Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity September 13, 1998
Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 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. But 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.”
“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.”
In the name of Christ Jesus, who said, “Let the little children come unto Me and forbid them not,” dear fellow children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
About three or four years ago, I was in the office of a neighboring CLC pastor, reading through some Sunday School brochures that he had acquired for his church. These brochures were going to be passed out in the neighborhood as a way to invite visitors to Sunday School. One brochure had a very catchy title. It said, “I want the best for my children.” You hear parents say that today. They want their children to have the very best of everything: the best opportunities, the best resources, even the best material things. But in many cases the thinking of parents is too short-term and too short-sighted. They don’t realize or they don’t remember that the best is not to be had on this earth. The best is yet to come, and it’s in the hands of God. This attitude which many parents have—well, God has it too. Jesus points this out quite vividly in our text.
You may be sensing that this sermon is going to be a pep talk on Christian education. Well, you’re right; it’s going to be that. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Christian education begins, first of all, with Christ. Religious training will always start with the heart and mind of God. We do it because of God’s desire and God’s plan. God wants what is good for your family. We can say that because Jesus says it. He points to the wonderful attitude that God has for children.
So often, we think of our kids as little people in the making. We want them to reach adulthood as mature, responsible, dependable men and women. So it’s important that we give them good examples to follow. We strive to be effective role models for our sons and daughters. Well, isn’t it strange that Jesus points to a little child as the role model for us adults? When the disciples were trying to decide which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus summoned a three or four-year old child 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.”
What was the Lord’s point, we have to ask. It was simply this: the young child is the prime example of humility, trust, and dependence. With no sense of shame or pride, the young child will look with great trust to the care, support, and guidance of his parents. That’s the way you need to be with God—having humble trust and dependence on Him as the one who gives you eternal life. To be in the kingdom of God, we need something that we do not have by nature: a child-like faith which simply clings to what God offers, a child-like faith which simply takes the gift without any thought of deserving or earning this blessing for ourselves.
Of course, this child-like faith is more than a hypothetical goal. It actually happens, because God produces it in the hearts of children and the hearts of adults. In fact, this child-like faith is something that God takes very seriously. Once He creates it, He does not want it to die. He especially doesn’t want the faith of children to die. The attitude of God comes out quite plainly in the words of Christ: “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But 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.”
Let me explain that last part. A millstone was a very heavy stone grinder that was turned on a pivot by a donkey or some other animal. If a person were actually tied to the ancient millstone and dropped into the ocean, he would surely sink and drown. But you have to understand: no one ever did that sort of thing. Jesus uses something hypothetical to make a point. If a man or woman were about to cause the faith of a child to die through temptation, false teaching, or negligence, it would be better for that person if his life were suddenly ended before he could cause spiritual harm to the child. Why? Because the judgment that God lays out for killing a person’s faith is immense. It’s the very judgment of hell, laid out on the unbeliever who harms and steals the souls that rightly belong to God.
God wants every child to be with Him forever. He earnestly desires the salvation of every individual, whether child or adult. As Jesus points out in the last verse, “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” The attitude of saving children from sin, death, and hell is an attitude that God wants us to copy. Again Jesus says, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones…” God wants us to think about our kids the way He does. Getting the child into heaven is the all-important goal. The question is—are we helping to achieve that goal, or do we interfere in some way? Are we doing what God would have us do, or do we short-change our children the spiritual care and the Christian education that they so desperately need?
We’ll address those issues in a bit. For now let’s keep our focus on the mind of God. Let there be no doubt: God wants the best for your child. You can tell by His attitude, the way He thinks about children. He wants each one to have salvation and eternal life. Naturally, you can expect the Lord to act on His will. His life-saving attitude will lead to life-saving action.
Jesus mentions a specific way where God has acted for the good of your child. He brings it up in verse 10: “I say to you, that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” It won’t be our concern to determine whether each child has one special guardian angel or not. The Bible does not pin it down that precisely. But it does teach that the Lord has appointed angels to watch over the physical welfare of our children. Angels go with them as they leave the house for school, as they travel the road by car, as they sleep at night, and whenever they come near danger.
It’s an act of love when God sends angels to protect your child. It’s an even greater act of love when God sends Jesus to save your child. We should really make this personal and direct. When you think of Jesus on the cross, remember that the sacrifice was made for your son, your daughter, your spouse, and yourself. Jesus died for your family, to purchase the forgiveness of your sins and your freedom from death and hell. We should never think that children are like angels, as if they did not sin and didn’t need a Savior. I’m sure you can think of the times when your child misbehaved or got into trouble. That’s a clear example of sin, for which our children are guilty. It’s a clear example of the fact that they need Jesus as much as we adults do.
In many households around the country, parents are saving and investing for the future of their families. Sacrifices are made to put away something for college. Getting something good for your child can be expensive. Well, God knows that too. He knows it firsthand. He had to sacrifice His Son to save your son and your daughter! Jesus had to make the biggest investment of all to pay off the debt that we owe to God. That’s why He came to earth: “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” This statement was not merely a description of His mission. It was the promise of victory. We know that Christ accomplished everything He came to do. His death has covered the redemption price of every soul in this church and every soul in this world. When God decided to give your family the very best, He made His wish come true through the gift of His Son.
Once the Lord has come to be your Savior, there’s only one thing left to accomplish. The Holy Spirit must come to give us our faith in Christ. For most of us here, this happened very early in life. Our parents brought us to the waters of baptism, where God has washed away our sins and planted a real, living, child-like faith in our hearts. This baptism was indeed a power that produced our spiritual life. But we cannot ignore the ongoing reality. Our faith is not bullet-proof. It comes under attack. It needs constant nourishment and growth. It needs preventative maintenance. The faith that God creates at baptism will die if it is not cared for properly. That’s why the Bible encourages all of us to hear the Word in church and use the Word at home. That’s especially why God tells parents to remember the spiritual needs of their kids. God wants your child to have the best and keep it. Naturally, that will involve you as part of the process. You can help get the best for your child. You can help by your own involvement with the spiritual care of children.
Let’s summarize what a child needs for eternal life. He needs a Savior from sin, which God has supplied through Jesus. The child needs faith in Christ, which God has supplied through the power of baptism and the working of the Holy Spirit. To keep that faith going, children need to learn the Word. Which is not something they will actively seek for themselves. Like everything else in their life, children need to be shown the way. They need the help and guidance of parents and other adults. The Gospel will have to be taught to your child.
The question is—who will do the teaching? God offers some direct answers. To mothers and fathers both, God has said: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:6-7) To fathers specifically, God has commanded: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) The Lord has also involved pastors and teachers in the church, when He declared to Peter, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15)
Every adult in this congregation has a part in the responsibility of Christian education. Parents will be the examples for their children to follow; they will teach the child at home and bring the child to the formal instruction of Sunday School, confirmation class, and Christian day school. The pastor and the teachers in the church will carry out the instruction—not to replace the parents, but rather to reinforce and expand the child’s knowledge of Christ and all the other truths of Christian doctrine. Other concerned adults will support the church’s effort through prayer and offerings. We work for the same goal as a team: parents in the home, teachers in the church, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit in the heart of the child.
Yes, God is very much involved with the process. He’s not just the subject matter that our children learn. He’s the power of the education process. He’s the motivation too. The various spiritual duties that we have—whether it’s bringing your family to worship, teaching them to pray, leading by example, or reading the Bible stories at bedtime—you can take up these duties with the firm conviction that God wants the best for your children. Their souls are indeed very precious to Him. God has placed a high premium on the faith of children and has called upon us to nourish the valuable treasure that He has placed into their heart.
Sometimes we hear people say, “Let’s do it for the children.” We can make that our motto in spiritual matters. Christian education is not an extra-curricular. It’s life and death. It’s the most important training your child will ever get, not to mention the fact that it’s also good for you. So let’s do it for the children and yourself. Bring your child to Sunday School and you stay for Bible Class. Make Bible reading and Bible stories part of your daily schedule. Let them see how important the Word of God is to you. Show them how the Bible applies to their everyday life. Talk to your child about the problem that we have with sin, the love that Christ has for us, and the saving power of His cross. Help them see that Jesus is not just a person in history, but rather the most important person in their life.
Do you want the best for your child? Then let’s give them the best, the very best that God has to offer. We know that Christian education requires a certain degree of effort. We take the time; we give the money; we sacrifice our personal convenience. But look what happens. All these efforts help to bring the Word to bear on the heart of the child. And through that Word God will lead them. God will make His promise come true: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)
God has a plan to give your family the very best: a relationship with Him that leads to eternal life. If we ignore God’s plan or put it on hold, it only leads to frustration and problems. If we follow the plan—or rather, if God leads us to follow His plan—then the best is sure to come. May God help us in this all-important effort. God help us to see the heavenly value that He has placed on every child. God help us to get involved and stay involved in the spiritual training of our sons and daughters. May God work mightily to bring each one of us to the final destination, His very best for you and me. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.