Today’s text comes from the 18th Chapter of Matthew.
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!
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 lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
When I was a youth pastor at a conservative Southern Baptist Church in Louisiana, the pastor there liked to say that everyone has to come to Jesus like a child and to have a child-like faith (never doubting, being very assured of what you heard) was a noble quality. As that faith works for some, it doesn’t work for me anymore. I believe a little differently now. Now, I’m more at the point that a faith that does not hold up to questioning or doubt is not a very valuable faith. But, I like the fact that Jesus took a child (probably a young boy) and said, “You want to be great in the Kingdom of God? Be like this.”
This statement had to befuddle the disciples. They asked him how to be great in the Kingdom and Jesus shows them a weak and gullible boy? What does it mean to have the humility of a child? This hurts my head. Does that mean to put everyone else’s value above my own? Does that mean to be great in the Kingdom of God is to maintain the ability to continue learning? Perhaps, does that mean that to “be great” in the Kingdom is to stay curious?
Then Jesus gets a little graphic. “If any of you cause these little ones to stumble, it is better for you to have a stone put around your neck and cast into the sea.” That puts a pretty high call on pastors to young people, I would think. Jesus took those who were considered the least important members of society and made sure we knew that they were important to him. How much emphasis do we put on the young kids in society? Or do we say things like, “Oh, they’re just kids. Maybe one day they can come to ‘real church’.” Do we hold them in the same regard Jesus did?
Verses 8 and 9 are two verses that those who are not universalists most often use when they have the desire to argue with me. They are quite troublesome for someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in an eternal (punitive) fire. The question we have to ask ourselves is how do we define sin? I define sin as anything that separates me from God or comes in between God and I. If there are any things (and there are some) in my life that cause me to be less Christ-like, then it is sin. If there is anything I do that harms another human (either physically or emotionally), it is sin. It is better for me to enter into life without those parts of my being than to further perpetuate Hell on earth. I do believe we are fallen beings. We are not born Christ-like. It is the Holy Spirit’s work that makes us Christ-like, but no work of our own. We are not saved (reborn) by our vain attempts at being “Christ-like”, but we are saved to TO Christ-likeness. Christ-likeness is not the means of our salvation (rebirth) but it is the product of our rebirth. It is better for me to enter into life without the evil parts of me than further the Hell on earth and have all of my human attributes.
May we please continue this conversation in the comments.
May the Peace and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.