Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 18:1-20, for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "Save the Lost"

1. Matt. 18—several teachings all about pitfalls to our salvation. Embedded parable of the one lost sheep; Jesus seeks after it because “it is not the will of [His] Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” In this chapter, Jesus is doing the work of a Good Shepherd to guard His sheep against the pitfalls that would cause them to perish, or keep them from the kingdom of heaven. Sheep wander, and in our blindness or error, we can get separated from the flock, and fall into personal harm or injury. Spiritually, the stakes couldn’t be higher, as Jesus illustrates through several examples in the reading.

2. Disciples walk into the first pitfall, of pride and exalting oneself. Who is the greatest? Jesus teaches humility—not to think highly of yourself, but to count others more significant than yourselves (Phil. 2:3). Humble like a child is the only way into the kingdom. Jesus turns the disciples’ (and our) paradigm upside down—adults are not the model of faith, but children.

3. Jesus affirms children’s faith in strong terms, and warns of the terrible offense that it is to God to cause a little one who believes in Him to stumble. Drowning would be a better fate than to face God’s judgment. God treasures little children. We have a greater protection under the law extended to minors, more severe penalties for crimes against them; minors held to different accountability, more vulnerable, not fully understanding the consequences of their actions. Children are incredibly precious to God, and we are to grant the same high value to them as God does, and see that they are protected against harm, against temptation, against exploitation, against false teaching.

4. Pitfall of our own temptations to sin. Stumbling blocks. Inevitable. Jesus affirms the reality of hell as a place of torment and fire. Vivid and brief description. How wretched it would be to lose a hand, foot, or eye? But still far worse would be the deadly spiritual consequences of sin and eternal suffering in hell.

5. “One need look no further than these words of Jesus to see how much the holy God hates sin. Here, the Law strikes us with all its fury. Who of us can say that our hand or foot or eye has not caused us to sin? We all deserve to be thrown into the hell of fire. Thank God that Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced for our iniquities and that His eyes beheld our sin in order to turn the Father’s face from it. By His wounds and precious death, we enter life” (TLSB, note on Matthew 18:7-9, p. 1621).

6. Flee temptation. Last week: “Abhor evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). Avoid falling into the temptations of others (Gal. 6:1). “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Cor. 15:33) “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

7. The pitfall of unrepentance. We cling to our sin and will not turn to God and be forgiven. We deny our sin before God, and so deceive ourselves. Unrepentance separates us from God because it denies our guilt and responsibility for sin. It refuses to let Jesus take our sins away from us and forgive them. God’s goal and aim is to seek the lost. To gain the brother back for the Lord. This is to be our same aim when someone is unrepentant. If the sin is between you and an individual, Jesus says first to speak directly to them alone. Avoids temptation to gossip or slander a person. If the person listens to you, and you are reconciled, you have won your brother. This is always the goal. Next steps involve two or three witnesses, so the matter is established, and then take it to the church. At each stage, the goal is to win the brother, for them to repent and see their sin so that there can be reconciliation. Even if you meet with failure, and the person doesn’t listen even to the church, the final step of removal, or what is sometimes called excommunication, is still aimed to jolt them into repentance, to still gain the brother.

8. Jesus saves us by His death on the cross, He removes the penalty of our sin, He sets out a new life and identity for us. The Son of Man came to save the lost. Lost sheep He’s brought home. The Father wouldn’t have us perish. Guards us from all things harmful to our salvation. Humbles our pride, teaches us faith like a child. Simple and sincere trust and receptivity.

9. With His staff Jesus leads us away from the temptations and stumbling blocks set for us and that we would set for children. With the urging of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the voice of the church, Christ calls us to repentance for our sins. If we cling to them, He will bind them to us. If we repent of them and surrender them to Jesus, He will loose our sins from us. Humbly accept the prodding of His staff, follow His voice and learn from His teaching, be led back to the good and gentle pastures, and finally the place of rejoicing, when God celebrates over a lost sinner brought home! God’s aim that we not perish, but have eternal life. All thanks to our Good Shepherd!

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What are the several “pitfalls” that could keep us from salvation, that Jesus teaches about in Matthew 18? What are the spiritual stakes for going astray in the ways Jesus describes?

2. What does Jesus teach is the alternative to spiritual pride? What is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven? (18:3). How does Jesus reverse the disciple’s expected paradigm for what is the model of both faith and greatness in the kingdom? Philippians 2:3

3. How does Jesus affirm that children believe? Matt. 18:6. Why is it such a great offense against God to lead children into sin? What is the fearful punishment we risk if we do?

4. What point does Jesus make about sin in vs. 7-9? What would be the worse fate? Why do all of us deserve hell? Rom. 3:23; 6:23a. How are we spared from that punishment, through Christ? Rom. 3:24; 6:23b.

5. How does the Bible advise us to flee from sin and temptation? How to avoid it? Rom. 12:9; Gal. 6:1; 1 Cor. 15:33; 10:13

6. What steps does Jesus give for when someone sins against you? What is the goal and aim of the steps? (v. 15). What happens if the person is unwilling to repent, and doesn’t listen? What does that mean spiritually, when their sins are “bound” to them? How does a person reverse that situation and find forgiveness? Acts 3:19

7. How has everything Jesus has done and taught been the work of a Good Shepherd who would save the lost and not have us perish?

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