2nd May 2023
Read (Matthew 18v5-14)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Northern Ireland is a funny place. It has been saturated with the Gospel for generations, there are churches on every street corner and yet increasingly our society is departing from God's Word. Nevertheless, I never cease to be amazed at how many people still maintain a notion of "going to a better place" or that "the big man upstairs will look after me." Everyone thinks they'll go to heaven but Jesus teaches that in this world there are His children and then everyone else.
Jesus has already counselled us that the Christian must have the humility of a little child. The believer is someone who has repented of their sin and put their faith in Christ. In such an individual there can be no room for arrogance or pride. Jesus describes His followers as children and says that anyone who welcomes His children also welcomes Him (v5). The one who welcomes Christ's followers for Christ's sake is blessed indeed. These individuals love the Lord and His people and they seek to ensure that the Gospel is advanced.
However there are those who have no regard for Jesus or His "children" and they seek to lead Christ's followers into sin (v6a). The Lord warned that for such an opponent of the Gospel it would be better for them to have a great stone tied around their neck and then thrown into the sea (v6b). Why? Because the day of judgement is coming and those who have opposed Christ and His church will meet with a worst fate than drowning.
The world is divided between those called Christ's "children" and those who hate the Lord. The earth is a sinful place full of temptation (v7) and remarkably the Lord stressed that temptations are necessary (v7b). In what way? The Lord is sovereign and uses even temptation to grow up His children in faith and sanctification. Peter would put it this way "now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1v6-7). Temptations and trials prove our faith to be genuine resulting in the praise and glory and honour of Jesus.
Nevertheless Jesus pronounces woe upon the one who deliberately brings temptation to His little children (v7c). It is a terrible thing to be an opponent of Christ - such an individual is on the wrong side of history and an enemy of the judge of the universe.
Knowing the true nature of this world and the battles we will certainly face, the Lord urges us again (Matthew 5v29-30) to take sin seriously. He reminds us that "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 crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." (v8-9). Jesus isn't calling us to chop off body parts but with strong serious language He pushes us towards mortification which is the putting to death of sin.
We would do well to wrestle with the gravity of these verses. Jesus couldn't be clearer that to oppose His children is to oppose Him. Why is He so serious? Two reasons. Firstly, Jesus says that His children are not be despised because their angels see God's face in heaven (v10). Some take this verse to mean that when God's children die their spirit (called an angel) will see God's face. Others suggest that this verse teaches that each Christian has a guardian angel. I think the best interpretation is that angels are ministering spirits sent out for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1v14). Therefore God's children are not to be despised because God's angels see His face and they work each day to support God's people. If the angels strive for Christ's children then only a fool would oppose them.
Secondly, followers of Jesus are not to be despised because God is unwilling for a single Christian to be lost (v14). The Lord is like a man who has one hundred sheep and one of them goes astray (v12). He leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the lost one. He then rejoices greatly over the little one once lost and now found (v13).
Christ's followers are called His children and they are to be marked by their humility, their faith under temptation and their hatred of sin. Christians are the beloved of the Lord and the one who opposes them opposes Christ. This is serious business and to be heeded by all. Brothers and sisters, may such teaching challenge and assure us in equal measure. To everyone else, repent and believe the Gospel.
Q35 What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.