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The Little Ones

Date: Jun. 19, 2016

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 18:1-14

Key Verse: Matthew 18:3

“And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

Have you ever heard the question, “Why did God make babies so cute?”  Some people have answered, it’s so that we would want them and protect them.  When my brother Joseph was around 5 or 6 years old, I remember thinking, I wish he would never grow up and stay like that forever.  Of course, it’s good for him to grow up and become a man.  But I do remember watching him as he was sleeping, cute as can be, being happy to have a little brother like him.  When he was hurt, I was hurt too.  When I took him to a Christmas party, and all the kids ran ahead of him down the stairs, he cried and wanted them to wait, and my heart broke too.  Joe is a teenager now, but I still see him as my little brother who I always love.  Some of you might look at your kids and still see them as your babies.  When I used to visit my Dad he still called us his beebees and tells us he wants to pinch our cheeks.  He reminds us how we were so cute and ran all over the house, eating his leftovers.  God loves us in the same way, he rejoices when we belong to him, he protects us, and he shares our pains – but can you humble yourself to become a child of God?  Can you find joy in being called a little one of God?

As we begin, we can see that the disciples had greatness on their minds.  Look at v.1, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”  An argument broke out among the disciples as to which one of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  They were beginning to understand more that Jesus is the Messiah and King, but they still did not fully understand everything.  On hearing about Jesus’ death and resurrection, they were filled with grief, but not long after, they were arguing about who among them would be the greatest.  Their understanding of the kingdom of heaven is that the Messiah would come, and Israel would rise to world dominance, so now they were competing for the position with the most power and prestige.  They wanted to dominate over one another.  What kind of ambition was this?  It was worldly, carnal, self-centered ambition.  It was not about serving or who could be the best servant – this was about ruling, ruling over others, calling down fire at will, doing their will, what they wanted.  It was about their own power and authority.  Is this what the kingdom of heaven is about?  Peter, James and John may have felt special privilege over the others, because they were selected to accompany Jesus up the mountain where he was transfigured.  The others may have wondered what was so special about those three.  After all, Andrew was the first disciple to be called, shouldn’t he be in first place?  They argued about this with one another from the mountain until they came to the house at Capernaum.  It was there they came to Jesus and asked “Who then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus now would show them what the kingdom of heaven is really like.  Look at v.2-3, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”  Jesus did not tell them specifically who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, but he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change…”  The way they were, they could not even enter the kingdom of heaven, let alone be the greatest.  In their natural state they could not even be considered the least in the kingdom.  If that is the situation for Jesus’ closest 12 disciples, what hope is there for anyone to enter the kingdom?  No one can enter the kingdom without being changed, and that means being changed from the inside.  We have to be converted, we have to be transformed, and this transformation comes only from God.

We have to be changed and become like little children.  This might be confusing to the disciples.  Why be like a child?  In Jewish culture, children were seen more like property than individuals.  Even in the stories of the feeding of the 4000 and 5000, the men were counted, and the women and children were a side note.  Children are a little more important in the United States.  You have the DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services) for children’s rights.  But children cannot vote.  They have no “voice,” so to speak, in adult affairs.  Why would anyone want to be like a child?  If you look at a child, what do you see?  In a child, there is humility, because when they are young, there are a lot of things that they don’t know, and there is a youthful energetic desire to learn and to imitate.  They cannot be proud because in their little lives they have not done much, and they are dependent on others.  That’s the other attribute (total dependence).  First, there’s humility, something the disciples were not exhibiting.  Spurgeon once said, “Children do not try to be humble, but they are so; and the same is the case with really gracious persons.  The imitation of humility is sickening; the reality is attractive.”  As Spurgeon said, false humility can be repulsive, but true humility is attractive.  The other attribute is total dependence and trust.  A child depends and trusts on their parents, and in the same way, a child of God can depend and trust on God.  A third attribute of a child is their lack of self-consciousness.  Even the really shy ones, under the right circumstances, will amaze you.  My cousin was really shy when she was 2 years old.  Even when I looked at her, she would cry.  But once you played the song “Happy,” she would be in the middle of the restaurant floor, dancing.  Now, sometimes self-consciousness is good for an adult.  It would look weird if I just started dancing in the middle of a restaurant when I hear a good song.  But where a lack of self-consciousness is good is in the area of loving and serving others.  One of the best ways to love and serve others is to love and serve selflessly.  It is to serve without expecting anything in return, or to show someone love, even if it may cost you your pride.  “Death to self” is another way to describe this.  There is death to self in denying temptation, but death to self can also be applied in service to others.

Jesus says “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  He says, “unless you change…you will never enter.”  This shows that the kingdom of heaven is filled with the humble.  It is filled with those who trust in God.  It is filled with those who love, and put others before themselves.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?  But not just anyone can get in.  No one can get in unless they have been changed.  So we all need to be changed.  The kingdom of heaven is unlike the kingdoms of this world.  In this world, it is often the proud, the arrogant, the loud-mouthed, or the scheming that get their way and become the greatest.  Pride is often seen as a strength, and confident attitudes, even overconfident attitudes are admired.  But Jesus Christ turns everything upside-down.  They ways of this world are contrary to the ways of the kingdom of God.  Look at v.4: “Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus answers the disciples’ question.  Who is the greatest?  The one who takes the lowly position of a child – the position of humility, of dependence and selflessness.

Look now at v.5, “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  To welcome means to receive.  It is to accept someone, to take them in, accept them as a brother or sister.  When I used to mentor a group of high school boys, I would take them to Chuck E Cheese sometimes with my little brother.  When they would take him around and play with him, for my sake, I felt that they were welcoming me as well.  That same love for my brother, I felt for myself from the high school boys.  In the same way, when we welcome such a child, in Jesus name, that is, when we serve humbly and sincerely and selflessly for Christ, we welcome Christ, and we receive Christ.  So welcome other believers in the name of Christ, and you will show love for Christ.  This also means that Jesus loves his little ones and wants them to be treated well.  In fact, the next two passages shows how to welcome God’s little ones.  He loves them so much that he does not want them to be misled, or despised.  This is similar to a humorous picture of an overprotective father – when a young man comes to court his daughter, the father asks the young man, “What time will you bring her back home?”  And then he shows his rifle, just to send the message that “If you hurt my daughter, you’re going to pay.”  Jesus is wants to protect his little ones, and warns anyone or anything that would mislead or mistreat them.

Look at v.6: “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Jesus here defines who the little ones are.  The little ones are those who believe in him.  To stumble means to cause to sin, to fall away from the faith in Jesus, or to hinder someone’s spiritual growth.  All of these are what it means to make someone stumble: it is to cause them to sin, or to fall away from faith, or to hinder their spiritual growth.  The punishment is horrific – it’s like something you would hear the mafia do.  The Jews equally saw this as a terrible punishment.  It was not even a Jewish punishment – but the Gentiles, such as the Greeks or Syrians, would reserve this method of punishment for something as serious as killing your parents.  If you killed your parents, you would get a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea.  And it wasn’t a small hand-cranked millstone. This was a millstone that took a donkey to turn.  Jesus is saying it would be better for you to take this punishment than to cause his little ones to stumble.  Jesus loves his little ones.

He continues in v.7, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble!  Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”  Woe is an expression of denouncement, and Jesus is denouncing the world because of things that cause people to stumble.  He says such things must come.  Those who make tempting videos, songs or things that cause others to sin are going to have to answer for what they do.  Those who sell drugs, tempt others to get drunk or to sexual immorality will be held responsible.  We should also be mindful of others and try not to cause them to stumble.  On the one hand there’s licentiousness, causing someone to sin, such as dressing provocatively, or pressuring someone to do something they do not want to do.  On the other hand there’s legalism, that can hinder spiritual growth – such as what the Pharisees were doing to the Jews in Jesus’ time.

Jesus takes sin very seriously and continues to warn his disciples against it.  Look at v.8-9, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”  Jesus is not speaking literally here.  He is talking about an attitude towards sin.  These words should not be taken literally to actually cut off your arms and gouge out your eyes.  Why?  Because even that is not enough.  Even if you cut off your limbs and gouge out your eyes, you will still sin.  So here Jesus is talking about an attitude towards sin, an attitude that agrees that it would be better to cut off your hands than to sin.  So the attitude is to hate sin, and to hate the sin within yourself.  It is to put your sin to death, and to throw it out.  Your sins may cause another to stumble.  Consider yourself dead to sin in Jesus Christ.  Hate your sin, and know that Christ is the one who can help you overcome it, Christ is the one who can forgive all your sins.

Jesus continues in v.10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”  When Jesus says “see,” he means “make sure” you do not despise one of these little ones.  There are people who despise children – they see them as a burden, another mouth to feed, a money pit, or someone that cannot give anything back.  It’s easy to despise little ones, believers, but especially those who are weak.  But here is the reason we must not:  They have angels that always see the face of God.  In fact, we all have angels that serve and protect us, not because we’re special, but because God has assigned them to us.  It’s not necessarily one to one, we don’t all have our own personal guardian angels, but many angels may be ministering to us that are ministering to many other people.  We must not despise one another because God is concerned for our welfare that he has given us all angels.  And these angels see the face of God.  We cannot see the face of God because of our sins, but these angels can.  So believer, little one, you are not alone, you are never alone, because there is an angel that reports directly to God about your condition.  And God cares for us all, so we must not despise one another.  God loves all his little ones, and he is concerned.

The following parable in v.12-14 show the extent of God’s love and concern for his little ones.  As you know, today is also Father’s Day, so as we keep our own fathers in mind, let’s also see how much our heavenly Father loves us.  Let’s see the extent of the love our heavenly Father has for us.  Look at v.12-13: “What do you think?  If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the ills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”  Sheep will wander, just like children.  If you take your eyes off your young children for even one second, you may find them already on the other side of the room.  I remember when Lukey became mobile.  He used to crawl around and it took some time to get places.  After he started walking on two legs, he’s everywhere.  We all, like sheep, have a tendency to wander away.  So it’s not just because of someone else’s sin that can cause us to stumble, but we can get lost by our own sin and the tendency to wander away.  I was caught up in an unhealthy relationship during my high school and college years, and during those years I had wandered away from church.  But God was faithful.  I was lost, lost for several years, but sought and he found me, and brought me back.  The good shepherd goes out to find the lost sheep.  Even one out of one hundred, seems like such a small value, but every sheep is precious to the shepherd.  And when the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he is not angry.  He is not bitter that the sheep took so much time and energy.  He is happier about the one sheep than about the ninety-nine.  That just means that the shepherd rejoices that he found the lost sheep.  There is much rejoicing when the lost sheep is found.

Look at v.14 “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones perish.”  When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we pray that God’s will be done.  And God’s will will always be accomplished.  So we see here that God is not willing that any of these little ones perish.  If God is not willing that any perish, what will happen?  It means that none of his little ones will perish.  Notice also v.14 says he is not willing that ANY of these little ones perish.  ANY of them.  That means not even one.  He will not lose them.  If they are lost, he will find them.  And he protects them.  How much does God love you?  He loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son to save you.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to seek and to save the lost.  He is the example of child likeness.  He is the one who humbled himself, and emptied himself of the glory he had in heaven, becoming like a man.  He came down to this dark, sin stained world, because it was the will of the Father.  He trusted and depended on God perfectly.  And he loved us so much that he gave his very own life for us.  This is the selfless love he gave.  Jesus once told the Jews, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30).”  Jesus says this twice, once in his hand, and once again in his Father’s hand.  No one can snatch us out of God’s hands.  We will not lose our eternal life once we have received salvation, our lives are safe in the Father’s hands.

So are you a little one, little one?  If you are, then rejoice!  Rejoice!  The Father loves you, and you are precious in his sight.  You can sleep as sweet as a newborn babe.  Jesus says in Luke 12:32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”  Now just as a reminder, or as an invitation to all who have not entered the kingdom: How can you enter the kingdom?  How can you be made into a little one, a precious little one in God’s sight?  Hear Jesus’ call to come to him.  Repent of your sins and believe.  Believe in Jesus, the Son of God who came to die for your sins.  He died, and took your place on the cross.  Were you guilty of leading his sheep astray?  Have you been a bad influence on a young Christian, by living as a hypocrite?  Has someone, even a new believer, blasphemed God because of you? You should be thrown into the sea!  Has your hand or foot caused you to sin?  Has your eye caused you to sin?  The payment for these is to be thrown into the eternal fires of hell.  But Christ came.  He was hurled into the sea for you.  Figuratively speaking, he was hurled into the depths of hell for you.  Literally speaking, he suffered the full weight of the wrath of God for your sake.  He was crucified and pierced for your transgressions.  He died for you.  He took your punishment, and he paid for them, all of them, even the worst of them.  Your punishment was laid upon Christ.  Therefore, you have been set free.  Look to Jesus, and be set free!!  There he is, in Jesus your redemption, and reconciliation! 

Repent, then, of your sins, and believe in Jesus that he has risen from the dead.  Believe in the Scriptures, where all of these things are written.  And believe in Jesus that he has given you righteousness, mercy and a fresh, new, clean and pure heart.  All your sins, even now, have been forgiven and washed away.  He has transformed you and has given you new birth as a child of God.  He has freed you from sin, so that you may serve the living God.  Trust fully in God, depend on him as a little child for salvation, daily strength and daily forgiveness.  He has made you like himself, holy, and clean.  And this was not because of anything you did, but simply by grace.  And He has given you brothers and sisters; all born in the same way you were, by grace.  So there is no room for boasting.  There is no room for bickering.  Rather, love one another.  Welcome one another.  And look out for any little ones who are lost.  Preach the gospel to all creation.  Serve others humbly, selflessly, in the name of Jesus Christ, for he will surely return, and you will surely receive your reward.  Take the lowly position of a child here on earth, and you will be among the greats in the kingdom of heaven.

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