Cross-centered Living (Matthew 18:1-14)

MOTIVATE

On Tuesday, March 23 a 1,300’ long (3.6 football fields), 200,000-tonne shipping container ran aground the Suez Canal amid high winds and a sandstorm that affected visibility.[1] Experts have been considering several ways to dislodge the vessel’s blockage but to no avail. The blockage is causing a significant traffic jam in the Red Sea as the number of vessels waiting entrance into the canal is growing exponentially. The blockage will affect shipping schedules around the world for weeks, and perhaps months, in an already decreased supply line. About 12% of global trade passes through the 193km (120-mile) canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe. Alternate routes can take 10-14 days longer.

What happened in the Suez Canal can happen in our life just as easy. Choices and actions occur that create in an inability to course correct for staying on path, and result in a significant blockage for good to be received or good to be shared with others.

In this passage, we will examine items that block our connection to God and spiritual growth.

EXAMINE           Matthew 18:1-14

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, where Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem – the capital city – and the crowds celebrated Him as king. Israel wanted Jesus to be a military Messiah to deliver them from the extreme laws and oppressive power of Rome. While Jesus was not the leader they wanted, He was the leader they needed. Jesus led in a dramatically different way, with humility and service. Jesus teaches God’s kingdom is made up of citizens not of elite power but of divine grace.

The context of the passage follows the transfiguration moment of Jesus and third time of Jesus prophesying His death and resurrection. However, the disciples still do not understand what Jesus is calling them to do. In this teaching we can discern several ways our faith gets stalled and stuck.

Our faith gets stalled and stuck when we misunderstand our purpose (Mt 18:1-4).

In this passage it says the disciples came to Jesus asking “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God?” From other Gospel passages (Mk 9:35; Lk 9:46; 22:24) we see that the disciples had this debate amongst themselves as if one of them were the greatest. They were likely comparing their actions and accomplishments.

As most men do, we compare and compete against each other in most anything. I can remember being in college competing against other guys who had the best p/u lines… and as we competed all the girls left the room. As a YP I saw teen boys compete to see who could drink the most milk and in a matter of minutes see them puke (As any YP, I could share multiple other things I saw teen boys compete in but 90% of them shouldn’t be repeated in public). Men do foolish things out of pride.

Jesus’ disciples were not much different. They wanted to be great.

  • They did not ask for greater faith or understanding.
  • They did not ask for greater strength to endure suffering or persecution, which Jesus predicted moments ago (17:22-23).
  • Their purpose was to self-promote and view Jesus as a means to their desired end. They did not really want to follow Jesus where He wanted to go but wanted Jesus to follow them just in case they got stuck and needed assistance.

Jesus’ response was surprising. Jesus did not settle the debate over who was smarter or superior, but instead gave an object illustration. Jesus selected a child and said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:4-5)

What was Jesus saying? Even more sobering in talking about a child is the seeming context of public execution, self-mutilation and eternal damnation, guardian angels and lost sheep.

Jesus was not endorsing Childish faith

  • Immature:  Childish Christians whine and throw tantrums to get their way rather than speaking to others with truth in love.

1Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

  • Ignorant: Childish Christians refuse to study Bible on own or in groups to refute responsibility. Awareness will bring accountability. Childish faith often asks why, why, why but never listens to the answers or reasons provided because they just want to hear themselves talk.
    1Corinthians 14:20 “do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil but in your thinking be mature.”
    Ephesians 4:14 “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
  • Indulgent: Childish Christians satisfy their lusts with worldly pleasure. Childish faith wants a junk food diet but without the consequences of poor health.
    2Timothy 2:22 “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace and with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Childlike Faith

  • Affectionate: Childlike Christians adore their Heavenly Father and love to spend time with family.
    Galatians 4:6-7 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’. So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
  • Hungry: Childlike Christians desire to grow by constant eating of spiritual food. Childlike faith cannot get enough of God’s presence and inviting others to share in the experience. Their life depends upon God.
    1Peter 2:2 “like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation”
  • Adventurous: Childlike Christians are motivated to joyfully obey because of they trust God’s principles are wise and helpful. Childlike faith is not satisfied with average but adventures to explore unchartered territory for the glory of God.
    1Timothy 4:12 let no one look down on youth but set example in speech, conduct, love, faith, purity”

Our purpose to “turn and become”

  • Turn: Implies a change of direction. Holy Spirit keeps turning inside us to hear and heed Jesus.
    • Note: If we do not turn, the passage has a double negative to emphasize “no, not ever will you enter the kingdom of God.”
  • Become like children: Implies a reset of mind and a radical conversion. Who can return the years of life? Or, who can enter a second time into a mother’s womb and be born again? (John 3:4)
  • Our life purpose comes alive when we turn self-ambition to glorifying God. Two people can have the same passions and perform same actions, but if one does it for fame and influence, while the other uses their influence to spread the name of Jesus, then the former counts for nothing but the latter stores up treasure in heaven.
    Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
    Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
    Romans 12:1-2 “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

God’s will and purpose for you is freedom… as long as you are glorifying Him.

  • The disciples are rebuked for arguing about personal greatness, but their starting point was being around Jesus. If we do not make ourselves available to God through reading Scripture, hearing teaching, or God’s people, then we will likely also miss our purpose and opportunities to turn and become. This is the importance of not just walking with God, but gathering with the church.

    – Note about pandemic: IMO, for a season virtual can be a substitute, but be consistent with behaviors. If you’re not coming to church but you’re going out in other community settings (sports, recreation, restaurants, etc.) then you’re likely walking a dangerous path of spiritual drift… which leads to next point:

Our faith gets stalled and stuck when we model the wrong priorities (Mt 18:5-10).

Jesus calls disciples not only to become childlike, but to welcome other children. The verb “receive” (δέχομαι) communicates the idea of a ready reception and generous hospitality. Modern readers might miss the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching because we value children slightly more. But, in ancient and biblical times, children were without status, and were the weakest and most vulnerable in society.[2] They were viewed more as servant/slaves than part of the family. Yet, children and those vulnerable are prominently placed and favored throughout Jesus’ ministry.

The Gospels portray the favored status: Matthew 18:2 and Luke 9:47 simply says, “Jesus called the child to Him and placed him in the midst of the disciples.” Mark 9:36 describes Jesus taking the child in His arms and placing him in the midst of the group.

  • The church should be asking, “Who are the vulnerable or unwanted around us in society? How can we show prominence and favor to these?”

Jesus goes on to say, that following His way will not be easy. There will be times we fail and fall. But we must do all we can to not model the wrong priorities and cause others to stumble and sin.

σκανδαλίσῃ = give offense, setting a trap. Our thoughts become words, our words become actions, our actions become a lifestyle, and our lifestyle becomes a legacy for others to follow. And Jesus says, if we are causing others to stumble, it would be better to have a millstone[3] fastened around your neck and drowned into the sea than to face eternity having caused another to sin. 

Jesus elevates living faith and modeling right priorities, that if something is causing others to fall away, we should give serious attention. In this case, Jesus is speaking figuratively not literally, but He is calling us to take faith serious enough to sever areas of our life that lead us or others away from Christ.

  • If your hand/foot/eye causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to enter life crippled/lame/blind then to be thrown into hell of fire.
    • Our hands can be raised in anger or reach for worldly pleasure that pushes others away.
    • Our feet can take us down paths where we should never reside.
    • Our eyes can lust after power, possessions, pleasure, but others know we’re not seeing clearly.

The idea is that this world is hard, and we can be hurt by it. And when we become hurt by the world, often we can be prone to hurt others. Hurt people, hurt people. The character flaws in our life can cause confusion and conflict in others that makes them walk away from Jesus. This is “woe!” In other words, we must work to break the cycle. Breaking the cycle of sin means you must feel the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain to change.

Some questions to help us take steps to break cycles of sin:

  • Identify: What is your crazy cycle – the habit you can’t halt?
  • Involve: Who can help or what resources do you need? Accountability starts with acknowledging need.
  • Interchange: What better practice will replace your previous bad habit?
  • Nourish: What feeds and sustains your spiritual growth?


APPLY/THINK

Overall, we see that we are intricately connected to each other in words and deeds. Disciples of Jesus are family called to love one another, and that love is sacrificial not self-serving.

The Shepherd loves all sheep to leave 99 just to find the 1. His love is for the lost, to bring you back to the sheepfold so you are not alone. 

Come As You Are…

COMMUNION

A childish view of communion is a snack/interlude; but childlike look at communion is shared friendship with Jesus.

  • Ask Jesus to renew childlike joy of salvation; eager to spend time with Heavenly Father.
    • “crowds went before Him shouting, “Hosanna” (Lord, save us, help!)
    • Find time today (or soon) to take a walk with Jesus.
  • Beyond praying for self, pray for person on left and right.
    • Give thanks as appropriate / Pray for their spiritual growth. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9  the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
10  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

  • Don’t forget what you’ve been saved from.
  • You were washed… take eat & drink.

Amazing Grace


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56538653

[2] May, Scottie, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community. P.40.

[3] great millstone indicated one pulled by donkey and therefore likely weighing several hundred pounds.

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