Selected highlights from this sermon.
In today’s world, we’re more concerned with who’s the greatest actor or singer or writer. Even back during the time Jesus walked on Earth, His own disciples were wondering, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The response of our Lord was counter-cultural and contrary to human nature—both then and today. We’re to become like children. In this message, Pastor Lutzer explains what Jesus meant and how we can enter the kingdom of Heaven.
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When the committee for our 150th Anniversary met together, they identified four themes, four pillars as it were, that really have been the hallmark of Moody Church for 150 years. The first was celebrating the Word of God, which we did last month. This month we celebrate ministry to children. Next month – missions, and then the month following that, in April, we’re going to be celebrating music and worship. And each Sunday we’ll be emphasizing this particular theme.
Now when I think about children it dawned on me as I prepared this message that I’ve never said much to you folks about the eight wonderful grandchildren that God has given to Rebecca and to me. So let me give you a couple of experiences. You know that you can’t make this stuff up. Children say things and do things that you and I would never think of saying or doing.
I begin with little Evie. Now she was about 4 years old. Little Evelyn is our drama queen, and there must have been a time when she was feeling an attention deficit from our side. So she went into my study, and closed the door and she began to sing, “Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me.” And it wasn’t even her birthday but she needed a little bit of attention.
But think of this. Emma, about 4, was afraid to go to sleep at night because of the dark room. Our daughter, Lynn, her mother, said, “We’ll pray and God will be with you.” She said, “No, I don’t want to pray. I don’t want God in my room all night.” (laughter)
And then you think of Abby at the age of 6, asking this theological question. “Is God bigger than heaven, or does He just make Himself fit in?” That’s a good question. Solomon said, “The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. How much less than this house that I have built?” Apparently God is bigger than heaven, unless you think that heaven is as big as God.
I remember out daughter, Lisa, when she was a little child of 4 or 5. She said, “Daddy, my teddy bear knows that he isn’t real.” (laughter) Now you think about that for a moment. There’s a theological point to be made there. If your teddy bear knows that he isn’t real, maybe he is real, but then he would know something else, wouldn’t he? Think about it! (laughter)
You know, when we think about children, of course, my heart is heavy for children around the world. I hope yours is too. And in this very brief message I hope for all of us to take upon our shoulders and hearts the children of the world, and the children in your family and your neighborhood, many of whom are suffering from neglect. They are suffering from abuse, and alcoholism, and the break-up of the family, and the fact that Mommy and Daddy hate each other, and the list goes on and on. There are those who are being trafficked sexually. There are thousands – millions actually - of children without the warmth of a home and the security of a mother and a father who love each other. I hope your heart breaks for the children of the world.
Now when Moody Church was founded you, of course, know that it was founded as a Sunday school. The building that was built there on Illinois Street – the very first place that Moody Church existed – was actually built as a Sunday school. And D. L. Moody had it built and then it became a church, and for seven years it was the location of Moody Church from 1864 until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. And you know that D. L. Moody loved children. He spent time with them, and he went to the worst neighborhood of Chicago – Little Hell – and that’s where he began.
You know that there’s a story that has been told many times. Someone said to D. L. Moody, “How many people accepted Jesus Christ last night?” And he said, “Two-and-a-half.” They said, “Oh, two adults and a child!” Moody said, “Oh no, it was two children and an adult because the adult’s life is half over. The children have all their lives to live for God.”
Take your Bibles today if you would, please, and turn to the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and we’ll see what Jesus has to say about children, even as we are challenged in our own ministries. Matthew 18: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” Isn’t that where we are today? Who is the greatest actor? Who has the greatest church? Who is the greatest pastor? Who is the greatest writer? Who is the one who is great in the Kingdom of Heaven? And Jesus, being so countercultural and so contrary to human nature says in verse 2 and 3, “And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” You want to ask who is greatest in the Kingdom? You won’t even get there unless you humble yourself as a child – verse 4.
Can’t you imagine this little toddler? The great Word indicates that he was a little child, probably a toddler. Maybe he was able to remember this incident for the rest of his life. If he couldn’t maybe his parents told him. “You are the one that Jesus called out of the crowd and said, ‘Come and stand here in the middle.’”
Jesus was exalting this child, and then He said to those around, “Unless you become like this child, you’ll not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” The way in which we become children of God is to humble ourselves like a child. That doesn’t mean that we are childish, as one important person in Church history once thought. No, we aren’t childish but we are like a child.
First of all, a child knows that he is dependent. One of the saddest stories I’ve ever read is of a country in Africa where AIDS was so prominent, it killed so many of the adults that there was a band of children, maybe 6, 7 or 8 years old, who went from house to house, from hut to hut, looking for some adult to take care of them. They knew that they couldn’t take care of themselves. And you may be here today as an adult but are you looking for God that way? Do you know that you cannot take care of yourself apart from the divine Heavenly Father? Jesus said, “You become like a child,” dependent, full of faith.
We can give illustrations. I remember someone on our staff telling the story about how she drove up to the church one Sunday and it was raining, and she had to find a parking place, so she opened the door of her car, and the children were out, and she saw someone she knew, and she said to the kids, “That woman – that mother – will take good care of you.” The kids felt secure. “If Mother says that that mother will take care of us, we can trust that mother.”
Children under normal conditions are filled with faith and humility. You know, Jesus said, “You have to humble yourself like this child,” and if you are here today and you are listening to this message (no matter which means you are using to listen to it), if you are self-assured, if you are convinced that you can manage your own situation and your own sin, with that attitude you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. “It is those who know their need,” Jesus said, “that will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” So Jesus said, “First of all, we must become like children to enter.”
Secondly, he said, “We should welcome children.” Now your Bibles are open. You’ll notice what He says in verse 5, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me.” Think about this for a moment. What if Jesus were coming to Chicago and He was going to visit, and He carved out a full week at Moody Church? And let us suppose also that He intended to stay in the homes of our members. And so I announce some Sunday that Jesus is going to be here, and we’re looking for a place for Him to stay each night this coming week, and we have a sign-up sheet in the lobby. Can you even imagine? People would leave before the service was over to say, “I want Jesus in my home.” Jesus said, “You can have Me in your home. You welcome a child in My name and you have welcomed Me.” You welcome that child into your home; you’ve welcomed Jesus.
Now mind you they may not behave like Jesus, and you know, you’d never spank Jesus, but the child that you welcome may need the “board of education applied to the seat of learning” every once in a while, as we had done, not only at home but at school. I could tell you (but oh, this is too interesting a story; we have to skip it) about spankings in school that I attended. But they used to happen. And the point is that Jesus is saying, “You can welcome a child,” and you have to welcome him in My name.”
Now many children are welcomed in the name of necessity, and there’s resentment on the part of the mother, or perhaps resentment on the part of the father because it was an unplanned pregnancy. Jesus said, “You welcome that child in My name, and don’t load that child with the guilt of the parents, please. That child needs to be welcomed in My name and not in the name of necessity, not in the name of anger, not in the name of pride. When you welcome that child in My name, you have welcomed Me.” We have opportunities here at the Moody Church for you to have Jesus overnight.
Now, what kind of children should we welcome? We should welcome the neglected child, the abused child, the sick child, the unwanted child, the unborn child, and the child with disabilities. We welcome those children into our lives, into our church, and into our ministries in the name of Jesus, and we have welcomed Him. Do you see the solidarity between Jesus and His people? Jesus said, “You can’t separate us.”
Now, there’s something else that Jesus says. He goes on to say that we must protect our children. Notice this now in verse 6. This is an amazing statement. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Wow! Jesus is taking our breath away. He says, “If you cause one of these little ones to sin…” And there are plenty of ways that we can cause little ones to sin. We can cause them to sin by enticing them to sin. We can cause them to sin by our own example in life so that they begin to follow us, and we are sinning. We want them to tell the truth, but we ourselves at home lie. We can in this way cause them to sin. We can cause them to sin by over-anger. You know the Bible says very clearly, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”
This is a longer story, but I’ve been in homes, especially where there is anger on the part of the parents, and a whole lot of self-righteousness. They will over-correct a child. Everything that he does needs to be over-corrected. They will holler at the child. They will discipline the child inconsistently, and when that child grows up, oftentimes he turns away from God. Now I’ve known that there have been wonderful parents who have had prodigal children. Wonderful parents have ended with prodigal children, but at the same time, sometimes prodigals are really the product of their own home.
There is a very famous writer, and this morning I was trying to think of his name. If I mentioned his name you’d instantly know it, but he ended up committing suicide. But the point is he was brought up in a fundamentalist, legalistic and judgmental home, and when he grew up he wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with his parents, and nothing to do with his parents’ God.
There are many ways that you and I can cause a child to sin. I don’t do it often but every once in a while I do shout from this pulpit, and I just want to make you ready lest you’ve fallen asleep and you wake up with a jerk, and you think that I’ve just asked you to pray. (laughter) You know those stories, don’t you? True stories!
Jerry Jenkins tells the story about a guy who was sleeping in a class at Moody Bible Institute, and he was nudged by his neighbor who said, “The Prof just asked you to pray.” So this guy stood up in the middle of the class and prayed, and the professor who couldn’t quite put it all together said, “Well, let the will of God be done.” (laughter)
So I want to warn you so that you are not too shocked, but before I holler, I want you to notice that Jesus said that if you cause a child to sin it is better for you that a millstone be hung around your neck and you be drowned in the depths of the sea. It wasn’t until I visited Israel that I discovered what a millstone was. I want you to visualize two flat stones like wheels. One is larger than the other and that stone is the one upon which another stone is pulled in a groove so that it might be able to thresh grain, etc. They have it all worked out.
I remember looking at that millstone and this passage just illuminated it, and this week as I was reading this I noticed that Jesus said that it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and he be drowned in the depths of the sea. Notice what Jesus is saying. Let’s not miss it. Let’s look at the text.
First of all, Jesus is saying, “If you welcome a child, you welcome Me.” That’s the beginning of what He talks about. But He says, “You mistreat a child and you are mistreating Me.” Wow! And look at the judgment that Jesus gives to somebody who causes a child to sin. And just this week again I heard about a family where there is abuse and you would never guess it. Sexual abuse has happened, and you never know what happens behind those closed doors, do you? And some of you are the product of those kinds of relationships as a child, and you take all of that with you into your marriage. Thank God for redemption. Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God for healing. But here’s where I want to speak to you very clearly, and I promised you I might holler.
My friend, today, if there is abuse in your home, or if you are an abuser, STOP IT IN THE NAME OF GOD FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE CHILDREN. (applause)
You say, “Well, I don’t want to face the consequences. You know, I don’t know what would happen if I exposed what was happening.” You face the consequences, my friend, and you mothers defend your children. I heard of a situation that I’ve told you about where the mother basically knew about it and did nothing. The kids can forgive the father more easily in all of his evil than a mother who stands by and will not defend her children. Jesus is saying here in the clearest terms, “You mistreat a child, you mistreat Me.”
Now during this anniversary year we are emphasizing the fact that Moody Church has had a consistent history in ministering to children. And we have many ministries, and I put ministries in the plural, here at this church, this campus, this place specifically. But we also partner with seven ministries in different parts of the world. The first four are here in Chicago. The last three are in other countries but notice this before I read you the list. Please note that all of them are without the walls of Moody Church – outside the walls of Moody Church. And if I could put my arms around an entire world (and we as a church would like to), to minister to children, we aren’t doing enough. But we’re doing something that you can be a part of.
First of all, we have By the Hand Club for Kids. Now many of you are involved in that ministry. It began here at the Moody Church in 2001, and we are so thankful for its growth, now ministering to about 1,000 children in the most under-resourced neighborhoods in Chicago. And they always need tutors for the children.
Caris is a faith-based, non-profit pregnancy-counseling agency that helps women with unplanned pregnancies, and we are part of that, and we support that.
There’s Angel Tree. Now you may think that Angel Tree is something we do only at Christmas. Please bear in mind that the folks who are in charge try to connect with these families all year. These are children whose parents are incarcerated. One or more is incarcerated.
Safe Families program, part of Lydia Home, provides short-term foster care in Christian family homes on a temporary basis. Sometimes couples need to get just away or get their act together, and there are things that are happening where they need to give their children to a Christian family for a period of time. Right now, as I speak, in this congregation there are people who have children in their homes in this foster care ministry run by Safe Families.
All those ministries are here – Chicago-based.
And then internationally, As Our Own rescues children from enslavement and exploitation in India. Could I just pause here and ask if you have an extra million dollars that you’d really like to invest for the Kingdom? Come and talk to me later. I’m trying to help them raise some money to build that brand new orphanage, a bigger one than they already have over there in India? Is there anything that can touch our hearts? And by the way, if you don’t have a million to give, smaller gifts, I want you to know, are also appreciated. Simply go to As Our Own.
Hope Unlimited rescues street children from abuse and begging in Brazil. It has enabled thousands of Brazilians to break generational cycles of poverty and violence.
Kids Alive is a ministry in the Dominican Republic. And do you know what the women of Moody Church want to do and are praying toward and working toward? It’s that they might be able to have a place here in Chicago for women who are being sex trafficked and who can experience healing and hope and help. That’s in its formative stages. We pray that God may bless this because if you want to do something that will last eternally, and if you want to have the heart of Jesus, we must be involved in ministries where the need is the greatest.
Jesus, taking this little boy said of him, “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Now Jesus goes on to say, “Don’t you dare despise these little ones.” By the way, in verses 7 and following (You can read those on your own; they are also strong verses.) what He’s saying is, “If there’s something that causes you to stumble, and you are constantly going back to the same sin, or you are involved in an adulterous relationship, or you are involved in mistreating children, whatever it is, if you have to cut off your hand, or if you have to pluck out your eye, do it.” Once again Jesus is saying, “Do whatever needs to be done, but stop the evil that you are doing.” And then He says, “Don’t despise little ones.” I’m now in verse 10. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
I am so excited about the message I’m going to preach next week, and we also have another surprise for you in the service. I truly believe that the service that we are planning next week you will remember for the rest of your life. But my topic is going to be infant salvation, and I’m going to be speaking about this. Do babies who die, and infants and toddlers, number one, go to heaven? Number two, we’re going to talk about if it is correct for us to talk about this in this illusive age of accountability. I’ll be speaking to that issue. And then I’m also going to be answering the issue of babies who die now, or babies that are aborted. Are they going to be babies forever in heaven? All that next week!
But notice what Jesus says, and I realize that what He says about these little ones He really wants to apply to all of us because we are also children of God. Right? We are children of the Light. We have been born in the Spirit, and what Jesus is saying here is that these angels that are our accompaniment, though we do not see them, are so precious to God that they behold the face of our heavenly Father. Don’t ever despise one of God’s children. Don’t ever despise a little one.
Now how do we reflect on this passage to make it transforming? First of all, it’s very obvious, number one, that God expects us to represent Him, and children should see God in us. They should see God in us. They should see God’s mercy, His grace. They should see God’s discipline because you and I are God to them in a sense for good or for evil. I hope it will be for good.
Think about some child that you can influence. It may be your own. It may be your grandchildren. It may be others that you can be involved in. Ask yourself this question. How can I represent Jesus to these people and welcome them in the name of Jesus? God has lent you a child. You say, “Well, strictly speaking this child should not have been born because he was conceived out of wedlock.” Let me repeat again. God has lent you a child, and next week I’ll also address that. God has lent you a child. God says, “Raise him for Me. Welcome him as you would welcome Me and though you discipline him, don’t you dare mistreat him.”
There is a story, and I think that it is true, about a little boy who was told that when you go to church that’s where God is. Right? So he goes up to the pastor afterwards and says, “Now,” as he looks up, “be you God?” You know, “Are you God?” Well, the pastor isn’t God. That pastor wasn’t and this one mostly assuredly isn’t God. Let’s get that clear. But we represent God to children.
Let’s circle back and look now at what Jesus said in the opening verses. He says, “Unless you are as a child and humble as a child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Notice what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that we are born outside of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now next week I’ll explain how a child born outside of the Kingdom of Heaven gets to heaven, but we are born outside of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why we have to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. And Jesus made this very clear to Nicodemus. You remember, he said, “Unless you are born again, adopted into God’s family, you won’t enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” And Nicodemus asked the question, which I think would be on our minds, “Can I be born a second time and enter into my mother’s womb and be born?” And Jesus said, “No, it’s not that kind of birth. It’s a spiritual birth.”
By the way, I was witnessing to a man in Germany. It was a miraculous story of how we met. I don’t have time to tell you exactly how that worked, but you know, God just has all of these providences lined up for us. Well, I’ll tell you. Rebecca and I were looking for a cemetery where the Moravians were because I wanted to go to the cemetery. You know why? Choir, listen up! You know the Moravians, when they died, were buried in accordance with the different choirs they were in. This choir is buried over here. This choir is buried over here and this one over here because in the Day of Resurrection they are going to come up and they are going to be on pitch on the Day of Resurrection. Seriously!
We wanted to be there. I wanted to be where Zinzendorf was buried. And we didn’t know where it was, and here across the street was a man who was getting into a car. And I told him in broken German, “We want to find the cemetery.” He said, “Follow me.” So we followed him, and I won’t tell you the whole story, but I had an opportunity in broken German to witness to him, and to tell him that he had to be born again. And I’ll never forget this. He said exactly what Nicodemus said. He said, “I was born once. Why should I try to be born twice?” And I told him that God had led us together and I asked him to repent of his sins right there. He didn’t but I hope he had something to think about.
Jesus said, “You are not born into the Kingdom of Heaven. You are not baptized into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus said, “You must be born again of the Spirit into the Kingdom of Heaven,” and that’s an instantaneous work of God in response to our faith as God has worked in our hearts, and even now, speaking to this large group of people (and who knows how many across the world?), have you been born again?
You must humble yourself as a child. You don’t have the resources to forgive your own sins, do you? Nor do you have the resources and the ability to manage them, but we have a Savior who saves us from our sins. I urge you to come to Him if He is speaking to you. If you have a load of guilt that has never been taken care of, you come as a child and say, “God, I don’t understand it all, but I come to trust You. I come to believe You to receive, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I began this message by talking about some of my grandchildren. I have one more story about little Samuel. He was maybe 6 or 7 years old. I’m taking him for a walk in a forest preserve. So we walk a good piece, and now we’re turning around and coming home, and you know that forest preserves have all kinds of different trails.
My grandchildren call me Papa. So he says, “No, Papa, not this way, but this way.” I said, “Samuel, you have to follow me. If you take that trail you’re not going to get home.” “No, Papa, this is the right trail.” I said, “Samuel, you have to trust Papa.” And he said, “Yeah, but Papa, it is so hard to trust.” But he did reluctantly trust Papa, and you know, Papa actually brought him home.
Now here’s the reason I tell the story. When that was happening I could already see the roof of our condo above the trees. I knew where I was. I had been in this forest preserve a hundred times throughout the years walking in it, and here’s a little boy saying, “But it’s hard to trust.” And you know it is sometimes hard to trust, but God sees the trees. He knows the trail. He knows where you are. He knows what you need. He already sees your home. He can see around corners. Even though it is hard to trust, would you trust Him? And I promise you He’ll lead you all the way home. You are His beloved child when you receive Him as Savior.
Let’s pray together.
Father, the greatest honor that we could possibly utter out of our mouths is this, that we are Your children. And we come to You, and we love You as our Father. We ask today that many more children will be born into Your Kingdom for we are sons of light. We are daughters of light. For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, may they do that. And for the rest of us, as we celebrate the glory of Your name and the sacrifice that was made for us, we love You and we thank You. May each who have heard this message respond according to the prompting of Your blessed Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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