Tempted and Lost (Pt 1)
“For it is necessary that temptations come…” (ESV) These few words jumped out at me as I meditated upon the text given as our Gospel reading this week, Matthew 18:1-20. These words are translated differently depending on your preferred English translation. The NKJV writes, “For offenses must come…” The NET translates these words, “It is necessary that stumbling blocks come…”
Stumbling blocks, offenses, and temptation all come from the same Greek word “skandalon.” Can you hear the modern English word “scandal?” You get the idea. Scandals, temptation, and stumbling blocks must come to test the genuineness of your faith. Temptations are going to take many forms. Each of us will be tempted by the devil, the world, and our own flesh in different ways.
Matthew gives us an example of a particular stumbling block in two places, chapters 18 and 20. In our Gospel reading today, chapter 18, the disciples seem very interested in who will be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. Because of how Jesus responds, I think it is safe to say, their hearts are once again on the “things of man” instead of the “things of God” as Jesus told Peter early. In chapter 20, James and John, along with their mom, kneel before Jesus and ask that they be appointed to sit one on his right and one on his left in his kingdom. The other ten disciples get angry, indignant Matthew writes. Again, they are missing the point and their hearts and minds are on the things of man. Temptation has come and there is a stumbling block, temptation, before the disciples.
The disciples want to be great in the new kingdom Jesus will inaugurate. They want a place of honor, to have a place at the table with all the important people. They want to matter. It was a picture of men looking in the wrong place for answers to the question of what it meant in the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of Jesus. They were aiming at the wrong things, had the wrong idea about what Jesus was doing. They had the wrong belief about being men who follow Jesus. To be greatest in the kingdom is the opposite of what Jesus is doing and teaching. It was the opposite of what Jesus wanted them to do.
As Jesus is responding to the disciples in chapter 20, he reasserts his teaching from chapter 18. To be the greatest in his kingdom one must become a servant of all and give up his life, just “as the Son of Man” came to do. Sounds a little like the first will be last and the last shall be first.
Today, those men out there that have not completely acquiesced to our corrupted cultural teachings and retreated to their “man cave” have taken to the internet and found a whole community of “manly men” to teach them what it means to be men. Now we have “influencers” by the dozens teaching millions of guys what it looks like to create and leave a legacy, and to make an impact. Or in other words, to be the greatest in the kingdom of this world. Essentially, I believe we are being taught to be the warrior king of our own little kingdom. To create our own legacy and it is all encompassing.
But it is a temptation, a stumbling block, and often, it is not from God. Men are aiming at the wrong thing.
To address this question from the disciples, Jesus brings into their midst a child and says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
First, you must turn around, make a change. While this word is not repent, repentance is often defined in the same way. You will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless you repent. Second, you must become like a child. To be great in the kingdom of God involves important characteristics often found in children. I have talked about this before but just as a reminder they are dependence, and trust. The Christian walks in this way, understanding he is dependent on Jesus for everything, body, and soul. He trusts that God will provide as God always has, and he walks humbly under Jesus’ headship as a child does with a loving father.
Christian men in search of meaning and purpose are tempted left and right to make a name for themselves, usually by some retired Navy Seal with a YouTube channel or some trendy pastor wearing a t-shirt two sizes too small. There is no room in Christianity for a “do-it-your-way” attitude. You cannot be a warrior king of your kingdom. We are to follow Jesus, we depend on him, we trust him and obey his words. In the kingdom of heaven, the citizens live as children of the heavenly Father. To put your faith in something other than Jesus, including your own strength and will to overcome and achieve, is sin. It is aiming at the wrong thing, setting your minds on “things of man.” Turn and humble yourself.
This is a big deal. Jesus warns about this temptation of legacy and greatness twice. First saying it would be better for the tempter to be drowned in the sea, then saying to the tempted, that it is better to cut off the hand that tempts you than find yourself in hell with both hands.
Cut it off! Turn, and humble yourselves. Be servants. Give your life up. Bear your cross and follow. It is all coming together here in Matthew’s Gospel.
What is that stumbling block for you? What needs to be cut off? If you are not a man, but a woman, what is the world, the devil and your flesh tempting you with?
The good news is found in the second half of our reading. It is all about forgiveness and the work of the Father to seek and save even that one lost sheep. “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” The little ones, children of the Heavenly Father, are Christians. The sheep in the story is the one he will seek and save. We were at one time, the lost sheep. The Church is made up of people who understand and grasp the extravagant forgiveness received from the Father through his only begotten Son. We are forgiven and so we have abundant, everlasting, life in his name and to his glory. Temptation will come. “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
Part two next Sunday, if it is not about legacies and greatness, then what is it about?