Sermon: God’s Definition of Greatness Matthew 18:1-6



Truth Taught- Greatness is serving, not being served; humility not authority; and dependence on God not self-reliance.

Introduction

Most people, in their natural state, want to be the greatest.  That’s our natural default setting.  Greatness, wealth, status, and fame are what most people desire.  If we were to analyze the definition of greatness that the lost world puts forward, we would discover something…greatness in the world’s eyes involve the things that would cause other people to admire you or even, in some cases, worship you.  To strive to be great is to seek to be like God.  Only God is great.  People want what only God should have.  This is why all too often those who achieve superstar status are not happy.  We think money and stuff will make us great and once we achieve that we still find ourselves unfulfilled…


Greatness is not found on TV or in a person’s fifteen minutes of fame.  Those people are soon forgotten and their legacies may or may not remain.  You may look and see people the world recognizes as great such as athletes, movie stars, business executives, politicians, etc. and see that they are being served by many people.  Greatness for the world means you are worshipped and served.  True greatness is not found in finding people who think you are great and having them serve you.  Jesus tells us that true greatness is found in serving others.  In life, you will find that those people who really find ways of serving the most people are the ones who become great.  And the great ones who remain great, are the ones who keep finding ways to serve other people.
Then, there is the fallen man’s twist even on serving.  So often people look to serve others for what they can get in return.  This is not done out of greatness, but out of selfishness.  And eventually those you “serve” will come to know that you are only doing it because of what you can get out of it.  But when you really dedicate yourself to serving others, to finding ways to help them achieve their goals, an amazing thing happens.  As you serve others, everything that you give of yourself to help someone achieve their goals comes back to you.  This is the law of greatness.  If you serve others and help them achieve their goals, you will invariably achieve your own goals in the process.

Jesus said it like this:

Matthew 20:25–28 (ESV) 
25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 


Let’s turn to our text for this morning
This is God’s Word for us today.  The Word has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.


Matthew 18:1–6 (ESV) 
18 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 and said, “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. 
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 


1.  Who is the Greatest?
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”


Much of Matthew’s Gospel contain accounts sometimes disconnected.  However, here in this section we currently find ourselves they follow one after another.  When they do, we have clues to tell us that they are consecutive and in order.  Here we have such an indicator…At that time.
So, this time of teaching follows closely to our text from last week.


Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV) 
24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Here, Jesus was speaking with Peter.  Peter, James, and John were up on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Peter gets to do everything!  Is he the greatest of all the disciples?  Who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God?  Peter again probably.    
I mean, in effect, they’re saying, “You can just settle this whole thing, Lord, if you’d just tell us. Would you just tell us who it is?” They’re arguing indicates where their hearts were. They really sought superiority, and they say, “Who is the greatest?” Meizōn in the Greek, “Who is the greater.” Of all the great in the kingdom, who is the greater than the great? Who stands out? Who is greater than all the rest?
Who will be the disciple with the most authority and the most screaming fans?  Who will be the disciple that will get to sign the most autographs?  Who will be loved by the people the most?  Who will benefit the most?  Who will be the wealthiest?


Matthew 19:23–24 (ESV) 
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Worldly greatness does not equal Kingdom greatness.  Because our natural tendency is to think like the world thinks, we must discover from somewhere else what Kingdom greatness really is.  So, we must discover what kingdom greatness is.
Our Lord is very patient with us.  Praise Him for His longsuffering love toward His people.
Look with me at how this debate continued to rage within their discussions it was still an issue even into Chapter 20…

Matthew 20:20–21 (ESV) 
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 

Let’s see together what God thinks about greatness and who is the greatest who has ever lived.
Jesus needs to deal with their delusions of grandeur, and He does so in a rather profound way. He launches into this entire chapter and talks about the childlikeness of the believer.  We will see this subject through our current chapter.


2.  Greatness Begins With Humility and Dependence
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “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. 
Look what Jesus does here.  They are not getting it.  He’s already taught them about self-denial…
Matthew 16:24–25 (ESV) 
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 
So our Lord takes a child and sets him in their midst and teaches them that greatness begins with humility and dependance.  He’s not sitting the child in their midst and teaching that they have to be like a child in every characteristic.  He is teaching them that a child is not prideful nor self-reliant.  A child is not able to reach the greatest status through achievements and talent.  No, a child depends on his parents and is humble because the child knows he cannot do everything and needs help.
Mark says, chapter 9, “That He lifted him up and held Him in His arms.” The Lord is in the sitting position; that’s the teaching position. All the disciples are gathered around. I’m quite sure Peter had come back by this time from his fishing and paying the Temple Tax; I just believe the Lord wouldn’t give a profound lesson like this without him there. I mean he needed it.
And so, the Lord gathers into His arms this little toddler, this little infant. The word there “little child” means just that, infant. And you can imagine this little infant looking with wondering eyes into the face of the very one who had created him, being totally at rest, totally at peace in the arms of God – the very God in human flesh – lost in the wonder of the majesty and beauty of this blessed person. In such innocency, such weakness, such confidence, such trust, being a perfect illustration.
Jesus loves children.  We see throughout the Gospels He’s always kneeling down to speak to them, holding them in His arms or in this case lifting a toddler up and using this little one as a wonderful picture of how it is we should be in terms of humility and dependance.

The world says to be great we are to seek power, authority, wealth, and fame.  God says greatness goes the other direction.  As believers saved out of this world, our thinking must be changed.  We must be retaught and submit to the truth we find in God’s Word.  Much like the Beatitudes we see that God’s priorities are not in line with man’s priorities.  Here’s how our thinking must change.  Humility is greater than authority.  Serving is greater than being served.  Dependence on God is greater than self-reliance.  These are the main things Jesus is teaching us today.
The reality is a small toddler has more of the characteristics God desires than lost adults.  Once we are born again we must seek to grow in humility and dependence on God than in self-reliance. 
Jesus is saying, “If you want to really genuinely enter into God’s kingdom, if you want to become one of His subjects, one of His followers, a child of God, a son of God redeemed and saved and born again” – it is a parallel, if you will, to the third chapter of John’s Gospel; it’s another way to talk about regeneration and the new birth. 

Just to believe requires that God give us a level of humility.  Once we are born again we must always seek to be more humble and rely more on God’s power and less on our own.

2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (ESV) 
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
So, the aspect of the kingdom of heaven in view here is personal appropriation, entering into God’s kingdom by believing, receiving salvation.
If this is going to happen, God has to do it.  He must initiate and appropriate this new heart and this new belief.  Once He does then we believe by faith in humble dependence.  Then, we begin to consistently live in humility.
3.  Greatness Also Includes How We Treat The “Little Ones”
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 
Here our Lord while holding the infant begins to tell His followers that when someone is seeking to be like one who is humble and dependent on God His followers must never take advantage of one with child-like faith.
Jesus is now moving past this exact child to those who are in the process of becoming child-like.  These little ones as Jesus puts it are all who practice what He is teaching. 
Our Lord tells us that if we welcome one such child in His name we are, in fact, welcoming Him.  This person is seeking to be like Jesus. 
His point is all of God’s people should seek this same thing and encourage those who practice humility and dependence on God. 
Here’s where the danger is to pay attention to those who look important and powerful (world’s standards of greatness) and to disregard those who may not look too impressive.  A humble person will not be the flashy, Look at me kind of person.
James 2:1–7 (ESV) 
2 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 
We must seek to treat others with compassion and seek to encourage others.  Ask yourself the question…is what I’m about to say either about someone or to someone going to be something to help them in their faith or will it discourage them?

Our Lord is very clear and to the point.  No one messes with His people.  A quick drowning is better than the judgement they will face.
it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Conclusion
Greatness is not what the lost world depicts it as.  It’s not fame and riches.  It’s not measured by applause of others. 
True greatness is much different than the world’s version.   Remember, Humility is greater than authority.  Serving is greater than being served.  Dependence on God is greater than self-reliance.   

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