Title: Instruction concerning humility
Scriptures to Read: Mark 9:33–37; Matthew 18:1–5; Luke 9:46–48
Now we’re about to see what was happening among the disciples as they travelled. Remember, they have been travelling through Galilee on their way back to Capernaum from Caesarea Philippi. Read the first paragraph from all three accounts here. Matthew and Luke are clearly summarizing the story, for Mark gives us more detail. But each adds some detail that the others omit.
An argument amongst the disciples
As Luke says, “an argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.” Why do you suppose this happened? Notice that Matthew associates their question with a particular time. He begins: At that time … The same time that the shekel was paid for the temple tax of Jesus and Peter. And so this lesson follows the previous lesson that was given to Peter. And Jesus did not pay the temple tax for all of His apostles, but only for Peter. Perhaps they argued whether this made Peter greater than the others. Mark records that they were discussing this question on the way. What happened just before their journey that might have provoked this argument? Three of His apostles saw the transfiguration on the mountain.
The topic of discussion
Notice that Matthew also points out that the dispute is about “who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven”, that is, in the coming Messianic Kingdom. Remember that they are still expecting that He will soon set up the Messianic Kingdom. So their concern is about which of them will have the greatest position in the Messianic Kingdom.
The issue in their hearts
Now Mark records that Jesus began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” Do you think He was unaware of what they were discussing? He was with them as they travelled and argued. He already knows what they were discussing, and furthermore Luke points out that He knew “what they were thinking in their heart.” The argument is actually a symptom of their heart condition. And what was in their hearts? Questions and feelings of superiority among them leading to conflict and argument.
To be a master one must become a servant now
Notice in Mark’s verse 35 that Jesus sits down and calls the twelve. This is the typical teaching position for a rabbi. Then what does He say to them? “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” What does this mean? It means that the person who will have the greatest position in the kingdom when it comes is the one who is the servant of all now. So if one really wants to receive a superior place in the kingdom, he must strive in this life not to receive the highest position, but the lowest, and at the same time to be ministering to all in general. And to be a master in the kingdom you must be a servant now.
An object lesson – childlike
Then He gives them an object lesson, the lesson of being childlike. Matthew says: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:2-3). The word converted literally means to “turn about.” Figuratively it means to turn into something, meaning to convert or change, to become another kind of person. So, in order to enter the Kingdom, they must be changed from what they are and become like children. What does it mean to be like children? Children are dependent on their parents and have a trust which we are to emulate. What brings salvation and therefore entry into the kingdom is a childlike faith in God.
Now He turns more directly to the disciples’ question. Matthew 18:4 says, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” So while only a childlike trust in God is necessary to enter the kingdom, those who are greatest in the kingdom are those who humble themselves as a child. The child lives in the family in dependence upon his parents and in subjection to them and having no rights of his own. This too is how the believer needs to be if he is going to be greatest in the kingdom. Jesus’ next statement is interrupted as we shall see in the next section. He says, “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (Matt. 18:5).
So to summarize what He teaches them here:
1. Entrance into the kingdom is by means of a childlike faith in God
2. This should be followed by a childlike humility. Greatness in the kingdom is achieved by humbly living in dependence on and submission to God.
3. To have the first place in the kingdom the disciple must have the lowest place now and must be a servant of all.