Jesus Warns against Causing Little Ones to Stumble
“Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the disciples asked Jesus. The disciples had spent nearly three years with Jesus, listening to Him tell them about the kingdom of heaven. But they still thought the kingdom of heaven would be set up in Israel in the next year or so. And they still didn’t understand that Jesus’ kingdom would be of another world, even though He had told them.
They expected that Jesus would soon establish his worldly kingdom with great pomp and power, and they would be part of the action. They were ambitious men, anxious to grasp the fame and power that would go with all of this. So now was a good time to speak up for their places in this coming kingdom. Which one of them would be given the most honor and the greatest position?
Jesus knew that he would soon be crucified. He had tried to share this with his disciples, but they didn’t hear what He had to say! All they could think about was the fame and power they would share with Him in His new kingdom. Instead of asking Him how they might have strength and grace to suffer with Him now, they are asking Him who will be the greatest in the future kingdom!
But don’t we sometimes do the same thing? Jesus looks to us, His modern disciples, to come alongside Him and share in His sufferings. To humbly take up our cross and follow Him. To feed the hungry and visit the sick and give to the poor in His Name. But then some of us, like his disciples back then, don’t hear His call. We are too busy wrangling among ourselves over who is the greatest. And we are still trying to use Jesus to grab more earthly power and privilege.
Jesus answered his disciples’ question of who would be the greatest in His kingdom. His answer is that the way to greatness is to be humble. Humble and trusting of the Father like a little child would be. It’s as simple as that! Jesus calls a little child over to Him and had him stand among them. Then Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like this little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself/herself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom. (Matthew 18:3-4) That was not what the disciples wanted to hear!
Jesus was teaching his disciples and us today that humility in our lives is a necessity. It means everything. To enter the kingdom of heaven a person must realize his/her personal inadequacy, and turn and depend on God and experience a new birth. (John 3:3) A person by believing will become like a little child -by being a childlike believer.
We must have faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, repent of our sins and want to follow Him. Converting grace molds and makes us like little children. In other words, the Holy Spirit we receive when we believe in Christ leads us into being humble and teaches us to put away pride and arrogance. As a little child, we learn to trust in our heavenly Father. It seems that the requirements for success in Jesus’ kingdom are upside down from those of our earthly kingdoms. Earthly leaders are often chosen because of money, privilege and charisma.
Jesus continues teaching the disciples and us a different lesson concerning a little child. Here is what He said: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this one in my Name welcomes Me. But 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. 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.” (Matthew 18:5-7)
Little children are vulnerable, trusting and teachable. Isn’t Jesus saying here that to take advantage of these innocent trusting little ones is a serious crime? We think of child porn, and the people involved who manipulate and use young teen agers and even little children to fulfill their perverted sexual needs. And then the sex traffickers who make money by enslaving little children and young teens and selling their bodies to the public. Jesus doesn’t mince words in condemning these evil people. Here are His words: “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,” (Matthew 18:6)
And then there is the heartbreak of children who are victims of child abuse. Trusting little ones who are beaten and abandoned. Or taught by adults to live a life of crime. Jesus’ heart is broken. And Scripture says that their angels are always praying for them before God’s throne. (Hebrews 1:14) Jesus calls on us to get involved. To do something, in his Name.
Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was comparing a little child to a new believer in Christ. And the awful judgment awaiting those who would harm the faith of a new or young Christian believer and cause that one to stumble.
I still remember a friend’s young teen aged daughter who was a new enthusiastic Christian. This young girl was so excited about her faith in Christ. Her face would light up with joy over her newfound trust in God. She had a favorite Scripture verse that was especially meaningful to her. But one Sunday her pastor tore this Scripture verse and its’ meaning apart, explaining to the congregation that this verse didn’t mean what it said. That intellectual persons could not actually believe Scripture! I still remember the hurt and confused look on the young girl’s face as she left church. Her faith had been ridiculed and attacked by her very own pastor who she trusted and respected. I thought my heart would break!
Jesus calls us to take care of His little lambs, and to feed His hungry sheep. Whether they be little children or young believers in Christ, we are to be there to protect them and build them up. Not tear them down! The arrogance of religious leaders who try to tear the Faith apart. Who call evil actions good and good actions evil: all because it is the popular thing to do at the time. Or who lead little children down a path away from the Truth.
Jesus’ words say it all. “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.” (Matthew 18:6)