In Matthew 18:3 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The word for turn is straphēte. The idea here is “to experience an inward change, turn, change (BDAG)”. Jesus is not calling them to “repent”, in Matthew that idea is expressed by the word, metanoeō. However, he is calling them to change. They must “turn”. The disciples must experience an inward change. From the inside out they must become something different.
Consider where we are in the life and ministry and Jesus. We are near the end. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, he is going to be sacrificed. These disciples were a group of men who were about have their lives changed dramatically. They are concerned who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom and Jesus calls them to change.
They are still proud, arrogant, and haughty. They refuse to ask for help. The disciples believe that they know it all. There is not an answer they don’t know other than “who is the greatest”. They sounds like typical adolescents. These teenagers had become so caught up in themselves that Jesus called them to change.
I think that the issue becomes more clear when we look at verse 4, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a juxtaposition between the disciples question of “greatness” over and against the “humility” of the child. To get there one has to have an inward change.
Jesus simply calls them to turn. Turn to away from themselves to humility.
This is the beauty of Jesus’ call turn. It is never empty. It is always to something. To act in humility, to be humble is a state of heart and soul. Most children I know are humble. They ask for help. They ask “why”. They know that they don’t know. They are interested but rarely self-interested.
I think we must all face this call to “turn”. I know I do. How about you? In what ways do you need to turn?