It has been a pleasure to teach through the entire Bible in 2016. It has been a whirlwind course from Genesis to Revelation. We are not finished yet. Our focus over the past couple of months has been on the ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ. We have covered such topics as:
- The treasure of the kingdom of God
- Jesus feeds the 5,000
- Fear vs. Faith
- Lord, Teach us to pray
- The Sermon on the Mount
- Jairus learns to have faith
I pray that these lessons have been just as eye opening to the kids as they have been for me. I pray that they have been eye opening for you as well, dear reader.
This week, we are going to focus on being great in the kingdom of heaven. The title comes from the discussion between the disciples in Matthew 18.
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus spends the rest of the chapter explaining how to become great in the kingdom of heaven. It was not what the disciples were expecting and the answers were definitely not what I expected.
I. Receive the kingdom like a child
Jesus’ response was shocking to the disciples. Jesus uses the children who were coming to Him with pure motives as an example. These were the same children that the disciples tried to run off because they thought Jesus did not have time for them. The people who were seeking after Jesus, other than the children, all came with impure motives. Either they wanted to experience a miracle, be entertained by a miracle, or, they wanted to trap Jesus with their profound religious discussions. The children had pure motives. They wanted to spend time with Jesus and learn from Him. This is how we are to come to the Lord. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, Luke notes the teaching of Jesus about receiving the kingdom like a child and within this chapter, Jesus tells us a parable about receiving the kingdom with pure motives when He shares the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.
9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling * to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee was proud and he did not think that he needed God. The Tax Collector knew exactly who he was before God and he begs God for mercy. He is humble, so much so that he does not even lift his eyes when crying out to God. He beats on his chest as he asks for help. This is the same way that children view the Lord. They come to Him as a beggar ready to receive what He has to offer. How do you view yourself before God? Are you like a child, ready to be adopted into the family of God?
II. Remove all your idols
In Mark chapter 10, the Gospel writer Mark reveals that Jesus taught another parable in the context of His teaching on receiving the kingdom of heaven like a child.
17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
19 “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ ”
20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
A rich young man approached Jesus and wanted to know how he could inherit the kingdom of heaven, eternal life. Jesus told him that he must recognize Jesus as God and keep the commandments. The young man claimed to have kept the commandments mentioned by Jesus, all his life. Jesus only mentioned 6 of the 10 commandments. He intentionally left off commandment number 1. The young man had an idol in his life. His wealth was his god and it was the idol that kept him away from God and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told the young man to get rid of his idol and dedicate his life to following Jesus. The young man was sad and he walked away. Do you have any idols in your life? What is it that has come between you and your relationship with God? Are you ready to get rid of it? Is that idol worth it?
III. Forgive like God
A person who has experienced the kingdom of God, has to be forgiven by God first, before he can experience the benefits and blessings of the kingdom. Jesus shares this with us later on in the Matthew 18 passage. He uses another parable to exemplify His teaching on the subject.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
30 “But he was unwilling * and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Once a person has experienced the forgiveness of God, he cannot wait to extend that forgiveness to others. If a person cannot forgive others, he has not really experienced God’s forgiveness. Do you realize just how much God has forgiven you? Are you able to extend forgiveness to others? If you cannot forgive, what does that say about you? Are you like the wicked slave?
IV. Bring others to Christ
The disciples were being trained by Christ to learn how to make more disciples of Christ. If anyone should have been eager to bring people to Christ, it should have been the disciples. Yet, in Mark 10, the disciples are agitated with the children and trying to run them off. Jesus rebukes the disciples and then welcomes the children to Him. It is a teaching moment for the disciples. They realized their folly. What about you, are you hindering people from coming to Christ or, are you actively seeking to bring Christ to people and people to Christ?
In the kingdom of heaven, the key to greatness is humbleness and service. We experience God’s mercy and grace and then we do all that we can to extend mercy and grace to the people around us. Mercy is not giving people what they deserve and grace is giving people what they do not deserve. Jesus does this for us and once we experience this, we want others to experience His mercy and grace through us. May this be the cry of all of our hearts.