At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.
The context is clear, the disciples interest in the Kingdom has been piqued, if not incredibly flawed. They desire to know who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Their question, as recorded by Matthew speaks volumes; “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Yet Jesus, as he so often does, gives an indirect answer. Jesus, who has a child come forth, displays the child before the disciples and says, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Did you happen to notice that the disciples asked Jesus a direct question but Jesus does not answer them directly? This is quite common for Jesus. We have seen this many times before, particularly in the parables and many times in the miracles and even in the feeding of thousands. Let’s remember to take our Vitamin E and look at a few examples.
“Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
“Why do You speak to them in parables?” And He answered and said to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
“Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.'”
“Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” But when He heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The aattendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?”
These are but a few of the many examples of the interesting ways in which Jesus answered direct questions; only from the gospel of Matthew, and only up to chapter 18. One that stands out to me particularly is when the disciples of John came to him and asked if he was the Expected One or should we wait for another? That is a yes and no, or; no and yes, question. However, Jesus responded by saying, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” This is not only a demonstration of the sublime string that is woven throughout the Bible but is meant to get them, and John thinking. Jesus, by his statement, is asking them, what do you think? without fully revealing himself as the Messiah.
Back to today’s text. “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” We are not entirely sure, but an indication is given, why the disciples asks this question or exactly what kind of answer they are expecting, but Jesus does. Even though Jesus doesn’t answer them directly, we can assume that since it is Jesus, it is the appropriate answer.
To be honest, I am a bit baffled by the question. Have we not already read, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he?” Then again, according to the context, the disciples of Jesus were not present at this exchange. Nevertheless, one would think that Jesus has made it clear to the disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven is not about being small or great, but about being humble, forgiving and caring.
We also assume this by the indirect response of Jesus, where he summons a child, shows him to the disciples and says, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The disciples are not asking who will enter, or how to enter, the kingdom of heaven but, who is the greatest? Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, miscontrue the metaphorical meaning here. Jesus does not answer them directly, nor say that the child is the greatest in the Kingdom. This is why I write, Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions.
Notice the context and see what Jesus said. Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Where is the “faith like a child?”
According to the context, which is a simile, who does Jesus say is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is a metaphor, and it is the primary focus of Jesus. Before indirectly answering the disciples about who is greatest, Jesus superlatively says “truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” At first, Jesus is not talking about the greatest but about entering. One cannot be great if one cannot even enter. He uses another simile. And when Jesus does answer their question, he does so indirectly and metaphorically.
Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, preach from pulpits and say in Sunday Schools that we need the “faith of a child.” But Jesus never said that, and I don’t believe that he ever implied it either. And even as Jesus presented to the disciples a literal child as a visual aid, he did not say that they needed to have the faith of said child. We do not read about “child-like” faith in the words of Jesus. It may seem like simple semantics but it is important to consider the context.
Although the response of Jesus was indirect, it was on point and shows that the disciples are yet to fully understand. Jesus doesn’t respond to their question but to the motivation behind the question. And since Context is King, they, and we, get the answer. Notice the context.
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t need the original Greek to understand but sometimes it does help incredibly. Grab a Strong’s concordance or search online, if the context is confusing. “παιδίον” “Neuter diminutive of pais; a childling, i.e., an infant, or a half-grown boy or girl.” -Strong’s. This is the literal translation of the world ‘child.” It is not gender specific but is fairly specific that it is a very small child. One who would be wholly dependant on his or her parents. Jesus is not speaking of one who is nearing adolescents but one who probably has yet to be potty trained.
And that’s the metaphor. The small child he presented before the disciples is probably no older than three to four years old. Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens us. This word,”παιδίον,” is the same word Matthew used in chapter 2, as Herod searched for the one born “King of the Jews,” which many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, and almost all programs and pageants, place the,”παιδίον” still in the manger. No, Jesus was not still in the manger, but he was much more than likely, less than 2 years old.
Jesus is not making a metaphor for one to have “child-like faith,” despite what you have been taught and what you have taught others. Peter writes, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” One of my favorite songs of all time, to play on guitar and sing with all my might, is, Faith Like a Child, by Jars of Clay. Listen to it, it is a moving song–I love it. Nevertheless, it is not quite doctrinally correct. In it we hear the words, “They say that I can move the mountains, And send them falling to the sea, They say that I can walk on water, If I would follow and believe, With faith like a child.” I suppose that the “they” are many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers. While inspiring, and certainly they have poetic license and liberty, they are literally taking the “faith like a mustard seed”, and the erroneously exclaimed, “faith like a child,” Peter’s walking on water and mixing them to make music with meaning. Again, I love the song but we should not get our doctrine from songs.
This is why I always told the teenagers, who were conditionally contingent to my care, that unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. For 30 years I was a opinionated ogre. Problem: I could pray longer than most, quote more Bible verses than most, gave of my self more than most, defended the faith more than most, but it was all dirty rags because I had “child-like faith.” That is, I only regurgitated that which I was taught. Namely, Jesus saved me because I prayed a prayer (show me that Bible verse). Now it was up to me to “be good” (show me that Bible verse.) Like the Pharisees, I was blind, being led by blind guides, and we both fell into a pit. Like the Pharisees I cleaned up the outside of the bowl but the maggots migrated to the inside.
Faith is not child-like, consider what Paul wrote in the love chapter, “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” This is especially applicable because 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t truly the love chapter, but the act like a grown-up with your Spiritual Gifts chapter, considering the context.
We remember what Jesus says about the demon that the disciples couldn’t cast out. The reason was because of their littleness of faith. Place the small child in their shoes, would he have been able to cast out the demon? We always assume facts not in evidence. We don’t need faith like a child, we need faith like that of Abraham, “with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.” We need faith like Caleb and Joshua, who when the other spies wanted to run and hide, they wanted to take the land. We need faith like, Able, Enoch and Noah, like, Joseph, Moses, “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” We need faith like a Boss, not like a child.
I’m sorry, the Bible never says that angels sing, despite your Christmas songs. Nor does it tell us that there were 3 wise men. The Bible doesn’t state that, “this too shall pass,” don’t judge anyone,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “the Lord works in mysterious ways” and a myriad of other sayings that are made up by men. In the same way, having the “faith of a child” is never uttered at all in the entire Bible.
I know that I am coming off as a blowhard, know-it-all but I have had enough of these false teachers and preachers that I see on TV and hear on the radio (I no longer have TV). They don’t consider the sublime string of context! I wouldn’t even bother to subject myself to their sermons of sacrilege but they are leading thousands upon thousands astray. I truly believe I have been called to counter.
I hate gardening, I really do, physically. My little lot has more than it’s fair share of rocks and roots, stones and stubborn stubble. Beyond that, I inherited an imbalanced amount of weeds and thorns and 20 majestic oak trees that deposit more than their fair share of acorns each year. To till the soil takes tons of toil. And yet, spirituality speaking, I am at peace plowing and planting because I meditate on the many metaphors of agrarian aspects of which the Bible uses to teach spiritual truths. A particular passage I ponder is, “the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” Although I have seemingly ripped this passage out of context, things are not always as seem.
My missive are metaphorically made more meaningful by my hatred of the physical aspects of gardening. I have finished rototilling the garden, going over each inch four to five times. The tiller would leap, lunge, bound and gyrate as it latched on to large rocks. It would twist and turn as the roots of the nearby trees tried to tangle the tines. After hours of hopping high and landing low, I was able to break through the roots, rocks and stones, bringing forth not only the good soil but also digging so deep, that the low lying clay was unearthed. I even dug up an old fishing net, a piece of pipe and various other obstructions to a good garden. So that now the soil and compost are thoroughly mixed and most of the harmful obstructions have been removed and the rototiller rides smoothly through the soil. Little remains but good soil, ready for the seed.
In hope, my missives are metaphorically like a plow in a small garden by the woods’ edge. We’ve had this garden for years and have certainly reaped some fruits and vegetables from it. But as time went on, the roots from the trees and stones that were heaved, began encroaching on the promise of a good garden–a deep tilling of the soil was required. In the same way we have let the precepts of men encroach on our fruit bearing. Verses taken out of context are rocks, traditions without ties are stones, phrases that we assume are Biblical, and are not, are roots. You see, the soil is good but it needs to be stirred up from time to time. My vision statement, if you have not read it, is, “come as you are, expecting to be changed.” My mission statement is, “mining for gold.” And it is sublimely simple, though it is not easy, because the roots and rocks have found their homes in our good soil. I cannot stress the CAGED method enough; context, author’s aspirations, genre, examples and divide rightly.
See the sublime string. If you have not read my prior missives, please do so, that you may see the sublime string of context, which is less like a string and more like a carbon fiber cable, dipped in diamond dust, surrounded by stainless-steel, twisted in titanium, isolated by iron, guarded by a fat, naked, baby Cherubim (I couldn’t resist). The sublime string, that should be unbreakable, is an acutely cut cord by our preconceived notions and presuppositions made prevalent by these mega-church pastors who cannot seem to string two verses together.
Am I off on a rabbit trail or an intangible, tangle-up tangent? Consider the context. Jesus is speaking metaphorically about a very small child. One that can’t cook for themself, is probably not potty trained, one that certainly can’t yet read, and yet we think that Jesus is telling us that our faith is to be like that child’s? I highly doubt it considering the context and the sublime string.
Remember the disciples question, Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Their question reveals their motivation. Jesus is showing them his power and authority and they want to know what is in it for them. That is, although asking about the Kingdom of Heaven, they are still thinking earthly. The response of Jesus confirms this. Jesus doesn’t say that they need faith like a child to enter the Kingdom, he tells them that they have to be like the child. The disciples are like my garden full of garbage. Although learning they have a long way to go. They must rid themselves of all the roots and rocks and be stripped down to their soil, which is not good, rather it’s tainted and full of garbage. This is rebirth, this is repentance. This is letting go of how they think, and changing their minds after being with Jesus. Jesus is not focused on behavior but on their minds. The greatest in the Kingdom is the least on earth–the one who humbles himself “in the sight of the Lord.” As the small child is wholly dependent upon his parents, the greatest in the Kingdom is wholly reliant upon the Lord. That’s what the metaphor means. Dying to one’s self is the “cross to bear.” Living in the Spirit of Christ is one’s becoming “like children.” Jesus uses the metaphor, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to show that the disciple is to be to Jesus, as the small child is to his mother, humble and wholly dependent. Having written that, tomorrow is mother’s day. Yes, a made-up Hallmark holiday, but nevertheless, to all the biological mothers, to those who have never given birth but raised children, and to those with no children of your own but treat the children of the world as your own, Happy Mother’s Day. Here is a dainty daffodil, dirtied by my digging.
Jesus concludes by saying,
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Take that, mega-church pastors, who tell children of all ages that God has a double portion for them if they would just name it and claim it. They obviously don’t know how to read their Bibles but I am surprised that they don’t watch Fox news. Christians with gigantically enormous faith are being put to death all day long for exactly that, their gigantically enormous faith.