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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:The Greatest in God's Kingdom
Text:Matthew 18:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, as you know, the Bible describes and identifies God's people by many different names. God's people are referred to as His vineyard; as His beloved; as the sheep of His pasture; as a holy nation; and a royal priesthood.

But by far the most common name for God's people is children. All those who have true faith in Jesus Christ are adopted by grace, and welcomed into the household of God, and have the privilege of being called God's children.

And because we are God's children, we are expected to behave ourselves accordingly. We are called to resemble our Father in everything we do, in everything we say, and even in how we think and what we think. So it is that people around us will see that we are children born not of this world, nor of human descent or a father's will, but born from above; born of God.

Now, in this particular portion of Matthew, Jesus is giving us a glimpse into His kingdom. He's allowing His disciples and us to see what it means to be a child of God, and how God's children are supposed to be treated, and how they are to be cared for, and how they are to be disciplined, and how they are to be forgiven.

All these things are covered in Matthew 18. This morning we have before us only the first 14 verses. Although there's a lot going on within these verses, they do hold together under one common thread and theme. That theme is this: Jesus Reveals who it is that is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Reveals:

1) The Great Stature they must Possess (vv. 1-4);
2) The Great Care they must be Shown (vv. 5-9);
3) The Great Esteem in which they are Held (vv. 10-14).

1. The Great Stature they must Possess (vv. 1-4)

Our passage begins with the disciples coming to Jesus with a very bothersome question. Who will be the greatest in your Kingdom? We might be inclined to think that perhaps this was a good sign. Maybe this is a sign that the disciples are finally catching on that Christ is the Messiah, and that His Kingdom was near.

But the question (more importantly, the attitude and motive behind the question) was quite disturbing to say the least. It was bothersome question because this was not the first time the disciples had raised this issue, nor would it be the last. In fact, if you turn to Matthew 20: 20, you ll find the mother of James and John asking Jesus to exalt one of her two sons to a seat of honor in His Kingdom.

So make no mistake about it, this was a hotly contested issue among the disciples. And when we read the parallel account in Mark, it tells us (sadly) that the disciples argued about this amongst themselves, and when Jesus asked what they were arguing about they kept silent. No doubt they were embarrassed; they were ashamed. As well they should have been!

For what is it that Jesus had just said? Did he not just announce that he would be betrayed into the hands of men and they would kill him? Did we not read that the disciples were filled with grief upon hearing this news? Yet see how quickly their sorrow for Christ's coming humiliation gives way to their selfish craving for personal exaltation.

Christ was prepared to humble himself, to lay down his life for these, his disciples, and for all His sinful people. Yet all the disciples are prepared to do is argue about which of the 12 deserved to be exalted and honored above the rest.

The disciples were a band of proud, self-centered, self-serving, egotistical men who were prone to have ungodly notions and ambitions about God's Kingdom. Like so many of us, they made the mistake of assuming that the standard for greatness in man's kingdom would also be the standard for greatness in God's Kingdom.

The disciples were a band of proud, self-centered, self-serving, egotistical men who were prone to have ungodly notions and ambitions about God's Kingdom. Like so many of us, they made the mistake of assuming that the standard for greatness in man's kingdom would also be the standard for greatness in God's Kingdom.

And in our world, super models, actors and actresses, musicians and athletes are honored and exalted by having their faces plastered on the cover of Time, and People, or Sports Illustrated, or Cosmopolitan. Great people do the day-time talk-shows circuit, and at night they re on with Jay Jenno and David Letterman.

That's the common way we measure greatness in man's kingdom--by face time. By being honored and recognized by everyone else for what we've done. But as Jesus is about to demonstrate, that is not how things are done in God's Kingdom. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say, that all those who hold to those worldly views, all those who clamor for that kind of honor and acclaim and notoriety will have no place whatsoever in His kingdom.

How does Jesus say this? Verse 2 tells us that Jesus called a little child to come to him and stand in the midst of the disciples. Jesus was most likely at Peter's house in Capernaum and was with all the other disciples. So it's quite reasonable to assume that this child belonged to Peter's family and that this child knew Jesus very well.

Nevertheless, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And unbeknownst to many who yank this verse out of its context and insist that Jesus was teaching us to be innocent like children, or to live simple and unsophisticated lives like children, the fact is, Jesus provides the exact explanation of what he means.

In verse 4 Jesus says, Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So picture this scene. Jesus took a small child-not a teenager; not a child of 8 or 10--but most likely a lad of 2 or 3, and he placed him directly in front of the disciples so they could see his smallness, but at the same time, they could see his great stature.

And as full grown men, they most certainly had done many more important things in their lifetime than this small child had done. They had cast out demons. They had healed the sick. They had followed Jesus for the past 2 years. And as full grown men surely they were more significant to Jesus. What could this small child do for Jesus? Preach? Heal? Teach?

Yet, Jesus says, they had to change, literally turn, convert, and become like that little child if they wanted to enter his kingdom, if they truly wanted to be the greatest in His kingdom. In other words, Jesus disciples had to drastically change the way they understood greatness.

They had to see that greatness in Gods kingdom was not measured by how high you could climb or ascend. No. Greatness in God's Kingdom was measured by how low you were willing to descend, how low you were willing to go to help others, to serve others, to bow and submit to others.

Greatness is seen not in ruling, but in serving; not in commanding, but obeying; not in receiving, but in giving; not in making ourselves great in the eyes of man, but making ourselves small. That's the only way one enters God's Kingdom. You must become as humble as a little child.

Wm. Hendriksen translated a Dutch poem that speak of this humility so beautifully, and he printed in his commentary. It reads: Make me, O Lord, a child again, so tender, frail and small; in self possessing nothing, and in thee possessing all. O Savior, make me small once more, that downward I may grow, and in this heart of mine restore the faith of long ago.
With thee may I be crucified-No longer I that lives-O Savior, crush my sinful pride by grace which pardon gives. Make me, O Lord, a child again, obedient to thy call, In self possessing nothing, and in thee possessing all.

Our God measures greatness in his Kingdom by the willingness of His adopted children to empty themselves of all that this world holds dear, and to follow the example set by His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He willingly made himself as a little child, humbling himself before God and man as a Suffering Servant, paying for sins which He did not commit, carrying a cross which He did not deserve, and dying and being buried in a grave that was unworthy of One so glorious.

Yet, our Lord did it all for lost sinners sake. Surely He is the greatest in the Kingdom of God. But what's so amazing is that our Father extends such honor, such distinction, such love also to us, to His adopted children. As we also humble ourselves before God and man and each other, as we (Pastor, elders, and fellow members alike) willingly serve one, stooping our shoulders to each other in a posture of humility, ready and willing to be used by God in whatever area of service, that's when we achieve true greatness.

That's when we rise to the great stature of a little child in God's sight. Is that the greatness you long for beloved? Are you ready and willing to become a humble as a little child?

2) The Great Care they must be shown (vv. 5-9)

Beloved, Jesus goes on from there, to talk about the dangers of causing one of these little ones to sin. We look at vv. 5-9 and consider the great care they must be shown. We do not have the time to go through these verses in great detail, but suffice it to say that Christ's love for his little children is so great that he threatens a grave punishment for any and all who would dare lead his little children astray.

But before we talk about the actual warning Jesus gives, we have to be clear about whom Jesus is talking about here. Who are these little ones, these little people to whom Christ refers? Keep in mind, Jesus still has a little child at his side. One would be inclined to think that Jesus was talking about little children in general. They, after all are very vulnerable. Their age makes them susceptible to deception. Children have very trusting hearts and that make them easy targets for exploitation-you need to look no further than the thousands of cases of child molestation and child pornography to understand that!

And, I would imagine that this is what most or all of the disciples were thinking as well-that Jesus was talking about that child in front of them and all children like him. But beloved, as is often the case, Jesus words had a deeper meaning.

Certainly He had in mind the child that was in front of him and other little children that believed in Him as well. But let's not forget the important declaration that Jesus just made. What was necessary for someone to gain entrance into God's Kingdom? Jesus said, "We must become like humble little children."

So, when Jesus speaks in these verses about little children, he's not speaking about infant and toddlers, He's talking about "all God's little children". Jesus is talking about you and me, everyone one of us, young and old alike, big and small alike. We are the little children who by faith, believe on Him and have entered into His Kingdom.

So, that certainly includes you boys and girls. But those little ones which Jesus refers to here are also you moms and dads, you grandpas and grandmas, you teens and singles. Jesus is concerned about the spiritual care and well-being of all God's children. He issues His warning on behalf of all of us-saying that anyone who causes one of these little children who believe in Him to sin, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck and thrown into the depths of the sea.

Boys and girls, a millstone was the very large, heavy stone that resembled a large wheel, even a great big donut. That millstone was used to crush grain into fine meal or powder used for baking. Obviously, if you took that millstone, tied it around someone's neck, and threw them into the sea, the weight would pull them straight down to the bottom (fact that it was tied around the neck makes death that much more inevitable).

Jesus says that kind of terrible death would be a better fate, a better death than what awaits the one who leads one of God's children astray. Jesus wasn't mincing words. He was making his point as clear as possible. There would be grave consequences for the person (be he a believer or an unbeliever) who would cause one of God's children to stumble, to go astray.

Christ's warning extends beyond individuals to include the world. Woe to the world because of the things that must come. Such things must come but woe to the man through whom they come. Now, let's stop a moment to consider the context once again, and try to figure out where this is coming from. We recall that the disciples were in the midst of an argument about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

There's little doubt that Jesus had in mind (among other things) that very conversation when he said these words. For the temptation of pride and arrogance and selfish ambition was placed squarely before the disciples. Was it Peter's fault? Was it the fault of James or John?

Who knows, but the important thing is that Jesus issues his warning, and they had better take it to heart. In his commentary on this passage John Macarthur highlights the various ways in which we can be a stumbling block to others.

He says that the most common ways is to directly cause them to sin. We think of Satan directly tempting Adam and Eve. Or, young people, this is like one of your friends calling you up and saying, "Hey let's go out Saturday night, get some beer, and get drunk." It's like someone directly setting before you an ungodly thing to do.

But we can also lead someone into sin indirectly. The Bible speaks about fathers not provoking their children to anger. A father's teasing, or his negligence, or his incessant criticism, or his heavy-handedness can actually cause his own children to sin. They might rebel, they might be disrespectful, they might even engage in sinful behavior just to spite us.

While the Lord holds each person accountable for his own sin-the message is clear, the Lord will also hold accountable those who caused them to stumble. We can cause others to stumble directly, indirectly, and we can also cause someone to stumble by our own bad example.

When we parents lose our temper and fly out of control, then we best not be surprised when we see and hear our children follow our lead. Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable aspects of the Apostle Paul's life and ministry was that he offered himself as an example for others to follow.

He passed along the same admonition to Timothy and Titus, telling each of them to set an example in everything they do (speech, conduct, in love, faith and purity). How many of you ladies lead such a Godly life that you would welcome a younger lady-new to the faith--to follow you so that she would learn and grow by your daily walk and Christian example. How many of us men would be open to discipling a young man-to have him follow our footsteps for a day (for a week, for a month), at work, at home, on the road. What would they learn about life in God's Kingdom from your example? Or, would your example lead them into sin?

The correct answer isn t, "I wouldn't be a good example to follow!" NO. The correct answer, the answer our Lord wants us to give is, "I need to be a better example to follow." "I ought to be an example, so I have to clean up my life of sin." That is precisely why Jesus says what he does next. In verses8-9 he speaks of the drastic measures that we must be willing to take to rid our hearts and lives of sin.

Jesus speaks of such horrific things as gouging out our own eyes, and even cutting off our own hands-saying it would be better to enter His Kingdom blind and maimed than to suffer the fires of hell with two eyes and two hands.

But let's understand what Jesus means. Certainly someone who lusts, can lust just as easily with his left eye as he can with his right; someone who steals with his right hand can also steal with his left. Certainly it was Jesus above all taught who sin emanates from the heart and mind. We don't blame our tongues or our hands or our eyes.

The key comes in understanding that in Jesus day (and even in our own!), the right eye and the right hand were extremely valuable. The right eye is the predominant eye, and for most people, the right hand was the more dominant hand of the two. You could not function nearly as well--perhaps not at all--without the use of your right eye and right hand.

Jesus was speaking figuratively here, pointing out that we should be willing to part with whatever was necessary to keep ourselves (or another) from sinning-no matter how much pain or grief or suffering that might bring us. Nothing is so valuable in this world, that we would prefer it, or him or her, over the kingdom of God (give up our most treasured possession to keep us from evil).

We should give up our job if the work environment is causing us to stumble. We should give up our friendship with those who are being a sinful influence; if you find that in your home the TV is being too great of an influence, you should hide the remote for a couple-nights a week and have an evening where your family plays games or reads together (if you don't think that this is a drastic measure, just try to keep your kids from Sponge-Bob or your teens from their favorite sit-coms).

So clearly, the point of this passage is this: Great care must be shown for all of God's little ones. Even as a mother and father are protective and caring about the health and welfare of their own children, so our Lord is protective and caring for us. He wants us to be free from the harm ad danger of sin. Christ died for us to set us free from sin, and that's just the way our Father wants us to remain-free from the power and presence of sin!

3) The Great Esteem in which they are Held (vv. 10-14).

Finally, and very briefly, we look at the parable which Jesus tells in vv. 10-14. Here we see the Great Esteem in which these little children are held. Jesus begins with another warning-a warning for any who would scorn or despise one of God's children (be they small children or grown-ups).

No one was allowed to look down upon God's children and treat them as inferior, or fail to give them proper care or respect. They are to be shown special consideration. Why? Because their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven, Jesus says.

Now some have taken this to mean that to every child God has assigned a guardian angel. But since we've already debunked the theory that this passage was only about little kids, the individual guardian angel theory fails to hold water as well. The truth is, Jesus is speaking about the angels in a collective sense. As Hebrews 1:14 teaches, angels are ministering spirits sent out by God to render service to those who will inherit salvation. As a matter of fact, all of us as God's people are served by God's angels.

The passage is warning to all that they better think twice before they would despise, persecute, scorn or deal unjustly with God's children, for God will dispatch those very same ministering spirits which are about His throne to come to our aid. That is how highly our Lord values us (also a possible reference to the final judgment, when God's angels will do the reaping, the angels will cut down the harvest and separate the tares from the wheat-woe to the tares!).

Then Christ tells a parable to emphasize just how much our Lord loves us. A certain shepherd who owns 100 sheep suddenly realizes that one of them has wandered off and went astray. What does he do? Does he say to himself, O, who cares, one lost out of ninety-nine isn't bad? OR One sheep isn't worth the headache of going after? OR That sheep is probably dead by now? OR If that sheep wasn't smart enough to follow, then it's not worth having anyway?

No. The faithful shepherd loves that one sheep. And it wouldn't make any difference if that one sheep was the runt of the litter or that it wasn't the prize champion of the flock. The shepherd esteems them all dearly and equally. He is not willing to lose any! Beloved, that is how highly our Lord esteems us His people, His children.

The Bible is not lying when it tells us that God loves us. The Bible is not lying when it states that God so loved us that He sent His Son to die on the cross to save us from our sins. The Bible isn't lying when it tells us that God purchased us for Himself with the precious blood of His own Son-blood that is more valuable than gold or silver tried by fire!

God loves us and cares for us and esteems us very highly. He would see that nothing evil befalls us, that we do not lead each other into sin, nor allow ourselves to be tempted by others or by this world. He would see to it that we would take whatever drastic measure was necessary to escape the presence and influence of sin.

And God would so desire that if and when one of His sheep goes astray, that we would do everything in our power as friends, as fellow Christians, as elders, to go after that sheep, to go after that son, that daughter that mother that father, and find them, and bring them back to the fold, and rejoice before God and heaven that the one that was lost is now found.

Beloved, this passage challenges us to rethink what it means to be a child of God; it challenges us to rethink what greatness means in the kingdom of God. It calls us to believe and trust more and more in the Lord Jesus Christ. For, we can never be a child of God's Kingdom, unless we first embrace Jesus Christ with childlike faith, trust, and obedience.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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