The Magna Carta For Children
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus loved children. Before Him, they were deemed of little value. He elevated their importance, lifted them up. Matthew 18 is the Magna Carta For Children, and a Roll Call of Honor for all who work with children.
Matt. 18:1 (Holman) At that time the disciples came to Jesus and
said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Merely asking this question showed the 12 were clueless as to the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, but in their thinking at the time the question was perfectly natural and normal. They were convinced Jesus’ earthly political kingdom would mean health-and-wealth advancement for them.
They knew the kingdom was coming. Believing it would be political in nature, they decided it was time to start putting their job applications in. Obviously, if Jesus is going to have a kingdom, they will be the big dogs in it.
They were in an unbecoming tournament, jockeying for position. Peter, if not President, for sure expected to be White House Chief of Staff. James and John wanted to be Speaker of the House and Chief Justice.
Our author Matthew, a tax collector, was vying for head of the IRS. Judas Iscariot, the treasurer, expected to be Secretary of the Treasury.
Simon the Zealot wanted to be Commandant of the Marine Corps. Thomas the doubter, who always wanted more evidence, expected to head up the FBI. All the others expected nothing less than cabinet positions.
The irony is, these men who wanted to be great in an earthly political kingdom did go on to become great in Jesus’ Heavenly spiritual kingdom. Each is honored in Heaven by having one of its 12 foundations named in his honor (RV 21:14). They eventually learned that in Jesus’ kingdom, holiness matters most, not position, but in these early days selfish ambition wrongly led them to regularly dispute about their own individual prominence.
Their desire to know how high in the kingdom they would rise is a desire we all have to fight to stifle. Ambition is in our nature. The A in DNA could easily stand for ambition. This lust presents an omnipresent battle.
We all by nature want to be first in our little fiefdoms, at work, at school, at home. Everyone likes to be king, however little the kingdom is.
Aspiration can make us look foolish. Shakespeare taunts “Proud man, drest in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d.”
Matt. 18:2 Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among
Jesus did not answer the “Who is great?” question, but the “What is greatness?” question. Our culture bases greatness on wealth, pedigree, position, intelligence, or success. Jesus threw cold water on our human standards. He blew away our preconceived, artificial notions of greatness.
Jesus answered the Twelve in an odd way. He could have used only words to discuss humility by saying true greatness does not belong to the richest, the wellborn, the top dogs, the most intelligent, or most successful.
Instead of only speaking about humility, Jesus showed it to them. He demonstrated it by using a nearby child that visibly embodied what He wanted to say. He called the child, who came to Him without hesitation. (As a side note, I remind us it’s still wise to lead our children toward Jesus.)
Huzzah for sermon props!! Our Master, the ultimate communicator, accented His messages with props, object lessons, stories, pointed questions, and parables. He even used Power Point; when the adulterous woman was brought to Him, He wrote on the ground (John 8:6).
Effective teaching and preaching has from the first mattered to God. This should not surprise us. Our main commodity we have to deliver is truth. Therefore, effectively conveying truth is vital, of huge importance.
God’s best speakers have always taken teaching and preaching seriously, giving it their best efforts by using visible aids. Ezekiel built a scale model depicting the siege of Jerusalem; God had him lay on his sides for 430 days to picture the number of years of sin He was punishing them for (EZ 4). God told Jeremiah to bury used underwear (JR 13), use a Potter’s wheel (JR 18), shatter a clay jug (JR 19), use a basket of rotten figs (JR 24), and replace a wooden yoke with an iron one (JR 28). Don’t approach teaching as a slackard. Do it with all your might.
Use whatever it takes to increase curiosity and capture attention. Being boring is as useless as talking in a foreign language. Old-timers said, “If you don’t strike oil in 15 minutes, quit boring.” By the way, I crowned our Brad Bennett the King of props. He sheared a sheep on this platform.
Jesus used a child to highlight a huge point. He measures greatness not by the height of the pedestal we stand on, by the jewelry we wear, by the fame we gain, money we flash, or by the name on our birth certificate.
Don’t miss the poignant lesson. Jesus had called the Twelve, who were jockeying to be near Him. Jesus had called a child, who was oblivious to status. Take note, who was closest to Jesus now, the Twelve or the child? The Twelve are distant. The child is near Jesus, precisely where the Twelve wanted to be. The ones closest to Jesus are the ones harboring no ambition.
This lesson can be hard to learn, especially by those of us who hold public positions. It’s easy to covet the fame, attention, and glory. Each can be addictive, carrying its own adrenalin rush, and easily making us heady.
I need built-in reminders to jerk me back to reality. “John, it’s not about you. It’s about holiness, kindness, service, and humility.” Two pictures are on the wall in front of my main study chair: one of people working in our foot care clinic, and one of the feet of ladies who carried the Gospel to India. Both portray feet, reminding me lowliness is what matters.
Matt. 18:3 “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and
become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
After the object lesson comes the blunt message. God’s Kingdom consists of what kind of citizens? Of Jesus-followers who are like children.
Let me clarify. We are to be childlike, not childish. Don’t imitate their defects. All children have a fallen nature. Depravity clings to us all.
From the first, even the best children have traits we should not copy. They show self-will, disobedience, temper tantrums, selfishness, meanness. But children also have beautiful characteristics we need to imitate.
We know this is true by the fact we all slip into childhood nostalgia occasionally. We find ourselves thinking we want to go back to less complex times, to the simplicity of childhood. When I find myself thinking of Southeast Missouri, I know exactly what’s happening. Life has become a pressure cooker. I want to regain uncomplicated days of childhood.
But how in the world can we do this? Is it even possible? Time does the opposite to us. It makes us crustier, harder, more set in our rigid ways.
To regain a childlike spirit would require a radical change in us. We cannot do this on our own. We have to be miraculously converted. Thus, our only ticket back is by way of the cross, the conduit of new beginnings.
If we are going to turn around, go the exact opposite way, something from Heaven has to transform us. Only God can give us opportunity to start all over again. This is what believers describe as being born again (John 3).
To know God in a personal way requires conversion, a Holy Spirit conveyed relationship with Jesus. The conversion of our text refers to this new birth. It also refers to God’s ongoing work in us, not in being born again, but in the sense of giving us course corrections we constantly need.
The 12 and the child showed our natural lust to be great destroys our chance to be great. Thus, the quest must begin in a radical transformation, and then be followed by more and more transformations as time goes by.