Determining our position seems to be something we value in every aspect of life. We want to know our position on the job. The student wonders where they fit in relation to the other students in the class or in the school. In the military rank matters. In politics we are concerned about winning elections and which office has authority over another. On the job it matters who has the corner office or who we answer to in areas of responsibility. So why should we be surprised that in church, people would wonder about who is boss or who is in charge.
In Matthew 18:1-5 Jesus was with the disciples. He had begun to talk about the day he would depart from this world to go back to the Father. So it makes sense that the disciples would wonder about who would be in charge when Jesus was no longer with them on a daily basis. Who would be the greatest or the most important? “At that time 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. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Can’t you imagine the discussion going on among the twelve as they walked along? “Who do you think will step up and take charge when Jesus leaves?” “Probably Peter or maybe John could. I just can’t see Andrew taking the lead.” Then Jesus put a little boy, perhaps two or three years old, right there in the middle of the group. He may have picked him up as he said to them, “I’ll tell you the truth about it. unless you change your whole way of thinking and judging things and become like this little boy, you will never and I mean NEVER get into the kingdom of heaven.” If your whole way of looking at things has been that leadership means the biggest, the smartest, the most spiritual or the one that is much taller than the others, then Jesus’ words are completely shocking. He didn’t start with greatness but the quality that was vital to even being a part of His kingdom. Jesus knew that His kingdom wasn’t like any other. His kingdom isn’t entered by military strength or conquering armies. It isn’t even entered by a negotiating Secretary of State. His kingdom is entered by a changed heart.
But exactly what kind of heart does it take to be part of the kingdom of Christ? Jesus said it was the heart of a child who took the lowliest position. You can imagine that child Jesus held or that he placed in the middle of that crowd of men. If like most little boys of that age, he would have either have been trying to get out of the middle of the crowd or being completely oblivious to the group as he involved himself in catching a bee or observing a bug. Greatness in the kingdom doesn’t come from seeking it. Instead being great involves an humble, lowly attitude that becomes lost in the service to Christ in serving others. As long it is an effort to get on a throne of our own making or a pedestal for ourselves, our actions and attitudes are confused. When we become lost in serving Christ and in praising and serving him, things tend to fall into place.
Just two chapters later the apostles were again dealing with the same topic. It happened again after Jesus had said something about being murdered and going back to the Father in heaven. The mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus and kneeling before him asked a favor from him. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Jesus told her she didn’t know what she was asking. He asked a couple of questions to try to get them to see that it was beyond their understanding or reach. Then the told her it would be the case that these places would belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father. We are somewhat surprised by a mother asking such a thing for her boys. But it is in some ways even more surprising the reaction when the other ten disciples learned about this mother’s request. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:24). “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.” (Vs. 25-28)
Among the kingdoms of the world pride matters. It matters that you have self-confidence and carry an air of leadership. One must look and act the part of a leader if they ever expect to have such a role. But in God’s kingdom, the standards are completely different. In God’s kingdom, humility matters. Instead of being able to make wise decisions the thing that matters is their readiness to serve. Instead of concern about who is recognized by others as the leader or being in charge the concern is about Christ as king and putting his name forth before all others. Greatness in God’s kingdom involves the readiness to wash feet. Being God’s leader means following Jesus the greatest leader of all time by not longing to be served but in giving his life as a ransom for many. Leadership for God is never about what we can get, but in what we can give and the view is always on Jesus and on others.
To be great for God means one must be so small we have a hard time seeing them because every time we look at that leader we keep seeing the image of Jesus.