Humility to be Carried
One of the most interesting things about early Christian history is that you learn the names of people in the New Testament that the writers don’t give. In this story of Jesus explaining who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, there is no mention of who the child was that he brought in the midst of them. The lesson Jesus was teaching to his followers was about humility and not individual humans. The grown men were questioning about who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They wanted to attach a name to heavenly authority and honor. They wanted to attach an office or title as having a high position in the highest realm. Peter had just finished paying the Temple Tax, as Jesus instructed him. Peter and the other disciples could not have helped but to see that there was a particular pecking order of Arch-priest and priest, Master Rabbis and novices in the temple. So, out of curiosity and based on what they saw, the disciples asked Him, “who then is the greatest? Peter, James, or John because they were with You and witnessed the transfiguration? Just Peter because You instructed him on paying his and Your tax? Will You put one of us into an office as we see here? Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Instead of naming a person or office of high power, Jesus calls a little child to them. The Gospel written does not mention his name. Early Christian history says his name was Ignatius and was described as the “one carried by God” or “Theophorus.” Little children don’t go to great places on their own. Newborns can’t crawl, toddlers don’t walk long distances, and no one can legally drive a car until their mid teens. So, for a child to go anywhere, the child has to be carried. This is the lesson Jesus teaches through a little child to the grown men around him. “Whoever humbles himself to be carried, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Greatness in the adult world is based on achievement by scholarship, physical ability, wise governance, and other means of accomplishment. These are all good things to strive for and can be used for God’s glory. However, if our aim is to be great in the kingdom of heaven, worldly standards of greatness are not the means in which we are judged. In fact, by using a little boy as the example before these grown men, Jesus renders all of what they have accomplished, such as seeing the Lord Transfigured and paying the temple tax, and unimportant. In fact, by using this random little boy and not the “Sons of Thunder” – James and John, the “Rock”- Peter, the “First Called”- Andrew, the “Fig tree sitter”- Nathaniel, the “Doubter”- Thomas, or any of the other disciples with their very distinctive characteristics; by using this little boy, Jesus demonstrates and says that unless you make yourself like him, you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be great in it.
Isn’t it amazing how we (including me) grown folk sometimes fool ourselves to thinking that we are great in God’s eyes because of the stuff we have achieved, who we are, and what we are able to do? We think we can “Sho-nuff” preach and none of us had ever converted 3000 souls with our sermons. We think we can sing up a storm yet John heard the holiest hymns of victory in the Revelation. As great as we think we are in the church, it is not hard to look in the Bible and church history to find those who are greater than us. There are plenty of people around the world or just down the road that can do what we do better than we are. And, no doubt, whatever records we set today will be overshadowed by others in the future. For the sake of a good life on earth, sure, strive to do your best. Use the brain, brawn, and talent that God gave you to do something for yourself and family. If lasting greatness based on human ability is what we want to base our eternal greatness on, we are on the wrong road. Human standards are only temporary and are doomed to be forgotten. The standard set by our Lord and Savior is the only standard of eternity that we should strive for. And the example of that standard is not some man with some great name and list of achievement. Jesus uses the example of a little child.
Children are willing to be taken and put their trust in the ones that love them that carry and lead them. We grown folk, especially those of us who have earned stuff in this life, we want to make our own choices and trust our own judgement, even over those who have our best interest in mind. That is all well and good to make a living in this world. But, to enter the kingdom of God, we have to stop being grown and trust and let the one who loves us carry us to the kingdom of heaven. If we could get there on our own, there wouldn’t have been a need for Jesus to come to the earth. We could have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and figured our own way to holiness. We could have followed the Mosaic Law to the letter and earned our way to holiness. Our knowledge of good and evil is clouded by sin so. Our road map of law is too easily manipulated by our desires. God had to come to us in flesh to take us to the kingdom. All we have to do is trust him as we know that he loves us.
To trust and accept love takes humility. We have to accept the fact that we don’t have all of the answers and still be willing to go on the journey. Sometimes the journey will be very uncomfortable and confusing (has anyone’s A/C ever blew out, or has anyone caught a flat tire on a hot summer day road trip). But, we still have to endure and continue. Sometimes we will be impatient and will want something to comfort us (from the poet Langston Hughes, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”). There may even be some pain involved (what child has never tripped up, fallen and needed a band-aid). But, we look for the healing and the overall joy of arriving at the destination. This is the mind of a child. Kids have it naturally. We adults have to deliberately put ourselves in their shoes and let the love and lessons of Jesus carry us to the Kingdom.
According to early church history, the little child, Ignatius, became a Christian and eventually served as the Bishop of Antioch after Paul and Peter. He died as a martyr being fed to the lions in Rome. He died a grown man that humbled himself as a child. It is said that he didn’t run and hide from his death sentence. But, like a child, he humbled himself and met the beast that would devour him. Why would he do this? Because, like a son of a man, he was following the Son of Man who didn’t take rest in being equal with his Father, but He humbled Himself and was obedient to death, even death on the cross. And for this, He has been given a name above all other names. Ignatius was a good saint and godly role model. I am glad I learned his name. But, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tone will confess that HE IS LORD! And since we believe he is Lord, let us humble ourselves as children. Let him lead, guide, take, and carry us to the kingdom of heaven.