The Greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 18:1-5)

If you've ever been through a job search, you know that people use a bit of creativity when they put their resumes together. Here's what they say and what they mean:

I seek a job that will draw upon my strong communication & organizational skills: I talk too much and like to tell other people what to do.

I take pride in my work: I blame others for my mistakes.

I'm willing to relocate: As I leave Kingston Penitentiary, anywhere's better.

I am adaptable: I've changed jobs a lot.

I am on the go: I'm never at my desk.

I'm highly motivated to succeed: The minute I find a better job, I'm out of here.

Thank you for your time and consideration: Wait! Don't throw me away!

If God was taking resumes, what would you put on yours? In other words, what makes a good Christian? What would really impress them when you arrive in heaven? Experience, qualifications, references, character traits.

The reason I asked is because followers of Jesus Christ have sometimes asked these questions. Matthew 18:1:"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'"

They didn't seem to care that Jesus had just told them that he was about to die. Imagine Peter: he'd walked on water, been on the mountaintop, even had his taxes paid through a miracle.

Their assumption: that greatness in the Kingdom comes from human endeavor and heroic accomplishments.

The way that Jesus responded tells us that greatness in the Kingdom doesn't come from any of that.

He called a little child, whom he placed among them. And he said:"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place - becoming like this child - is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)

Jesus wasn't saying that children were innocent. Anyone who has children know that children are anything but innocent.

This story took place at a time when only adult males really counted. While Israelites saw children as gifts from God, children weren't always viewed all that highly. They were valued primarily for the benefit they brought to the workforce. They had no rights or significance and were powerless in society. They were seen as only half-human until they entered puberty. In the Greek language, children were not referred to as masculine or feminine (he or she) but in the neuter -"it."

They were seen as the most insignificant, the most vulnerable, the weakest of human beings. They had no rights, powers, or privileges.

I imagine that Jesus brought a child over - not just a child but maybe a girl, who would be even less regarded in that society.

Here's what I think Jesus was telling us: Greatness in His Kingdom does not come from human accomplishments, but from receiving and sharing the grace of God.

It doesn't come from anything we accomplish - We analyze our performance, and think that we are greater in the Kingdom if we do certain things (quiet time) and avoid other things (sins). Greatness doesn't come from anything we accomplish. Jesus' words are a pronouncement of grace on those who are unworthy, and a pronouncement of condemnation on those who think they are worthy.

It comes from receiving the grace of God - Children have no status apart from love, no privilege apart from what they receive.

When we receive that grace, we also share it -"And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5). Many think that Jesus isn't talking about literal children here. He's talking about what happens when all of his followers become like children and enter the Kingdom through grace. They create environments of grace where people are present not because they measure up, but because they have come empty-handed and been filled with the abundant grace of God.

The weakest, most vulnerable, least significant human being you can think of is a signpost to what the kingdom is like. The church becomes the kind of place that welcomes people like this, because we're all like that.

Think about this in three areas:

1. Your relationship with God - you don't earn it

2. What he has called you to do - not about your own skills

Here is God's leadership model: he chooses fools to live foolishly in order to reveal the economy of heaven, which reverses and inverts the wisdom of this world. He calls us to brokenness, not performance; to relationships, not commotion; to grace, not success. It is no wonder that this kind of leadership is neither spoken of nor admired in our business schools or even our seminaries. (Dan Allender, Leading with a Limp)

3. As a church - an environment of grace

Without this, you don't even get in the Kingdom, never mind find greatness.

Our response today: To come as children, with nothing. Greatness in His Kingdom does not come from human accomplishments, but from receiving and sharing the grace of God.

The Kingdom is Tiny (Matthew 13:31-33)

Big Idea: It's not about the size of the Kingdom. It's about the presence of the Kingdom.

Purpose: To encourage listeners to focus on the presence, not size, of the Kingdom of God in their lives.

What do you think it would look like if the Kingdom of God showed up in your life?

About 15 years ago now, I started as pastor of a small church of around 40 people. That's 40 in actual numbers, not in pastorally reported numbers!

I believed that if the Kingdom showed up, things would get BIG. I believed that if God showed up and he was at work, the trend lines would all go up.

The implication: if numbers didn't go up, God isn't at work.

I don't know if you've ever faced that. I talked to someone recently who said,"Everything I get involved in goes south. I join a Board and the Board falls apart. I join a ministry and the ministry begins to suffer. What am I doing wrong?"

Most of us struggle with this tension: we feel small, we have small roles, we believe we have small talents, and we sometimes see small results - and yet we believe that if God shows up, the numbers will all go up as well.

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."

He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:31-33)

The Kingdom is like mustard seed - There are two things about mustard seeds. One is that they are small. When Jesus says the Kingdom is like mustard seed, he is saying that the Kingdom is small and insignificant and easy to miss.

Compare this with expectations that when God showed up, everything would change. They expected anything but that the Kingdom would be small when God shows up.

But here's the other thing about mustard seed: it may be small, but it grows (32). It's not the size of the mustard seed, it's the presence of the mustard seed.

The Kingdom is also like yeast. When Jesus said this, people would be shocked - yeast was not a good thing. A lump of leaven is only 2% of the weight of dough.

How is the Kingdom like yeast? It's pervasive. When it's present, it's transformative. It works its way through all the dough and changes everything.

Big idea: It's not about the size of the Kingdom. It's about the presence of the Kingdom. Where the Kingdom is present, it can be small - but it can change everything.

Most of us judge the Kingdom's presence in our lives by size:

  • Small roles
  • Small talents
  • Small results

Think of early church: some success in numbers, but overwhelmed, always moving to new areas where they were small.

What if the Kingdom of God was present in a small way in our lives? Would that be enough for us to believe that it will grow and transform everything around us?

Take our small roles and believe that if God reigns in our small role, that the Kingdom is growing and transformative.

Take our small talents, and believe that if God reigns in our small talents, God can take those talents and use them in ways we can't imagine.

Take our small results. Do we believe that if the Kingdom is showing up in even the most miniscule ways that God can use those results to grow into something in a big way.

Jesus helps us to see that it doesn't matter how small a role we have, how small our talents are, how small the results are. When the Kingdom is present, it is will grow. One day: its growth will be known to all (birds of air).

Imagine a group of people that didn't believe that it's about the size of the Kingdom, it is about the presence of the Kingdom. Imagine what would happen in a group of people who believed that if the Kingdom is present, even in a small way, that would change everything.