Title: Instruction concerning exclusiveness and pride
Scriptures to Read: Mark 9:38–50; Matthew 18:6–14; Luke 9:49–50
In the previous section Jesus rebuked the apostles for their argument about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom. And here they clearly attempt to change the subject.
What does John’s statement reveal about the apostles’ attitude? Once again it shows their concern about their status. Whereas their previous argument concerned their status within the apostolic group, this question concerns their status in relation to others. It concerns their exclusiveness or pride. John pointed a particular person “does not follow along with us.” That does not mean he was not a follower of Jesus, but rather that he was not member of the apostolic group of twelve. And because he was not a member of the apostolic group, and because they thought that only they had been given authority to cast out demons, the apostles felt that he should be forbidden to do so.
Jesus reminds His disciples that a person can do great things for God without having to be in the inner circle of the Apostolic twelve. Others outside the apostolic group will also be able to perform miracles. Then Jesus moves from teaching about exclusiveness to a lesson about pride. He says: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” Even the humblest works, like giving a cup of cold water because one is a disciple of Jesus, will be rewarded. Even the smallest service done for Jesus will be rewarded. It is not necessary to do miracles; even a cup of water will bring its reward.
Who are these “little ones” who believe? Remember that He has set a child before them, and immediately before John interrupted Him, He was referring to a child as an example of faith and humility. So He is referring to the child as an illustration of those who believe in Him. The point is that there will be punishment for those who cause a believer to stumble.
Stumbling blocks from the world
Now Jesus turns to the source of stumbling [Read Matthew verse 7]. Stumbling blocks will inevitably come from the world, but not from believers, and that there will be punishment for the one who causes stumbling. So the disciples’ attitude of pride is the attitude of the world and not of a true believer in the Messiah. Those who cause little children to stumble will be punished, and as leaders they must be careful not to cause unnecessary stumbling.
Internal causes of stumbling
Then, having warned them about causing others to stumble, and having pointed out that stumbling blocks will inevitably come from the world, He goes on to talk about internal causes of stumbling within the believer [Read Matthew verses 8-9]. Does this sound strange to you? Is He really teaching the value of self-mutilation? This passage sounds very strange and inexplicable when it is read out of its context. But in its context we can see that He has already warned them about stumbling blocks they might put in the way of others, now He is teaching them about the stumbling blocks people make for themselves. And the reference to stumbling and to the members of the body here is metaphorical. What then is He teaching? Jesus is dealing with the root of the problem, not its external appearance. And His point is this: Whatever it is in our life that is causing us to stumble must be put away. It is far better to remove all stumbling blocks and come to faith than to persist in stumbling and end up in hell!
What do we learn about hell at the end of Matthew verse 8 and in Mark verse 48? Matthew records Jesus describing hell as “the eternal fire.” Mark describes it as the place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 66:24 here. This is the destination of all unbelievers. And those who cause stumbling will end up with greater judgment than those who don’t. Believers, on the other hand, will not go to hell, but they will suffer punishment or discipline in this life and a loss of rewards in the next life.
Next Jesus gives the application of what He has been teaching [Read Matthew verses 10-14]. The application He gives to them in verse 10 is: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” And the reason is: “their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Their angels, those that watch over them, have direct access to God Himself. And these guardian angels report what people do to believing children that causes them to stumble. And as a result of the angelic report, if unbelievers cause children to stumble they will have greater judgment in the lake of fire. However, if believers cause these children to stumble, then they will fall under divine discipline in this life and suffer greater loss of rewards in heaven.
The lost sheep
God’s concern for children, and His rejoicing over the salvation of each one is illustrated in Mathew verses 12-14. And the conclusion is in verse 14: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” To perish means to be deprived of eternal life and therefore exposed to eternal death. And just as the shepherd rejoices over the lost sheep that is found, so our Father rejoices over each little one who believes.
To summarize then:
1. A person can do great things for God without being in the inner circle of apostleship.
2. Even the humblest service will be rewarded.
3. Those who cause stumbling will be punished.
4. We should put away whatever causes us to stumble.
5. Children have guardian angels with direct access to God.
6. God rejoices over the salvation of each child and is not willing that any of them should perish.