Expository Sermon on Matthew 18
Bellevue SDA Church 5/19/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “play” button on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 18.
One thing that really struck me as I studied Matthew 18 over and over again this week is that it is talking about love – but it’s a love which is supernatural. It’s a Godlike love.
Again, this is another in our series of sermons focusing on Jesus’ actual words – the Red Print. Jesus is going to do the talking in this chapter, and what He is going to tell us is often stunning, and sometimes unbelievable.
But that is what Godlike love is. And if you and I are going to reflect his love this coming week in our homes, and our neighborhoods, our schools, and our workplaces, and wherever else we go, we’re going to have to remind ourselves of the details. So let’s jump right in and learn all we can about practicing Godlike love.
Matthew 18:1 [NKJV]: At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
If you’re familiar with the Gospels at all, you know that the disciples sang this song on many occasions. Same song, different verses. Who will have the highest status in heaven? Who will sit at the position of honor, at Jesus’ right side, or at His left side? Who will be able to bask in the admiring gaze of the less lucky people who didn’t get these spots?
Watch how Jesus answers them. And just as importantly, watch what He does.
Verses 2 – 4: Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
As I mentioned, we need to not only listen to Jesus carefully, but watch Him carefully. Jesus could have simply mentioned children without doing anything else. Or He could have simply gestured toward a distant child playing in a nearby pasture.
But instead, in probably one of the most tender voices this child had ever heard aside from the voice of his mother, Jesus called the child and brought him right to the center of this group. So rather than contemplating children in the abstract, now these disciples were actually looking at this little kid. The kid was looking back, his eyes big and solemn, wondering why all these strange grownups were paying this much attention to him. The disciples saw his trusting humility, his deference to older people, his open expression. And while they were watching, they heard what Jesus said. Humble yourself like this little child. If you don’t, then you might as well not waste any time obsessing about your status in heaven, because you will never make it there.
If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One.
How do I practice Godlike love?
First, I need to humble myself like a child.
I am the oldest of four siblings. I’m seven years older than my brother, and six years older than the youngest of my two sisters. One of my favorite things to do when they were really young was to call them over to me, and get down face to face with them. Then I would make faces at them. These were not scary faces, but they were dramatic faces. I would open my mouth wide, and even though they didn’t realize they were doing this, they would open their mouths a little bit too. I would press my lips together tight, and they would bring theirs together too. Try it sometime if you’re near a three-year-old who trusts you. It’s absolutely unconscious. Their face will do what your face does.
Now, when they grow up a little bit, and have become a bit more cynical, their faces will remain still. But when they are small, children will follow you around, and tend to believe what you tell them. Oh, they’ll have their times when they cry, but pretty soon their faces are happy again. They are quick to forgive, and to start over afresh.
And I don’t know exactly which of these qualities Jesus was talking about when He commanded His disciples to humble themselves like a little child. But He uses a very dramatic word as He speaks to them. Look at verse 3 again.
Verse 3: [Jesus is speaking] “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Do you see that word “converted”? That’s the Greek word strepho, and it literally means “turn.” A couple of chapters earlier, in Matthew 16, Jesus tells His disciples the details about how He will be arrested in Jerusalem and then put to death. The always-excitable Peter thinks this is nonsense, and tells Jesus so.
But in Matthew 16:23, it says that Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” That word “turned” is this same Greek word strepho. I can imagine that Jesus’s turn wasn’t a casual one, but a dramatic and forceful about-face. The most common Greek word for “converted” in the New Testament is epistrepho. But here in Matthew 18 verse three, Jesus uses that plain, simple word “turn.” What He means is, do an about-face, go the other direction. It’s like He’s saying, “You disciples are striding confidently toward pride and status and position, and you’d better turn right around from the direction you’re going, and become like little children.”
So what do we do, now that we have heard Jesus tell us to turn? Well, if you still have children in your house, think about how they react to life. Sure, there are the occasional temper tantrums, and the over-tiredness, and sure, they like to get up too early on Sunday mornings. But since you know your kids best, try to see in them what Jesus might be saying to you.
I don’t have kids, but I do volunteer on Tuesdays from 9:30 in the morning to 1:00 in the afternoon at our Kirkland Seventh-day Adventist school. I’ve seen qualities in those kids which Jesus must adore.
Let’s look at something else Jesus tells us as He explains Godlike love to us. Let’s start with verse five.
Verses 5 – 6: Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
This verse always made a deep impression on me when I was a kid. I could not swim, and I did not like water, and to me, the ultimate horror would be to get thrown into deep water with a stone tied around your neck. Because if it was tied around your neck, that means it would drag your head down first, and your nose and your lungs would fill with water, and you would not have a chance to survive.
And then Jesus goes on to talk about sin in general.
Verses 7 – 9: Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
So what does this have to do with putting Godlike love into action?
Well, Jesus mentions in verse five that we need to be very careful about the spiritual health of children. We need to treat them as treasured children of God.
Which means, of course, that we need to make sure that our own sins and sinfulness are dealt with. Because otherwise we will not be a good example to the little children Jesus cares about so much.
So let’s lay down Sermon Point Two. How do I practice Godlike love?
First, I need to humble myself like a child. Second, I need to discover God’s hatred of sin.
You’ve heard the saying, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” We sometimes wonder if that’s the case. God does love the sinner, but can a loving God really have such a bitter revulsion toward sin? He does.
Jesus’ commands to cut off your hand or gouge out your eye if they cause you to sin are very dramatic ones. I used to shudder when I read those verses as a child. There’s no record of anybody in the book of Acts actually doing this, so it must not have been a common Christian practice. People probably recognized that Jesus was exaggerating to make a serious point. But we need to keep firmly in mind Jesus’ emotion behind His words. I’m certain He did not say those words in a pale, emotionless way. I’m sure there was a terrible intensity behind them.
We need to think back over those Bible verses say that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that all our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags, that there is none righteous, no, not one, that the wages of sin is death.
And then, once we have rediscovered God’s hatred of sin, we need to go to the verses that say that even though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.
Now let’s look at just one more way this chapter tells us to put godlike love into action.
Verses 10 – 14: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
This week as I was studying the verses I just read, I was surprised. I was very familiar with the story of the one lost sheep who strayed away from the ninety-nine safe ones. But when Jesus finishes telling that story, He brings it back to children. He says “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
So what’s another way to put Godlike love into action?
First, I need to humble myself like a child. Second, I need to discover God’s hatred of sin. Third, I need to treasure everyone the way God does.
Jesus has been talking about being careful not to cause little children to stumble, but to treat them carefully.
Earlier this week, I saw something very interesting happened. I was sitting in a chair – working on this sermon, actually. I was in a public area where there were several vending machines.
A little family walked into the area. There was a mom and a daughter and three boys. The daughter must have been nine or 10, and the boys were younger than she was. One boy might’ve been eight, and the next boy down was maybe six, and the youngest boy seem to have been about four. And the mom was pregnant with kid number five.
As mom and the kids arrived, the youngest boy, who was probably four, was crying. I had heard him crying down the hallway, and he was still crying when he walked into the area where the vending machines were. And he would not stop crying. A couple of times he even stamped his feet.
Though I am no expert in the varieties of children’s cries, it sounded like this must’ve been an over-tired cry. But the reason for his crying could have been what Shelley suggested when I told her this story. This was a medical clinic, and maybe the boy had been a patient. Maybe he’d had to get a shot, and the crying was less from pain than from anger that the doctor had poked him with a needle, and that mom had let it happen.
I do not have children myself, but I know that this is a moment where a parent’s patience and wisdom are truly tested. Here you have this crying kid, who keeps crying. He is causing restlessness amongst the nonfamily members in the room, who are courteously looking elsewhere. And all those nonfamily members are just waiting to see how mom handles this.
Well, here’s what she did. At first she just let him cry. She bought some things for the rest of the kids from the vending machine, because the four-year-old was in no mood to choose what he wanted. She didn’t go get him and bring him over to the machine to try to distract him. She seemed to feel that his anger and frustration needed to be dealt with another way.
And still the boy kept crying. And still mom waited. And it was so interesting to watch the other kids. They weren’t getting impatient, but instead they were calm.
And still the little boy cried. And then mom took him gently a little further away from us, and started talking softly to him. And this was a stubborn little guy. He still cried and fussed. But mom never raised her voice, she just kept talking. I couldn’t hear what she was saying.
And then she stepped back and said to him and the rest of the kids, “Okay, we’ve got to go. Let’s go.” And the little boy kind of flapped his hands against his jeans in frustration.
And then his big sister pointed at the vending machine and asked him, “What you want?” And mom came over to the vending machine, and the boy spent a little time making a selection, and took his item. And now he was calm.
Now, I am neither a parent nor an expert in parenting. But I do know that each of the older siblings had about them a calmness and a maturity which must’ve come from mom treating them in the same way. They had probably gone through their own times of fussiness and unreasonableness and over-tiredness, and maybe after being annoyed and frightened after being poked by a nurse’s needle. And with them, mom had probably not raised her voice, but just talked gently and softly to them, taking the time to reason with them like real people.
I know there are many ways to raise children, but I was impressed by that family and by how serene they were in this crisis. Mom seemed to be treasuring her youngest son in a way that she had treasured her other kids in similar crises.
And of course Jesus wants us to treasure people of all ages. He wants us to understand each other. How can we do this? We can do this by getting to know each other face-to-face. Stay for potluck when that happens. Linger across the tables and to talk to someone you don’t know, that you never met before. If it’s somebody from another culture, go right over to them, asked to sit down at their table, and find out who they are and where they came from.
Because the more we learn about people, the more we can understand when they think differently, and sometimes even act differently, than we are used to.
So how do I put Godlike love into action?
I need to humble myself like a child. I need to discover God’s hatred of sin. I need to treasure everyone the way God does.
Because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus was the perfect example of humility, and so is His heavenly Father. And so is the self-effacing Holy Spirit. And it was abundantly clear, to every person that Jesus walked up to, that Jesus loved them. The gospels say that Jesus loved the rich young ruler. Jesus loved the tempestuous “thunder boy” John, who finally sensed Jesus’ love and friendship. When Martha and Mary got word that Jesus about Lazarus’ sickness, they said “He whom you love is sick.” So Jesus always communicated love.
How about you? Would you like to resolve to communicate His love this week, that Godlike love that He told us to use?