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Who is the Greatest?

October 11, 2015, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Matthew 18:1-4) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Matthew
Preached at a Combined Service service

Tags: Matthew, 马太福音

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Date: 11 Oct 2015
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Title: Who is the Greatest?

The message today is about a simple question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Who is the greatest? Before we answer that, maybe we should ask “Who is the greatest person in this world right now?” Some might say, “The President of the USA. He commands the strongest army in the world. He controls the key to the most nuclear weapons.” Some might say, “Bill Gates. He is the richest man with almost 80 billion in wealth.” Depending on what you choose to measure, you might end up with different names, each with the greatest achievements or power or influence in a particular domain. Then again, if you ask my kids “Who is the greatest person in this world?” my kids don’t even know Barack Obama or Bill Gates. They will tell you the greatest person in this world is Mommy. Daddy on the other hand is always a distant second place. Fellow fathers, is it the same for you? Maybe it’s just me.

Back to the question: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The disciples of Jesus were asking this question because they were anticipating the kingdom of heaven. It is coming! Who is the greatest? In their minds, they might be asking, “Is it going to be him, or maybe him, or maybe it’s me?” Maybe it is the toughest fighter. Maybe the one who can perform the greatest miracles. Maybe the one who is closest in relationship to Jesus. Some of them might be secretly jealous of Peter, James and John who get to spend the most time with Jesus.

But perhaps the preceding question should be: What is it like in the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven means the kingdom where God is king. But what is such a kingdom like? In the course of history, you can find many answers. To some of the Jews, it means the kingdom of Israel restored. In the middle ages, it sometimes refers to the Christendom, portrayed in movies about the crusades like Kingdom of heaven [1]. We also have a Chinese version of it called Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (太平天国) in China in the 19th century. The kingdom of heaven is not unique to Christianity. In today’s world, you can also see a horrible version envisaged by the Islamic extremists at ISIS. That’s their interpretation of a kingdom ruled by God. Yet all these are totally different from Jesus’. If anybody tells you about a kingdom of heaven that is achieved with violence, or dominance, or power, or even anything resembling an empire, that, in my opinion, is not Jesus’ kingdom of heaven.

(Flashed on PPT, not read.)
Matthew 5: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Jesus described the kingdom of heaven to us. The kingdom of heaven is where people are comforted. They find God’s peace and righteousness. It is a kingdom for the merciful and meek. If I were to sum it up, the kingdom of heaven is where people live at peace with one another and at peace with God. So, in such a kingdom, who is the greatest? Verses 2-4 tell us, Jesus 2 called a child, had him stand among them, 3 and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! 4 Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The one who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one with the humility of a little child.

Today we celebrate Children’s Day. It is necessary because for thousands of years of humanity, children were often amongst the most vulnerable in a society. Children’s Day is a timely reminder of their importance. There’s even a Universal Children's Day, which is “not simply a day to celebrate children for who they are, but to bring awareness to children around the globe that have succumbed to violence in forms of abuse, exploitation and discrimination”. [2] Yet Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! 4 Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

First, let me explain something. Jesus was not saying that everything about being a child is desirable. We are not asked to be childish or naïve or even to assume that children are by nature humble. Jesus was addressing the issue of greatness. And in the Roman society, a child had no status at all. They were at the mercy of adults. They had no rights or significance apart from their future value to the family and were powerless in society. [3] Essentially, Jesus was saying this: Are you asking who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The greatest is the one who is able to humble himself into a person without any status. If Jesus were speaking in our Singaporean context, maybe he would have called forward a domestic worker or Bangladeshi worker, and said “whoever then humbles himself like this worker is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.

But humility doesn’t mean you have low self-esteem. Humility doesn’t mean you must intentionally debase or denigrate yourself, so that you appear to be of lower-class. People who are humble can come from all walks of life, and they can be full of abilities. However, they must be perfectly comfortable with who they are. Humility means that for the sake of the purposes of God, for the sake of manifesting the kingdom of heaven, you are willing to look beyond status, to look beyond your pride or self-interest. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? They are those who can humble themselves to fulfil God’s will.

What exactly is a Christian is supposed to do, to fulfil, that requires one to be humble in this way? Like I said, the kingdom of heaven is where people live at peace with one another and at peace with God. So it is about our human relationships. In the very same chapter, Jesus would go on to talk about welcoming others (v.5). Humble yourself to be hospitable to people from all walks of life. People you feel so different from you. Jesus then says don’t be a stumbling block (v.6). Humble yourself to care about those who are spiritually vulnerable. Do not disdain them (v.10) just because they are weak. And if anyone is lost, put down your pride and self-interest, and go and find him/her back (v.14). Verse 15 says: 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. Don’t be so bothered about popularity, but rather be willing to challenge and correct those who have fallen. Then finally Jesus talked about forgiveness in verse 21: 21 Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!

We live in a world with a “Me, Me, Me” culture. The world is destroyed by conflict because of human selfish desires. That is a far cry from the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to join God in transforming the world? You need the humility of a little child, to reach out to people regardless of your pride and status. (We read Philippians 2:3-11) 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
9 As a result God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus is the living proof that those who humble themselves for the sake of others shall be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Heaven_(film)
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Day
[3] NIV Application commentary, p 613

Matthew 18:1–4 (Listen)

18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

(ESV)