Preacher: Pastor Ray
Text: Matt 11:12
Repent and run to the kingdom of heaven, forcefully taking hold of Jesus and clinging to Him.
Read Matt 18:1-6.
If you read this chapter, you will notice one phrase that is repeated over and over. It’s the phrase, “little child” or “little children” or “little ones.” Jesus is making a point so he doesn’t say merely “child,” but he says “little” child.
v2 – He called a little child and had him stand among them.
v3 – I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
v5 – And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
v6 – 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.
v10 – 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.
v14 – In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
The title of today’s sermon is “True Greatness: Relearning How to Be a Child of God.” I want to wrestle with 2 issues.
The first issue is found in v3-4–
3 …unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
We all want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Who can enter, who qualifies? Those who change and become like little children. What does it mean to change and become like little children? That’s the first issue I want to wrestle with.
The second issue is found in v5 – whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. What does it mean to welcome a child in Jesus name?
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
Verse 4 speaks to our identity and verse 5 speaks to how we view others.
Let’s tackle issue #1 first. Identity. What does it mean to change and become like little children? There is a difference between being childish and being childlike. Being childish is being immature and self-centered and not noticing people around you. And not making eye contact when someone says hi to you. Or not saying thank you when someone gives you something. We are to put childish ways behind us. We need to grow up and mature in that sense. But I think while we are growing up and being less childish, sadly, we also lose the ability to be child-like, to be like children before our Heavenly Father.
I have 3 boys and there are certain qualities they possess that I lack. There is a certain innocence, a certain playfulness with no regard for time and tasks, a sense of awe and wonder and they desire to be near mommy and daddy. We lose these things as we get older. Jesus points to a little child and says, you need to be like this child if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven. It must have been so shocking for all the adults crowded around Jesus to hear this. You have to be a child? I could imagine some murmurings–what kind of nonsense is this?
Children, what do they know? They are not educated. Many under the age of 5 still don’t know their alphabet. Or they might know their alphabet but they write some of the letters backwards. They can’t read. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t do this. They can’t do that. Therefore, we can dismiss them. Get them out of the way so that real work can get done.
You see this attitude in Matt 19:13-15.
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
The disciples didn’t get what Jesus was saying in chapter 18 and so in chapter 19, the disciples are rebuking the adults who brought the little children to Jesus because little kids are loud and they would disrupt whatever important work the adults were doing. And Jesus says, do not hinder them, let them come. Jesus clarifies that we have it all backwards. The kingdom of heaven belongs to little children. They have something to teach us.
As adults, we think kids need to be put in another room while we discuss real issues, and solve real spiritual problems. Adults, we think we are the wise ones. The educated ones. We are self-sufficient. We’re grown up. However, in the processing of growing up, what do we lose, what do we forget that children seem to know instinctively?
Children know how to ask for help. And adults, we have a really hard time asking for help, even help from our Father in heaven. Children don’t have our problem. v4–
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
A child is humble. He knows how to ask for help from mommy or daddy. A child recognizes, there are many things I don’t know. Mommy and Daddy are smarter than me. I can go to them. They will help me. A child doesn’t take themselves so seriously. A child doesn’t think, if I ask for help, I might appear weak or unintelligent. A child simply asks.
A child is not complicated in his thinking. A child is not concerned what others think about him or how he will be perceived if he asks for help. A child just asks. Help me! This child-like humility is what Jesus calls greatness. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? This child who is humble enough to ask for help from his Heavenly Father. Our kids–Timothy, Jeremiah, Sarah, Lizzy–you guys have the potential to be the greatest in this room, in fact, greatest in the kingdom of God. Did you know that? You can be greatest if you remain humble and continue to ask God for help in all things, big and small.
God loves it when we go to him for help. He loves it when we fall into his arms because we can’t handle life. God is thrilled when Christian leaders go to him because they can’t handle the ministry. Whether you had a good day or a bad day, God is so happy when we go to him like children.
Sometimes, if we are doing badly spiritually, you feel too ashamed to go to God. If you are struggling with a particular sin, you don’t want to go to God because you think he won’t accept you. Or, if you are doing well spiritually and serving others, we can be too busy to go to God. You don’t have to go to him all cleaned up and holy. You don’t have to go to him with a report of all the service you did for him. Just going to him as you are is enough.
Among my kids, mom is queen and I am like a servant boy who takes out the trash. If mom is going somewhere and I am staying home, all 3 kids want to go with mommy. If I am going somewhere and mom is home, suddenly, my kids would rather stay home. If someone is sick, who do they call for? Mommy. Elijah always asks mommy to sleep next to him as he is falling asleep. On nights when Jackie has to go out, like this past Thursday, Elijah asked me to sleep next to him. I am clearly option #2. But hey, as a father, I’ll take whatever scraps fall from the queen’s table. I was happy to lay down next to Elijah.
And as I was laying there, I thought, how God must be so pleased when we just want to spend time with him. No agenda. Coming to him, not because I need a list of sins to be forgiven. Coming to him, not because I have a bunch of requests to ask of him. There is a time for those kinds of prayers. But how happy God must be when I just want to lay down next to him and I have no agenda but to worship and thank him for who He is and enjoy His presence.
This is so hard for us. This is hard for me. Even when I am on vacation, it’s hard for me to relax because I think, I got a sermon coming up in a few days. It’s like a perpetual weekly final exam for the rest of my life. Please have some sympathy for your pastor. I used to enjoy just hanging out with friends for hours on end. Now, after an hour or two, I’m looking at my watch. We got to speed things up, wrap up because I got things to do. Maybe it’s just me.
Today, we will be focusing on Matt 16:13-20, the passage which was read earlier. Let’s re-read v18-19.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
This is a difficult passage. Some questions that came to mind as I studied this passage include: Peter, what role does he play? Is he the first Pope? Catholics would argue, yes, he is. What does it mean that the gates of Hades (or hell) shall not prevail against the church? What are the keys and what in the world is binding and loosing? Sounds like a torture device. Speak! Bind him. He’s speaking, loosen him.
All of these auxiliary questions relate to one main question, how do we build a church that mirrors what the kingdom of heaven will be like?
I will attempt to answer these questions as we do a high-level fly by over the entire chapter. The title of this message is “Focusing on the 3 P’s.” 2 P’s are negative, 2 things we ought never to focus on when building a church that mirrors heaven and 1 P is something, rather someone, we ought to focus on.
1) Don’t focus on religious Programs
2) Don’t focus on human Personalities
3) Focus, instead, on the Person of Christ
Not programs, not personalities, but when building a church that mirrors heaven, we need to focus on the Person of Christ.
First P: Don’t focus on religious Programs
Matt 16:1-12 focus on the Pharisees and Sadducees. This has been a recurring theme throughout this gospel of Matthew. Matthew as a Jewish man wants his fellow countrymen to come to salvation so he is going to harp on this same theme over and over again. That religion cannot save you. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the epitome of religious people. They had their programs that were running week after week, month after month, year after year. Prayer times and teaching, bible studies, sermons, the programs were running at the synagogue, whatever they might have been.
Tragically, although they were busy with their programs, God’s presence had left them long ago and they failed to realize it. It’s mind blowing to me that Jesus burst upon the scene and he was doing some amazing things and still the Pharisees and Sadducees, v1, ask Jesus for a sign.
Weren’t they there when Jesus fed 5000 and then fed another 4000 two chapters earlier? Even if they weren’t there, they must have heard about it? They didn’t even pause to wonder, who is this man? Instead, they crossed their arms and asked for more signs. They were not convinced. And so Jesus responds by saying, I’m not giving these guys more signs. They have had enough. They already have the sign of Jonah. In the Old Testament, Jonah, the prophet sent to Nineveh was in the belly of a fish and then came out miraculously three days later.
Jesus mentions Jonah to make a point. Wait until I die on a cross for the sins of the world and descend to the belly of the earth and resurrect 3 days later. Even then, as history shows, you won’t believe. I know your hearts. Even the resurrection will not be a convincing enough sign for you to believe in me.
What do we learn from this? One thing we learn is that miracles never convert a person. They can satisfy a person’s curiosity, but they will never bring that person into a born-again salvation experience. The world says, give me something I can see. If I can see it, then I’ll believe it. Interestingly, the Bible says the reverse. If you believe it, then you’ll see it.
Also, we learn that certain people will never see, people like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they will never see because they don’t want to see. They made up their minds. Jesus can feed thousands, he can heal the leper, he can be raised to life from the dead, but nothing will convince people to see what they don’t want to see.
In v6, Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. And the disciples heard this and they were still a bit clueless back then and so Jesus clarifies what he meant in v12. Be on guard, be careful of their teaching. Why?
We won’t read it now but if you want to get a full answer, go home and read Matthew 23. What’s so wrong with following religious programs? What’s wrong with religion? A little religion never hurt anyone, right? You’ve heard that saying. Why did Jesus say, be careful, be on guard against their teaching?
Their teaching was not just distributing wrong information. These leaders who were running various religious programs had a goal. Every program has a goal. You go through the 12 Steps Program to overcome addiction. Freedom from addiction is the goal. The military has a program. It’s called boot camp. The goal of their program is to produce a fit soldier who can submit to authority, follow orders and fire a gun on command.
In extreme cases of religious legalism, the goal of this program is loyalty to the group and uniformity of behavior. In legalistic communities, morality is used as a club to beat people into uniformity. There are many rules. Don’t watch this. Don’t do that. Everybody follows the moral program. Nobody watches certain kinds of movies, nobody drives certain kinds of cars, in fact, everyone drives the same car, everyone talks the same, dresses the same. Shuns the same kind of immoral behavior. There is absolutely no freedom in a legalistic religious community.
In addition to loyalty to the group and moral uniformity, religious programs can have a third goal. To build up the egos of the leaders. If you read Matthew 23, you will see as plain as day what Jesus thinks of these leaders. These leaders loved to be greeted and admired and honored at banquets and given special seats at synagogues. They love it when people call them, Rabbi. And in the process of building up the egos of the leaders, the people who followed them were crushed under a heavy load of legalism.
The term binding and loosing was familiar to the Jews of the day. To bind something was to lay down a law. To loose something was to allow for an exception to the law. The Torah in fact consisted of 613 commandments. 365 positive commandments, things you can do which are not a sin. And 248 negative commandments, acts which were prohibited because they are sinful. Things that were permitted and things that were forbidden. Totaling 613–do this but don’t do that. How on earth would any human being be able to remember, keep track of, much less observe, all 613 commandments at every moment? What a crushing burden!
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Scary verse. A person saved into a religious program, a religious system, like legalism, will be bound by laws, chained, and Jesus says, that convert of religion will be twice as much a son of hell as you are. You, as the religious teacher and the religious program director, are bound. Sure enough. But your converts are doubly bound by your laws because they are bound by standards that you yourself do not follow. Hypocrisy produces leaders who place a high standard for others and a standard that is much lower and much more doable for themselves.
Religion cannot save. Religious programs cannot save. Having programs might make me feel good as a leader that everyone is getting with the program, whatever we define our unique program to be. I might feel great that everyone here is becoming like-minded and doing all the same things. But in the end, religious programs cannot save.
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
The scariest thing is this. Man-made, religious programs is one of the chief obstacles to genuine salvation. It shuts the door to heaven in men’s faces and prevents all from entering.
To build a church that mirrors heaven, let’s not focus on religious Programs.
Another sign that you are a kingdom citizen: you are willing to give up everything to enter the kingdom of heaven.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
This parable doesn’t need much unpacking because it’s all right there. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field and the treasure is so valuable, you can’t even put a price tag on it. I picture a scale. On one side, you put everything that people value in this world: money, fame, romance, family, pleasure, comfort, respect. Those are heavy stuff and so the scale obviously falls in that direction. But on the other side of the scale, you put the kingdom of heaven and the scale flips and the side with the kingdom of heaven obviously is heavier.
What can you compare with the kingdom of heaven, with eternity? The Bible says, even one soul is worth more than the whole world. Pile the entire world, pile on the best that this world has to offer on one side of the scale, but that scale ain’t budging when on the other side you have the kingdom of heaven. Even one soul that makes it into the kingdom of heaven is worth more than the entire world.
The rich young ruler wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven and he goes to Jesus and asks, what must I do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus said, sell everything. And you know what, he couldn’t do it. For him, his wealth which he could enjoy for a few decades was worth more than spending eternity with God. Compare him with Zacchaeus, tax collector. Also, a rich guy. He was saved and immediately, without even a moment of hesitation, he says, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. I’ve been saved! Money, who cares about money? Here, I give half of it away, 50% gone. And the rest, I will pay back 4 times the amount I cheated others. That was probably the other half. He gets it. He is validating his citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. Zacchaeus gets the value of the treasure hidden in a field. He understands what the pearl of great value is worth. His life, pfft, it’s nothing. I give it all away.
If God asked you right now, quit school or quit your job or take a faith risk or go on missions, what would your response be? We all say, salvation is priceless, we would gladly surrender everything and lay down all our idols to follow Jesus. But when it comes down to action, few actually do what we say we would do with our mouths.
Recap: What are the signs that you are a kingdom citizen?
1) You ask a lot of questions.
2) You are willing to give up everything to enter the kingdom.
3) The third and final sign you are a kingdom citizen: you change.
Jesus uses 3 parables to illustrate the power of salvation to change someone from the inside out. First, the parable of the Mustard Seed. Second, the parable of the Yeast, and third, the Parable of the Sower. The kingdom of heaven is likened in v31-32 to a mustard seed that grows into a large tree. If the seed that was planted is alive, it will change. A tiny seed becoming a tree. Or the kingdom of heaven in v33 is likened to yeast. When you put yeast into flour, you can’t see it. But when you bake it and the flour turns into bread, there is a visible change as the flour rises. The third parable is the parable of the sower in v1-9.
Let’s read Jesus’ explanation of that parable in v18-23.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch of messages on this passage. And the typical sermon goes like this. What are the rocky places in your heart? What are the thorns, the worries and the wealth, that are preventing you from bearing fruit? And we identify some areas and we repent and we think that’s the application. But those interpretations and applications come up short. Because this entire chapter is about determining whether we’re in the kingdom of heaven or we’re not.
We all struggle. We all have rocky places and thorns and sometimes our hearts are hard like concrete sidewalks and the seed bounces off. But the main point of this passage is this. There are 4 types of people represented in this parable. The path-like heart, the the rocky heart, the heart filled with thorns and then a heart of good soil. All Christians who are in the kingdom of heaven have hearts that are like good soil. The seed enters the good soil and it bears fruit. We can go through seasons of rocks and thorns, but if that continues for year after year and season after season and you don’t see any sign of life, if you don’t see fruit, then you should not be comforted by this passage. Of the 4 categories of people represented by this parable, only 1 in 4 made it into the kingdom. The heart represented by the good soil.
Are you bearing fruit? Are you changing from the inside out? Are you getting to know Jesus better day by day? Are there signs of life? Or did the seed die away because your heart was not like the good soil?
12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
Have you noticed that some people really take off in their spiritual lives and most don’t? Here is one verse that explains why. Whoever has, whoever has spiritual desire, whoever asks questions, whoever brings their concerns to Jesus regularly, that man, that woman will have an abundance. Because Jesus will pour into such a person. These are all signs of life and Jesus wants to see such a person grow. If you abide in Christ, you will grow.
To those who do not have, those who have no spiritual desire, no spiritual hunger, those who never ask questions, those who are like the crowd who hear and then walk away, even what he has will be taken from him. Spiritually, if you are not growing in the Lord, you are dying. There is no neutral position. I pray that each person here will grow and change and surrender all at the feet of Jesus as a testimony that we are citizens in the kingdom of heaven.
Entering the kingdom of heaven will cost you everything. But thanks be to God, it’s a guarantee that you will receive far more than you gave up.
23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Turn with me to Matthew 13. Keep it open. We’ll be covering most of the chapter.
I want to talk about being a citizen in the kingdom of heaven. Most of us here are citizens of the United States of America. You are a citizen of this country because you were either born here or you became a citizen because you wanted to be here. And with that citizenship comes privileges. You are protected by laws. If there is a crime, you have a police force that you can turn to. If there is a fire in your kitchen, you can call the local fire department. When you travel, you carry around a U.S. passport and you have certain rights and protection as a citizen of this country.
How do you become a citizen in the kingdom of heaven? Like being a citizen in this country, you are born into it or you transfer your citizenship from your country of origin to this country. Same principle applies to being a citizen in the kingdom of heaven. You enter the kingdom of heaven when you are born, rather born again into the kingdom of heaven and your citizenship is transferred from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of heaven. Unless you are a spy or a double agent, which may be the case for some of the international students here (just kidding, I hope) there is no such thing as dual citizenship. You’re either in or you’re out. Spiritually speaking, you’re either a citizen of the kingdom of heaven or you’re not. You can’t be half in, you can’t be halfway saved, it’s an all or nothing proposition.
We see this in the Parable of the Weeds.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
I love chapters like this because I don’t have to read too many commentaries and spend hours and hours studying the text because Jesus did all the hard work for me. I don’t have to wonder, what did Jesus mean by the enemy and the weeds? Because Jesus himself provides the interpretation and explains the meaning of this parable starting in v36.
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
That last phrase is important. Let him who has ears, let him hear. We’re all listening to the same sermon, but some of you are really getting it, it’s sinking in. And for others, it’s not, you are hearing but not really hearing. It’s in one ear and out the other. Nothing is sticking.
What is Jesus trying to communicate to us? He is saying, at the end of the age, there will be separation of the good seed, the wheat, from the weeds. One is harvested and saved. The other is burned in the fire. There are only 2 piles and we all fall into one of these.
Jesus hammers this point a second time in the Parable of the Net.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.
This is not rocket science. For those who ask and stick around for the answer, this stuff is simple enough for little children to grasp. Jesus laid this teaching out in a way that we can all understand. There are only 2 sets of fish. Good fish that are collected in baskets. And bad fish that are thrown away into a fiery furnace. And if you are thrown away, what will your reaction be? v50 – there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s like, gnash, gnash, gnash, I had a chance to accept Christ, but I didn’t. What was I thinking? Why did I chase after THAT my whole life? And many people will regret it for all of eternity. This is serious stuff.
How do you know if you are a kingdom citizen? How do you know if you are saved? Anyone can say they believe in Christ, but it’s my job to warn everyone, myself included. I don’t want you to get to the end of your life and you arrive at Judgment Day, and you say, how come Ray didn’t say anything? How come no one warned me? I don’t want any of you to be gnashing your teeth for eternity. Examine yourself. There are certain signs that you are a kingdom citizen. There are visible things that testify outwardly to an invisible, inward transformation of the heart. There are signs that validate that you are saved.