Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Today we hear the disciples ask Jesus:
[St. Matthew 18.1]
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
With his answer, Jesus reveals something about God's kingdom that isn't perhaps the first thing to come to our mind. Jesus' response reveals that the greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is humble and wholly dependent on Jesus who is the King of Heaven. In answering the disciples' question:
[St. Matthew 18.2-4]
. . . Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
2 Children in Jesus' time lived a precarious existence. They were completely dependent on their parents and family for their well-being. There was no government aid. There were no orphanages. If you're parents did not or could not provide for you, you simply were not provided for. The child Jesus sets in the midst of his disciples is a living, breathing example of someone who humbly submits himself to the care of others for anything and everything he needs.
3 This picture of humility and dependence is what Jesus is driving home to his disciples. It is not earthly greatness that gains one prominence in the kingdom of heaven, but rather humility and dependence upon God to provide anything and everything we need. While it is clear that we here today are no children—like the disciples we are called to live with a child-like humility and dependence that looks to Christ to provide for all our wants and needs.
4 And that's where things get difficult for us. We are adults after all. Throughout our lives we've worked hard at the vocations in which God placed us. We've provided for our families and children, perhaps even grandchildren. We've accumulated much in terms of wealth and status and accomplishment. We have plaques and certificates, and possessions and bank accounts to prove our greatness. But in truth that greatness is only great in our own eyes. It makes no differences as the years add up and age begins to take its toll upon us. And it matters not at all in the eyes of God, no matter how young or old we happen to be.
5 What does matter to God—what matters in the kingdom of heaven—is not our earthly greatness, but our heavenly humility and our divine dependence on God for everything. Everything. God reminds us of this in the first part of the Apostles' Creed. When we say we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, we are confessing that it is God and God alone who
[Small Catechism, Creed, First Article, Explanation]
has made us and all creatures; that He has given us our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our limbs, our reason, and all our senses, and still preserves them;
in addition He provides, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all our goods;
God provides us richly and daily with all that we need to support this body and life, protects us from all danger, and guards us and preserves us from all evil;
and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us; for all which we owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
Through our thanks, praise, service and obedience we humble acknowledge our utter dependence upon God who provides us with all we need. Through such humility and dependence on God, God himself opens our eyes to see in Christ, the greatest blessing of all—his presence among us. Christ says:
[St. Matthew 18.5]
. . . whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
If by receiving the faithful children of God, we receive Christ also, it must mean that Christ is with his faithful children. Christ's promise is that he is always with us. Thus St. Matthew in chapter 1 of his gospel reminds us that Christ is the fulfillment of that
[St. Matthew 1.22b-23]
which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
6 Jesus is our God With Us. Today, from his own mouth, we hear his promise to fulfill this word of God once spoken through Isaiah, and then again through St. Matthew:
[St. Matthew 18.20]
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
By his grace Christ fulfills this promise to each and every one of us. Through is Word, Christ makes his presence known. Through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper he makes his presence felt. And by his presence Christ works in us a holy humility that recognizes and embraces our full dependence upon God in every aspect of our lives. And yet, because we still struggle with sin, it is not difficult to find examples of our failure in both humility toward God and dependence on him. So today, in order that we may be counted among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Christ calls us to repentance with the example of a humble, obedient child. And so that we do not use our God-given humility and dependence as opportunities for pride, and thereby increase our sin, Christ reminds us that ultimately is it his humility and dependence that merit for us the manifold mercies of God.
7 In his life he is completely dependent on God the Father. We see this as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. As his life hangs in the balance, he prays:
[St. Luke 22.42]
Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from my: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
That is perfect dependence on God our Father.
And he has lived the perfectly humble life. For he is our Lord and our God, yet:
. . . he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
That is perfect humility before our God.
8 In his life and in his death, Christ was humble for our sake. He depends on God the Father for our sake. And by grace, for the sake of Jesus' his Son, God our Father accepts Jesus' humility and Jesus' dependence as our own, and welcomes us as his children into the everlasting kingdom of heaven. In thanksgiving for such a blessing, by the Spirit of God, we walk in humility and dependence on God, until Christ comes again to welcome us body and soul into glory above, and unite us with all who are great in the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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