“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”I Peter 5:6, 7
As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. Contrast this with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: serving others to the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it.
– C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness
15People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”Luke 18:15-17
Jesus’ last teaching to his disciples concluded with an unambiguous spiritual truth: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The irony of Jesus’ parable that accompanies this teaching is that only one of the two men who came into the temple to pray went home justified – not the self-confident Pharisee, but the man who came into the temple feeling completely unworthy and unjustified and humbled himself before God, pleading for his mercy. Those who feel most justified – if by their own virtue or lack of vice – are, according to Jesus, least justified; those feeling least justified – but coming to God in repentance seeking his mercy – are the ones that “go home” justified. The proud are humbled; the humble are exalted. This has been an elemental theme since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Luke. Are we getting it by now? More to the point, do our words, deeds and attitudes each day show we actually believe it?
The scene today accompanies this teaching (“People were also bringing babies to Jesus . . . “) and, as we have observed before, Jesus uses a real-time visual to reinforce his message. People are bringing babies to the place Jesus is teaching to have him touch them, presumably seeking blessing from this source of love and healing they’ve watched and listened to. The disciples “rebuke them” and try to shoo them away, but Jesus immediately stops them: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
This parallels Jesus’ statement to the disciples in Luke 9, when an argument broke out among them as to who would be the greatest (let us take some comfort that the application of this teaching does not come naturally for any of us). In this instance, Jesus took a small child and had him stand beside him and said, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.”
Again: “For he is least among you all – he is the greatest.” In that encounter, we observed that in becoming childlike ourselves (dependent, humble, simple, lack of pretense, desire to learn, aware of our needs and lack of ability to meet them ourselves) we become great. Here Jesus is saying that entering the kingdom of God is impossible unless we are willing to receive it like a little child.
We must take this very seriously as it goes beyond the idea that childlike humility is the path to greatness. Here Jesus is talking about entering into the new life he brings. This means that experiencing peace and joy in life now and God’s glory and presence for all of eternity is predicated on our willingness to become childlike as we approach God.
This implies the attributes we observed in Luke 9, but also suggests a stripping away our constant self-awareness and our need to have everything neatly lined up – there should be a degree of wonder and joyful exuberance as we come to God. Again, the focus is purely on God, not on ourselves and why we deserve to be in his presence. I think of a child racing out the door on a summer afternoon as his dad pulls up in the driveway returning from work. There are no pretenses (usually . . . ); the child cannot wait to be in his father’s arms, hearing him say his name, feeling his lips on his cheek, anticipating the time they will now spend together. He is completely and intensely consumed with being in the presence of his dad, who he knows loves him and cares for his many needs.
We turn this around and look at Jesus’ teaching on the attributes of God the Father. This is particularly evident in the parable of the Lost Son and the preceding parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. Like the earthly dad experiencing tremendous joy as his son crashes into his arms in the driveway, God the Father’s delight and joy is made full in his embrace of us as restored sons and daughters.
We receive God as we approach him in utter humility, without airs and with childlike anticipation. God joyfully receives us with the desire to lavish us with his limitless love and grace. There is a relationship that grows – as Father and child – in deeper love, trust and communication. This is the heart of Jesus’ message to us here.
“Humility and fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.”Proverbs 22:4
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
If you will make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning your to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”Psalm 91:1, 2, 4-6, 9-12, 14-16