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Matthew 18:1-14

The Greatest in the Kingdom

  • Rich Jones
  • Weekend Messages
  • May 1, 2011

In Matthew 18, the disciples are having a discussion, rather argument, about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. They finally come to Jesus to settle the question. It seems clear they were expecting Jesus to point one of them out as the greatest in the kingdom. But their problem was that they were looking at the idea of greatness the way the world looks at it. They wanted to be great in the eyes of man. It becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach them about God's heart and bring them into the maturity of faith, which applies to us as well.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

The Greatest in the Kingdom

Matthew 18:1-14

We’ve taken a break from our regular study through the book of Matthew to celebrate with the Lord in the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, that day which we celebrate as Palm Sunday and of course to celebrate with the Lord His victory over death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now as we go back to Matthew chapter 18, let's take a running start by remembering the events that had just recently happened before this chapter. Jesus had taken Peter, James and John his brother up to a high mountain where he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His garments became white as light and Moses and Elijah also appeared with him talking about the events that would soon happen in Jerusalem, speaking of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Coming down from the mountain He found His disciples engaged in a debate with some of the Jewish leaders. Just as Jesus was coming up to them, a man with a demon possessed boy fell on his knees before Jesus asking for mercy for his son. The disciples had been unable to heal the boy of the demon, but Jesus cured him at once. When they asked why they were unable to cast it out, Jesus responded, "Because of the littleness of your faith." Jesus then began to teach them about the importance of faith that completely trusts in God's ability and not in man's.

There was then a small miracle of Jesus helping Peter out of a rather sticky situation. Those who collected the temple tax asked Peter if Jesus does not pay the temple tax. Peter responded and said, "Yes." Jesus then told Peter to go down to catch a fish and in its mouth would be a coin for the tax.

All of that leads up to a discussion, or perhaps a better word might be argument, about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When you read all four of the gospels you see that this was a debate they had more than once and it at times even became heated. Even the mother of James and John got into the debate.

So they finally came to Jesus to settle the question. It seems clear they were expecting Jesus to point one of them out as the greatest in the kingdom. But their problem was that they were looking at the idea of greatness the way the world looks at it. They wanted to be great in the eyes of man; they wanted position and power and to be in authority over others.

This is all about the motives of the heart and it becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach them about God's heart and it's an opportunity to bring them into the maturity of faith.

It's an opportunity for us to learn about God's heart and it's an opportunity for us also to grow into the maturity of faith in how we live our lives before God and others.

I. Leave the World’s Way behind You

  • When Jesus transforms people He transforms their hearts. He takes them from what they once were in the world and makes them new.
  • "The old things have passed away, behold, I make all things new," Jesus said.
  • Therefore, the world's way of doing things will not work in the kingdom of heaven.
  • He wants to transform our motives, our desires, the way we consider others, and the way we look at ourselves. God's ways and God's thoughts are higher than ours and He wants to make us walk on higher places.

A. The world’s way does not consider others

  • Jesus had explained several times that He must suffer many things by the leaders in Jerusalem and that He would be killed.
  • The disciples don't seem to be concerned with what will be happening to Jesus, but instead are concerned about who's going to be the greatest.
  • When you're looking out for your own personal interests you become oblivious to the needs of those around you.

Philippians 2:4-5, Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.

Illus – Howard Hendricks once said that being a waiter is great training for ministry because a waiter has to be concerned about serving others. Have you ever had a waiter that looked down at you?

Illus – More commonly, it’s the people who come in with an attitude. When I was managing a restaurant, one day I had to help by serving a party of 12 or 15 people…

Illus - This was the very problem going on in the church at Corinth; some people were thinking they were more spiritual, therefore greater, than others.

1 Corinthians 12:31, But earnestly desire the greatest gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

  • Paul then gave them that great chapter on love; 1 Corinthians 13.
  • The scriptures show that God is not pleased with those who seek to serve self.

3 John 9-10, I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.

B. The world’s way seeks position over others

  • Today, there are seminars and conferences that will teach you how to obtain power seats, wear power ties, and have power lunches. This strategy involves how to have advantage over others.
  • But Jesus made it clear this is the way the world is, but this is not the way it should be among you.

Mark 10:42, Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;”

  • The root of all of this from the world is of course pride. And isn't that the source of many troubles in our lives?
  • The scripture says that God resists the proud. In fact, so does everyone else.

James 4:6-7, But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit therefore to God.

Proverbs 13:10, By pride comes nothing but contention, but with the well advised is wisdom.

  • The problem is that in the world, you can get more done by being bossy and dominant.

II. The Greatest is He Who Humbles Himself

  • To answer this question, Jesus called a child to Himself. Mark tells us that He put his arms around the child, I love that picture.
  • I also love the fact that when Jesus called the child, he came without hesitation.
  • Jesus then said, “Unless you be converted and become like children, you shall not even enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  • He then said, "Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

A. God wants us to have the heart of a child

  • Jesus is referring to the heart of a child, the humility of a child and the honest simplicity of faith that you see in children.

Illus – Everyone in our family loves to hear our granddaughter pray, how much more does God love to hear her or any child sincerely pray.

  • Jesus is not asking us to be childish and immature in petty bickering; He's referring to the fact that children were considered least in that culture, they were to be seen and not heard.

Illus - if Jesus would have asked them to organize everyone there according to greatness, no doubt they would've had the disciples as the greatest, then would come the crowd, and last of all the children.

  • But Jesus was saying that the opposite was true; in fact, the verses that follow make it very clear how much God loves those children.
  • "Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” But the opposite is also true…
  • "Whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, offends Me also."
  • "Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea."
  • Notice verse 10, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father.”

B. He loves you like a father

  • Jesus said that you cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven unless you are converted and become like children. There is a simple faith of trusting God that He asks of us.
  • When we receive his offer of life, we are adopted into his family as sons and daughters and his love for us can be understood more deeply from that relationship.

Romans 8:15, For you have not received the spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba, Father!"

Galatians 4:6, Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

  • Therefore, in that great love He is offended by anything that causes you to stumble.
  • That is why He said, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you."
  • Now, it's very, very important to emphasize that Jesus is using figurative language here. When he's using hand, foot, or eye in these verses, he's referring to a greater reality beyond the physical.
  • He's not asking you to literally cut off your hand or foot. Your hand or your foot or your eye doesn't cause you to stumble, but it's what happens in your heart. How are you going to cast that away from you?
  • Losing a hand or a foot would not give you greater standing in heaven! He wouldn't say to you, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master."

James 1:14-16, But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

  • But Jesus is saying is that if there is anything in your life that is causing you to stumble, you need to get rid of it because God loves you even more than you love yourself and He sees how much that is hurting you and it grieves his heart.
  • Look at the context where we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit; God is grieved when we hurt each other.

Ephesians 4:29-32 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by hurting others.

C. The greatest is he who serves others

  • Why is this true? Because that is what God is doing through Jesus Christ.

Matthew 20:27-28, "and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your servant; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

  • In the world, greatness is often measured by how many people serve you, but in the kingdom of heaven it is exactly the opposite.
  • In the world, when someone falls short, offends, or disappoints, they throw that person away. But this is not God's way.
  • We need to rethink how we perceive the imperfections and offenses in others. Instead of throwing others away, we need to transform, we need to redeem, build up, and edify. Why? Because that is what God is doing.
  • Notice verses 11-14; "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost…"

Illus – there is joy in heaven when one sinner repents and comes home. Look at the story of the Prodigal Son, it is a perfect example of the heart of the Father.

Galatians 6:1, Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…

Matthew 18:1-14           NASB

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
 
7 "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. 10 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
 
12 "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
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