Michaelmas, Matthew 18:1-11
Faith Lutheran Church, Wylie, TX
28 September 2013, Pr. Mark Preus
If your hand or foot or eyes causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than to enter into the hell of fire with all your hands and feet and eyes. To enter into life is to believe the Gospel about Jesus and to receive eternal life from him. To enter into hell is not to believe the Gospel and face the judgment of hell that sinners rightly deserve.
To cut off your hand or foot or to pluck out your eye is not literally to do these things. It means to repent of who you are. To cut off these things that cause you to sin is to recognize that you are maimed and crippled in your sins. It is to humble yourself like a little child, who cannot survive on his own, but must depend on his father and mother for everything that he has.
The devil is with the proud who have all their hands and feet and eyes – who don’t repent. He infects us with pride so that we do not recognize our sins, and so we not only sin ourselves, but we cause others to fall into sin. The devil teaches this pride by making us despise his Word. That is what it means to despise Christ’s little ones. What do Christians need? They need God’s Word. That is what sustains us.
The devil knows this, and that is why his war is against God’s Word. It is a spiritual battle of evil versus good. The devil’s weapons are lies that infect us with pride about ourselves. The devil works with our fallen nature to encourage the thought that we are self-sufficient, that we should not be like little children, but that we should be great in the kingdom of heaven with the use of both our hands and both our feet and both our eyes. We should be great in the kingdom of heaven by what we do, and where we go and what we see. This is the lie of the devil.
But that is not the case. God really said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. For in the day you eat of it you will surely die.” Words are real. When we disobey words or don’t listen to them, real things happen. Sin happens when we disobey God’s Word. The devil caused Adam and Eve to sin. Just as God has plunged the devil into hell for causing Adam and Eve to fall, so those who cause Christ’s little ones to sin should be thrown into the depth of the sea with a millstone tied around their necks.
Let no one here deny this reality. Take care that you do not despise one of Christ’s little ones. Their angels in heaven in every circumstance are gazing at God the Father’s face, waiting to bar the door of Paradise to anyone who would deprive little children of God’s Word.
What causes you to sin? Is it your hand? Is it your foot? Is it your eye? Is it what you touch, where you go, what you see? Is it the devil? Is it you? Yes, it is all these things. The devil incites us to sin by teaching us false doctrine. He lies. We sin when we believe his lies rather than the truth. We sin when we use our hands and feet and eyes for what the devil says and not for what God says, just as Eve saw the fruit with her eyes, walked to the tree with her feet, and reached out and grabbed it with her hand.
What does this teach us? There is a battle roaring around you that you cannot win with your hands or your feet or your eyes. You must listen. In this day and age everyone fights with their hands and feet and eyes. They think they can be spiritually great by what they do, by where they go, and by what they see. But this is wrong. When we go with what your eyes see or by what we can accomplish with our hands, we are lifting ourselves up for a fall.
But you cannot know the reality of your sin by looking. You cannot fight against the devil with your hands. You cannot run from death and hell with your feet. You must listen. You must listen to God. You must listen to where he speaks. He speaks in the Holy Scriptures.
Whoever receives one little child in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. The power is in Jesus’ name. All hail the power of Jesus’ name. Let angels prostrate fall. The power is in Jesus’ Word. We win the battle against the devil by believing the words of Jesus. To receive a little child in Jesus’ name means to teach him Jesus’ words. It means to give him the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.
Children are dependant on the words of their parents. Without these words they don’t know who they are. They learn from words and they trust these words. They stake their entire life and all their thoughts on what they hear. Grown-ups are not so. They learn that people lie and deceive. They are more clever. So they learn to trust in what their own hands can do, where their own feet can go and what their eyes see.
But Jesus says, “Unless you convert and become like little children, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means that you must, as St. James says, receive with meekness the implanted Word which is able to save your souls. This means you must, as St. Peter says, as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word. To become like a child you must nurse at the breast; you must give up all hope for what you can do or what you can figure out, and you must recognize that there is no remedy for the sin inside you or the evil outside of you except in the name of Jesus, in his words, which give you what He has done, which give you the sufferings and death to which he went, which give you the salvation he saw revealed when he cried out “It is finished” on the cross.
There is a spiritual reality that is more discernable to children than to us. It is found in the words of Jesus. He teaches us that there is a devil named Satan, who tempts us to sin and then accuses us in front of God the Father’s face. He teaches us that there are demons behind every false teaching, behind every evil work, behind every sin we do. Jesus teaches us that the powers of darkness are stronger than anything we can do, and our eyes do more to deceive us than they do to help us.
This is why if we would know who is greatest in the kingdom of God, we must look to the humblest and the weakest, because they know they are dependent and not self-sufficient, and they are completely ok with that.
For all our sins, brothers and sisters, that plague us, they cannot harm us when we have the words of Jesus. The angels know that. Angel means messenger. Angels handle the Word of God, and they know that everything God says will come to pass. Zechariah learned the hard way not to doubt God’s Word when the angel Gabriel made him mute when he didn’t believe his message about the birth of John the Baptist. Adam and Eve saw the angel barring the way to the tree of life because they disobeyed God’s Word. Sodom and Gomorrah felt the angels’ fire and brimstone for ignoring the words of righteous Lot. Hezekiah saw with joy the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words when one angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s army that was trying to destroy Jerusalem. Balaam learned that God’s Word was true even if a donkey spoke it when his eyes were opened and he saw an angel of the Lord blocking his way to curse the children of Israel. Mary’s heart rejoiced in God her Savior at the words of the angel announcing the conception of Jesus in her womb. The shepherds rejoiced to hear the words of the angels announcing that to them in the city of David was born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord, and their eyes saw what their hearts believed.
If you would know what the power of the angels is, and how they guard you, then listen to God’s Word. There you will find example after example of God rescuing his people with angels, and why? Because of the sure promises of His Word.
But we want more than that, and that is why we are filled with so much regret that our doubts foster in our hearts. We want to be great in the kingdom of God before we become humble and wait for the hand of the Lord our God to feed us and teach us with words that don’t seem to do much the moment we hear them. Our soul is filled with confusing thoughts about the happiness of others in this world who seem to be doing well with all their hands and feet and eyes. They are at ease about their lives, and they don’t fear hell or sin or the devil. Instead they lift themselves up and they do better than we do in our lives. After all, we have to cut our hands and feet off, and pluck out our eyes, that is, we repent every day of our lives, and this hurts. But the devil teaches the world not to do this, and they seem happier for it. They seem great, and they may be on earth, but they are not great in the kingdom of heaven.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. Yes, I would rather be maimed in this life, crippled with my inability to be a good person by my works; I would rather be a little child whom people despise and ignore because they don’t have any contribution to make, but are just a burden on others who must feed them and take care of them; I would rather be a Christian who lives by every word that comes from the mouth of my God then ignore my need to be saved from my sins, than ignore the holy angels who want more than anything to rejoice over me when I repent of my sins and believe what Jesus has done for me.
He has turned our Father’s face toward me. God was angry, but his anger has been turned away. He sent his Son because he loved me. He sent his Son to be maimed and crippled, to give not just a hand or a foot or an eye, but all that he is to die for my sins.
Do not be ashamed to be a child. Don’t be afraid to be weak and crippled. It is good that you feel your guilt, not because God wants to burden you down with your sins, but because he wants to remove that heavy burden from you with the words of eternal life:
That Jesus has fought the battle against all evil and won; that your God has not taken on the nature of angels, but the nature of a man because he desired to save all men, including you; that this God did not relax in the company of angels would who always praise him and adore him, but instead he descended from heaven to deal with our sins that taunted him, assaulted him, and killed him. And he was willing to take that pain and burden. The Son of God was willing to become a child of man, and to suffer every indignity that life has to offer, so that he can meet you in whatever distress you find yourself.
Take heed that you do not despise this little one, this Christ whom the world despises and ignores. Instead listen to him. He loves you. Whatever you have lost he will restore. If it is a hand, then he will give you better works to do than anybody of this world could ever imagine. He will give you works of love to do that will last forever and will not pass away. Whatever you have lost he will give you back and more. If it is foot, then he will lead you to pleasant pastures and quiet waters even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and you will fear no evil. Whatever earthly joy this Christian life of brief sorrow takes from you, Jesus will replace with joys that will never disappoint or grow bitter after their sweetness has faded. If you lose an eye, consider that your angels are even now seeing God the Father look upon you with favor, and he has promised you joys that no eye has seen, and when you die angels will bring you there to see it with your own eyes, when he raises our body from death.
It is a beautiful thing to be great in the kingdom of God. It means that we don’t have much of what this earth thinks makes life worth living, but it means we have the truth. We have angels watching over us, the same angels who with the archangel Michael cast the devil and his demons out of heaven, so that they can no longer accuse us of sin before God’s face. And if we do not love our lives until death, yet we have life after death, because we have overcome the powers of evil with the blood of the Lamb and with His Word. We have forgiveness of all our sins with that eternal life which Christ’s death has won for us. We have a baptism that also now saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have a Supper whose food is the most precious balm a wounded conscience can feel because it covers all our sins with Christ’s own perfect obedience, so that no matter what the world thinks of us, or what we think of ourselves, God sees us as great in the kingdom of God; he sees us as his little children, and his angels will guard us until we run to Jesus with two uncrippled feet, grasp him with two unmaimed hands, and see him with two perfect eyes in crystal clarity. God increase our faith in his Word and grant this all to us for Jesus sake. Amen.