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Who is the Greatest?

Frontline Devotion for September 21, 2017 (Season of 'Time After Pentecost')

Matthew 18:1-5

By: Alex Stall

Author Photo

Matthew 18:1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

I'd be willing to bet that Jesus' response to the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" was not what the disciples expected to hear. They lived in a world where children were the property of their parents, who in turn were very much the subjects of those who were there "betters" - those who were rich, powerful, or representatives of the military power of Rome all ranked above the "average person." But Jesus tells them that to be great in the kingdom of heaven, they needed to become like children. Quite the opposite of the prevailing wisdom of the day, where power derived from privilege and to be great meant to be mighty.

It is not all that different today. We invest great confidence in the wealthy, the beautiful, and the successful. Society downplays the value of those who have less, and our children, while perhaps not thought of as property as used to be, are still considered na´ve and foolish. We spend much of their childhood trying to make them be responsible, and grown up.

The older I get, the more often I find myself reminiscing and trying to recapture a special feeling of happiness or contentment that I felt when "I was a kid." Children see things in ways adults do not. Children, in their innocence, see the beauty and the miracle of the world around us. They can accept things as they are, and they embrace the experiences they have. They have faith that the world is as marvelous all the time as it is today. Of course, as we "grow up" we learn differently. We become more "seasoned" and less open to taking things as they are presented to us. We look for the "angle," the "rest of the story," the "real reason for the offer." We kind of have to, or else the world will devour us in our innocence, and leave us hurt and broken.

The problem is, we apply our realistic world view to everything, including God's amazing grace. Instead of accepting it as it is offered, we look for the catch or the expectation being imposed upon us for the blessing. Where we see none, we make them up - we assume that God would deal with us as we would deal with each other - loading the gifts he gives with conditions and requirements.

"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." If you wish, there is God's catch. To be part of the kingdom of heaven, to be greatest, just accept it. It is a gift freely given, to be freely accepted.

If only we experienced this gift through the eyes of a child! We would live in it, relish it, and just accept it. We would focus on today, living and loving in each moment, doing as we are called to do - to love and support one another, regardless of state or condition. Pray for such a childlike faith!

Let us pray: Gracious God, give us the gift of a childlike faith. Help us to see life, love, and salvation as the wonderful gifts they are. May we know, regardless of the stresses and pressures of the world, that your presence in our lives is true and forever. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.