Matthew 21:23-32 – Change of Mind

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Matthew 21:23-3223 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Parable of the Two Sons28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“What gives You the right? Where do You get Your authority?” The chief priests and elders want to know why Jesus thinks He can do all the things He has been doing.

Well, what has Jesus been doing? In last week’s text, Jesus was teaching in parables, but today’s text moves Jesus’ story late into the 4th quarter. We have jumped ahead to Tuesday of Holy Week – in three days Jesus will be hanging on the cross. So what has Jesus done in the last few days that has the chief priests and elders upset? If you look at Matthew and Mark together you get a sense of the timeline. Mark (11:1-27) gives us a sense of how time has passed (Matthew, as he writes, isn’t as concerned about letting us know what happened on what day).

Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday riding a donkey while the crowds welcomed Him waving palm branches, laying their cloaks on the road before Him, and shouting, “Hosanna! Save us now, Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

On Monday, Jesus enters the Temple again and causes quite a scene. He drives out the people who are selling and buying animals with a whip, and He overturns the tables of the money changers. You might think after causing such a scene, Jesus would want to abscond, to slip out to a quiet alley. But instead He stays in the Temple healing the blind and lame while children cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And Jesus doesn’t tell the kids to be quiet and reverent. Instead, He accepts their praise. None of this goes over well with the leaders. They don’t like it one bit and are trying to figure out how to destroy Jesus.

Jesus Teaching in the SynogagueNow our text picks up on Tuesday. Jesus is in the Temple again. The chief priests and elders of the people, the spiritual leaders, walk up to Jesus and ask Him, “What gives Jesus? Who do You think You are? Why are You doing all these things? This is our turf. We get to say how things are supposed to be done here. We told the money changers and sellers they could be here. Why do You think you can drive them out and change how we do things? By what authority do You do all this?”

Jesus responds, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.” Jesus asks, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

The answer to the leaders’ question is the answer to Jesus’ question. The source of John’s authority was the source of Jesus’ authority. If they answer Jesus’ question right, then they will have answered their own question.

But these spiritual leaders huddle up and discuss how to respond, and they realize they have a problem. If they answer, “From heaven,” Jesus will say, “If John’s message was from heaven, why didn’t you believe John? He told people to believe in Me. John himself said that I was the one mightier than he was. He said that I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If John came from God, why don’t you believe Me?” But these leaders also realize that if they answer, “From man,” the crowds will be upset because they believed that John was a prophet. Gobs of people from all over the country believed John’s preaching which called for repentance, and they went to him to be baptized (Mk. 1:5). If the leaders say that John’s baptism was only from man, the crowds will hate them.

So they decide to answer with a humble-sounding lie, “We don’t know.” So Jesus tells them, “Than neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

But Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook. Jesus traps the leaders with another question. But He doesn’t trap them to condemn them; instead, He traps them to bring them to repentance. Jesus asks a question with a mini-parable, “What do you think? A man had two sons. He said to them both, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The first son said, ‘I will not go,’ but later changed his mind (lit. ‘repented’) and went. The second son said, ‘I will go,’ but he did not go. Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”

The leaders know the answer – it’s elementary, it’s obvious. “The first. The one who said he would not go but then repented and went.” With this right answer, Jesus has them right where He wants them. He says, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. John came to you in the way of righteousness preaching repentance. But you did not believe him – you did not repent. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him and repented. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds (lit. ‘repent’) and believe him.”

Let’s leave Jesus and the leaders for now. What does this mean for you?

Crying to GodWho do the characters in the parable represent? The father is God, the two sons are believers and unbelievers. To work in the vineyard is to do the will of God. That doesn’t mean to fly straight and obey all of God’s commandments. To do the will of God is to repent of everything you do because what you do always falls short of God’s command. God sent John and Jesus preaching telling people what His will was – “Repent.” Jesus said that God’s will is that everyone look to Jesus and believe in Him for eternal life (Jn. 6:40). Without repentance and faith you will never do the will of the Father. Instead, you will watch as tax collectors and prostitutes, as all sinners, enter the reign of heaven ahead of you.

It doesn’t matter how good you are, you are still a sinner. And sinners, all sinners, the worst of the worst sinners, enter the reign of God only because of repentance and faith in Jesus. Abandoning your works and efforts is the only way into the reign of God. Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.

Jesus has authority from God. And Christ used His authority to take your sins and make them His own (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). He suffered, bled, and died for those sins. As far as God is concerned, you have never sinned at all because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

So, repent, believe. Enter the reign of God on the basis of Jesus’ authority to forgive you because He has forgiven you. All of you. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

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Matthew 20:1-16 – The Despot Who Employed Workers.

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Matthew 20:1-161 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Out of curiosity, how many of you hate this parable? Be honest.

The reason we don’t like this parable is not because it is hard to understand. We don’t like this parable precisely because we do understand it. We understand it all too well and we don’t like it.

This parable is about the reign of heaven. It is not telling you how to run a business. If you ran your business like this, you’d get sued for all you are worth. But Jesus isn’t speaking about how the economics of the world should work. In this world, a fair day’s work should be paid with a fair wage. But as Jesus speaks about the economics of heaven, He says that everyone gets the same. Everyone, even bums like you and me, everyone gets rewarded for the work of others.

Hiring the Laborers in the VineyardJesus depicts God as the Master (lit. ‘despot’) of a vineyard. The Despot needs workers in His vineyard, so He goes out early in the morning to the marketplace to hire laborers. Notice how He goes about hiring: The first workers agreed (lit. ‘symphonized’) with the Despot for one denarius (a denarius = 1 day’s wage; let’s call it $120). But notice, the workers hired at the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour are only given the Master’s promise, “Whatever is (lit.) just, I will give you.” They go out to work trusting the Master.

But, notice, those hired at the eleventh hour don’t even get a promise, they are just told, “You go into the vineyard too,” and they go. The workers hired at the beginning of the day know what to expect, but nobody else does. They simply go out in faith trusting the Despot because they know He is a decent fellow.

Now imagine the workers. The ones who started at the beginning of the day watch as more and more workers come later and later. You can imagine that the ones who were hired at the third hour ask their coworkers how much they are getting paid. “We agreed with the Despot for $120 for the day,” the newbies figure out the math. “Ok. That works out to $10/hr. We’ll be working for nine hours; that’s $90.” The later workers all do the same.

Imagine the surprise of all the employees when the last group of workers come. They got hired at the eleventh hour, so when they finally show up and are told what to do, they only work about fifteen minutes.

The sun sets, and it’s time to get paid. The Despot realizes things are looking pretty good. The vineyard is producing a bumper crop, so the Despot decides to have a little fun. He tells the foreman to divvy out the checks and pay the last first. The idle bums who were hired at the eleventh hour get a pleasant surprise – they open their envelope and find a check for $120. I’m sure they didn’t tell the Despot that he had made a mistake. They just chuckle to themselves and figure they should work for this guy again.

The way Jesus tells the parable, you can see the workers who were hired first licking their chops thinking that the Master has decided to pay $120 per hour. They start trying to do the math and figure out how much they are going to get.

But then, those who worked three hours get $120, and they are still happy as all get out, but they might be a little curious why they didn’t get a little more. Those who worked six and nine hours get their $120, and they are pleased, but probably more than a little jealous of those who came later. And when those who were hired at the beginning of the day see their $120, they choke. The Laborers in the Vineyard are PaidThey are outraged. All they can think about is their hard work and how hot the day was. They march up to the Despot and give their little speech, “Hey, those punks only worked one hour while we worked all day long. How dare you make them equal to us?”

But the voice of the Despot puts them back in their place. “Liston, buddy, I’m doing you no wrong. We had an agreement, and I paid you according to our deal. If anyone is being cheated here, it’s Me. I’m the One who is overpaying for one hour of work.”

The Despot’s response should sock our prideful souls right between the eyes. He says, “Take what belongs to you and go. I chose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Do you begrudge My generosity?” Literally, He says, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

In other words, the Despot says, “Listen, pal. If you don’t like the way I run things in My vineyard, if you don’t like that I give – not pay, but give – everybody the same, than get out of here. If you don’t like seeing Me be gracious and merciful, you’d better go and work yourself sweaty somewhere else because ‘Mercy’ is My middle name. But let me tell you something, buster, there’s no better place to be than in My vineyard. Maybe you should stick around and learn to enjoy living in My mercy.”

In the mercy-filled reign of God, it doesn’t matter if you work twelve hours or nine hours or six hours or three hours or one measly hour. In the reign of heaven what you receive is based solely on the mercy and generosity of God. In the reign of heaven, you get what you get because of the work of Another.

Jesus is using this parable to teach that the reign of heaven isn’t about rewarding the rewardable. This is good news; this is Gospel. God simply won’t pay you according to what you earn, and all you have earned is eternal death and separation from God. If you demand God give you what you earned, God will tell you, “If you don’t like My mercy, take what is yours. Take your sin and death and misery and go, get out of here.”

Jesus takes and becomes sinYou see, you have already received God’s mercy. Jesus worked a full day under the heat and wrath of God’s fury over your sin. He dug in the muck and mire of sin pulling out the weeds of sickness and disease. He watered the whole field with forgiveness and life. If anyone could complain that God’s method of payment is unfair, it is Jesus. He lived the perfect life under God’s commandments, and what did He get? A beating. A whip-scarred back. A crown of thorns. Nails driven through His hands and feet. And a spear-torn gash in His side. He got a cross and a tomb.

But Jesus rose again and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. And that, dear saint, is where you are as well. You were buried with Christ in your baptism so that you may also be raised with Him at the right hand of God (Ro. 6:4-5; Col. 2:12-13). And Jesus loves the Father’s little game of giving you everything. Jesus loves that the Father has not paid you according to your work but according to His grace. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 18:21-35 – Refusing Unrequested Forgiveness

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Matthew 18:21-3521 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Wasn’t it necessary that you should have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

He got waaaay more than he asked for. This was even better than the time he asked the dealer to knock a couple hundred off the sticker price of that Mercedes S-Class, and the dealer just said, “Nah. No charge. Just take it. Here’s the keys.”

The Unforgiving Servant needs a name. Let’s call him Vinnie – that’s a fitting name for such a disgusting individual.

Vinnie’s day began badly. His breakfast had been interrupted by the king’s two brutes who hauled him off to see the creditor. From the second they burst into the door, Vinnie pretty much knew what exactly was going to happen. He didn’t know the names of the two lugs, but he was sure they had come at the command of the king.

The king had lent Vinnie some money – a lot of money. Ok an exorbitant amount of money. Vinnie owed the king more than a king’s ransom. Vinnie owed the king 10,000 talents – that’s 60 million days (164,383 years) of work. To put this in perspective: If you worked every day of the year earning a measly $10.00 per hour that would translate to $4,800,000,000,000.

Obviously, Vinnie could not pay. So the king ordered Vinnie to be sold with his wife and children and all that he had. Vinnie didn’t like the sound of this. He fell on his knees and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.”

Yeah, right.The Unforgiving Servant

Notice that Vinnie is simply asking for patience and more time. But the king doesn’t give Vinnie patience or time. The king gives Vinnie more than patience or time. The king gives him mercy. Vinnie didn’t ask for the debt to be forgiven; the king simply wipes it out. A simple word from the king, and *POOF* Vinnie’s $4.8 trillion debt just gets erased – it’s gone.

Vinnie had to be feeling pretty good. What had begun as a terrible day was turning out to be an excellent day, a superb day. This was the type of day that should have been remembered by Vinnie’s children, grandchildren, and great-great-great-great grandchildren. And it would have been. But, then, Vinnie left the king’s hall.

You would think Vinnie would be so deliriously happy that he would be telling everyone about the mercy and grace of the king. Everyone had to know that Vinnie had been lent a large amount of money. Maybe they didn’t know how much, but you don’t rack up $4.8 trillion in debt without someone noticing that something’s going on. But Vinnie leaves the king’s hall and sees one of his fellow servants.

Vinnie sees Chuck (let’s call this fellow servant ‘Chuck’), and Vinnie remembers that Chuck owed him 100 denarii. One denarii is one day’s wage. Doing the same math at $10 per hour, Chuck owed Vinnie $8,000. Now, $8,000 is a significant amount, but it isn’t even chump change compared to $4.8 trillion – not by a long shot. Vinnie walks up to Chuck and without even a, “Hello,” Vinnie begins to choke Chuck saying, “Pay what you owe me.”

Pause here for a minute. Think about this: Where do kings get their money? That’s right, from taxing their subjects. Vinnie just got his debt of $4.8 trillion forgiven by the king. How much of that $4.8 trillion do you suppose was Chuck’s tax money? Chew on that later today.

Anyway, Chuck pulls the same stunt that Vinnie had just pulled with the king. Chuck pleaded, “Have patience with me, Vinnie, and I will pay you,” echoing Vinnie’s words almost exactly. But Vinnie refuses to have patience. He had Chuck thrown in prison until the debt would be paid.

Naturally, this grieved the other servants that saw it, so they went and told the king. The king summoned Vinnie back into his chambers. Vinnie entered the hall and saw the brutes standing along the wall. The king starts in on Vinnie the moment he entered the room, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Wasn’t it necessary for you to have mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you?”

Then the king ordered his lugs to haul Vinnie off to the torturers until he repaid everything he owed.

Jesus concludes His parable and tells us what it means. “My heavenly Father will do the same thing to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Peter thought that forgiving his brother seven times was pretty good. And Peter was right. How many people would forgive someone seven times? Probably no one. We have the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” If someone lies to you, you might forgive them, but you make sure that you don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes again. Forgive someone seven times, and people will call you a fool. But Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70 x 7 times. Four-hundred ninety times, but Jesus doesn’t intend for you to stop at 491. Forgiveness is unlimited, and Jesus explains this with the parable.

But this parable is so extreme, so unthinkable. And yet the situation Jesus puts forward is, in a terrifying way, more real and true than we will ever understand. Every last one of you here has an unimaginable debt just like Vinnie.

Sin – all sin – is against God. Every time you break God’s law, you rack up debt with your God and King. Jesus summarizes the entire Law of God as, “Love the Lord your God with all year heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” So when you don’t love your neighbor as yourself, you aren’t loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength because you aren’t doing what He had commanded. So, you can see how quickly your debt of sin multiplies exponentially. Every week, you rack up a debt like Vinnie’s. You constantly owe God an incalculable debt of sin. And what does He do? Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, He simply wipes it out. Because of Jesus, your debt is gone. Because of Jesus, as far as God’s concerned, your sin never existed.

So, when someone sins against you, what are you to do? The words of the king tell us, ”Isn’t it necessary that you should have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The answer is, “Yes. Yes of course it is necessary.”

Blessings from the CrossMercy is two things. Mercy is both not getting what you deserve and getting what you don’t deserve. Vinnie got mercy. He didn’t get the punishment that he deserved, and he got his debt forgiven which he didn’t deserve. But Vinnie showed that he refused the king’s mercy because Vinnie demanded what he deserved from Chuck. By demanding his rights from Chuck, Vinnie was refusing his undeserved gift from the king.

This parable makes it all so clear. Mercy isn’t meant to be held on to. Mercy is meant to be passed on. The mercy that flows from God to you is designed to flow to others as well. It doesn’t matter what someone else has done to you, forgive them.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t feel pain. People who have sinned against you can cause you hurt and scars that may never go away. The emotional pain of sin against you may last your entire life – even when you have forgiven them.

But know this for sure: God has forgiven you in Christ. His mercies are new every morning. Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away your sin – even your sins of unforgiveness. So comfort each another with the mercy that God has given to you. Your neighbor is dependent upon it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 18:1-20 – Greatness in the Reign

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Matthew 18:1-201 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.

6 ”But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And 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 with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

12 ”What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19 ”Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The disciples ask, “Who is the greatest in the reign of heaven?” but Jesus doesn’t answer their question right away. While the disciples are curious about who is the greatest, Jesus is more interested in telling them about getting into the reign of heaven. Jesus called a child over, placed the child in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the reign of heaven.”Jesus and a Child

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten.” You do learn a lot of important things in kindergarten, but you certainly didn’t learn everything you need to know. If the world were run by people who stopped learning after kindergarten (and, maybe, sometimes it appears that is the case) we would lament the day that we stopped sending people on to 1st grade and beyond.

It is important for us to understand what Jesus is saying here because if we don’t we will misunderstand what Jesus says in the rest of ch. 18 (which we’ll continue looking at next week).

For Jesus to tell His disciples that they have to “become like children” was an absolutely radical statement in His day. In Jesus’ day, children were considered weak and inferior. In Jesus’ day, children were praised only because they had the potential to become something in the future. It’s still true in our day too. Maybe we aren’t that blunt about it. But when someone tells you that you are being childish, they aren’t giving you a compliment.

Children are weak, and children don’t plan ahead. We didn’t hire a kindergarten class to pave our parking lot and for good reason. Children don’t know how to do many tasks correctly or efficiently – they need patience as they learn how to do things. As a parent, I am grateful when my kids ask if they can help me do something, but if I decline their offer to help, it is usually because I know I can get the job done in half the time when I do it myself.

Children do have a lot of good qualities that it would be good for adults to emulate, but we don’t want a world full of children. Sometimes we think Jesus wants us to be like children because they are happy. But for every time a child is happy they are also whining, complaining twerps. We maybe think Jesus wants us to be like children because children are innocent, but we all know children aren’t innocent. Parents know that when one of their children has been hurt by one of their siblings, there is probably no innocent party. A child crying out, “She hit me,” probably means that the child who was hit did something to deserve it. We maybe think Jesus wants us to be like children because they are trusting. But children are trusting to a fault which is why they have to be taught to avoid strangers.

So what does Jesus mean when He tells the disciples they must become like children?  What quality do children have that we and the disciples need to become like them? Dependence.

When Jesus says, “You must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. And whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” He is redefining greatness. Children, whether they recognize it or not, depend and rely upon their parents for everything. Children rely on their parents for food, shelter, clothing, education, and everything they need for life.

Children are even dependent upon their parents for their independence. In our culture, children are considered independent adults when they turn 18. But the level of independence they have rests on how well the parents have prepared them for being independent. For example, if you don’t teach your kids how to spend money wisely, they will be slaves to debt.

In this whole text, Jesus is teaching that dependence equals greatness in the reign of heaven. Now, that’s backward thinking. But Jesus is so insistent on this point that He spends the rest of ch. 18 fleshing this out.

Jesus says, “Ok, disciples. You want to be great in the reign of heaven? Depend upon Me for everything. Humble yourself and know that you need to receive everything from Me and you will be great. When you receive a child like this one in My name, you receive Me. But if you cause one of these children to sin (lit. ‘be scandalized’ as in ‘fall away’), it would be better for you if you were dragged to the bottom of the sea by a huge stone.”

Jesus continues to be deadly serious about this. He says, “Woe to the world for its scandals. Because of sin scandals will come, but woe to the one by whom they come. You would be better off lopping off hands and limbs and plucking out eyes rather than causing scandals for those who are dependent upon Me.”Child Praying

Jesus shows His care and concern for those who are dependent on Him in the parable about the Lost Sheep to drive this point home. “If one of my sheep is lost, they need Me. And I will leave the ninety-nine to search out the one that went astray. I don’t groan about that sheep that is lost. I weep. I will do everything to restore that one lost, dependent sheep. And I will rejoice over that one lost sheep that I restore more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

And Jesus wants you to have this same concern for a dependent brother or sister. Jesus says, “If someone sins against you, don’t go around telling everyone. Go to the person alone and restore them. If that doesn’t work, bring others with you to try to restore that person. But if that doesn’t work tell the church. And if they still refuse to listen, make it clear to them that they are outside the church, outside My protection. Tell them that they are outside so that they will see their danger and come back in.”

And Jesus says, “Even when only two of my people are gathered in My name, I am there among them.”

Communion Cross with JesusBrothers and sisters, we are in a great place because Jesus is here among us. Here we are, a small little flock of sheep gathered at our Shepherd’s feet. We have all gone astray. This past week we have all sinned and wandered from our Shepherd’s pen. And yet He has gathered us together once again. And heaven rejoices. Heaven rejoices as our Savior throws us a feast in His Supper giving us His body to eat and His blood to drink. In this meal, Jesus is present with us, forgiving our sins. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.