Intro: Sometime in the sixties there was a heavyweight boxer by the name of Casius Clay who was the champion in his class for a period of time. He was good and claimed himself to be the greatest. Later on he changed his name to Mohammed Ali. He may have been the greatest in his eyes for a time but where is he now? Sad to say he has Parkinson’s disease. There was also a singing group known as the Beatles from England who became very popular worldwide even until now. One of the members boastfully claimed that they are more popular than Jesus Christ. John Lennon was murdered in New York. I’m sure we can all name some people who worked very hard in their fields to become great at different times. But if one ends up in hell what good was that?
Some two thousand years ago, there was a group of followers of Jesus Christ who probably were aspiring also to be great and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” That may be a legitimate question and a goal to achieve so here’s how Jesus answered their question?
Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:1-4
Now, there were two brothers among the twelve disciples of Jesus by the name of James and John who came to Jesus and ask Him this request.
“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.” Mark 10:37-41
Anyone of us can be ambitious and aim to be great for God but the question is does this please the Lord if we are motivated because of this ambition? So now, let us examine what our text say.
Jesus answered their question of who is the greatest by using a child as an illustration to answer their question. Notice that He starts his answer with “I tell you the truth?” He means you better listen because this is the standard and anything other than this is a lie. He did not answer their question directly but stated this fact. “Unless you change.” The change Jesus is referring to here is to turn or repent and then “become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Also notice that he did not address the question but stated a more important issue, that of entering heaven. Many people today are doing the best they can to be good, work for God even serving the Lord believing and hoping that this allows them to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus implied, are you sure you have entered the kingdom of heaven? Entering is the most crucial issue because what good is serving in the kingdom if one has not entered in. Jesus states the first requirement to enter the kingdom, “change, turn or repent.”
In fact this was Jesus’ first message in proclaiming the good news of God.
“The time has come,” he said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
Repentance is the first requisite before one can enter the kingdom. But what is to be repented of and changed? Every person born into this world is born to parents who have different religious background. One can be born to parents who are Muslims, Buddhist, Roman Catholics and even born again Christians. One of the workers in a Subway near our house is from India and brought up as a Hindu. So most likely whatever one has been exposed to is influenced by the religious beliefs of their parents about God and the way to heaven. As there are many religions in the world they all have their way how to enter heaven and what they believe about God.
Jesus made it very clear how one can enter the kingdom of God. One must first repent. But before you can repent one has to know first what sin is. I believe every person cannot deny that he has sinned. However, some can think that they are not as bad a sinner as some are and hope that they have a better chance of going of heaven. Here’s Jesus’ answer to this,
“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:3
They only way we can know sin is by knowing the Ten Commandments. Yet repentance is not only for sin. A change is also a change of mind in what one believes will get him to heaven. Who are we following? Is it religion that teaches other than what Jesus said is the only way to get there found in the Bible? Most Christian religions believe in Jesus but also added requirements not found in the Bible. The Mormons have added another book and also traditions by the Roman Catholic Church as equal together with the Bible. So here’s what Jesus said is the only way.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
The way is Jesus plus nothing. He holds the truth and He is the only one who can give eternal life. No religion can do that. There is no other way and there is no other name by which one can be saved but Jesus Christ. This is the most important decision one must make before he can enter the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is a change of mind in what one believes is the way to heaven. One cannot have both and cling to what one has trusted in together with Jesus. This is the change that must come first.
Then “Become like little children.” He is not literally referring here as to a child like Bree. What he means is to have a childlike faith. A faith that trusts in a person because he believes and have taken the step to embrace what that person says who He is and what He can do. That person is Jesus Christ.
When my first son John was still a child we used to play in our bed. I would toss him in the air and catch him and he loves the thrill of flying in the air. Then I would move out of the bed and tell him to jump to me and I will catch him. Do you think he would doubt that I am able to catch him? No. That’s a childlike faith. Why does he trust me? Because I am his father, believes in me and knows me. What hinders a lot of people is when they have all the education and has become wise in their own eyes that they make their own gods that suits their lifestyle. But what really keeps many from coming to Christ is to give up the sins that they love. They also find it hard to believe that heaven is free. We all have been brought up in our society that nothing is free. Everything has a price to pay. But the greatest and most important of all in life is to be saved from going to hell and salvation from that is free. Why because that is the only way God will save sinners. This is from God and not made up by man. All of humankind are already guilty of sin and cannot save himself, that’s why God provided a way for us to escape His judgment for our sins.
“The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:23
Because God is just, every sinner will receive the wages for his sin, death of his physical body and eternal separation from God. This is bad news that one has to believe first otherwise there will be no good news. After believing this bad news, only then can you believe the good news. A child can believe this even without theological training and knowledge. A child who is sick and does not feel good will welcome the medicine the father or mother gives. This is the physical and similarly in the spiritual. There must be a conviction of sin to see the need to be forgiven by a gracious and loving God. But one must come to Him on His terms. Repentance and believe the good news.
Another reason people will not come to Christ is because they do not want to lose their independence. They want to do what they want to do. In effect they make themselves their lord. Submission to another is hard to accept and to be dependent is weakness. Children growing up here in the USA are encouraged by most parents to be independent at an early age so they can be relieved of their responsibility to provide for them. Children also cannot wait to reach the age of 18 so they can become independent, live on their own and free to do what they want. They want freedom from the watchful eyes of their parents. But is this good? Children who have not been taught how to live in the way of the Lord and to fear the Lord will use their freedom to live as the world lives in the pleasures of sin. Christian parents should realize that God has entrusted to them a precious child for them to teach in the way of the Lord. They cannot pass on their salvation neither can children inherit the salvation of their parents. They will have to decide that for themselves. But children who have been instructed about the God of the Bible, to fear the Lord and by the godly example of their parents have better chances of coming to Christ when they reach the age of reason and understanding. Recently we have had children ages seven, eight and ten convicted of their sins and saw their need to be saved from what they have learned from the Bible through their parents and grandparent and in our Sunday school, came to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Drawn by the Holy Spirit to Jesus they came forward and confess with their mouths Jesus as Lord and prayed to invite Jesus into their hearts. This is the illustration Jesus used, that unless we become like little children with childlike faith one can never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Since eternal life is a gift of God, one can only have that gift by receiving what the gift represents, the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the gift of God to humankind out of His loving kindness. Jesus proclaimed this truth.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
And what does believing in Jesus mean? Believe what He says. Here is the good news as revealed to us by Christ through the apostle Paul.
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Cor. 15:3-4
Christ died for us because of God’s love for you and me.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8
So it is very clear that God love sinners and the death of Christ is for sinners. Those who think that they are good enough to go to heaven and some others do not even admit that they are sinners have disqualified themselves. Recently, Sienna is re-opening this casino. I learned that there were 7,000 who applied for 300 positions. Management will sift through the applicants who have the best qualification for the job, but not so for the kingdom of heaven. The only qualification to go to heaven is this truth.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of which I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” 1 Tim. 1:15-16
Can you imagine Paul, a very religious man, a Pharisee, who kept the law of God and yet he did not believe in Jesus out of ignorance. But when God by his mercy sent Jesus Christ, then Paul believed, turned away from following his religious belief in Judaism and received Jesus as his Lord. He then considers himself the worst of sinners saved only by the grace of God.
The conclusion now of the matter is this “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Those who have already received Jesus as Lord came to Him in humility. This is how God the Father exalted His Son after he accomplished the way of salvation through the cross and gave Him authority to save.
“Therefore God exalted him to highest place and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil.2:9-11
The opposite of humility is pride. Pride deprives and keeps a person from the greatest possession one can ever have, eternal life. But to the one who acknowledges his sins and bow down his heart and knees in submission to Jesus as his or her Lord will have a place in heaven even while still alive here on earth. But those who refuses and rejects Jesus Christ as Lord he or she will bow down to Christ under the earth and that is in hell because Jesus is Lord of both heaven and of hell. He is the one who judges because all authority has been given to Him.
You may be here today and have not bowed down to Jesus Christ as your Lord in order to save you, come to Jesus. This is His invitation for you. Receive Him as your Lord, the gift of God who gives eternal life.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.” John1:12
Here is how you come to Jesus and be saved,
“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Rom. 10:9-10
So who is the greatest in heaven? The one who has humbled himself and given the right to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Come to Jesus…