August 28, 2011
INTRODUCTION – For whatever reasons – in the last couple of months or so – I’ve noticed when my wife and I pray together – that she will often pray for the stumbling blocks in our region to be removed – – so the kingdom of God can advance. I’ve found this a little curious – until I began to prepare for this week’s sermon. If you would turn in your Bibles to Matthew 17 starting with vs. 24 – – we’re going to learn a few things about stumbling blocks. And if you have been paying attention in our series through the gospel of Matthew – you may have noticed this term or concept has come up a couple of times before.
Earlier references: Matt. 13:41 “The Son of man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,” (Speaking of the end of time or the return of the Lord)
16:23 “…Get behind Me Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
The last thing in the world any of us want to be – if Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father, and is the one who the Bible says will judge the living and the dead – is a stumbling block to others.
So what is a stumbling block, and then – how in the world can we avoid ever being one?
A Stumbling block is someone who causes others to not see, understand, and heed the truth as communicated in black and white in this book. Put another way – – A stumbling block is anything you or I do or say that contradicts or distorts the person, will and way of the Lord.
The reality is – every one of us – unless we live alone on a deserted island – is being watched and listened to by others – in our families, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, local churches, and unfortunately in many cases on Facebook.
Every moment of every day unless you are asleep or absolutely alone and not on social media, you have the opportunity by the power of the Holy Spirit to be either that transforming agent Jesus Christ calls light and salt – or you have the opportunity to be a stumbling block – because either what you say or what you do is not in keeping with the Person, way and the will of the Lord.
In this passage before us today – in our ongoing series through the gospel of Matthew, and in our pursuit of seeing His kingdom come in all its fullness and power to our coastal region – we are going to learn how, and hopefully be motivated not to be stumbling blocks. There are about six principles in these six paragraphs, and I am starting each of them with the word “disciples” – because only disciples change the world, and only disciples will have ears to hear what Jesus has to say in these paragraphs.
I. Disciples choose not to offend gov’t officials; 17:24-27
Disciples – like their Savior when He was on earth – willingly choose to fulfill all righteousness – and not be stumbling blocks to gov’t officials – – even though they belong to a higher kingdom; and some of the earthly officials we have to deal with are corrupt and inept. By the way I used the word stumbling block because in vs. 27 the phrase “offend them” literally should be translated, “not cause them to stumble”.
A. Jesus had two concerns with this situation: 1. That temple officials not be offended unnecessarily; 2. That Peter think correctly; and not just keep the peace to keep the peace.
B. Three lessons for Peter and us:
1. As sons of the King and subjects of His kingdom we really are only subject to Him. He rules over all; we are learning to rule with Him; and our citizenship is really with Him.
2. But because being a stumbling block hurts and thwarts His kingdom advance– we gladly give up our rights – to maximize our impact and influence
3. Provision for us and $$ for taxes can come from anywhere. Since we know the King and are subjects of His kingdom, which has boundless resources, we should gladly pay up; and trust that He will meet our needs in one way or another.
II. Disciples walk in humility 18:1-4 (read it)
A. Jesus says greatness in the kingdom is ultimately a character issue – not a service or works or accomplishments issue.
B. Jesus says greatness in the kingdom starts with conversion which requires the humility of a child because you have to admit that you are in need of an internal supernatural overhaul.
C. What is it about children that makes them a model or example of kingdom humility? Happy and glad to be alive; not cynical; Teachable; quick to believe and trust; very responsive to Christ (the child immediately and unreservedly came to Jesus when He asked him to).
D. One thing for sure: if you ignore and resent children, you will never learn this most important trait of humility. And without humility you will not only not achieve greatness in God’s kingdom; you might not even enter it.
III. Disciples don’t dare stumble children 18:5-6 (read it)
A. There is great reward and blessing for receiving and honoring children vs. 5 It’s as if we are receiving Jesus Himself.
B. There is horrible judgment for causing these little ones to stumble (who believe in Him) (vs. 6) This would especially be relevant to adults in a home wherein there are children who believe in Christ; and to adults in a church wherein there are children who believe in Christ.
C. Adults tend to be oblivious to children; but children are never oblivious to us. They watch every move we make and hear every word we say. As my mother used to say, “Little pictures have big ears.”
D. Adults tend to feel they have a right to say or do certain things – especially in the privacy of their own home – – but again as long as there is another person around – especially children – – it doesn’t matter if you own the home; you built the home; and you worked hard all day – – as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and as one of His disciples – you never have a right to say or do anything that would cause one of these to stumble.
IV. Jesus’s judgment of the world for stumbling others will be awful 18:6b, 7 (read it)
A. The millstone drowning is bad enough; Jesus’s judgment will be worse
B. Woe repeated twice speaks of unspeakable judgment on those who cause others to stumble. There really are not many things worse in a person’s life than causing another to stumble.
V. Disciples do whatever is necessary to get free from sin 18:8,9
A. Not the first time Jesus has prescribed this radical measure for ongoing stubborn sin. The context in ch. 5 is a discussion about adultery and lust. This time the context is that of being a stumbling block
B. Getting free from sin often takes drastic radical measures/steps. Jesus fully expects us to quickly and gladly take them.
C. Some sins we just overcome. Some sins become strongholds that have to be brought down by spiritual weapons and the help of the body of Christ. When I was 19 and a half after many years of smoking cigarettes and some years of chewing tobacco, as I began to grow in the Lord – – I quickly and somewhat effortlessly gave those destructive habits up. I didn’t have to go to the healing rooms or go through prophetic prayer counseling to get free. But others things and character traits in my life haven’t gone so easy. And for those – I’ve had to humble myself and take more drastic measures, which in every case – included allowing others to be a part of the process.
D. Question: What are you doing to rid yourself of stubborn sinful patterns that is on the same radical level as cutting your hand or foot off? Have you ever done that?
VI. Disciples gain God’s heart for little ones – even the straying ones 18:10-14
A. This is where the concept of guardian angels comes from.
B. God’s heart is clearly for every one of these little ones – regardless of their attitude, their responsiveness, or their temperament; ours better be as well.
C. Beware of despising
CONCLUSION – As subjects of His kingdom – sons and daughters of the King – we have amazing privileges, authority and promise of provision; but when it comes to saying or doing anything that would cause another to stumble – we have no rights at all.
Ways we stumble children in our families and in the church:
1. Watching tv shows or listening to music that is not edifying. It doesn’t even matter if they are in their rooms and can’t see or hear it. Something happens in the presence and atmosphere of a home when we adults throw off restraint in our watching and listening.
2. Complaining and slandering leaders – whether it be your bosses at work; gov’t leaders; church leaders; children get slimed when we do not exercise restraint in our homes with our words and judgments.
3. Serving in the church and talking all loving to church folk; but treating family members in harsh and unkind ways. Taking them for granted and being short with them. I’ve been guilty of this, and have to repent of it.
4. Lying or even worse – having them lie for us. “Tell them I’m not here” as they start to answer the phone. Or telling someone something on the phone that your children over hear and know is not true.
5. Being lazy and not working hard – whether it be your job or your household chores and responsibilities.
Billy Graham’s wife Ruth spoke often of the powerful example her parents were to her as a child. She said every morning when she went down for breakfast, her father – a busy missionary surgeon – would be sitting reading his Bible. At night, her work behind her, her mother would be doing the same. She reasoned that anything that could so capture the interest and devotion of those I admired and loved the most, must be worth investigating. So at an early age, I began reading my Bible and found it to be, in the words of the old Scotsman, “sweet pasturage.”
6. Older brothers & sisters –
In the Church:
1. Ignoring children and always only talking to adults.
2. Not learning children’s names.
3. Looking forward to when we get the kids out of here so we can worship without distraction. If this is our attitude – they will know it, whether we voice it or not.
4. Making snide comments about the clothes they wear or their hair style or their Jewelry, or the way they walk, or sit. Unless you are their parent or youth leader or somehow intimately relationally connected to them over time, it’s probably best that you leave these issues to others.
When I was in high school God began to move in a powerful way during my Junior and Senior year; and I believe it was during my senior year that Jack Van Impe came to our coliseum in Knoxville and did a crusade. One of the young men we were reaching out to in those days was a guy named Jim. We believed it was a miracle when Jim was willing to go to this crusade with us. The meeting went well; Jack Van Impe spoke with great authority and power; and Jim was visually impacted. As we were walking out, a huge man with a flat top hair cut, and no smile came up to Jim (I was walking behind him), and said something like, “Hey what do you think you are doing coming in here with hair like that?” You see Jim’s hair was half way down his back, as was the case with many others in those days. Now if he had come up to Jim, and said, “Hey good to see you here.” Or “Hey what did you think about the meeting?” or “Hey I can see you were touched today. Can I pray for you?” with a smile on his face – that would have been one thing. But he appeared to have one passion and that was the style of a man’s hair. So when my friend Jim saw this unsmiling menacing guy carrying his leather bound King James Bible – he was significantly stumbled as to what this Christianity is all about.
There have been times in my life where I have confessed to God that my motives for not sinning aren’t as pure as they ought to be – – because at least some of my motivation in certain cases was how my choosing to sin might impact others. After meditating in this passage this week – – I now see that motivation is very legitimate.
Most of us terribly underestimate – once it is known to others that we are a Christian or that we go to church – how much they watch every move we make and listen to every word we say. The bad news is we are going to have many opportunities to make people stumble and God will hold us accountable for that. The good news is when we choose to walk in righteousness, we are probably having a far greater impact than we realize. Let’s rejoice in that, and resolve to live the kind of life that gives those watching every opportunity and every reason to want to follow Jesus too.