Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Humble, As This Little Child

Life of Christ 91

         Jesus and His Apostles have just returned to Capernaum after a weeklong trip into the mountains north of Galilee. On that trip we saw Peter's sublime confession of faith, much discussion about the Kingdom, and the Transfiguration. At the same time, three of the Apostles, Peter, James, and John, had been noticeably brought into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. At the same time, the other nine Apostles were humiliated in their inability to cast a devil out a boy.    With all of this, and some human nature thrown in, it is to be expected that an argument arose amongst the Apostles over which one of them was to be the greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 18.1-6, Mark 9.33-37). They thought they had kept this argument private until Jesus questioned them about it, and, even then, they refused to answer, probably realizing how petty their bickering must have sounded to Him.
          What a weariness this must have been to our Lord. He is heading into the final six months of His life. He is facing intense earthly pressure from His family, Israel's religious leadership, and Israel's political leadership. He is facing intense spiritual pressure from the devil. He is preparing Himself, setting His face like a flint, for the horrors of Calvary. He is giving everything He's got to train and prepare the Apostles to lead an infant Church without Him. These Apostles have just had some spectacular failures, with Peter's constant impetuosity and the other Apostles inability to cast out a devil, and now, to top it all off, they are fussing with themselves about who is going to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom when the Kingdom isn't even coming anytime soon.
          Edersheim says, in relation to the grief this all must have been to Jesus:

Surely the contrast between Christ and His disciples seems at times almost as great as between Him and the other Jews. If we would measure His stature, or comprehend the infinite distance between His aims and teaching and those of His contemporaries, let it be by comparison with even the best of His disciples. It must have been part of His humiliation and self-exinanition to bear with them. And is it not, in a sense, still so as regards us all?

          Jesus, instead of chewing them out, uses an illustration to get His point across to them. He calls a little child to come to Him, and, sweetly setting the child on His lap, He points out that this child has something which is sorely lacking in the supposedly more mature Apostles. This something is the lesson for us: Jesus calls for us to be humble, as little children. 'Whosoever therefore shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18.4).
          Now, I freely confess, I've met a fair number of children in my life that seemed entirely unacquainted with the concept of humility. But these are obviously not the type of children of which Jesus was speaking. No, take those spoiled, bratty, selfish, whining, demanding, aggressive, disobedient children and put them out of your mind. That is most definitely not who Jesus was taking about. Instead, I want you to picture a child you know that is obedient, cheerful, sharing, and of a sweet disposition.
          First, their humility is seen in their servant's heart. For 12 years now I've had a pre-schooler in my home, and it never ceases to amaze me, when they are having a good day, how happy they are to help you to do anything. They will step and fetch it at the slightest request. They will hold tools patiently, and carry dishes carefully. They will, with a smile, hand you a book or prop open a door. There is in them very little of the pride that demands a higher position or more recognition, or views a certain kind of work as beneath them.
          So often those that desire greatness want that greatness to be in the form of being noticed and served, of being in authority, calling the shots. And yet our Saviour consistently emphasized a different ethic, one in which greatness was defined as serving rather than being served. 'If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all' (Mark 9.35).
          Secondly, their humility is seen in their acceptance of all kinds of people. Did you ever notice that children are naturally un-prejudiced? They have to be taught to dislike classes and groups of people. Why? Because they do not think they are better than anybody. They don't care about ethnicity, zip codes of origin, languages, clothes, or who is in the in crowd. Yes, as they grow up they learn to care about those things, but as little children they just gather together and play with whoever shows up in the McDonald's Playland.
          We've discussed before the endemic racism that was so deeply inbred in the Jews of Jesus' day. But those little Jewish children weren't born with that. They were taught it as they humanly matured. Racism, classism, prejudice, and bigotry are learned, not instinctive. Little children are too humble to have them.
          Not coincidentally, mature Christianity is supposed to be the same way. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3.28).    
          Thirdly, their humility is seen in their dependence. No kid comes out of the womb and says, 'Ok, Mom, I'll take it from here.' What is the first thing they do? Cry. Because they need something, even if they don't know what that something is or how to say it. As they mature they learn to verbalize their dependence, and 'help me' becomes a significant feature of their vocabulary. They readily request help in getting dressed, brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, or using a fork. It is rare, in little children, to see a spirit of independence.
          Of course, it is only right that this spirit of independence come naturally with human maturity, but spiritual maturity takes the exact opposite tack from human maturity. Humanly speaking, we are birthed small, and gradually grow larger, stronger, smarter, and independent. Spiritually speaking, we are birthed large, and gradually grow smaller, weaker, and less knowledgeable in our own sight. We move, in the human life, at birth, from being completely dependent upon our parents for everything to being completely independent of them for everything. We move, in the Christian life, at birth, from being dependent on God for only our eternal salvation to becoming dependent upon Him for absolutely everything.
          The truth is that in the spiritual realm my flesh doesn't like this. I don't want to be dependent on anybody but myself. I want to handle everything myself. I want to be secure in myself. But as long as I am then I'm not dependent on God, I'm not letting Him handle things, and I'm not finding my security in Him rather than myself.
          David was undeniably a great man, the kind of man that the Apostles desired, in their argument, to be. He was a world class empire builder, a tremendous tactician, a matchless leader of men, and an author whose works have lasted for millennia. Yet he wasn't great because of his great literary ability, administrative talents, or military capacity. No, he was great, at least in part, because of his constant reliance on God for protection, encouragement, direction, provision, and timing.

          We, like the Apostles, so often harbor a desire to be lifted up. David was humble and great. The Apostles were proud and insignificant at this point. Why? 'Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up' (James 4.10).

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