Title: Children of God
Text: Matthew 18:1-9
FCF: We often struggle understanding what it means to be a Kingdom Citizen
Prop: Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, so we must desperately cling to Christ.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 18. I trust you appreciated the break from Matthew. I chose to say the break from Matthew and not the break from me preaching on Matthew because I don’t think my heart could handle your applause J Seriously though it was a wonderful vacation But our work continues here in Matthew and since you’ve been two weeks without the context … AND since we are starting another discourse, it may be wise to remind ourselves, generally, of the structure and purpose of the book of Matthew.
Matthew is writing to Jews. Christian and non-Christian alike. He is trying to demonstrate to them that Jesus is their proper King.
[Slide 2] Through the first 2 chapters he demonstrates that Jesus is the King by his fulfillment of Old Testament Prophesy regarding his birth and early life.
Chapters 3-7 introduces Jesus the King as He begins His ministry and explanation of His Kingdom. It is here that we get the distinct impression that Jesus is not speaking of a present physical Kingdom, but instead a present spiritual kingdom.
Chapters 8-10 show us the power and authority of Jesus as the King of Israel. His miracles and how He speaks with authority prove that He is the promised King.
Chapters 11-13 start to show why the Jews did not see Jesus as the King when He first came. We see opposition from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even opposition from traditional Jewish understandings of sin, purity, and holiness. Jesus tears down all of this to reveal that there IS a sorting of who will be in the Kingdom, but that is not based on tradition, nationality or ethnic lineage. Instead it is based on righteousness.
Chapters 14 – 17 was all narrative revealing the true nature of who exactly this Jesus was. And the great culmination at the mountain where his humanity was displaced and His glory revealed. Again God the Father declares his 100% approval of His only loved child. Truly Jesus is the King of Israel, but also the King of Glory.
For today then, I’m in Matthew 18 starting in verse 1. I’ll be reading from the NET, but follow along in the version you prefer.
[Slide 3 (blank)] Chapter 18 has the teaching of Christ at the forefront. The topic? The nature of His Kingdom’s citizens. Who are they really – and furthermore, how would one be ranked highly in that kingdom? Such a flawed question for so many reasons… but with grace and mercy – Jesus attempts to teach His disciples who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
As we too wrestle with the answer to that question, I hope we come away with some powerful applications today. Indeed it will be a fairly application heavy sermon, so I hope you are ready for your toes to be in pain.
I.) Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, so we must love and accept other believers. (1-5)
a. [Slide 4] 1 – At that time
i. A common expression for Matthew to shift to another episode.
ii. In this case the episode sets up another discourse from Jesus.
iii. Although Matthew at times uses this transition to get to something that is not in the same chronological order, at least generally, this is happening around the same time as the temple tax episode in Capernaum.
b. The disciples came to Jesus saying,
i. Now the interesting thing here is that Mark and Luke give us a few more details about how all this came about.
ii. Mark and Luke seem to indicate to us that on the way to Capernaum, the disciples were fighting with one another on the question they are about to ask Jesus.
iii. But in Mark, Jesus has to drag it out of them and in Luke Jesus actually reads their thoughts and starts to address the issue.
iv. But Matthew has the disciples coming to Jesus and asking…
c. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
i. Now Matthew is no stranger to presenting the many flaws of the disciples. In fact, throughout the previous narrative, time and time again, we saw the high highs and low lows of the disciples.
ii. And here, unlike Luke , they approach Jesus with their thoughts. And unlike Mark, they don’t seem very ashamed of them.
iii. There is no contradiction of course because all of these could have been stages of how this episode went, but Matthew chooses to present the disciples as absolutely oblivious to the ridiculousness of the question they are asking Jesus.
iv. Now Jesus has already told them who would be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Way back in Matthew 5:19. Can you remember without turning? It is those who obey the commands in the law and teach others to do the same, they will be called great.
v. And maybe they remember this. Maybe they are discussing who is the greatest law keeper among them. So what are they really asking? Hey Jesus if you had to rank us 1-12 which one is best at keeping the commandments? Who is the holiest of us?
vi. Now we may be tempted to judge them here and think ill of them, but comparing ourselves to other believers has always been a plague of the church. Whether to compare ourselves to pastors, teachers, or elders and desire to be like them, or to compare ourselves to the John Marks and Demases and find ourselves smelling rather sweet when compared to their stench of death – in either case we compare ourselves to a man. A woman. A human. And friends when we do such a thing it is like drawing a comparison between a millipede and a centipede. Yes one has a hundred legs and another many more – BUT THEY ARE BOTH INSECTS! They crawl on the ground and in the gutters and sewers. Any such comparison between them is getting into minutia that ultimately does not matter. But when you compare yourself to the Son of God. Oh friend, there is no comparison then. And if the disciples had compared themselves to Christ instead of one another they would have never even thought of this question. Because the greatest in the Kingdom is Christ, the Son of the Living God, and there is no second place. All who enter that Kingdom are all equally unworthy to enter. All who bear His name are equally graced to do so. All who are in Him are in Him because they could not live if they were not in Him. His life, His death, His faithfulness, His love, His mercy, His provision, His righteousness, He is the reason we are there. STOP comparing yourself to other believers because there are only two outcomes.
1. You look up to an example of a man and aspire to a goal that is woefully short of the name of Christ or
2. You look down at others and assess the maturity you have gained is enough, so you can sit and comfort yourself in the muck and mire of UnChristlikeness because at least you not as bad this person or that person.
3. And both these outcomes leave you aiming for a prize that is infinitely less than The Son of God.
vii. Yet here the disciples are, quite brashly wondering – who is number 1 among us in your book Jesus?
d. [Slide 5] 2-3 – He called a child, had him stand among them, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children,
i. Jesus rarely pulls His punches when speaking to His disciples and this time is no different.
ii. He waves a kid over to him. Now how old this child is, it is hard to know. In some cases, you were still classified a child in their culture until you were 30, but this word can be used to describe anything from an infant to a mature child.
iii. Given Jesus’ words, I think we can safely assume that this is certainly a pre-pubescent child, perhaps even a toddler. I’ll show you how I came to that conclusion in a moment.
iv. So he sets this little toddler in front of the disciples and says if you don’t turn around – the kjv says convert, but it means to change your mind or turn back. Actually a spiritual word for this would be – REPENT.
v. If you don’t repent and become like little children… so what does that mean? The implications are literally endless. Some of them would make sense, but others are absurd. Rather than try to come to an answer now, let’s let Jesus keep speaking.
e. you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!
i. So… Jesus didn’t answer their question. Or did He?
ii. They asked who the greatest is in the kingdom. Jesus said if you don’t repent and become like this child you won’t even be in the kingdom.
iii. Woah. Ok. So what does it mean to become like a child?
f. [Slide 6] 4 – Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
i. And now Jesus drops a nuclear bomb on their question. He is about to blow some minds. You ready?
ii. To become like a child means to humble yourself like a child.
iii. Now we have to take a short rabbit trail away from Jesus’ point because we need to address a common misconception on what Jesus is saying here.
1. Many have come to this passage to argue against the idea of original sin. Original sin is the idea that mankind is born wicked. That at conception we inherit Sin, like a genetic disease from Adam.
2. Those who would not support such an idea, come to this passage and see Jesus saying to His disciples that this little boy has not yet chosen to sin. He is humble and innocent and therefore you should be like him.
3. However, as Pastor Ken J taught a couple weeks ago from Romans 7, what awakens sin in us is not our choice to commit a sin – but rather our understanding of the law. Paul says that when he was made aware of the law it awoke sin within Him which produced his own spiritual death. In other words, the very moment that a child understands one law of God, is the moment that sin awakens and seizes their heart.
4. So this passage is NOT teaching that children are humble as in selfless – believe me – I can attest to that not being true. So what is this passage teaching when it calls this child humble?
iv. It is speaking to dependence. Children are the neediest creatures on the planet. Again, I can attest to that. They cannot provide anything for themselves. They are absolutely dependent on adults to do almost everything for them.
v. Let me tell you something, it is so amazing that Waverly is not only able to pick out her own clothes but to put them on also. Because up till a few months ago – she could not clothe herself. Now I don’t mean only that she could not afford clothes but that she literally could not put a shirt on by herself.
vi. Jesus is saying that until you stop seeing your works as sufficient to earn your rank in heaven and start recognizing your absolute and desperate need of someone to do it all for you – you cannot even enter my kingdom. BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER FIND THE GATE. You are looking to the wrong side. You are expecting there to be some honor ranking system in heaven where those who are this good are first and this good second – but you won’t even enter thinking this way.
vii. You need to turn – repent and see yourself as absolutely and desperately needy of mercy and grace.
viii. And in so doing you become the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So… wait a minute. If being humble and desperately needy leads to you being the greatest in the kingdom and not being humble and desperately needy means you cannot enter the Kingdom, where did the lesser in the kingdom of heaven go? Where are the ones that are in the kingdom but not great?
ix. There is no such thing. To enter, is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be great – because HE IS GREAT. There is no one in the kingdom of heaven who is not in Christ, therefore, there are no ranks.
x. Now of course the bible speaks to crowns given to us based on our faithfulness. The bible speaks to the saints reigning with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom and hints at their faithfulness on earth being rewarded with more authority in that reign. But ultimately, the new earth, our eternal state, there is really no levels of inheritance. Because it is only because of Christ that we are there. We’ll cast the crowns at His feet, and however many cities we rule in the millennium we will all be under His sovereign rule.
xi. Christ’s point is clear. To enter the Kingdom is to be great in the Kingdom, because to enter the Kingdom is to be in Christ.
g. [Slide 7] 5 – And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.
i. So although we’ve already seen some application from this first point today, specifically on not comparing ourselves to any other except Christ, there is another application to this first point encapsulated in this last verse.
ii. But before we can catch it we have to understand two things.
1. Jesus is no longer talking about the specific child in front of Him, but has transitioned to speaking about children of His Kingdom. This is not extremely obvious, but following the natural grammatical expressions that Jesus is making he has described who the greatest in the kingdom is and then says if you welcome a child like this. He is now talking about true followers of Christ as children. Which he will continue to do in verse 6.
2. The second thing we need to grasp in order to get to this application is the essence of Jesus’ teaching. The overarching principle that will remain the anchor throughout this entire discourse is simply this… The humble are the greatest in the Kingdom of God. Those who are last will be first. Those who consider themselves least in the Kingdom are actually the greatest. Those who rule, serve. This crystalizes into a consistent teaching of Christ throughout the Gospels.
iii. So then, those who are humble are the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven – those who are dependent, those who are desperately needy of mercy, these are the greatest in the Kingdom. So when another who is desperately needy of mercy and grace approaches you… when another who is 100% dependent on Christ for all things makes your acquaintance… When you meet one who understands their own helpless estate next to the Holiness of God, no matter how weird they look, smell, sound, feel or act – the response is always the same.
iv. Love. Why?
v. Because although we are different in minuet ways… we are really, the same.
vi. Where the disciples compared one another’s works and found degrees of difference, degrees worth assigning ranks for– Kingdom citizens compare one another’s desperate need of Jesus and find parity. Sameness. Differences that ultimately do not matter.
vii. The first application of the reality that Kingdom Citizens are humble like Children – desperately needing help from Jesus – is that there is no brother or sister in Christ that is less than or greater than we are. There is no distance between us. We are all equally graced to be children of God. Equally unworthy to wear His name. Equally unlovely made lovely by the power of His Love. Therefore, nothing should come between us. Nothing should separate us. Nothing should keep us from welcoming and accepting another brother or sister.
viii. At least nothing on the surface. We’ll get to that next week.
[Slide 8 (blank)] So far we have learned two things from this text. The first is the anchor which will continue to appear throughout Jesus’ discourse, and that is, that those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. So for the rest of chapter 18, this will be the truth that guides us. What follows then, are specific applications of that truth. The first of which we have already seen this morning. That we must love and accept all those who are this kind of person. All who are this dependent, should be loved and welcomed. And the second builds on this principle.
II.) Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, so we must not cause other believers to sin.(6-7)
a. [Slide 9] 6- But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
i. So again Jesus qualifies for us what little ones He is talking about.
ii. The purpose of the child was to illustrate the nature of the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Beyond this, the child is not really part of the interpretation any longer. Jesus has used him as a segue to get to the nature of true kingdom citizens.
iii. So about these desperately dependent ones who need Christ – who depend on Christ – what is Jesus saying?
iv. He is saying that if someone is the cause of a follower of Christ to sin.
v. This is the definition of the word Scandalon – or stumbling block. To be the cause of someone to sin. And it is the message that we encountered last time we were in Matthew. Jesus didn’t want to cause the Jews to go against their consciences and sin by not paying the temple tax.
vi. Jesus now broadens this concept to include any sin that is caused by another. But there is a continuing nature to this in the text. It is one who not only causes another to sin, but continues to do so.
vii. So… what does happen if someone is the cause of a follower of Christ to commit sins…
b. It would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea.
i. Wow. Now that is vivid.
ii. I don’t think we see it that way do we?
iii. In fact I think our natural impulse is to say something to the effect of – hey I’m just living my life over here… if they sin because of me, that is their problem. Right?
iv. Jesus says – it would be more pleasant for you to die a horrific death by continuing to sink to the bottom of a deep sea, until you lost consciousness and no one would ever find your body.
v. That end is a more pleasant end for you than the one God has for you.
vi. Ok. So, yeah. Maybe we should be thinking about causing others to sin a little more heavily.
c. [Slide 10] 7 – Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!
i. This is not the first time in Matthew that we see Jesus use the word – Woe. He used it of the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum when announcing that their judgment would be greater than Sodom and Gehmorrah
ii. It is a word of deep grief. It is a word of righteous pity. It is a word to express sadness at the hopeless nature of someone’s doom.
iii. Extreme sadness and pity toward the world. The system . The culture. The anti-God establishment Why?
iv. Because of stumbling blocks. Because of things or people who cause it to sin.
v. Because they are deceived. Duped. Hoodwinked.
vi. Blindfolded and pushed into hopeless wickedness. Woe to the world because this happens. But not only that …
d. [Slide 11] It is necessary that stumbling blocks come,
i. Wait… what?
ii. He just said that being a stumbling block is terrible and will lead to horrific judgment. He just said that extreme sadness should be given because the world has been duped into sin.
iii. But now He says that their duping… their deception… is necessary?
iv. Friends this is not something new. Jesus talked about it before when He said that He has been given authority by God to reveal the truth to some and not others. He said it to Peter when He revealed that flesh and blood had not given him understanding but God Himself.
v. God allows, permits, and uses things and people to blind the world to sin. Why?
vi. Mercy. Now you must be very confused. But listen to me.
vii. If someone will not listen to God, if they will not heed His Word. If they will NEVER turn to Him… then God allowing them to be deceived removes some level of culpability on them. Which alleviates the severity of their judgment.
viii. And even to those who will come, who will repent and will believe, often times it is because of the great dissatisfaction with sin that God turns their heart through Mercy to His Son. That as they find the end of themselves in the pit of wickedness, finding that they had been tricked, that the world they thought they knew is crumbling all around them, in that moment they see the holiness and mercy of God and cry out to Him in desperation for forgiveness from their helpless state – hoping against hope that they will be shown mercy.
ix. It is necessary that we find the terribleness of sin, so that we can know the sweetness of the grace of God.
x. So sources of sin are necessary. These stumbling blocks… but…
e. But woe to the person though whom they come.
i. Just because they are necessary, it does not remove the culpability of the ones causing others to sin.
ii. Like those who crucified Christ, Like Judas Iscariot, they were necessary causes of great sins, but will still be judged for their sins.
f. The great warning and application for us once again is dependent on the anchor truth of the discourse. Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom. Those who wish to be leaders must be servants. Those who are first must be last. And being last, serving, and not causing others to sin go hand in hand. If our lives are lived to serve God, then they will be lived to serve others. And primary in service to others is to consider their spiritual well-being.
g. Yet, often we live our lives ignoring the spiritual well-being of others.
h. A Women with her modesty standards or lack thereof never considering the effect she has on men. Even citing that lust is the man’s fault and that she can’t control what he thinks. But she betrays a heart that not only does not consider but does not care to consider the susceptibility of men as they gaze at her garments and what they barely conceal.
i. Fathers teach their sons how to conceal wages and get paid under the table so that they can avoid paying taxes, citing that the government takes too much already. And it isn’t really theft because it is his money.
j. A Mothers who have a wed daughter run to her to complain about their husbands, and she quietly instructs her how to manipulate him.
k. Men play relationship hot potato luring a young lady in too deep causing her to make him an idol – yet he never seeks commitment.
l. Co-workers show others a place to stand where the cameras cannot see to get a little extra rest from the job they are paid handsomely to do.
m. Gossip and slander, backbiting and complaining.
n. And round and round it goes – with little to no care what sins we drag others into. Do we not know that it would be better for us to drown at sea never to be found again, than to continue to cause a dependent desperately needy follower of Christ to sin?
o. And we cannot be least when we never consider the effect our lives have on others. We cannot be servants of those we walk right into the fire. We cannot be last while we think of others last.
p. They are incompatible. Mutually exclusive.
q. The sins of our family, friends, colleagues and church family must not be because of us.
r. That means sacrificing liberty. That means being open to rebuke. That means seeking forgiveness. That means being submissive to the Word of God. But above all, that means being in desperate need of Christ for everything.
[Slide 11 (blank)] He bore our iniquities. By His stripes we are healed. Sin held Him there. Sin is serious. Even when it is not directly our own. And this same concept of sin being serious to those who desperately need Christ, is woven to the very next point as Jesus investigates not simply causing others to sin, but even causing ourselves to sin.
III.) Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, so we must deal with sin in ourselves, radically if necessary. (8-9)
a. [Slide 12] 8 – If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
b. [Slide 13] 9 – And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into fiery hell.
c. While the details of each of these statements are different, ultimately the truth behind them is the same. Sin is not to be taken lightly. So much so, that removing the cause of sin from you to prevent you from continuing in sin is not only preferred but logical. After all, to sacrifice your eternity on the altar of the present is a sign that you really are a fool.
d. But I have heard it in counseling rooms. People assure me, “I will do whatever it takes to save my marriage” “I will do whatever it takes to break free from porn addiction” “I will do whatever it takes to be a good father”
i. Will you quit your job, get away from that secretary, move to a different state, work from home?
1. Well, no that’d be crazy.
ii. Will you cut the internet and cable connection, replace the time searching for the next video to searching for the God of life and beauty?
1. Well no, I can’t not have the internet at my home.
iii. Will you take an hourly job, where you only put in 40 hours a week, even taking a paycut to be home more often, will you sacrifice career and success to study the word so you can lead your sons and daughters
1. Well no, I need to provide for my family
e. Such people are not in desperate need for Christ. Such people are not humbled like children. Those who are humbled like children, desperately dependent on Jesus, understand that sin is what disrupts their connection to Jesus. That as they swim deep under the sea of life with that air hose stretching to the surface, sin is what stands on that hose on the deck of the ship.
f. And let me tell you, when you are starving for air, almost drowning, there is something about the survival instinct that kicks in and you will do whatever it takes to get air.
g. I took lifeguard training for lakeside rescue. Do you know what they taught us? That if you must go into the water to save someone… as long as their head is above the water, wait for them to tire themselves out trying to stay above the water before attempting to bring them in. Do you know why? Lifeguards have drowned trying to save people from drowning because they were dragged under water by someone who was panicking. We even learned how to incapacitate someone to carry dead weight back to shore, because dead weight is easier to carry than the panic stricken.
h. Those who desperately need Jesus for life – understand that sin is what severs their connection to Him. Therefore – they will do whatever it takes to keep that line connected.
[Slide 14 (blank)(end)] Do you want to know why it is only those who humble themselves like children and live in desperate dependence toward God who enter into His Kingdom? Do you want to know why we have songs like – I surrender all and Lay me Down?
We do not surrender all as some great work. We do so because that is the essence of truly redeemed people. Those who have been given grace to see their helpless estate and reach out in faith, in belief, in dependence to Jesus and continue to do so. Those are truly redeemed people. They surrender because there is no need to keep anything back. All they need is Christ.
And this truth changes everything. This truth is at the heart of the gospel. At the heart of this discourse and in direct conflict with the very question the disciples asked.
How can you need me, when you are debating who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom?
And deep need. Desperate need for Jesus – where all we have is Him – That is the reality that the greatest in the kingdom live in. And because of that – loving others, hating sin – is all a natural outpouring of that need for Christ.
As we continue through this text we are going to see more and more applications to this truth… difficult applications. I hope you are ready because if you haven’t been challenged to examine your heart– you will be.