What a privilege and what a joy it is to study the book of Matthew together. And tonight I want to take you to one of the great chapters in this tremendous Gospel, chapter 18. The book of Matthew records many of Jesus’ sermons. Most notable are the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 through 7; the sermon we call The Olivet Discourse, a sermon on the second coming, recorded in chapters 24 and 25; and then there is a sermon that is made up of a series of parables about the kingdom in chapter 13. There is a marvelous sermon about discipleship in chapter 10. There is a great sermon against false religious leaders in chapter 23.
But right here in chapter 18 is the first sermon in all the New Testament directed specifically at the church. Here is the first instruction to the church. It is the second chapter in which the word church is mention. The first one is chapter 16 where Jesus said, “I will build My church.” But here comes the first instruction to the church. This is a foundational chapter for life in the church, for life among the people of God. And it is built around a marvelous image, a marvelous picture.
In verse 1 of chapter 18 we read, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who then is greats in the kingdom of Heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them.” Now let’s stop there and we’ll have the setting. The disciples seemingly were always arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom. When the Messiah brought in His earthly kingdom and when He took over the rulership of the world and reestablished His throne in Jerusalem from which He would reign as King of kings, they wanted to know what would happen to them. How highly would they be exalted? In fact, it was not uncommon for the disciples to debate among themselves about which of them would have the privilege, perhaps, of sitting on the right and the left hand of Jesus. And they were in the midst of such a very proud and self-centered discussion about who was going to be the greats in the kingdom, thinking that such greatness would be achieved by some personal attainments that they might well accomplish in their life.
Jesus is prepared to answer their question. And to answer it, He takes into His arms a baby. Now some Bible commentators believe that He may well have been in the very home of the apostle Peter and that perhaps this baby was even related to the apostle Peter. We don’t know that for sure. But Jesus, there in this particular place with His disciples takes a baby – no doubt a baby that belonged to someone in that home or part of their extended family – and lifts that baby into His own arms, and that baby then becomes a living illustration. The focus of the disciples is on that baby. Normally when a rabbi sat down to talk, he didn’t have a baby in his arms. That could be very distracting. We just experienced that. Somebody in that section had a baby in their arms and couldn’t listen with that baby making noise and kindly stepped out of the auditorium. Can you imagine me up here trying to teach you or preach to you with one of my grandchildren in my arms? I would have to be endeavoring to make a severe case out of their presence or else I would interrupt my whole process, and that’s what Jesus was doing. He took a baby into His arms for the very purpose of using that baby as an illustration of the answer to their very important question. What happens here then is a sermon. And we could title the sermon, “The Childlikeness of the Believer” – the childlikeness of the believer. And the sermon runs from verse 3, right to the very end of the chapter, verse 35. It is one long sermon on the childlikeness of the believer.
First of all, what Jesus is saying in answer to the question is, “You are all children.” You are all infants. And when you start talking about who is the greatest, you have to begin with the understanding that all of you are like little babies. And little babies have no record of achievement. Little babies have no record of accomplishment. They cannot pull out their educational credentials. They cannot pull out the list of things that they have achieved in the community or in society or in their career. They cannot pull out the long history of social action that they have engaged in or religious operations or ministries. They have nothing. And Jesus is simply saying to them, “You are all babies, and frankly, there is nothing which you have achieved, nothing which you have attained that could cause you to be considered the greatest in the kingdom.” And there He begins the sermon with the baby in His arms. This is the childlikeness of the believer. In fact, the apostle Mark – the writer Mark, I should say – basically parallels this text and says that Jesus embraced that little baby. And there, that little baby in the embrace of Jesus, becomes a living illustration of every believer. We all know that in the Bible we are called children of God. The Bible speaks of us as having been born again into the family of God as His children, and that is indeed the image here.
Now Jesus in this sermon, like any good preacher, makes several important points. First point: We all enter as children. We all enter as children. Notice what He says in verse 3, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The answer is that greatness is connected to humiliation. And nobody enters into the kingdom to begin with unless they are humbled unless they come to the recognition that they have nothing by way of achievement, they have nothing by way of accomplishment that they can offer to God as the basis on which He should accept them into His kingdom. They are utterly helpless, all of us as sinners. They are utterly dependent. They have nothing to comment themselves. They come in that attitude we saw in the Beatitudes, that attitude of meekness, of poverty of spirit, that attitude of hungering and thirsting and being totally dependent, of knowing that you lack what you desperately need and cannot yourself attain it. It’s a beautiful illustration.
In all the world of created living beings, only human babies cannot go to their mother. Little fish can swim to their parents. Little animals that walk about in the forest, including the deer and the rabbit and whatever else, can walk to their mother. The little birds eventually can fly there. But babies remain helpless for well-nigh a year. And unless someone goes to them, they die. They have no resources and no recourse. And that’s how you come into the kingdom, recognizing you have nothing to commend yourself, recognizing you are utterly and absolutely helpless. You cast yourself on the mercy of God. You cast yourself on the care of God, who alone can sustain your life. That is how you come into the kingdom. You come as humble as a child with no credentials, no achievement, and no ability, no power, no resources to help himself or herself.
And when you come into the kingdom on those terms, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So greatness in the kingdom belongs to all of us, really. You remember that on another occasion Jesus said that the least in My kingdom is greater than the greatest in the Old Testament economy, namely John the Baptist. “He was the greatest man who ever lived,” Jesus said, “but anyone in My kingdom is greater than he.” And greatness is a function of humility when you come to the end of yourself and you realize in your poverty of spirit and your unrighteousness and your moral bankruptcy and your sin, that you cast yourself on the mercy of God and the grace of God alone. Therein lies your childlikeness. So we all enter the kingdom as children. Verse 4 says it as clearly as it can be said. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child.” No credentials, no power, no resources, no achievement, no ability to help himself. You come in as dependent, helpless, hopeless children.
Second point: Those who are in the kingdom have to be cared for as children. Because the truth of the matter is, we really never get beyond our childhood. As long as we are in this life, we are still like children and we need to be cared for as a child. Notice verses 5 and 6. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” That’s the positive side of it. What is this talking about? Is it talking about receiving a baby? Is this a passage about little babies physically? Not at all. It’s not talking about receiving a baby. It says there, “Whoever receives one such child.” He’s talking about a specific child. What child? The one He just mentioned. The one who humbles himself in order to ender the kingdom. It is a spiritual child here. He’s talking about the birth of a spiritual child, not a physical child. Very often, you hear this text preached as if it referred to babies in the physical realm. It does not. It refers to believers in the spiritual realm. And He says, “Whoever receives one such child,” literally, “on the ground of My name receives Me.” What He is saying is that in the community of believers, in the family of God, where all the children of God exist together, in the church, we are to receive each other as if we were receiving Jesus Christ. The word receive implies to open your arms and to enfold, to embrace, to take in. It implies meeting needs, caring for, nurturing, cherishing, strengthening, instructing, just as you would a child.
When a little child comes into your home, you receive that child. You nourish that child. You care for that child. You dress that child. You take care of the physical needs of that child and then you begin to teach and instruct and nurture in the admonition of the Lord, endeavoring to grow that little child into an understanding of the saving power of Jesus Christ and bring that child to salvation. When that happens, you nurture them in the sanctifying process towards spiritual maturity until the day when they’re made like Christ, in the glory to come. You receive that little child. We think lowly, we think despicably of a parent who rejects a child. Every once in a while we hear on the news or reading the paper about a baby left in dumpster somewhere or dropped on a step or dropped in a gutter or left in an alley, and we are grieved inside. And it is incomprehensible to us that some parent could thus treat a child. It is that same kind of imagery here. Our Lord is saying, “When one little one is born into the family, you need through your arms open and embrace that little child with the intent to nurture and strengthen and build up.” What this is talking about is Christian love and Christian fellowship and Christian communion and Christian intimacy. In the process of using our spiritual gifts and ministering the one anothers to each other so that we can see spiritual growth occur. We do everything for the sake of the growth and the strengthening of that new child that’s come into the family. “And when you receive that little child,” Jesus says, “you are receiving Me.”
You remember that later on when Jesus speaks in that Olivet Discourse and talks about His second coming, in the judgment of the sheep and the goal, He indicts those who refused to care for Him? And He says, you know, “When I was naked, you didn’t clothe Me. And when I was hungry, you didn’t feed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me nothing to drink. And when I was in prison, you didn’t visit Me.” And they all reply and say, “When did we ever do that to You, Lord?” And He says, “Whatever you have done to the least of these little ones who believe in Me, you’ve done to Me.” So how you treat another Christian is exactly how you treat Christ, and God takes account of that. In the family of God, we are all children and we need to receive each other as children and open our arms and embrace one another, for righteous purposes.
The negative side of this care is given in the most dramatic statement of verse 6, an unforgettable picture here. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me” – again, He’s not talking about physical babies here. He’s talking about those who believe in Christ. And babies can’t believe. He’s talking about spiritual babies, spiritual children. And all of us fit into that category who are in His family. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe Me to stumble” – what does that mean? To fall into sin – “it is better” – or it is to his advantage – “for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” What a statement.
To a Jew, the most frightening way to die was by drowning. The Jews had a number of means of execution, drowning was not one of them. The pagan nations used to drown people as a form of execution. They would take a great millstone – you remember that a millstone generally would have a hole in the center by which it could be turned in a mill. They would take that millstone, tie a rope through the millstone, tie a rope around the neck, and they would take the person out into the sea and throw the millstone over, and the person would follow the millstone to the very bottom and die the horrible death of drowning, an unthinkable death in the mind of a Jew. And Jesus is saying you would be better off if a millstone were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the bottom of the sea, there to suffocate and drown, than ever to cause another believer to sin. Boy, that is a strong word. You’d be better off to die a horrible death.
This is such a serious thing. Why? Because how you treat that other believer is how you treat Christ. You’d be better off dead than to treat Christ in a sinful way. What’s He talking about? Well, He’s talking about leading another believer into sin. You’re saying, “How can we do that?” Well, a number of ways. First of all, by directly tempting them to sin you can do that. You can do that in your own home. A husband and a wife, both Christians, and one leads the other to cheat on income tax or to lie in some application for finance. Or you can do it in an office where you, as a Christian, are responsible for a part of that business and you lead employees, also Christians, into some fraudulent kind of conduct. Young men, you can do that with a Christian girl when you take her out on a date and you take advantage of her, and to one degree or another, you entice or seduce her into sin. Young ladies, you can do the same thing with the young man. In any way that you’d directly solicit someone to sin, you have caused them to stumble, and you would be, frankly, better off drowned.
Not only directly can you be guilty of this, but also indirectly. You can indirectly solicit someone to sin. Oh, it can happen a number of ways. I often think about in a marriage relationship where a husband knows very well what sets his wife off. We all know the hot buttons. We know the phrases. One of them is usually, “You’re just like your” – fill in the blank – “mother.” That’s a great one to get the hot button going. We all know what it is that exasperates our spouse. There are times when, in our own anger or hostility, we say those kinds of things knowing full well that it’ll solicit anger. And while the spouse is responsible for his or her own anger, yet we have been part of the scheme, part of the solicitation.
You can indirectly lead someone into sin by setting a sinful example, by engaging yourself in some kind of conduct and someone sees you do that, follows you in that conduct into sin. You can do it by leading a weaker brother to violate conscience and thus bring reproach upon himself and thus stumble. There are so many ways in which you can lead another person to sin. “You’d be better off dead,” Jesus said. Better off dead. These are precious children to Him, children for whom He died. And it was planned for them from the foundation of the world that these children would be made into the image of Jesus Christ; children, then, for whom the Father planned holiness and Christ-likeness; children whom the Father loves with a perfect love. John 13:1, “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto perfection.” You better be careful how you treat other Christians.
So we enter as children. We care for one another as children. And the third point that I’ve just given you, we protect each other as children. Notice what He says in verse 7, following up the same point, “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks.” We expect the world to cause people to stumble. We expect the system of Satan, the cosmos, the orchestrated evil world system that Satan is behind, we expect that system to tempt Christians. We expect that from television and radio and books and magazines and films. We expect that just from the whole general world view of the ungodly culture around us. We expect that. And verse 7 says, “Woe to the world,” because of that. The culpability of the world is enlarged. It is heightened. It is intensified because of what they do to solicit evil from Christians.
Someday ungodly people are going to stand before the throne of God and they are going to be judged for their own sin. And they’re going to be judge for their sinful solicitation of God’s children which pulled those children into iniquity. Every person who produces a film, which when Christians see and are drawn into evil, will have to stand in judgment for having solicited God’s own precious children to sin. “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks.” Every musician who made a piece of music that was seductive and drew a child of God into sin will stand accountable before the throne of God in eternity, at the time of judgment, for that solicitation of evil which they were used by the satanic system to produce. Woe to the world because of it. Part of eternal judgment is going to be the judgment for those iniquities in which they led believers into sin. The day of reckoning will come. Pornographers, those who teach lies and error, cheats, liars, thieves, criminals of all sorts, who solicited God’s people into sin, will pay the price eternally.
And then in verse 7, He’s still speaking of the same issue. Follows up by saying, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come.” We understand that. This is a fallen world. It is inevitable that there are going to be those things that are going to cause us to stumble as we endeavor to walk the path of righteousness. But woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes. There is culpability. There is guilt and there is judgment. And there is punishment to pay for causing believers to sin. We expect it from the world. Jesus’ point is we don’t expect it from other believers. Don’t you ever lead another believer into sin, either directly or indirectly. Don’t you ever exasperate your wife or your children. Don’t your ever be a bad example so that you literally lead someone into an iniquity because they follow the path you are on. Don’t you ever solicit sin from another believer. You would be better off dead. We expect it from the world. We don’t expect it from God’s family.
In fact, this is so serious, verse 8 says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you. It’s better for you to enter life crippled or lame than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It’s better for you to enter life with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into the fiery hell.” This is quite an interesting statement. Apparently a somewhat common statement, Jesus uses this as an illustration on a number of occasions recorded in different places in the Gospels. What it is simply saying is that you have to deal with sinful tendencies drastically. If your hand or your food causes you to stumble, chop them off. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, because it’s better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to be cast into eternal fire whole.
These were obviously commonly expressed statements at that time that simply indicate that we must deal with sin drastically. And He’s speaking here, at this point, to unbelievers, first of all, and saying if you are causing Christians to sin, you better deal dramatically and drastically with whatever it is that you are doing to cause them to sin. You better deal with it, because if you don’t deal with it, you may find yourself in eternal hell. And certainly the implication of this same concept comes to us as believers and says we have to deal with sin equally in a drastic fashion. He’s not literally saying, “Chop your hand off.” If you’re a thief at heart, you’ll figure out another way to do it. You’ll get good with a hook. He’s not saying, “Chop your feet off.” If you’re a robber, you’ll figure out how to use skates. He’s not literally saying, “Pluck your eye out.” You’ll sin just as capably with one eye as two. What He is saying in this hyperbole is you have to deal with whatever it is that solicits sin and deal with it dramatically.
This passage is one of the most dramatic in all of the New Testament. You’d be better of drowned with a millstone around your neck. Chop your hand off. Chop your foot off. Gouge your eye out. Very serious language, and it’s all about making sure you never do anything to lead another Christian into sin, directly or indirectly or by setting a bad example or by expressing a freedom that you have that causes a weaker brother to stumble. Live your life so that at no point and no time will you ever be the cause of someone else stumbling into sin. You want to be the greatest in the kingdom. We all come in like children. Greatness in the kingdom is all about caring for one another and opening our arms and receiving one another with a righteous intention. Being the greatest in the kingdom is protecting one another and doing everything in our power to make sure that none of us stumbles into sin.
You can identify with this as a parent, surely. Whatever it is that we do in our lives, as we focus on the little ones that God gives us, we are intent on their care and their nurture and their protection. Raising little children, keeping them away from anything that harms them, anything that injures them, anything that could do any damage to them, that’s just normal love. You see it from a mother and a father and a sister and a brother and the grandparents, and everybody in the family is committed to that. And that’s the picture that Jesus has here as He holds this little baby in His arms. So the childlikeness of the believer. We enter the kingdom as children. We are cared for as children. We are protected as children.
Fourthly, and this is extremely important, we are to be respect, respected as a child. I love this. Verse 10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” It is unthinkable that you would show favoritism in a family, isn’t it? It is unthinkable that if you were to have a child born into your family that was a little bit different, perhaps disabled in some way or retarded in some way, somehow deformed, that you would treat that child with disdain. When I see Christian parents to whom the Lord gives a little disabled child or Down syndrome baby or a baby with some kind of disability, I generally see a greater outpouring of love in that direction than maybe in the others, to sort of make up the lack in the world. Because the world will mistreat that little one, parents very often embrace them with greater tenderness, and we understand that. And that is what Jesus is saying, “Do not despise one of these little ones.” The Greek word means to look down, to think down, to belittle.
I have seen that so much. We had for a long time in our church, a little handicapped fellow named Rodney. And Rodney and I became very good friends. And he would always come up and talk to me and put his head on my chest and tell me he loved me, and we just had a great relationship. And I challenged him to try to learn the Scriptures. And he was in the handicapped ministry and he was doing well and he began to memorize verses, and it was wonderful. And he sat me down – I remember one Sunday – on the steps, and he says, “Sit down.” Right after I preached, he said, “Sit down.” So I sat right there, and he said, “Listen,” and recited the twenty-third Psalm word perfect. And it was so wonderful to see the Lord working in his heart.
And then one day the leaders from that ministry came to me and said, “Rodney wants to be baptized.” And I said, “Well, do you think he understands the gospel?” And they said that he understands the gospel clearly. He understands it as well as he will ever understand it. He has a Bible. I bought him a Bible in the bookstore even though he couldn’t read. And when I preached he followed the numbers, because he could identify the numbers. When I’d say verse 9, he’d look at verse 9. And they said, “We believe that he knows the Lord, and there’s evidence of it in his life.” So we brought him in to be baptized on a Sunday evening just like tonight. And I’ll never forget it. When he came into the baptismal water, there I was and he smiled at me.
And I said to him – just wanting to let everybody hear from him that he knew the Lord – I said, “Rodney, who is Jesus Christ?” I’ll never forget what he said. He looked at me and wrinkled his nose and said, “You mean you don’t even know that?” He thought I was asking for information sake. And he went on to give a wonderful testimony.
It was a few months after that that he came to me on a Sunday night, and he had tears in his eyes. And he said to me, “John, I did a very bad thing. I did a bag thing.” I said, “What’d you do, Rodney?” He said, “I drank beer.” I said, “You drank beer?” He said, “Yeah, I drank beer. And you know what?” He said, “I couldn’t think, and I didn’t know what I was doing.” I said, “Rodney, why would you do that?” He said, “My brother made me do that.” He said, “My brother held me and poured it down my throat.” And he went on to describe a rather tragic scene. We expect that from the ungodly world, don’t we? We don’t expect that from the church, not even toward the least of the little ones who belong to Him.
“See that you do not look down on” – or depreciate or think little – “of these little ones” – why? Verse 10, “I say to you that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” What does that mean? That means you better be careful how you treat even the least Christian, the frailest, the most infantile, because their angels, that is those angels assigned to the care of believers in heaven, are continual beholding the face of the Father. What does that mean? That when the Father shows concern about His children, those angels see that concern and share it. In other words, when His least children are mistreated, belittled, despised, heaven is grieved. God is grieved. And the angels whose task it is to care for the saints are grieved. And it may well indicate as well that God dispatches those angels to care for that little one because of His great love toward them, and so we are to respect one another as children.
We are also to retrieve one another as children. Have you noticed that children tend to wander? I did as a youth. One of my pastimes was running away. My poor parents chased me. One time my dad found me – I had run blocks and blocks away. And I had decided that I want to do what I saw the policemen do one time, go to the middle of the intersection and direct the traffic. And so I was standing in the intersection directing traffic and I stopped my father. My parents spent many hours of my young life looking for me. It is a tendency for children to wander away. It may be out of rebellion. It may be purely out of curiosity. With me, there was just this great big wide world that needed to be discovered by me. Children tend to wander.
Verse 12, “What do you think? If a 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.” No shepherd worth anything would say, “Well, yeah, one of those sheep wandered away but I’m not going to bother to go get that sheep.” How would it be in your home if one night when you were gathered around the table somebody said, “Where’s Jimmy?” And the father replied, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s always running away. Let him go.” Unthinkable, inconceivable. There would be an immediate movement away from the table and everybody would try to figure out just exactly where he might be, and the search would be on. We don’t let those precious little ones just go. We go and retrieve them. That’s how it is in the church. We care for each other. We protect each other from sin. We respect each other no matter who, and we retrieve those who wander. And there’s more joy when you get one and get him back than over the ones who never left.
I remember some years ago when I came back from some meetings and came to the church, and I was immediately informed that a cult leader from the east coast, from Baltimore, had come out here with the design of picking off a trophy from our church and taking it back as one stolen from the congregation here at Grace Church. He happened to be able to latch onto a young man who was unstable in those days and convince him of his error in being here in the church, convinced him that he ought to pack up everything and go back there and become a part of this cult. And I got home and I said, “Well, we can’t just let him go,” and the chase was on. And I remember it so vividly. Behind locked fences, we went into this apartment, knocked on the door. The guy was shocked. There was even a chase across a park. There was movement in the car. We finally got this false teacher, took him out into the Valley on the far end and put him a vacant lot and left him there. And he supposedly was dependent upon this young man for transportation all the way back to the east coast. And we took that young man and we put him in a group of Christians where we kept him for a number of days, and a couple of weeks I think in the end, until we could restore him and get his strength back and kind of deprogram him and get him thinking straight. And God has honored and blessed that, and he’s still a part of our church congregation and a very blessed one at that.
And that’s how it is in the family. You just go after the wayward children. You don’t let them go. You bring them back.
We entered as children. We’re care for as children, protected as children, respected as children, retrieved as children. We are also disciplined as children. You see, in verse 15, it says, “If your brother sins go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother.” If you know a fellow Christian is in sin, you go to him. And if he acknowledges that sin, you’ve gained your brother. I have a vivid memory of an occasion like that in our church. There have been many, but one comes to mind. A lady called me and she said, “You’ll never believe it. My husband’s run off with another woman. She’s a young woman and he’s gone to live with her.” I couldn’t believe it. I absolutely couldn’t believe it, because I knew them so well. And I said, “Well, what’s her name?” And she gave me the name because she knew it, and I got out the phone book and I looked up the phone number of this woman. She told me she lived in the Valley here. I looked up her phone number and I called the number, and he answered the phone, which is not smart. If you’re going do that, you shouldn’t answer the phone, I guess. But he did.
And I said, “Hello, this is John at the church. I just heard about the situation. What are you doing?” I’ll never forget the response – the shock. He must have been so shocked. All he said on the other end of the line was, “Uhh. Uhh,” just a guttural kind of groan. And I said, “I’m just telling you in the name of Jesus Christ and because I love you and because we care about you, do not dishonor Christ. Get out of that place and go back home.” Within about an hour his wife called me and said, “You’ll never believe it. He’s home.” I said, “I believe it.” He was pretty shocked. The following Sunday at church, over in the patio there, he saw me and he came up to me and didn’t say a word. He had tears in his eyes. He put his arms around my neck and gave me a hug and said in my ear, “I didn’t want to be there. Thank you for letting God use you to save me from that.” And I gained my brethren. Through all the years, every time I look at that man and he looks at me, we know something that nobody knows but the two of us and his wife. And it doesn’t need to be known by anybody. We gained a brotherhood at a depth of relationship that is very unique.
When you know a person is in sin, you go to rescue them from that sin and its consequence. If they don’t listen, verse 16 says, “Take one or two more with you that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and at tax collector,” that is an outsider and an unbeliever. Children have to be disciplined. You go after them. You call them back from sin. If they don’t respond, two or three go and call them back. If they don’t respond, you tell the whole church. The whole church calls them back. If they don’t respond, you have to treat them as an outsider. You said, “Boy, that’s hard to do.” Not if you love each other. It’s not hard for me to discipline my children. It never was hard to discipline my children, because I love them, because I wanted them to conform to holiness and righteousness so that they could know the blessing and the peace and the joy that comes to an obedient Christian. It was never hard to do that. It was always a joy to do that.
You can’t just sit back and say, “I don’t want to meddle in somebody else’s life. It’s really not my problem.” If you love them, you can’t say that, because you want to protect them from the consequence of their iniquity, and you want to make sure that they enjoy the fullness of the blessing of God’s provision for an obedient Christian. And by the way, verse 18 says, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth, shall have been loosed in heaven.” The point being that when you go to someone in sin and they confess their sin and you say, “Because of your confession, you’re loose from your sin,” you’re only saying on earth what heaven has already said. And when someone won’t repent and you say, “You’re bound in your sin because you won’t repent,” you’re only saying on earth what Heaven has already said. So don’t think it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s just bringing heaven to earth. We pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Well, that’s how to do it. Heaven is affirming the sin and the repentance of believers in the church, and we ought to be doing the very same thing. When you confront someone and they don’t repent, you can say, “You’re bound in your sin,” and heaven will be in agreement. When they do, you can say, “You’re loose from your sin,” and you’ll just be doing the work of heaven on earth. What a high privilege.
And furthermore, verse 19 says, “Again, I say to you that if two agree” – that’s the two or three witnesses – “on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who’s in heaven.” Know this, that God will be right there, and as you ask for God to lead you and guide you through this process, He’ll be there. And not only that, verse 20, Jesus said, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst.” So you are doing on earth the work of heaven. God is empowering it and Christ is present. What a tremendous thing. What an unbelievably rich passage this is. We enter like children. We’re cared for as children, protected as children, respect as children, retrieved as children, and disciplined as children.
And there’s one last point. As Jesus concludes this sermon, and it’s such a wonderful one, we are to be forgiven as children. Awfully hard to hold a grudge against your kids, isn’t it? Hard to hold a grudge against those that you love so much. There’s so much room for forgiveness where real love exists in a family, and certainly it should in the family of God. Peter’s pretty wise, been around a while, pretty savvy. Verse 21, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord” – he interrupts the sermon – “how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?”
Peter thought he was being magnanimous, because the rabbi said three. So Peter doubled it and add one and thought the Lord would pat him on the back, because Peter knew something. He knew what was going to happen. You’re going to see somebody in sin. You’re going to confront them. They’re going to repent. And then they’re going to do it again. And then they’re going to be confronted. And then they’re going to repent. And then they’re going to do it again. And that’s going to go on. And Peter simply knows, because that’s how Peter does. How many times did the Lord have to rebuke him?
And so he says, “How many times do I forgive?” And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” What does He mean? Endlessly – endlessly. Just keep forgiving every times there’s genuine repentance. We raise our children in an environment of discipline, but we also raise them in an environment of forgiveness. Don’t we? Just forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and forgiving. They start out from the very beginning with their iniquities, their small little disobediences, and they go through life and those things become compounded and sometimes even heinous. And we, through all those years of development are filled both with a desire to discipline and a longing to forgive, and those run concurrently. And that’s how it is in the family of God. We cannot be so caught up in this holiness and this virtue and this discipline that our hearts are hard toward one another. There must be room for continual forgiveness.
And then to make the point indelibly in the minds of all of us, Jesus tells a final parable. Verse 23, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents.” And by the way, that is an unpayable sum. I mean, that is just a massive sum that could never be paid back. “And since he didn’t have the means to repay,” verse 25, “his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children, and all that he had and repayment to be made.” He couldn’t get all of it back, but he said, I’ll get everything I can out of the guy. Sell him, sell his whole family at whatever price they bring, I’ll get what I can. “The slave,” verse 26, “falling down, prostrated himself before him saying, ‘Have patience with me and I’ll repay you everything.’” Here’s a broken man. Here’s a contrite man. He falls on his face and he says, “Please, please. I’ll do anything. I’ll do anything. Please don’t do this. Just be patient and I’ll do everything to repay you.” I like this heart. I like this attitude. Even though he couldn’t pay back the full debt, he was willing to make an effort. Verse 27, “The lord” – or the king – “of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” Wow. Just forgave it based upon his brokenness, based upon his penitence.
What is that picture? That king is God, and that slave is you and me. And there was a day when God called us to an accounting and we knew we couldn’t pay. We had wasted our substance, as it were, in riotous living like a prodigal son. We had wasted our gospel privilege, as the puritans used to call it. We had embezzled the privileges and the riches that God had placed at our disposal, and now we were bankrupt before God.
We could never repay Him for all the offenses. We could never repay Him for all this waste. We had no resources at all. We stood before Him bankrupt. We fell on our face, prostrated ourselves, and pleaded for mercy. And He forgave us everything. That’s salvation.
Verse 28, “But that slave” – who was just forgiven an unpayable debt – “went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii” – that’s about three month’s work, three month’s wages – “seized him, began to choke him, saying ‘Pay back what you owe.’” He goes and finds somebody who owes him three month’s wages and starts to choke the man. “‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I’ll repay you.’” The slave gives him the same speech he had given the king. “He was unwilling, however, and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.” And what would happen in the debtors’ prison would be he would earn a pittance a day and it would take you years to accumulate enough to pay it back. You say, what an ungrateful man. That’s right.
Verse 31, “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved. They came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave. I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me’ – or asked me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave even as I had mercy on you.’ And his Lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall my heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.’” There’s so much in this. I just want to say one thing, because we don’t have time to develop it. It is unthinkable that God would forgive you an unpayable debt simply because you asked and you would be unwilling to forgive someone else. It is unthinkable that God, who has been most offended, would forgive you those offenses, and you, who have been least offended, would not forgive an offense against you. And if you will not forgive, believe me, God will chasten you.
Here is a monumental chapter on life in the church. We are all the greatest in the kingdom in one sense, because we are all a part of that kingdom. We came in as children. We are to care for one another as children, protect one another as children, respect one another as you would the most precious children. We are to retrieve one another when we wander astray. We are to discipline one another when we sin. And we are to forgive one another with the same grace and the same mercy and the same generosity with which God has forgiven us. The childlikeness of the believer, that is life in the church. It’s not a fight for the top seat. It’s a fight for the bottom seat. It’s not a race to see who can get to the top of the victor’s platform. It’s a struggle for humility. Even Jesus came not to be ministered, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many. Servanthood – humility is the mark of greatness. The greatest are the humblest. Let’s bow in prayer.
Our Father, we thank You for this tremendous chapter, for its instructiveness to us as we live in Your family in the church. We thank You that we are Your children, a part of Your family. May we discharge these duties and responsibilities with great joy. May we never do anything to cause another Christian to stumble. May we be careful never to think little, to think down, to belittle any believer no matter how weak, unskilled, or minimally gifted. May we never just let someone go but always rush to bring them back. May we confront sin. And may our hearts be filled with unending forgiveness, and then we will be the people that You want us to be. We will be what You want us to be, and Your kingdom will manifest itself in truth. To that end we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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