Childlike Humility: The Character of Saving Grace (Matthew 18)

Scripture reading – Matthew 18

Matthew 18 suggests four major themes: 1) The Spiritual Character of the Citizens of Heaven (18:1-4); 2) God’s Love and Care for His Children (18:5-14); 3) Steps to Resolving Conflicts and Offenses (18:15-20); 4) A Lesson in Forgiveness (18:21-35). Today’s devotional commentary will be limited to the first theme:

The Spiritual Character of Heavenly Citizenship (Matthew 18:1-4)

The opening phrase of Matthew 18, “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus” (18:1a), demands that we put the passage in context. Peter, James, and John had witnessed a display of Jesus’ heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, but He had commanded them to tell no man; a vision they would keep to themselves until Christ was resurrected from the dead.

Descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus had found His disciples the target of scoffing because they had failed to cast an evil spirit out of a father’s son. Jesus then taught His followers a lesson in prayer and dependence on God’s power, saying: “This kind [kind of faith] can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Matthew 18 marks a dramatic shift in Christ’s ministry, from one to the multitudes, to a ministry focused primarily on His Twelve Disciples (Mark 9:30).

As they passed through Galilee in their journey to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus foretold His betrayal, death, and resurrection (Matthew 17:22-23).  Matthew would later write, “They were exceeding sorry” (17:23b). Mark wrote, “They [the disciples] understood not… and were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32). Luke wrote in his Gospel, “they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:45).

Why were the disciples blind to what Jesus taught concerning His death, burial and resurrection? Why did they fear to ask Him?

Three possible explanations come to mind: The first, it served God’s purpose for the disciples to hear, but not understand until after Jesus was resurrected from the dead (Luke 9:45). A second, they might have feared to ask for explanation after Peter was rebuked by Jesus for opposing His prophesy of His suffering death, and resurrection (Mark 8:32-33; 9:32). Another explanation, and one I suggest is the malady of many believers; the disciples were blinded by selfish ambitions.

During their journey to Capernaum, the disciples entered into a dispute among themselves (Mark 9:33-37; note also Matthew 20:20-21; Luke 22:24). Though knowing the hearts and thoughts of His disciples (Luke 9:47a), Jesus asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9:33) Mark would later reveal that the disciples “had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34). That dispute brings us to Matthew 18:1 when the disciples came “unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples had expected Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom. Dismissing the prophecies of the Messiah’s suffering and death (Isaiah 53), they anticipated He would establish the Messianic kingdom prophesied by the prophets. Thus, the disciples debated among themselves, “Who is the greatest?” (18:1)

Seeming to ignore their question, Jesus called a “little child unto Him, and set him in the midst” (18:2) and began to teach His followers a spiritual lesson:

 A young child is a portrait of greatness, cloaked in humility (18:2).

The disciples were common men, and for the most part, fishermen. They were fickle-hearted, short-sighted, and self-centered. Though common, ordinary men, they nevertheless shared aspirations of fame, success, and power. Knowing the pride that resided in their hearts, Jesus set a child in their midst and said, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).

What spiritual truth should the disciples have taken from this object lesson?

Humility will define the character of all who are citizens of the “kingdom of heaven” (18:3). In other words, childlike humility is the sign of saving grace (18:4).

What was it about the small child that served Christ as a portrait of humility? I suggest four traits of humility found in the boy’s example. The first, he came to Jesus when He called (18:2a). Secondly, he yielded to Jesus’ will and embrace (Mark 9:36). The third, he stayed in the place where Christ called him (Luke 9:47). Finally, he served as nothing more than Christ’s example of humility (Matthew 18:3-4; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48).

The character of the children of God, who are citizens of heaven is this:

Matthew 18:3–43And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted [repent; turn from sin to Christ], and become as little children [submissive, trusting, yielded to the will of God], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble [lowly submission] himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, Christ’s defined greatness and success, not by how many serve a man, but how many a man serves: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b)

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith