So, who is the greatest?
I think we are beyond titles now so that we don't automatically think pastors, elders & deacons are anywhere "greater" than others. As a pastor myself, I affirm this understanding. In fact, that I am given this sacred title but have a difficult time living excellently - in desperate pursuit of God, his holiness, and his design for my life, more than those without such titles work against me, I think. Heaven's "Greatest" list may find those with church titles on the bottom half rather than the top.
I think this is what the disciples were trying to figure out. Most likely, the disciples were asking Jesus to rate them. Since the Twelve are closest to Jesus, physically and they do have the title of disciples of Jesus, they figured they already occupy the top twelve on the list. They want to know the order of that twelve.
Kind of reminds me of the state of men's tennis. Three players dominate the game and stand head taller than the rest. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. They are so dominant that the three have won the last 27 of 28 Grand Slams of tennis or 34 of 37 wins going back to 2004! They are the TOP 3. No one comes close. The only question is which of these three is the best of the best?
That's probably the discussion among the disciples when they asked Jesus that day, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" This conversation is placed in that context in both Mark & Luke (Mark 9.33-37; Luke 9.46-48. In Luke, the story opens with "An argument arose among them as to which one was the greatest")
To their discussion, Jesus sets them straight:
1) Are you sure you are even INSIDE the kingdom of heaven? (v.3) In their minds, the disciples are already inside the kingdom; they just want to know which one is the greatest. But Jesus takes them outside the kingdom and has them face the entrance gates, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never ENTER the kingdom of heaven."
2) In v.3, Jesus tells them the requirement of ENTERING the kingdom of heaven. Once again, Jesus is standing with them outside. Their ticket to enter, their qualification for admission, is that they must CHANGE. Whatever is going on inside and/or outside of them is all wrong. They require CHANGE if they want to ENTER the kingdom of heaven. This is probably what Paul had in mind when he talks about the OLD self and the NEW when the Spirit of God comes upon the new believer, that the OLD must be put off and the NEW must be put on -- if the OLD persists, or if we reject parting with the OLD, then we must question, is the Spirit in us at all?
What does this NEW self look like? Jesus is such a great teacher. He has a child in front of him, points to him or her and declares, "become like children." Of course there are good things and bad things about children, but obviously Jesus is looking at traits of children that resemble the NEW:
- children know how to enjoy life. They laugh at everything and anything (joy filled living)
- some might call it being careless, but nothing is ever too serious and they aren't stressed out (living in freedom)
- whenever they are in need, they go cling to their parent. There is never a second option for them (trust and dependency)
3) And after Jesus explains the notion of ENTERing the kingdom of heaven, Jesus turns to address their initial question about GREATNESS once inside. He walks the disciples inside and once again points to the same child and says, "whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest" (v.4). Greatness is marked by HUMILITY.
|2005 at Roxas Village in the Philippines. Playing hopscotch.|
So many ways to apply this. I'll leave that to you and to your prayers.