In the previous two parts we looked at the first world ruler, a giant that taxed the world to build a great tower to get into heaven on human terms. It brought a curse upon our speech (our word, or spiritual power). We also looked at Nebuchadnezzar, whose hubris led to a seven year curse upon himself; but he received another heart, believed, turned, and became small in his own eyes, like a child.
In the Law, two or three witnesses established an argument, so now we can skip ahead to the final world ruler, Jesus Christ, and the contrast he gives with all the great humans and builders of great things that preceded him.
The New testament gives three witnesses to his words about greatness:
Mt. 18:1-6 ESV At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Mk. 9:33-37 ESV 33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Lk. 22:24-30 ESV 24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
What is greatness? Jesus owned nothing, built nothing, did not have a house to sleep in, or a palace wherein to pass his judgements. He had to borrow a donkey for his triumphal entrance. He never graduated, was not ordained by any recognized authority, was never elected to office, and gave the keeping of the money bag to a thief. He was outcast, outlawed, declared demoniac, illegally arrested, illegally tortured, illegally sentenced, and brutally executed for crimes the authorities knew he never committed.
Although He was Creator and Judge of all, he came as an equal, in smallness. He submitted to everything life threw at him. He never rebelled in his heart – nor in word or action – no matter what happened. He had awesome powers, but did not use them to exercise authority over anyone. They were free to believe him, or not.
What made him great? What makes anyone great? Not our miracles. Not our work. Not our ministry. Not our wisdom. Not our legacy. Not our family or circle of friends. Not our fortune and the good it did. Not our possessions. Not our skills. Not our positions of leadership. Not our degrees and accomplishments. None of that makes a person great in the kingdom of heaven.
What does a little child have to make him or her great in this upside-down kingdom Jesus rules?
So when we come to Matthew, Chapter Thirteen, Jesus explains His kingdom and what it’s like. Some of us have heard it taught all our lives, but have missed the central point.
It’s like a farmer that only harvests a crop from a small portion of the seed he sowed. A lot of it was wasted because only a small portion of those who heard the word understood it.
A normal king would force his subjects to understand by publishing rules and clarifications, or sending them to retraining camps. But Jesus is not that kind of king. He does not press anyone to fall in line with him.
His kingdom is like a farmer whose field was sabotaged by an enemy, so that a lot of weeds were in the grain. His servants wanted to spray it with Round-Up and start over. A normal king would have set the whole field on fire, but Jesus is not that kind of king. He cared more about the grain he planted than he did about how his field looked in the eyes of his neighbors. He waited patiently, then at harvest time pulled the weeds for burning, and gathered in the wheat that was left. It did not matter that his harvest was small, it was precious.
Small and precious. Like a little child.
His kingdom is like a very small seed of mustard. Mustard is an irritant, a fiery condiment. If you get it growing in your garden it spreads until it overruns the whole thing. This is how Jesus reclaims the field his enemy sowed with weeds. His word is like a fire on our lips, an irritant to the world. Mustard plants are intended to spread and become great in number, but not in height.
When a single mustard plant becomes like a tree, it is a picture of the tower of Nimrod, or the great tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Birds of the air nest in its branches. Jesus said the birds were the evil one. When one plant in his kingdom shoots up to overshadow the rest, it becomes a giant, a tower, a great tree whose branches become a lodging place for the devil.
The lesson? Remain small, children. Spread in number, not in height over all the other plants. We are not to become great in any way, except in equality with others. Make more disciples; not more cities, towers, and names for ourselves. Doesn’t the world already have enough of those?
Our kingdom is not like the world. It’s so small that it fits inside our hearts, with plenty of room to spare.
Room enough for everyone.