Sunday, April 28, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "These Little Ones"

“These Little Ones”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
April 28, 2019 :: Matthew 18:1-14

Our sermon series is called “Following Jesus,” because that’s what Matthew is all about. The Gospel of Matthew is about answering the question, “Who Is Jesus?” and when you find out the real answer to that question, your next question is, “What does it mean to follow Him?”

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of Jesus Christ, the most compelling Person Who ever lived.

We’ve reached chapter 18 which marks the beginning of the fourth of five major blocks of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Sermon on the Mount, the second was the Teaching on Missions. The third was the Parables of the Kingdom. And now, we’ve reach the fourth which seems to be mostly about living as Jesus’ disciples in community with one another. Following Jesus as a part of His new called-out fellowship. It’s about relationships and obedience.

And today it’s about what Jesus calls, “These Little Ones.”

He keeps using that phrase again and again in the first 14 verses of this chapter.

“These Little Ones”

And let me tell you right off, Jesus feels strongly about these people whom He calls “these little ones.”

Though you might be surprised to find out who they are.

There are a lot of surprises into today’s passage!

The first surprise was for the disciples who wanted to know which of them was the G.O.A.T.

You know what that stands for, right?

Sports fans are always arguing about this, right?

Greatest. Of. All. Time.

Michael Jordan or LeBron James? (Or Maybe Wilt Chamberlin?)
Jack Nicklaus or comeback kid Tiger Woods?
Tom Brady or ___________?

[I knew that I’d get a reaction out of you with that one! I vote for Bernie Kosar.]

We don’t just fight over the G.O.A.T. in sports.

We do that with movies, too. Some are saying that Avengers: Endgame is the G.O.A.T. for superhero movies. I enjoyed it a lot, but I don’t know about greatest of all time....?

We argue about whether lots of things are great or are the greatest of all time.

Well, the disciples were wondering who was the G.O.A.T. of the kingdom of heaven.

And the Gospel of Mark tells us that they had been arguing with each other about which one of them it was!

“Jesus, which of us is the G.O.A.T?”

“I mean, it’s one of us, right?  We’re your twelve disciples.”

“There’s going to be twelve thrones, right? You’re on the top throne, of course, but who will be at your right hand?”

We just learned about a similar discussion this morning in Sunday School!

Look at verse 1.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”

They weren’t asking about anything little were they?

How is Jesus going to answer?

“Jesus, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”

I don’t know what they expected to hear.

I know how our world defines greatness:

How many followers do you have?
What have you accomplished?
What many wins have you racked up?
How much money have you earned?
How many possessions do you have?
What is your status and reputation?
How famous are you?
How much power do you wield?

Those are the kind of markers that we look for in the great.

And it was similar back then.

The disciples probably had a similar idea of what greatness was.

But Jesus’ idea was very different.

They were asking about the kingdom–Jesus’ favorite thing to teach about.

But they had forgotten that Jesus’ kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, right?

Verse 2.

“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus said, “You want a picture of greatness?”

Greatness looks like this.

Now, this is actually a shocking thing for Jesus to say.

We don’t understand how shocking it is, because we live in a society that values children, in many ways because Jesus did.

And in fact sometimes we overvalue children. Some people’s lives center around keeping children happy. Kid-centric.

But that’s not what it was like in Jesus’ day.

Parents loved their children. That’s always been true.

But society didn’t love or respect children.

Children had no power.
Children had virtually no rights.

A picture of status?
Is this a picture of someone with millions of followers?
Great accomplishments?
Lots of money and possessions?

Is this a picture of power?

No, but it is a picture of greatness. What greatness is.

V.3 again.

“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”


If you don’t, you won't even get into the kingdom of heaven, much less be the greatest one there!

Now, don’t get Jesus wrong here.

There are ways in which we are supposed to be like this child and ways we are not supposed to be like this child.

He’s not saying that we are supposed to be childish.

We’re not supposed to be immature or naive.

And he’s not saying that we’re supposed to be innocent or sinless. Children are not innocent or sinless or perfectly pure.

Here’s what children were: They were dependent. They were lowly. They were powerless. They were defenseless. They were vulnerable. They were needy. They were humble.

What was the name of this child?

We don’t know.

He’s was just a kid.

And Jesus said (v.4), “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child [this nameless little forgettable powerless vulnerable, needy, lowly child] is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus says that we must humble ourselves.

That’s hard to do.

It’s especially hard to do if you are busy arguing about how great you are.

It’s not natural.

That’s why Jesus says in verse 3 that we have to “change and become like little children.”

It requires change, and that requires God’s help.

Our job is to humble ourselves.

Have you done that?

Have you become like one of these little dependent children?

Some people think that believing in Jesus is a crutch.

But believing in Jesus is more than a crutch. It’s a stretcher.

It’s being carried by Jesus, trusting in Him, putting all of your weight on Him.

Is there a prettier picture than a sleeping child over the shoulder of a mom or dad?

Jesus says that we have to become like that.

You want to be great? Be like that kid!

We have to humble ourselves.

Just to get into the kingdom. Becoming a Christian is a humbling experience.

You have to say that you can’t do it on your own. And you need what Jesus did for you on the Cross or you are toast. And you know you deserve it.

That kind of honest and humility does not come easily for people like you and me.

But we have to become like these little ones.

We have to trust and become vulnerable and ask for help.

And we have to keep growing in humility.

Are you and I growing in humility?

Is there anyone in your life that would say that you are currently growing in humility?

More childlike in your faith?
More childlike in your self-assessment?
More childlike in your dependence?

If not, then you’ll never be the greatest.

Because the kingdom is upside.

Remember who the G.O.A.T. is for humility!

It’s the King Himself, right?

“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man [AS A CHILD!], he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

That’s the G.O.A.T right there!

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Humility is the path to greatness.


In verse 5, Jesus takes the discussion into a different lane. He says (v.5):

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Now, I’m not sure if the “little child like this” is the little guy that Jesus has standing in their midst, the little object lesson guy, or if Jesus means any follower of His who has humbled themselves and become like that child.

I asked my family about it last night, and Andrew said, “Why can’t it be both?”

Maybe it can.

If you welcome a little child, a little vulnerable, dependent, powerless child in the name of Jesus, you welcome Jesus.

That’s something, isn’t it?!


That should say something to our children’s ministry workers.

The folks back there in the nursery.
The folks back there in children’s church.
The people who work with the ABCs and the KFC’s and the MOPS kids.

When you get down on one need and warmly welcome a child in the name of Jesus, you are welcoming Jesus.


Of course, it’s bigger, not smaller, if Jesus means every single follower of His who has humbled themselves like a little child.

If you receive a humble disciple in the name of Jesus, you are welcoming Jesus.

Because Jesus cares about His little ones.

But here’s the flipside. If you harm one of these little ones, you are in big trouble.


“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.”

Those are very strong words.

They are a warning from Jesus to all who need to hear it.

Do not harm these little ones.

It’s hard not to think here about the horror of child abuse.

If Jesus loves the little children, and you or I hurt the little children, we can expect to be hurt ourselves.

But notice in verse 6 exactly who “these little ones” are.

Jesus calls them, “these little ones who believe in me.” I think He’s talking about all of us who have humbled ourselves to become His followers.

Weak, dependent, like children, spiritual children, disciples.

Don’t harm them. Don’t harm us.

And the harm he’s talking about here is specifically leading others into sin. Being a stumbling block for them. Tempting them.

Tempting them to sin.
Tempting them to apostasy.
Tempting them to stop following Christ.

If you or I or anybody tries to lead vulnerable little disciples away from following Jesus, Jesus will get very mad about it.

He issues to warning “woes.” v.7

“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”

Judgment is on the way.

It may not seem like it, but it is inevitable.

Woe to the world for the evil at work in the world.

But woe to the people who are working the evil.

Woe to those “anyone [who] causes one of these little ones who believe in [Jesus] to sin.”

If you are tempted to go down that route, then you must take drastic action to stop yourself. V.8

“If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

Jesus has already spoken like this in the Gospel of Matthew. Remember where? Back in the Sermon on the Mount.

There he was talking specifically about lust. Here it could be just about any sin, including the sin of pride which He’s been talking about since the beginning of the chapter.

Some scholars think this is talking about church discipline and excommunication. The body here would be like Paul’s metaphor of the body. And that’s possible. Jesus is going to teach on church discipline in just a few verses. He could be saying that we need to take drastic action to make sure that those who would harm the little ones are cut off and excluded.

But I think it’s more likely that He’s saying that we all personally need to take drastic action [whatever it takes!] to make sure we don’t become the kind of people who harm the little ones. Who turn disciples into nondisciples. Who lead other disciples into sin and apostasy.

No way. No how. Not going to there. Whatever it takes.

Of course, Jesus is using hyperbole and exaggeration. Because literally cutting off your foot, hand, or eye won’t cut out your sin. That’s got to be a metaphor for intense repentance and doing whatever it takes to resist temptation.

But that doesn’t make it any less serious.

The warning is death by drowning would be better.
The warning is it’d be better to maim yourself than to burn in Hell.

Don’t harm these little ones!

And don’t hate these little ones, either.


“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.”

The word translated “look down” means to despise or hold in contempt.

Jesus is still warning anyone who needs to hear it, that He cares deeply and indisputably about these little ones.

He loves them.

He loves us, His little children.

And if He loves the little ones, then we shouldn’t hate them.

He says that these little ones have personal angels. “Their angels.” I don’t know if that means “guardian angels” here and whether it’s one for one. One for each believer.

It says that these angels are in heaven. Not on earth.

But, He says that their angels “always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Jesus’ Father in heaven.

These angels have access to the Father!

And so you don’t want sin against these little ones, or their angels will tell the Father!

That’s how great these little ones are. They have personal angels who speak to God on their behalf when they are sinned against.

And I think those little ones are you and me if we have humbled ourselves and become like a little child.

Do you feel like a nobody?

That’s okay. It’s probably good.

But just know that nobodies are greatly loved by the great Somebody.

Don’t hate these little ones. They are loved by God!

So if one of them wanders off, what then?

Does God just say, “O well, I’ve got a bunch of others.”

In verse 12, Jesus offers a thought experiment.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? [You might guess, “No,” but the answer is actually “Yes.” It’s a rhetorical question about love.]  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep [restored!] than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven [not just His Father here, but our Father] is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Again, I think the little ones are, ultimately, the trust disciples.

You and me if we have humbled ourselves and become like a little child.

What if we begin to wander?

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

What then?

This is like Jesus’ story about the Lost Sheep in Luke 15, but there it’s talking about lost people, pre-Christians, nonChristians.

This is talking about these little ones, true disciples who begin to lose their way.

What about them?

How does the Father feel about them?

Here this. “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

He goes after all of His true children and He makes sure they get home.

That is so precious!

We call that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

“He will me fast.”

Of course, He uses us to help do that.

If the Good Shepherd goes after the wayward sheep, we should do the same.

Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

James 5:19, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (vv.19-20).

God loves these little ones, and goes after them, so so should we.

We’re on God’s search and rescue team.

Don’t hate these little ones, even if they wander.

Go after them! Love them like you would want to be loved.

This is so different from how world is, isn’t it?

We are called to a upside-down kingdom.

Where nobodies are greatly loved by the Great Somebody.

So we must become like these little ones.
And welcome these little ones.
And not harm these little ones.
And not hate these little ones.

But love these little ones, because Jesus loves us.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith