An argument had started to rise up between the disciples. They were debating over which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. In the Jewish culture, rank and status were very important. Everyone knew their place in society. They knew who they owed honor to, who it was a shame to be seen with, and everything in between. Jesus was going around breaking all of those rules.
He came to the earth as the son of a carpenter. The friends He chose were fishermen and tax collectors. Much of the Lord’s ministry was to the poor, the broken, and the diseased. Jesus showed them the honor of His careful attention and care…far more than He was giving to the elite religious leaders of His day.
The signs of Jesus’ amazing miracles meant He was receiving great honor and power from God. Yet this same Jesus rejected the ways of the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t seem to care whether they approved of His ministry or not. He even seemed to think He had authority to tell them when they were right or wrong!
The religious leaders weren’t used to that. They were used to holding the places of unquestionable honor and praise in their nation. Their hearts were not devoted to the God of the Old Testament, they were devoted to their own positions. How enraging Jesus was to them! He had no regard for their status or power, and spoke in ways that shamed their leadership before the people of Israel. The truth hurt.
The disciples had spent all their lives in Jewish society, and so it was natural that they would slip back into the ways of the leaders of their nation. They had been their role models. As they discussed life in the coming Kingdom, they longed to know who would be held up for honor and prestige. Was it Peter who had stepped up to answer the Lord’s most challenging questions? Jesus had already said He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Or was it Peter and James and John who were invited to see the Transfiguration? Who would be the greatest of the disciples in the Kingdom Jesus was going to bring? As they headed towards Jerusalem, they were beginning to expect that something new was going to happen. What was Jesus going to do? And who would He honor when He did it?
When they came into the house together in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. None of them wanted to say anything. Jesus already knew. He called a little child to Himself and held him by His side;
“‘I tell you the truth,’” He said, “‘Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.’”
Ouch. Jesus didn’t just teach a good idea here. He told His disciples directly that they had to change. They were developing all sorts of competitive ambitions in their hearts. Jesus wanted them to come to Him with the trust and openness of a child that knows nothing about worldly posturing over rank.
Then John said to him, “‘Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’”
Jesus said to him;
“‘Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’”
John attempted to stop someone that was doing a work for Jesus, but Jesus stopped him. He could have asked John to introduce him to the man. He could have gone to the man and questioned his theology to make sure it was correct. Jesus had a kind of wild freedom to allow things to stand as they were. As long as the miracles were in His name.
Yet there was something that Jesus said He was very careful to watch over. If anyone took care of one of His servants, Jesus would make sure they would receive their reward. What kind of wonderful world might it be in Christendom if all the servants of God sought to serve and protect each other rather than find ways to correct each other and tear each other down? It seems that this, too, was part of the question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Rather than elevating the best critique, Jesus will reward the meekest servant.
Jesus went on:
“‘But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’”
A millstone is a large, heavy rock that has been rounded into a circle so it can be rolled over grain. They are used on a farm to grind the grain and prepare the harvests. If someone had a millstone tied around their neck and they were thrown into the sea, they would sink very quickly into the water and would never rise again. That is an extreme punishment. It is an image to show how serious God’s anger is against people who treat “little ones” poorly or who lead them to believe things about God that aren’t true. These are terrible sins, but in this world, the powerful “big” people often forget this because nobody on earth will punish them. But God will. There is no better example of this than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
Who do you think the “little ones” are? Are they actual children? Or do you think maybe Jesus meant anyone who was a child of God, no matter what age they are or how wealthy and powerful, poor or weak?
Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand the tremendous value that His followers have to Him. It doesn’t matter how much power or influence someone has, they never have the right to hurt a “little one.” And if they do, it means they have come against the goodness of the Most High God, Who sees all things.