Summary: God's way of measuring greatness differs greatly from ours. God measures with love and service and not accumulation, accomplishment and attainment"
Matthew 18:1-9 “Measuring Greatness”
For millennia the Season of Lent has been a time for Christians to reflect on their relationship with God and on Jesus’ call to discipleship, in anticipation of Easter. These forty days preceding Easter were first used as a time to instruct converts to the Christian faith in preparation for their baptisms on Easter morning. The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to spend forty days—one tenth or a tithe of the days of the year—listening for God’s voice and recommitting ourselves to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
THE COMMON QUESTION
Our text this evening starts off with the disciples approaching Jesus and asking the question, “Who’s the greatest.” The Pharisees laid claim to being the greatest because of their adherence to the law. The Sadducees proclaimed themselves great because of their affluence and political connections. The disciples had left all to follow Jesus and they wondered if their sacrifice would amount to anything.
Consciously or unconsciously we ask the same question, “Who is the greatest?” We may form it in slightly different words such as: “What do I need to do to be considered for a higher position?” “How do I get an “A” in this class?” “How do I measure my self-worth over and against my friends and co-workers?” or “How can I become the college’s top pick for a scholarship?”
Our focus is on ourselves and others. They aren’t our neighbors, rather they are our competitors. The emphasis is on what we have done, are doing, or need to do. In other words, we are looking the wrong way.
Jesus points to the children and in verse three says, “Truly I tell you unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children in the first century were not the little angels that they are today. Children at that time were not valued and they were considered their parent’s property. Children were expected to help their the family eak out a meager existence and then take care of their parents in their parent’s old age.
First it is necessary to underscore the fact that Jesus was not saying that if people did not become like children they would not be saved. Our salvation does not rest on our actions, but on the cross of Christ and the grace of God. Jesus is saying that becoming childlike is vital to experiencing kingdom life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
What does Jesus mean when he tells his followers that they must become like children? Is Jesus talking about becoming cute and innocent? For some of us that would be physically impossible. Is Jesus suggesting that he wants his followers to be energetic, obstinate and easily bored?
Many scholars and commentators believe that Jesus was highlighting people’s need to understand the limits of their control. Children don’t have a great amount of control over the situations of their lives. They laugh, run and celebrate life within the control of their parents. Children don’t have a lot of worries.
Jesus is reminding his followers that God seeks to have a parental relationship with us. God is more than our Lord and our friend. God is also our provider and protector—as all parents are called to be for their children.
Traditionally Christians have given up something for Lent e.g. Brussel sprouts, sweets, television or video games. Or, Christians have added something to their lives e.g. personal devotions and quiet time or a service project. These are good, positive activities, but they do focus our attention back on ourselves and what we are doing.
An alternative possibility during the Lenten season would be to focus our attention on how God moves as a parent in our lives—providing for us and protecting us. As we ponder the relationship that God has with us, we can give thanks that God has adopted us into his family through our baptism, and that God is graciously involved in our lives. God is in control and we are not. Thanks be to God!