Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Passage: Matthew 18:1–18:20
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Matthew 18:1-20
Date: September 10th, 2017; Pentecost 14; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel reading from last Sunday, Jesus began to teach his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Jesus told his disciples about this sacrifice that he would make to redeem the world several times.
He wanted to prepare them for the suffering that was coming for all of them.
In fact, just a few verses before our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus tells them again, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:22-23).
If you were one of the disciples - how would you react to this news?
I would have some questions.
I would ask Jesus when this will happen.
I would ask him why he must suffer and die.
I would ask him what he means that he will be raised on the third day.
I think these are reasonable questions to ask.
What did the disciples ask instead?
They ask our Lord, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1).
Clearly they were still focused on the things of this world and not on the things of God.
Their main concern is what position they will have in the kingdom of heaven. They want to know what their rank will be.
But, as we heard, Jesus quickly defuses this kind of thinking. “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-3).
Jesus did not choose one of his disciples to be the greatest, but a child.
Here Jesus teaches us that the one who is humble and dependent on God like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom.
Jesus expands on his teaching about children, ”Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 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” (Matthew 18:5-6).
That is serious business.
The type of millstone that Jesus describes here needs a donkey to turn it and would weigh more than a ton. Obviously this was a stern warning from our Lord.
Jesus also said in our text, "So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).
God has always emphasized the importance of learning his Word and passing it on to the next generation.
In Deuteronomy chapter 6 we hear, "These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your 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.”
In Proverbs 22 we hear, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
In Matthew 28 we hear, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
We have been given the responsibility of passing on and teaching the little ones, the next generation, the faith.
This is a responsibility and it is a privilege.
It is a privilege to teach our children about the love, peace, and promise of eternal life that God has won for them in Christ.
It is a privilege to teach them that they are God’s redeemed children and that they can live freely according to his will.
It is a shame that at times we view this responsibility and privilege as a burden. Sometimes even as a bother.
It is interesting to see the way things have changed in terms of the hunger for God’s Word.
Consider how the early church, 2000 years ago, had to struggle and face persecution in order to gather in Christ’s name to receive his gifts and to spread the Good News.
Consider how so many people around the world today are persecuted, and even put to death, because they are Christians.
I have heard from many of our more senior members how central God was in the life of their family when they were growing up.
Bible readings and prayer would be part of every supper. Time was spent in devotion at bedtime.
Attending church was a given.
There was a hunger for God’s Word.
There was a strong desire and commitment to learn, teach, and pass on the Gospel, the Good News.
Has that hunger diminished?
There is so much other stuff going on in our lives that grabs our time and attention.
There are so many things that end up becoming a priority, while God is set aside.
We live in a time when many claim to be a Christian - but few attend church regularly, attend Bible Studies, practice regular devotions, spend time in prayer.
We live in a time when many Christians are unclear on what the Bible teaches.
We live in a time when many Christians do not strongly believe in what God has revealed in the Bible.
We live in a time when many Christians are unsure of their salvation.
When we look into the mirror of God’s Law, we too must confess that we are part of this problem.
We do not study God's Word as we should.
We have not confessed the faith to the next generation as we should.
We do not spend enough time in prayer.
For being led astray ourselves, for leading Christ's little ones astray – we repent.
We repent and turn to God fully dependent on his mercy.
Thanks be to God that Jesus invites us to become like little ones ourselves.
This is what he was getting at in our Gospel lesson.
He invites us to come to him in humility, with our sin, that we may receive his forgiveness.
Jesus does not let us drown with a millstone around our necks.
He reminds us to look at the cross and see that he has taken upon himself the punishment we deserve for our sin.
Our sins are forgiven - even the times when we have been neglectful of him, neglectful of our spiritual welfare, neglectful of the privilege of proclaiming the faith to others, including our children.
Jesus Christ is the one who suffered, died on the cross, and rose from the dead.
He takes from us all of our sin and in exchange gives us his righteousness.
His righteousness is greater than our sin.
His life is stronger than our death.
The salvation God has won for us is the greatest gift we could ever receive.
What an honour it is to teach and pass on to our children that this gift of salvation is also for them.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1).
The answer is - you are.
You are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven – not because of your own strength and doing – but because God has humbled you and he has given you the gift of a child-like faith that receives his love, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life.
How great are your works, O Lord! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.