Matthew 18:1-9 Part 1

Matthew 18:1-9 Part 1


We now continue in a discourse by our Lord Jesus Christ which is both wonderful and fearsome – both difficult and rewarding.  But we must not shrink from understanding it all, for it is the Voice of Christ – the Gospel of God.  And therein is the Power of God unto salvation for those who are faithing.

Here is the Word of Jesus Christ, which, when heard and understood arightly, overturns the principality “Set” – the power of ill-conceived human psychology; and the principality “Larz” – the power of sexual lust, promiscuity and perversion; the principality “Rege” – the power of occultism; the principality “Medit” – the power of rebellion; and the rest….

Here is the Word of Jesus Christ, which, when heard and understood arightly, brings life and light and healing to the nations – driving the demons into the deep; which establishes the “mountain” of God in the world; and which builds the visible Church on the “Rock” which is Christ.

For it was “necessary” that Jesus be delivered up into the hands of the elders and priests and scribes, to suffer many things under them, and to be killed, and on the third day to be raised; that He be the propitiatory sacrifice (for men, in place of men), and that He be raised the Son of God with Power and dominion and a Kingdom; and that men might enter in to His humanity, which is the substitute for our old one!

And the disciples, still not understanding the essence of all these things, and still anticipating the enthronement of God’s Messiah in Jerusalem, and still distressed and agitated at Jesus’ purpose to suffer and die at the hands of the alien leadership of Israel; these future apostles of Christ – full of envy and covetousness – listen to Peter’s story of finding the stater in the fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax for himself and Jesus.  So they then all go over to Jesus’ house to question Him whether some will be favored over others in His Kingdom!

Apparently Peter, having paid the double drachmas to the Levite collector, had rushed off to find the other disciples – to tell them all about what had happened; 1) that the temple-tax collector had approached him abut whether Jesus paid the temple-service contribution; 2) that Jesus had anticipated his question about paying it; 3) that Jesus had explained (by using a civil tax allegory) that the One for Whom the tax was collected didn’t have to pay the tax, but, for the sake of those who might be entrapped by His refusal to pay, He provided the money; and 4) that Jesus demonstrated His Lordship over all creation by providing the stater from the fish’s mouth!

Now, it is apparent (at least to us, now), that Jesus, by no means, was casting Peter in the role of the “favorite” – or the “greater”.  In no way was it implied that only Peter – and not the others – was the one for whom the debt was paid!  The purpose of the whole event was that God’s Anointed One, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, was the propitiatory Sacrifice foreshadowed in all the temple ceremonies; and that it was necessary that He suffer and die and be raised on the third day in order to accomplish that!

And like I said, it is apparent to us now (and thanks be to God that it is); but it was not so for the disciples!  As is the direction of the heart of man in Adam, the disciples either wanted everything Peter had or they didn’t want Peter to have it!  Envy and covetousness.  So they all went to see Jesus to get these issues cleared up!  And, as verse one says, they did so in that very hour!  And their question to Jesus is blunt and right to the point:  “Who then (since Peter was the only one for whom the double drachma was paid) is the greater in the Kingdom?”  Are we all going to be treated equally, or is one to receive more than the rest?  When the Kingdom is Yours will we all have positions of power, or will one be greater than the rest of us?

You’ll notice that the comparative “greater” is the term they used, rather than the singular “greatest”.  They all assumed that power and greatness was theirs, since Jesus had specifically chosen all of them.  But they wanted to know if one (or more) of them was considered to be “greater” than the others.

But Jesus’ answer to them was nothing like what they anticipated!  What comes out of His mouth is simply the most awesome statement in Scripture concerning the depravity of man and the necessity for his redemption, and the means!

Matthew writes:


“and having summoned a babe He set it in the midst of them and said, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you be changed and become as the babes, in no way shall you enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.  Therefore whoever shall humble himself as this babe, this is the greater in the Kingdom of the Heavens.  And whoever receive one such babe for My Name, he is receiving Me….’”


Now, the interpretation of this passage is at the very center of the Church’s weakness in our age.  And I want to spend a couple of minutes on the false interpretation and preaching of it – and the consequences of that; for this passage, preached arightly, is at the root of any revival of our people which might take place in our time!

And I say that because Jesus did!  “In no way shall you enter the Kingdom of the Heavens…” without it!  Being “in the Kingdom”, and “having the salvation of Christ” are identical things – they’re synonymous – aren’t they?  “Entering into the Kingdom” and being “saved” are the same!  They’re interchangeable concepts.  One can’t “be saved” without entering the Kingdom; and one can’t enter the Kingdom without being saved – because one is the same as the other.  So Jesus is here speaking about the foundational issue of how one is saved!  And the present-day Church is preaching and believing a false doctrine….  Let me put it another way:  The essential doctrine of Scripture is being preached and believed falsely today.  Hence the apostasy and weakness!

So let’s spend some time on the false preaching-and-belief concerning these words of our Lord; and then we’ll go back and examine them for the truth.

Now the first thing that is believed concerning this passage is that children are born innocent.  And until they are old enough to choose, they don’t come under the righteous judgment and condemnation of God.  In other words, they are not born with the nature of their father – and our first father Adam; but they come into the world pure!  And until they choose to disbelieve, they are not condemned for sin!

According to popular belief, then, little children have an innate purity and righteousness.  And that purity exhibits itself in dependance upon their parents and trusting acceptance of what they’re told.  They’re like little lambs whose life and health and happiness is in sole reliance upon those who care for them.

Now.  The second false belief concerning this passage derives from the first one.  If babies are born innocent (until some age when they become accountable for the sin that they learn from their environment), and if that innocence is seen in their dependance and reliance and trust, then for a man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven he must learn the humility and openness and dependance (trust) of a child!  He must become childlike!

So the standard that Christ requires, then, in this passage, for men to be accepted into His Kingdom is the nature of the human child!  And that’s why it’s said that Jesus loved all children so much – because they were the essence of the purity of Christ to which all adults should attain!  The children were “of the essence of Christ”.  That’s why they say that!

And the third false belief about this passage also derives from the two former ones.  If little children are held in such high esteem by Jesus, then whoever receives one of them (cares for them, loves them, treats them right), is actually doing so to Jesus! – no matter what religion!  So love for a child equals love for Jesus equals love and esteem and salvation from God!  Child = Jesus = saved.

Well, it should be fairly easy for us in the Reformed Faith to list some dire consequences to this line of thinking; so I’m not going to belabor the point very long.  Simply to say that if the human child is the standard for all adults to attain in order to be saved, then everybody’s in the Kingdom – no problem!  It’s easy; because children are openly, trusting, dependently, self-centered and self-serving.  And all of us know how to do that very well!  We shouldn’t have any trouble matching that – one for one!

But of the many, many terrible consequences that may flow from this unbiblical preaching and belief, the one that is most damaging is the fact that the truth of this passage isn’t heard.  Being filled with false doctrine is fearsome enough! But never hearing the fullness of the salvation wrought by Christ is simply terrifying.  We were once a people who heard the Gospel ringing out across the land from an indeterminate number of Churches and pulpits; but now it is not so.  What is now proclaimed is the humanistic philosophy that human children are not depraved – but learn to sin from their environment.  And if man wishes to be saved, he must return, somehow, to the purity of his childhood.

And I can tell you this:  the state wouldn’t be in the business of protecting these pure little angels from the awful environments of their parents if ministers had been heralding the Gospel of Christ from this passage for the last hundred years!  The fact that we now have an invasive state, and an abortion president, and a new money-mill for aborted tissue, and an open-door policy for homosexuals can be laid at the feet of ministers who would not, and will not, preach the Gospel!

But I want to go back, now, to the point I made concerning the truth of this passage.  Let’s hear the Words of our Lord with respect to what is required in order for us to enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.

And remember that the context is “poverty of spirit”; and the context is Jesus feeding the thousands with His Own body; and the context is Jesus heading toward Jerusalem to suffer and die and to be raised again – the propitiatory sacrifice to pay the debt for men; the context is “faith”, which is living in the body of Christ and thinking with the mind of Christ; the context is the salvation of humanity from its “deadness” and blindness and deafness and lameness and filth.  “It is necessary,” He said, for Him to suffer and be killed and to be raised; for how else can the dead be made alive?

But the disciples were interested in power.  So they came to Him, verse one, and asked


“Who then is greater in the Kingdom of the Heavens?  And having summoned a babe He set it in the midst of them and said, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you be changed and become as the babes, in no way shall you enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens….’”


Is it the faith of the babies that He was referring to?  Is it the dependance and trust of the babies He was referring to?  Is it their purity?  Their simplicity and openness?  Their Faith?

He certainly can’t be telling the disciples that the standard set for them for their entrance into the Kingdom is the nature of children, can it?  If that were the case, then our self-serving selfishness is an immediate entrance!

So what is it about the babies that has provided such a powerful illustration for Jesus’ disciples?  Look at the language here.  “Amen I say to you, unless you be changed and become as the babies, in no way shall you enter into the Kingdom….”  Now, our Lord was referring the disciples directly to His former statement concerning the faithless generation.  He said it was “perverted”.  And the word perverted is this same word which I’ve translated “changed”.  In other words the natural depravity and perversion of men has to be changed.  “Unless you be changed,” He said, “you in no way shall enter into the Kingdom….”  So the perversion, or twisting, or direction of man must be un-perverted, un-twisted, or turned!

And what will it be like when it is un-perverted?  What are babies?  They are little – infants – newborns!  Jesus didn’t say that His disciples had to be like them, or similar to them; He said that they had to be as the babies.  New-born!  They must join the babies to be as they are.  They had to be “born again”!  And since the word “changed” is in the passive voice, it is something which must be done to them!

Now, you remember in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, the Pharisee Nicodemas came to see Jesus by night.  And I want to read some of the dialogue between Nicodemas and Jesus to you.


“Rabbi, we know that You, a Teacher, have come from God; for no one can do these signs which you do except God is with him.”  But Jesus answered this false faith and false belief by saying to him, “Amen, Amen I say to you, except one is born (anothen) from above, he is not able so see the Kingdom of God!”  But Nicodemas comes back at Jesus and asks, “How is a man able to be born being old?  He is not able to enter secondly the womb of his mother to be born!  And Jesus answered him, “Amen, Amen I tell you, except one is born of water and Spirit, he is not able to enter into the Kingdom of God.  That having been born of the flesh is flesh, and that having been born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born from above.’  The Spirit blows where it wills; and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going!  So is everyone born of the Spirit.”


Nicodemus came back at Him one more time:


“How are these things able to be?”  And Jesus answered him this way, “You ARE (and the “are” is emphasized) the teacher of Israel – and you don’t know these things?”


This conversation goes on for another fifteen verses or so in which Jesus expounds upon the new birth; which is also the subject of the text here in Matthew eighteen.  “Unless you be changed and become as the babes, in no way shall you enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens….”  You must be born from on high… you must be born again… you must become as the babies – a new creation of God… you must have a new humanity born of the Spirit, because your old flesh is cursed from your father Adam.  And unless that occurs, you in no way shall enter into the Kingdom…!


“Therefore”, verse four, “whoever shall humble himself as this babe, this is the greater in the Kingdom of the Heavens….”


Please understand this, now, that Jesus is not saying that some are greater in the Kingdom than others; but He is simply answering the question put to Him by the disciples.  And His point is that they won’t enter the Kingdom at all unless their humanity is replaced with His!  This is the greater in the Kingdom!  The New Humanity of Christ is the greater in the Kingdom!  Not Peter, not Paul, not any man.

For the Son of God was born anew – in human flesh; and, as Isaiah fifty-three and Acts chapter eight say, He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, opening not His mouth.  In His humiliation His judgment was taken away….

And in Philippians chapter three Paul says this:


“For our citizenship is in the heavens from where also we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will change the body of our humiliation, making it conformed to the body of His glory….”


You see, when Jesus says “whoever shall humble himself as this babe…, He is speaking of our conforming of our bodies to His humiliation.  He was born of flesh and abased Himself so that we might have His life.  So, therefore, we must abase ourselves – the old humanity – and become newborn in Him!

There is only one way for man to enter into the Kingdom – and that’s by the humiliation of Christ.  That’s why He said “it is necessary that I go into Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders and priests and scribes; and to be killed; and on the third day to be raised….”  The old humanity has to be humiliated – self-abased – and we must be born again as a babe – in Him.

And then in verse five, it becomes clear that when one receives one who is a newborn in Christ, he is receiving Christ Himself.

More about that next Lord’s Day – especially as it relates to those who set traps and snares of destruction for the newborn babes in Christ.

But the standard set by Christ for our entrance into His Kingdom is not the nature of human babies!  But the humiliation of the old, autonomous, rebellious, self-esteeming, proud, God-less man – (and doing so in the humiliation of Christ) – and being a new-born babe in the new Humanity of Christ.  Without it, you shall not enter into the Kingdom.