1. Receive the little ones (verse 5).
... because receiving them is receiving Jesus.
2. Don’t cause the little ones to stumble (verses 6-9).
... because the consequences are great.
3. Don’t despise the little ones (verses 10-11).
... because God has a heart for them.
In our exposition of the gospel of Matthew, we have arrived in chapter 18, which begins with the disciples asking Jesus a question: "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" If you were here last week, you will remember that Jesus set a child in front of all those listening as an object lesson. He said that you need to do two things to be great in the kingdom: 1. You need to get in (verses 2-3). 2. You need to get down (verse 4). You get in by becoming like a child: helpless, unconcerned, eager to obey, believing, trusting, and dependent. You get down by humbling yourself, like a child: by not thinking of high and lofty thoughts for yourself, by not having great ambitions for yourself, and by gladly receiving a low position in life.
In our text this morning, Jesus will continue to take the imagery of the child set before them and speak of our attitudes toward them. Notice how many times Jesus refers to children in the next few verses. In verse 5, Jesus speaks about, "one such child." In verse 6, Jesus speaks about "one of these little ones." In verse 10, Jesus speaks about "one of these little ones." In verse 14, Jesus speaks about "one of these little ones."
When dealing with this passage, the largest question that looms is the identity of "these little one." To whom does Jesus refer? Is He talking about a real, physical, little child? Or, is He talking about an adult Christian, who has become humble like this little child? I consulted about 15 different commentaries, and almost all of the commentaries take these references to refer to the child-like believer in Christ (i.e. to Christians). They all go back to verse 6 and say that these children are "the little ones who believe in Me." They also speak about verse 5 and say that the "one such child" describes the Christian who has become, "like one such child." As I went along that track of thinking, I really struggled to make sense of this passage. It didn’t seem quite so natural. Here was Jesus, placing this child before His disciples and talking about "one of these little ones." It seems most natural for Jesus to be addressing children at this point.
Also, the commentaries often spoke about Jesus referring to a weak believer or a young believer who can easily be led into sin. They spoke as if being child-like is being weak. They spoke as if being humble made you vulnerable to certain dangers and temptations. But, the child-like, humble believer is the strongest of Christians. Isn’t that the core of what Jesus was saying? If you want to become great in the kingdom, enter like a child and humble yourself like a child! Bunyan wrote, "He that is down need fear no fall." The danger of stumbling and falling isn't a great danger for the humble, lowly-minded, child-like believer. So, I don’t think that this is referring primarily to a weak believer.
I believe that the natural interpretation of this passage is to understand Jesus to be talking primarily about children. Now, I don’t think that Jesus is talking about infant children. But, He is talking about little children, who are old enough to hear about Jesus and "believe in Him," however small their understanding to be. Last week, I spoke about one of the characteristics of children is that they are "trusting." When they hear their parents say something, they believe what is being said. Jesus is talking about the child who is believing Jesus. Their understanding might not be great, but what they understand, they believe. I remember speaking with my oldest daughter when she was three or four years old. I said, "Carissa, do you believe in Jesus?" She said, "Yeah, a little." That's a perfect response. She didn't know much, but what she knew, she embraced and believed. I believe that we have many children in our midst, who believe in Jesus with a child-like faith, and are coming to learn more and more about Him every day. If you walk into our children’s church this morning, where we have 12-15 young children, and would ask them, "who believes in Jesus?" My guess is that all of them would say that they believe. I tried something similar at our dinner table last night where we had some children visiting us. We had a 9-year old, a 7-year old, a 5-year old, and a 4-year old at the table with us. I asked each of them individually, "Do you believe in Jesus?" All said "Yes!" They are all young, willing, impressionable children.
I believe that this is the type of child that Jesus is speaking about in this section of Scripture before us. He’s talking about church kids who have grown up hearing about Jesus from the time they could walk, and know nothing else, other than believing in Him. He’s talking about those who are still children, and therefore they are vulnerable. Now, this isn’t to say that there aren't some allusions to adult Christians in this passage. I’m not denying that it does. After all, Jesus said that to enter the kingdom, you need to be like a child. Every Christian exhibits characteristics of being child-like (verse 3). So, many things that are true of children are true of Christians as well. So, that parallel is there, and I don’t want to deny it. But, it must be true for the actual case (i.e. children) to apply to the analogy (i.e. all Christians, adults included). I believe that this passage is primarily focused upon little children who profess a belief in Christ, with a spillover to Christians, rather than the other way around.
My message is entitled, "Little ones." I want to address you this morning about the little children in our midst. My first point this morning is simply this, ...
Jesus said, "whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me" (verse 5). For us, this might appear to be a bit strange. For the most part, our society is a very child-centered society. Our taxes go to support the education of children. Our children have an abundance of opportunity to be involved in all types of activities: Children can play baseball or soccer or football. Children can learn karate or ballet or gymnastics. Children can learn any musical instrument or sing in a choir. I often speak with parents who are overwhelmed with the number of activities that involve their children. Churches often focus much of their efforts upon children, as they know that a good children’s program will attract people to come to their church. So, we are a very child-centered society.
We gladly offer opportunities for children. But things were a bit different in the times of Jesus. In chapter 19, we will see the disciples attempt to discourage those who would bring children to Jesus for him to lay hands on and pray (Matt. 19:13). But Jesus rebuked his disciples and said, "do not hinder them from coming to Me" (Matt. 19:14). Rather than looking down upon such children, Jesus told His disciples to receive them, welcome them, and embrace them. As Jesus looked with favor upon children, He elevated their importance in the minds of His disciples. He said, "whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me" (verse 5). In other words, the way in which you treat these children is the way that you treat Jesus, Himself. If you receive these children, you are receiving Jesus. If you reject these children, you are rejecting Jesus. If you harm these children, you are harming Jesus. If you love these children, you are loving Jesus.
There is an interconnectedness between Jesus and these children. Jesus not only cares for these children, but He also is concerned for how you treat them. In fact, the way in which you treat them is a very, real expression of how you are treating Jesus, Himself. God has a heart for those who are helpless, who are in great need, and who can’t help themselves. Got hates it when the helpless in this life are exploited. God loves it when we care for them, nourish them, and cherish them. Jesus said that when you receive children in His name, which is in the name of Christian love, you are receiving Jesus.
You ought not to back away from this connectedness. The prophet Zechariah encouraged the people of Israel, who were in danger of being plundered by foreign nations. Zechariah said, "he who touches you, touches the apple of [the LORD’s] eye" (Zechariah 2:8). If you harm God’s people, you harm God, Himself. Perhaps you will recall when Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute other Christians. "Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’" To persecute the church is to persecute Jesus. To receive one of these little children is to receive Jesus. When we get to Matthew 25, we will get a glimpse of the judgment scene. In that day, Jesus will look upon how you treated those who were helpless: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. He will consider your treatment of them to be your treatment of Him! Listen to His words, "Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Matt. 25:40). The way in which you treat those who are helpless is the way in which you treat Jesus Christ, Himself. "Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me" (verse 5). This is true of these children. But it also spills over to all the disciples and Christians. Jesus instructed His disciples in Matthew 10, saying that when they would go out and preach the nearness of the kingdom, "He who receives you receives Me" (Matt. 10:40). This verse applies not only to the children in our midst, but it also applies to any contact that you have with another believer in Christ. And so, the rubber meets the road in a very clear way.
How are you treating those at Rock Valley Bible Church? In a very real sense, you can imagine that Jesus is all around us. Look out at those here among us. And when you do, you ought to think about each of those whom you see, as Jesus Christ, Himself. Do you look around and see a child? The child is to be treated like you would treat Jesus. Do you look around and see a fellow believer? The believer is to be treated like you would treat Jesus. And here, the application to this verse simply explodes! How are you treating Jesus? When you greet someone before (or after) the service, are you interested in how Jesus is doing? Are you interested in how you can help Jesus? Or are you more interested in telling Jesus all about yourself and the great things that you have done this week? Perhaps after the service, you leave quickly. You need to realize that you are leaving Jesus behind. I consider our time after church to be of great importance. It is there that we fellowship together, discover each others needs, and have the opportunity to express love to Christ. It gears you up for the coming week, that you might have interaction with those in the church during the week.
And so I ask you, during the week, how is your interaction with God’s people? It is your love for your brother or sister in Christ that demonstrates your love for Jesus. Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). We had a great illustration of this yesterday when about ten of us men showed up to help another man in this church repair his woodshed. It was a genuine labor of love. We moved a lot of wood and spent a considerable time fixing the shed. Such love provided an opportunity for this man to speak with his neighbor about why so many people would come and help him on Saturday morning. By loving our friend, we have demonstrated the love of Christ.
How are you doing? Is your love evident for the people of God? Do you receive them and welcome them and help them? If you do, know that you are receiving Jesus, Himself. If you aren’t, you are turning your back on God.
We should receive the little ones. Why? Because receiving them is receiving Jesus. Let’s turn our attention, now to my second point this morning, ...
Look at verse 6, "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea."
This is one of the most sobering verses in all of the Bible. It speaks of devastating consequences of leading others into sin. Children are very vulnerable and can be led into sin in many ways. My thoughts turn initially to you parents. Your opportunities to do good for your children is limitless. Likewise, your opportunities to do evil to your children is limitless. You can lead your children in the path of righteousness in many ways. You can read the Bible to your children. You can teach the Bible to your children. You can discipline your children in the way of godliness. You can read good Christian books to your children. You can teach them how to discern the good and the evil by talking of God’s word when you lie down, and when you rise up, and when you walk by the way (Deut. 6). You can teach them how it is good to work hard. You can teach them the evils of laziness. You can model a life of godliness in your home before your children, teaching them to have some time alone with the Lord. You can teach them the love the Bible, and lead them in family worship in the home. You can set an example of trusting the Lord in times of adversity.
You can also lead your children in the path of the wicked.
a) You can teach them how to covet the things of the world, by being worldly minded yourself. Just let your children see you go into a store and make an impulse purchase. Just let your children hear you talk about all of the things that you wish that you had. They will learn from your example and will covet the things of the world.
b) You can teach them to love the ways of the world by exposing them to ungodly things without due warnings. Let them listen to radio station of their own choosing. Let them watch the television show that they want to watch. Let them read the magazines that they want to read. Let them go to the places that they want to go. Let them associate with the friends that they like. Let them attend a school where God is openly blasphemed. Certainly, your children are in the world, and they need to learn how to deal with the world. But you need to teach them how to do so. This happens slowly, and by degrees, and by talking with them about the world and their experiences. If your child is being exposed to these things, you need to be talking to them about the dangers of their television shows or their magazines or their friends or their school. It may very well get to the point where you ought to ban something from your house, lest you be guilty of placing a stumbling block in front of your children. Ban this friend. Ban this radio station. Ban this magazine. They are causing your children to stumble, and by neglecting your role of teaching them how to deal with these things, you are actually putting a stumbling block in their way.
c) You can provoke your children to anger (Eph. 6:4). This is easy to do. Be angry yourself with your children. The Proverbs say, "Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself" (Prov. 22:24, 25). You will provoke your children to anger by being angry yourself.
d) You can exasperate your children (Col. 3:21) and cause them to lose hope. This is easy to do as well. Always express disappointment with your children. Say things like, "You’re not good enough." "Why don’t you do better in school?" "Why aren’t you like your older sister?" This will exasperate your children.
There are many other ways that this can be done as well. You can abuse your children at home. You can crush your children by what you say to them. You can destroy your children by physically harming your children. You can scar your children for life by sexually abusing them. As you are doing these things, you are actually placing "stumbling blocks" in front of them. You are attempting to cause them to fall down. You are making their love for Jesus more difficult, because you are placing temptation in their way.
It is a sad thing to see, but I have seen Christian families, who attend good churches, place stumbling blocks in the ways of their children. Oh, these parents wouldn’t think of missing church. They wouldn’t think of not bringing their children to church. But, they are causing their children to stumble. I have seen Christian families, who loved watching movies at home. They were discerning enough to say that the children couldn’t watch these movies, because of their content. But, they failed to realize that they were teaching their children to have a longing for the day in which they could watch those movies. And when they have reached that day, these movies have led them astray into adopting the attitudes of the world! They have caused their own children to stumble. (Let me simply say that if you are watching something that isn’t good for your children, why are you watching it? Personally, I won’t watch, see, listen, or read anything, that I wouldn’t be willing to do right with my children. "Hey, dad, what are you watching?" "Hey, dad, what are you reading?" "Hey, dad, what are you listening to?" I want to be able to say to them, "come here and watch with me.")
I have seen other Christian families, who were immersed in materialism. They have loved the bigger boats and the bigger houses and the faster cars and latest in electronic gadgets. They have loved the latest fashions. They have loved the latest styles. They have loved the luxuries of life, and they have taught their children to do the same. Their children go from toy to toy to toy, never quite satisfied with what they have. Their children dress in the latest fashion to fit in with everybody. Pretty soon, the world begins to influence them for the worse. Pretty soon, they want nothing to do with Christ. The world is far too attractive for them. These parents have caused their own children to stumble.
I have shuttered this week to think of what awaits these parents, who knew better. Jesus said, in verse 6, "it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea." The millstone that Jesus is speaking about here is the millstone that is driven by animals. It’s a huge stone. It’s a bit like that big, stone statue of a Lion that graces our entryway into this building. The original Greek text of this verse refers to the stone as, "the stone for the donkey." These stones were often four or five feet in diameter and were so big that they needed an animal to turn them, so as to grind the wheat. Sometimes they were shaped like a cone. Sometimes they were shaped like a wheel. They all had a hole in the middle, to give ability to roll the stone. Jesus told us to imagine that you stick your head through the hole in the stone and wear it much like a necklace. Then, imagine that you were taken in a boat to the middle of the sea and pushed overboard. Such a large stone would take you straight to the bottom of the sea. You would drown and have no hope of recovery. It’s pretty gruesome and terrible. But that is the point. When you are the source of leading into sin a vulnerable, impressionable, little child, who believes in Jesus, you should bring to mind this terrible picture of being drowned by this big stone tied around your neck in the middle of the sea. But it is worse than that. You are to imagine this fate as better than what will actually happen to you. Jesus said that the millstone option is "better" than what will take place. I leave it to your imagination what could possibly be worse than this.
The point is this: if you cause them to stumble, you will suffer (verses 6-9). This is true of parents. But it isn’t simply restricted to parents alone. This is also true of anyone who would put a stumbling block in front of a child who believes in Jesus. This is true of those in the church. This is true of those outside the church. Jesus said, "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble" (verse 6). In verse 7, Jesus acknowledged that these stumbling blocks can come from all over. He said, "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (verse 7).
I think of the countless children who have grown up in church believing what the church has taught about Jesus, but have fallen away from the faith. Many, many reasons could be given both from within the church and from outside the church as to why this takes place. In every case, the exact details are a bit different. I thought of a few ...
a) Hypocrisy in the church. I have spoken to many people who have grown up in church, but have left the church, because they saw the hypocrisy that was taking place in the church. Their thoughts were, "I don't want to be a hypocrite also!" As children, they were over to a friend’s house, whose family attended the same church. They saw the way that the father spoke to his family. They saw how he spent his time. Then, they happened to see this same man in public, engaging in obvious sin. Yet, on Sunday morning, this man sang in the choir at church with an angelic face, and he was numbered among the deacons. The child can quickly reason, "If that is what church is all about, I don’t want to have anything to do with it!"
b) Sin in the church. A pastor falls into sexual immorality and the effects are devastating. Relationships are ruined. Churches are split. Everything that the pastor had preached was proved to be ineffectual in his own battle against sin. Others in the church, who looked so real and so pious, turn their backs on Christ and live for the world. Even if the pastor is repentant, it still doesn't repair the tremendous damage that has been done. When parents in the church divorce one another, the sin that the children experience is devastating to them. When children see sin in the church, they easily stumble into sin as well.
c) Influence of friends. This might be an older child in the church, who introduces another child to on-line pornography. This might be a fellow high-school student, who introduces another child to alcohol. Their friends have caused them to stumble.
d) Worldly advertisements. Many advertisements focus their attention upon young people. They attempt to persuade them to purchase their particular product. In so doing, they appeal to whatever they can. If sex appeal works, they will appeal. If peer pressure works, they will pressure. If materialism works, they will use it. If deception works, they will lie. Simple advertisements can cause children to stumble, as they pursue what they shouldn’t pursue.
e) College professors. There are many college professors who would like nothing more than to persuade your child away from his or her Christian roots. I can't tell you the number of people who I knew in college, who were faithful church attendees until they reached college; then they began to drift. I remember being in college and being ridiculed for my faith in Christ. I remember a time in which one college professor made explicit attempts to prove to me, as the lone Christian, how man evolved from the apes. He placed a series of skulls in front of me, which were supposedly to prove that one species evolved into the next into the next.
There will always be those precious, vulnerable, helpless children who will be led to stumble by others, whether in the church or in the world. Jesus says, "woe to them." When Jesus says, "Woe," it means that it will be bad for them. God has always had a heart for the helpless. James tells us that "pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God ... [is] to visit orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27). When you read the law, you get a similar feel. God established His nation, Israel, under the pretense that those in authority ought to do everything that they can to protect and provide for those who are defenseless. If they didn’t, God Himself will avenge the wrong. Listen to Exodus 22:22-24, "You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless." And when children, who believe in Jesus, are abused or led into sin, God sees it, and God will avenge those causing others to stumble. God says, "vengeance is mine and I will repay" (Romans 12:19).
Sin is a serious thing. God takes it seriously. You ought to as well. You ought to teach your children to take it seriously as well. In verses 8 and 9, Jesus makes a special effort to describe how serious sin is and how you ought to take serious action to root it from your life. Jesus said, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell" (verses 8-9). I’m not sure how much stronger you can say it than Jesus does. He said, "If there is sin in your life, take radical action to root it out." If cutting off you hand will solve your sin problem, then cut it off. If chopping off your foot will solve your problem, then chop it off. If gouging out your eye will solve your problem, then gouge it out.
About a year ago, I read the story of an avid climber, named Aron Ralston, who was out climbing mountains in Utah. This really was nothing new for him, as he had already climbed 49 of the Colorado's 54 peaks that exceed an altitude of 14,000-feet. Last April (2003) on a Friday evening, he drove his truck to the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead, in southeastern Utah. He slept that night in the back of his truck and headed out early in the morning for a 15 mile bike ride to find a spot to climb a few mountains. On this particular day, he was out canyoneering (using rock-climbing equipment to climb through slot canyons). At one point, he was in a canyon that was 100 feet tall, but only three feet wide. As he walking through this canyon, he came upon a ten-foot drop between two ledges. In attempting to climb down the drop, an 800-pound boulder shifted above him and pinned his right arm in the canyon. He later would tell his father, "I identified four options. One was that someone would come along the trail and find me. A second is that I'd be able to chip away at that rock and relieve my hand. A third that I might be able to mechanically rig up with ropes and equipment - I had something to move the rock. And the fourth option, if all else failed, would be I might have to sever the arm." By Tuesday, his friends had called the police, as he hadn’t shown up for work. A search party was sent out to find him. But, it was practically impossible to find him, deep inside the skinny canyon. By Tuesday, his water was gone. On Thursday, he decided he had no choice but to use his pocketknife to amputate his arm just below the right elbow. He applied a tourniquet and administered first aid before he rappelled 60 feet down the canyon wall to the floor, where he began walking to safety. Terry Mercer, the helicopter pilot who helped rescue Ralston says when he landed the helicopter he saw Ralston walking strong. He had walked six miles seeking help. Mercer says Ralston was "extremely calm. In fact, his fist words were, ‘I'm Aron, are you looking for me? He said, ‘I've amputated my arm, could you take me to the hospital?’ He was just straightforward, not emotional. Not excited, just very straight forward. And he was incredible."  It’s an incredible story about a man who took radical actions to live. He cut off his right arm to save his life.
Jesus is saying the same thing here in our text. Your battle with sin is a matter of life and death. Your sin can carry you right on into "the eternal fire ... [of] hell" (verses 8-9) if you don't take steps to avoid it. You need to take radical action to keep yourself on the course. Cut off your hand, chop off your feet, gouge out your eye. If you struggle with purity on the internet, drop your internet service. It is far better to enter heaven without the internet than it is to enjoy the internet here on earth, but find yourself in hell forever. If you love your particular magazine subscription too much, cancel your subscription. If you love your computer game too much, delete it from your computer. If your love for fishing exceeds your love for Christ, sell your boat. If your greed has heaped upon you a massive credit card debt, cut up your credit cards. If you have some friends who are putting stumbling blocks in your way, attempting to make you sin, leave your friends. If you waste too much time watching television, drop your cable service. Several years ago, my father was out roto-tilling his garden. As he was doing so, he accidentally clipped the television cable. Since then, they have found life to be wonderfully freeing without the television. Perhaps it might do you good to get off the couch, put down your remote, and do some gardening. When you make something very difficult to do, it will often help you abstain from doing it! Sadly, there are many who fail to take such steps, and it will cause them to end up in hell.
Let me show you a pair of my shoes. Perhaps you can guess what I use them for, as they are covered with grass stains. I have been using them to mow my law for several years now. Recently, they have begun to develop a problem. The sole of the shoe is falling apart. It hasn’t been this bad, until recently. This past Tuesday, after work, I was out mowing my lawn using these shoes. They worked just fine, except when I had to walk backwards. On a few occasions, the sole of my shoe caught the ground and threw me a little off balance. In fact, Yvonne was mowing the lawn a few weeks ago and almost fell to the ground. This can be dangerous, especially when you are mowing the lawn. Now, let me ask you, if my shoe causes me to stumble, putting me into danger, what should I do? I should throw them away, which is exactly what I am going to do. "If your shoe causes you to stumble, throw it away!" For some of you, there may be sin in your life that is tripping you up. If it is in your control, get rid of it! Throw it from you. If you find yourself working in a place where the talk in the shop leads you to sin, perhaps you should quit your job! It is a serious matter. You ought to be teaching this to your children. As a church, we ought to teach our little ones to deal drastically with their sin. The primary source of our sin comes from within ourselves. We need to teach and demonstrate how to discern and resist temptation.
Don't let your little ones get away with disobedience, anger, lying, selfishness, hatred, disrespect, laziness, pride, love of money, or love of the world. Do what God has told you to do. In love, use the rod to drive the foolishness away from them. In love, get them to deal with their heart! Help them to see the seriousness of their sin. Seek to get them to cut these things off from their life willingly.
Perhaps one of the best books that I have found in this area is Tedd Tripp's book, entitled, "Shepherding a Child's Heart." The title alone is redeeming. Our task as parents (and as a church) is to shepherd the hearts of our children. We want to cultivate in them an attitude that will see God in purity. I remember hearing Tedd Tripp speak in a conference on time to illustrate his main point (i.e. of shepherding the heart). He gave the example of two children battling over a toy. He said that many parents will seek justice at this point by asking, "Who had the toy first?" When you deal with things on this level, you are teaching your children that the important thing is to have the toys first. Tripp went on to tell how a child learned this very well and awoke early one morning and took all of the toys out of the toy box and brought them to his corner of the room, so that he could have the toy "first." The way to deal with the heart when children are battling with a toy is to ask each of them what the loving thing to do is. This will get to the heart. In fact, in our parenting, we are attempting to saturate our children with the question, "What is the loving thing to do?" It gets to the heart, where we want to reach.
So, the admonition comes, "Don't cause the little ones to stumble." Why? Because the consequences are great.
With verse 10, Jesus returns His discussion of the little ones. This brings us to our third and final point this morning, ...
Don't despise the little ones because God has a heart for them. This comes straight from the text. Look at verse 10, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven." From this verse, many have derived the idea that each of us have a guardian angel. Jesus said that these are "their angels" (that is "the angels of the little ones").
It’s pretty difficult to take this verse and conclude we all have a guardian angel. First of all, these angels aren’t looking over the little ones, they are "beholding the face of [God] ... in heaven" (verse 10). They aren’t watching over your life. They are watching God, waiting and ready to be dispatched "to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). I don’t believe that this verse speaks so much about angels as it does about God. Here is God, with angels surrounding His throne. When God gives orders to dispatch some of them, they immediately leave His presence and accomplish His task. I’m sure that when they finish, the return again to "behold His face" (verse 10).
The point of verse 10 is this: "don’t despise one of these little ones who believe in Me, because My Father in heaven has a tremendous care for them. He has a squadron of angels, who are prepared to be sent according to His will on behalf of these little ones. So, don’t despise these little ones. They aren’t to be viewed as second-class citizens. They are to be viewed as precious in the sight of God."
I believe that this is the similar thrust of verses 12-14 as well (which we will dive into deeper next week),
"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not [the] will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." (Matt. 18:12-14)
The picture we see here is of a shepherd going and pursing a lost sheep and then rejoicing when the lost sheep is found. So also does God rejoice when a straying sheep is returned to the fold. Because God has a heart for the little ones.
A great truth comes in verse 11, in which Jesus speaks the good news. It comes in verse 11, "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." (Some of the older manuscripts don't have this verse in this location in Matthew. Yet, it is true, as it is found in Luke 19:10).
This is what Jesus has done. He has come to seek and to save the lost. He has come into this earth do die for those who would belived in him. Perhaps this morning, you have been convicted of how little your effort has been to cut sin from you and to keep others from stumbling over you. Know that the solution to that is to look to Christ, who came to seek and to save the lost. Perhaps this morning, you might say, "I'm lost. I'm not trusting Christ." Well, then, I command you this morning to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him. That is why He has come. He has come for those who have admitted themselves to be sinful. He has come for the child-like. He has come to convert people (verse 3). I encourage you to see and look and plead with the Son of God who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
June 6, 2004 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.