Commitment to Children

Commitment to Children

Text: Matthew 18:1-12

 

You have to hand it to Jesus when it comes to shocking people. Jesus manages to surprise just about everyone at one point or another. We see Jesus over and over astonishing people with his teachings, particularly the Pharisees. After a while I’m sure the disciples just sat back wondering what brilliant thing was going to come out of his mouth next. But Jesus didn’t just reserve his startling insights for his opponents, he also aimed them at his disciples. This morning’s text is a classic example. The disciples come to Jesus with a question, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And they didn’t just pull that one out of thin air. Just prior to this they had seen Jesus transfigured, they had seen his glory revealed, they had seen Moses and Elijah. And suddenly the disciples are wondering where they fit in to all this? Are they going to be greater than Moses and Elijah, after all their master is the Messiah? And so they ask Jesus, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And Jesus does something shocking. He asks a little child to come forward and he says, ‘this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!’

Let me show you what that might have looked like. Abbey can you come up here? Listen to what Jesus says about children. ‘Unless you change and become like [this] child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.’ And then Jesus starts saying things in plural, now he’s not just thinking of one child, but a group of children. So can I have the rest of the kids come up the front for a moment? Jesus continues, ‘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. See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.’ Jesus took a little child, maybe it was a child just like one of these up here this morning, and he said the most amazing things, things that must have shocked the disciples, and I hope they will shock you this morning. Before you guys return to your seats I want you to take an activity sheet, and you can colour in some stuff, but I’m also going to ask you to fill in some parts, so make sure you listen as well (hand out activity sheets and send the kids back to their seats). This morning we’re going to look Jesus’ commitment to children, how they are vastly significant, how they are vulnerable, but how they are also valuable.

 

1) Children are vastly significant

So the first thing Jesus has to say about children is that they are vastly significant. The disciples ask the question ‘1 …Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (Mt 18:1b)’ And verses 2-5 is Jesus’ response, ‘2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. (Mt 18:2-5)’ There are three significant things about children that Jesus wants us to know this morning.

a) We must become like a child to enter God’s kingdom

Firstly, Jesus says that we must become like a child to enter into God’s kingdom. What is it about that little child that Jesus wants us to emulate? In verses 2 and 3 Jesus does three things and the child does three things.

i) We must respond to the call of Christ.

Firstly, ‘he called a little child.’ Like I asked Abbey to come to the front, so Jesus called the child here in our text to come to him. And the amazing thing about that child is that he or she responded to Jesus. Jesus called and the child came. And that’s the quality that Jesus is looking for. You can’t enter into God’s kingdom unless you respond to Jesus’ call. That’s what set the disciples apart from everyone else, they responded to Jesus’ call. When Jesus saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee cleaning their nets, Mark says, ‘20 Without delay [Jesus] called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mk 1:20)’ When Jesus called them they came and followed. Later Mark tells us that ‘13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. (Mk 3:13)’ In John’s gospel Jesus says, ‘3 …[The Good Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 …his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (Jn 10:3b,4b)’ The only way to get into God’s kingdom is to respond to Jesus’ call.

ii) We must do what Jesus asks

Secondly, Jesus had the child stand among them. Jesus didn’t just call the child, he asked the child to do something, to stand amongst the disciples. And the child did it. It didn’t ask any questions, it didn’t hesitate, as far as we know it didn’t complain, or pout, or whinge, or ask ‘why me?’ It just did what Jesus asked. When Jesus says we need to become like that child it’s this quality of unquestioning obedience that he is referring to. To get into the kingdom of heaven we need to do what Jesus asks. That’s pretty much what it means to follow Jesus, to do what he asks of us. If Jesus says love one another, we love one another. If Jesus says, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If Jesus says, take up your cross daily, we take up our cross daily. The only way to get into the kingdom of God is to stay where Jesus tells us to stay, to go where Jesus tells us to go, and do what Jesus tells us to do.

iii) We need to be changed

But there’s one more thing that Jesus does, which we find in verse 3. Jesus says, ‘3 …I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3)’ Whenever Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth…’ you know he’s about to say something really important. The NIV doesn’t pick it up very well, but the most important thing is that we need to be changed. When Jesus says ‘unless you change,’ what he means is ‘unless I change you, unless I help you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The truth is that only Jesus can change our attitude towards him. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts are we able to respond to Jesus’ call over our lives. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we live the life that Jesus has called us to live.

So I want to ask the adults sitting here this morning: Are you like that little child? Have you responded to Jesus’ call? Do you obey Jesus without question? And for you kids here today, if Jesus calls you to follow him will you respond? Will you do what Jesus asks? If you answered yes I encourage you to write down on your activity sheet ‘I will follow Jesus.’

b) We must humble ourselves like a child to be great in God’s kingdom

Secondly, Jesus says we must humble ourselves like a child to be great in God’s kingdom. At its very heart, this quality, of responding to Jesus’ call and doing what he asks, is an act of humility. A child obeys an adult because they recognize the adult’s authority. In the same way the greatest person in God’s Kingdom are those who submit themselves to Jesus’ authority. And the greatest example of such submission is none other than Jesus himself. When it came to the crunch, when Jesus was faced with death, he said to God, ‘39 …not as I will, but as you will. (Mt 26:39c)’ And because he humbly obeyed his father Jesus is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Paul says that because ‘8 … [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross 9 …God exalted him to the highest place… (Phil 2:8b-9a)’ The greatest person in the Kingdom of heaven is Jesus because he humbly submitted himself to death on the cross. And like Jesus our greatness won’t be measured by the standards of this world, by how much we achieve, or how intelligent we are, but by how much we humbly submit to God’s will, by how much we recognize Jesus’ authority over our lives. Like a little child humbly submits to an adult, so the greatest in the kingdom of heaven humbly submit themselves to Jesus. So I want to ask you: How much are you like a little child? How quick are you to say ‘Yes dad,’ to God? Or are you like an adult, independent, self-sufficient, doing life your own way? The greatest in heaven are those who humble themselves before God.

c) When we welcome a child we welcome Jesus

The next thing Jesus says is probably the most shocking of all. He says, ‘whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.’ That word ‘welcome’ can also be translated as ‘accept,’ or ‘receive.’ Jesus isn’t talking about greeting children, but making them a part of our church and our lives. Children are significant, they matter. They matter to God, and so they should matter to us. We need to include children in our services and in our lives. We need to invest in our children. But Jesus is also suggesting that how we behave towards children is one of the indicators of how we behave towards him. Our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is seen by our acceptance of children. How much we value Jesus is seen by how much we value children. So here’s the big thing I want you children to write on your activity sheet, I’ll put it up on the screen, children matter to God. You matter to God. And because you matter to God, you matter to us. We think you kids are awesome, and we not only welcome you guys here in church, but we welcome you as part of our lives, we want to serve you, and care for you, and teach you about Jesus. That’s why we want you to be a part of Tiny Tots and Sunday School and Catechism so that you can learn about Jesus. That’s why we want you to be a part of our worship service, because you belong to God’s family, the church. We think children are hugely significant, to God and to us.

 

2) Children are Vulnerable

But while children are vastly significant that are also incredibly vulnerable.

a) Don’t cause them to stumble

If children matter then the worst thing you could do is harm children. Jesus talks about anyone who ‘6 …causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin… (Mt 18:6a)’ In the Greek it’s the word skandalidzomai, which means causing someone to stumble or fall. The last thing we should do is cause a little child to stumble. Kids are naturally trusting and the worst thing you could do is break that trust. The NIV interprets breaking trust in terms of leading kids astray, of causing them to commit sin. But it can also mean causing them to lose faith, and not just their faith in us, but their faith in Jesus. We cause our kids to stumble on the faith journey when we teach them to sin. Now you might be thinking you’d never teach your kids to sin. But the truth is we pass on our sinful attitudes and behaviours to our kids. When we treat church as an optional extra we teach our kids to do the same. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen parents decide they don’t need to go to church every Sunday and then see their kids decide they don’t need to go to church at all. When we make snide comments about someone, our kids think it’s okay to slander and gossip. When we aren’t clear about what honours God, our kids think dishonouring God is okay. When we don’t treat our kids as people who matter to God they can start to think they don’t matter, to us, or God. Jesus wants us to be very careful that we don’t cause children to stumble.

b) Jesus’ concern

And Jesus is incredibly concerned about people who do. In fact, Jesus says probably some of the strongest words in all the New Testament. He says, ‘6 …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. (Mt 18:6b)’ Jesus takes the abuse of children very seriously. According to Jesus it would be better to take your own life than to take advantage of a child, or abuse their trust. If children matter to God he won’t take lightly those who treat children as if they don’t matter. You don’t want to appear before God on judgment day with the abuse of children on your charge sheet. In verse 7 Jesus uses the word woe. He says, ‘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! (Mt 18:7)’ Jesus makes two important points in that verse. Firstly, things that cause people to stumble will come. And when he says they will come, he means they are part of God’s plan. God allowed sin into the world not only so that we have free will, the choice to obey or disobey, to make ourselves god or honour him as God, but also to show us how much he loves us, by sending Jesus to die in our place. Sin isn’t outside God’s plan, Adam and Eve eating that fruit wasn’t a surprise to God because he had Jesus in mind all along. But the second thing is that even though sin is a part of God’s plan it doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for our actions, and deserving of the consequences. Our sin might be part of God’s plan, but God will judge our sin. If you cause a child to stumble, God has a plan for that child, but he also has a plan for you.

c) Do whatever it takes

And because children are so vastly significant to God, and so vulnerable, Jesus tells us to do whatever it takes to protect them. And it’s interesting that he doesn’t tell us to protect children by focusing on children, but by focusing on ourselves. The greatest danger to children is us. Jesus says, ‘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. 9 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. (Mt 18:8-9)’ Jesus’ point is that we need to deal ruthlessly with whatever causes us to stumble in our walk with Christ, because those are the very things that will cause others to stumble. Francis Assisi famously said, ‘If there’s need for changing people then let it begin with me.’ If we are going to protect our kids we need to protect ourselves from whatever might harm them. What issues in your life do you need to deal with? Maybe you raise your hand in anger? Maybe your feet take you to places you shouldn’t go? Maybe your eyes see things that they shouldn’t see? If you don’t deal with those things, if you don’t confess them and repent of them, and keep far away from them, they may one day harm your children, or someone else’s. Your life impacts children, and because they are vulnerable, you have to be extra careful, extra vigilant. We want our church to be a safe place for children, a place where children are loved and cared for, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our kids. In fact, we use a program called ChildSafe to help us keep kids safe. Everyone who works with children in our church has to do ChildSafe training. Every 3 years we do a refresher course so we’re asking everyone who works with children to sign up for our ChildSafe training on the first weekend in August. Find your name on the list and choose either Saturday morning or Sunday lunch. Because kids are vulnerable we do whatever it takes to protect them.

 

3) Children are Valuable

The reason why Jesus is so intense about protecting children is because they are so valuable in God’s sight. In verse 10 Jesus says, ‘10 See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. (Mt 18:10a)’ The word ‘see’ is a command. Jesus commands us not to look down on children. In the Greek it’s literally ‘do not think little of little people.’ In fact, Jesus wants us to do the opposite, he wants us to think highly of children. Jesus actually gives us four reasons why we should think highly of children.

a) Their angels stand before God

Firstly, he talks about how their angels stand before God. In the rest of verse 10 Jesus says, ‘10 …For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Mt 18:10b)’ That’s a cool thought isn’t – children have their own angels. God values children so much he assigns angels to them. And the idea is that we ought to treat children well, because if we don’t God’s going to hear about it. You might think no one will find out if you mistreat children, but their angels know, and their angels will dob, God will find out. You kids here this morning: I want you to write that down – God values you so much that he has given you a personal angel.

b) God cares enough to leave heaven for them

The second reason we should think highly of children is because God cares about them so much that left heaven for them. Jesus asks the question, ‘12 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? (Mt 18:12)’ In the Greek they haven’t just wandered off, they’ve been driven off, someone caused them to leave the safety of the church. The point of this parable is not just that God cares about lost children, but that he actually leaves heaven to find them. God left heaven, and became one of us, in part to rescue children. That’s Jesus’ mission. Jesus is the good shepherd who came to save children. So kids, I want you to write that down – Jesus left heaven to find you.

c) God rejoices when he finds them

And what’s more when God finds them he rejoices. In the next verse Jesus says, ‘13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (Mt 18:13)’ God throws a party, not just when a lost sinner is saved, but when little children are saved. You kids here this morning I want you to write that down as well – nothing makes God more happy than when he finds you.

d) God is not willing to lose them

Finally, Jesus makes it as clear as possible, God is not willing to lose his children. Verse 14, ‘14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Mt 18:14)’ Just like a shepherd isn’t willing to lose even one sheep, so God isn’t willing to lose a single child who belongs to him. God’s desire is that every child in this room will be saved.

That’s how much God values children, he assigns angels to them, he leaves heaven in order to save them, he rejoices in them, he will do whatever it takes to save them. Is that our attitude towards children? Do we think highly of children? Do we value children like God values children? Do we invest in children to the same extent as God does? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to see our kids come to faith in Jesus Christ, and become a part of God’s family, the church? And that responsibility may reside primarily with the parents, but it also belongs to the church as a whole. That’s why when we baptize children we all vow ‘to receive this child in love, pray for them and help care for their instruction in the faith…’ The last thing that I want you children to write down is this – God values you so much he sent Jesus to save you through his death on the cross. And we value you as well, we will do whatever it takes to teach you about Jesus and be godly examples to you.

 

As we finish this morning I want to take the opportunity to particularly thank those who serve in our children’s ministries. I would like to ask the people who have been teaching Tiny Tots and Sunday School and Catechism for the last six months to stand. We would like to publically thank you for loving our children and caring enough about them to teach them about Christ. As you serve our children you are also serving Jesus. How about we give these guys a round of applause? You guys can take a seat, and I’d like to ask the people who will be teaching our kids for the next six months to stand. I would like to thank you for your willingness to serve our children, and I would like to pray for you. Let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father, we want to thank You for our children, they are a gift from You and You have given them to us so that we can love them like You love them, so that we can care for them like You care for them, so that we can teach them about You and about Your Son, Jesus Christ and what he has done for them on the cross. Lord, we thank You for these people who have put up their hands to love and serve and teach our children. Lord, we want to honour them because their task is so important, not just to our children, but to You. Lord, fill them with Your love and grace so that they can serve our kids with the strength that you provide. Lord, use them to communicate your love to our children. And Lord, bless them and their ministry, that it may be a joy for them, and that they may see the fruit of their efforts. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. You can be seated. I now want to pray for the kids that are a part of our church, so I want to ask if all the kids could come back in from crèche, and if they could all stand so we can pray for them. If you want to place your hands on your child’s head as we pray feel free to do so. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for the children here this morning, as well as the ones who couldn’t be with us today. Lord, we know that the world can be a dangerous place for kids, and so we ask that you will protect the children in our church, keep them safe from those who would hurt or harm them. Help us as adults provide a place that is safe for them to play and grow and learn about You. Lord, I pray that as we teach them about Jesus Christ, that You will open up their hearts, that they may believe in Jesus, that they may trust in his death on the cross, that they may be saved from their sins, and come to know you as their Father, and Jesus as their friend. Lord, let the children in our church know just how much You love them, and how far you were willing to go in order to save them. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Now I want to ask if everyone could stand, so I can pray for all of us here this morning. Father God, we pray that we might become like little children. That we will respond when Jesus calls, that we will do what he asks, that we will allow him to change us and humble us so that we will not only enter into your kingdom, but that we will be like Your Son, Jesus. Lord, highlight anything in our lives that might cause our children to stumble, and by the power of Your Holy Spirit may we deal ruthlessly with those things, with anything that dishonours You and that might lead our children astray. Lord, help us to value children like You value them. Help us to think highly of them, and to do whatever it takes to see them come to a saving knowledge of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Lord, may we become a church that is known for its love of children. And may Your name be glorified. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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