When Jesus Gives an Ultimatum

August 29, 2016

Matthew 18:1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.


Six words stand out in today’s text. They are bold words. They are hard words. They are uncompromising words. We get them in two phrases of three words each. Did you catch them? Try reading back through now and see if you can spot them.

Jesus says hard things like this all the time but we have an easy way of reading right past them. Our understanding of grace is so easy and so free and our understanding of God’s love is so forgiving and kind that our minds have a way of dismissing the kind of hard and unequivocal things like we see in today’s text.

As an example, remember the time Jesus taught us how to pray? Near the end of the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer he says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In case we missed it, at the end of the prayer he comes back around with this: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Are you kidding me?! God will only forgive us to the extent we forgive others? That just doesn’t sound like the songs we like to sing at church about grace does it? Friends, we must take Jesus more seriously. If the idea of the grace of God somehow negates the notion of the fear of God then we have gotten the wrong idea of the grace of God.

O.K., now to those six words in pairs of three words each: 1. Unless. 2. You. 3. Change. 4. You. 5. Shall. 6. Never. If you missed them, go back and spot them now. We must learn to hear these words as though Jesus were speaking them to us face to face—because he is. Have we left on the mountain that small three word commandment he gave us at the Transfiguration? Remember it? 1. LISTEN 2. TO. 3. HIM.

So of those six words in today’s text, which one would you consider the most significant? If I’m taking #1, “Unless” and #6, “Never” seriously, then I’d have to vote for #3, which is Change.

So what is this change Jesus references? Become like little children. I used to think that meant break out the Crayolas. Our big interpretive problem is we tend to read this text from our own vision of a highly coddled middle class six year old living in the suburbs somewhere in the United States. When Jesus placed the child among the disciples, he was identifying the lowliest, status-less, unseen, person in the kingdom of the world as the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not about playing dress-up. It’s about dressing-down. This is about becoming profoundly humble.

According to Jesus, unless I seriously humble myself I’m just playing the game. Until humility is our honest posture before God, it will be a mere pretense before others. Humility is an all consuming mindset. And without rival, the most pure, unadulterated, example of humility is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Just as he places the child before us, so he places Himself. This cannot be under estimated. Now, if I could be so bold as to give you an assignment for the rest of your life it would be this one. Build your life on the unshakable foundation of Philippians 2:5-11. Start by reading it aloud every day through the end of this year. ;0)


Lord Jesus, thank you for being so clear about your vision for our lives. You want me to be humble. I confess, apart from you, I will never find that way; for as sure as I think I am becoming humble, it’s the surest sign I am not. Come Holy Spirit, and help me change, day by day, from one degree of humble glory to the next. And all of this for the glory of your name, Jesus, Amen.


1. Compare and contrast a 21st century child from suburban America with a first century child who would have been considered more as property than as a person.

2. How are you relating to what is really an ultimatum– Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

3. Do you identify with this way that we can so easily pass over some of the seriously difficult teachings of Jesus? How do we allow ourselves to do this? How can we do better with this?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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