The Gospel of Matthew: The Messiah of Promise 18:1-7
Preached @ Anchor Community Church on June 21st 2015
Is there a ‘special’ place in heaven for people like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa? Are there “Super Saints?” Why do we have categories like ‘fired up,’ ‘sold out,’ ‘radical,’ and ‘carnal?’ Is it because we are more enamored with what we are going to do for Jesus, that we have forgot Jesus? After all we go to conferences called ‘Exponential,’ Catalyst’ and ‘Launch,’ to get the strategies we need to change our world! And when we don’t change our worlds like the speakers say, we feel like lesser, second citizen Christians.
Many of us feel the need to be great; to change our world. When the evil Syndrome (The Incredibles) wanted to thwart greatness, he desired to give everyone powers and “When everyone is super, no one will be” No doubt the New Testament church turned their world ‘Upside down,” but was that done through strategies and celebrity speakers? What happened to “Ordinary?” Is it possible that turning the world upside down meant being different than the world in very ordinary ways? Theologian Michael Horton writes in his book ‘Ordinary,” “Being Ordinary “is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return.” Is it possible that we are afraid of ordinary because our culture only celebrates celebrities; even in the church?
Maybe the disciples were feeling a bit of jealousy? Was Peter getting too much attention? Their question was simple, “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples were still trying to figure out God’s “Kingdom” “Who’s going to be the political aids of the king when we take over?” Could it be that we’re afraid of being ordinary citizens in God’s kingdom. I think too often, we are searching for greatness, and the every day grind of being a believer in our world isn’t sexy, and we find out ultimately, it’s too hard. We’re looking to make ‘impacts’ for Jesus, but Jesus has called most of us to ordinary greatness in Him.
Jesus is teaching them that In the Kingdom of God, greatness is measured by humility!
From the Head…
Why A Child?
They were most vulnerable in that context. Most likely the child was a girl, because females in that culture were even more vulnerable. Women and children have often suffered greatly in many cultures, because they were seen as chattel, or insignificant, which is very true in the culture Jesus came into. This child was vulnerable, not by choice, but by the reality he/she was reliant on others for their survival.
It interests me in our culture how men like Sam Harris can assault God’s character because many children are killed daily and God doesn’t do a thing about it, and at the same time be Pro Choice, giving women the ‘right’ to kill their babies for no reason other than convenience. How do we really care for dying children when we support the death of so many in the name of choice and freedom? Does God care? I believe that our text will show that He does.
Greatness In The Kingdom Is Measured By Humility (Mathew 18:4)
Entrance into God’s Kingdom begins with humility, and this word is defined as we said above by vulnerability. It’s a realization that we are incapable. It’s not a trait of the child, like their love, or purity, it’s the fact that child is a lowly citizen in a very cruel world. This is very similar to Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” We come to Jesus with nothing, trusting that He has everything. This flies in the face of the proud that believe they can earn their way into God’s kingdom. To the atheist/agnostic, it is absurd, not only for believing in a heaven and a god, but assuming that any entity other than yourself is going to do anything for you at all. They mock reliance on a god or gods, or anyone else, and champion self-reliance, which makes them strong and independent. The problem is in reality, when we are truly honest with ourselves, we realize that we are not in as much control of our lives as we think.
Greatness In The Kingdom Is Measured By Serving the Weak (Matthew 18:5)
There are some commentators that see the children as God’s children and “Messenger” of Kingdom (See Matthew 10:40-42), thus receiving their message is receiving Christ. The context however seems to be talking about Humble service, serving those that are weak. It makes sense from the flow that humility (Vulnerability) brings you into the kingdom, then kingdom work would be natural as a result, and serving the vulnerable is at the heart of God. Proverbs 14:31 amongst many other Proverbs says, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” In our book, Matthew 25:40 seems to reiterate Proverbs, and when talking about those that help those who are vulnerable in the culture, says “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” To “Receive” someone is to become intimately involved with them. The problem in our culture is the needy are invisible, because our worlds are isolated. It is too easy to read verses such as Proverbs 14 and Matthew 25, and skirt over them without any application in our own lives. That’s for other people to do, not me. I too struggle with its application, but it is no excuse for our ignorance of God’s calling on our lives.
Greatness In The Kingdom Is Measured By Holiness (Matthew 18:6)
Lastly, greatness in the God’s Kingdom is measured by holiness. It is better that we tie a “Millstone” around our necks and jump into the sea, than to make just one little one stumble! This is true about literal children and figurative (Spiritual) children. If our lifestyle makes someone else sin, woe be to us. Here we see God’s end game. If you want to exploit children, and make them sin (Via selling drugs, prostitution, robbery, etc.) you WILL get yours! Perfect, holy, righteous and loving justice will come your way! God will not be mocked, so Sam Harris et al, can know that in the end, God wins, and little children, as well as many other victims of exploitation and oppression will be vindicated either on the cross, or through a just judgment of their actions!
The problem is that in our culture, we thing a judging, wrathful God is archaic, and will only lead to violence and hate. Pastor Tim Keller gives the following 2 reasons why we need a judging God, and why it’s great to know there is one. First, it gives Meaning to our actions. Arthur Miller wrote a play called “The Fall,” in which he presented the idea that life is a series of proofs. You prove your smart, capable, good parents, great workers, etc. One day the main character in the story looks up and there is no judge judging, and it caused him great despair because he recognizes that all his actions result in nothing but “endless litigation and arguments.” Without a judge it’s all opinion, there is no real meaning in any of his actions. We may feel more liberated at first, but if we’re really thinking, we’ll eventually realize that without a judge, there is no real meaning in our actions, good or bad. We’ll be like Sisyphus, who pushes a rock up a hill all day, only to have to repeat it the next. And don’t think for a moment that we don’t have judgment, because as Arthur Miller says, that judgment is just a bunch of endless litigation and arguments. Just ask Caitlyn Jenner, Josh Duggar or Tom Brady. They’re judged in the court of public opinion with many opinions and hardly any facts.
A second benefit of a perfect, judging God is It brings Hope to a messed up world. The culture says “if you believe in a judging God, you’ll become violent.” Theologian and Philosopher Miraslov Volf wrote a book entitled “Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.” Volf is a survivor of the genocide and destruction of the Balkan war. He has seen much oppression and exploitation, and brutal rapes and murders. Volf, himself is a pacifist, and says that the notion of a judging God brings real hope to a world that is characterized by righteous vengeance. He says,
“My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine judgment will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians of the west. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plunders, then burned and leveled to the ground, who daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it (The liberal notion of an non-judging, loving God) will invariably die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.”
In other words, those that don’t think we need a prefect, divine judge, they haven’t felt real pain and oppression, because the only thing, the only hope we have of escalating violence is recognizing that “Vengeance is mine says the Lord.” That’s how we can love our enemies, and “bless those that persecute us!”
Sin is real, both corporate (V. 7) and individual (VV. 7-9). If you think oppression, exploitation, killing, etc. is wrong, you believe in sin, and you believe in justice. God is not allowing any children to suffer in vain, He is going to righteously judge those for their actions, or their judgment comes on the cross of Jesus Christ.
…to the Heart
Humility is elusive. Some find this “virtue” either weak (Nietzsche) or useless (Ayn Rand). But when we see for real, it’s admired. We’re not talking about successful people going, “Awe shucks, I’m not that great,” or the downtrodden saying “Wore is me, I’m so bad.” We’re talking about individuals who know that without Christ they are nothing, but in Christ, they can humbly serve mankind with an attitude of thanks, not pride. Many of us have read Philippians 2, and discussed the attitude we should have with one another, but we struggle to live it. We know it, but we can’t seem to live it. It is because of that, we can be grateful that Jesus died in our place, because even when we want to do good, we fail miserably. Thanks be to God there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, because God’s justice as well as His love is found on the cross.
Questions To Ponder
Why are these verses here at this time?
How do they speak to the justice of God?
How does this problem of evil connect to the cross of Jesus?
Why does God allow evil to co-exist with His love and grace?
In what way(s) do we contribute to the injustice toward children in the US and the world?
For Further Reading
A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener
The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti
Sermon On the Mount; Sinclair Ferguson
 Most abortions happen in the 1st trimester, and are the result of choice, not the mother’s health, rape or incest., which make up about %2 of abortions in America
 Miraslov Volf, “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation”, pg. 304 (Kindle Reader)