A Lesson On Humility
In our series of messages on the subject “Learning from the Lessons of Our Lord,” we turn to Matthew 18:3–4 to learn a lesson on the subject of humility.
“And Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, [“turn” in the ASV] and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
It is well to remind ourselves, in the presence of God, of the setting upon which our Lord Jesus based this illustration. The Gospel of Matthew depicts Jesus Christ as King. It is the Gospel which speaks most of all of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and that kingdom is a universal kingdom. I am not sure that the vastness of the kingdom of God has dawned upon us, or even whether we with our finite mind could ever understand it. Let it be, however, crystal clear to us that Jesus Christ is not simply king of a few little despised people who have trusted Him and are going marching on to Zion; He is king of all creation. Not simply is He king of this little place that we call the world, but He is king of all the universe. He is Lord of outer space, He is king of all the vast creation of God.
As far as we know with our limited intelligence and understanding, in that vast creation and great kingdom over which Jesus is sovereign there has been a revolt by Satan which has brought suffering and shame and trouble to the whole of His creation.
May I just venture a thought to you? Somehow I feel one day we shall begin to understand in heaven the great conception of God’s universe which we only understand in such a limited way now. I think then we’ll come to see that in the eternal purpose of God this little globe was intended to be the divine headquarters from which He was to administer the whole of His creation. He made a man in His own image and in His own likeness in order that that creature, the greatest of all His created acts, might share with Him in that reign.
But Satan has involved, in revolt and rebellion, this human race which God intended to reign and the result is suffering and sorrow. Doesn’t Paul say, “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God”?
Can we ever understand the damage that sin has caused? Everything is out of harmony with God’s will, but one day the King is coming back, one day the King is going to set up His universal kingdom, one day He is going to banish and destroy Satan, one day He is going to populate a new heaven and a new Earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, and who are going to inhabit it? God’s universal kingdom of heaven will be inhabited and populated by men and women who have humbled themselves and been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb, and who have received the kingdom of God right now into their hearts and who own Jesus Christ as Sovereign.
The title to live with God in eternity and to share in the reign of that universal kingdom is dependent upon our acceptance of the principles of that kingdom in our lives here and now. Oh, that we would get these things basically clear today. Man living in the territory over which God is king is living in revolt. We’re His and we belong to Him, and every created power that we have in our personality is God’s, even though we may resist His authority and reject His power and the result is that we become paralyzed; nevertheless He is sovereign, He is Lord. We cannot escape the government of God. It is absolutely impossible, and one day He will come to blast or to bless, to judge or to save, to condemn or to redeem every man, everyone of us here. If we yield to Him in Christ now, if we know the spirit of the message of the song, “Yielded Lord to Thee,” then we shall know the joy of His everlasting love. If we resist Him now and reject Him, then we shall discover that our God is a consuming fire.
The great issue that confronts us is how a man may be delivered from living in a kingdom in revolt, a kingdom in which God becomes to Him a fire and a judge, and how he may move into a kingdom in which the Son of righteousness arises with healing in His wings, a kingdom of blessing and grace and deliverance. How indeed may we step from one into the other?
Our Lord had been speaking about His cross and His suffering, and the disciples began to talk about being great in the kingdom. Amazing, isn’t it? That is typical of all of us. They had only vaguely understood Calvary, only vaguely understood the principles of the cross. They were quite sure that Jesus was going to set up that kingdom there and then.
Now John, He loved very much and Andrew was the first of the disciples. Peter was quite a big noise, at least he thought he was for awhile, and they all had a claim to greatness. “Now, Lord, which of us is going to be the greatest in thy kingdom?” He said to them, “Except you turn and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Before you talk about who is going to be greatest in it, make perfectly sure that you are even qualified to enter it.
Let me ask you to note in this story, in the first place, what I would call the Character that Jesus demands of those who would enter the kingdom. Verse three: “I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom…” He had taken a little child unto Him. What a privileged little boy that must have been! And He set that little boy in the midst of them, just a boy playing on the edge of the crowd probably, and He said to His disciples, “You ask me who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? I want you to know that unless you become like this little boy, you can’t even get in.”
In other words, the character of the child is the character that Jesus demands for fitness to enter His kingdom. I am not dealing at this particular time with the question of how a man can become a child. I am merely stating the fact and insisting that Jesus said a man must become a little child in character if he would enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Do you know that statement should shake us to the very foundation? If you and I wanted to show somebody else how to enter the kingdom of heaven, what would we say to them? Do you think we would get a biography from a great man of God and say, “Now you must become like this saint?” The Lord Jesus said something much more revolutionary than that. He puts a little child in the middle of the crowd, and says to these jealous, office-seeking, quarreling, wrangling disciples, “You’ve got to be like that if you would get in.”
What did Jesus mean? Have you got a little boy in your home? Is he naughty, is he mischievous? Just put him in your midst in your mind right now as we think together.
What did Jesus say? If I would enter the kingdom, I have got to become like that. What is that little boy like, basically? In the first place, he is absolutely natural. He has no inhibitions, no restraints; he is curious, he asks you all sorts of questions. He’ll run up to you and put his arms around your neck and tell you, “Daddy, mommy, I love you.” (It’s when we get a bit older we show a little more restraint in that connection.) But the little boy has no inhibitions and he is completely natural and with open heart, open mind, and open face, he says, “I love you.”
In the second place, he is very impressionable. He is ready to learn, eager to understand, ready to be taught and he wants to go to school. Do you remember that statement by the Roman Catholic Bishop, “Give me your child until he is seven, and I care not who has him afterwards. I will have made an impression upon him that can never be effaced.” That’s true! He is impressionable.
Also, he is very trustful. Basically the capacity for trust and faith in a little child is just tremendous. But with all the fact that he is natural, impressionable and trustful, he is very imperfect. There is immaturity, tremendous room for growth and space for development. There is a great potential for character and room for discipline and training.
“Now,” says Jesus, “if you want to get into the kingdom, if you want to be a child of your Father in heaven, here is the character that I demand for even entrance into the kingdom. It is a man who is natural in his love, who is impressionable, ready and eager to learn, a man who is full of trust and confidence, a man who is utterly imperfect, but in whose life there is a tremendous capacity for growth. That is the character that I will accept and that is the character that one day I will take up to heaven and I will glorify.”
“Except ye turn and become as a little child,”—the character He demands. But notice the Condition that He imposes. “Except ye turn….” and verse four: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child…”
Except I turn. What does this mean? Isn’t this the Lord Jesus simply saying that if I would enter into the kingdom of heaven, there has to be a revolution in my life? The whole principle upon which I have built my life, intellectually, mentally, socially, has got to collapse around me. I have to turn and forsake every bit of it.
Turn? What from? Don’t let me shock you but let me say the truth. Turn from being a hypocrite to being real. Do I make too sweeping a statement when I say that every man is a hypocrite, everybody without exception? The life that is absolutely out in the open and natural with God. Hypocrisy keeps a man from the kingdom of heaven.
One man professes to be religious, but there is no reality about him. Another man professes not to care about religion, but deep down he has an aching heart. Both of those men are hypocrites. There are scores of people who are deeply moved by the sermon and they say, “What a wonderful message,” but they go out to live a godless life. Why? Simply because for years they have taken up an attitude about God, about Christ, about the church, and if they were to reverse that attitude, it would be betraying the whole position of their lives to that very point.
Hundreds of people who are church members have never turned, never been converted. They name a name, but, oh, they don’t worship the name. They pray for the kingdom, but they deny the kingdom in their hearts; they seek the will of God but they refuse it for themselves. “Now,” said Jesus, “unless you turn from all that, you cannot enter the kingdom.”
Oh, what a searching word this is of our Lord to our hearts today. We laugh at the days when we used to be children, don’t we? We say, “We have grown up now, we have escaped childhood, we have forgotten about all our dreams and our visions of those days, we are men now, we are big people, we have made our way in life.”
That’s the trouble, that’s the tragedy. We used to weep at all sorts of little things that cut us deep, but not now. We have steeled ourselves against it. We have grown up, we have made ourselves men, and even though in the course of life we have damaged others and influenced them wrongly, and perhaps have left behind a trail of lives that have become bitter and disillusioned just because of our example, still there are no tears. “Except ye turn.”
This is no soft word of Jesus. This word to me as I preach is just like a flame to my own soul. How little I know of a child’s heart, and yet the King of kings stands at the gate that leads to the kingdom, the gate that is straight and narrow, and as you and I argue about greatness, qualifications, education, position and fame, gently but lovingly and firmly, He pushes us back and says, “You can’t even enter until you become again like a little child.”
In the third place notice the Challenge that Jesus issued. “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
You notice in the previous verse He has been speaking about the awful power of influence, causing a little child heart to be ruined by offending. “Better for him,” says the Lord Jesus, “that a millstone were hanged about his neck.” The word used here for millstone is that that requires a great ox to pull it around. “If there be one of you who would offend one of these little ones by your nominal Christianity, by your inconsistency, by your devilish behavior, by your constant skepticism, and by your constant opposition to them, better for that man to have a great heavy millstone around his neck and be hurled into the depts of the sea.”
Ungodly parents take heed. You who would put your children off, you who would stop them coming to Sunday school, you who would do everything in your power to keep them back from God, “Better that a millstone were hanged about your neck,” says Jesus.
You nominal Christian professors with head belief but no heart experience, you who by your example, perhaps in indulgence and worldliness, cause the babe in Christ to stumble, you—better that a millstone were around your neck. “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off, if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; better to enter into life maimed than enter into hell, into everlasting fire. If thy hand, the symbol of authority, has become self-centered; if thy foot the place of action, is moving in rebellion to the will of God; if thine eye, the place of desire, is out of harmony with God’s purpose, then said Jesus, “cut them off.”
You are saying, “But, listen, pastor, salvation is by faith. It is all of grace. The entrance into the kingdom is God’s free gift.” Yes, that is true. What is this awful conflict of soul then that Jesus talks about? What is this tremendous battle with the flesh? It is down-to-earth, rugged repentance, without which there is no salvation. It is the breaking of a man’s heart, the pulverizing of the flesh and of the self life, and it is the acceptance of principles that bring a man like a little child to the feet of Jesus. My friend, don’t talk cheaply about an experience of grace and conversion and getting into the kingdom. “Except a man turn and become as a little child he shall not enter.” Has God been speaking to you as He has to my heart? How can the hardness be broken in my life, how can the tears begin to flow again? The thing seems an impossibility.
Let me take you to another scene in the New Testament (John 3). The Lord Jesus and another man were sitting together on a housetop in Jerusalem. It is the dead of night, and the wind is blowing and moaning through the trees. That man says to Jesus, “Master, how can these things be?” Jesus says to him, “Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Would you please put those two statements of our Lord together? Listen, “Except ye turn and become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom.” “Except a man be born from above he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” My responsibility, if I would enter that kingdom is this—in deep desire, in utter repentance, in solemn dedication, in complete obedience to the Word, TO TURN. That simply means that I come to Him today and I say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I haven’t shed tears, I haven’t cared, I have been disobedient, rebellious, hard, unimpressionable, resisted truth, rejected truth. I have sat in a pew Sunday by Sunday encased in a steel armor and I have gone out to live a godless life. Lord, I have done it, I hate myself for it, I long to turn. Jesus, just as I am I come to you. I don’t know how it is going to be done, but I come. I TURN.”
Immediately He meets me with His dynamic power, the power of His Holy Spirit and there comes into me, like all the rushing of living water, life, power, tenderness, gentleness, love, and my heart is broken and I am born as a child into the kingdom. He has met my turning with His tremendous power.
Somebody says, “That happened to me years ago.” Yes, wouldn’t it be a lovely thing if you and I, just for two minutes today, could share the moment of our conversion together? Did you weep? I did. So did you? Why? He broke your heart. You saw His love for you in your sinfulness and you knew that God had met you as you turned to Him.
Ah, but listen. Every step since that day that you have taken out of the way, out of the will of God, out of the place of fulness of blessing, out of the place of yieldedness, has to be followed by an immediate step back again in repentance, or else there is hardness.
How long ago is it since that happened to you? If we live after the flesh, we must die. If we through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, we live. If thy right hand offend thee, thy right eye, cut it off. “But they that are Christ’s,” says the Scripture, “have crucified the flesh, and the lusts thereof.” My word to you and to my own heart is, “Back, back, till I become a little child all over again.”
Somehow when we came to Jesus there came into the young tender hearts of many of us that day a tenderness and a brokenness, and we cried, because of our sin and His love. But since then we have rebelled, we have refused the cost, the sacrifice and have built up hardness even though we are still His children. Every step out of blessing has to be retraced by a step back into it in confession. Are you prepared to take that step?
“I want, dear Lord,
A heart that’s true and clean,
A sunlit heart with not a cloud between.
A heart like thine,
A heart divine,
A heart as white as snow.
On me, dear Lord,
A heart like that bestow.”
My friend, I want to be one of God’s little ones, with a child-like character of sorrow for sin and devotion to my dear Lord, eagerness to learn from His Word, complete dependence upon Him, because you see, of such of us who are prepared to become again like little children, Jesus said, “Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”
As the writer to the Hebrews says, “Ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation,” and I want to say to you very lovingly, if you have wandered far away from that tender heart of God, if you have been a Christian many, many years but you have grown cold and hard and unrepentant, that guard of heavenly angels has been following you all the time and that guard has been having their faces upon the face of your Father which is in heaven, and if you would but turn, without a sigh, perhaps without a word, but in your heart just turn, my Bible tells me that all the angels in heaven rejoice and share the joy of that very special One who has been watching for your return for a long, long time.
Are you going to make Him glad today and turn?