to physically change the body he was born with, all the while knowing that the media would be eager to praise him for it. That’s not courage. That’s not greatness – but we have called it such.

Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into society’s model for greatness. We don’t necessarily honor the same people as great, but we honor “Christian Celebrities” as great, and often they have done just as little or less than secular celebrities. We merely replace the Kardashians with the Robertsons (of Duck Dynasty fame). Or instead of admiring One Direction, we admire Hillsong (or, more probably, both). In fact, recently I saw an ad for a movie about the success and fame of the musicians at Hillsong. It looked like any other movie about a bunch of celebrities; these just happen to be Christian ones.

You know what I am talking about. You know that the Christian celebrity culture is alive and well. Chris Tomlin and Matt Redmond are celebrity worship leaders. Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are celebrity preachers. David Platt is a celebrity author. Christian culture in America thrives on this stuff, because “Christian culture” is not very different from secular culture in how it judges greatness.

But Jesus said, “this is not how greatness looks in the kingdom of heaven.” In heaven, greatness looks like a child: humble, willing to learn, not caught up in the entanglements of what the world has to offer, and above all, trusting the Lord for everything. I doubt we will know who the real celebrities in God’s kingdom are until we are resurrected in the new heavens and new earth. If we could somehow see it truly, I think we would be surprised at who the great ones are in our present generation. I doubt it is anyone we have heard about from our Christian Celebrity culture.

I am not judging the ministries of the people I have named. I am merely saying that even we Christians have lost sight of how Jesus defines true greatness.

After this, Jesus turns the conversation slightly. He was telling the disciples to be like children, and now he goes on to talk about “little ones.” I think Jesus is probably referring both to actual children, and also to those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven like a child.

First he warns against causing the downfall of one of the little ones. I have said before that all sins are equal in that no matter what sin we commit, it separates us from God. However, not all sins have the same earthly consequences. Jesus now says something that is as close as he ever gets to “There is a special place in hell for sinners like that.”

6 “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone4 were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!

It seems that when someone corrupts a child, or a naïve disciple, this makes Jesus especially angry. People are going to sin, but if you are the one who leads another person into sin, you have done something particularly contemptible. That sin – corrupting others, seducing them into sin – can be forgiven, of course. It isn’t the unforgiveable sin. If you think you have done this, repent now, quit corrupting others and trust that Jesus has forgiven and changed you. If not, you’d be better off swimming with the giant stone necklace than facing the wrath of Jesus.

Next, Jesus reiterates something he said earlier in his ministry, during the sermon on the mount:

8 If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!

I think there are two helpful thoughts here. First, sin is serious. Jesus isn’t messing around here. Sin is the cancer of the soul. If your foot has cancer in it, you have an operation to get the cancer removed. If you can’t remove the cancer without amputating, you amputate, because otherwise the cancer will spread, and your whole body will eventually die. When dealing with cancer, we understand, this is life or death. We do what is necessary to get rid of the cancer, including removing major body parts.

Jesus is telling us that sin is just as serious as cancer. If alcohol is causing you to sin, quit drinking. If watching certain TV shows or movies is getting your head into a bad place, quit watching. If friends are influencing you to sin, maybe you aren’t strong enough to keep those friendships at this time. I don’t mean you should never have non-Christian friends. But I do mean that if it becomes a choice between following Jesus faithfully, or having a certain person in your life, you would be better off to choose Jesus. Jesus is telling us that this is serious business. Do what it takes to keep on following him.

There is a second piece to what Jesus is saying here. He says: “It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.” The eternal fire is the serious, scary thing. But there is a serious, good thing too: Life. The promise is that we can indeed enter life. There is something good up ahead – a life waiting for us. This life now is temporary. What’s ahead is the real thing.

Would you give up a thousand dollars right now if you knew it would get you a million dollars when you retire? Of course. A temporary sacrifice is worth a long-term reward.

So, what if you’re never allowed to get drunk and party again in this temporary life – the life is coming that will be better than any party you’ve been to, and you can enjoy it fully without the aid of alcohol, and remember the whole thing clearly, too.

Is it worth giving up a few temporary pleasures (which don’t bring lasting fulfilment anyway) in order to enter eternal life? The answer should be obvious.

There’s an old song written by Rich Mullins, that wasn’t well known, called Heaven is waiting. Perhaps fittingly considering the message today, it is one of his least-known songs, and was only ever recorded once. I strongly encourage you to go listen to the song, and reflect on all these things as you do. Unfortunately the best recording I could find was here, and there is a little bit of distortion; even so, it’s a great song:

Heaven is Waiting (You Tube Music Video)


By Rich Mullins and Mitch McVicker

“I don’t need no woman to kiss me
And I don’t need no man to stand by my side
I don’t need to slake my thirst with whiskey
Don’t need to shuffle cards to pass the time
‘Cause the stars are bright and silvery
And with the dry ache of a lone coyote’s whine
My Savior’s calling and I’m listening
Time to saddle up my pony and ride
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
I ain’t looking for no seven golden cities
But I know there’s a fortune somewhere to find
There’s a peace that I hear whisperin’ through the
And a love that’s taller than the ponderosa pines
And heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
So don’t ask for no lengthy explanation
When there ain’t no reason quite wild enough
No words could be as tender
It’s greater than the fears that we imagine
More than the warmth that we remember
It’s always just beyond the pass
And I must go
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
Oh heaven is waiting
Oh heaven is waiting
Heaven is waiting”

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