Matthew 18:1-4 - 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."
This devotion pairs with this weekend's Lutheran Hour sermon, which can be found at LHM.org.
Much about Jesus is controversial—who He is, what He did, what He said. But this statement of His—how adults need to become like children—seems less controversial in our time. Maybe it has something to do with how modern people idealize what children are like, whether it's in a story such as Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, or in catch-phrases: "Stay young at heart," "Don't grow up too fast," "Embrace your inner child." "Be childlike," they tell us: be joyful, simple, curious, chase a butterfly, and so on. So, Jesus' words, "You must become like children," may just sound like another modern-day meme.
But Jesus' saying would have meant something different in His ancient, Middle-Eastern, Jewish context. The metaphor would have been offensive. Because ancient people didn't see children as positive role models for adults. This was especially the case for ancient Greco-Roman society. In that context, children were less than real people—without rights, without honor, without power. And in pagan society, if children were unwanted, they could be abandoned or aborted—left for dead, without legal reprisal.
Now, ancient Jews were different on several counts. They didn't support abortion or infanticide because they believed that every human, especially the small ones, were created in God's image and valued by God. But their estimation of children's abilities and qualities was not that different from their pagan neighbors. You remember what happened when people tried bringing their children to Jesus for Him to bless them? What did His adult students say? "Hey, scram! Rabbi doesn't have time for your snot-nosed kids!" (see Matthew 19:13-15). In that time, for children to really count for something, they needed to grow up first. But Jesus says that those who think themselves grown up, in relation to God, need to become like children: more needy, more dependent and, if left alone, entirely helpless.
Jesus sets us free to admit this truth about ourselves. Jesus is saying that you don't have to change yourself, fix yourself, or pretend that you're already grown up. God is committed to being your Father right now, even with all your neediness. He will take you as you are—runny nose, sticky fingers, filled with questions—He will take all of you. He will take care of you. "He did not spare His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all. How will He not also, with Jesus, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
I recently overheard two, young Christian women talking about how they were amazed at God's loving patience. "He knows we still have a lot to learn," they were saying. "We still have a long way to go." They were both in their seventies. Followers of Jesus are called to grow up, to be fully mature, like Jesus (see Ephesians 4:13-15). But we have a strange way of doing it. As we age, we're not getting less in need of God, but more. If "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10a), then dependence on the Lord is the sign of real maturity.
WE PRAY: Dear Father, help me grow to be fully mature, to be fully dependent on You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. When are you tempted to think of yourself as less dependent or in need of God?
2. Was there a time when your complete dependency on God became apparent to you?
3. Read John 5:19-24, and verse 30. How does Jesus—fully God and fully human—model this dependency on his Father for us?
To Download Devotion MP3 to your computer, right click here and select "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" or "Download Linked File As"