Matthew 18:1-4. Humble Yourself in Childlikeness, Servanthood, and Brokenhearted Boldness
Everton Community Church. Sunday December 9th 2007
One of the greatest joys of the Christmas season is experiencing it with Children. Children have an awe and expectation that goes above any distraction. Many of us adults get bogged down in so many plans and engagements this time of year that it is often the children who remind us of the joy and wonder of Christ in Christmas. We saw it last week with the Bothwell family advent leading and with the kids club presentation during the Christmas dinner.
Scripture describes and identifies the people of God by many names. But more frequently than anything else we are called children-children of promise, children of the day, children of the light, beloved children, dear children, and children of God.
As believers we can rejoice in the wonderful truth that, through Christ, we have become God’s own children, adopted through grace. Consequently, we bear the image of God’s family and are joint heirs with Jesus Christ of everything God possesses. We enjoy God’s love, care, protection, power, and other resources in abundance for all eternity.
But there is another side to our being children, and in Scripture believers are also referred to as children in the sense that we are incomplete, weak, dependent, undeveloped, unskilled, vulnerable, and immature.
Matthew 18 focuses on those immature, unperfected, childlike qualities that believers demonstrate as they mutually develop into conformity to the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ.
This chapter is a single discourse or sermon by our Lord on the specific theme of the childlikeness of the believer, speaking directly to the reality that we are spiritual children with all the weaknesses that childhood implies. It is also essential to see that the chapter teaches the church, as a group of spiritually unperfected children how to get along with each other.
There’s an old joke in regards to preaching on the topic of humility:
Joke: The Humble Minister
Did you hear about the minister who said he had a wonderful sermon on humility but was waiting for a large crowd before preaching it? (Galaxie Software. (2002; 2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press)
The key to Humility is 1) Childlikeness 2) Servanthood & 3) Brokenhearted Boldness
1) The key to Humility is Childlikeness: Matthew 18:1
The setting for the sermon is indicated by the phrase at that time, which refers to a period soon after Jesus told Peter to go to the Sea of Galilee and retrieve the corn from the fish’s mouth (17:27). While Peter was paying the tax with the coin or, more likely, just after he returned, the rest of the disciples came to Jesus, possibly at Peter’s house in Capernaum.
The two scenes are closely connected in time and in thought. On the same day the disciples received the lesson on being citizens of the world they were given a series of lessons on the issues related to being children of God.
The Lord’s teaching was prompted by the disciples themselves, who asked Him a very selfish question that betrayed their sinful ambitions. We learn from Mark and Luke that the question, Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? resulted from an argument the Twelve had been having among themselves “as to which of them might be the greatest” (Luke 9:46; cf. Mark 9:34). Although Jesus omnisciently knew what had happened, He asked, “What were you discussing on the way?” The disciples were so ashamed of their attitude and conversation that “they kept silent” (Mark 9:33-34).
Please turn to 1 Peter 5
Their embarrassed silence shows they knew that what they had been doing was inconsistent with what their Master had been teaching on humility. But the fact that they nevertheless were arguing about their relative ranks in the kingdom shows they were making little effort to apply what they had been taught. They were as proud, self-seeking, self-sufficient, and ambitious as ever. In light of what they had been discussing and the way they phrased the question to Jesus, it is obvious they expected Him to name one of them as the greatest.
1 Peter 5:5-6 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, (ESV)
- At year’s end we tend to undergo goal setting endeavors. If it is reasonable, rational and specific, it can be a fruitful exercise.
- The challenge we have being Christians is applying what we believe. We show what is truly important by how we act. We show what we value by the time we spend and the nature of our action.
- Year end can be a fruitful time to take serious stock of our lives and determine if the various thoughts and actions in our life are positively congruent to what we believe.
- When these two things are in harmony, we grow and show the true nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Illustration: Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
Today in the Word, January 3, 1997, p. 8
This is the failure of the Disciples. Just as they had heard but not really accepted what Jesus had been teaching about humility they also had heard but not really accepted what He had been teaching about the kingdom. They obviously still expected Jesus soon to set up an earthly kingdom, and each of them was hoping to have a high rank in that dominion. They were especially competitive about being number one.
Perhaps it was earlier that same day (see 17:22-23) that Jesus had told them (for the third time) about His impending suffering and death. Although they did not fully understand what He was saying to them (Mark 9:32), they should have sensed its gravity And even though they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant (v. 32b), it would seem they would have been discussing that issue rather than which of them was to be the greatest.
- For the kingdom of God there is a cross before a crown:
Please turn to Matthew 10
Remember the first message in this series:
Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (ESV)
- This is the essence of humility and the calling of the kingdom of Heaven.
- Let me put together everything we have heard last week
1) Humility begins with a sense of subordination to God in Jesus (Mt 10:24)
2) Humility does not feel a right to better treatment than Jesus got (Mt. 10:25)
3) It speaks truth as a service to Christ and as love to the adversary (Mt 10:27-28)
The Disciples were so caught up in their own desire for prestige, glory, and personal aggrandizement that they were impervious to much of what Jesus said-even about His suffering, death, and resurrection.
As Christ was contemplating His death, one author remarked on the story of the Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, before His death:
Quote: It’s the Lord!
When I saw Sadhu Sundar Singh in Europe, he had completed a tour around the world. People asked him, Doesn’t it do harm, your getting so much honor?”
The Sadhu’s answer was: “No. The donkey went into Jerusalem, and they put garments on the ground before him. He was not proud. He knew it was not done to honor him, but for Jesus, who was sitting on his back. When people honor me, I know it is not me, but the Lord, who does the job.” (Corrie Ten Boom, Each New Day)
- This is why this lesson is so valuable this time of year. We can assume so much about the nature of the Christmas message that we don’t really hear what Christ is saying to us.
- The danger is getting so wrapped up in personal pursuits and fail to hear and see what is before us.
The Disciples demonstrated no concept of humility, very little compassion, and certainly no willingness to take up their own crosses and follow Christ to death as they had been taught (Matt. 10:38-39; 16:24-26).
Several months after this lesson in Capernaum, their selfish ambition was still very much evident. Probably at her sons’ instigation, the mother of James and John asked Jesus, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matt. 20:20-21). The other disciples were indignant at the two brothers, but their indignation was not righteous but envious (v. 24).
It must have been especially painful to Jesus that, just as on the occasion recorded in chapter 18, this self-seeking request came immediately after He had predicted His suffering and death (20:19). There is no indication of sympathy, consolation, or grief concerning what their Lord was about to endure on their behalf and on the behalf of His elect. And on the night before He died, while He was eating the Last Supper with them, they were still arguing about their own greatness (Luke 22:24). Their insensitivity and selfishness is thus demonstrated as all the more sinful because it occurred at times when Jesus was speaking of His own suffering and death.
The rest of the disciples may have been jealous of Peter, knowing that he was the most intimate with Jesus and was always their chief spokesman. Peter was one of the three privileged to witness Jesus’ transfiguration, and only Peter had walked on the water or had his Temple tax miraculously provided. But it was also only Peter who had been told by Jesus, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23), and perhaps the other disciples thought the number one position was not yet finalized.
- In this time of year it is particularly challenging to consider others before ourselves.
Quotes: The Test of a Truly Great Man
It was John Riskin who said, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking his opinion. But really great men have a ... feeling that the greatness is not in them but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them.”
Andrew Murray said, “The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten because ... he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor. Therefore, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, longsuffering, and humility.”
M. R. De Haan used to say, “Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have.” (Galaxie Software. (2002; 2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.)
Like all of us, the disciples needed repeated lessons in humility, and here Jesus used a child as His illustration.
The key to Humility is 1) Childlikeness
In verse two: calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them
Paidion identifies a very young child, sometimes even an infant. This particular child was perhaps a toddler, just old enough to run to Jesus when He called him to Himself. Because the group was likely in Peter’s house, the child may have belonged to Peter’s family and already been well known to Jesus. In any case, the child readily responded and allowed himself to be taken up into Jesus’ arms (Mark 9:36). Jesus loved children and they loved Him, and as He sat before the disciples holding this small child in His arms, He had a beautiful setting in which to teach them profound lessons about the childlikeness of believers. In taking the child up into his arms, Jesus put Himself on the same level as the child and the other adults around him.
Illustration: Wrong Clothes
A young man who had been invited to a dinner given by the South African statesman John Cecil Rhodes arrived by train and had to go directly to Rhodes’s house in his travel-stained clothes. To the young guest’s horror, he found a room full of people in full evening dress. Soon Rhodes appeared, wearing an old suit. He had heard of the young man’s problem and wanted to spare him further embarrassment.
Rhodes literally clothed himself with humility. Clothing ourselves with humility toward others puts us on their level, in their shoes, and keeps us from lording it over other Christians or flaunting our position.
Today in the Word, February 19, 1997, p. 26
The essence of the first lesson is in verse three: and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
That is an absolute and far-reaching requirement of ultimate importance. Entrance into Christ’s kingdom demands childlikeness. There is no other way to receive the grace of salvation than as a child.
The kingdom of heaven, a phrase Matthew uses some 32 times, is synonymous with the kingdom of God. It had become common for Jews at the end of the Old Testament era, and especially during the intertestamental period, to substitute out of reverence the word heaven for the Hebrew tetragrammaton (YHWH), God’s covenant name (often rendered as Yahweh, or Jehovah). Used in that way, heaven was simply another way of saying God. Both phrases refer to the rule of God, kingdom of heaven emphasizing the sphere and character of His rule, and kingdom of God emphatically pointing to the ruler Himself. God rules His kingdom with heavenly principles and heavenly blessings and in heavenly power, majesty, and glory. Entering the kingdom means coming under the sovereign rule of God.
Our Lord is talking directly about entering God’s kingdom by faith, through salvation that will result in eternal glory. The phrase “enter the kingdom of heaven” is used three times in the book of Matthew (see also 7:21; 19:23-24) and in each case refers to personal salvation. It is the same experience as entering into life (18:8) and entering into the joy of the Lord (25:21).
The fact that a person must enter the kingdom assumes he is born outside of it under the rule of Satan and that he is not naturally a heavenly citizen under the rule of God. The purpose of the gospel is to show men how they may enter the kingdom and become its citizens:
Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (ESV)
- It is important therefore for us not to assume some natural sinlesness in Children.
The purpose of Christ’s ministry and the ministries of John the Baptist and the apostles was to call people to the kingdom. That is still the supreme task of the church.
1) The first component presented for entering the kingdom is repentance.
The message of John the Baptist was:
Matthew 3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (ESV)
It was with that identical message that the Lord began His own ministry (4:17). The initial call for ending the kingdom was a call for people to recognize and repent of their sin, which involves genuine desire to turn away from it. This repentance is not a human work but a divine gift that only God can grant (see 2 Tim. 2:25).
Please turn back to Matthew 5
2) A second component of the faith that grants entrance to the kingdom is the recognition of spiritual bankruptcy. That, too, is a work of God, not man, because it is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin (John 16:8-11). The Beatitudes begin with a call to humility, expressed there as poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3).
Matthew 5:3-8 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (ESV)
The Greek term behind “poor in spirit” refers to a beggar who has absolutely no resources of his own. Because the repentant and bankrupt person is deeply aware of his sin, he mourns over it (v. 4); because he has no righteousness of his own, he hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness (v. 6); and because he cannot himself cleanse his sin, he longs for the purity of heart (v. 8) that only God can provide.
The person who genuinely wants to enter God’s kingdom sees himself as utterly unworthy and undeserving. His awareness of his sin brings guilt and frustration over his inadequacy to remove it. He knows that he cannot himself cleanse his sin and that he has nothing to offer God that could merit forgiveness for it.
- If you remember the fictional story of the little drummer boy at Christmas. Taken to the correct meaning, the little boy had nothing to bring the Christ Child. Truly considered, even his gift of music was a gift that God had given him.
3) A third component of the faith that allows entering the kingdom is meekness, which is closely related to the sense of having nothing of value to offer God. Because of his sense of personal unworthiness, the humble and meek person neither claims nor demands anything of glory for himself. He is committed to fight for God’s causes, not his own.
The one who enters God’s kingdom also will have a desire and capacity to be obedient. Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (ESV)
Entering God’s kingdom is more than simply expressing the wish to be in it and having the conviction that Jesus is its Lord. The sovereign, saving God will produce in the soul a personal submission to Jesus as Lord and a new heart longing to obey His commands. The person who is unwilling to leave the things of the world for the things of the Lord has no genuine desire for salvation (8:19-22). Coming into the kingdom assumes by the very term that one comes under the rule of the Lord of that kingdom.
As Jesus took the young child in His arms and held him up before the disciples, the Lord gathered up all those elements of salvation explaining the beginning of verse three:
Matthew 18:3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven ESV
The phrase turn/are converted translates an aorist passive of strephō, which elsewhere in the New Testament is always translated with an idea of “turning” or “turning around.” It means to make an about face and go in the opposite direction. Peter used a form of the term twice in his message shortly after Pentecost, as he called his hearers to:
Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, (ESV)
Acts 3:26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness." (ESV)
Conversion is the other half of repentance. Repentance is being sorry for sin and turning away from it; conversion is the expression of will that fully turns from sin to the Lord. Psalm 51:13 alludes to these two halves of the turning when it declares, “and sinners will be converted to Thee.” Jesus’ use here of the passive voice indicates that the disciples could not be converted from sin to righteousness by their own efforts but needed someone else to turn them around. Although the response of a person’s will is required, only God has the power to convert.
To be converted requires people to become like children, Jesus explained. A little child is simple, dependent, helpless, unaffected, unpretentious, unambitious. Children are not sinless or naturally unselfish, and they display their fallen nature from the earliest age. But they are nevertheless naive and unassuming, trusting of others and without ambition for grandeur and greatness.
- Children trust their daddy to take care of them. They do not lie awake wondering where the next meal is coming from. They are anxiety free and confident that everything they need will be provided.
Quote: “Remember, the Lord Jesus is talking about conversion not reversion. Some people (mistakenly) think this verse means that you must revert back to your childhood in some unusual fashion or that you are to become juvenile in your actions in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Lord is not talking about going back to a former childhood, but rather of going on to a new life. Here our Lord gives logic to the thinking of the disciples as He diverts their attention from the matter of holding an exalted place in the kingdom to that of primary importance; namely, of first being able to secure entrance into that kingdom. This is as radical as:
John 3:3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (ESV),
The important thing emphasized in this verse is the new birth. You must become a little child in the sense that you must be born again. When you are born again, you start out spiritually as a child”.
(McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (4:98). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)
- He’s not suggesting childesness.
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (ESV)
The key to Humility is 1) Childlikeness 2) Servanthood & quickly
3) Brokenhearted Boldness
The conclusion is then in verse four:
Matthew 18:4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ESV
Who is this message for? The first word of verse four tells us: Whoever.
“It is the person who humbles himself like this child,” Jesus declared, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The verb behind humbles is tapeinoō, which has the literal meaning of making low In God’s eyes, the one who lowers himself is the one who is elevated; the one who genuinely considers himself to be the least is the one God considers to be the greatest.
Matthew 23:11-12 The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (ESV)
For the Self-righteous Jews who exalted themselves so highly as to think God was pleased with them for their own goodness, this was a shattering blow.
- The nature of humility pictured with a child shows the end to the desire for power, status, self-sufficiency, rights and control.
Quote: The great Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski had a neat comment on this passage that is particularly fitting at Christmas: “He who thinks of making no claims shall have all that others claim and by claiming cannot obtain. ... Only an empty vessel can God fill with his gifts. And the emptier we are of anything that is due to ourselves, the more can God pour into these vessels his eternal riches, honors, and glories” (The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1943], 683).
In considering the gifts God has given us, it is humility that enables us to truly use them for God’s glory:
Illustration: William Carey
William Carey is considered the father of modern missions. The man who spent his early years as a cobbler became one of the greatest linguists the church has ever known. It’s reported that Carey translated parts of the Bible into as many as 24 Indian languages. When he first went to India, some regarded him with dislike and contempt. At a dinner party a distinguished guest, hoping to humiliate Carey, said in a loud voice, “I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoemaker.” Carey responded humbly, “No, your lordship, not as a shoemaker, only a cobbler.” Carey didn’t claim to make shoes, only to mend them.
Today in the Word, September 21, 1995, p. 28.
A little child makes no claims of worthiness or greatness. Just as in the realization of obtaining Christmas toys, he simply submits to the care of his parents and others who love him, relying on them for all that he needs.
He knows he cannot meet his own needs and has no resources to stay alive. That is the kind of humble submissiveness that results in greatness in God’s eyes and in His kingdom.
Please turn to James 4
The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is humble, unaffected, genuinely sincere, undemanding, not self-centered, receptive to whatever God offers, and eagerly obedient to whatever He commands.
James presents an invitation to salvation that unarguably reiterates what our Lord demands in this passage of Matthew:
James 4:6-10 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (ESV)
cf. confer (Lat.), compare