Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 27 2013 - Matthew 18:1-20 – Little ones

Jesus had spoken to Peter rather cryptically about the status of the sons of the kingdom and the freedom they enjoy (Matthew 17:24-27). Maybe the disciples had begun to talk together about what Jesus had said and to ask each other what it could mean. Maybe they had begun to weave together grand views of their rights as sons. Something like this seems to have prompted them to come to Jesus with the question that appears so often to have been in the forefront of their minds, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (18:1). The very question indicates that they had not understood the nature of the kingdom that Jesus has come to establish. They are concerned to secure the chief places in his kingdom even as Jesus, their king, is on his way to the cross.

In response to their question, Jesus finds a little child whom he makes the centre of attention. Then Jesus answers their question, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (18:3-5). In the culture of first century Palestine, children had the lowest place in society. The little child is a picture of one utterly devoid of power and status; one who is entirely dependent upon others. This, says Jesus, is what his kingdom is like. The kingdom that he is establishing is not like the kingdoms of this world. It is not built upon achievement and self-centred status; it is the creation of grace – grace that embraces the little ones of this world.

And this is to be the spirit that marks those who belong to the kingdom and shapes their attitudes to others. They are not to despise the little ones – those whom the world counts insignificant. They are to cherish and encourage such folk and never cause them to stumble. We are to reflect the character of our Master, the Good Shepherd, who came to seek and to save those who were lost – read 18:10-14 in context. We are to welcome and embrace the stranger and the outcast.

We need to ask ourselves whether our church life embodies and reflects the words of Jesus. Do we reflect the genuinely humble and gracious character of the one whom we serve? Might it be that we are sometimes guilty of the faults which James exposes and criticises in James 2:1-7? Could it be that we sometimes favour the great ones of this world more that the little ones because we aspire to similar worldly status?

And the same spirit is to mark the way in which we live with one another as children of the kingdom. When others upset us or do us harm we are to go out of our way to try to mend the situation and be reconciled. The activity described by Jesus in verses 15-19 is not to be viewed in legalistic terms, as if it were canon law or procedures for church courts. Rather, Jesus encourages us to do all we can, individually and corporately, to win back someone who is disaffected towards the fellowship. Again, like the Good Shepherd whom we follow, we are to go out of our way to bring the wanderer back home. Forgiveness and reconciliation are to be key characteristics of the children of the King.

Lord Jesus, teach me what it means to follow you and to reflect the character of the Father who "is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." Help me by your Spirit, as far as it is in my power, to live at peace with others and so to reveal your character to the world.

Peter Misselbrook