Matthew 18

lost-sheep-2.jpgGreetings!

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus’ disciples were very human – just like us.  They didn’t understand his real mission and were concerned with their own status and position. 

 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

 2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was not saying to think like children.  Christianity is a rational religion and we are taught to love God with our minds, to test things and to renew our minds.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, said, “Religion without reason is no religion at all.”

So what was Jesus saying?  The key phrase to me is “whoever humbles himself like this child . . .”  When Jesus said we need to become like children He meant that we needed that kind of humility. 

 5“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

When is the last time you heard a sermon with verse 6? 

 7“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Some skeptics like to point at verses 8-9 and the fact that we don’t cut out our eyes and cut off our hands.  Interestingly, critics of the Bible sometimes take verses far more literally than any fundamentalist preacher ever did.  Jesus was using hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration, of course.  But his broader point shouldn’t be missed: Sin is very serious, and Hell is real. 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

 10“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

 12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Shepherds were on the lowest rung of society in that culture, yet they would still look after their sheep with care.  How much more so will God go looking for you.  There is a fancy church phrase called “prevenient grace,” which in short means that God is chasing you with his grace.  You just need to turn around. 

A Brother Who Sins Against You

When people sin against us we can handle it the Biblical way or our way.  Sadly, I usually choose my way – either overreacting or ignoring it.  Jesus lays out a model that works, but it takes effort.   

 15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 18“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 19“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

This is a powerful parable about forgiveness.  God will forgives us for our countless sins against a perfect and holy creator.  The “ten thousand talents” would have been the equivalent of millions of dollars – something the man could never repay (especially since he would be in jail).  The one hundred denarii was the equivalent of worker’s daily wages.  Will we forgive others for much lesser offenses?

 21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 23“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

 26“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

 28“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

 29“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

 30“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

 32“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

 35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

What passages stood out to you, and why?

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One Response

  1. “prevenient grace”….it is true that God wants us to know Him and believe in Him, it is true that we are lost without Him, it is true that He finds us and brings us to Himself. However, I have some difficulty with the whole concept of prevenient grace because it implies in a way that God’s grace is not ours until we seek it out. Or to go further, salvation is not ours until we make the first move to somehow accept it. This goes against every fiber of my being and everything I have grown to believe. Isn’t it true that Christ died for everyone and the gift is a free gift from Him with no strings attached? I know that we have free will and with that free will have the ability to reject this gift of salvation, even if it is damning. But the gift is already ours to enjoy and believe. We don’t have to obtain it somehow. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this NOT from yourselves, it is the gift of God – Not by works so that no one can boast.” I’m very conservative in my views and understand that the word ‘accept’ can be interchanged with ‘believe’, but for me ‘accepting’ puts more emphasis in my part of salvation as if I’ve done something to deserve it. By saying ‘believe’ it puts more emphasis on the giver, which is Christ, and the Holy Spirit who brought me to faith. God deserves all the glory because He is the one who has done everything for my salvation, in which my only part is being the recipient. Thinking in any way that I have a part in my own salvation, even getting technical by saying I “accepted” the gift, seems like a mockery of the grace given so freely to me by Christ. It indicates to me that I would need to “accept” it to validate it. I know what kind of a sinner I am and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to do anything to save myself because it would have been faulty. Who am I to validate God’s gift to me?

    To sum up what I’ve said, God the Father loved me so much that despite my sinfulness, He sent His one and only Son to save me because I was unable to save myself. God the Son loved me so much that He lived the life I was unable to live and died the death I deserved and raised to life so that I too could be raised to life some day. He also loved me so much that He sent the Holy Spirit to bring me to an understanding of His grace and mercy and His gift provided to me. God the Holy Spirit cares so much for me that He has given me the faith to believe in the Son who died for me and who was sent by the Father. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, I in my sinfulness, would not have the ability to believe or understand what has already been given to me by God. This gift is also for anyone who believes and doesn’t reject Him.

    Sorry for the sermon….I just know that for me, there is comfort in knowing that everything has been done for me and all I can and should do is praise God for His goodness and mercy to me and share this with others.

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