Preacher: Pastor Ray
Text: Matt 18:1-6
Summary: Turn and become like a little child and do not despise other little ones, but instead, welcome and receive them.
Father, what a privilege that we can all gather as little ones. Before you, we have no titles. We’re just all children. We’re all little ones. We gather around you, Heavenly Father, as children. We gather around Jesus as Lord and Head of the Church. We pray that you would meet us. We want to encounter you. We humble ourselves before you and we pray that you would encounter us. We pray that you would speak. I give you this time. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
I want to start with a simple question. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? How about who is the greatest in this room? According to God, who is the greatest? The children. In fact, Jesus brings a child and the word means a young child no more than 7 years old. So who’s 7 or younger in this room? John and Leah.
So I can confidently say that Leah and John are the greatest in this room. They’re the greatest according to Jesus. They are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It’s sad that many churches can’t even preach this because the children are not even in the room. The children are somewhere else, in some other wing of the church. Jesus can’t even demonstrate this truth in many churches because the kids are not even present.
The one point for today is — the greatest in the kingdom is one who humbles himself/herself like a little child, and who does not despise the rest of God’s children, but instead receives and welcomes them. The greatest in the kingdom of God is somebody who humbles himself/herself before King Jesus, and is therefore able not to despise or reject or sin against the little ones, but instead, welcome and receive and care for God’s children.
This is a difficult text but it is so important because what Jesus says here is not optional. Learning and living out what Jesus is teaching us today is not optional because it says unless you turn and become like a little child you won’t even enter the kingdom. It’s that essential. We’re not talking about a special class of super mature Christ-like followers. We’re talking about basic entry into the kingdom. Somebody who turns and becomes a child — that is your ticket into the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest (Luke 22). Matt 18 sounds more harmless. But Luke 22 makes clear that they are arguing. Just imagine what kind of comments they are making about themselves and about the rest of the disciples in order to make the argument that I am the greatest. How much sin was committed in that conversation? I bet tons of sins were committed by the disciples because they’re arguing about who the greatest is and you can’t do that by just bragging about yourself. You also have to diminish other people. And they were sinning against God’s children.
I matters how we treat the little ones. Before I go to our identity as a little one, let me first talk about how we treat the little ones.
In our society, it’s almost from birth, we despise even our own children. And that’s something I am still repenting of to this day, that from birth we despise our own children. And Society is built, and even our churches are structured in a way that clearly children are despised.
We have a shared workspace at Wework and the fact that we bring our children there, we realized this month that we cannot be there anymore. The children are not welcome because there are adults in the room who are doing serious work. They got to run their business and they’re doing important work. Send the kids away. The kids are not welcome at Wework.
Even in our own homes, are the children welcome? Do we receive our own kids? Or do we send them away? The same way that when a Canaanite woman was crying out — have mercy on me, my daughter is oppressed by a demon. What did the disciples say? Send her away. She’s so loud. She’s so annoying. Send this crazy woman away. This Gentile, this “dog.” Just send her away.
These disciples were sinning against this woman. They didn’t see her as a little one that Jesus was going to welcome into the kingdom. And now the disciples a few chapters later, they are arguing about who is the greatest. And they are sinning left and right against their friends.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.
Then, it talks about Jesus leaving the 99 and going after the one lost sheep. How do we despise the little ones? It’s through our words and through our actions that we despise, we sin against the little ones. And Jesus is going after the lost sheep.
Why are they lost? It’s because Jesus’ fellow disciples sinned against the little ones. They despise the little ones, they sinned against and talked down to the little ones, they mistreated the little ones.
And Jesus is doing double duty. He saved them. Now he’s going back and He has to save them again because there are lost due to the way the disciples talked down to them and mistreated them.
When it says, do not “despise,” it means do not think less of the little ones, do not say they’re less important. And I’m speaking as a parent who, for the first chunk of my parenting, I despised the little ones. Not because I didn’t love them, not because I couldn’t stand their presence. It’s because I didn’t think highly enough of them that I would want to spend time with them. And instead, I sent them away. We sent them away to daycare. We sent them away to school. We sent them away to the youth program. I kept sending the boys away.
I have to keep repenting because even now on bad days while we’re homeschooling, there’s a part of me that says, just send them away. Just give me my own space. Just give me some time to myself. And I see that there’s a heart in me that just keeps wanting to send the little ones away. And Jesus says, no, let them come.
Why are you the obstacle who keeps the little ones from coming? Why do you keep sending them away? You think you are doing important business as an adult. You think your work is more important. Why do you keep sending the little ones away? That’s why even in many churches, we can’t even preach this sermon because we’re not even worshiping together because we’ve sent the little ones away.
And it says, you must turn and become a little one. Even before we can talk about the transformation that’s required personally and internally, let’s just talk about somebody who is safe enough to welcome the little ones. This whole chapter is all red letters. Meaning, Jesus is preaching a single sermon and it’s meant to be read in one sitting. It’s one message. And that’s why even the part about leaving the 99 to go after 1 lost sheep, we can know that the sheep became lost because this little one was sinned against and was despised. They were stumbled because of what somebody said or did to them. And Jesus is doing double duty. He’s going to save them again.
Then, the very next section about what we are to do when your brother sins against you. You are supposed to go to that person and say, brother, sister, you sinned against me. I have witnesses. And the hope is, if they have the Holy Spirit in them, then they are able to repent. They will be convicted of their sin. And they will ask for forgiveness. I didn’t know I sinned against you. Please forgive me. Then you will have gained your brother or sister.
But if they refuse to repent, you treat them like a tax collector or a Gentile. Meaning, you’re not rude to them. Meaning, you’re not de-friending them on Facebook. You’re not slamming the door on them. You’re just not seeing them the same way. They used to be a brother or a sister in Christ. They used to be someone I could trust and entrust myself to. I used to be able to share a prayer request with them. But now you’re just keeping a little bit of distance. You’re not fellowshipping with them the way you used to because you treat them as somebody who does not have the ability in them to recognize their sin and repent.
And then Peter asks in the next section, v21.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
See, this whole section is about us becoming like a child and welcoming the children. And if we make a mistake and we despise a child and sin against the child, our fellow brother or sister, we will recognize our fault. We will ask for forgiveness. And they on the receiving end of our sin have to keep forgiving us 77 times.
This is one sermon. And if you talk to many people who are struggling with their faith, they can recount the time, or maybe years, when some Christian leader or pastor or minister sinned against them. They will share story upon story of how church leaders stumbled them and just outright sinned against them. And that’s why they’re in the shape that they’re in.
And if that’s you, I just want to say sorry. I just want to say sorry to you. That is not who God is. God is not like that. Our God is so gracious. He’s so careful. He is restrained with His words. He holds back. He’s so patient with us. That is our God. And if you were sinned against and the person who sinned against you never said sorry to you, I hope today you can receive sorry from the Lord.
How can we up be a person who is so transformed that our words change and we are so careful not to sin through our words and through our actions because we’re caring for the little ones. We’re welcoming the little ones. What kind of transformation is needed? Jesus says, we must turn and become like a child, meaning, they’re moving in a certain direction, but it’s the wrong way. There are growing in a certain way, but they’re growing in the wrong way.
The disciples are walking with Jesus and they’re learning a lot of things about Jesus. They are witnessing these incredible miracles — demons being cast out, people being healed, and Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm. They are witnessing incredible things. But they’re getting puffed up. They are thinking to themselves — look at how powerful we can be as followers of Jesus. And that’s why they’re arguing. I am greater than you.
And they’re sinning against one another. They’re growing in head knowledge. They’re growing in their experiences and adding testimonies, but in terms of what comes out of their mouths, they’re saying to little ones such as the Canaanite woman — get away from here. They are saying this to a fellow disciple, a little one, a child of God. I’m better than you.
We despise the little ones. We do this because we’re growing in the wrong way. And Jesus says, we must turn and become a child. This turning is an about face. This is going in completely the opposite direction that you were going in before. We must be converted and show through our change that we are a little one.
Jesus says, we must humble ourselves. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Did you know that to humble yourself is a verb? You need to humble yourself. You need to bow the knee to King Jesus. That’s what it means to humble yourself.
Humility is grammatically a noun. Or when you say somebody is humble — that is an adjective. But how do you become humble? How are you known for humility? It’s somebody who regularly, instinctively, as a way of life, is humbling themselves before King Jesus. That’s what it means to become a little child.
And if you go back a chapter to Matt 17, there’s a section about Jesus healing a boy with a demon and the father is coming to Jesus.
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
I’m going to add a verse that shows up in some manuscripts. This verse shows up in Mark 9 and Luke 9.
21 But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.
Why does Jesus first talk to the man and say, you are a representative of a faithless and a twisted generation? Why does he say that? Because this man is bringing the situation to disciples of Jesus. And you think, what’s wrong with that? Why is that called faithless?
I think it reflects many people who deep down don’t really have faith in Jesus. But they attend church and they ask for all kinds of prayers. But when they’re faced with a mountain, they ask for prayers, but do they really believe that Jesus can do something about it? Do they really believe? Do they really put their faith in Jesus, or is it just a generic faith? I will bring this issue before my friends, my family, my church, they’re praying for me and that’s good enough. Jesus says to this man who brings the demon-possessed boy to the disciples of Jesus, He says of this man, you are representative of a faithless and a twisted generation because you don’t come to Me.
Then the disciples try to cast it out, but they can’t. And then there’s a little added verse in some manuscripts which shows up in Luke 9 and Mark 9, which says, this kind can only come out by prayer and fasting.
So is this talking about an extra strong demon that you need to prepare to cast out through much prayer and fasting? And Jesus because He happened to fast that day, He had the spiritual power to cast out this demon. Is that what this text is talking about? I think the reason why Jesus says, you have little faith and that’s why you couldn’t cast it out, it’s because His disciples actually did not come to Him.
The disciples did not actually come to Jesus. And they thought they could do it on their own. And that’s why Jesus says, your faith is so little. How little is it? You don’t even have a faith like a grain of mustard seed. It’s like a kernel of rice. It’s that small. And Jesus is saying, you don’t even have a faith that is the size of a grain.
The disciples have not learned that they need to humble themselves before Jesus. Just because they cast out a demon a previous time, just because Jesus gave them authority previously. This time, they thought based on what I’ve received in the past, I can do this on my own. And Jesus says, you have not learned. Your faith is still so small.
How do we build up our faith? It’s somebody who humbles himself before King Jesus. And you might think, well, faith — you either have it or you don’t. I believe in Jesus or I don’t. It’s binary. It’s like ones and zeros. Do I have it? I don’t have it.
Faith is something that grows. Because faith is more than intellectual belief. Another translation for the word “faith” is trust. Do you trust Him? And you just have to look back at the last few emergencies in your life. Did you actually turn to Jesus? During a crisis, when there’s a mountain in front of you, did you actually go to Jesus?
If your son was convulsing and he was being thrown into the fire and thrown into the water, he’s foaming at the mouth. He has a deaf-mute spirit. He can barely talk at times. Would you bring your son to Jesus? Would you humble yourself before Jesus, or would you humble yourself before the healthcare system? Would you humble yourself before medication? Would you humble yourself before a psychologist or a psychiatrist? They’re the ones who can actually help the situation because this mountain cannot move otherwise.
Jesus is saying, there is no situation in your life that if you come to Him, that He will not move the mountain for you. It’s not us moving the mountain on our own because we’re so spiritually gifted. It’s us having the humility to go to Jesus and ask Jesus, can you move this mountain for me? Can you move this mountain?
It takes someone who has been practicing humbling of oneself before King Jesus as a way of life. A Christian is a peculiar creature. And I said this a few weeks ago — when I think about my children, I want them to have two things. I want them to be so confident that no matter what people say about them, whatever hatred or criticism comes their way — you’re not good enough, whatever. I want them to be so confident that they will not waver at all in the face of these attacks. At the same time, I don’t want them to be arrogant. I want them to display this kind of humility. That they are confident not because they’re so good, but because they have humbled themselves before the Lord.
The Christian is a unique creature that we have the humility to know who I need to kneel before. And if I kneel before King Jesus, I will become like a little child who depends on King Jesus to move mountains. At the same time, Christians will have a certain character that they will not speak so brazenly, so harshly.
I bet we all know Christians and they are “more mature” because they’ve been walking longer with the Lord. They’re older than us. They have these spiritual gifts. But they’re not humble. They’re so harsh. They’re so confident in a way that stumbles everyone who’s around them. That is not the way we’re supposed to grow. We’re supposed to grow and be so confident in the Lord Jesus because we’re humbling ourselves before Him, that He can move this mountain, whatever mountain is in front of you.
Jesus is saying, you can say to this mountain — move — and it will move. The only problem is our faith is so small. You can barely even see it. And why do I say that all of us in order to become like a child, we need to humble ourselves before King Jesus? Because earlier I posed the question, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And we came to the conclusion that Leah and John were the greatest in the room and that is a true answer, but it’s not actually the right answer.
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? It’s King Jesus and Jesus is not lying here. He’s not saying, on the one hand, I’m talking about this little seven-year-old in front of me, this child is the greatest. But on the other hand, actually, I’m the greatest. He’s not saying two contradictory things. He is saying of the seven-year-old, this child is the greatest and you and I have to become like this child in order to be recognized as the greatest.
And Jesus, through His life, He showed that He is the humble one. He is the little one. He humbled himself before His Heavenly Father. He was so obedient to the Father. He says in John 14, He does not speak on His own authority, but the Father who dwells in Him does His works. He didn’t speak with His own authority. Jesus is not the greatest because He is the Son of God. Rather, He is the greatest because He lived out Matthew 18. Not only did He humble Himself before God the Father and He did not speak until He first heard from the Father. He did not do things on His own authority. He did things only after the Father gave Him the green light.
King Jesus is saying, yes, the greatest is someone like this child. And don’t forget, I, too, am a child. I’m the Son of God. Look at me. I’m the greatest not because I’m the Son of God per say. I am the greatest because I show you what it looks like to be a humble little one. And we look to King Jesus and we humble ourselves before Him and we learn from Him. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross.
And so it’s true — the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in this room is John and Leah. But the real answer to the question — who is the greatest? — it is King Jesus because He is the little one who humbled Himself before the Father.
Not only does He show through His life what a life of a little one who has humbled Himself before God looks like, but He also shows what it looks like to welcome the little ones. He’s talking about His own life in Matthew 18. He saying, live like me. Humble yourself before me. Learn from me. Follow my example. Follow me. Look at how I go after the little ones whom you stumble through your sin. I will go after them. I’ll leave the 99. I’m going to go after for the second time, for the tenth time, for the nth time. I’m going to go after the ones whom you keep stumbling because they’re being despised and talked down to and devalued.
And that’s why Jesus says, because I am this kind of a person, if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, you, too, must humble yourself, become like a little one who does not despise the rest of the little ones. Welcome them the way the King Jesus welcomes you.
Jesus is the shining example of a little child, the little Son of God who was so humble before His Father. He didn’t speak until He heard from the Father. He didn’t teach on His own authority. He didn’t do things just because He felt like it. He waited for instruction. He was so humble. To humble oneself is a verb. You are a humble person if the pattern of your life is humbling yourself before King Jesus.
Consider the situations in your life, the mountains that don’t seem like it’s going to move.Do you bring them to Jesus? If you bring them to the church, that is not good enough. Jesus said that is faithless. If you try to handle it on your own authority because it’s a crisis, it means your faith is too little. You can’t do anything about it but to go to King Jesus, He can move mountains for you. Do we believe that these situations that seem impossible, that Jesus knows about it, and He’s waiting for you to come to Him?
You must become a little child who welcomes children. The transformation is so complete that it changes the way we speak and the way we talk. We’re so careful. We’re not bragging. We’re not talking down to people. We’re not harsh to people. It starts with our own kids. Do we send them away? God wants you to welcome your own kids. They can be frustrating. They can be difficult.
We still have to discipline them. But do we just send them away because it’s easier? Jesus wants you to welcome them. Welcome your own children, start with that. That’s homework number 1. Just welcome your own kids. Don’t dish them off to somebody else. It’s your responsibility. Spend time with your kids. Disciple your kids.
May we be so transformed that we would be so different in our speech toward one another. We’ve seen too many examples of somebody who is so gifted or somebody who’s so wise in their own eyes or somebody who has all these testimonies and yet they speak in a way that is off-putting. It does not draw us in, but it repels us because we are being stumbled by them.
Father, we thank You so much because you sent Your Son. Jesus, you are the little One who was so humble. No wonder we are to follow You. No wonder we bow the knee before You, King Jesus, because You showed not only through your teaching in Matthew 18. Your whole life was Matthew 18.
You didn’t say anything until You first waited for the Father to speak. You didn’t teach anything on Your own authority. It was the Father’s teaching. You didn’t do anything until you got a green light and You saw the work that Your Father was doing and that was the assignment for the day.
We don’t do life this way, the way Jesus tells us how to do life. We trust our own authority and we speak without thinking, without pausing and without praying. We stumble the little ones because we despise them. We look down on people. We’re so harsh. We’re so proud. We’re growing in the wrong way and, Lord, You are gently guiding us to turn around to become like a little one.
Thank you, Lord, for dying on a cross for our sins. We partake in Your Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Your body that was broken for us and Your blood that was shed. Lord Jesus, we want to be nourished by You. We want to experience You. We want to be touched by You. May it not just be a single moment where we humble ourselves before King Jesus but may this be the pattern of our life that every mountain that we face, we come to You, Lord Jesus.
With every situation where we lack wisdom and we don’t know what to do, we bring these situations to You, Lord Jesus. That is the pattern You’re trying to teach the disciples and they’re not getting it but eventually they got it.
Lord, we want to understand. Give us understanding. Show us if we’ve been so proud in the way that we’ve lived life, that we thought, Jesus, You’re in our back pocket, and we stopped humbling ourselves before You in the real concrete decisions and situations of our life.
Lord Jesus, we come to You and You alone. We don’t bow down to any person, any system, any church. We bow down only to You, Lord Jesus. Thank you. I pray that You meet us now. In Jesus Name, Amen