WHO IS THE GREATEST? We have fun debating that question. Who is the greatest quarterback, John Elway or Tom Brady? Who is the greatest tennis player, Rod Laver or Roger Federer? Who was the greatest artist, Raphaël or Michelangelo; the greatest musician, Bach or Beethoven? The debates are endless.
Jesus’ disciples put the same question to him. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” They were probably thinking of greatest warrior, rabbi, philosopher, king, etc. But Jesus surprised them. He took a child and put him in front of his disciples. Then he gave this surprising answer.
“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”MATTHEW 18:1-4
Our Savior’s answer is utterly counter cultural, and the bigger question is this. Do we really believe him?
Jesus was not saying that children are inherently virtuous or innocent. He was saying that the childlike qualities of trust, teachableness, and a low opinion of self are the foundations for true greatness.
First, those who are great in God’s eyes, like children with their parents, trust their heavenly Father. They really believe him. They trust him. Their confidence in God produces great rest. They model Psalm 131—
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”PSALM 131:1-2
Second, those who are great in God’s eyes, like little children, are teachable. They aren’t know-it-alls. They are teachable because they feel their spiritual poverty. Even Christian Ph.D.’s feel their intellectual bankruptcy. So they cling to God and Christ desperate to learn more.
Third, those who are great in God’s eyes, like little children, feel their spiritual inadequacy. Children look up to adults because they know more and have greater life experience. Children cannot provide for themselves. They need adult supervision and material provision. So it is with those who are great in God’s eyes. This is why Jesus began the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
We live often live as if we don’t really believe this. We pursue fame, popularity, achievement, and wealth convinced deep down inside that these are really the marks of greatness. But how foolish. We are eternal creatures. This life is just the fragile tip of an eternal iceberg. After death, we will spend eternity seeing greatness through the eyes of Jesus.
Who will we admire in the world to come? Who will be truly great? Probably no one we would admire today. Maybe it will be the church janitor or the secretary. It is very unlikely that anyone on our list of truly greatest _______ will also be on Jesus’ list.
So let us decide today to re-orient our thinking. Pursue the childlike faith that Jesus pursued. Here is a window into how God sees true greatness—
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite”…“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”ISAIAH 57:15, 66:2