In America, among the most difficult challenges confronting the person who chooses to be Jesus' disciple is this awareness: "I do not know anything. I need to be taught everything. To develop understanding, I must accept my ignorance." Characteristically, Americans individually and collectively think they know many things and understand most everything. Rarely will you meet an American (a) who will say, "I do not know" [most feel it is better to fake knowledge than to confess ignorance] or (b) who will not have an opinion on most anything.
Discipleship begins with this awareness: "I do not know. I must not hold an inflexible opinion that Jesus cannot redirect. He is my teacher." That attitude forms a challenge for most Americans who would be Jesus' disciples. It is not typical for most of us to declare ignorance [unless we seek to evade responsibility]. It is not typical for us to acknowledge that we totally need to be retaught in order to learn a new set of values.
Matthew 18:1 states the disciples came to Jesus to ask a question. Jesus used their question to give them several insights. In context, the disciples were the twelve. Perspective: they asked Jesus their question because they perceived his means for determining greatness in the kingdom of heaven [kingdom of God] was different from the ones used to determine greatness in earthly kingdoms.
Jesus' answer included several attitudes. (1) The primary quality of greatness in the kingdom of heaven is humility. (2) The human humility God values refuses to destroy even the least insignificant disciple. (3) A disciple makes enormous personal sacrifices to prevent his or her own stumbling. (4) God does not wish any disciple to perish. (5) If a brother does evil, make every effort to recover him. (6) "I will be with even two or three who are gathered in my name."
As always, begin your understanding of Jesus' statements to the twelve by understanding the context. The twelve clearly understood that the Herod family did not function on a foundation of humility. In their various positions, power [not humility] determined greatness. These men clearly understood in Roman positions power [not humility] determined greatness. These men clearly understood in Jewish leadership [the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the high priesthood] power [not humility] determined greatness. The certain way to lose greatness in earthly leadership was to be humble! The humble were trampled! The humble were abused, used, and exploited! How could God's kingdom be the greatest kingdom, but its great ones be humble people?
Jesus' answer challenged the twelve because they used power. Remember in Matthew 10:1 Jesus gave these men the power to cast out unclean spirits, to heal every kind of sickness, and to heal every kind of disease? These twelve men did the impossible! They used incredible power to do it! Yet, Jesus said their greatness was not verified by their use of incredible power. Rather, their greatness would be expressed through their humility. Humans value power! God values humility!
Consider Jesus. Was his conception a matter of humble servitude or a declaration of power? Was his birth a humble event or powerful event? In his ministry, (a) did he declare, "Let my power exalt me! Kneel before me!" Or, (b) was his ministry based on serving others? Did his arrest cloak him in humility or power? Did his crucifixion reveal his lowliness or his power?
At the moment of Jesus' resurrection, who was Lord of lords? Right now, who is Lord of lords? In the final judgment, who will be Lord of lords? How long will your influence for good endure? In a hundred years will you be remembered? Jesus has been Savior for 2000 years! God continues to use his humility to make him Savior!
The power lies in God, not in us. All we can do is allow God to use us. Even when God sent His own son to this world, God achieved His purposes through that son by the means of humility. Even when God through Jesus gave the twelve disciples incredible power, God achieved His purposes through them by the means of humility. If God is to achieve his purposes through us, it will be by the means of humility.
Jesus' disciple refuses to be the cause of stumbling. To cause someone we regard as insignificant to leave God is worse than dying. So horrible are behaviors that cause someone to leave God that a disciple would rather mutilate himself/herself than to cause that departure. Self-mutilation has fewer consequences than causing someone to leave God!
Why? God highly values the recovery of anyone lost to Him. That is why He sent Jesus. That is why He forgives. That is why He uses grace and mercy to sustain. God made and makes an enormous investment in recovery! Human repentance is the foundation of recovery. Repentance depends on humility. God was the shepherd who sought to recover a single lost sheep. God rejoiced more over a single recovery than over ninety-nine who were secured.
God in grace and compassion expressed Himself in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Jesus in grace and compassion had disciples for the purpose of revealing to them God's priorities, attitudes, and values. God sent Jesus to reveal His yearning for human recovery. Jesus died to reveal God's yearning for human recovery. Jesus sent his disciples to declare God's yearning for human recovery. A disciple, in God's grace and compassion, goes to the brother [or sister] who sins seeking recovery. Jesus' disciple always will use the approach of a humble heart, never the approach of control through power.
Humility's approach will not always succeed. Not all respect God's grace and compassion. Not all are moved by Jesus' humble self-sacrifice. God seeks those who want opportunity for recovery. These people have confidence in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. They express that confidence in repentance. They commit themselves to God's recovery through the new birth. They humble themselves before God. Because they belong to God, they humbly serve others. They are on the road to greatness in God's kingdom because God will exalt them.
These people may never be huge in number, but they will never be forsaken by God.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 7
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