Sometimes as I’m reading my Bible I am hit hard by a passage of Scripture that I have read what feels like a million times before, yet this time I feel like I understand it for the first time. It’s this profound revelation that strikes my heart so deeply, then I wonder if everybody else already got it and I’m just a slow learner. Either way I am grateful for God’s patience and long suffering with me as I strive to understand the mysteries of his Word and how to apply it to my life in the way he intended.
I’m currently reading in the book of Matthew. I decided to read it again after I finished 1 John last Christmas because of 1 John 2:6 which says, “..whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I knew I needed to read one of the gospels again, to read Jesus words and to read about the “way in which he walked” so I could be reminded and impacted to “walk in the same way”. Again, I am so thankful for his long suffering as I’ve been reading Matthew for almost 6 months and still am such a work in progress.
Two nights ago I started reading the 18th chapter of Matthew and had to stop after reading the first four verses and journal one of those profound revelations on words that I’ve heard a million times before.
“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.” Matthew 18:1-4
I’ve never been to Bible School so I totally rely on daily study of the Word and the Holy Spirit when I do my devotions. That being said, I cannot say that I know what the disciples were really thinking when they asked Jesus the question on who will be the greatest in heaven. However, I’m pretty certain that the response they got from him was not what they anticipated. I’m pretty certain they were wondering about greatness by human measure….Power, Authority, Honor, etc. So when Jesus places a child among them he completely corrects their definition of greatness by giving them a staggering and unexpected picture of God’s definition of the word.
Here’s where the revelation hit me…. I have always read this and assumed he was talking about having “child like faith” and then moved on to verse 5. However, if you search the Bible you won’t find the words “child like faith” or “faith like a child”. Now, yes, children do possess the ability to have an easier time with faith because of their vulnerability and innocence, which should definitely serve as examples to us of the type of faith and trust we should have in God; vulnerable and “innocent of evil” (as Romans 16:19 points out). But we cannot afford to read a passage like Matt. 18:1-4 and misinterpret it as Jesus telling us that the way into the kingdom of heaven is by having “child like faith”. What he actually said was, “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.”
So what does that actually mean? What attribute of that child was he identifying as the saving attribute of every person on earth? He was talking about that child’s utter dependence on his parents to survive. I believe this because of the words “humbles…like this child“. The humility of a young child is that their only hope of life is in their parents, they cannot provide for their own needs. My ESV Study Bible describes a child this way, “(having the) inability to advance his or her own cause apart from the help, direction and resources of a parent.”
Just tonight I read an amazing story of an Australian father who, in 2008, put himself in harm’s way in order to save his infant son from an out-of-control car that was careening towards them as they were walking on a sidewalk. The father clutched his son to his chest as the car plowed into him and pushed him into a shop window, pinning his legs. As the car struck him he said his thoughts were, “if they hit the back of me, break a leg or whatever, that’s fixable. But if they hit my son, he’s not fixable.” Him and his son both survived.
This is an unbelievable picture of the humility of a child. Not only could that baby do absolutely nothing to save himself, he probably didn’t even realize the desperate situation or his need to be saved. A person who “becomes like a child” is completely throwing themselves at the mercy of God to save them and keep them in the same way that a child is at the mercy of his parents to care for him and keep him alive. We cannot save ourselves and if it weren’t for God’s divine mercy and grace we would not even recognize our need to be saved. He sees the out-of-control force of destruction that is headed towards us while we are enjoying a nice walk along the broad sidewalk of life headed towards hell. He sees it and is the only one able to rescue us from its destruction. All we can do is, at this moment, cry out in utter dependence and as our only hope, “Save me Daddy!” before it’s too late.
Like a child we cannot do anything to be saved and serve God apart from his help, his will, and his power. Jesus said we must “turn and become like children”, how can we turn unless he turns us? He says to “humble” ourselves, how can we do this without his help, because it is so contrary to our human nature? Again, we cry out “Save me Daddy!”
Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Jesus said that if we don’t become like children in our utter dependence and trust in God alone, that we can never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, all who enter the kingdom will be like children in this way. If you find yourself reading this and wondering if your own personal hope for eternal life rests on Christ alone or if you’ve been working for it yourself or feeling like you will never be able to “measure up” to the standard of a church person, take heart… and by that I mean a “contrite heart”, which means “filled with a sense of guilt and the desire for atonement”. Don’t be deceived by anyone who would try to encourage you by saying that you should not feel guilty because of your sin. You are guilty because of your sin just like the rest of us, and you need an atonement which can be found in Christ alone. He already put himself between you and the out-of-control car of death when he suffered and died on the cross. Just cry out to him “Save me Daddy!” with a broken heart for your sins against him, not a broken heart of hurt and bitterness of the injustice of the world against you, but a broken heart of your injustice and hurt against the God who created you, took your punishment, and then unjustly and graciously offered you eternal life and forgiveness.
If you are reading this as a born again Christian who understands your smallness and his greatness in light of the gospel, let this be a reminder that every day your dependence lies on him to accomplish anything of eternal significance. You will enter the kingdom of heaven in greatness if you have turned from the world and your sin, and surrendered yourself to be clutched in the arms of God as your only hope of life.
Preparing the Way,