Be Great in the Sight of God!

The Gospel of Matthew  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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We have to: 1. Overcome our selfish mindset (vs. 1). 2. Use God's standards for greatness (vs. 1). 3. Follow the right examples for greatness (vs. 2-4). 4. Focus on the right mission (vs. 5).

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Be Great in the Sight of God!

The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 18:1-5

Sermon by Rick Crandall

(Prepared September 29, 2022)


*Who would you name as a great man or woman? Almost everybody could offer some suggestions, and opinions around the world would have huge differences. But Jim Kane helped us understand true greatness in a little memory quiz. It included these fill-in-the-blank questions:

-Name the last 5 Academy Award winners for best actor.

-Name the last 5 winners of the Miss America contest.

-Name the last 10 winners of the World Series.

*Very few people could answer even one of those questions. But how about these fill-in-the-blank questions:

-Name a few teachers who helped your journey through school.

-Name 3 friends who helped you through a tough time.

-Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. (1)

*I hope everybody could answer those last 3 questions. Jim's little quiz helps us get closer to true greatness. But the best wisdom about greatness comes from Jesus Christ. And in Matthew 18:1-5, the Lord teaches us how to be great in God's sight.

*Stop and think about this amazing truth: You and I can have true greatness! We can be great in the sight of the Lord. And the Bible shows us how.


*If we are ever going to be great in the sight of God, we have to face up to our selfish ego and pride. This is not an easy thing for us to do. And the Lord's disciples faced the same struggle right up to the night before the cross.

*Their selfish pride was the reason why they asked the question in vs. 1: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'''

*We need to know that this question was not the beginning of the story. Mark 9 tells us that they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest as they traveled down the road. And we have to see the right picture. They weren't walking down the road saying, "You're the greatest!" -- "No. You're the greatest!" The disciples were all proudly saying, "I'm the greatest!"

*Later, they didn't want to admit their argument to Jesus. But He knows our hearts, and He called them out on it when they got to the house. Listen to the story from Mark 9:33-35:

33. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?''

34. But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.

35. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.''

*They needed to know, and we need to know that if we are ever going to be truly great, we have to overcome our selfish ego and pride. We have to humble ourselves and get servant-hearted attitudes. This is not an easy thing to do, because this "I'm the greatest" pride is a very common problem.

*Jesus had to talk to His disciples about this over and over again. The incident here in Matthew 18 took place about 6 months before the cross. But later on, in Matthew 20:20-28 the mother of James and John worshiped Jesus and asked Him to do something for her.

21. And He said to her, "What do you wish?'' She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.''

22. But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?'' They said to Him, "We are able.''

23. So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.''

24. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brothers.

25. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.

26. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.

27. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave

28. just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.''

*There were other times when the disciples argued about who was the greatest. In Matthew 23:11-12, just days before the cross, Jesus had to tell them again:

11. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

12. And whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

*And in Luke 22:23-27, just hours before the cross, even after the first Lord's Supper:

23. They began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing (betray Jesus).

24. But there was also rivalry among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.

25. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'

26. But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.

27. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves."

*This "I'm the greatest" pride is a very common problem, common among the disciples, common among all people. That's because it started in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:5, one of the things the devil said to tempt Eve was this: "God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.''

*There is still a part of us that wants to be large and in charge! Humility doesn't come easy. I heard about a man who was awarded a humility button from his church. Then they took it away from him, because he wore it. (2)

*John Adams was one of the Founding Fathers of our country. He was also a very devoted Christian. And John Adams usually doesn't get as much credit as Jefferson and Washington, but Adams' service was crucial. You can almost be sure that without Adams, there would have been no United States.

*John Adams faced many trials in those years, but one of the things that frustrated him the most was this prideful mindset we need to overcome. David McCullough told how Adams was exasperated by the constant squabbles among the American officers.

*And John Adams wrote these words to his wife Abigail, "They worry one another like mastiffs (mastiff dogs), scrambling for rank and pay like apes for nuts." Adams also wrote, "I believe there is no one principle which predominates in human nature so much in every stage of life, from the cradle to the grave, in males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this passion for superiority." (3)

*The passion for superiority: It may be hard for us to overcome. But Jesus wants us to have a servant's heart like His. Jesus came to serve, and He wants us to serve. But just because we are serving, doesn't mean we have servant's hearts. If we are serving with bitterness, anger, or resentment in our hearts, then we are still heading in the wrong direction. Psalm 100:2 tells us to "serve the LORD with gladness," and that's what God wants us to do.

*We can be great in the sight of God by overcoming our selfish ego and pride. We have to overcome our selfish mindset.


*Who gets to set the standards for greatness? The answer is God because He is the greatest of all. We must go to God, and that's what the disciples did in vs. 1. They went to Jesus Christ: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'''

*And when we go to Jesus, we find out that He has totally different standards from the world. In Isaiah 55:6-9 the Lord said:

6. Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.

7. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

8. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,'' says the LORD.

9. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

*Then in Luke 16:13-15, Jesus said this about loving money:

13. "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (That's wealth, treasure, riches)."

14. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.

15. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God."

*We must understand that this is not a matter of our bank account. It's a matter of the heart. Here Jesus was responding to those hard-hearted, self-righteous, money-hungry, Christ-rejecting Pharisees.

*James Merritt explained that "It is not a vice to be rich, and it is not a virtue to be poor. Some of the greatest, godliest men in the Bible were rich. Old Testament Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt, and King David was one of the richest rulers who ever lived, but they both had a deep love for God.

*The difference then was not what those Pharisees owned, but what owned them. They loved gold more than they loved God, and that made all the difference in the world. (4)

*Also remember what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life."

*These are God's standards for riches, and they are totally different from the world's. But God's standards are the ones that matter. Are you using the right measuring stick in life?

*Melvin Newland helped by giving a great way to find the value of something. Ask, "How long is this going to last?" And Melvin said, "If it is going to last for eternity, then it is really important. If it is going to last 30 or 50 years, it is kind of important. If it is going to last 10 years, it's not as important. And if it is only going to last for a short time, then it is not very important at all.

*With this truth in mind, think about two valuable things according to our sinful world: The first is pleasure from sin. Yes sin can be a lot of fun, at first. But Hebrews 11:25 tells us that the pleasures of sin last only for a fleeting season, so it's of no real value.

*The world also places a big premium on possessions. But in 1 Timothy 6:7 Paul reminds us that 'we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.' When a millionaire dies and someone asks, 'How much did he leave?' The answer is always the same: 'He left it all.'" (5)

*When we get the wisdom to live by truths like these, God can begin to turn our lives into something great. But we can only be great in the sight of God by using His standards.



*And this is an unexpected answer, but in vs. 2-4:

2. . .Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,

3. and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

4. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

*How important is this example of a little child? So important that we must follow it to even enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Listen to the Lord again in vs. 3-4. Jesus told them, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

*Why did Jesus call a little child, and set him in front of the disciples? -- Because this lesson was so important, that words were not enough. Jesus wanted to show them (and us) that unless we change and become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.

*But what does it mean to become like little children? Well, little children depend on their parents. Little children also love and trust their parents. So, we must depend on God, love Him, and trust Him the same way. And we can trust God! We can trust Him, because down in vs. 11 Jesus said, "The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." And Jesus did come to save that which was lost.

*We can also trust Him, because down in vs. 12 Jesus said, "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?" And Jesus is the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. The Good Shepherd was even willing to die for His sheep, and that is what Jesus did on the cross for us.

*Jesus was willing to take all of the punishment for all of our sins. And we know this is true, because down in vs. 14, Jesus also said, "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."

*It is not the Father's will that any of us should perish! Real greatness then comes through childlike trust in God, receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, so that we are born again as children of God.


*As the Lord later told His disciples in Matthew 20:26-28, ""Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.''

*The Apostle Paul later applied this truth in his letter to the Philippian church. And in Philippians 2:5-11 Paul said:

5. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

6. who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

7. but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men.

8. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

9. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,

10. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

11. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

*Our best example for greatness is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! And we can be great in the sight of God by following the right examples.


*In vs. 5, Jesus points us to one of our most important missions, and that is reaching children for Jesus Christ. Here the Lord said, "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me."

*Jesus said we need to "receive" them. It's the word picture of taking them by the hand, holding them up, taking them in as part of our family or friends. Jesus says that this part of our mission is so vital to Him that whenever we receive even one child in His name, we are also receiving Him. Wow!

*Children are extremely important to the Lord. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus promised: "Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

*And there are many ways we can give that cup of cold water today: The nursery, Sunday School, Children's Church, Vacation Bible School, Upward Sports, summer camps, and much more. Our goal must be to reach dozens, even hundreds more children for the Lord, receiving them in Jesus' name, and seeing the wonderful difference that God can make in their lives.

*When Melba Biggs passed away back in 2009, I got to sit down and talk with her sister Gloria Wink. One of the things that gave great comfort to Gloria in those days was something special that happened to her friend, Mickey.

*Mickey was a cancer patient, and had recently been to the doctor for chemo. For some reason, there was a 4-year-old girl in the office that day, and she asked Mickey, "Are you fixin to die?" Mickey answered, "I don't know. -- It's up to God." And the little girl replied, "Well, you will just jump out of your skin, -- and jump into God's arms."

*What an amazing thing to say! What profound truth coming from a 4-year-old child! That little girl’s description is based on the sure Biblical truth found in 2 Corinthians 5:8. There Paul said, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." For a Christian to be "absent from the body" is "to be present with the Lord."

*But somebody had been teaching that child the truth. Somebody had been receiving her in the name of the Lord. And that's what God wants us to do! It will help lead us to true greatness in life.


*Church: You may never win an Academy Award, or be Miss America, and I'm certainly not playing in the World Series. But that's okay, because all of us can have true greatness! We can be great in the sight of the Lord.

*How can we get there? We have to overcome our selfish pride. We have to use God's standards for greatness. And we have to keep focused on the right mission in life.

*But also remember what happened in vs. 2-3: "Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

*The absolute first step to greatness in God's kingdom is getting into the kingdom. And the only way to get there is through child-like faith in the cross of Jesus Christ. You can put your faith in our risen Savior right now, as we go back to God in prayer.

(1) Adapted from SermonCentral illustration contributed by Jim Kane and SermonCentral sermon "One Can Make a Difference!" by Leland Patrick - Luke 19:1-10

(2) Cross & Crown sermon "Five Growth Attitudes" by James McCullen - 1 Peter 3:8

(3) Quotes from JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough - Simon & Schuster Paperbacks - New York, New York - Copyright 2001

(4) Adapted from sermon “The Great Divide” by James Merritt - Luke 16:19-31

(5) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Living a Life of Integrity" by Melvin Newland - Romans 12:2

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