Matthew 18 (ESV) 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”…10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
1 John 2:16 reminds us that the World has precious little to offer anyone: a. The desires of the flesh (what I can physically experience), b. The desires of the eyes (delight in what things look like only on the surface), c. Pride in possessions (what I have, or do, or think I am in my own estimation or that of others). All three leave the person bankrupt. All three are purely temporal, fleeting, and have no lasting value of any kind. The 3rd one however speaks directly to our topic at hand. How many of us strive after reputation, standing, a name for ourselves in the eyes of others – or just in our own eyes? How many of us, if not openly, at least secretly, yearn for greatness in this life? It is a deadly desire.
As we can tell by verse 10, Jesus has not shifted from His answer. He is still using the example of this young child in dealing with this issue of greatness. If first of all, greatness in the kingdom is assigned to those who are unmindful of it in the eyes of men (including themselves); and if secondly we need to be doubly wary of falling into this lust for greatness and of leading others into it with us – then His third point is – don’t treat those who are humble in this way lightly. Those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven, not only do not pursue greatness in this life, not only do they not lead others to pursue it, they invest their lives in blessing those who are least among men as well. They do not set themselves to seek out the company of the notorious – whether good or bad. They seek souls for Christ’s kingdom. And none are too mean or lowly to be sought. None are “better” to be sought out because of their wealth, influence, fame or standing.
It is a feature of just how corrupt we are when we trade on celebrity. Isn’t it amazing how we dance a little jig when someone of human prominence makes a profession of saving faith in Christ? If an actor or prominent musician gets converted, or some political or sports figure comes to Christ, we get giddy with delight. In truth, it somehow legitimizes us. As though their salvation somehow counts more than that of the drunk down at the local mission. Which IS the problem. Why in the world (no pun intended) do we need legitimization in the World’s eyes by means of human notoriety? How opposite this is of Christ Himself. Jesus “made himself nothing” (Philip. 2:7).
Nor do we stop there. Do we not make celebrities of certain Christians as well? Don’t we mimic the sectarian spirit of the Corinthians “I am of Paul” – with those God has granted as gifts to His Church in our day? Running after prominent ministries and looking to link ourselves to their names and to be dragged along on their coat tails? Wanting to be associated with the great ones. Not that we cannot fully appreciate and take advantage of those God has used greatly among us – surely we can. But it is in moving from that to making it out as though mere association with them or dropping their names has some true value in the kingdom. It does not. Which is not to diminish their ministries one whit. It is to say the pursuit of greatness ourselves – even by association with God’s men – is another display of how much we’ve imbibed the World’s view of greatness, and not heaven’s.
The faces of the angels of the humble, are continually beholding the Father’s face. And this, not one iota less than those of the “great” who may be Christ’s. We show kingdom greatness in counting each of these as truly valuable as any other. Each precious, unnamed, un-remarkable, poor, weak – in the World’s eyes – insignificant, sheep – is worth searching out wherever they are. They are precious to the Father. And that is what ought to make them precious to us.