"We see, in many a land, the proudest dynasties and tyrannies still crushing, with their mountain weight, every free motion of the Consciences and hearts of men. We see, on the other hand, the truest heroism for the right and the greatest devotion to the Truth in hearts that God has touched. We have a work to do, as great as our forefathers and, perhaps, far greater. The enemies of Truth are more numerous and subtle than ever and the needs of the Church are greater than at any preceding time. If we are not debtors to the present, then men were never debtors to their age and their time. Brethren, we are debtors to the hour in which we live. Oh, that we might stamp it with Truth and that God might help us to impress upon its wings some proof that it has not flown by neglected and unheeded." -- C.H. Spurgeon . . . "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31, 32

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

The GOSPEL of MATTHEW: Ch. 18 – The MESSIAH and HIS KINGDOM MESSAGE

By James Fire

There are times as Christians that we believe we are not to aspire to any ambitions for greatness; that we should not seek to excel but rather remain where we are in a state of presumed piety, claiming nothing for ourselves but that we are sinners of low estate. And as for being humble, yes – never should we seek self-promotion or self-exaltation; that is the way of pride and is antithetical to true greatness and humility. In this chapter, the LORD explains what true greatness is, that we ought to aspire to such greatness, not in our own power or intentions, but according to the will and grace of God. 
When the disciples came to Jesus asking who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is, the answer was standing right in front of them! Yet the LORD in His humility did not point to Himself as the reply to their question. Instead, He calls for a “little child” to come to Him . . . we will examine this, and much more in Chapter 18 on The TRUTH Under FIRE!




MATTHEW 18:1-4
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

The first thing that the LORD mentioned in regards to the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the need for conversion. Before we consider this, we should mention that there will be degrees of status in the Kingdom of heaven. While all are equally saved, and on the same par as far as our identity as children of God (He has no ‘favorites’ unless you include ALL of us, His saints! See GAL 3:28), there will be various degrees of greatness in the Kingdom, holding various ranks and levels of responsibilities (MATT 25:14-30). Those holding the highest of ranks will be those who embodied the character of Jesus the most, to the effect of touching lives in this fallen world, for the increasing of the Kingdom.

We cannot ever hope to enter into and, or become members of this Kingdom to begin with unless we are converted; this is plainly declared in the Gospel of John:

JOHN 3:3-7
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

The apostle Peter speaks of this as well:

1 PETER 1:22-23
22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (See also 2 PET 1:4).

You are a member of your family and your household because you were born into it; you were conceived, born, and brought into your home as a baby having right as an heir to all that your family possesses, including your surname. No one else can claim that which is yours as a result of your being brought into your family.
Likewise, the saints of God, being born again – conceived by the very incorruptible Word of God, by the very Spirit of God, by the very will of God (JOHN 1:12-13) may claim the right as children of God, having received Jesus Christ and His Gospel for salvation where no one else may do so (unless they also receive the Gospel that is freely offered to all).
The LORD mentions that we must be “converted” and here this word signifies (in the Greek) a turning about, a reversal of course. This idea is seen clearly in Ephesians; note particularly vs. 2-5:

EPHESIANS 2:1-6
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

Our conversion in Christ should exhibit certain characteristics: we should become child-like (not childish!). Such characteristics of a small child is firstly, as our LORD states, humbleness. With such humbleness we will never mind being last, being left alone to serve others, to take the low seat, to not retaliate when insulted or mocked, or persecuted. 
Small children innately understand that they don’t know things, but that adults do, and so they are teachable. 
They also trust that what they are told is true – they have faith in their parents that they are teaching them rightly. Children are typically easily led and follow after their parents (I see this all the time in the airport where I work. Parents with their walk-behind luggage are followed in que by their little ones, each equipped with their miniature walk-behinds. Just adorable!). 
Children are not given to grandiose ambitions and arrogant pride (sadly, this develops later on once time passes and the sinful nature has the chance to work its way through us). Children are ignorant where malice is concerned (1 COR 14:20). In this way, we as saints ought to exhibit child-like behavior towards God Who is our heavenly Abba, our Father Who asks for our implicit trust and faith. 

Any at all who receives us, the children of God, is in a very real sense, receives the LORD – not in the way of salvation, but reception of that which is good, for there are none good, but God: and in His children who possess His Spirit and the characteristic of goodness (vs.5).

MATTHEW 18:6-7, 10
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Here in verses 6 – 7 we have a very serious and somber warning concerning violating the children of God, offending them by dissuasion from faith in the LORD, undermining their trust in His Word of Truth. . . I think of all the University Professors and instructors that have derided and mocked the Holy Bible and young Christians who are perhaps weak in the faith, and have forsaken the Way of Life because of such secular indoctrination (like evolution, and Humanism) that students are subject to our ungodly society. Also the aggression of Islam and its Muslim adherents who threaten Christians (that they specifically seem to target) with beheading if they refuse to convert to Islam. The LORD intends such severe punishment upon these offenders that far exceeds being thrown into the depths of the sea with a millstone hanging about their necks!

Let us be admonished to hold fast our profession of faith (HEB 10:23), understanding that the LORD will provide His grace to endure persecution in all of its forms (REV 2:10), and remain faithful to JESUS Who has promised never to leave us or forsake us (HEB 13:5)!
Next, the LORD addresses the issue of sin and how we should be ruthless in our dealings with this deadly condition:

MATTHEW 18:8-9
8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

We have in our nature the drive for self-preservation. We cherish and care for our bodies, and tend to their needs practically without thinking (EPH 5:9). Thus to cut off our hands, or feet, to tear out our eyes is a shocking thought! And that was the LORD’s intent: to shock us with such a statement that would bring into focus a primary truth; that if something causes us to sin or drift away from the LORD, allowing any (potential) relationship with Him to wane, that we should take it, and without further ado, severe it from our lives.

There will be countless numbers of souls on that Day of Judgement who will have chosen their ‘pet sins’ over a relationship with the living God, who have sought to save their lives for themselves rather than sacrificing them for the LORD’s sake and His glory and purposes (MATT 16:24-26). A ‘sacrifice’ by the way, that could hardly be considered as such, given the fact that we gain eternal life instead of eternal death, the Spirit of grace, rather than the Judgment of the Law; the abiding presence of the LORD Himself rather than the cold, isolating barrenness of our own sinful nature.

“Hell fire” is not figurative language employed by the LORD, nor is it allegory, any more than heaven is; both are real places where souls will spend eternity. Hell was originally intended for Satan and the angels that rebelled (MATT 25:41). It is a profound tragedy that human beings will find themselves there as well, not because they would not be welcomed in heaven, but because they rejected the Gospel of salvation, turned away from the LORD Who would be their Savior rather than their Judge and kept their paltry, tragically short lives on Earth for themselves!

MATTHEW 18:11-14
11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

If the world was given an announcement that on a certain appointed Day, God would visit the Earth and address mankind, what sort of trepidation would course through the hearts of people everywhere? Would people quail and panic, thinking that the end of the world has come? And yet, God has come to Earth, and addressed mankind with the words that He “…has come to save that which was lost.” Such a message of hope, revealing the LORD’s tender and compassionate heart towards us sinners. In Luke’s Gospel account, the LORD says,

LUKE 9:56a
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.

Consider the LORD’s care for His beloved sheep; He shed His blood for them, purchasing them with His very Life! How precious indeed we are to our Good Shepherd (JOHN 10:11)! Consider likewise that one sheep that has gone astray, that has drifted from the LORD, that have lost their way and found themselves steeped in the muck and mire of this dark and sinful world.

In my years as a Christian, I have known many such who have returned to the world and once there for a duration of time, believe that there is no turning back, that the LORD would never take them in again – not after all that they had done, especially since they knew better (because they knew the LORD, knew the Scriptures, experienced the blessed life of the saint, and for all that, still turned back to the world). 

And yet here we see that the LORD leaves the ninety-nine and actively seeks out that one lost sheep. If you find yourself in this situation and doubt God’s love for you, doubt it not! HE is seeking after YOU! He loves you, and most absolutely and certainly wants you back with Him! Return as far as you are able to the LORD and He will meet you the rest of the way and welcome you in His Almighty embrace! He shall rejoice over you when He has you back under His gracious and loving care!

MATTHEW 18:15-17
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican

Here we have a few verses on church discipline regarding the offense of one member against another. How rarely is this principle practiced in today’s fellowships. It seems that if one is offended, that the offended party goes and tells everyone else the fault of the offender and never bothers to address the one to whom Scripture admonishes them to approach! Based on hearsay, the offender (who may actually be innocent of the accusation!) is cast out, rather than letting every word being established. The proper order is to attempt to solve the matter between the two involved first, so that it need not go any further.

Yet if reconciliation is not forthcoming, then bring one or two (not numerous, as in a lynch mob with an accompanying mentality) and get the matter straight and confront the offender. And if even then, the offender does not repent (if repentance is warranted due to their actually being guilty of the accusation), then the matter must come before the entire congregation.

At no stage of this discipline is haughty belligerence, or high mindedness to ever be exhibited, but with lowliness of mind, and meekness should the offender be approached, with the intent not for ruin, but for restoration (GAL 6:1; see also 2 THESS. 3:14-16). If such a one refuses to hear the church, they are to be excommunicated – but with the hope that they will repent finally, and seek restoration and reconciliation (See 2 COR 2:6-8).
If the body of Christ learns to love all members as Christ loves us (JOHN 13:34-35) then we shall be impregnable to the attacks of the enemy who would seek to splinter and hew the church until we are horribly divided as well as divisive, harboring resentments and bitterness (ROM 12:8-10,15-18). We find our unity is founded not by ourselves but through the Spirit of God, each of our members “fitly framed” that is, firmly placed together with no gaps in between in the perfect bond of love (EPH 2:14-22; COL 3:13-15).

MATTHEW 18:18-20
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

We have seen this sort of verbiage before in chapter 16:19, but in that passage, there are those who presume that such “bind[ing]” and “loos[ing]” is a power exclusive to Peter, or at most, the apostles (this is the usual conviction of those of the Roman Catholic church in regards to the authority of the Pope). However, the same thing is said here in chapter 18, and here the LORD is addressing matters concerning the church, that if any two [members of the church] agree on Earth regarding anything in matters of prayer, that it shall be done for them of our Father.

In the book of Revelation, the LORD says that it is He Who walks in the midst of the candlesticks (lampstands; see REV 2:1) which are the seven churches of Asia [Minor]. We know that the LORD walks in the midst of His saints, and so where ever we are gathered, even if it’s only two or three, biblically that constitutes a church, a body of believers through which the LORD walks in the midst.
What an encouragement for us to persevere in prayer, knowing that as we offer up our petitions here on Earth, that we, the church of the LORD Jesus Christ, have concourse with the very authority of heaven, and access to the throne of grace (HEB 4:16)!

MATTHEW 18:21-22
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

I’ve heard it said that in the Talmud, the number of times that we should forgive others is three; if that’s true, and Peter knew of this, he decided to double that number and add an extra time for good measure. Perhaps he thought such generosity would be commended by the LORD, but His answer must have stunned Peter and the other disciples as well. “Seventy times seven”! Who would be able to keep track of offenses to such a degree that upon the four hundred and eighty-ninth time, they could warn the offender that they have only ‘one more chance!’?

Perhaps the LORD was making a different point altogether . . . one must wonder why He expressed forgiveness to that specific number of times: “seventy times seven”. Have we heard that expression before, or something very much like it? Yes, it was in the book of Daniel!

DANIEL 9:24
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

Seventy “Weeks” here is explicitly a reference to the Hebrew concept of a ‘week of years’ – sort of their rendition to the Gentile decade; it expresses a period of seven years (shabuwah). So seventy of these weeks of years would be 490 years or again, “seventy times seven”. 

It could very well be that the LORD was telling Peter – and us as well – that we are to just keep forgiving others, and not seek retribution or ‘vengeance’, but allow the LORD to mete it out at the end of that time period known as Daniel’s Seventieth Week or the time of the Tribulation. When the LORD returns, He will bring into judgment every deed and thought of every soul and pronounce sentence upon sin with the order of His Court: “death!” – towards all who are outside of the grace of God, which can only be apprehended by receiving Christ’s offer of salvation and redemption (See ISAIAH 63:4; ROM 12:19).

To continually forgive others for their trespasses against us (MATT 6:12) might seem rather excessive to some – “you mean I have to keep forgiving others, continually??” – and so the LORD provided this parable to put things into perspective for us:

MATTHEW 18:23-27
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

The servant here owed his King ten thousand talents, which in today’s economy would equal approximately several billion dollars of debt! The pronouncement of the King is made: the servant, his wife and children were all to be sold into slavery (and even then, the King would not receive his full recompense!) and the King would get at least some return for his losses and be rid of an unworthy servant.

However, we read here that the servant fell down and worshiped his King, and begged patience from him so that he could repay the debt (hardly likely however). It is then that we read this remarkable statement: not only did the King forebear and allow the servant to go free in a (vain) attempt to repay this debt, but the King actually forgave him the debt! He owed the King not a single penny!

This is the exact state that we find ourselves in as Christians; we owed a debt we couldn’t pay, the LORD Jesus paid it by being slain, an offering upon the cross of Calvary. He shed His precious and holy blood to wash away our sins, our guilt-worthiness and the criminal punishment that we were all worthy of. Saints, THIS is the PLACE of GRACE! The LORD is plenteous in mercy, grace and long suffering:

PSALM 86:15-16
15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.
16 O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid.

And then, this forgiven servant goes out to find someone indebted to him – but does he likewise extend mercy to this other, and forgive?

MATTHEW 18:28-30
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

A hundred pence is the equivalent of a few dollars; an absolutely insignificant amount of money compared to several billion dollars, indeed! And yet this forgiven servant refused to forgive, even though he himself was forgiven an astronomical debt! Why would he insist on getting this pittance from his fellow servant? It doesn’t really say, but I suppose it’s possible that in his mind, he is thinking that he must somehow repay the debt that he owed to the King, even though the King declared him free.

There are times in our lives when we witness Christians who claim salvation, who declare that they are free from the bondage of sin and death, and yet somehow carry the guilt of their past, the bitterness of wrongs done to them, and between the two, never quite fully convinced that the LORD has truly forgiven them; because of this, they find it difficult, even nearly impossible to forgive others. 

On the other hand, those of us who have tasted the sweetness of God’s grace, and the relief of sins swept away with all of its guilt-laden weight off our shoulders, we may readily forgive others with a full heart. I myself have found this to be true; however, on those rare occasions when I struggle with forgiving someone, I think of all that the LORD Jesus forgave me, and I rightly conclude that I have no right – or true desire – to harbor unforgiveness towards another.

MATTHEW 18:31-35
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Some think that the tormentors are found in the place of hellfire, where this wicked servant would go upon his death. I think though, that the LORD would never have a truly wicked servant in His employ to begin with: certainly the deed done was wicked, an unworthy act of any servant of the LORD {and one who is a brother to another debtor); but it’s possible that the ‘tormentors’ are the Holy Spirit, as well as other godly saints, by whose influences the conscience of this wicked servant would be stung with conviction, until he relents and does that which is right.

There are those who point out that if this servant fails to forgive, that they will lose their salvation because they will then not be forgiven of their own sins. However, the sins of the saints have once and for all been imputed to Christ our Sacrificial Lamb: He carried them all, and there is not one sin ever that He omitted from any soul born at any time in the course of this world.

Note that it’s stated “. . . your heavenly Father . . .” And not, “your holy Judge” – certainly by harboring unforgiveness towards any brother or sister saint will seriously impede our fellowship with the LORD. Just as we would have nothing to do with our family in Christ whom we are offended with, the LORD will have nothing to do with us – relationally speaking, until we make things right with those in whom the Spirit of the LORD indwells!

It’s the one who harbors grudges and unforgiveness that is truly bound by their own bitterness – a root that will spread and defile many (HEB 12:15).
For more on the subject of biblical forgiveness, visit the site: GOT QUESTIONS and the article found there named "Does The Bible Instruct Us To Forgive and Forget?"

This concludes the study on Chapter 18; Chapter 19 will be forthcoming in accord to the will of the LORD!

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