Matthew 18:1-20— 1 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.”
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.”
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.”
Brothers 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.