An argument started among them about who was the greatest of them. But Jesus, knowing their inner thoughts, took a little child and had him stand next to him. He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. For whoever is least among you—this one is great” (9:46-48 CSB).
In recent posts, we have read of Jesus’s transfiguration, in which something of his divine glory was revealed to Peter, James, and John. Following that picture of his majesty, they went down the mountain to rejoin the other apostles. There they encountered human misery. What a contrast! It remains true at this moment. God is seated in his glorious majesty over all, and we live in the misery of sin, suffering, and death. Do not blame God; we humans have brought and continue to bring this on ourselves by our rebellion against God. If you understand, weep over people without God and without hope in this world.
We come now to a practical test that followed Christ’s instruction. Sadly, what the apostles learned was not changing how they thought and acted. Their attitudes needed to be reworked. In this section (9:46-56), we will consider three hindrances to a gospel attitude and what should we do about them.
The first hindrance is pride (9:46-48).
The apostles exhibited an incredible circumstance of idolatrous zeal. Their behavior was way out of line. Who would think that grown men would act like this? Did you ever collect milk weed pods when you were a kid? It was lots of fun, right? My wife and I have done it with our granddaughter. To watch her joy was a pleasure. Do any of you adults long to do it again without children around? You put away that childish activity and many more. You don’t say to your adult friends, “Let’s go find some milk weed pods, break them open, and watch their seeds scatter!” Followers of Christ should have a holy disinterest in pride. “That was part of our old way of life! We don’t want to do that any longer.”
Christ’s perception of the apostles was correct. He knew their thoughts. He knows our thoughts. The Lord knows when we fail to humble ourselves before God and others. He sees our self-reliance in our abilities; he knows our arrogant opinions, when we refuse to submit to the teaching of God’s word (cf. Psalm 139:1-6).
Jesus provided a searching illustration. Here it was like an object lesson. He didn’t tell a story this time. He welcomed a little child. That child, and every child, has eternal significance. Made in God’s image, he or she will exist somewhere forever. Jesus loves children. Woe to those who do not!
The significance of the child in this example is not in his personal humility but in the child’s relative insignificance to people, especially in the opinion of adult men. Jesus did not tell them to have the child’s attitude but to accept the child’s place. They were focused on who had the best credentials. The boy had no claim to fame in their eyes. He had no proud position. People not absorbed with the child’s greatness. Were those disciples willing to be insignificant?
However, we must not stop with humility. If we do, we are still focused on self. It is possible to read this passage and come out of it as a moralist instead of a Christian. Listen carefully to Jesus’ emphasis (9:48). Do we welcome even children in Jesus’ name? Or do we ignore them?
The important fact is to view the child in relation to Jesus. Would they be content to serve the child for Christ’s sake? Would they welcome him in the name of the Lord? To do so is to extend a welcome to Jesus. But to pass by a child in a quest for greatness is to miss an opportunity to honor the Lord!
Joined with this truth is the relation of Jesus to God the Father, the one who sent Jesus. If you welcome Jesus, you also welcome the living God. Christ is leading them to focus on the significance of the One that they confessed to be the Christ of God.
Whatever temporary lesson the disciples may have learned is obscured by John’s statement in the next verse. But however they benefited, we are wise to ask ourselves, “Do we get the point?”
Ask yourself sometime today, “How much do I really care about children? Do I view them as unimportant, especially compared to how great ‘we adults’ are? How much am I doing to bring children into a saving relationship with Jesus? Do I pray for them? Am I stirred to have compassion on them?”
Grace and peace