May 8, 2005


THE LORD and the Little Child – Matthew 18:1-5

Sermon Notes




I.                WHAT JESUS REQUIRED


TRUST is one part of the nature of the little child. Suddenly produced into separate being, he looks naturally to the intimate source of his arrival. He comes soon to look perceptively, not with closed eyes. He is ready to respond, not dulled by prejudice, he is willing to taste and see, not waste and be, as if he were be all and end all. The child is not one to be ‘tired of it all’, nor ‘wired by it all’, but one finding out and developing with interest and fascination. He is one to respond to love, and love of parents is normal and reciprocation of their concentrated care.


The child appreciates kindness – if a child, your eyes twinkle in appreciative recognition.


You accept the perspective given, to which your apt attention continually brings confirmation. You wonder at what you do not understand and expect to be enlightened. You are not self-conscious:  you are not a mini-adult but a maxi-child, for you know your place. You are not ashamed to show your love, nor do you calculate the way best to manipulate.


Such is much of what we delight to call child-likeness. In this case, the child is symbol before the grown-ups, of what man is before the God of his creation, who delivered him as a deposit, enshrined his spirit in flesh, enabled his mind with pre-programmed utilities and best of all, made him apt to love, to choose to consider and to understand.



                                   II.       WHAT LED TO THE UTTERANCE


In the immediate context, two things had happened. Firstly, as in Matthew 17:24ff., Peter was asked to tell Jesus to pay Temple Tax. What would He do ? As the Son of God, He was heir of all things, and the Temple was His. As fashioned in the form of a man for the display of truth and love and the redemption of sinners, He had to respond in His new place. Hence He did it by miracle, Peter being told to fish and pay the tax. The fish had swallowed the gold, and like a piscine bank account now provided it.


HOW ON EARTH could you PLAN that! But since God decided to become man, He both used the ways of this world and stood beyond it, keeping both His humility as man and His omnipotence as God, in order to meet human requirements and yet not allow it to appear that He was other than the One He was (and is)! Peter had to trust and perform the will of the Lord, and whether here in paying tax, or later in twice being freed from prison and in the first instance, directed to continue the testimony right in the very place of his arrest (Acts 5:17-20), he was set to follow a wisdom higher than his own. Nor was he afraid to acknowledge its source (Acts 4:19,  5:29).


Secondly, before this episode of Matthew 18, the disciples had been discussing who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What was the answer to this ? Greatness ? It is not in the presence of God a matter of being corrupted, like Satan, with the brightness of your splendour, but being splendidly willing and ready to receive what God has for you, and being faithful, loving and true to Him. Hence the child episode! A child in the midst, not ambition in a mist, this was the object lesson.


Later as in Matthew 20, James and John were the object of their mother’s ambition: she wanted them to be seated on either side of Jesus in His kingdom! Jesus there showed that not imperial power but serviceable meeting of need was greatness; nor was it appearing serviceable as an investment for self-aggrandisement in the long run, for the position was one of being like a slave, not ostentation as its reward but function as its fondness. As illustration and zenith, Jesus showed that He would be of service, by providing His own body as a ransom for sin! Meekness has no ulterior motive, and as for Abraham, so for the children of God, the reward is first and foremost this, to have GOD Himself both as shield and exceedingly great reward (Genesis 15:1). Abraham believed God, who said this, believed His sending of the Messiah to be through his line: and God counted this for righteousness, for with God it is rests on this Messiah, and is functional because of FAITH (Genesis 15:5-6, Romans 4:25 – 5:1).


So it was not a matter of TRYING, but serving, not the selfish eye but the loving hand and heart; nor was it a matter of VYING, as in Luke 9:46-49, but rather receiving little children, attending to the little things, little ones, for in receiving ones ever so simple, they were receiving Him, the origin and source of love and ministry, growth and acceptance.


 Thus does Christ stress the transformation required EVEN to ENTER the kingdom of heaven, to be found in those whom He chose. In this way,  the PRINCIPLE enshrines that in spirit one “humbles himself as this little child” so that it is no Dickensian horror such as that of Uriah Heap, the ambitious humble hypocrite actually devious,  indirectly seeking selfish ends. Rather it is the artless resting in the reality who made you, without pretension, prevarication or eye on position. Nor is it unlike a kind of real estate investment, ministering to greed and aimed at grabbing. Your object is to give.





In addition to the change in attitude and ambition, as well as in the ambit of thought, there is to be a change of heart: “except you be CONVERTED and become as little children”


That is the other side of being born again as in John 3, so that though the leopard cannot change his spots, the child of God IS changed by regeneration through faith, resting on the finished work of Christ (Titus 3:3-7).


It is a change of heart, mind, spirit, soul from trusting yourself or your appointees, to trusting God, not in your lusty thrust but His benevolent goodness, not as a consultant for your ultimate wisdom, but as a servant for His, yes and a friend (cf. Acts 4:23ff., 13:1-3, and ponder these impassioned appeals to the Lord in prayer). 


It means accepting His ministry of Himself, hence like Jonah repenting of choosing your own way, and instead of such things, going as sent (Matthew 28:19-20, Romans 10:9), of seeking to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5), fortified by the fortitude of Christ, fervent in spirit (Ephesians 3:16,  Romans 12:11).  It means doing good to all men in attitude, not seeking vengeance, not acting as if you were the ‘parent’ in whose hands it all rests, but as a child, a child of GOD! He needs no supplement of human wisdom, as when Simon Peter tried to persuade Him to avoid the cross (Matthew 16:22-23). He requires of His children what is natural to the growing ‘child’ – thirst for His word, will and way (John 4). If you become a child of God through faith in Him as Redeemer and the divine rescue ‘squad’ in one, from death, then such thirst is natural and the cry for it is not to be denied! His Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are His (Romans 8:16) and the hand of the Father is on you for good.


Without this new birth of your spirit, you cannot ENTER the kingdom of heaven, far less have reason to be concerned at ‘greatness, which is God’s own, but with it, you can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13) … who strengthens you, makes you grow (II Peter 3:18).