“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm145:3).
We are the only creatures in all God’s creation that can choose to worship God. To that end, God has made us with a yearning to find true greatness. Because of our fallen nature, that yearning has been twisted back on itself so that we have a natural bent toward seeking counterfeit greatness. Counterfeit greatness is self-exultant:
(13) For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
(14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Sometimes instead of the direct approach, we’ll seek counterfeit greatness vicariously by worshipping celebrities or other figures we think have achieved true greatness. Whatever way we do it, our natural bent is to look for substitute greatness, greatness that excludes God. Or we do something even more insidious: We try to use God for self-exultant purposes.
The disciples struggled with that more insidious form of counterfeit greatness – as do many modern-day disciples. Debating about who amongst them would be greatest in the kingdom of God was a common discussion. The reason it was a struggle is because they tried applying the world’s understanding of greatness to what greatness is in the kingdom of God. This “great debate” came to a head in Matthew 18:
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (Matthew 18:1)
This question came after the Lord spoke to Peter about the paying temple tax. That conversation probably got them to thinking about the tribute paid to Rome, and that likely led them to thinking about when the kingdom of Israel would be restored. Though their question was couched in more general terms: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It was probably much more personal in its intent: “Who among us would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus’ answer probably took them all by surprise.
(2) “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
(3) “And said, ‘Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’”
“Except ye be converted, and become as little children….” That statement turned the disciples’ thinking completely upside down. Jesus called a child to Himself, not one of His disciples? Children don’t lead anything. They’re parented by adults and have their agendas handed to them. Yet Jesus called a child to Himself and held that child up as the example of who would be greatest in His kingdom, not because of his status in society, but because of his child-like faith. If you have ever raised children, you know how that when they are little, you are their world. You’re the hero in every story. You’re the one who can fix or solve anything. Then they turn 12 and you’re not cool anymore. They don’t even want to be seen in public with you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the child Jesus called to Himself hadn’t even reached double digits yet. His point is that the greatest in His kingdom would have unquestioning, child-like faith in God and would serve in any capacity God called him to. Jesus understood that this went against the grain of His adult disciples because He said, “except ye be converted.” He knew that for His disciples (then and now) they would have to completely change their thinking and see God with the eyes of child-like faith if they were ever going to find anything but counterfeit greatness.