1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 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. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
The lost sheep
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
The disciples of Christ come to him to ask the question about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This may have been precipitated by the calling of only the three disciples up the mountain of transfiguration. Christ uses a little child to illustrate the sort of attitude that God respects more than any other and which is the secret of real greatness. Christ does not specifically state what is the childlike character of the one who will be greatest but whatever it was it would be important for the disciples to humble themselves in order to attain to it. Some have suggested the characteristic is humility, others a simple unadulterated faith and others the childlike desire to learn. I believe it is the childlike characteristic of total trust. The Lord then turns to the sanctity of children and of the utmost care in not offending them. He gives us the fearful sight of a man standing on the precipice with a millstone (This is the great millstone that is turned by a mule) around his neck ready to plunge into the depths. Christ is not suggesting that he should kill himself by drowning himself in the deepest sea, but that he should look eternity in the face and stop offending. Christ also describes a man standing with a large knife ready to cut off his own hand. He is not suggesting that anyone should actually do this, (Let alone that this is actually a punishment that courts could execute and blame Christ for the precedent, after all this man is alone in the passage, it is something that he would do to himself) rather Christ is saying that men should get to the point of crisis and withdraw never to use that hand again to sin. The Lord then speaks of the honour that little ones have in Gods heart and of the protection that God provides for them. The Lord gives the parable of the one sheep out of many in which the shepherd cares deeply for every individual. Then he states categorically that It is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.