Last night, I had the opportunity—privilege, really—to teach at a small Bible study. The passage I dealt with was Matthew 18:1-4. In this passage, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus responds with two answers. One has to do with the disciples, and the other has to do with Himself. Without going into a lengthy study of these verses, please allow me to sum up the topic of this passage: The meaning of greatness in God’s kingdom. I encourage you to do a study of this portion and discover Jesus’ view on greatness in His kingdom.
So, last night, I attempted to explain the implications of Jesus’ teaching in these first verses of Matthew 18. I was flabbergasted with the response. It seemed like I was talking about one topic and everyone else was talking about another. It’s as if I was teaching on one planet and everyone else was teaching on another, with no discernable means of communication between the two parties. It was the most baffling teaching experience I’ve ever had. One person said the topic of this passage was about purity. One said it was about innocence. Another person said it was about trust and conversion. I kept telling them that Jesus was responding to a question about…greatness. Not purity. Not innocence. Not trust. Not conversion.
They couldn’t hear it. It’s not that they wouldn’t hear it—they couldn’t. Let me make it clear that these are all good, sincere Christian folks. I’m not criticizing them. I wasn’t angry with them during the study. No contention arose. I was just stunned that they simply ignored or were unaware of the plain meaning of words in this text.
When I was praying about last night this morning, I think I understood why this was so difficult for them, apart from their clear inability to deal with the plain meaning of these verses. It’s because they thought that entering the kingdom of God is only about salvation. True, salvation is part of it, because Jesus said that unless we were born again we would not see the kingdom of God. However, there is more to God’s kingdom than this, as crucially important as being born again is. God’s kingdom is more complex than this. The kingdom of heaven is about rulership. It’s about who is the king and who isn’t. It’s about humility for us and greatness for Jesus. Smallness for us and enormity for Jesus. However, it’s about following Jesus’ example of smallness and humility when He walked the earth. Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mind Jesus had when He “emptied himself” and becoming obedient to the point of death.
Thankfully, I think a couple of lights of recognition blinked on when I talked about insignificance in Scripture. Who was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene, a formerly demonized woman, whose testimony was almost worthless in Jesus’ time. I read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, about whom God chooses. I mentioned a few of the many, many other examples, all throughout Scripture of the Lord choosing those of insignificance. David. Ruth. Esther.
If you’re a Christian, I plead with you to deal with the plain meaning of words in Scripture, even if they somehow oppose what you have been taught or thought you understood in your history. If they agree, which they certainly may, well and good. If they don’t, wrestle with the text. Our God is not a vanilla, churchy God. He is a God who, because He loves us, will blow up our religious suppositions and traditions for our spiritual good.