Take a moment and watch this video and then return for the rest of the sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhRuKt5b0y0
This brings us back to our summer series in Matthew, where we’ll finish up chapter 17, starting in verse 24. And as we open our Bibles to Matthew 17:24, let's see where we’re at so far.
For the last four weeks we have been following the build up to Jesus’ fourth sermon in Matthew’s Gospel. The focus of this build up has been the faith of the individual believer. We have seen how Jesus calls his disciples into a faith that is exercised, transformational, seeking and reapplying. It’s a cycle faith. After coming to know Jesus as our Savior, we are to put into practice what he says. That exercised faith leads to the Holy Spirit working in transformational ways. We then seek God deeper in our faith to grow. This returns us to the basics of the faith because no matter how well we are doing, there is always more and the basics keep us focused on what really matters to God.
If, as individuals, we are active in this kind of faith relationship with God, then Jesus’ sermon not only makes sense, but we would desire to follow through on what he says. However, if we are not active in this type of faith relationship with God, then we’re going to fight God every step of the way.
And that’s where we find the disciples, they’re doing some of what Jesus is saying, but we also see them fighting against what he wants them to do. Let’s pick this up in Matthew 17:24.
17:24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”
26 “From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, 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 stumble, 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.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11 For the Son of Man came to save that which is lost.]
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? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
Now we’re only going to read to this point in Jesus’ fourth sermon, because we need to hone in on what’s happening as it’s being laid out by Jesus.
Matthew’s precursor into Jesus’ fourth sermon is a conversation between Jesus and Peter. The situation is a tax, but at the heart of this conversation was status. The tax was an annual tax on all those twenty years and older for the maintenance of the temple. It was collected annually and was about two days worth of wages.
Most monarchs didn’t tax those in their own royal family, only servants, peasants, and the like were taxed. Peter had rightfully proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God back in Matthew 16:16, so it would be within the rights of Jesus to not pay the temple tax like everyone else was doing. Yet, Jesus seeks to not cause offense in this case and instructs Peter to pay the tax. This instruction was a faith exercise for Peter who had to trust Jesus’ words that he would find the payment in the mouth of a fish.
This prelude to Jesus’ fourth sermon gives context for what’s to come. It helps us understand that Jesus is both in a position of high authority, and yet at the same time in a position of humble action. This calls to mind Paul’s words in Philippians 2, verses 6-8, “Who [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
This dual reality of who Jesus is, Mighty God and Humble Servant, leads into Jesus response to the disciples question in chapter 18 verse 1, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matthew has already given us this answer, it’s Jesus. He is the King’s Son who should not have to pay the tax, yet he is the one who humbles himself to pay the tax. So right from the beginning the question is taken care of, yet the mindset of the disciples needs to be dealt with.
So Jesus subverts any response his disciples might have assumed Jesus was going to say. Jesus calling for a child to be the center of the discussion flies in the face of the cultural idea. In our culture, children have been seen as a protective class. They are to be taken care of, protected. This status of child that has only come about in the modern day. In the ancient world, children had very little status. They were weaker, seen as not very intelligent, and easily manipulated. Therefore, in a one-to-one comparison, a child was the least in status in their social sphere. Jesus telling his disciples to be like the child, was again subverting the status. Jesus paying the tax is a humble position, and Jesus’ disciples are to take a humble position to, that of a child.
So Jesus intends his disciples to be child-like in their faith: trusting, humble, weak, dependent, simple. And it’s here that Jesus pivots his teaching. He begins with the child, but moves into his followers being a child-like disciples.
And a child-like disciple should be what the community of believers are made up of. Yet the reality is, these types of child-like disciples are quickly looked down on, because we can easily fall into where the disciples are. They are looking for advancement, for high status, and a disciple who is child-like, is quickly demeaned and will either be ran off or turned into a status seeker too.
This is why Jesus speaks in such harsh words, about a stone that was used to crush grain being tied around a person's neck and thrown into the water, who causes a child-like disciple to sin.
Jesus then transitions to recognize the reality of the world, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
Temptations are a part of life in a sinful fallen world, and each one of us is responsible for our respond to temptation; whether if we respond in sin or in righteousness. Yet, Jesus goes after those that bring about temptation, both those in the world and those in the community of believers. If you tempt another to sin, there is greater punishment from God for you.
So Jesus calls for his child-like disciples to cut out all temptation from their lives. This is a rehash of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-30, where he used almost identical language. Jesus isn’t speaking of literally cutting off appendages, but those things that tempt us; whether it be people, places, objects, or thoughts are to be cut out of our life.
From here Jesus finishes this thought with the parable of the lost sheep. God’s desire is for the restoration of humanity back to himself. God is seeking constantly those who are lost. When you are the sheep who has been found, you are brought back to the enclosure, safe and secure in the fold of God, but God is still seeking the lost. We are the Church meeting together in one such secure pen of God, yet God is still seeking the lost in our community. And when he brings one back, we are to rejoice and help build them up in their child-like faith, not causing them to stumble, but showing the same grace that brought us from being lost ourselves.
Jesus is seeking his disciples to be humble in their faith like a child is, and to be gracious builders into his other disciples.
If we are active in exercising our faith, being transformed in it, constantly seeking God, and consistently reapplying the basics, then we will be a community of disciples you are both child-like ourselves, and builders of other disciples.
But if we skip just a chapter away in chapter 19 verse, 13 and following, we can see that the twelve disciples were not responding to Jesus as he intended. We read this, “13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting status, to think that we are better than we actually are. Our knowledge of God, our time in the faith, the great things that we have seen God do, our struggles for God, can all give us a mindset of wanting status in Jesus’ kingdom. A, God owes me, mentality.
God’s cure for that is a constant reminder that we are saved by his grace. This is why Paul emphatically states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Let us each respond to God’s call to be child-like in our faith. Seeking God that we might recognize our need for him, and be humbled in our lives.
This week I want to challenge you to be child-like in your faith. Take time and do a child like activity. Draw a picture of something a child would. Look at the world through a child’s eyes. Speak to a child, asking them their thoughts on God, and then ponder how they see him. Children are not our example for theology, but they will help us understand that we are far less than we think we are. They will help us seek God as his children, weak, trusting, dependent, instead of cruel, power hungry, and self-sufficient.
Let us be a community of believers, who seeks God’s righteousness, by being humble, encouraging one another to grow ever deeper in our relationships with God. Amen.