Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ written by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth chapters of this Old Testament book. As you being reading the words which are found in the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative which was written by the apostle Matthew you will find the disciples asking Jesus a question which truthfully should never have been asked. Upon reading the words found in the opening verse of the eighteenth chapter of this New Testament gospel you will find the disciples asking Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It’s important to note that this question doesn’t necessarily suggest, nor does it even mean that they were asking which one of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven—although, the four gospel narratives reveal the disciples entering into disputes and arguments with each other concerning which one among them was the greatest. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and astonishing realities found within the four gospel narratives is when you read of the disciples actually disputing and arguing among themselves which one of them was the greatest—not only greatest in the kingdom, but possibly even which one among them was greatest in the eyes of Jesus, and even in the eyes of His Father who was in heaven. You cannot read the four gospel narratives and not be brought face to face with the disciples wanting to know which one among them was indeed the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and which one among them was the greatest among the disciples. Undoubtedly there would have been a sense of competition among the disciples as they would continually fight and claw—not only to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but perhaps also the greatest among the twelve disciples which walked with and followed Jesus the Christ. I have to admit that I am absolutely and completely amazed when reading the four gospel narratives and just how much competition was found among the disciples of Jesus, and how much they jockeyed and vied and fought for position and status in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that there is a stark and strong contrast between the jockeying for position which was found among the disciples and the response of John the Baptist when his disciples came to him speaking of how Jesus had baptized and was baptizing more disciples than he was. What’s more, is that the jockeying of the disciples for position and status in the kingdom of heaven was in direct contrast to Jesus’ own words concerning His divine mission and assignment within and upon the earth.
The more I think about the disciples’ concern for who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven—and not only who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but also which one among them was the greatest of the disciples—the more I can’t help but feel compelled to call and draw your attention to the narrative and account of John the Baptist when his disciples came unto him declaring how Jesus baptized and made more disciples than he did. Any discussion you have about the disciples jockeying and vying for position, status, stature and rank in the kingdom of heaven and among themselves must needs also examine and take a long and hard look at the response John the Baptist gave to his disciples when they came unto him concerning the actions of Jesus the Christ who had emerged on to the scene and was apparently stealing the show. The disciples of John were perhaps taken back by the amount of attention Jesus was getting among the hearts and minds of men, and there is not a doubt in my mind they fully expected John the Baptist to agree with them. Undoubtedly the disciples of John somehow felt slighted, and somehow felt as though Jesus was stealing the attention and focus away from their teacher and master, and they expected—and perhaps even desired John the Baptist to fully agree with them. When you read about John the Baptist and his disciples coming unto him about the ministry of Jesus, and how the ministry of Jesus the Christ seemed to be garnering all the attention and focus of the individuals you will be brought face to face with an awesome and incredible contrast between one who knew their place in the kingdom of heaven, and those who sought to find their place in the kingdom. Oh, there is a key and fundamental difference between knowing your place within the kingdom and seeking to find your place in the kingdom. John the Baptist knew his position within the kingdom, and he knew his role, his assignment, his purpose, and his task in the midst of the earth, and he never tried to exceed or surpass that. With this in mind I invite you to not only consider the words which John the Baptist spoke unto his disciples, but also the words which Jesus the Christ spoke concerning John the Baptist when speaking to those who gathered themselves unto Him:
“After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judaea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am no the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and He hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:22-36).
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, He sent two of His disciples, and said unto Him, Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raise dup, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. 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 king’s 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 greater 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” (John 11:1-15).
The words which we find in the third chapter of the New Testament gospel of John, as well as the words which are found in the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew point to the awesome reality that John the Baptist knew where and what his position was in the kingdom of heaven. There was absolutely not a doubt in the heart and mind of John the Baptist where his place was in the kingdom of heaven, and he never attempted to move beyond his station, his assignment and that positioned which was granted unto him by the Father who was in heaven. It is necessary that we recognize and understand this awesome truth, for there are countless men and women within and among our churches and houses of worship, as well as within Christendom and the kingdom of heaven who not only know where their place is in the kingdom of heaven, but as a direct result of not knowing their place in the kingdom of heaven they seek to elevate themselves beyond what they have been called to do. I am firmly convinced that those who do not know their place in the kingdom of heaven, and those who do not know their assignment and role within the kingdom can and will jockey for position, status, stature, fame, glory and honor. What is so absolutely tremendous about John the Baptist is that he was one who not only knew his place and assignment in the midst of the kingdom of heaven, but he never tried to move beyond that role and that assignment. John the Baptist never sought to be and become someone he was not, nor become someone he was never created or intended to be. John the Baptist recognized that his mission and his assignment was to point men unto and prepare men to meet and encounter the Christ and the Messiah, and once the Messiah would be manifested in the midst of the earth his role and position might very well be diminished in the midst of the earth. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if John the Baptist being put in prison wasn’t a sign and symbol unto this prophet of the Lord that declared unto him that he had fulfilled his assignment within the earth. What if his being shut up in prison—even though and despite the fact that he was imprisoned by Herod because he preached against his adultery and fornication—was not so much about what man desired and intended, but what the living and eternal God had intended? What if John the Baptist being imprisoned during the days of the manifestation of Jesus the Christ was a powerful statement and message unto him concerning the fulfillment of His task, His mission and assignment in the earth, and that he had carried out and done exactly what it was he was asked and required to do?
Even when you read the words which are found in the third chapter of the New Testament gospel written by the apostle Matthew you will find an apparent link and connection to John’s recognition of his place and position in the kingdom of heaven and his not yet being put into prison. In fact, I would dare say that one of the final statements mentioned by John the Baptist before he was imprisoned by Herod was indeed these words concerning his needing to decrease that the Messiah and Christ might increase. The more I think about and the more I consider these words the more I can’t help but be brought face to face with the overwhelming and tremendous reality that John the Baptist’s being imprisoned by Herod was permitted by the LORD as a powerful statement and declaration of the Father that He had carried out and fulfilled what he was sent and raised up to do, and that his time of public ministry had drawn to an end. This is in all reality what makes his words while in prison so captivating, for it would be while in prison he perhaps not only doubted everything he had done in the midst of the earth, but also doubted whether or not Jesus was indeed the Messiah who was to come. It would be while in prison John the Baptist would send his disciples unto Jesus to inquire whether or not He was the Messiah and the Christ, or whether or not they needed to look for another. Jesus would declare unto his disciples that the lame walked, the blind saw, the dumb spoke, the deaf heard, and the kingdom was being preached during those days—words which would have stood and served as a testimony before and unto John the Baptist in prison. I can’t help but get the strong sense when reading the gospel narrative of the apostle Matthew that when John the Baptist was in prison—not only did he have questions and doubt whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, but perhaps he also doubted whether or not he had indeed and had in fact fulfilled and carried out that which he had been sent and raised up to do. There is something about being put in prison that has the potential and the ability to cause you to not only question whether or not you had fulfilled that which the living God had asked and required of you.
One of the greatest realities surrounding John the Baptist is when you think about and consider that while it was true that John the Baptist might very well have questioned whether or not Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and although he might very well have questioned whether or not he fulfilled his purpose, his mission and his assignment in that generation, Jesus would speak unto the crowds and the masses concerning John the Baptist, and would declare that among those which were born of women there had not risen one greater than John the Baptist. It’s worth noting and pointing out that immediately after this Jesus would emphatically and boldly declare that he which is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Please don’t miss all the dynamics and truths that are found within these passages of Scripture, for there is a powerful and intrinsic link between John the Baptist decreasing that the Messiah and Christ might increase and John the Baptist fulfilling that which He had been sent by the Father and raised up to do. What’s more, is that there is also an apparent link and connection between John the Baptist fulfilling that which he had been called and raised up by the LORD to fulfill, and his being imprisoned. There is not a doubt in my mind that John’s being imprisoned by Herod was not only a sign and mark that he had fulfilled what was asked and required of him, but also that his work and assignment had drawn to a close. What if—in the divine sovereignty of God John the Baptist being put in prison was not necessarily a sign of displeasure of the living God, but rather a sign of pleasure and confirmation of the ministry he had been entrusted with? It would be very easy for us to view the imprisonment of John the Baptist and consider the fact that it was somehow a mark of displeasure and disapproval of the living God, and yet I am absolutely and completely convinced that the exact opposite is true. I am absolutely convinced that the imprisonment of John was a sign and a mark of the divine pleasure of the living God with the work he carried out and performed in the earth, and was a sign of the delight the living God had in him. As much as the imprisonment of John might very well have been a removal from the public spotlight that the Messiah might shine in the midst of that generation, it was also a means of declaring unto John the Baptist that the Father was well pleased and well satisfied with the work which he had performed in the midst of the earth. John the Baptist being imprisoned was as much a sign of ending and conclusion as it was a sign of the beginning, as eventually John the Baptist would be beheaded in prison at the request of Herodias and her daughter who would manipulate and persuade Herod to put him to death.
The more I think about the question the disciples asked Jesus concerning who was indeed and who was in fact the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, as well as their own internal disputes and debates as to which one of them was the greatest, the more I am brought face to face with the awesome truth of John the Baptist, and how John the Baptist knew and understood his place within the kingdom of heaven, and within the economy of the living God. John the Baptist knew and was very much aware of the reason and purpose for which he had been placed upon the earth, and even when his disciples would speak to him about Jesus baptizing more than they did—perhaps expecting John to agree with their words and their assessment—he emphatically declared and proclaimed unto them that he needed to decrease that the Messiah might increase. John the Baptist realized and understood that it wasn’t his mission, nor was it his assignment to move beyond his station, and beyond the role and purpose he had been given within and upon the earth. John the Baptist was one who understood what he had been called and assigned to do within the earth, and even when his disciples attempted to come to him with the idea that Jesus was baptizing more than they were, he corrected their thinking—a thinking that had at the very core and foundation the truth that he wasn’t the Messiah, nor was he to be something he was never created or intended to be. There is not a doubt in my mind that we cannot truly understand what was so dangerous about the disciples’ question regarding who was greatest in the kingdom, and which among them was the greatest disciple without considering the narrative of John the Baptist. John the Baptist knew and understood exactly who he was and what he was called to do, and he would not seek to exceed and move beyond that station and that identity. Even Jesus Himself recognized and understood that He was not sent to the earth to do His own will, do His own agenda, and be who He wanted to be. Jesus the Christ recognized that He was sent to the earth to fulfill that which the Father had sent Him to accomplish upon the earth. Jesus understood that apart from the Father He could do nothing, and therefore He always trusted fully and completely on the Father, and always listened to the words and voice of the Father. It would be the Father who would be the ultimate foundation for the work and ministry He would engage Himself in here upon the earth, as He would never move beyond that. This was what was so incredibly dangerous about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, for the devil would not only tempt Jesus based on the concept and realm of identity, but he would also tempt Him on the basis and realm of living and moving beyond that which He had been called to do. The temptation(s) of the devil would indeed have at the very heart and center of them the identity of Jesus the Christ, however, they would also be geared toward tempting Jesus to move and live beyond that which was authorized and ordained by the eternal Father. It is with this all in mind I invite you to consider the words which John the Baptist spoke unto the crowds and masses, the words which John the Baptist spoke unto the scribes and Pharisees when they came from Jerusalem, as well as the words which Jesus Himself spoke which is recorded in the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John:
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his Baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptized you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and He will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:6-12).
“And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:5-8).
“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and is cast into the fire…And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying, unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people” (Luke 3:5-18).
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through Him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:6-9).
“John bare witness of Him, and cried, saying, This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. NO man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:15-18)
“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:19-28).
“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel” (John 5:16-20).
The words found within these passages bring us face to face with the truly remarkable and beautiful truth that John the Baptist recognized what he had been called and sent to do, and he would and could never seek to move beyond that station and assignment. I am absolutely and completely convinced that those who either don’t know who they are, or those who don’t know what their place and assignment is—or a combination of both—will always seek to jockey and strive for position, for status, and for fame within the kingdom of heaven. I would dare say that even before the disciples would be baptized with and by the Holy Spirit they would not truly understand their place and their position within the kingdom of heaven. Despite the fact that Jesus would send them forth two by two their would indeed be a competition between and among them concerning which one was indeed the greatest. Even at the last supper in the upper room the disciples would have a debate, a quarrel, and an infighting among themselves concerning which one among them was indeed the greatest of the disciples. Stop and think about the fact that even in the upper room on the night in which Jesus was betrayed the disciples would allow themselves to be caught up in a debate and quarrel concerning who among them was the greatest. Oh it is absolutely necessary that we recognize the awesome reality that one of the greatest needs we have within our hearts and lives is to both know who we are in Christ, as well as know our place in the kingdom, for it is only to the degree and measure we know and are aware of these realities we can and will truly understand our place in the midst of the earth. If we allow ourselves to move beyond who we have been called to be and what we have been called to do we will find ourselves striving with others as we seek to elevate ourselves beyond what we have been called to do and be. Even in our churches today there is a constant infighting and quarrelling among men and women as they jockey and fight for position and status in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that there are men and women who are pretending on being someone they are not in order that they might somehow obtain the Father’s blessing and approval. Much like Jacob who would dress himself in his brother’s clothes, and would put goat’s skin upon his flesh to give the appearance of his brother that he might receive the blessing of the father, so also we clothe ourselves in that which does not belong to us that we might somehow seek the approval of the Father in a manner we were never called or created to receive.
In the opening verse of the eighteenth chapter we find the disciples coming unto Jesus that they might inquire who was indeed the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The underlying question I can’t help but ask is why the disciples would even ask such a question. Pause and think about what would and what could cause the disciples to approach Jesus concerning greatness—and not only greatness, but also greatness within the kingdom of heaven. Stop and consider the line of thinking and the condition of the hearts of the disciples that they would dare ask Jesus concerning who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is we must needs ask ourselves what being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven would even require of us. It’s interesting and worth noting that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus who was great in the kingdom of heaven, but who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Please note there is a vast and fundamental difference between the two questions—the question concerning who is great in the kingdom of heaven, and the question concerning who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I would dare say that it is possible to be great in the kingdom of heaven and yet have absolutely no desire, nor even a care or concern to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is possible to be great in the kingdom of heaven and never seek to be, nor ever be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is I can’t help but wonder why anyone would have a desire to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Think about what would be asked, what would be required, and what would be demanded of you if you were going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven—greater than all the others before and around you. With that being said we must recognize and understand that we have all been given the call and the command to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Jesus. We have all been given the emphatic declaration that he who loves father or mother more than Jesus, and who loves son or daughter, or brother or sister more than Jesus is not worthy of Him. There is not a single individual within the kingdom of heaven who hasn’t received the same call to a life of self-denial and sacrifice, and even the apostle Paul besought the saints in Rome—yea, even the saints throughout the ages—to present and offer their bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable in the sight of the LORD, which is our reasonable service.
I sit here today thinking about the question which the disciples asked, and the question they never asked was who was great in the kingdom of heaven, but who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The disciples never argued, nor disputed among and with each other concerning which one among them was great, but which one among them was the greatest. We must realize and understand that there is a vast difference between asking the question concerning who is great, and the question of who is the greatest. The question of who is great in the kingdom of heaven is not necessarily a question about title, rank, position, status, stature, and the like—although it is certainly possible that those elements can be a part of one inquiring concerning it. The question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a question that is steeped in pride and arrogance, and is a question that is centered upon rank and position in the midst of the kingdom of heaven. One of the greatest challenges we face within the body of Christ is allowing ourselves to get caught up in something aspiring to be the greatest, or thinking we are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not like the economy in which we are living, nor is the kingdom of heaven like the corporate world where we transition and elevate ourselves to different positions with different titles. Even when you consider the parable of the talents you will find that the one who had been given two talents immediately put those talents to work and earned two more talents. The one who had been given five talents would immediately put those talents to work and would earn five more. When the master of the house came back and called for an accounting of their stewardship these individuals would not only provide unto the master that which he had given and bestowed unto them, but would also give unto the master twice his investment. I am convinced that one of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves is not only whether or not we are putting to use that which we have been entrusted with by the Master, and not only whether or not we are able to return unto the Master what has been entrusted unto us, but we must also ask ourselves whether or not we are returning unto the Master a return on the investment He has bestowed unto and upon us. It’s one thing to return that which we have been given, for even the third servant returned unto the master what he had been given. It’s something else entirely to return unto the Master that which He had entrusted us with, and doing so with interest and with a return on that investment. I can’t help but ask whether or not we are giving the Master a return on investment within our lives and within the kingdom, or whether or not we are somehow burying that which the Master had given unto us and returning it unto him unused.
RETURNING UNUSED TALENT! The narrative of the three servants who were each entrusted with a portion of their master’s wealth is not only about returning unto the master that which they had received from him, but it is also about returning that which has been entrusted unto us having put it to good use—and not only putting it to good use, but also providing a return on that investment. Do you know that what the Master has given you is not only an assignment, but also an investment, and we have been entrusted to both put that which has been given unto us to good use, as well as to provide a return on that investment. The servant who was given two talents would not only return the two original talents, but would also add two more talents, thus increasing the master’s worth and providing a return on the investment. The servant who was given five talents would not only return the five talents which had been given unto him, but would return five more talents, thus not only providing a return on the investment, but also increasing the wealth of the master. RETURNING THE INVESTMENT, GROWING THE INVESTMENT! I am absolutely and completely convinced that when we speak about the kingdom of heaven there is a great need within our hearts and lives to not only return unto the Master that which has been entrusted unto us within this life, but also to provide the Master with a return on that investment as we took it and both grew and increased it. What so amazes me about the parable of the talents is that although that one who had been given five talents had increased those five talents and returned five more talents, the master did not consider him greater than the servant who had been given two talents and had both returned those two talents, and given the master two additional talents. Both servants were considered faithful in the master’s eyes, and in the master’s house, and neither servant was viewed as being better and greater than the other. Both servant was faithful with that which the master had entrusted into their hands and into their care, and the master not only rewarded their faithfulness, but also praised their doing well with what they had been entrusted with. We dare not underestimate the nature of this parable which Jesus spoke and revealed, for even when we are speaking of faithfulness with what has been entrusted into our care we must not think about, nor consider that such a reality somehow makes us the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The question the disciples asked when speaking with Jesus was not who is considered great in the kingdom of heaven, but who was considered greatest in the kingdom of heaven, thus speaking about and suggesting rank, position, title and place within the kingdom. We must recognize the words which are found in the opening verse of this chapter, for what we find in the opening verse of this chapter is a description of the disciples coming unto Jesus asking and inquiring who was indeed the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. After having heard a number of parables concerning what the kingdom of heaven was like, after hearing Jesus speak concerning the kingdom of heaven, and after witnessing and beholding the many miracles, signs and wonders Jesus performed, the disciples would come unto Him and ask who was considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I am absolutely and completely convinced that we must pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for it revealed the faulty mindset and way of thinking that was found within the hearts and minds of the disciples, as they gave themselves to getting caught up position and rank within the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, this question asked by the disciples would in turn compare the kingdom of heaven to something which men would have to strive and attain in order to somehow reach a pinnacle and zenith in the midst of it. In all reality this question which was asked by the disciples would suggest the kingdom of heaven was likened unto something that would require men and women to push, scrape, claw, fight and perhaps even quarrel their way in the midst of it that they might somehow attain status in the kingdom of heaven. In all reality—when we think about and consider the narrative of the kingdom of heaven we must recognize and understand that the only status worth speaking of is the status of who is least in the kingdom, and who does not devote their time, effort and energy into striving to be someone they were never created to be, nor do something they were never intended on doing. The kingdom of heaven is not some type of corporate environment where we need to fight, and jockey and maneuver for position as though we need to somehow attain to some elevated measure of success, recognition, title and position. It is with this in mind I would like to call and draw your attention to the various narratives found in the four gospels concerning the disciples and their concern for being greatest in the kingdom of heaven—and not only the disciples concern for being greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but also Jesus’ words which were spoken concerning the first being last, and the last being first. Consider if you will the following words found within the gospel narratives concerning the disciples’ misguided thinking concerning greatness in the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus’ declaration concerning the upside down economy of the kingdom of heaven, and how the last shall be first and the first shall be last:
“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” (Matthew 23:11-12).
“And He came to Capernaum: and being in the house He asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).
“Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:46-48).
“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on the thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30).
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto 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 seek, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:27-30).
“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He that saith unto them, Go ye also in the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrough but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it now lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:1-16).
“Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (Mark 10:28-31).
“And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When one the master o the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last” (Luke 13:22-30).
The eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew begins and opens up with the disciples coming unto Jesus inquiring who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and we must recognize and understand that such a question and such an inquiry is incredibly dangerous within the heart and mind of a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ. We must remember that such a question as who in the kingdom of heaven is the greatest is indeed a question that is rooted and grounded in pride and arrogance, and one that causes me to consider which one of the disciples actually thought and believed they would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that I can’t help but wonder what would and what could have happened within the hearts and minds of the disciples if Jesus had indeed come back and declared that Simon also called Peter was the greatest in the kingdom, or that John was the greatest, or even that James was the greatest. We know that of the twelve disciples there was indeed and there was in fact an inner circle which was perhaps not the closest to Jesus, but were definitely exposed to other experiences and encounters the other nine disciples weren’t. There was an occasion when only Peter, James and John would be brought into the house of Jairus when his daughter lie sick on the point of death. It would Peter, James and John who would accompany Jesus on to the mountain where He would be transfigured before them. It would be these three disciples who would also accompany Jesus further in the garden of Gethsemane. Even with all of this being recorded in the gospels there wasn’t a single disciple who could have considered themselves the greatest, and yet they still argued and disputed among themselves who was the greatest. The disciples argued among themselves who among them was the greatest, and yet such a question severely and sorely misses the point of the kingdom of heaven, and that the kingdom of heaven has never been and will never be about hierarchy, nor about status, not about clout, nor about position, nor about title and rank. The kingdom of heaven has always been and will always be about those who are willing to lose their life that they might find it, those who are willing to deny themselves, those who are willing to die that they might live, those who are willing to take up their cross and follow Jesus the Christ.
EXCEPT YE BE CONVERTED! BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN! HUMBLE HIMSELF AS THIS LITTLE CHILD! THE SAME IS GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN! RECEIVE ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES! WHOSO SHALL OFFEND ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES! WOE UNTO THE WORLD BECAUSE OF OFFENSES! [WHY WOULD JESUS SPEAK OF OFFENSES IN A CONVERSATION ABOUT WHO WAS THE GREATEST?] IT MUST NEEDS THAT OFFENSES COME! WOE TO THAT MAN BY WHOM THE OFFENCE COMETH! DESPISE ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES! [TAKE HEED]. THE SON OF MAN IS COME TO SAVE THAT WICH WAS LOST! OFFENSE AND FORGIVENESS! IF THY BROTHER SHALL TRESPASS AGAINST THEE, GO AND TELL HIM HIS FAULT BETWEEN THEE AND HIM ALONE! [DON’T GO BROADCASTING YOUR BROTHER’S FAULT! DON’T GO BROADCASTING YOUR OFFENCE! WE LIKE TO MAKE A HABIT OF TELLING OTHERS THE FAULT OF OUR BROTHER AND OUR OFFENSE WITH HIM RATHER THAN TELLING HIM!] HOW OFT SHALL MY BROTHER SIN AGAINST ME, AND I FORGIVE HIM? TILL SEVEN TIMES? UNTIL SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN! [SO LIKEWISE SHALL MY HEAVENLY FATHER DO ALSO UNTO YOU, IF YE FROM YOUR HEARTS FORGIVE NOT EVERY ONE HIS BROTHER THEIR TRESPASSES!} A CONVERSATION ABOUT WHO WAS THE GREATEST TURNS INTO A CONVERSATION ABOUT OFFENSE AND FORGIVENESS! THE RICH YOUNG RULER! JESUS SPEAKING TO THE DISCIPLES ABOUT HIS SUFFERING AND HIS DEATH! THE MOTHER OF JAMES AND JOHN REQUESTING SPECIAL TREATMENT AND PLACEMENT FOR HER SONS! If you continue reading the words found within this portion of Scripture you will find that what would begin with the disciples asking Jesus who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven would eventually transition and turn to Jesus speaking directly unto them concerning offense and forgiveness. This conversation and dialogue would initially begin with the disciples asking Jesus who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and to this question Jesus would respond by declaring unto them that unless they be converted and become like little children they would not even enter into the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that Jesus would then go on to speak unto the disciples and declare unto them that whoever humbled themselves as a little child whom He had set in their midst would be considered greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It’s actually quite interesting to read and consider the words found in this passage of Scripture, for the words we find contained therein begin with the disciples inquiring who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, yet Jesus’ response unto them would be one that perhaps utterly and completely stunned them.
The disciples would ask Jesus who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and immediately after calling a little child to be set among them in their midst Jesus would declare unto them that unless they be converted they would not even enter into the kingdom of heaven. Please don’t miss the tremendous significance of what is found within these verses, for what we find within them is Jesus answering their question by first speaking of conversion and then speaking of humility. Jesus would declare unto the disciples that if they wanted to even enter into the kingdom of heaven they would need to be converted—converted in their heart, converted in their mind, converting in their way of thinking, converted in their pursuit, converted in their endeavors, converted in their desires, converted in their passions, converted in their pursuits. The disciples would ask Jesus who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and to this question Jesus would speak directly to the reality and need of being converted and becoming as little children. What’s more, is that being converted wasn’t the only thing that was needed, for Jesus would also go on to speak unto them concerning needing to humble themselves as the child which was set among them in their midst. There was something about a little child—there was something about being as a little child—that would have direct implications on the disciples, and anyone else for that matter to be converted in their minds and in their way of thinking, and to humble themselves as a little child. Those who were converted and would become as this little child would be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and those who humbled themselves as this child would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, what we behold and witness in this passage of Scripture is a powerful call to conversion—and not only conversion, but also to humility before and in the sight of Jesus and His Father who was in heaven. As the disciples asked Jesus who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven Jesus would speak unto them about conversion and humility—both of which would not only be needed to enter into the kingdom of heaven, but which would also be considered greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
What is also incredibly powerful when reading these words is when you consider the fact that a conversation that would begin with the disciples asking Jesus who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven would transition to Jesus speaking of humility as a little child, as well as conversion as a little child. Beyond this, however, we would find Jesus going on to teach and speak to the disciples concerning offenses—and not only offenses, but also forgiveness. You cannot read the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew and not encounter and come face to face with the awesome reality that in the same encounter and discussion as being greatest in the kingdom of heaven Jesus would go on to speak of offenses—and not only offenses, but also offending one of these little children in the kingdom of heaven. Immediately following Jesus’ words concerning humbling oneself as a little child He would transition to speaking unto them about receiving one such little child, and how whoever received such a child would actually receive Him. Conversely, however, those who offended such a little one which believed in Him—it were better that a millstone were hanged about their neck, and they be drowned in the depth of the sea. Jesus would then speak and declare unto them, saying, “Woe unto the world because of offense,” and how “it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.” We cannot and must not miss and lose sight of what is found within this passage of Scripture, for the entire conversation and dialogue would shift and transition to Jesus’ speaking unto the disciples concerning forgiveness of those who had wronged and offended them, as well as speaking unto their brother and/or their sister whom they believed has offended and wronged them. Please do not miss the awesome and incredible reality of what is found within this passage, for there seems to be an apparent link and connection between this discussion concerning who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and offenses within the kingdom, and forgiveness of offenses and wrongdoing. It’s almost as an expression and manifestation of this conversion and humility as spoken by Jesus the Christ would directly touch and be connected to offenses and forgiveness, as both would undoubtedly be part of life as a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ. What’s more, is that Jesus would go on to speak unto His disciples and speak of their somehow offending others, as well as others somehow offending them. Jesus warned against offending one of these little ones who believed in Him, but He also spoke unto them about possibly being offended by others, and how to handle such offenses.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close I feel it is absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for in a conversation that centered around and upon the disciples asking who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven Jesus would speak unto them concerning offenses in the kingdom of heaven, as well as forgiveness. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of these words and these realities, for they bring us face to face with some of the greatest challenges we face within our hearts and lives as disciples and followers of Jesus the Christ. Even if we make the conscious and deliberate decision to walk with and follow Jesus that does not make us immune—either from others legitimately offending us, or our being offended by the words and actions of others. We ought not think and believe that simply because we walk with and follow Jesus the Christ that offenses cannot and will not come, and that there is not a true and ultimate need within our hearts and souls to guard ourselves from offenses. In all reality, I would dare say that not only ought we to guard our hearts from offenses and from being offended, but we must also open our hearts to forgiveness. You cannot read these words without first seeing and encountering the tremendous need to guard our hearts from and against offenses—as well as potentially offending others—and opening our hearts to forgiveness to those who have forgiven us. There is a wonderful and powerful call within this passage of Scripture to not only ensure that we guard our hearts from and against being offended by others, but also guarding our hearts and our lives from somehow offending others. Jesus made sure to point out and reveal the tremendous truth that offenses can and will come, but woe unto those by whom the offenses come. If we want to have a discussion about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven we must needs initially speak about being converted and humbling ourselves, but we must also understand that within the kingdom of heaven there is a great and powerful need to guard our hearts from offending and being offended—and not only guarding our hearts from being offended and offending, but also forgiving those who have trespassed against us. It takes a great humility within our hearts and lives to not only guard ourselves from being offended, as well as forgiving those who have somehow offended and wronged us. What we must realize is that there is a vast difference between being offended in terms of someone somehow wronging us and our being offended as it relates to taking the offense within our hearts and holding on to it. One of the greatest truths we can and must learn is that offenses must needs always remain outside our physical persons and must never be allowed entrance and access to our hearts, to our souls, and to our minds.
I sit here today preparing to close this writing out, and I find myself encountering the awesome and incredible truth that it is natural, it is expected, and it is anticipated that offenses (that which takes place and occurs outside our physical persons) take place—and even take place within the kingdom of heaven. Where the rubber meets the road and where we must need guard ourselves is concerning those offenses being able to transition from outside our physical bodies to somehow gaining access and entrance into our hearts and our souls. What’s more, is Jesus declared unto us how we deliver ourselves from those offenses which occur outside our physical persons, and those offenses which have been committed against us. That way and that method we are to deliver ourselves from offenses which occur outside our physical persons is through forgiveness—forgiveness of those who have wronged and offended us and those offenses have remained outside our hearts and souls, and forgiveness of those who have wronged us and the offenses have somehow gained access and entrance into our hearts and souls and we become and grown offended. OFFENDED BUT NOT OFFENDED! EXPERIENCING OFFENSES, BUT NOT BEING OFFENDED! OFFENDED, YET FORGIVING! If we want to ensure we guard our hearts and our souls from those offenses which occur outside our physical persons, and those offenses which threaten to creep into our hearts we must needs speak to our brother who might have offended us, as well as forgive that brother and/or that sister whom we feel has wronged and offended us. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to this, for it is one of the greatest struggles found within our hearts and our lives as disciples and followers of Jesus the Christ. We must needs guard our hearts and our souls from being offended—despite the fact that we have absolutely no control over, nor can we guarantee that offenses won’t come. There is absolutely no way to guard ourselves from offenses, and there is absolutely no way to prevent offenses from occurring within our lives, however, we can indeed guard our hearts and our souls from allowing the offenses to take root within us and our being offended. The truest and ultimate way to guard our hearts from offense in terms of what is present within our hearts is to not only speak directly to our brother and/or sister, but also forgive that one from whom the offense has come. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this reality, for the single greatest tool and weapon we have against becoming and growing offended is forgiveness. Jesus recognized and understood that forgiveness was and will always be the single greatest tool we have in our arsenal to guard ourselves from the offenses of others, and from somehow taking the offenses of others and allowing ourselves to be offended.