2019-12-26 A Christmas Message

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them”
Matthew 18:2

We went to a typical Minnesota church on Christmas Eve. The pastor gathered the children around and spoke to them. Very nice, and family-oriented, too. He used a flashlight as a prop for them and even turned out the lights for dramatic effect. He said the light represented Jesus who will help us see. He continued this message with the rest of us after sending the children back. The whole gist of it was that God is never far off, even in our darkest moments. His main point was this statement, “Jesus came for the sole purpose of divine assurance of the closeness of God to each and every one of us.”

Now, that may be a small word or two off from the actual quote, but that is definitely what he said. Sole purpose. God is close to everyone. Rest assured. Not once did he use the word “sin” or make any reference to our broken nature. No, God is there to comfort us when life deals us a bad hand or when we need guidance. What a nice God we have, waiting patiently for when we need him.

Hmmm.

Did Jesus ever gather little children around him like this pastor did? Well, yes, we do see something of that in our bibles. What did that look like? Let’s find out.

Matthew 18:2-4 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Well, that’s a little unsettling. Jesus didn’t speak to the child; he spoke to the crowd. Jesus makes it clear that some won’t go to heaven. In fact, it might even imply that MOST won’t. There wasn’t even a hint of anything like that by the local pastor. But, it gets worse.

v. 5-6 “Whoever receives one such child 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 to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Wait, what??? Did Jesus say that in front of the little kid? Yes, he did. But hold on. There’s more.

v. 7-9 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And 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 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.

Just imagine if you had been standing right there with all this unfolding right in front of you! Would you have tried to explain it away that Jesus was simply using a metaphor and didn’t actually mean that we are to literally cut off our hands or pluck out our eyes if they cause us to sin? Would you? My guess is that they all were standing they with their mouths hanging wide open and unable to speak a word! Yet, Jesus goes on!

v. 10-14 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

I don’t know about you, but shouldn’t those in the audience start really wondering if Jesus wasn’t warning THEM about THEIR behavior? You know, that Jesus is leveling his gaze in the eyes of every single adult in the crowd? The whole imagery is that I would be better off with a millstone around my neck and drowned than if I cause a child to sin. Better off! Think about that! If that isn’t enough, it would be better to hack my foot off or gouge my eye out than to continue on as I am.

Is he really talking about me?

Jesus then tells the crowd something that might give some hope. Yes, of course, I have caused children to sin. In more ways than I can probably imagine. Woe is me! I am doomed to hellfire for it! What might this hope be?

v. 15-20 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

What is that all about? The Gospel. That’s what that’s all about. And, it seems to me that there is great hope right here in repentance. Doesn’t it seem so to you? Look, how could Jesus have been more plain? Each of us has a HUGE problem that will ultimately land us in the lake of fire for all eternity. UNLESS…. Unless we have someone point out the error of our ways, AND we heed their advice. Folks, Jesus is talking about the gospel message. And, he ends this by the incredible statement that he will be among those who gather in his name. That’s crazy talk, unless it’s true.

Who is this man? Earlier in Matthew’s account, we see.

Matthew 9:4-8 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given authority to men.

Jesus. He’s the answer to our HUGE problem. The ONLY answer. This is mind-blowing, folks. Do you suppose that Jesus intended his message to be so dramatic? Yes, I think he did.

Can you imagine the pastor in the typical Minnesota church gathering the children to him, then hammering on the congregation like Jesus did? He should. Why do you suppose he doesn’t? I hate to even think about that. Might his sugar-coated message that conceals the truth about Jesus be a problem? Might half-truths and outright deception contribute to the delinquency of a minor? Might it cause one of these little ones to sin?

This really troubles me, folks.

Father, forgive us. This is so serious, and yet our churches refuse to obey the plain truth of your bible. Send our workers into the harvest, Lord. Amen.

Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s