It was not the answer they expected then, and it is not an answer we readily accept or appreciate now.
Today’s world honors and reveres the bold, the bright, the beautiful, the strong, the powerful, the intelligent, the rich and secure, the capable, the articulate, the clean and well-dressed, and the culturally poised and relevant.
The disciples of Jesus professed similar aspirations. In fact, their desire for personal advantage in the Kingdom of Heaven was put to Jesus directly:
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child 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 the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
New International Version, Matthew 18: 1- 4
Did we catch that three-word exhortation and challenge in Jesus’ answer?
Jesus’s reply is direct and explicit.
UNLESS YOU CHANGE….
In other words, status, advantage, entitlement, and privilege held no place of honor in the Kingdom of God and needed to be turned away from – now.
Jesus condemned the pride of his disciples. Pride and arrogance are incompatible with the love, grace, and humility found in the Jesus way. Instead, the dependence, innocence, curiosity, transparency, vulnerability, and smallness of a child were the human traits that Jesus valued. A young child is humble by nature. In fact, their sweet, open, warm and welcoming disposition make young children a joyful delight.
Jesus challenged his disciples to make this radical, life-changing change.
Change comes from the Greek transiliterated word, strephó. Strephó is a word of action. Strephó means to turn, to convert, and to go another way. Strephó directs us to take an opposite or divergent course. For the disciples, it would require them to literally make an ‘about-face’ and reverse direction from their self-asserting ways. Jesus asked them to give up their pursuit of power and authority. Instead of elevating themselves, Jesus challenged them to go low.
Isn’t this what humility in Christ requires?
But who wants that?
Who seeks out humiliation in this day and age?
Who desires a lower, lesser position?
Who values submission?
Who seeks out opportunities to serve and to bless others?
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption….
New International Version, 1 Corinthians 1: 27-30
We are warned:
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
New International Version, Philippians 3:19
Humility is a deliberate course of action that contradicts and invalidates worldly ambition.
Are we more interested in the pursuit of power, strength, status, and profit for selfish gain than the demonstration of the love, grace, humility and blessing we are given in Christ for the care of others?
Are we challenged by the exhortation of Jesus:
UNLESS WE CHANGE….
and become like children, we miss the opportunity to experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and humility found in Jesus. Isn’t a child-like faith a worthy pursuit? Just look at little Jake’s face! He is looking up with eager, sweet delight! Don’t we want to have a similar expression on our face as we interact with those around us? Don’t we want to look to Jesus with these kind of adoring eyes???
Especially in a time where too, too many are seeking power, dominion, relevance, and influence?
In the big scheme of things, what does it matter? Why are we so interested in making a name for ourselves? What good does it ultimately do for us? For anyone?
As Casting Crowns sings, “Jesus is the only name to remember.”
So, I’ll put it to us – will we choose to live life as humble as a child?
If not, are we willing to change?