Thursday, February 6, 2020 -
“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
On this occasion, the disciples had just been arguing privately over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (see Mark 9:33-34). Yet Jesus knew their thoughts and conversations even though he was out of earshot (I Corinthians 3:20).
The disciples were still expecting Christ to set up and earthly kingdom and that the Romans would be hence displaced, leaving themselves, as closest to the reigning Messiah, to become the likely rulers underneath His divine authority. Their haughty spirit was to be their stumbling block (Proverbs 16:18). And Jesus very clearly but forcibly puts them in their place, bringing into questions whether they would even enter the kingdom of heaven: “And He called a child unto Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4). When He states that unless one becomes like a child, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven, the Greek word for “not” implies “in no way, ever!” Yet He also, by using the passive tense for “converted,” tells them that this is something they cannot do for themselves. That would be pride, just as those who reject God’s plan for man’s redemption through Christ’s own shed blood are filled with pride. For instead, in their pride, they determine they themselves can achieve it through their own effort.
Jesus in fact does not say “convert!” He says, “Unless you are converted and become like children.” How then does one become converted? Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” It was Christ “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deed…He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 2:14; 3:5). It is the Holy Spirit who first convicts us of our sin, humbling us, making us “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), where we come to the place in our life that we realize our pride and sin is keeping us from a right relationship with Christ. And so we repent, thus denying ourselves, taking our cross in humility, and following Christ (Matthew 16:24). In such a manner, we become as little children, completely dependent, totally trusting, and helpless in our own self-preservation. A grown-up is self-sufficient, but we must be dependent. And only through Christ, and nothing of ourselves, will we find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.