It seems Jesus’ previous lesson lingered in the minds of His disciples, for they needed clarification on some things. The most important? Who is considered greatest in His Kingdom? (Mt. 18:2) In His answer, Jesus revealed the natural outcome of faith’s work: conversion, or a change of heart. His words that will ring true for all eternity were:
“‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3, ESV)
Children are completely dependent upon those who care for them. They intuitively understand the source of their protection, sustenance, and nurture. That’s why those who grow up in homes with an absence of such are slow to understand faith and the dynamics of it. They have learned to abandon the exercise of faith because of those who never nurtured the dynamics of faith. A child exercises faith in his/her caregivers, and that faith is reinforced by the care and nurturing the caregivers provide. Faith works in us to reveal our total dependence on God’s provision, in God’s way and in God’s time.
The faith that grows in one’s heart creates a change in one’s perspective. In fact, it empowers one to redirect his/her natural inclinations. Paul spoke of this mind change as possessing the mind of Christ:
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:12-16)
The change occurs within the heart when the Spirit of God fills us with His Word and His transforming power. This transformation takes time, but is a very real dynamic. There have been many who have lived lives devoid of goodness, only to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and experience such a powerful change of thinking, where doing the right thing takes preference over doing what comes naturally, thus possessing the very mind of Christ.
This precept of a heart change was not knew with the advent of Christ. It had been a part of Israel’s understanding of God’s character, even reflected in Solomon’s dedication of the Temple:
“When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you…” (I Kings 8:46-50, NIV)
During Israel’s Babylonian captivity, the prophet Ezekiel described God’s work in creating a new heart:
“…a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19, ESV)
Ezekiel clarifies God’s working in these words:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27, ESV)
Why does God make a way for one’s heart to be made new? The prophet Jeremiah described it perfectly:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
With a changed heart comes a conversion of thought: we agree with God about our sin. In fact, the Hebrew word for “repent” intimates the one confessing is agreeing with God about their sin. The eternal truth of a heart change that is reflected in the innocence of a child – the transparency, the truthfulness, the desire to excel – are the traits which are nurtured when one undergoes this transformation. This is why Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galations 2:20, NIV)
So, the greatest in His Kingdom reflect a heart of meekness and humility. Jesus taught this in His sermon on the mount; calling those who practiced meekness a walk as “blessed” (read Matthew 5-7). It’s hard to think of even wanting to be called great in God’s Kingdom, though – perhaps – the disciples were wanting to get feedback from Jesus to see if they got His main idea from the previous precept. In any case, Jesus’ reply was probably not the answer they expected, yet it’s the response God gives to reveal the eternal truth of receiving a new heart, a new perspective… the innocence of a child.
In fact, Jesus goes on to say that whoever causes one of these “little ones” (Jesus is reinforcing the idea of an adult that may come to faith in Him: one whose heart has become as innocent as a child’s) to stumble, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and thrown into the sea, than to face God’s judgment against such a person (v.6).
Heaven has no ‘prima donnas’... no one there will ever outshine the Savior or eclipse His importance. Instead, we - God’s children - will depend on Him for sustenance, dining at His table, depending on His light and presence, where we will find joy forevermore.
Have a blessed day…