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Unless You Turn and Become Like Children

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
-Matthew 18:1-14 (ESV)

Insignificant.  Are you willing to be insignificant for Jesus?  Dependent.  Are you willing to be completely dependent on Jesus?  Humble.  Are you willing to humble yourself for Jesus?  If not, your citizenship in the kingdom is not going to work.  You can't enter it and play there without becoming like a child.

There is a difference between childlike and childish.(1)  We are supposed to give up childish things (1 Cor. 13:11), ways of acting and relating, and become men and women, become adults.  But men and women must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said that we must change and be like children.  A child had no status, was powerless, and was utterly dependent.  That is what Jesus is talking about.

The disciples looked over at the Roman kingdom and perhaps the ecclesiastical kingdom of the Temple and the priests and may have reflected about how they were going to be the bosses, to be the powerful, the famous, and the entitled ones in Jesus' kingdom.  And Jesus said, "No, it's not going to be like that".  All disciples have no special status.  

All authority and any fame, is mediated through Christ.  We make disciples of Christ and exhort others to follow him, not us.  Everything we do, in the kingdom, is to make Christ great, to lift him up.

We might think that to be great is not about fame, fortune, or power; but about knowledge and piety.  Knowledge of the Bible, theology, and spiritual things is wrong headed, unless it is mediated through the living Christ, who calls us to a radical reorientation of becoming little people first.  Holiness, devoutness, and religious duty or zeal are worthless unless they come through Christ and his call.
Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  
Jesus contradicts our idea of success.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
We can only receive other genuine disciples it we are one ourselves.  There is a disconnect in fellowship when there are those who have not or are not becoming like children, who try to interact with the child-like ones.  Jesus is the mediator of our fellowship.  To be together with people, we have to humble ourselves.

The person who only looks up at people or down at people is a worldly person who is not living in Christ.  The kingdom is flat.  No hierarchy.  We receive something from someone or give something to someone through Christ, the head and the King.  To receive someone in Christ's name, is to perceive Christ in them.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In the kingdom, the focus is the king.  There is one king, one boss, one head.  We all can only enter and be citizens of the kingdom is we become like children.  We all get to play and we all have to play nice.

He calls us to this.  Then he calls us to see others as his children, as folks who are his children, whom he is one with.  How we treat others is how we treat him.  The context is the upside down kingdom and how disciples treat each other.
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
These words of Jesus are a stern warning about guarding against being a vehicle of temptation for others to sin.  Satan and his team traffic in using the low roads in our lives to tempt other people in the community of faith to sin.  Jesus warns of a severe punishment for those who let themselves be pathways of temptation for his children.

Folks who cause others to stumble or fall, because they have not dealt with their own sins, are called to account, by God, in this life, and will pay a heavy price.  Jesus' word, is that if you have a problem with something, then cut it off.  Throw that away.  Completely stop it.  We have no choice but to take responsibility for our stuff.

Even though we are saved, have been born anew, and are on our way to heaven; when a pattern of temptation and sin emerge in our life and come to light, we need to act swiftly to repent and cut it off.  We might need to get some deep healing in our hearts, and, "get the garbage taken out", that we may not have even been aware of previously, that is feeding the temptation to sin.  If we do not, we will become a stumbling block to others, especially the babes in Christ, and get ourselves in severe trouble in our lives, like having a rock necklace.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 
Again, this is a word from Jesus about how to play nice.  His original audience were the Apostles who would be the "boots on the ground", when the expansion of the community of Jesus' followers would explode, shortly. He both says, "You need to become like children", and, "Do not despise my children".  "The 'little ones have already emerged in the previous verses as ordinary Christians, who in their vulnerability need the care of their fellow-disciples."(France, p. 272-3)

Angels are real.  Every person has an angel, as Jesus attests to here.  When we see other people, we need to see them as Christ's child, Christ in them, and someone who has a holy angel assigned to them.  This all should give us pause before we treat people badly.  Jesus and His Father care immensely for each one, especially for the ones in the greatest danger.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
When Jesus asks a question, he is engaging his listeners.  He really cares what you think and wants what you think to be put forward, out onto the table of discussion.  We engage the learner when we ask questions and ask for comments and discussion.  We are accustomed to reading our Bibles in silence or passively listening to a teacher, but Jesus' method, which is more effective, is to engage the disciple/learner, asking them to speak up.  When you learn it or get it, you speak it or do it and have been taught it, and have caught it.  And, he keeps asking us the questions until we get it in our hearts.

The point of the parable about the  one sheep that went astray, is that God's heart, and our hearts congruently, are to be going after the one, while risking the safety of the ninety-nine.  Note also that the word is 'astray'.  The one is not 'lost', but 'astray'.

The one who goes astray needs the pastoral care of fellow disciples.  The word 'pastor', means 'shepherd'.  In the modern church, we have called the senior leader, who preaches on Sundays, 'the pastor'.  You might read this story with him in mind, and get the idea that, even though he is so busy leading the local church, whether it is a regular church of a hundred people, or a 'mega' church of a thousand, that he is reminded to look after that one who goes astray.

That application is partially right, but not what Jesus was saying and not the application we should take away from Matthew 18.  The application or 'take away' is that all Christians, all disciples are responsible for the care of fellow disciples.  This responsibility falls upon all of us.  It is the heart of the Father that Jesus imparts to all of us.  Our savior is The Good Shepherd (John 10), who imparts his heart of care for people, to all of us.

It is a common story that pastors today run from the one to the 99, figuratively.  They are not sinning, but are exhausted from the weight of their jobs.  An interesting note is that when churches take spiritual gifts tests, usually 20% or more of a congregation will come out of the test with the gift of pastor.(2)
Unless you turn and become like little children.
Children are completely dependent.  Are you completely dependent on God for everything?  Children are insignificant, in the world, but loved and cared for by their fathers, mothers, and extended families.  Have you found your significance in the love of God, and that love reverberated through God's family?
Unless you turn and become like little children.  
Jesus calls us all to a reorientation of status.  In the kingdom, in the family of God, Jesus calls us all to a low status.  In the kingdom, Jesus calls us all to go down, not up, humbling ourselves.  We don't go up in status, so that people look up to us and we look down to them, as we teach or minister to them.  We do the opposite.

In the kingdom, we all go down, becoming like children; before God, and to each other.  We are as children and we see each other as children, through the eyes of Father.  Welcome to the community of Jesus.

We are all little people in the kingdom.  Little people, with a big God.  There is never a great man of God.  It is always the great God of man.

And this is all antithetical to ecclesiastical hierarchies.  Remember that gifts are functions and roles.  The authority of Christ might come with the gift, but the gifted one is still called to become like a child, or they will not be able to function in the kingdom of God.

That is the context of this "Unless" word.  Jesus was speaking to the men who would be the foundation of the church and write some of the New Testament.  These guys, we would call "heavy weights", had to be like children, or they would not make it; and neither will we.



__________________________________

Bibliography:

W. D. Davies, Dale C. Allison, Jr.; Matthew 8-18, International Critical Commentary 
Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Footnotes:
1. Childishness, in a word, is selfish.  Childish people pout, are self-centered, and have a sense of entitlement.  Fussing, tantrums, and running away and folding the arms are childish reactions.  The passive-aggressive style is to cut people off and ignore them when the childish one is offended.  They want things done for them and want life handed or "spoon fed " to them.  Childish ones always want to be entertained.  If they don't get fed, entertained, or catered to, it's not worth doing. 

One way of defining the positive of child-likeness in contrast to the negative of childishness is that child-likeness are the positive traits of children and childish are the negative.  I just gave some examples of childishness.  Child-likeness is innocence, a sense of wonder, trusting, friendliness, curiosity, impartiality, purity, willingness to try new things and even fail, and a forgiving disposition.

2. In our Christian culture, we have called the man who preaches, 'pastor', when he probably has the gift of exhortation or teaching, evangelist, or prophet.  The person with the gift of pastor has the Father's heart for that one in a hundred person, 'in spades'.

All disciples are called to pastoral care (shepherding other disciples), while 20% or more might be very good at or passionate about it.  

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