No Child Left Behind
March 11, 2012
A young man applied for a job as an usher at a theater in the mall. The manager asked him, “What would you do in case a fire breaks out?” The young man answered, “Don’t worry about me. I’d get out okay."
Now we all know there is something intrinsically wrong with that answer. I mean, if you are an usher, It isn’t enough just to get out yourself. You are responsible for helping others get out.
If you are a parent, it’s not enough to just look after yourself. You’ve got children to care for. Your children come before you.
And if you are a Christian, it’s not enough to just attend to your own Christian life. In Mt.18 we are looking at life in the kingdom of God. We see that Christians do not just live for themselves. There is a much broader horizon that shapes our lives. You see, since God deeply cares for his children, his children must care for one another.
I. WE RESPECT ONE ANOTHER. Mt.18:10
You might think that these verses are more appropriate for a pastor’s conference. And, they are appropriate for a pastor’s conference. But Jesus’ words here are for all believers. Again we hear Jesus refer to “these little ones,” and we are reminded that in v.2 he was using a little child as an object lesson. But the object lesson applies to children and adults who humbly receive Christ and enter into the kingdom of God. So when Jesus refers to “these little ones” it seems that he’s talking about his followers, both children and adults.
In v.10 Jesus tells us that we are not to look down on any of his followers. Rather, we are to have respect for our fellow believers. Now before we think about what that means, let’s look at the reason Jesus gives.
He tells us in v.10 that we should not look down on one another because, “their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” What does this mean? One common view is that this verse teaches that each of us has a guardian angel. Here are some reasons why I don’t subscribe to this view. 1) There are no other passages to support this idea. 2) Why would a guardian angel be in heaven when he’s needed on earth? If I have a guardian angel, I want him by my side. Now it is true that in Heb.1:14, we read, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” From this verse it seems clear that angels serve or help believers and the church in various ways. But the verse is not that specific and does not teach that we each have a guardian angel. If Jesus is referring to angels here in Mt.18, then, perhaps, he’s thinking along the lines of Heb.1:14.
Another idea is that the word “angels” actually refers to the spirits of believers who have died. They are in the presence of God. In Acts 12:14-15, an angel has helped Peter miraculously escape from prison. Peter immediately goes to the house where the believers are praying for him. He knocks on the door and a servant girl named Rhoda goes to answer the door. Verses 14-15 say, “When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” Well, why would an angel take the voice of Peter? So it’s suggested that by “angel” they meant Peter’s spirit, thinking that Peter had been put to death.
It is difficult to know exactly what Jesus means here. But what is clear is that God is fully aware and in touch with all that we experience. So if one of his little ones is mistreated God knows all about it. As I look at these verses it appears to me that Jesus is directing this to his followers. Last week Jesus said, “woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin. But Jesus doesn’t say, “Woe to the world,” in these verses. You and I must be careful how we treat each other. God is watching.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that the world will know that we are his disciples if we love one another. Paul tells us to honor one another above ourselves. In Rom.12:16, Paul writes, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” The epistle of James tells us that we must not show favoritism to those who are well off in the church while disrespecting those who are poor. The same is true for cultural and ethnic differences. In the church, the body of Christ, we must seek to regularly lay aside stereotypes and to put to death the prejudices we may have grown up with. And I don’t mean to suggest that this is how we act only in church. How we act in church is to set the pace for how we act in the world. Paul writes in Gal.5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
It is interesting that in various local churches we can find believers looking down on other believers. For example, sometimes as new people come into a church, the long time members begin to resent the newer members. They resist allowing the newer members to have a share in the leadership. There are struggles over who controls what in the church. Sometimes those who are not charismatic in their Christian life will look down of those who are charismatic or vice versa. No. This is inappropriate. We must be very careful about judging one another. It is easy to go overboard in the areas of doctrine and experience. Both are important. Both have their place. I have seen Christians hurt other Christians because they believed they had a corner on doctrine. I have seen Christians hurt other Christians because they felt they had a superior experience with Christ. No. This will never do. God is well aware of our attitudes towards each other. So we must respect one another and not look down on one another.
II. WE RESTORE ONE ANOTHER. Mt.18:12
Attitude is one thing. Action is another. Our attitudes towards each are very important. If we truly respect and appreciate one another, that attitude is going to be expressed in action.
So here we read about a shepherd who has 100 sheep. One of the sheep wanders away. What does the shepherd do? Does the shepherd say, “Well, hey, I’ve 99 sheep here. What’s one sheep out of 99? No. The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes out looking for the one lost sheep. He doesn’t want to lose even one sheep. The sheep are valuable to him. This is the way God is. He is concerned about all the sheep in his sheep fold. We are not told in these verses why the one sheep wanders away. Perhaps the sheep feels that the others were looking down on him. Or perhaps the things of the world look a little more inviting and enticing. Or maybe the sheep is being led astray with false teaching. It makes no difference; the shepherd goes after that sheep. Why, because every sheep is valuable to God, and God invests himself to restore that lost sheep.
What do you think? If we are followers of Jesus will we not also be concerned about even one sheep who wanders away? Someone says, “That’s the pastor’s job.” Isn’t he serving the Lord as an undershepherd? Well, sure. I wouldn’t disagree with that. But these verses are not just written to pastors. They are written to all of us. Do you see that we are responsible for each other in the church. It’s one thing to greet someone warmly. It’s another thing to sincerely ask, “How are you doing.” It’s one thing to acknowledge someone. It’s another thing to say, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” But in addition to this what about intentionally calling a person to see where they’ve been and how they are doing. The corporate character of a local church is determined by the personal investment we make into each other’s lives. The future strength of a local church is determined by our ability to expand our hearts to all who come. It takes all of us loving and encouraging one another. In Gal.6:1-2 Paul writes, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Now I realize we live in a society that values personal privacy. It’s just that in the kingdom of God personal privacy is not such a high value. It’s only because God and perhaps another believer reached out to you that you have come into his kingdom. I recognize that our society values individualism. It’s just that in the kingdom of God, individualism is not a high value. In Jn.17:20-23, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
So it is really up to all of us to invest ourselves into the lives of one another. When one is hurting we all hurt. When one is missing we go out in search of that one to encourage them and to restore them. It is really important that we take an active interest in one another.
III. WE REJOICE WITH ONE ANOTHER. Mt.18:13-14
Every Sunday, on the Lord’s day we come together in worship. Why do we do this? Well we come together in worship because we have come to believe in and acknowledge the person of God. Because God is God, we willingly and intentionally bow before him in surrender, love and obedience.
But we also come to worship out of joy because of what God has done for us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. It is through faith in Christ that we have come to know God. In fact, no one can come to the Father except he come through Jesus Christ. So thankful are we for Jesus and the salvation that he has provided for us that we joyfully come to proclaim the grace and mercy of God. We joyfully sing the songs of Zion. We thoughtfully listen to the Word of God. We thankfully offer our prayers to God. We joyfully fellowship with each other.
Of course we can joyfully worship the Lord by ourselves. We turn K-Love or Moody radio on and enjoy the music. We watch church on TV and hear a good message. But it’s not the same. Nothing takes the place of being in corporate worship. We certainly will not enter into joyful worship in the world because the world doesn’t worship God at all.
Here in verse 13 we see that when a shepherd finds a sheep that has gone astray, there is more joy over that one sheep than there is for the 99 sheep who are still in the sheepfold. This doesn’t mean that the shepherd is not joyful about the rest of the sheep who did not go astray. It just shows that the shepherd values all the sheep enough to leave the others in order to find the one. The same is true when one of God’s sheep wanders astray. God goes after him or her and when he or she is restored; there is more joy for that one than for those who did not go astray. It’s not that God takes less joy in the others, it’s just that God so highly values his sheep that he expends more effort on the one who wanders astray. Since God rejoices when a wandering sheep is restored, surely we will rejoice when a wandering sheep is restored. Of course this implies that we will be seeking to restore the sheep who are wandering.
Some of you have sons and daughters who have wandered away from the Lord. I’m sure you are praying for them. I’m sure you try to find ways to reach them. Some of you have parent and siblings who have wandered away. You pray for them daily. When they return will you not be joyful. Just as we weep when one weeps, so we rejoice when one is rejoicing.
Now this is life in the kingdom of God. As you can see when we are living in the kingdom of God, the horizons of our interests expand beyond our personal worlds. We have joined a much larger family. And truth be told, there are those who are not in the family at all. They have never come to the place of turning from their sins to embrace Jesus Christ by faith as Savior and Lord.
Maybe someone here has never called upon Jesus to save you from your sins. O you’ve called upon Jesus to get you out of this or that bad situation. You’ve called upon Jesus to give you a job or a house or some other blessing, but you have never sincerely called upon Jesus to save you from your sins and give you his eternal life in the kingdom of God. I don’t know what you are waiting for. You will never find a better deal. Today is the day of opportunity. You need Jesus Christ.
Maybe you are a believer and you know that the horizons of your life are limited to your own interests. Well, here is a passage that challenges all of us. God has brought you into this church to build up the body of Christ by taking a personal interest in and caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
At Chancy Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa, the kids from VBS were preparing for their grand finale production of “The Good Shepherd.” Guests slipped into their seats and checked their watches. The special stars of the show were two sheep, kept in a pen outside the church. Then things got complicated. Ten minutes before the play was to start, the sheep, well, they were lost. They ran away. Just got scared (stage fright, maybe?), hopped over the fence, and lit out for points unknown. The play’s director, Sandy Mussman, along with her two kids, ran through town, chasing the sheep. “At one point,” she later reported, “we passed a lady who was out in her yard. She said, ’Did I just see what I thought I saw?’” Eventually, they tracked one of the sheep down near Clinton Community College, but at last report the other one was still on the lam, though several people reported seeing it around town. The church’s pastor was even out looking. According to Mussman, “When people asked what he was looking for he’d say, ’A lost sheep.’ Then he’d have to tell them he really was looking for a lost sheep, that he wasn’t looking for sinners.” No doubt the show went on. After all, the first act was entitled “The Lost Sheep.”
Men and women, there are sheep who are wandering astray. God cares deeply for them. God is looking for them. God wants to restore them through us, his people. Are you available and willing to care for others as God cares for us? Amen