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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Faith Bible Church, NY
April 24, 1994
God’s Care for His Children: Part 1
How much do parents care for their children? One way to measure parents’ care for their children is to evaluate the protection that the parents provide for their children. Parents of young children will often rearrange their home to make sure it is safe for those young ones to crawl and toddle around in. As the children get older, mom and dad spend a lot of time trying to teach their children to be safety conscious such as looking before crossing the street, how to use tools properly, staying away from fire, avoiding strangers, etc. Teenagers do not always like their parents asking them what, where, when and with whom they are doing things, but good parents ask anyway and get involved because they love their children and want to protect and guide them as much as possible through the dangers that are around us. Every decent parent loves their children and wants to prevent them from getting hurt. And if someone does hurt their child, then it is time to beware of a parent’s wrath.
I will be up front and tell you that someone can speak against me, abuse me, even physically harm me and I can remain fairly calm. But if someone is trying to harm one of my children and I am present, then they will only succeed after stepping across my dead body, and if someone does harm one of my children, then it is time to watch out for I will be like the Old Testament avenger of blood determined to see justice carried out. I take the responsibility God has given me to care for my children very seriously.
What is exciting is to find out is that is the way that God is with those who are His children. In the text this morning we will find that God is protective of His children, and He will bring His justice to bear on anyone that harms one of His children. Turn with me to Matthew 18.
Recall that last week we introduced this chapter as we examined Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question in verse 1,?“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples had been correctly embarrassed that they had been arguing with one another about which of them was the greatest, but Jesus gently brings out their question and then deals with it. Jesus’ answer goes straight to the heart of the problem that caused the question in the first place.
The disciples were arguing about greatness based on the things that the world values as great. They had assumed that they were already in the kingdom, so why not strive to be the greatest in it and let the others know that you are? In verses 2 & 3 we find that Jesus challenges His disciples about whether they were even going to enter the kingdom. Jesus calls a young child to Himself and tells His disciples that unless they are converted and become like that child, they would not enter into the kingdom of heaven. A person has to be turned from sin to righteousness by the Holy Spirit, and that only happens in conjunction with a person emulating the nature of a child in regard to the Savior. There must be a simple, humble, dependent, genuine trust in Jesus alone for salvation. A proud man wants to save himself and refuses the Savior.
This was a truly relevant issue for the disciples to work through. Remember that at least one of them, Judas, never entered the kingdom of God. Several passages of Scripture in the New Testament challenge the person who professes to know the Lord Jesus Christ to make sure they are really saved. This is a good thing because it is easy to think you’re saved when you are doing a lot of good things similar to or perhaps even better than a true Christian. But salvation is not about doing, it is about being. It is about a faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in yourself or something you have done. Jesus goes to the heart of the matter and challenges His disciples about whether they really were going to be part of His kingdom. It was silly for them to argue about who was the greatest when they may not have even been qualified to enter the kingdom.
In Matthew 18:4 Jesus spells out the test of greatness specifically. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” True greatness in the kingdom is marked by humility, not by bragging on one’s accomplishments. Someone who is truly great does not need to point out that fact to anyone else. In fact, someone who is truly great would not even be aware of being great because they would be self-effacing. They would not be interested in comparing themselves with other people to see how they stacked up. A truly great person in the kingdom of God is concerned only with how much glory the Lord Jesus Christ receives. We should be that identified with the Lord Jesus Christ. We get an insight into God’s identification with the believer in verse 5.
A Believers Relationship with the Father (Matthew 18:5)
“And whoever receives one such child in (on) my Name receives Me.”
What “one such child” is Jesus talking about? The little boy Jesus was holding at the time or any young child? Is Jesus talking about evangelizing children? No. The toddler that Jesus was holding at the time was being used to represent what a person was to become like if they were to enter into His kingdom. A qualification is given in verses 3 & 4 because specifically it the child who has humbly entered the kingdom of heaven. The “child” could be young or old in chronological age. This is the person who is the “child of God.”
We saw a similar statement in Matthew 10:40 when Jesus said to His disciples as He was sending them out on their first mission,“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” The point of the verse is simple. Whenever we receive anyone who belongs to Jesus Christ, no matter how significant or insignificant they may appear to be, we are welcoming Jesus Christ Himself, for that is how close of an identification Jesus makes with those who believe in Him. He is the head and His followers are His body (1 Corinthians 12). He is the vine, true Christians are the branches (John 15:5).
What is meant by “receiving” someone in Christ’s name is to deliberately and readily welcome a person in the manner that Jesus has commanded. They are to be treated as honored guests and given special attention and kindness. In short, we are to treat them with the same hospitality and graciousness that we would give to the Lord Himself, for according to our text, we are in a sense receiving Jesus when we receive them. But be aware that we are to receive a person because of whom Jesus is and what He has done for us and not because we think we can get something from them. Receiving people with an eye to improve your own situation, standing or reputation is at best diplomacy or politics. It is not the Christian hospitality that Jesus is talking about here.
When we receive another believer, we receive Christ too because Jesus identifies that much with those who follow after Him. That is part of the Father’s care for us. But the Father’s care for us also has a defensive side and Jesus warns about that in Matthew 18:6-10. He tells of the seriousness of being a stumbling block to His children and of how to prevent yourself from being such a thing, and He also gives a final warning not to even despise His children.
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you, It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
The Danger of Being a Stumbling Block (Matthew 18:6-10)
Its Seriousness (vs. 6,7)
Being a stumbling block to ““one of these little ones that believe in me” is a serious offense. The reference is to a person that has been converted and become humble like a child. Jesus portrays the seriousness of causing a believer to fall into sin in a very graphic manner in verse 6 by saying it would be better to have been killed in the unusual manner of being drowned in the deepest sea with a heavy millstone around your neck. The millstone described here is the heavy millstone that had to be pulled around by a donkey or ox. There would be no escape from it. This form of execution was used on occasion by the Romans to kill a criminal. This type of pagan execution would have been unimaginably horrible to Jews, yet Jesus said that suffering such a terrible death would be better than to cause even one of His people to sin.
In verse 7 Jesus expands and pronounces “woe” upon those that are such stumbling blocks. A “woe” is the exact opposite of a blessing. It is the equivalent to saying, “cursed is the man for His punishment will be great.” Jesus does not describe the specific penalty that will be given to the person that entices someone else to sin, but He does stress by His double pronouncement of “woe” that the judgement will be severe.
Jesus said that stumbling blocks are inevitable. The world is sinful and hates God. Jesus said in John 15:18,19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Stumbling blocks are inevitable because the world hates those who belong to Christ and they seek to destroy us. It is also inevitable because even Christians are still battling sin and instead of building each other up will tear one another down. That ought not to be, but that is reality as seen both in the Bible and in the experience of our own lives.
Let me expand this point, for our danger is to think that only those who are not Christians will be stumbling blocks. We need to be fully aware that Christians can also become stumbling blocks. There are several warnings in the Scriptures concerning this. Romans 14:13 tells believers to determine “not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” I Corinthians 10:32 tells believers not to be an “offense” or a point of “stumbling” to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God. Christians are not to cause fellow believers to fall into sin, neither are they to hinder non-Christians from coming to Christ because of their own promotion of sin. What are some of the ways that believers may entice or be enticed into sin? We need to be aware of this so that we may be careful not to do it to another believer and so that we can protect ourselves from temptation.
We can be caused to fall into sin in many ways. The most obvious of course is direct temptation. Adam and Eve and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a classic example of this. After being beguiled by the serpent and falling into sin herself, Eve offered the fruit Adam resulting in him also stumbling into sin by eating it. Aaron the High Priest led the whole nation of Israel into the sin of worshiping the Golden Calf. King Jeroboam of Israel not only led the rebellion that split the nation, but he also enticed the northern tribes to worship an Idol that he made. His name became a byword throughout the Old Testament of wickedness. All other evil kings were compared to him.
Direct enticement to sin may come about through ungodly counsel. The Scribes counsel perverted the Mosaic Law in many areas including divorce. The reinterpreted the law to justify divorce for nearly any reason with the consequence that they actually promoted adultery, for they promoted divorce and remarriage on unbiblical grounds. I have heard similar ungodly advice given on “Christian radio” and have read it in “Christian” publications. Advice that discounts the Bible and promotes human wisdom promotes sin, and the one giving such advice is causing God’s children to stumble. They will find themselves one day as those whom the Lord directed these woes against. Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 ring out against such evil practice, “I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness. “ Doing things in the Lord’s name will do you no good if you do not really know the Lord and do what He says!
Direct inducement to sin comes when you try to get someone to agree to your own sinful practice. There are many examples of this. A man that takes a woman out to some immoral form of entertainment. This is true even if it is a husband taking his wife. Ephesians 6 tells husbands are to be leading their wives into purity, not impurity. Getting your spouse to agree to an income tax deduction for which you are not qualified. Pressuring a co-worker to agree to pad the expense account so that you can both pocket the difference. You are guilty of a double sin whenever you get another person to join you in your sin whatever that sin may be and however you encourage them to join you.
People are also caused to stumble into sin through indirect means as well as direct temptation. The example you set may lure another person into sin as they follow your example. While we all understand the caution parents need to exercise here because children are so easily impressionable, we should also understand that new Christians and immature Christians are also very impressionable. Because they are not well taught yet, they often end up believing that godliness is whatever the “more mature Christians,” which means you, are doing. You say you are not a mature Christian? If you say so it is probably true, but if you have been a Christian longer than someone else, they will assume you are more mature and watch your example to know right from wrong.
What is your driving like? How do you spend your free time? What is your attitude towards money? What kind of employee are you? How faithful are you to your wife, to your family, to the Lord?
The story is told of a man that snuck out one night to go to his favorite bar. He heard soft footsteps in the snow behind him. There was his five year old boy who said when he caught up to his father, “I’m trying to follow in your footsteps, Dad.”
What kind of example are you setting for those who are following you? Each of us needs to heed the admonition that Paul gave Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “. . . in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
We can also be stumbling blocks by the manner in which we deal with one another. When we speak, is it the truth in love? Or do we speak with the condemning judgement that Jesus warned about in Matthew 6:7-4? Do we respond to one another in ways that will build each other up or tear each other down. Parents are specifically told in Ephesians 6:4, “Do not provoke your children to anger.” Colossians 3:21 adds, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” The principles in those verses have a wider application than just parenting.
Frustration and anger can easily result when we show favoritism or demand unrealistic expectations. If we are critical more than encouraging we can cause another person to lose heart. When we are insensitive, unloving and unkind, we can cause fellow members of the body of Christ to fall into sin.
In addition when we are insensitive to the weakness of another believer and flaunt our liberty we can also cause a fellow Christian to fall into sin. Paul deals with the problem of those entrapped in a legalistic mind set and those that flaunted their liberty in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10. The the weaker brother is not to judge the stronger one who takes advantage of their liberty in Christ. At the same time, the stronger brother is not to flaunt his liberty lest he cause his brother to do something that is against his conscience and thus commit sin (Romans 14:23). We are to voluntarily restrain ourselves out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is really simple consideration for those around us.
I have said over and over that we could be the cause of our brother or sister falling into sin. However, in no way can that be an excuse for the person that sins. They will not be able to say to God, “It is not my fault that I sinned, so and so caused me to sin.” Each person will be held liable for their own sin and they cannot blame it on anyone else. It did not work for Adam to blame Eve, it will not work for you to blame anyone else. What Jesus is saying here is that when another person falls into sin as a result of your influence upon them, a double sin is committed. They have sinned and will be held accountable, and you will also be held accountable for your part in inciting that sin. This is serious business. How then do we prevent it?
Its Prevention (Matthew 18:8,9)
In terms of keeping ourselves from being a stumbling block to others, 1 John 2:10 says, “The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” The more you abide in the light, or walk in the Spirit by obeying the directives God has given in the Scriptures, and the more you love your brother, the less you will be a cause of someone else falling into sin.
In Matthew 18:8,9 Jesus shows the degree to which we need to fight sin in our own lives so that we might live in righteousness and not be a stumbling block, and so that we can resist the temptation to sin that is presented to us by others. The pursuit of holiness is the cure for both problems of either being led astray or leading someone else astray.
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell.”
Jesus does not advocate self inflicted injury or even asceticism as the way to avoid sin. If you pluck out one eye your other eye is still left and you can sin with it. Cutting off one hand still leaves your other hand and you can still sin with it. Jesus is being figurative to make clear the seriousness of sin. Jesus is saying that if something is hindering you from living for God, then it is better to be without it than let that drag you into hell. This is a call for a dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us which push us to evil action.
Anything that morally or spiritually traps us, causes us to fall into sin or to stay in sin, should be eliminated quickly and totally. You say that is too radical? That is the seriousness with which Jesus is talking.
I don’t know what your particular area of temptation may be, but whatever it is, do all you can to set it aside that you might live a holy life. If you are in an immoral relationship, then end it now regardless of how nice that other person makes you feel. If TV is dragging you down, then don’t just turn it off, you have already shown yourself too weak to do that, get rid of it! If it is pulp novels, supermarket tabloids, gossip magazines or anything else that glorifies sin, get rid of them and don’t acquire them anymore. You say that is too radical? Then you do not yet understand the seriousness of sin, its condemnation and judgement. The consequences of sin are severe. Eternity is a long time. It is a time that will never end, and you do not want to spend Eternity shut out from God and suffering everlasting punishment.
God loves His children and He cares for them. He identifies with them so completely that to receive even an immature Christian is to receive Him. God is also protective of His children and His wrath will be upon those who cause any of his children to stumble and fall into sin. Beloved, let us be extremely careful that none of us become the cause of another person stumbling into sin. This is a serious matter and we should be radical in our striving against sin. Let each of us abide in the light, striving after holiness, and love one another so that there will be no cause of stumbling in us.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling , and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, [be] glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
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