Dear radio friends,
Our Scripture portion today is Matthew 18:1-6. Please open your Bibles to that passage.
Except you are converted and become as a little child, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. These are the words of Jesus Christ to you and to me today. “Except you….” Jesus is not speaking here to the world of lost heathens. He is not speaking to those even who are behind bars cursing His name. But Jesus here is talking to His disciples. Therefore, He is talking to you in the church. You must be converted.
Yes, there must be the initial conversion, the experience of the heart, by God’s grace, of a deep and profound grief over your sin, and a resolve to walk in newness of life. But the Lord is referring to more than that. He is referring to the need for a daily, on-going conversion in our life, day by day, as parents, as children, as youth, as citizens of the kingdom. He is saying that everyone in His kingdom experiences conversion daily and becomes as a little child.
Is that true of you? The conversion to which Jesus was referring in Matthew 18 is not only a conversion with respect to our thinking concerning the place of children in His kingdom. It is certainly that. The Lord is saying, “You, My disciples, have to have the right understanding of the place of children in My kingdom. You must understand that children of believers belong to My kingdom. You must be confronted by the truth of the covenant to see the character of God and to understand the wisdom of God. Certainly you need to have that. But you must also have a conversion in how you think about yourself — not just about how you think about children.”
Do you remember how the chapter began? The disciples came to Jesus and asked the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples were saying, “I think I am more important than you, Thomas, and James, and I’m certainly better than Peter!” They were filled with pride.
Do you think that way in the kingdom? Do you think in the kingdom that you are better? “Except you are converted and become as a little child.” Except by the grace of God you put away the awful pride of the nature and crucify it in Jesus Christ and fight against it day by day. Except you are converted, by God’s grace, and become as a little child, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Let us hear what Jesus has to say. As I said, Jesus is talking to His disciples, and He is taking them to task for an awful sin from which they needed daily conversion. That awful sin was not a sin that they did. For the twelve disciples had kept their noses clean. It was not a sin high on the list of the Pharisees — something that the Pharisees would certainly come out against. It was not that the disciples had violated some tradition of the elders. Nor was the sin for which Jesus was taking them to task the sin of adultery, or cursing, or drugs, or gambling. But it was for something that the Bible says is worse. It was the sin of selfishness, selfish-honor, self-importance, self-absorption — pride. It was how they looked at themselves. It was in their attitude toward others. They had been debating among themselves who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They had been sizing each other up. Jesus said, “Except ye be converted from that awful self-centeredness, that pride, that self-importance, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, what Jesus has to say does mean, of course, that children have a place in His kingdom. Perhaps we need to be converted, as I said, about that too. Christ gives children of believers a place in His kingdom. If you deny that, be converted about that thought. That is a biblical thought: children belong to His kingdom. The Lord taught that in many places. He refers in verse 6 to one of these little ones “which believe in me.” Faith is worked in the heart of elect children born in the covenant. Therefore, they too are to be baptized and received as members of the church and kingdom of Jesus Christ. Be converted, therefore, with respect to how you think about children.
But the admonition is directed more to our attitude about ourselves. That is the question, you know, that the disciples have brought to Jesus. The question that they brought, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” was not an innocent question. It was not as if, abstractly, they came up with the question and said, “You know, we were just wondering — who is the greatest in the kingdom?” No. Mark 9:33 and 34 tells us that as Jesus that day walked ahead of them on the road, having told them that they must go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, that they had followed Him, they thought out of His hearing, and they had disputed among themselves who among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When the Lord now turns (He is in a house in Capernaum) and says to them, “What was it that you were talking about as you followed Me,” they all, Mark tells us, held their peace. They were embarrassed. Jesus was not supposed to have heard what they were arguing about. They had been arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom. And they had been saying to each other, “Well, it’s not going to be you. It could be me. It could well be me, but not you.” And in Peter’s home, perhaps with Peter’s child set upon His knee, Jesus is taking them to task.
Here Jesus has been walking the way to the cross as the only way of salvation by the grace and mercy of God for wretched sinners, and His disciples have been following Him arguing about who is “top dog” in the kingdom. And Jesus says, “Except ye be converted as a little child, you cannot even get into the kingdom. You can’t get into the kingdom without Me. My grace must first slay your pride.”
Now, before we become indignant with these disciples, let me ask a question. Who among you is willing to be the least? Who listening to me, in the church of Jesus Christ, is willing to be treated and viewed as the least? And, what are you going to do if others treat you as the least?
How much trouble is caused in the church of Jesus Christ and in marriage and in the family over pride, over selfishness? I, I have to be the least? I have to suffer abuse? Me? I may not respond in kind — I can’t give back a dose of what is given me? Must I still be gracious to those who have injured me, to those who ignore me, to those who make their plans and don’t even consult me? I still have to be nice to them? You mean that I’m not justified in treating someone the way he treated me? Is that what the Lord is telling me? Is the Lord telling me in the Scriptures that I must bear ingratitude, that I must be willing to have my good evil spoken of and not respond in kind? Is that what the Lord is saying?
Beloved, read the Bible for yourself. That is exactly what He is saying. “Except ye be converted.” Do we understand? That is why He said conversion. Godly conversion is not a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It is every day — because that sinful pride, that sinful flesh remains within us and it is only by the grace of God, as we bow before the cross, that we put away and fight against that awful pride that affects us in every part of our life. It is the cross of Jesus Christ that cuts us down to size. Do you understand that? It cuts us down to size. It says to us, “You cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You don’t have anything to bring. You are a sinner. It is only God and profound grace, through His Son, who can bring you by His blood into His kingdom. You are called now to lose your self-importance in comparison to others. You are to be converted.”
That is what the Lord refers to here as conversion — daily conversion — that you lose your self-importance in comparison to others in the kingdom. Jesus insists upon it. “Except ye be converted and become as a little child, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You shall not. Not only can you not, but you will not. I will not permit it. I’m the King of the kingdom. If any man shall enter in, it is by Me. I am the door. I am the gate. I won’t allow it.” He is saying that the blood of Christ brings us to daily conversion when that daily conversion is to fight against your own sinful pride. Not the other person’s sinful pride. Your sinful pride. You, daily, need the grace of conversion.
Understand that the Scriptures do not mean that conversion is identical to regeneration. Regeneration (to be born again) is the initial work of God, the change of the heart. It is the implanting of the life of Christ. Conversion refers to the way of our life, what follows from being regenerated. It means to be turned from our sin. It is the grace of God whereby the child of God takes himself to hand and turns from the way of pride in which he was going and turns to the way of humility in which he should go.
He had before been going in the way of maintaining himself, his pride. (He’s not going to humble himself before his wife. He’s not going to admit this. They better come to him!) Conversion is the grace of God whereby the will is renewed and he identifies his pride by God’s grace and forsakes the way of self and desires, in principle now, to serve Christ his Lord and Savior. Conversion is not simply going to church and keeping your nose clean from the big sins, and then behind the doors of your own life, in your own home, living a self-centered life, making everybody in the house miserable and, in front of your kids, putting every one in the church down. That is not conversion. Conversion is laying aside pride, self-love.
Conversion is not, “Boy, I hope so-and-so is hearing this message on the Reformed Witness Hour. He really needs it!” Conversion is: “This stuck-on-self sinner called me needs it!”
We must become as a little child, said Jesus. Now Jesus is not holding up children as the Pelagians of old — that heresy out of hell, the idea that children are free from corruption and are innocent in themselves. The Scriptures teach plainly that all from the womb are conceived and born in sin. “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51). We all go astray from the womb, says the psalmist in Psalm 58. But the Lord is looking at the child as an object lesson, I believe, in at least two ways.
First, a child is not impressed by social status, by rank, by money, by position, by house, or by possessions. A little girl lives, we will say, in a mansion. Her father owns a mansion with yards and fields. And she looks out the window, the bay window. Her father has hired laborers, migrant workers. (We will call the little girl Annie.) These migrant workers are working in the flowers and in the fields. They live in their little huts. And they have little children: Adela, Juanita, Marguerita. Annie goes outside and they all begin to play together, in the dirt. They begin to play house. They become fast friends. They become buddies. Finally, Annie says, “Oh, I’ve got to go home.” And the girls say, “Can you come back and play with us tomorrow?” And Annie says, “Oh, sure. I’ll be back.”
She goes back into the mansion and she is all dirty. The maid greets her and says, “Oh, child! Where have you been?” And the mother comes out of the parlor and says, “Who have you been playing with? What have you been doing?” “Oh, mother, I’ve been having such a good time.” And the mother looks at her and says, “Oh, no. You can’t do that! You can’t play with them!”
The child thinks, “They’re the same as I am.” But the child learns snobbery. We teach children that. We teach them to find fault. We talk in front of them about so-and-so in the church, about people who should know their place. And pretty soon the child begins to think that that is the way we ought to think in the church of Jesus Christ. That is the way we think there too.
Beloved, unless you become like a little child! Conversion is the war against self-importance. Conversion is the grace of God whereby we become a servant, one to another.
When, by the grace of God, you have stood in the presence of the Lord, then you are cut down. Then you say, “I am nothing. I deserve nothing. It is all of grace.”
The second characteristic of a child that I believe the Lord is pointing at is that a child is submissive to the Word of God. A parent’s word is “gospel” to a child. A child trusts you. You must walk as a parent worthy of that trust. The child believes what you say. So, we say, the world was created in six days because the Bible says that. That is what the Bible says. There is no question about that. The Bible says six, twenty-four hour days. There is no question about it. And the child says, “Well, of course that’s true. He’s God. So what’s incredible about that?” You tell your child that a fish swallowed a man and the man was in the belly of the fish for three days. And the child says, “Of course. God says that.” You say that the water of the Red Sea stood up like a poured cement wall and the ground became dry for Israel to pass through. Then when the Egyptian chariots got in there, the ground became muddy and they got stuck and the wall of water fell upon them and drowned them all. And they say, “Yes, that’s exactly the way it happened.” You say that a leper in the day of Jesus was healed and his skin became like a baby’s skin. And they say, “Of course.” And you say that Elijah was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot and they see the chariot and they say, “Of course, of course.”
You must be like a child. You must worship like a child. You must sing like a child. You must believe like a child. You must be amazed like a child. Unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Sometimes our little children admonish us. Mom and Dad put them to bed in their pajamas and tuck them in. And they can see that Mom and Dad are worried about something. Mom and Dad go down to the table and begin to talk, “How can we make it? We don’t have enough money. Maybe we can’t send the children to the Christian school because we don’t have enough money. How are we possibly going to overcome this? There are too many problems. We can’t.” And that little child has sneaked in the hallway and has heard you talking. Then that little child comes into the kitchen, to the table before Mom and Dad and says, “Mom, Dad, God will take care of us, won’t He? Didn’t God say that He’ll bless us in the way of obedience? God will help us, right?”
Through a little child you have heard the truth. You have heard God say, “Be still. I am with you. The waters will not overflow you. I will never forsake you. I will lead you in a way where you shall not be left desolate.” And you say, “Lord, make me as a little child to receive Thy Word.”
So Jesus concludes with this warning. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” To offend does not mean to make somebody angry. It does not mean that you make your child angry with you. Sometimes children do get angry at you — that is OK. If they have sinned and you are disciplining them, then that is OK. I am not saying that it is OK that they are angry. I am saying to you as parents, “Just because your child is angry, you don’t melt over that.” But to offend means that you influence them to sin. It means that you stand in the way between them and Jesus Christ. It means that you say one thing and you do another, that you demand of them one way of life but you live another. If you do that as a parent, you are offending your child.
Do not offend your child. Live the life of conversion in front of them. Teach them the greatness of God. Let them see in you a reverence for God. When you come to the face of God, the child will sense who God is in you. Let the child know the truth and the joy of your religion. They sense what is there. You cannot fool them. They know.
Look to God and let us hear the word of Christ, the Son of God, today. And let us, by His grace, be converted from our sinful pride daily, and become as a little child in trust and love and humility before God.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee again for Thy Word. And we pray for its blessing upon our hearts in this day. We pray that it may go forth in its power and that we may daily be turned from our own awful pride in humility before Thee and Thy cross. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.