Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus as written by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses thirteen through thirty of the nineteenth chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the apostle Matthew writing concerning a specific occurrence within the life and ministry when little children were brought unto Jesus in order that He would put His hands on them and pray. This actually has a certain amount of significance within and concerning the kingdom of heaven, for this is the second time within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when we find the presence and mention of children. If you turn and direct your attention to the previous chapter within the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find the disciples coming unto Jesus and asking them a very important question. What we must recognize and understand concerning the question the disciples asked Jesus is that while it might have seemed of importance and value to them, it mattered very little within the kingdom of heaven. If you turn and direct your attention to the opening verses of the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will not only find the account of the disciples coming unto Jesus and asking who is and was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but you will also find Jesus’ response to their question. Before I present you with the reality of what transpired on this particular day between Jesus and His disciples, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that this question—the question concerning who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven—is such that actually has no merit or standing before the throne of God, nor even in the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus came to the earth the first time to set up and establish a spiritual kingdom that would be manifested within the hearts of men and would rise up in the midst of the kingdoms and empires of the earth, He didn’t come to set it up with those who would be esteemed as great, or even those who would be esteemed and considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. If we are going to truly understand the reality concerning the kingdom of heaven, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we understand that the kingdom of heaven was not set up, nor was it established on greatness, nor was it set up and established on fan fare, accolades, praise of men, adulation, and prestige among men. When Jesus came to the earth to set up and establish the kingdom of heaven within the hearts of men in the midst of the kingdoms and empires of the earth, He did not set it up as a ladder in which men and women climb in order that they might somehow reach the top and might somehow be proclaimed—whether by themselves, or by others—the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In all reality, I am utterly and completely convinced that one of the greatest deceptions within the hearts and minds of men and women as it pertains to the kingdom of heaven is that the kingdom of heaven is about greatness. There are men and women who would like to think and believe that the kingdom of heaven is about achieving a certain measure of stature, a certain measure of success in order that they might somehow be perceived as being great—not only in the eyes of men, but also in the eyes of God Himself. There are men and women who perceive the kingdom of heaven as somehow being similar to corporate America and containing a ladder that somehow needs to be climbed in order they might reach the top and achieve some pinnacle and zenith of success and status before both men and God. As surely as I am sitting here right now, I am completely, utterly and absolutely convinced that the kingdom of heaven has never been, nor will it ever be defined by success, by greatness, by the praise of men, by the accolades of men, and all that we seek in the corporate environment within this nation of ours. IN fact, I would dare say that those who seek to be great in the kingdom of heaven—whether great in their own eyes, great in the eyes of others, and/or even great in the eyes of God Himself—are sorely misguided and incredibly deceived. What’s more, is that I would emphatically declare that those who seek to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven know absolutely nothing about the kingdom of heaven, and know absolutely nothing about that which Jesus came to set up and establish in the earth. When speaking concerning the kingdom of heaven, Jesus never encouraged, nor did HE ever instruct men and women to seek greatness, to seek prestige, to seek honor, to seek glory within the kingdom of heaven. Jesus never once invited men and women to seek status, fan fare, pomp and praise, and the accolades of men. Jesus never invited men and women to seek after and pursue greatness within the kingdom of heaven, and to somehow reach some pinnacle and zenith of success and spirituality before the living God, and even before men. In fact, I am reminded of a certain passage found within the New Testament gospel of Matthew that suggests and speaks to the exact opposite of this reality. If you turn your attention to the final set of verses within the sixth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find the following words spoken by Jesus concerning the kingdom of heaven:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeders them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking through can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothed the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the overnight, shall he not much more clothe you, O yea of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:24-34).
Please pay close attention to the words which are found within this passage of Scripture, for within this particular passage of Scripture we find Jesus emphatically declaring that no man can serve two masters. Jesus would go on to declare that either that man will hate the one and love the other, or else he would hold to the one and despise the other. What’s more, is that within this passage of Scripture we find Jesus inviting and instructing men and women to “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand Jesus’ words concerning seeking first the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness of God, for if you or I seek greatness within the kingdom of God, or if you and I seek to be great within the kingdom of heaven, we cannot and will not seek first the kingdom of heaven. I am completely and absolutely convinced that there are men and women who right now are putting the kingdom of heaven on the backseat of their hearts and lives because they are too busy seeking after greatness and to be great within the kingdom of heaven. There are men and women who right now care more about being great within the kingdom of heaven than they do the actual kingdom itself. There are men and women who would much rather seek to somehow climb the ladder of success and status within the kingdom fo heaven, and by so doing are completely and utterly neglecting, and perhaps even rejecting the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that such individuals have put on the back burner the righteousness of the living God in order that they might pursue a righteousness of their own making, and a righteousness of their own choosing and creating. Those individuals who seek after greatness within and in the midst of the kingdom of heaven care absolutely nothing for the kingdom of heaven itself, and even the King who sits upon the throne within the kingdom of heaven. There is something to be said about those who would much rather seek greatness within the kingdom of heaven than those who would actually seek after the kingdom of heaven itself. I believe everything within my heart and spirit that we have never been called to seek greatness within the kingdom of heaven, and if we should ever dare to seek such greatness, we are sacrificing our one pursuit, our one ambition, our one desire for the kingdom of heaven itself. Oh, there are a great number of men and women who are so sacrificing their pursuit of the kingdom of heaven in order to pursue their own greatness within the kingdom, and those who are sacrificing the righteousness of the King in order that they might pursue a righteousness of their own making and choosing. Jesus never taught, nor did HE ever instruct us to seek first greatness within the kingdom of heaven, not did HE ever instruct us to seek to be great within the kingdom of heaven, but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness—never a kingdom of our own, nor a righteousness of our own choosing and creating. Heaven help those who would dare trade the kingdom of God for a kingdom of their own choosing, and those who would dare trade the righteousness of God for a righteousness of their own creation and making.
When the disciples came unto Jesus inquiring and asking of Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, it’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t provide them with a name concerning that individual who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I am completely and totally convinced that this is by design, and was done intentionally by Jesus the Christ, for He recognized and understood that the kingdom of heaven had no greats, nor did the kingdom of heaven have greatness within it—at least greatness that could and would be ascribed and attributed unto men and women within the kingdom of heaven. Even when speaking of John the Baptist and declaring that there hadn’t been born such a one among women as John the Baptist, He would go on to declare that he who was least in the kingdom fo heaven was greater than John the Baptist. Pause for a moment and consider that reality—the reality that Jesus didn’t even declare that John the Baptist—that one who was the forerunner for the Messiah, and that one who heralded the kingdom of heaven among men, and prepared them through a baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins—was declared and proclaimed to be the greatest within the kingdom of heaven. I am completely and utterly convinced that one of the greatest dangers facing the western church today is that there are men and women who would seek after and desire to be great within the kingdom of heaven, and men and women who would seek to achieve some measure and some degree of greatness within the kingdom of heaven. Such men and women care absolutely nothing for the King whose kingdom it is, nor the authority and dominion the King holds and possesses. I absolutely love Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question, for Jesus didn’t rebuke them, Jesus didn’t scold them, Jesus didn’t judge them, Jesus didn’t indict them based on their question. Instead of scolding and rebuking the disciples for their question, Jesus first declared unto them that unless they were converted and became as little children, they would not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Oh, is it possible that in an attempt to become the greatest within the kingdom of heaven, or even great within the kingdom of heaven, we are actually doing away with our access and entrance into the kingdom itself? Is it possible that in seeking to be great within the kingdom of heaven we are actually forfeiting our very access and entrance into the kingdom of heaven? Consider if you will the words which Jesus spoke unto the disciples upon them asking Him this very pointed question:
“And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18:2-9).
What we find in the eighteenth chapter of this New Testament gospel is actually significant when we read the words which are found in the nineteenth chapter, for in the nineteenth chapter we find little children being brought unto Jesus in order that He might lay His hands on them and pray for them. It’s worth noting that when the disciples saw the little children being brought unto Jesus, they rebuked both the children, as well as those who would bring the children unto Jesus. Scripture isn’t clear why the disciples would rebuke the little children when they were brought before and unto Jesus. The only thing Matthew records is that when the little children were brought unto Jesus in order that He might lay His hands on them and pray for them, the disciples rebuked them. IN all reality, I can’t help but wonder why the disciples would dare rebuke the little children who were brought unto Jesus in order that He might pray—particularly and especially when Jesus had already declared unto them that unless they be converted and be as little children, they would not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Furthermore, Jesus had already emphatically declared unto them that whoso humbled themselves as the little child who was placed before them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is essentially that we understand what is taking place in this passage of Scripture, for Jesus is setting before the disciples a wonderful and powerful principle that it is not those who we would expect to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven who are actually the greatest. In fact, the one trait Jesus directly connected to being great in the kingdom of heaven was humility, and it is this reality of humility we must come to terms with in our own hearts and lives. Jesus not only invited His disciples to humble themselves as the little child who He set before them, but also to be converted—to be converted from their false idea concerning the kingdom of heaven, their false idea concerning being great within the kingdom of heaven, and even their vain pursuit of being great within the kingdom of heaven. You will recall that this lesson apparently didn’t sink in while Jesus walked among them prior to His death, burial, and resurrection, for in the upper room they argued with one another concerning who among them was the greatest.Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many arguments are taking place among us within our Christian circles concerning who among us is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and who among us is greatest in the sight of the living God. When the disciples tried to rebuke those who were brought unto Jesus—those who Jesus had already declared were the greatest in the kingdom of heaven—Jesus instructed them to suffer the little children to come unto Him, and went on to declare that such is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, it was unto the little children—those who were humble and innocent in the eyes and sight of men—that the kingdom of heaven even belonged to and was given.
As you begin reading this particular passage of Scripture you will find that it begins with the disciples trying to rebuke the little children when they were brought unto Jesus in order that He might lay His hands and pray for them, and it continues to a particular passage which has long and often fascinated, intrigued and convinced me. Immediately after we find Jesus laying His hands on the little children and departing from that place, there came unto Him one whom Scripture describes as the rich young ruler who first proclaimed Him good, and then asked what good thing he should o in order that he might have eternal life. Please don’t be too quick to rush beyond the question this rich young ruler asked, for his question wasn’t necessarily about eternal life, but was about what he must do in order that he might inherit eternal life. The question this rich young ruler asked Jesus was essentially one that was centered around and centered upon works and that which he could do in and of his own strength and ability. The question this rich young ruler was asking was what he needed to do in order that he might inherit eternal life, thus placing the entire emphasis on himself and his own goodness and his own righteousness. By coming unto Jesus and asking Him what good thing He should do to inherit eternal life, he was actually submitting and surrendering himself to a life of works—to a life of rules, to a life of regulations, to a life of deeds and merits. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, he was essentially making it all about himself, and his own righteousness and his own goodness. It’s important that when reading and considering this passage we recognize that Jesus responded to this young ruler by declaring unto Him that if He wanted to enter eternal life, he needed to keep the commandments. While it doesn’t mention it within the gospel of Matthew, Scripture records that in an attempt to justify Himself before God, in the sight of men, and in the presence of Jesus, He asked Jesus which commandments He needed to keep specifically. This is actually quite telling and quite revealing, for not only does it reveal that this man was seeking a religion of works and a formula for entering into and inheriting eternal life, but he was also pursuing a righteousness of his own making as he sought to justify himself in the sight of men and in the presence of Jesus. This man—by asking Jesus which commandments he needed to keep and obey—was essentially seeking approval for a life which he was already living, and somehow seeking validation and approval from Jesus based on his own merits and righteousness.
Perhaps one of the most important realities we must come to terms with concerning the kingdom of heaven is that if we attempt to justify ourselves in the sight of men and in the presence of God, that which we are actually doing is seeking after and pursuing a righteousness of our own making, and a righteousness of our own choosing. This man came unto Jesus declaring and professing Him to be good, and then asked him what good thing he needed to do in order that he might inherit eternal life. Essentially that which this man was seeking to do was elevate his own goodness in the sight of One who was altogether good in order that he might set himself apart. This rich young ruler not only asked what good thing he must do, but he asked it in the same breath and same sentence as professing and declaring Jesus to be good. When Jesus declared unto him that he needed to keep the commandments, this man was intent on knowing which commandments—an inquiry to discern whether or not he was already doing what was necessary to inherit eternal life. Jesus would go on to declare unto this man that he needed to obey and keep the commandments, Thou shalt murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and they mother, and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. It’s worth noting and pointing out when Jesus provided a list of commandments which this young ruler should keep, the commandments He set forth were only those commandments which dealt with his relationship with man. If you journey back to the Old Testament book of Exodus, you will find Moses atop the mountain of God in the wilderness, and while upon the mountain of God there in the wilderness, Moses received what would be known as the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, It’s worth noting and pointing out the commandments which were given unto Moses—those commandments which were written on stone tablets—for it helps shine a tremendous light on to this encounter between the rich young ruler and Jesus the Christ. Consider if you will the words which are found in the twentieth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus beginning with the first verse:
“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lords thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man’s servant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:1-17).
When you consider the Ten Commandments which were given unto Moses while atop the mountain of God in the wilderness, it’s worth noting that of those Ten Commandments, six dealt with mans’ relationship with others, while four dealt with mans’ relationship with the Lord. The first four commandments dealt with man’s relationship with the living God, for within the first four commandments we are confronted with having no other gods before the Lord, nor making any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, of the earth beneath, or in the depths of the sea, not taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and remembering the sabbath day. This is important for us to recognize and understand, for while this rich young ruler might have kept those commandments which pertained to his relationship with others—when it came to those commandments which pertained to his relationship with the living God, he had failed miserably and epically. One of the commandments was having no other gods before the living God, and this reality is further compounded when Jesus emphatically declared that no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cleave to the one and despise the other. Jesus would go on to declare that we cannot serve both God and mammon, or God and money. This man’s relationship with others might have been of such excellence that he could justify himself in the sight and presence of Jesus by declaring that he kept those commandments since his youth, but when it came to this man’s relationship with the living God, he could not justify himself, nor did he have any ground to stand upon. It’s interesting to note that this man sought to justify himself in the sight of God and in the presence of Jesus based on his relationship to those around him, while completely sidestepping and ignoring the fact that his relationship with the living God was not where or what it should be. In fact, I would dare say that while this rich young ruler might very well have kept the latter six commandments from his youth up, he might very well have been in clear violation at least two of the first four commandments given unto Moses. It’s worth noting that more often than not we tend to justify ourselves based on our own goodness, based on our own merits, based on our own works, and even based on our relationship with others, and we completely neglect and ignore our relationship with the living God. Even more than this, if you were to ask any number of men and women whom you interact with and encounter on any given day, you will find that a vast majority of them will emphatically declare that they are good people. If you continue to press the issue and asking them what makes them good, they will invariably and inevitably declare that don’t lie, they don’t cheat, they don’t commit adultery, they don’t steal, they don’t murder, and the like. More often than not, you will find men and women defining their own goodness—not only based on their own works, but also based on their adherence to and observance of those commandments which deal with our relationship with men.
This rich young ruler—after hearing Jesus provide him with a list of commandments which he needed to keep—declared unto Jesus that he had kept all those things since his youth up, and proceeded to ask him what he still lacked. This question of what he still lacked is quite interesting and quite astounding, for it essentially opened up Pandora’s box for his encounter with Jesus. By asking Jesus point blank what he still lacked, and what he still needed, it’s almost as if this rich young ruler recognized that there was something still missing—there was something Jesus wasn’t revealing and hadn’t revealed just yet. I would love to know what happened within the heart of Jesus when He heard this question, and what thoughts went through His mind when He heard this rich young ruler ask what he still lacked and what he still needed. I can’t help but wonder how many of us have the courage and the boldness to enter into the presence of Jesus and rather than defending and justifying ourselves, we ask Him what we still lack, and what is still missing within our hearts and lives. How many of us are truly willing to enter into the presence of Jesus and ask Him what we might still be lacking in our relationship with Him, and our relationship with our Heavenly Father? How many of us are even willing to acknowledge and accept the fact that there might very well be something that is still missing within our hearts and lives that is so desperately and vitally needed? Jesus responded to this man by declaring unto him that if he wished and desired to be perfect, he needed to go and sell all that he had, give to the poor, and then—not only would he have treasure in heaven, but he could also come after and follow Jesus. Essentially, that which Jesus was declaring and professing unto this man, was that despite his best efforts to justify himself, and despite his own perception of goodness within his life, he had absolutely no treasure in heaven, and he was not able to fully follow Jesus the Christ. Perhaps the single greatest question we must ask ourselves is not only surrounding what we lack, but also what is keeping us from truly following Jesus the Christ? What are we holding on to, and what are we clinging on to that is holding us back and keeping us from truly walking with and following Jesus? What treasures are we holding on to here on the earth that is keeping us from laying hold of and storing up treasure in heaven above? What are we completely and totally unwilling to let go of within our hearts and lives in the here and now. What makes this even more interesting and intriguing is what we find at the end of the nineteenth chapter, for at the end of the chapter we find Jesus not only professing and declaring unto Jesus that they had forsaken all and followed Him, but Peter also asked what they should have as a result of following Him. I leave you with these final words—not only as a revelation of that which is needed to follow Jesus, but also what Jesus promises as a result of following Him. I also leave you with the words Jesus declared concerning those who would wish to follow Him:
“Verily I say not you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:27-30).
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:24-28).