At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them… (Matt 18:1-2)
Take a moment to put yourself in the sandals of that child. We don’t his name, how old he was, or where he was from. Had his parents been following Jesus for a while? Had he ever seen Jesus perform a miracle? Ever interacted with Jesus before? We don’t know. All we know is, on this day, Jesus’ disciples had a question. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And before Jesus gave them an answer, he locked eyes with a child.
I’m guessing that child was shocked when Jesus called him and put him “in the midst” of those disciples. Was he embarrassed? Hesitant? We’re not told. But what would he have known about himself as he looked around at all of those adults? Maybe he was too young to be very self-aware, but not the adults. What would have been readily evident to themas they looked at that child?
He wasn’t the strongest in the crowd. The fishermen who had made their living on the Sea of Galilee were definitely stronger than him.
He wasn’t the smartest in the crowd. A tax collector would have needed to be much more savvy than a child to make his way in the Roman Empire.
He wasn’t the most experienced in the crowd. Most everybody looking at him would have been more places, seen more things, and accomplished more with their lives.
He wasn’t the most eloquent person in the crowd. He didn’t wield the most power, hold the most wealth, or carry the biggest reputation. He was just a child. But when the disciples came to Jesus with a question–“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”–the Master Teacher called that child to the forefront and drew all adult attention to the most unlikely focal point.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3-4)
Listen carefully to the kingdom’s King. Real greatness isn’t defined by muscle, physical prowess, or external beauty. The greatness that truly matters isn’t acquired with money or inherited with social status. Kingdom greatness doesn’t fly in tandem with cultural accolades, sizable reputations, or big megaphones that amplify even bigger egos. The kingdom of heaven is different. Greater. Eternally significant. Not of this world.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn…” So says the King. As adults, we become far too easily enamored by the ways the kingdoms of this world measure and celebrate greatness. The King is calling us to turn. Stop thinking of greatness in terms of physical strength, mental IQ, outward beauty, biggest reputation, loudest mouth, most eloquent tongue, or largest following. Learn and remember that when Jesus gave the definitive answer to the “greatness” question, he didn’t call a politician, scholar, model, orator, influencer, best-selling author, millionaire, or the most physically imposing specimen into the midst of the crowd.
He called a child.
Then he called the adults to turn. Become like children. Humble yourselves like that child. Stop measuring greatness like the foolish, shortsighted world. Stop chasing greatness like those with minds set on vain, earthly things.
Allow the King to redefine the terms. Turn and follow him in the greatness of lowliness.
Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.