God’s kingdom is in complete conflict with the kingdom you and I live in. In our world, our understanding of greatness is only available to a few. It’s based on money, achievement, education, power, beauty, title, or followers on social media. In God’s kingdom, it’s radically different. Greatness is available to everyone. It’s based on the condition of our hearts and how we love and serve others.
This is why as a Christian; you can feel conflict as you live this world. This is why when you grab the world’s idea of greatness and try to drag it into God’s kingdom, it doesn’t work. This is why when you grab God’s idea of greatness and try to drag it into this world, you may struggle. Both kingdoms are in complete conflict with each other.
We see this play out in scripture. As Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem to be crucified, His disciples are arguing with each other about who is the greatest. They thought that Jesus was the Messiah who was going to fight a military fight and defeat Rome. And because they were His disciples, they would rule with Him. And because they didn’t understand God’s kingdom, they argued with each other over who was the greatest and who would get the best spots. Doesn’t that sound like people today? All along, they never fully understood that Jesus was the kind of Messiah who was going to lay down His life. He was going to surrender His life and die on a cross. He wasn’t going to fight and defeat Rome with an army.
This is what is recorded as they were walking towards Jerusalem. Remember, the disciples didn’t know they were moments away from seeing Jesus die.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he [Jesus] was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” NIV Mark 9:33-34
Let’s pick up the story in Matthew 18.
1 At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?”
2-5 For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
6-7 “But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse – and it’s doomsday to you if you do.”
8-9 “If your hand or your foot gets in the way of God, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owners of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.”
10-11 “Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?” For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12-14 “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.” MSG Matthew 18:1-14
Remember the context of this parable. The disciples are arguing over who was the greatest. Who would have a higher rank in Jesus’ new kingdom. Why would they do this? Because the disciples grew up in a world that viewed greatness as self-serving. Think about it. The Roman Emperor and the Kings in their days were powerful and self-serving. The Jewish religious leaders were powerful and self-serving. The tax collectors were protected by Rome and self-serving. Everyone was at the mercy of these powerful self-serving leaders. So, everyone who was not in power, wanted power. They wanted power to force people to serve them. And for the disciples, Jesus’ new kingdom was their opportunity to get power. And with power, they could have people serve them.
All the disciples knew, all they understood, was that greatness is getting a power spot, a title, so that you can have others serve you. And what happens when you get twelve guys who define greatness as self-serving? They argue over who is the greatest. Again, sounds like people today – right?
Jesus steps in and introduces them to God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom is radically different than the kingdom of this world. He is trying to help the disciples understand, you can’t grab what this world defines as greatness and drag it into God’s kingdom. Living a self-serving life isn’t the way God’s kingdom works.
How did Jesus teach this? He brings a child into the middle of the group. And he says something that was never heard of before. Unless you become like a child, you won’t make it into the Kingdom of God, you won’t even see it. Only when you become like a child will you be valuable in the Kingdom of God.
What? This had to blow their minds. It goes against everything they had ever seen or experienced. To them greatness was about getting a spot to have others serve them, but Jesus is saying something about being like a child.
Why a child? Because a child has a wide-open heart that trusts. A child is simple and vulnerable. A child takes life on one day at a time. A child’s heart is humble. That heart in a child is the opposite of the heart inside a self-serving, greedy heart that wants position, power, and statues.
Jesus continues to talk and gives His disciples details on how to treat people. Again, it’s not about being self-serving, it’s about being humble and helping people. Jesus gets more practical.
Vs 5-7 What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse – and it’s doomsday to you if you do.
Jesus is teaching, when you care for others, it’s like you are caring for Me, so live humbly with others. When you reach out and care for others, build trust. And if you use your life to bully others or take advantage of them, break their trust, it’s like you are picking on Me. And I won’t overlook that.
In those days, one of the ways the Romans killed people was tying a millstone around their neck and throwing them into a river. Jesus came out and said, if you treat people I love like a bully, you will wish you were killed like the Romans killed people. I won’t overlook that.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? God’s kingdom isn’t about self-serving. It’s not about your greatness. The question isn’t who has a higher ranking, the question is, how do you treat others? In God’s kingdom, think about how your life impacts others. Do you realize, how you treat others is how you treat me?
Vs 8-9 If your hand or your foot gets in the way of God, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owners of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.
Jesus continues, if you are living in sin or leading people into sin, deal radically with your sin. Sin isn’t something you allow to stay in your life and grow. Deal radically with it. As radical as it sounds to cut off a foot, a hand, or pluck out an eye, deal with your sin like that. Never allow your sin to be a reason why others fall into sin.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? God’s kingdom isn’t about self-serving. It’s not about your greatness. The question isn’t who has a higher ranking, the question is, how do you treat others? In God’s kingdom, think about how your life impacts others. Is your life leading others into sin?
Vs 10-11 Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven? For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
Make sure you don’t despise or look down on people. It’s unacceptable. You have no right to treat others arrogantly. You must know that they have angels, and their angels are in the presence of God – a lot. I know this because I am Jesus, I was in heaven, I have watched it.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? God’s kingdom isn’t about self-serving. It’s not about your greatness. The question isn’t who has a higher ranking, the question is, how do you treat others? In God’s kingdom, think about how your life impacts others. Do you look down on others, are you arrogant?
Then Jesus shares today’s parable. All of that was context for this story.
VS 12-14 If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.
Jesus continues to confront their understanding of God’s kingdom. He continues to teach them the priority of heaven is not self-serving. What the world defines as greatness has nothing to do with God’s kingdom. He is trying to help them understand what the kingdom of God focuses on. In this very short parable, Jesus’ bottom lines the purpose of the kingdom of God. The purpose, the focus of God’s kingdom is every person who has wandered off, who is lost and is far from God. Your Father in heaven doesn’t want to lose one person. It breaks His heart that they are lost. That is the reason I came to earth.
And in this parable Jesus says something the disciples had to wrap their minds around. Guys, hear me, for you to fully understand the priority of the God’s Kingdom, you must understand, it’s not you. It’s about God and what God is up to. That’s why heaven celebrates more over one lost person who is found than the ninety-nine who were never lost.
Remember we started today by saying God’s kingdom is in complete conflict with the kingdom of this world? It still is. Let me ask you a couple questions to process this.
Question. How do you define greatness in church? Is it about what you get out of it or is it about joining others and reaching out to those who are far from God?
Question. Have you tried to grab the world’s definition of greatness and drag it into church? How do you know if you have tried? Instead of simply jumping in and serving, you get frustrated when others don’t notice you, celebrate you, or serve you.
Question. What do you think about Jesus saying, ‘You need to become childlike, or you won’t even see the kingdom of God?’
Question. What about the focus of church? Based on Jesus’ teaching, should the church focus on giving you what you want to keep you happy, or should the church be passionate, relentless, and unapologetic in reaching people far from God?
Question. If Jesus was speaking to you and you heard that the priority of God’s kingdom, isn’t you, how would you have responded? Would that offend you? Would that inspire you? Is this new to you? How does this change your understanding of church?
Before we close, I want to get a little personal.
Sam and I are pastor’s kids. We have watched and experienced our dads building God’s kingdom all our lives. As kids, we watched how Christians pushed against them. They were pastors who radically changed unhealthy churches and our families were impacted by that. We experienced the pain that Christians can give to their pastors. We have watched our dads take those spiritual hits and seen the impact of them. Our dads were missionaries. They were bishops. They were men who loved God and God loved them. Growing up we have seen the different styles of worship. We have seen the worst of religion. We have seen and experienced prayer, healing prayer, anointing prayer, prophecy, all of it.
As we grew up, we both have stories of us walking away from Church. We both have stories of how God redeemed us through His grace. We have worked in the corporate world. We have worked in commercial construction building military bases. We both can tell you about our personal relationship with God and the challenges we have faced personally. And neither one of us wanted to be pastors but God grabbed us and put us here today.
Why do I tell you this? Please hear me. Please trust what I say. Based on scripture and all the experiences of our fathers, God’s kingdom isn’t about us on the inside of Church. God’s kingdom is about pursuing those far from God. It’s the message Jesus shares over and over in His ministry. It’s the reason Jesus came to die on a cross like a criminal. It’s the mission Jesus gave His disciples. It’s the mission He gives Paul in Acts.
When we were given the chance to start a new church, we built a church around the principle, it’s not about you. Why? It’s what Jesus taught. We were told by some of the leaders in the BIC, ‘You can’t do that, it will never work. You need to keep Christians happy, give them what they want, to get their money, to keep the church afloat.’
I thought to myself, that makes me sick to my heart to think that is the condition of the modern-day church. Is that church? Are you serious? Keeping people happy? When I heard that, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the modern-day Christian being so immature, we must keep them happy instead of inviting them into the mission. Where is that found in scripture? I thought, ‘If that’s church, I’m out.’
I want to be a part of a mature church that follows scripture. I don’t want to be a part of an immature church that caters to the most immature people in hopes to manipulate them to do what they should have been doing all along – surrendering their lives to the mission of Jesus. I want to be a part of something that passionately, relentlessly, unapologetically is going after people far from God. The grace of God that rocked my world, I want everyone to experience that transformation. And if that offends people, I don’t think they fully understand what Jesus came to do.
We decided to risk everything to go after people far from God. That’s why the vision of MRC is that church that is passionate, relentless, and unapologetic about reaching people far from God. When I was young, I thought once Christians heard about our vision, people would be so inspired to be a part of it. Why did I think this? It’s what Jesus taught. It’s the mission of God. It’s the point of the entire New Testament. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I shared the idea that church isn’t about us, it seemed to inspire a few but for most, they thought I was abrasive.
Some Christians told me that what I was saying was offensive. I thought about that. I thought well, I think Christians focusing on themselves and their comfort is offensive. It’s offensive to every person in this world who needs to hear about God.
Please, please hear me. From scripture, from the words of Jesus, the kingdom of God isn’t about us, it’s about God and what He is up to. It’s about joining Jesus and going after those far from God. In fact, the local church is at its best, it’s most healthy, when they focus on people outside of the church. Did I say you can’t have fun? No. Did I say you can’t meet together and pray and eat? No. Did I say community in church is bad? No. What I said was, Jesus taught His disciples, it’s not about us and I think it’s good to live that out.
Let’s close with this. One sheep has wandered off, that represents our culture. The shepherd going to find the lost sheep, that represents the church today. Are you fully engaged at church to help find and restore those far from God?