At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-5 ESV)
This seems to be a recurring theme with the disciples, somehow they spend a lot of time discussing who was the greatest. I guess, being young men, they were fairly competitive and were always seeking to 'get one over their friends'. Like us, they wanted to make themselves look good. In Mark's account (Mark 9:33-34), Jesus challenges them as he is aware they've been arguing amongst themselves as they've been on their journey, no doubt hanging back a little behind Jesus as they tried to thrash it out between themselves.
When Jesus gives them his answer I bet they wished they hadn't asked the question. But yet, as Jesus answered them, there would have been no judgement or criticism, in fact it would have been said with the gaze of love firmly upon them.
There is only one way, Jesus said, and that is to come with a childlike heart. Having a childlike simplicity and dependence on another. In this case, on the Father. This is where the problem arose. For the disciples it was not easy, neither is it for us. We are not used to letting go of our pride and independence, we are not used to letting go of our self-sufficiency. It's not natural for us.
I'm pretty sure Jesus knew all that, and despite the difficulty, it's the only way.
There are two keys: turning and humility.
We have to turn. Sometimes you'll hear people say it's complete 360° turnaround - well that would leave you facing in your original direction, not a real change. I prefer turning through 180°, that way you're facing the completely opposite direction. That's what Jesus wants us to do - to walk the other way. To have a childlike heart we need to turn round and start a different journey.
It also takes humility (something we're not too good at). Humility is taking yourself off the pedestal, it's not self-deprecating but it's actually starting to see yourself for who you really are. True humility is described for us in Philippians 2 - Jesus, being the son of God, did not consider his equality with God something he could use to his own advantage, rather he made himself nothing and humbled himself.
What Jesus said to his disciples probably offended them; don't let it offend you!
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Mark Gyde - A Father to YOU