GLEANINGS FROM THE SCRIPTURES
WHO IS THE GREATEST?
By Keith L. Estes
One billion children- half of all children in the world- live in poverty. Half a billion are trying to live on less than one dollar per day. Two million children under age 15 are HIV-positive, and millions more, especially in Africa, are being left orphaned by AIDS. Wars have killed more than 1.5 million children since 1990. Some 246 million children are exploited as laborers, 130 million have no access to education, and at least eight million are trapped in various forms of bondage and prostitution. Thirty thousand children die every day from preventable diseases.
These dramatic facts show the powerlessness of children. Powerlessness is what Jesus had in mind when He urged His disciples to be like children. If this notion shocks you, you’re not alone- it certainly shocked the disciples. If you read these verses and imagined an apple-cheeked young innocent, think again. Neither the cultural nor textual contexts justify such a reading. Jesus meant that the disciples should not seek to exalt themselves.
On the road, they had been arguing about who was the greatest, that is, who would rank highest and be the Messiah’s right-hand man when the kingdom came. Perhaps they spent their free time daydreaming of their high-flying futures. (The nation of Israel expected a political Messiah to lead them against the Roman Empire. Accordingly, Jesus followers expected His kingdom to come very soon. They wanted on board- they were angling for high positions. James and John’s mother’s request that her sons be given places of authority and privilege was simply a mother looking out for her family’s interests.)
Jesus tried to teach them the real nature of His kingdom, beginning with a principle: The last shall be first. As they puzzled over this reversal, He added the object lesson of a small child. “And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me…For he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”
The disciples’ hopes about the kingdom were grand and powerful- their idea of welcoming the Messiah no doubt included a victory parade. Where was the payoff in welcoming a child? Yet Jesus said that doing so was the key to entering God’s kingdom. They were thunderstruck. To this day we still wrestle with the truth that humility is the key to leadership.
Read carefully the following words: “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matt. 18: 1-6.
Reference: Today In The World, A Ministry of Moody Bible Institute. March 2007