There Is No Kingdom Ladder: Stop Trying to Climb It

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as recorded by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses eleven through thirty-five of the eighteenth chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the apostle Matthew transitioning to what is perhaps one of the most revealing moments among the conversations the disciples had with each other. CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DISCIPLES! EAVESDROPPING ON THE DISCIPLES! LISTENING IN ON THE DISCIPLES’ CONVERSATION! As the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew opens, it does so with the apostle Matthew writing concerning the disciples and how the disciples came unto Jesus with a very specific and very pointed question. In the opening verse of the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find the disciples coming unto Jesus and asking them who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven was. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in this particular verse, for this wouldn’t be the first time the disciples would inquire as to who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven was. As you continue reading the four New Testament gospels you will find that the disciples continually murmured among themselves as to who was the greatest. What’s more, is that the mother of James and John—the sons of Zebedee—came unto Jesus and asked that her two sons be seated next to Him in heaven. The mother of James and John asked Jesus point blank if John could sit on one side of Jesus in glory, while James sat on the other side in glory. If there is one thing we must recognize concerning the New Testament gospels, it’s that the disciples regularly conversed among themselves as to who among them was in fact the greatest. The question we find within this particular passage is not outright asking which one among them is the greatest, but could very well be a veiled question as to who among them was the greatest. When I read the words which the disciples asked of Jesus, I can’t help but wonder if they anticipated and even expected Jesus to provide a specific name concerning that one which was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What is so interesting about this particular passage of Scripture is that Jesus would not openly comment to the disciples concerning he or she who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus would not take the bait and provide an answer to the disciples’ question, for there was none who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Pause for a moment and consider that last statement and reality—the reality that when asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus did not immediately rush to providing a specific name of that one who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When asked by the disciples concerning who was in fact the greatest in the kingdom of heaven Jesus provided no such name, and I am utterly and completely convinced that in the absence of a specific name is a truly wonderful and powerful statement which was made by Jesus. I am convinced that in the absence of a specific name that was mentioned by Jesus is the wonderful and powerful declaration that there is no one specific person who is in fact the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were inquiring from Jesus concerning who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if one of them thought and believed that they were the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if within this question is an even deeper question that is veiled, concealed and hidden—a question that would later be asked by the disciples as they argued among themselves. If you continue reading the four gospels concerning the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, you will find that there would come a point when the disciples wouldn’t merely ask each other who among them was the greatest, but they would actually argue among themselves as to who was the greatest. When I read this particular question found within the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, I can’t help but be directly confronted with the fact that the disciples may have desired Jesus provide them with a specific name of one who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that the disciples might have even thought that one of them would be listed and named by Jesus Christ as greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In all reality, I have to admit that the question which the disciples asked Jesus on this particular occasion is perhaps one of the most self-centered, self-seeking questions that can be asked—one that continues to be asked to this day, and one which has been asked throughout the generations since it was first asked.

Before I delve further into this particular question and the tremendous danger that surrounds it, I feel compelled to present you with the account of John the Baptist as it was recorded by the apostle Matthew in the eleventh chapter of the book. If you turn your attention back to the eleventh chapter of this New Testament gospel concerning Jesus Christ you will find John the Baptist in prison, and while there in prison struggling with offense, struggling with disappointment, struggling with frustration, and perhaps a whole host of other thoughts and emotions while there in the prison cell. There in the prison cell John the Baptist heard of the great and mighty works which Jesus the Christ was performing among men upon the earth, and yet he himself remained confined to that lowly prison cell. Outside the four walls of that prison, outside the gates and bars of that prison there was One who was performing many mighty works among men and women, and while sitting there in that dark prison cell, John the Baptist heard of these great and mighty works. What’s actually quite interesting about this is that despite the fact that John the Baptist was hearing of the great and mighty works which Jesus the Christ was performing among men within and upon the earth, he still found himself struggling with disappointment with God. Despite hearing of the great and mighty works which Jesus Christ was working and performing among men upon the earth, John the Baptist was still there in that prison cell struggling with offense, struggling with doubt, struggling with unbelief, and struggling with the identity and reality of this One whom He grew up, and the same One whom He had baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, and who he emphatically declared was the Lamb of God. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to the struggle which John the Baptist faced while there in that dark prison cell, for despite hearing the many and mighty works of Jesus Christ, he still found himself unable to look beyond his present situation and circumstance. There was John the Baptist hearing of the great and mighty works which Jesus was performing, and yet he could not rejoice in those mighty works because of the present situation he found himself in. It was true that John heard of the great and mighty works which Jesus was performing among men within the earth, yet John could not be glad, nor rejoice in such works because he was unable to move past his own present situation and circumstance.

I am completely and utterly convinced that there are men and women among us today within this generation who might very well be hearing of the great and mighty works which Jesus the Christ is performing among men within and upon the earth, yet they cannot be glad, nor can they rejoice in those mighty works. There are men and women among us today within this generation who hear of the great and mighty works which Jesus is performing among men, and how Jesus is touching and transforming lives all throughout the world, and all across this country of ours, and yet they cannot rejoice in such works because they are unable to look beyond their own situation and circumstances. Such men and women might find themselves in a figurative prison cell—a prison cell of guilt, a prison cell of shame, a prison cell of addiction, a prison cell of bitterness, a prison cell of doubt, a prison cell of abuse, a prison cell of adultery, a prison cell of fornication, and the like. There are men and women among us within this generation who find themselves in their own prison cell—not a literal prison cell, but a situation and circumstance that does in fact feel like a prison cell which is keeping them bound, shackled and unable to break free. There are men and women among us—even within the house of the Lord—who perhaps witness the mighty work and works of Jesus Christ among those around them, and yet they cannot rejoice in such works because they are unable to move past their own present situation and circumstances. Such men and women might very well find themselves struggling with their own bitterness toward God, their own frustration with God, their own offense with God, and as a direct result of this struggle, they are unable to see Jesus as He truly is. Such men and women wrestle with whether or not the Jesus Christ they have heard about, whether or not the Jesus they are hearing about is the same Jesus they believed in and professed. Pause and consider what it was like for John the Baptist to proclaim and profess that Jesus was the Lamb of God, and to even proclaim who He was among men while baptizing those within Judaea, the city of Jerusalem, and the surrounding regions and area, and yet here he is later on in his life sitting in a dark prison cell struggling with believing in the One whom He had professed and proclaimed was the Lamb.

We would be incredibly naïve to think and consider for one moment that there aren’t men and women among us today in the house of the Lord who struggle with their own situation and circumstance, and as such, they are unable to rejoice in the works which Christ is performing in the hearts and lives of those around them. John the Baptist heard of the great and mighty works which Jesus Christ was performing among men and women in Judaea, Jerusalem and the surrounding region, and yet he still found himself struggling with disappointment in God, and struggling with belief in the person and identity of Jesus who was the living Christ and Messiah. STRUGGLING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT WITH GOD, STRUGGLING WITH BELIEVING IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST! What is so incredibly intriguing about the account of John the Baptist there in that prison cell is that John heard of the great and mighty works which Jesus performed among men within and upon the earth, and yet hearing about the mighty works could not bring his beyond and bring him past his own struggle with disappointment in God, and past his struggle with who Jesus Christ truly was. If you read this particular passage of Scripture you will find that even though John heard of the mighty works which Jesus Christ performed among men within Judaea and the surrounding regions, he still sent two of his disciples unto Jesus asking if He was the One who they should look for, or if they should look for another. Consider the tremendous reality that Jesus the Christ can be working countless mighty works among men within and upon the earth, and you can hear of the works which Jesus is performing and working among men, and yet you can find yourself in a situation that you can’t see beyond—a situation that not only has you struggling with disappointment and disillusionment with God, but also struggling with belief in the person and identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist heard of the many mighty works which Jesus was performing among men within and upon the earth, and yet even though he heard of those many mighty works, he still found himself struggling with the person and identity of Jesus Christ. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt there are men and women who right now sit in worship services week after week, and yet they still find themselves unable to look past their own situation and circumstance . Such men and women are unable to rejoice in the mighty works Jesus is doing in the lives of others because their own situation and circumstance remains unchanged and unaltered. These men and women find themselves in a very real place of discouragement, disillusionment, frustration, and perhaps even bitterness and offense with God Himself.

With all of that being said concerning John the Baptist struggling there in that prison cell—struggling with disappointment with God, struggling with the identity of Jesus, struggling with his own situation and circumstance not changing, struggling with hearing of Christ working in the lives of others and not once coming to visit him in the prison cell—Jesus sends his disciples back with instruction to tell John again those things which He had already heard. Jesus sends the disciples of John back to him reminding him and calling him to remembrance once more the mighty works which were being performed within and upon the earth, and then provides one final piece of instruction specifically for John. Not only did Jesus instruct the disciples of John to return to him and remind him of those things which he already heard—the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them—but He also sent them back with one final word of instruction to this struggling servant in the prison. This final piece of instruction given unto John the Baptist concerned those who aren’t offended in Jesus Christ—those who aren’t offended when He doesn’t show up the way we want Him to, those who aren’t offended when He doesn’t move and operate the way they want or feel He should, those who realize that God doesn’t answer to them. Immediately following Jesus sending the disciples of John back to him in that prison cell Jesus then began to speak unto the multitudes concerning John the Baptist—despite the fact that he was sitting in a prison cell struggling with disillusionment and discouragement and frustration. If you begin reading with and from the seventh verse of the eleventh chapter you will find the following words which were spoken by Jesus the Christ unto John the Baptist—this forerunner of the Messiah who called men to repentance, who baptized men and women in the waters of repentance and remission of sins, and who confronted the Pharisees and religious community during that day. Consider if you will the following words which Jesus spoke concerning John the Baptist beginning with the seventh verse:

“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a great than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:7-15).

Pay attention to what Jesus said concerning John the Baptist, for when speaking concerning John the Baptist Jesus declared that among those which are born of women there had not risen a greater than John the Baptist. It would be one thing if Jesus had stopped with those words and simply declared that among those born among women there had not risen one greater than John the Baptist, and such a statement would have suggested that John the Baptist was indeed the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The truth of the matter, however, is that Jesus didn’t stop by declaring that among women there had not risen one greater than John the Baptist, for Jesus would go on to declare that he which is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Please don’t miss or lose sight of that which Jesus is speaking and declaring here in this passage, for despite the many great things John the Baptist did for the kingdom of heaven, and despite the fact that John the Baptist was the forerunner for the Messiah preparing hearts and lives for the emergence and arrival of the Messiah, he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. If there is one thing we must recognize and learn concerning the kingdom of heaven is that it isn’t fashioned after and according to the manner that other kingdoms of the earth are. When studying the kingdom of heaven within and upon the earth, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that it doesn’t operate the same way that the kingdoms of the earth and the kingdoms of men operates. When speaking of the kingdom of heaven, it is absolutely necessary that we don’t allow ourselves to get caught up in who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for such arguments, such disputes, such questioning is not only incredibly dangerous, but also incredibly tragic. There are countless men and women who spend their time concerning who in the kingdom of heaven is the greatest, and yet Jesus never promoted those who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Even when speaking concerning John the Baptist, Jesus declared that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. It’s worth noting and mentioning that even when speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus never declared or proclaimed him to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Jesus declared that those who were the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than this mighty man of God, and this great prophet of the most High God. Pause for a moment and consider that for a moment—the reality that those who are least in the kingdom of heaven are greater than John the Baptist who went before the face of the Messiah as the forerunner and messenger of the kingdom of heaven.

SEEKING TO BE THE GREATEST WHEN WE SHOULD BE SEEKING TO BE THE LEAST! The disciples came unto Jesus privately asking Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and instead of Jesus giving them a specific name concerning that one who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus instead took up a little child, set the child in the midst of them, and then declared that unless they be converted, and become as little children, they should and would not enter into the kingdom of heaven. I have to admit that I absolutely love that Jesus didn’t provide a specific name for one who was the greatest in the kingdom, for in the absence of a single name is an emphatic declaration and proclamation that there is no one who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. There are many men and women who spend their days seeking to become great in the kingdom of heaven, and as a direct result of seeking to be great in the kingdom of heaven, they give themselves over to works, to performance, to merit, to promotion, to pomp and circumstance, and to the accolades of men. I love that Jesus didn’t provide a specific name for that one who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for had Jesus provided a name of one who could and would have potentially been greatest in the kingdom of heaven, He would undoubtedly have had to go on to speak and reveal how and why that particular individual is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It wouldn’t have been enough to simply declare a certain individual to being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for Jesus would have had to continue elevating that particular individual above those within the kingdom of heaven in order that He mighty justify that individual being given such a title. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this particular reality, for by doing so we position ourselves to understanding and knowing that the kingdom of heaven has never been and will never be about becoming great or becoming the greatest within it. The kingdom of heaven was never promoted as that which we should seek to be great, or that which we should seek to be the greatest in the midst of. Jesus never promoted the kingdom as a ladder which we climb in order to somehow reach a certain zenith or pinnacle of success and merit—not only before the living God, but also among and before men. There are countless men and women who spend a considerable amount of time seek to climb the “kingdom ladder,” and as a result of doing so, find themselves being driven by performance, by works, by fame, by success, and by receiving accolades and praise of men.

THERE IS NO KINGDOM LADDER! If you work in the corporate world you are undoubtedly aware of the phrase “climbing the corporate ladder.” Such a phrase is attributed to starting one’s journey at the bottom of the ladder, and through hard work, through perseverance, through constant striving, one is able to progress up the corporate ladder. If you have worked in corporate America for any length of time you will undoubtedly know that it has always been and still continues to be about position on the corporate ladder and who is at the top of the ladder. There are countless men and women who find themselves working in the corporate world and the corporate environment, and as a direct result of working in the corporate world, they engage themselves in constant striving to be better than those around them. One thing about the corporate world and environment is setting oneself apart from others in order that they might shine a little brighter than those around them. Such men and women will spend their time in the corporate setting continually trying to one up those around them in order that they might be perceived as being the cream of the crop, and part of an elite group of men and women within the company. What’s more, is that such a striving will undoubtedly lead to intense competition with those around them in order that they might somehow come out on top before and above others. We dare not miss or lose sight of this tremendous reality, for such a reality and such a mindset has found its way into the church, and even within men’s perception of the kingdom of heaven. Consider for a moment that such a mindset had found its way into the thinking of the disciples, as they asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. As surely as I am sitting here right now I am gripped with and gripped by the awesome and tremendous reality that those who seek to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will continually give themselves to constant striving and constant competition with those before and around them. What’s more, is that they will constantly give themselves to engaging in works, and trying to increase their works in order that they might somehow tip the scales in their favor. Such men and women never seek to imitate and be like Christ, but continually seek and strive to become the best version of themselves within the kingdom of heaven in order that they might be the greatest.

IN SEEKING TO BE THE GREATEST YOU STOP IMITATING! I am completely and utterly convinced that if we seek and if we wish to engage ourselves in seeking to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, we position ourselves to cease imitating Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God. There is not a doubt in my mind that when we seek to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, we continually seek and continually strive to enhance our own image, promote our own brand, and seek to elevate ourselves above others in order that we might somehow be held in high esteem and high honor. In all reality, I would dare say that if you are one who is seeking to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, you might very well be doing so at the very expense of being like Jesus the Christ who is and who was the image of the invisible God. Those who would seek to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will cease recognizing that they have need to be transformed into the image, the likeness and character of Jesus the Christ, and will seek to be the best version of themselves in the eyes of men. Oh, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke concerning the Pharisees, for in the words He spoke concerning them, I believe we see a powerful indictment against those who would seek to be greatest in the sight of men, and those who would seek to be the greatest in the sight of God. I fully recognize that this might be getting ahead of myself in the study of Matthew, but it is worth noting and pointing out Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees and scribes, and their continual struggle to be great among men and great before God. Beginning with the first verse of the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find the following words spoken by Jesus concerning the Pharisees and scribes:

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on. Men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the border of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a presence make a long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing;/ but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth thereon. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the wietheir matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisees, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto white sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:1-33).

The entire twenty-third chapter is devoted to Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees and the scribes, and their vain pursuit of seeking to be the greatest among men, and the greatest before God. Jesus spoke concerning the scribes and the Pharisees and their constant struggle to be set apart from before and among men, and indicted them for their self-promotion and their continued pride and arrogance. If we read the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew carefully we will undoubtedly come to the tremendous realization that the kingdom of heaven has never been and will never be about performance, about rank, about merit, about stature, and about becoming the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When seeking to understand the kingdom of heaven it is necessary that we recognize and understand that the kingdom of heaven has no ladder contained within it which we are to somehow climb in order that we might be elevated above those before and around us. Away with our self-exaltation! Away with our self-promotion! Away with our pride and arrogance! Away with our constant striving and our constant need for validation! Away with needing our egos stroked and our our backs patted by those around us! Away with applauds and accolades of men! Where are the men and women who are willing to live their lives seeking to be like Jesus, and by doing so find themselves as the least in the kingdom of heaven? Where are those who are willing to live out the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of the epistles written unto the Philippian church and congregation? I leave you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto this congregation in hopes that it will bring you face to face with the wonderful and powerful reality that you were not called, nor were you chosen to somehow be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven:

“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this. Mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s