“Like Children”

“Like Children”

Matthew 18:1-11


I’m still not over what Jesus did in the passage that we looked at last week, in providing the temple tax from a fish that Peter caught on a hook. I hope that passage has been fresh on your minds too this week. In every unsettling circumstance, may we remember God’s great oversight and knowledge of our past, present, and future; and may we trust him to bring the coin to the fish to our fishing hook in just the right timing. If you weren’t here with us last week, please get on our website gladybranch.org and read the transcript, or you can stream, or download the recorded audio of last week’s message. I believe it will be big encouragement to you. Also, it’s really easy to forward on the link to a friend, or you can download the MP3 and send it via email or text- I encourage you to do so if know someone who might be encouraged by a particular message.


As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, at this point in Jesus’s ministry, He has been really focusing on discipling His disciples, and helping them grasp His kingdom truth. And they, like us, sometimes make big strides in their faith, understanding, and trust in Jesus. And then at other times, they take some steps backwards and Jesus then corrects their misunderstandings and redirects their focus from things of this world, to things of true eternal significance. Recently we saw a big leap forward as Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God (Matthew 16:16), and then he along with James and John experienced Jesus transformed into part of His divine glory up on the mountain- we saw how their faith was boosted as they heard God’s voice from heaven proclaim “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5) And then there seems to be some steps taken backwards with some of the disciples as their faith wasn’t as strong as it once was, and they couldn’t help the boy being affected by a demon. Then immediately after this, Peter got to see Jesus provide for the temple tax with the coin from the fish’s mouth. So, depending on which disciple you are talking about, some of them are being encouraged- seeing some really amazing things, but others are experiencing some setbacks in their faith and I wonder if perhaps they are feeling a little jealous of those who seem to be prospering in their faith. And then those who seem to be prospering are perhaps feeling a little full of themselves, prideful, imagining that since they are having great faith experiences and others are not, then they must be something special, and the others not. Combined with this environment is the continual mentioning of Jesus that He is going to be killed. I wonder if some of the disciples are starting to be reconciled to that fact, and are contemplating who’s going to be in charge after Jesus is gone?


I could see Peter saying, “Well, obviously I’m the greatest of the disciples, I spoke up first and had the right answer concerning Jesus’s Messiahship, and He chose me to go up on the mountain with Him, and let me tell you about this special miracle He did just for me with a fish and coin…” And then perhaps James and John speak up and one says “Yeah, but He chose us too to go up the mountain with Him, and He did that fish and coin miracle just because He was staying at your house and felt sorry for you.” In the parallel account, Mark 9:33, 34 says that Jesus “began to question them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.” So, they were embarrassed over the subject matter, and then I believe they realized that Jesus already knew what they had been discussing, so they fessed up and asked Jesus the question that we find in Matthew 18:1


It appears that when taking Mark’s version into account, the real question was “which one of us disciples is the greatest?” But that question sounds prideful and embarrassing, so they took out the pronoun “us” and phrased it to Jesus in more generalized terms, “Who then is the greatest, Jesus what man will be the greatest in your kingdom?” And His answer is a little surprising, let’s see what He says, verses 2-3.


Now His answer in verse 3 starts off with “Truly I say to you,” and this phrase is the New Testament, Jewish way of adding emphasis, basically saying: “Turn your ears on, I’m about to say something of critical importance!” And instead of addressing directly their question of greatness, He first basically tells them that they shouldn’t be concerned with greatness, rather they should be concerned that they might not even make it into the kingdom to begin with!


Now you might say, how could Jesus possibly question the disciples’ salvation? We recently saw Peter, perhaps on behalf of the others as well, publicly professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and they had all been following Jesus wherever He went, and they themselves had healed the sick and cast out demons. But the behavior they were currently displaying was not a behavior in line with one who has surrendered his life to Jesus. Psalm 138:6 says that God “regards the lowly, but the haughty [prideful] He knows from afar.” God is resistant to prideful ambition, and here the disciples were acting in pride, jealousy, and rivalry- these are not characteristic of those in His kingdom. Someone who remains proud, who elevates themselves above others, is not typically one who would admit their sin and seek forgiveness, and admitting sin and seeking forgiveness are absolute prerequisites for entrance into His kingdom. Pride will keep you from believing that God’s salvation is a gift of grace that no man of his own merit deserves. Arrogance will keep you from placing your life under God’s authority. So, what is the answer Jesus gives? To be converted and become like children. The Greek word used here for converted means “to turn.” You convert- you turn, from going one way, into going God’s way. You change your direction to match the change that takes place in your mind. For salvation to occur, you repent and turn. Repentance is confession and admittance that your sin is wrong and thus offends God, and then the turning takes place as you start to live in a way different than you had before, you make a conscience decision to turn from the old habits into new habits that are in line with God’s truth. And then Jesus says to become like children, and how are we to become like children? Verse 4


The path to greatness is through humility. Now I’m sure there are some prideful children out there, but obviously this child Jesus had called over to himself was of the young age when children have yet to become self-aware, the age when they are completely dependent on their parents, when there are no assumptions other than mom and dad will take care of me. Children of this age are at a point in life where they have to be encouraged and convinced by others in order for them to attempt things that they are completely capable of achieving, but have yet to realize that they are capable of achieving. Later on in life this humility turns sour, as pride creeps in and perhaps as demonstrated by some teenagers, the roles are reversed and now others are attempting to encourage and convince them NOT to attempt things that they falsely think are within their capabilities. We’ve all heard of the disaster stories that begin with, “Hey man, don’t do that…” met with the reply “Naw, I got this, watch this…” Jesus is saying the life attitude of “Naw, I got this” with God is an attitude that will prevent you from entering the kingdom of heaven. The only way to become great in His kingdom is to humbly accept your dependence on an almighty, all forgiving, gracious God. You’ve heard the phrase “what goes up must come down” and that phrase adequately describes the effects of gravity in this world, but in God’s kingdom world, the reverse is true- “what goes down must come up.” Jesus says you humble yourself, taking a proper lowly perspective of yourself, and it is through that path of low humility and dependence on Him, that He then elevates you to true greatness in Him.


King David understood this principle, let me read to you his Psalm 131: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. 2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever.”


After correcting the disciples’ misunderstanding of greatness, Jesus then changes gears and moves on to teach a different principle concerning children, verse 5


So, Jesus teaches His followers how to be little children in their humility, and now in verses 5 He teaches His followers how to treat little children. We are to receive them, in other words to approve of them, love them, treat them with kindness, attend to their needs- to receive them as a gift that comes with responsibility. And then in verse 6 Jesus warns His follower how not to treat little children…


The followers of Jesus are sternly warned not to cause any of the little ones who believe in Him to stumble. The root word for stumble here is the Greek word “skandalon,” which is the word for the trigger of a trap, the mechanism that closes the trap down on an unsuspecting victim. Skandalon is the stick holding the box that is then sprung out and thus closes the box. Make sure to live in such a way that you would never cause another believer (child or adult) to be ensnared, trapped, and thus prevented from living in the fullness of Jesus’s kingdom life. Your words and actions are to encourage and promote child- like faith and dependence on Jesus, not trap one from experiencing faith and dependence on Jesus. Followers of Jesus are to help others walk safely to Him, not be stumbling blocks that trip them up and ensnare them.


Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, teachers, caretakers- we all have a giant responsibility with the children that God has placed in our lives. Could we be acting as a stumbling block to them in any way? Could we be acting as a stumbling block when we lose our temper and aren’t reflecting the patience and love of Jesus? In our anger could we be preventing them from seeing and experiencing God’s mercy and love? Could we be tainting their understanding of who God is? Are we often overly focused on correcting their morality and wildness, and less often focused on nurturing their heart relationship with God? Do we feed them all kinds of worldly stories of modern day nonsense, mysticism, and spirituality- through kids’ movies- more than we feed them the Biblical stories that will transform their lives for their good for all eternity? Have we each shared the good news of Jesus with the children that God has given us time with? Are we continually teaching them God’s truth- through our words and actions?


In the Old Testament, right after God had brought the nation of Israel through the wilderness back to the promised land, before they entered the land, He reviewed with the people His covenant, laws, and promises of blessings, and said to them these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons [children] and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:5-9) God was telling the people to saturate their whole environment with His truth. He didn’t say to just make sure to pray with the children before they go to sleep, or make sure they learn some Bible verses at church, or take them to VBS during the summer- no, we are to diligently teach them about God’s word- when we are sitting, walking, when we lie down, and when we get up. To me that sounds like all the time, 24/7/365, when are you ever not sitting, up on your feet standing or walking, lying down, or getting up? That just about covers it, right? His word is to be like wearing signs on our hands, or signs on our foreheads, and then just to make sure our children don’t miss us talking about His word when we are sitting/walking/lying/standing up, AND they don’t miss the signs we are waiving around on our hands and foreheads- may we make even the house that gives them shelter to testify of God’s word, written on doorposts, gates, walls- may we saturate every nook and cranny of their lives with His truth so that we don’t in any way EVER cause them to stumble.  


I hope you realize just how serious Jesus is here. He’s more than Italian Mobster serious. Jesus’s words here would be unnerving to Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in the “Godfather.” “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” It doesn’t say whoever does this “will have a millstone hung around his neck and will be drowned”, no- it says “it would be better for him to have the millstone hung around his neck and drowned.” There is an even worse destiny awaiting such a person that would cause one of His little ones to stumble. Verse 7


There are enough things in this life that present themselves as stumbling blocks, there are enough things in this world that will trip you up and ensnare you- those things are inevitable, but worse still is someone who is causing those things. Don’t be that person! Verses 8-9


Here Jesus repeats something He said from His sermon on the mount, speaking via hyperbole. A hyperbole is intended to convey a point through a strong and memorable fashion through the use of extreme exaggeration. The meaning here is that whatever might cause you to stumble, or cause you to make someone else stumble, whatever that thing is- get rid of it! If certain movies are affecting you and/or your children negatively, then get rid of them- don’t watch them! If hanging out with certain friends causes you to stumble, then find some better friends. If internet pornography tempts you- then get rid of the ability to access those websites! Set up parameters that are drastic in order for you not to stumble. If you make yourself sick eating too many donuts on Sunday morning, then enter through the church door on the other side to avoid passing by the donuts. Don’t even play with this stuff that can cause you to stumble or someone else to stumble.


Bob Newhart did a silly TV comedy skit several years ago in which he was a therapist and his client came in to see him about some of her life problems. After she shares that she claustrophobically fears being buried alive in a box, Bob says he has two words for her that would help. She says ok, he then asks her if she’s ready, she says yes, and he says here they are: “Stop it!” “Stop it?” she replies. “Yes, stop it! S-T-O-P, new word, I-T. “So I should just stop it?” “There you go, stop it.” The skit continues on for a bit on this same premise, and it’s humorous to imagine a counselor so heartlessly telling their client to just “stop it,” but the spiritual reality that Jesus is presenting in these verses is that the effects of stumbling, and being ensnared by the world’s trappings are so devasting, that one should go to whatever lengths necessary to “stop it”- to stop stumbling and to stop causing anyone else to stumble. No more excuses, no more playing games, get serious and do whatever you have to do to “stop it.” Verses 10-11


Some have seen this verse 10 as indicating that everyone has a personal guardian angel assigned to them, which may be the case, but this verse doesn’t necessarily convey that meaning. I believe at face value, this verse is simply indicating the worth that children have to God. There are angels ministering to believers around the world, who are implementing God’s will, and assisting His Kingdom growth, and this verse tells us that the angels God has assigned for children are continually there in His own presence- perhaps presenting reports, asking for His intervention, His protection, and His influence in the children’s lives. How could you then despise someone who’s life God is so involved in and concerned for? Jesus’s very mission, as verse 11 indicates, is to save these that are lost. How can you despise, put down, neglect, cause to stumble- any whom Jesus came to save?   


Glady Branch has been blessed with a great group of children. I’m not saying they’re easy, they’re a great group of kids that I know are very difficult to deal with at times. I want us as a church to realize just how important our role is in their lives. Many of you are involved in our children’s ministry on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, and we thank you for your patience and endurance in continually sowing seed into their hearts. Thank you for teaching them God’s word as you sit, walk, and stand- thank you for living it out and presenting it as signs on your hands and foreheads. Perhaps there are some this morning that aren’t involved with our Children’s ministry, that, as a result of Jesus’s words, right now feel burdened with the weight of our responsibility in the lives of these children. If that’s you, then I would encourage you to reach out to me or to our children’s ministry leader, Erica, and ask about how you could get involved. We could use your help, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve planning a lesson or activities, but often we just need an extra hand. Please come see one of us after the service if that is how God is leading you. 


Perhaps there are others this morning that feel convicted to step up their game in how they are allowing God to use them in the lives of children, whether they are parents, grandparents, great grandparents, caretakers, teachers, or babysitters. I want to pray now for our children’s workers, our future children’s workers, and for all of us that will be taking Jesus’s words to heart and will be doing all that we can do to receive them into His Kingdom, and prevent them from stumbling in any way.