The Gospels in 40 days Matthew 18

Matthew 18

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven: Jesus attitude toward little children ( word παιδίον, paidion, refers to a child from birth to seven years) was very unusual for his culture. There are several occasions where he surprises his disciples with words like these. What is it about children that Jesus sees as essential to “entering the Kingdom of Heaven?”? Here he is pretty clear- the child humbles himself. So at least one ideal is humility. Are all children humble- no – but when they are, study their humility and see if you gain more understanding of what Jesus means. We humble ourselves when we accept instruction, direction, correction, encouragement, help and strength from Jesus, and when we will do lowly tasks as well as tasks more suited to our amazing talents.

It gets really serious here, so I’m going to say a little bit more than normal. I don’t want anyone in despair because they take Jesus’ wrath out of context.

Jesus adds a dire warning about his fierce protection of these “little ones who believe in him.” This fierceness makes it all the more amazing that Jesus so readily forgives sin.

 And he goes further to describe how seriously he takes all sin when he says you’d be better off cutting off any part of you that causes sin than committing the sin you are tempted to do. Now be careful here: your hand doesn’t cause you to sin, nor your eyes, not any other body part. The cause of lies in our soul – our mind, will and emotions. So don’t cut off your hand! But what shall we do about our human nature, when it is bent and corrupted? This is what bible calls our sinful nature or “the flesh”.

If you’ve hurt ‘a little one’, or anyone, God’s salvation is still offered to you. I know that repentance is a form of death: you may feel like that millstone has been hanging around your neck for decades, and you’ve been drowning in sorrow for what you did.

The cross is the answer to all of this: Jesus’/God’s wrath is against the things that harm his beloved humans, which includes you! Yet each of us is a ‘little one’ has been sinned against and at the same time we are people who have harmed another ‘little one’. The very ones he wants to save, are the very ones he ought to bring to justice. (Note: I just saw the Mr Rogers movie ‘Beautiful day in the neighbourhood, so there a song lyric in my head. “But the very same people who are good sometimes/ Are the very same people who are bad sometimes”!)

So Jesus, on the cross, accepts all the rebellion and anger and harm aimed at all humanity and Himself. He allows himself to die rather than retaliate against us. This means he is not against us but for us- we are forgiven. But that’s not the whole story. He requires us to surrender our sinful, selfish nature to him, so that it can be killed just as he was. Thank God, when we simply invite him to be Lord and Saviour, our sins and sin nature are thrown into the sea,(Micah 7:19)[1] with the millstone to weigh them down! In exchange he will give us a new nature- his own life in us –  and a new Spirit (the Holy Spirit) so that we will grow into this  glorious life of perfect love that he has been describing in his teachings and in his behaviour! The good news is not just forgiveness of sin, it is “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)

Back to the text: The Lost Sheep is a very familiar parable to Christians. See how this tale of love immediately follows the harsh warning? The sheep that wanders off represents all the people Jesus’ seeks, people who have wandered down selfish and dangerous paths of life, away from God. Jesus is happier to recover one lost person than we can imagine. If you haven’t already brought joy to Jesus in being found and returned to his ‘flock,’ then he is still seeking you, waiting for that joyful reunion.

If someone sins against you, you are to act like Jesus, going and trying to help them back into friendship. It will take change on their part, and good will on yours. Many people take this as a pattern for restoring Christians when they have broken fellowship with the church through destructive behaviour – starting privately so it’s not threatening, getting help from a few others if support is needed. Then the whole church tries to help by holding the wrongdoer to account. All along the way the effort is to restore the person. Finally if nothing has changed, we must conclude that the person is not a part of the church anymore. But remember how Jesus treated the ‘pagans and tax collectors’ as you read these lines. He loved them and worked to bring them to repentance, so that they could (re)join his family.

If I’ve taken too much of your time this chapter, I am sorry. The last parable is really quite simple – it has been summarized in the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”

[1]You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Mic 7:19).NIV  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.