Jesus called a toddler to his side and said to them, “Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in. Whoever continually humbles himself to become like this gentle child is the greatest one in heaven’s kingdom realm.” Matthew 18:2-4 (The Passion Translation)
As I was reading the book of Matthew recently – in a couple different versions – I loved how this version used the word toddler instead of child. Because I have a toddler, it helps me understand a little better what Jesus was trying to communicate.
First, let’s answer the why of becoming like a toddler… In the verse just before this passage, the disciples have asked a question. They were human like us and wanted to know WHO, or what kind of people, are the greatest when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. They may have been thinking that, in the religious world of the day, it was the Pharisees or Sadducees that were the greatest. In the political world, it was the king or his soldiers who carried out his dirty work. The disciples had probably heard Jesus reprimand the religious leaders enough that they knew they weren’t the greatest. Jesus didn’t seem interested in gaining political influence so it couldn’t be the governmental leaders. I wonder how shocked they were when He told them what kind of a person was the greatest in His realm. Someone who saw kingdom life through the eyes of a toddler.
My youngest daughter is quickly growing out of the toddler stage but over the last three years, I’ve gotten a reminder how toddlers perceive life.
They aren’t afraid to change the way they think. If you would have asked my (3 year old) Journey if she liked pineapple jelly, she probably would have told you ‘no’. But when she saw my toast with pineapple jelly sitting on my plate last week, she took a bite and discovered she loves it. With that discovery, she has now asked for bread and pineapple jelly several times. She’s not ashamed that she changed her mind about it, she’s not holding a stubborn attitude and maintaining that, even though she DOES like it, she doesn’t want to let me know that. She simply changed her mind. As an adult, it takes humility to admit that things aren’t the way you thought they were. That very kind of humility is what Jesus is highlighting and commending in this Scripture!
They discover something new every day… and they are amazed. Over many months, ‘wow’ was a constant word out of Journey’s mouth. It’s so easy, as a believer, and especially one who has known the Lord for any amount of time, to think we’ve reached the end of knowing about God’s kingdom, merely because we’ve read the Bible through and heard a few dozen great sermons. We begin to yawn and forget that there will ALWAYS be something new to discover about God and His kingdom. He is eternal, and though He does not change, He is constantly revealing something new about who He is. If we will humble ourselves and keep our eyes, our hearts, and our spirits wide open to Holy Spirit, we will find ourselves in constant discovery mode.
They are teachable. There comes a point in late childhood or the teen years, when we’ve done enough life, we think we know it all and have it all figured out. (If you can’t remember you were like that, ask your mom!) But toddlers look at every bigger person as an expert on life, as they take the humbling lesser place of expertise. And it doesn’t even bother them! When we can bring ourselves down from that lofty place of knowledge, and let Holy Spirit continue to teach us, we will find ourselves in awe of Him once again.
These toddler-types of attitudes and mindsets are exactly how we will enter into the kingdom of heaven!