Read Matt 18:1-6.
If you read this chapter, you will notice one phrase that is repeated over and over. It’s the phrase, “little child” or “little children” or “little ones.” Jesus is making a point so he doesn’t say merely “child,” but he says “little” child.
v2 – He called a little child and had him stand among them.
v3 – I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
v5 – And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
v6 – 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.
v10 – See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
v14 – In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
The title of today’s sermon is “True Greatness: Relearning How to Be a Child of God.” I want to wrestle with 2 issues.
The first issue is found in v3-4–
3 …unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
We all want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Who can enter, who qualifies? Those who change and become like little children. What does it mean to change and become like little children? That’s the first issue I want to wrestle with.
The second issue is found in v5 – whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. What does it mean to welcome a child in Jesus name?
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
Verse 4 speaks to our identity and verse 5 speaks to how we view others.
Let’s tackle issue #1 first. Identity. What does it mean to change and become like little children? There is a difference between being childish and being childlike. Being childish is being immature and self-centered and not noticing people around you. And not making eye contact when someone says hi to you. Or not saying thank you when someone gives you something. We are to put childish ways behind us. We need to grow up and mature in that sense. But I think while we are growing up and being less childish, sadly, we also lose the ability to be child-like, to be like children before our Heavenly Father.
I have 3 boys and there are certain qualities they possess that I lack. There is a certain innocence, a certain playfulness with no regard for time and tasks, a sense of awe and wonder and they desire to be near mommy and daddy. We lose these things as we get older. Jesus points to a little child and says, you need to be like this child if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven. It must have been so shocking for all the adults crowded around Jesus to hear this. You have to be a child? I could imagine some murmurings–what kind of nonsense is this?
Children, what do they know? They are not educated. Many under the age of 5 still don’t know their alphabet. Or they might know their alphabet but they write some of the letters backwards. They can’t read. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t do this. They can’t do that. Therefore, we can dismiss them. Get them out of the way so that real work can get done.
You see this attitude in Matt 19:13-15.
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
The disciples didn’t get what Jesus was saying in chapter 18 and so in chapter 19, the disciples are rebuking the adults who brought the little children to Jesus because little kids are loud and they would disrupt whatever important work the adults were doing. And Jesus says, do not hinder them, let them come. Jesus clarifies that we have it all backwards. The kingdom of heaven belongs to little children. They have something to teach us.
As adults, we think kids need to be put in another room while we discuss real issues, and solve real spiritual problems. Adults, we think we are the wise ones. The educated ones. We are self-sufficient. We’re grown up. However, in the processing of growing up, what do we lose, what do we forget that children seem to know instinctively?
Children know how to ask for help. And adults, we have a really hard time asking for help, even help from our Father in heaven. Children don’t have our problem. v4–
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
A child is humble. He knows how to ask for help from mommy or daddy. A child recognizes, there are many things I don’t know. Mommy and Daddy are smarter than me. I can go to them. They will help me. A child doesn’t take themselves so seriously. A child doesn’t think, if I ask for help, I might appear weak or unintelligent. A child simply asks.
A child is not complicated in his thinking. A child is not concerned what others think about him or how he will be perceived if he asks for help. A child just asks. Help me! This child-like humility is what Jesus calls greatness. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? This child who is humble enough to ask for help from his Heavenly Father. Our kids–Timothy, Jeremiah, Sarah, Lizzy–you guys have the potential to be the greatest in this room, in fact, greatest in the kingdom of God. Did you know that? You can be greatest if you remain humble and continue to ask God for help in all things, big and small.
God loves it when we go to him for help. He loves it when we fall into his arms because we can’t handle life. God is thrilled when Christian leaders go to him because they can’t handle the ministry. Whether you had a good day or a bad day, God is so happy when we go to him like children.
Sometimes, if we are doing badly spiritually, you feel too ashamed to go to God. If you are struggling with a particular sin, you don’t want to go to God because you think he won’t accept you. Or, if you are doing well spiritually and serving others, we can be too busy to go to God. You don’t have to go to him all cleaned up and holy. You don’t have to go to him with a report of all the service you did for him. Just going to him as you are is enough.
Among my kids, mom is queen and I am like a servant boy who takes out the trash. If mom is going somewhere and I am staying home, all 3 kids want to go with mommy. If I am going somewhere and mom is home, suddenly, my kids would rather stay home. If someone is sick, who do they call for? Mommy. Elijah always asks mommy to sleep next to him as he is falling asleep. On nights when Jackie has to go out, like this past Thursday, Elijah asked me to sleep next to him. I am clearly option #2. But hey, as a father, I’ll take whatever scraps fall from the queen’s table. I was happy to lay down next to Elijah.
And as I was laying there, I thought, how God must be so pleased when we just want to spend time with him. No agenda. Coming to him, not because I need a list of sins to be forgiven. Coming to him, not because I have a bunch of requests to ask of him. There is a time for those kinds of prayers. But how happy God must be when I just want to lay down next to him and I have no agenda but to worship and thank him for who He is and enjoy His presence.
This is so hard for us. This is hard for me. Even when I am on vacation, it’s hard for me to relax because I think, I got a sermon coming up in a few days. It’s like a perpetual weekly final exam for the rest of my life. Please have some sympathy for your pastor. I used to enjoy just hanging out with friends for hours on end. Now, after an hour or two, I’m looking at my watch. We got to speed things up, wrap up because I got things to do. Maybe it’s just me.