************ Sermon on Matthew 18:08-09 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 9, 2018
"God's Radical Demand for Holiness"
Difficult Passages #20
I have served seven different churches. I have been responsible for the spiritual growth of hundreds of people. But when I look back I have to say nothing, absolutely nothing, was more important than the spiritual growth of my three sons. And, at this stage in my life, now nothing is more important than the spiritual growth of my grandchildren.
A Christian father is jealous for the spiritual growth of his children and grandchildren. A Christian father wants the next generation to be like Christ. A Christian father wants to care for those under him, to protect them from harm and danger.
In this life and in this world, we need to protect our children from those who want to lead them in the wrong direction. When they are little, we tell them not to talk to strangers. When they are older, we warn them about classmates who exert pressure to use drugs or alcohol or to adopt an attitude and a vocabulary that are not godly. When they think about college we steer them to professors who do not lead them away from the God of the Bible.
In this church we guard the spiritual welfare of our children, we strive to be a positive spiritual influence in their life, we lift them up and encourage them in their walk with God, we teach them the things of God and the Law of God. In this church we are like mama bears.
We have all seen the mama bear complex. Who here wants to stand between a mother and her children? But, the same thing is true for Christian fathers. Woe to the young man who hurts your daughter or makes her pregnant. Woe to the drug dealer who has led your young person into a life of addiction. Woe to the college professor who turns your child into an atheist.
God is like a father. God is jealous about His children. He is jealous like a father. He is jealous about their lives, their minds, their morals. He wants no one and no thing to damage them or hurt them or to lead them into sin. With this in mind, we see three points in our Scripture reading. First, we see a relationship. Second, we see a warning. Third, we see a solution.
I A Relationship
A The first thing we see in our Bible reading is a relationship. Jesus says,
(Mt 18:5) And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
Jesus mentions "a little child" in this verse. As Jesus is talking and teaching His disciples, He does have a little child in His arms. But the little child is an example, a symbol, an illustration. An illustration of what? Well, little children contribute nothing to their own well-being. Little children are takers, not givers. Little children bring nothing to the table. Everything needs to be given to them. Jesus says when it comes to entering the kingdom of heaven we are like little children. In other words, we are takers, not givers. We contribute nothing. It needs to be given to us. Or, to put it another way, it is all of grace.
So, who is the little child Jesus is holding and using as an example. The little child is any and every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The little child is any and every son or daughter of God. It is everyone who comes to Jesus in childlike faith and trust.
B "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me" (Mt 18:5). So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying God claims a relationship with His people. They are to Him like sons and daughters and grandchildren are to us. I love an expression used by the Old Testament to describe this relationship. Four times we see the phrase "apple of his eye" (Deut 32:10; Ps 17:8; Prov 7:2; Zech 2:8). God's people are the apple of His eye. One commentator says this means those who hurt Israel poke their finger in God's eye. The eye is exposed and vulnerable and so sensitive to dirt and pain and injury. Those who hurt God's people are poking God in the most sensitive area.
God is bound up with His people. We are one with Christ. This relationship, this principle, this union with God is taught throughout the gospels:
(Mt 10:40) He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.Do you hear the connection God claims to His people?
(Lk 10:16) "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me ..."
This reminds me of the Damascus Road, of what the Lord Jesus said to Saul when he was persecuting the church:
(Acts 9:4) [Saul] fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"In persecuting the church, Saul was persecuting Jesus. I repeat, God claims a relationship with His people. A union in Christ and with Christ. God is bound up with His people. We are one with Christ.
C Our God is jealous about this relationship. He is like a mama bear. To a mama bear, it makes no difference how lowly the child is, how humble, how intelligent, how sophisticated, how big, how powerful, how poor. Mama bears leap to the defense of their kids. Likewise, God holds His children as precious to Him. What you do to His child is what you do to God. How you treat Christians is how you treat Him. How you treat God's people is how you treat Christ Jesus.
This principle is taught and emphasized in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. Remember the conclusion?
(Mt 25:35-36) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'When we do this for God's people, we do this for God.
We are to care for every Christian as one who belongs to Jesus. We are to care for every Christian as one who is personally joined to Jesus. We are to protect them and love them and receive them and welcome them.
How you treat God's people is how you treat Christ Jesus. What an important principle! What an important truth!
II A Warning
A This brings us to our second point: a warning that God is like a mama bear. Hear what is said in verses 6-7 of our Bible reading:
(Mt 18:6-7) But 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. (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!
Who is Jesus warning? Jesus warns "anyone." Anyone who causes someone to sin. Anyone who causes someone to stumble. Anyone. Jesus warns them whether they are in or out of the church. Whether they are a believer or an unbeliever. Whether they are saved or unsaved. Whether they are elect or reprobate.
B What we have in this warning is the exact opposite of what we have in verse 5. In verse 5 we are told to welcome, to receive, to care for, to love, to accept, to welcome. In verses 6-7 we are warned about causing someone to stumble, to fall, to sin.
Jesus wants us to know it is terrible, awful, horrifying to cause someone to stumble, to fall, to sin. How terrible is it? "Woe," says Jesus. "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."
At the time of Jesus they crushed grain with a millstone to make flour. Literally in the Greek, the word is mule stone or donkey stone. This is no little stone. This is a stone that was pulled by a mule or an ox. It was massive, huge, weighing tons. It was the stone that blind Samson was tied to when he was forced to grind grain.
Jesus says it is better, it is better, to have one of these huge, big donkey stones tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea to drown than to lead a believer astray. Imagine this: a big donkey stone tied around your neck, kerplunk you are thrown into the water, and you go down to the bottom like a rock. You die all alone, in terror and agony and pain. The Romans did this; the Jews did not. Jews didn't drown people for any kind of crime; to them it was a horrible, unimaginable method of execution.
C Let's talk about the how. How can believers be caused to stumble and fall and sin? I see at least four different ways in Scripture.
The first way: believers stumble and fall and sin when they are tempted to do what is wrong. Eve was that way with Adam. Potiphar's wife was that way with Joseph. Jeroboam was that way when he tempted the nation of Israel into the sin of idolatry with the golden calf.
The second way: believers stumble and fall and sin by being provoked. In any relationship you can drive a person to sin by your lack of sensitivity, by your lack of care, by your lack of concern, by your abuse of power. I want to especially talk here about the sin of parents with their children. Some parents are overprotective. They hover over their kids so much that they never develop their own personality. The kids, as a result, become angry and resentful and bitter and rebellious. Parents can cause their kids to sin by showing favoritism. Parents can cause their children to sin by pushing them too much. Parents can cause their kids to sin by never allowing them to make mistakes, by expecting some kind of perfection. Parents can cause their kids to sin by neglect or physical abuse.
The third way: believers stumble and fall and sin by having a sinful example. What kind of example do you set for other believers when they rarely see you in worship or reading the Bible? What kind of example do you set if you abuse alcohol or drugs? What kind of example do you set if you fail to be involved in the life of the church and kingdom? What kind of example do you set if you fail to support the church financially? Don't forget, Christians live in glass houses and people are watching us.
The fourth way: believers stumble and fall and sin by false teaching. Entire sections of the New Testament are devoted to this. Paul and Peter and the other apostles warn again and again about false teachers.
III A Solution
A This brings us to our third point: a solution. What do we do, what can we do, so we don't lead others to stumble and fall and sin? What do we do, what can we do, to prevent ourselves from being worthy of getting a mule stone? Here we come to our problem text for the day:
(Mt 18:8-9) If 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. (9) And 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.Jesus uses almost the same language in Matthew 5 where He talks of lust and adultery (Mt 5:27-30).
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? He is saying, "Whatever it takes to deal with sin in your life, do it!" It is better than what? It is better than entering hell. Better to live your life maimed than to go to hell forever. Now, Jesus is not literally telling His audience to chop off their limbs. Jesus is not suggesting that we maim our bodies, for harming our physical bodies can never change the spiritual condition of our hearts. Rather, He is instructing us to perform "spiritual surgery" on ourselves, removing anything that causes us to stumble or that causes others to stumble. What He is saying is take drastic measures with your sin or you go to hell. Sin is serious so do something about it.
B You need to look in a certain direction when you do this. You can't be looking at others. You need to be looking at yourself. To paraphrase what Paul said to the Ephesians elders: "Keep watch over yourself" (Acts 20:28). Jesus mentions eyes, hands, and feet. Be careful what you see. Guard your hands and your feet. Take drastic measures.
The solution is so simple and so basic: get rid of whatever causes you to sin; take drastic action; don't flirt with danger; rather, get rid of it.
I hope you see it is our calling to build up others, not to tear them down. We are called to be a stepping-stone, not a stumbling block. Therefore, anything that makes me stumble must be removed from my life, for if it is not, I cause others to stumble.
Every Christian is one with Christ so when you welcome a Christian, you welcome Christ. Woe, to you then, if you cause a Christian to sin.
The solution is to deal with sin in your life. If you are an unbeliever, Jesus is calling you to repent and believe, Jesus is calling you to come to Him with sorrow for sin, Jesus is calling you to be washed in His blood. If you are a believer, Jesus is calling you to sanctification, conversion, the new life; because, don't forget, everyone who is washed cleaned by Jesus is called to live a pure and holy life.
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