Click here to get started today!
The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
A question of rank:
v. 1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
In the same hour in which the striking miracle with the Temple-tax had taken place. Only a small interval of time had elapsed since their return into the house. And on the way they had quarreled among themselves as to rank and degree in their own circle. Thus early was the devil of pride raising his ugly head in their midst. Although their discussion had been carried on secretly, Jesus knew of the quarrel and questioned them about it, Mark 9:33. They state their supposed difficulty in the form of a query: Who, then, who, in your opinion, ought to be considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus had repeatedly tried to show them that His kingdom, strictly speaking, is not a visible, physical, temporal kingdom, but consists of His reigning in the hearts of His believers. But that idea was still too difficult for them to grasp. They want plain, concrete evidence.
v. 2. And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them,
v. 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.
v. 4. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
v. 5. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.
Christ determined to make His answer very plain, His demonstration very palpable. Calling to Him a little child, perhaps one of the household. He took him in His arms and embraced him, Mark 9:36, reassured him by these signs of loving regard, and then let him stand in the very midst of the disciples. The little child furnishes the subject for a very impressive lesson with a very solemn introduction. Most emphatically He declares that they must be converted, turn around and head in the opposite direction. They had indeed accepted and confessed Jesus, but the thoughts which they just now voiced showed that they were still far from possessing that condition of mind and heart which is indispensable in a servant of Christ. Their faith could never last at that rate. As children they must become, in simplicity of faith, in unqualified acceptance of Bible-truths, in trusting humility. In the proper relation of a child toward his parents, all self-consciousness, all. forwardness, all arrogance is absent. Instead, there is a simple, unswerving belief in the truthfulness, in the ability, and in the care of the parents. This same condition of mind and heart is necessary in disciples of Christ if they wish to enter into the kingdom of heaven. There must be no considering of honor and glory before men, no false ambition, no scheming for power, all this being contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ. Do not think, as Luther says, about becoming great, but about becoming small. The elevation will come in due time, if you but practice humiliation first. To become humble as a little child, that is true greatness in the kingdom of heaven, not only to feign humility by symbolic acts and dresses, whose very unusualness makes them doubly conspicuous, for the latter may be the very essence of pride. "As though He would say: I see that your carnal mind is not affected by mere words; therefore I present this child to you, in order that ye may afterward and always think of it. Behold, here is a child! Now tell Me whether it is prepared for a worldly or temporal kingdom, of which you undoubtedly dream. That would be a poor kingdom, yea, none at all, which would be ruled by this child. But now, as much as this child is prepared to rule a worldly kingdom, so foolish it is to think that My kingdom is of this world. For the kingdom which I begin is of such a nature that all worldly-wise understand much less of it than this child may understand of a worldly kingdom. Therefore the idea and the thought of a worldly kingdom must be laid aside entirely if ye want to speak of My kingdom. For My kingdom will be of such nature that ye must become children in it, that permit themselves to be ruled, but do not rule in their own person, just as this child in the worldly kingdom does not rule, but is ruled. " Jesus now turns the argument slightly, in order to emphasize the importance of properly appreciating the souls of children. Whosoever, every one that accepts, receives like a true father, with all the evidences of such regard, even a single little child of this kind in the name and for the sake of Jesus, receives the Lord Himself, in and with the child. Everyone that, for love of Christ, shows such Christ-like kindness to poor, forsaken children, has the promise that he, in doing so, receives Christ Himself, and with Christ His Father in heaven, Mark 9:37.
v. 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.
v. 7. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!
Christ is now fairly launched upon a subject which is very near and dear to Him, because of His love for all the lowly and humble. He has in mind not only the little children, though they are His first consideration, but all the lowly and unassuming, the small ones in the kingdom of heaven, that believe on Him. They may not excel in great intellectual accomplishments, they may not stand out before others in those matters which are commonly accounted great in this world; they are simple, unpretentious Christians. But woe unto him that should offend one of these, that should lay a temptation before them in any form, that should lead them into sin, that should replace their simple faith by doubts regarding the Scriptures and their Savior. Many a Christian has been offended, scandalized, been led into doubt, and thus to misbelief and despair by the bantering, frivolous tone employed by such as pretend great learning, whenever they refer to the Bible and the way of redemption. Christ speaks with great feeling. He suggests a punishment which would approximately fit the crime, a fate which would be preferable to the transgression of offending in the manner shown by Him. Let a large millstone, of the kind used in mills driven by animals, be hung about the neck of such a one as contemplates so heinous a transgression, rather than that the offense be done. The entire subject of offenses is extremely distasteful to Jesus. He pronounces a woe upon the world because of them, for a large part of actual sins committed are due to suggestions, temptations, deliberate attempts at leading astray, coming from without. It is true, indeed, that offenses will come, on account of the perverted heart and mind of natural man. God is not responsible for the evil, but the evil lives in the world since the fall of Adam. Out of the evil hearts proceed the sinful desires, and these break forth in sinful deeds, and so scandals are inevitable. They find their way into the midst of the external Church of God, every heretic claiming for himself the support of Scriptures. "Therefore one should learn to know that scoundrel, the devil, who ornaments and sells himself under the name of God. For all false teachers and heretics claim for themselves the name of God, as you see in the case of the Pope, the sacrament-heretics, the Anabaptists, and all schismatics. But the Christians are not excused if they permit themselves to be led astray. For Christians should indeed be childlike, but in Christ, not outside of Christ. For Christ the Lord has warned them sufficiently against the false schismatics that would come and attempt to seduce them under the name of Christ. " Woe to that man through whom the scandal comes, that is guilty of causing other men to sin!
A further warning:
v. 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.
v. 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.
The subject upon which He here touches affects Jesus so deeply that He repeats His warning of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:29-Amos :. Offenses will come, not only from without, but also from within, from one's own members. The hand, the foot, the eye present occasion for sinning. The law of sin is ever present in the organs of the body. To deny these members, to fight against every abuse of their God-given functions, to keep them in absolute control, that is the great concern of the disciple of Christ. That is not to be understood, as Luther says, that a person mutilate his body, but that he should keep his members in subjection with the help of the Holy Ghost, in true faith. The members must be cut off, that is, be subdued by the Spirit, in order that the hand, the eye, the feet do not perform what the sinful heart intends. For the end of him that yields to sin, that places his members into the willing service of sin, is everlasting fire, the fire of hell, where their worm will not die, neither will their fire be quenched, Mark 9:43-Galatians :. Only he who, through the power of the Holy Ghost within him, keeps his body in subjection, does not permit sin to gain the ascendancy, only he will retain faith and a good conscience, only he will save body and soul unto everlasting life.
Warning against arrogance:
v. 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.
v. 11. For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.
The meek and lowly, including the children, are again His theme. See to it, He says, make it your business to watch, that you do not look down upon so much as one of these lowly, whose faith in Me is so simple, but sincere. The humbler the disciple, the surer his discipleship, the higher the value which God, the heavenly Father, places upon it. There are special angels delegated for their service, angels that are confirmed in the glory of heaven, that stand before God always, in the indescribable bliss of seeing His face. Note: There are good spirits, angels that continually taste the glories of heaven, that are confirmed in their possession of heaven. And these angels are delegated to the service of them that are God's, especially of those that are lowly and humble, like children in their faith. This fact ought to be taught to the children from their earliest childhood. "Thus I should train a child from his earliest youth that I say to him: Dear child, thou hast thine own angel; when thou prayest in the morning and in the evening, that angel will be with thee, will sit by thy bed, has on a white garment, will nurse thee, will rock and protect thee that the Evil One, the devil, cannot come to thee. Also, when thou cheerfully sayest the Benedicite and the Gratias at the table, thy angel will be with thee at the table, serve thee, protect and watch that no evil strike thee, and that the food will agree well with thee. If one would picture this to the children, they would learn from their youth and become used to it that the angels are with them; and that would serve not only for this purpose that the children will rely upon the protection of the angels, but also that they would become chaste and learn to dread the evil when they are alone, that they would think: Though our parents are not with us, yet the angels are there; they look upon us, that the Evil Spirit may show us no malice. This may be a childish sermon, but still good and necessary; and so necessary and also childish that it serves also us adults; for the angels are not only with the children, but also with us older people. " So highly does God value the children and the childlike in faith, so emphatically does He warn against contempt of them, which is sure to lead to offense of them. "Thus we let these words be a simple discourse, for we also are children and believers, if we remain in that, and then it is all the better. But if we be tempted with false doctrine, then it is said: Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for know ye that they belong to Me, therefore be sure not to despise them; as though He would say: Take heed, ye preachers, parents, that ye do your share that the children learn to pray, believe, and know Christ. For that is your office, ye should educate these children for Me, I entrust them to you. " A final statement to bring home this truth: Everything that is lost, all people in the whole world that have incurred eternal damnation, none excepted, are embraced in His earnest intention and purpose of salvation. The desolate ruins of the fall of Adam are the place which the Redeemer visits with special love, for out of the ruins He wants to build for Himself a holy temple, out of living stones which have been made whole by the blood of His atonement.
How to Deal with an Erring Brother.
v. 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.
v. 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.
v. 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.
Note the connection: God does not want a single one to perish, to be lost, especially not the weak and erring, whose weakness might make them a comparatively easy prey in case they are tempted. The purpose of this entire passage is to show how a weak and erring brother or sister may be won back to Christ, even if it be a matter of some difficulty, of hard work. "Against thee": not referring mainly to personal offenses, but rather to sins about which one has a first-hand knowledge, which have drawn attention and are sure to offend Christ and the Christian religion. Sins they must be, not personal peculiarities. The latter may make a person unfit for some office in the Church and come into consideration only in that connection. But the Lord is concerned about the former only in this passage. "Christ now says: 'If thy brother sin against thee,' that is, if he bears himself thus that he publicly lives against God and His Word. For that means to sin against thee and all Christians, which is done against God's honor, or which is done and sinned against God, as when one despises God, blasphemes His Word, or sins against the Second Table, as in stealing, robbing, hurting, lying, and deceiving. Now if this comes to thee, if thou noticest it, then tell him his fault between him and thee. Thou shalt not publicly expose him on the market or where thou art, before everybody, but remember that he is still thy brother, therefore keep silence in the presence of others and go to him, take him alone before thee, in a kind manner admonish and rebuke him, say: This I have heard of thee, see that thou desist there from, lest God punish thee. Then it may well be that he will gladly hear thee and thou gain thy brother and bring him back to the right path. " The entire manner of speaking and acting must be kindly, but emphatic, yet dignified. The hatred of sin, but the love of the sinner, must be evident. Note also: It must be a brother, a fellow-Christian, for whom this work of love is done, 1 Corinthians 5:10-1 Kings :.
If this first attempt at serving the brother and gaining him back from his error should fail (and it may be a matter of Christian wisdom to repeat the private admonition several times), then the second measure must be adopted. A careful selection of these witnesses is also a matter of loving judgment. The injunction is based upon Deuteronomy 19:15. For a second time every effort should be made to have the erring one submit to the admonition. Patience and the object of gaining the erring brother must dictate every word, without, however, derogating from the dignity of the Word of God. Truth and righteousness must be upheld at all costs.
If, now, the full application of this measure also fail in spite of all efforts, in spite of all kindness and patience, then the last measure must be resorted to; there is no alternative. If the erring brother pays no attention to your admonition, if he shows no evidence of realizing his sin, if he refuses to be convinced in spite of clear passages of Scripture condemning his manner of acting, then the matter must be brought to the attention of the whole congregation. This is not the Church in its totality, but, according to common Jewish usage of the word, and also according to Christ's own explanation, verse 19, the local, visible congregation. And again shall appeal and admonition be employed with the object of winning the brother. The length of time is not prescribed and may vary in different cases, if only the erring one may be brought back to knowledge. But finally, if all efforts are of no avail, the condition of facts must be stated. The former brother must be declared to be as an heathen man and a publican, as one that is outside of the Christian Church, by his own fault and in spite of the most painstaking care and loving search.
The power of the congregation:
v. 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.
v. 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.
v. 20. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Christ here fulfills the promise which He made to Peter and through him to all the apostles, chapter 16:18. In a solemn declaration He gives to them the keys of heaven. The entire congregation, of which He has just spoken as exercising the power of declaring an excommunication, has the power to bind and to loose, to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners unto them, but to retain the sins of the impenitent, so long as they do not repent. If this power is exercised in accordance with Christ's injunction and order, the sentence is valid before God in heaven. Every local congregation, even the smallest and poorest, has this peculiar church power. But it must never be forgotten that this power is given to edification and not to destruction, 2 Corinthians 13:10. It is intended to be a wonderful means for gaining poor sinners and for comforting the weak. "For when thy sins torment thee in thy conscience, thou mayest, in order to awaken a special joy, use the words of Christ, Matthew 18:18: 'Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. ' If, therefore, thou hast been absolved by a servant of God or, if need be, by another pious Christian, and really art attentive to this promise of God, whereby He absolves thee from sins and receives thee into His grace, and if thou dost not run somewhere else: then thou hast found the safest haven of peace and of joy. For God does not lie and deceive; only believe thou steadfastly His promise."
The fact that this power is actually vested in the Christian congregation, He explains: If two, the smallest number that can be considered a congregation, agree, consent together, come to a perfect agreement on any matter which they want to bring before God in prayer, their petition will receive the full attention of God. Such a full agreement can be wrought by the Holy Spirit only. "The Church may commence, continue, and be reformed with two individuals. The prayer of these two humble individuals on earth brings down the gracious answer of the Father who is in heaven, thereby attesting and confirming the character of the Church. " A significant hint: If at any time, it is especially necessary when the case of an erring brother is to be discussed that there be prayerful harmony among the brethren of the congregation, under the guidance of the Spirit. A last gracious promise: "Where," namely, wherever, "two or three," the minimum number composing a Christian society, are assembled, gathered as believers in Me, "there am I," now and always, till the end of time, "in the midst of them. " This is true, above all, of the public profession of Christ and His Gospel, whether this be in church services or in other assemblies in which questions pertaining to His name and Word are discussed.
v. 21. Then came Peter to Him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
v. 22. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.
The entire discourse had really concerned the question of dealing with an erring brother. The need of saving the brother, if there were any possibility of doing so without denying the truth and bringing dishonor upon God, had been emphasized. But Peter now wanted to know whether there is any limit to the number of times one should forgive a repentant brother. His question implies: Is there not reason for doubting the sincerity of repentance in such a case? Or is this not at least the final limit? Peter's estimate, he thought, was generous. But Christ's answer is staggering: "I say not unto thee, Until seven times. " He would not even begin with such an insignificant sum, nor would He want to be tied down to any definite sum. No number would begin to show the greatness of forgiving love that should be found in the hearts of Christians; there is no limit to the number of times that we should forgive an erring brother and reinstate him in our esteem after a transgression on his part. Christ here speaks of forgiveness of sins, and here He has no limit, the seventy times seven evidently being in place of a number beyond petty calculation. Nothing but love and forgiveness shall be in the hearts of Christians.
Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
v. 23. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants.
"Therefore," because unlimited forgiving in disposition and action is expected of disciples of Christ. This is an essential feature of the Church of Christ that this cheerful willingness be found. We have here an illustration both of the manner and of the extent of Christian forgiveness. A man, a king, a great monarch, one whose wealth and power seem limitless as measured by the standard of men, found it necessary, determined to hold a reckoning with his servants, with the men that were employed by him and had, in the course of time, contracted debts.
The staggering debt:
v. 24. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents.
v. 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.
v. 26. The servant, therefore, fell down and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
v. 27. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
With solemn emphasis the Lord says; Hardly had he begun to look over the accounts, the servants appearing before him one after the other with their certificates of debt, when a debtor of a thousand talents was brought forward. The exact sum of money represented by this weight of silver or gold cannot be accurately determined and is immaterial, since the text itself does not state whether the silver or the gold talent is meant. Figures varying from ten to more than three hundred million dollars have been given. The point of the story is that the sum was incalculably great, it staggered the imagination, and purposely so. The proceedings are simple: Since he had not to pay, the lord gave command that he and his wife and his children be sold as slaves, with all their possessions. Thus only could he hope to get a part of the debt paid. It was a hard, but just sentence, in full accord with the absolute power of an Oriental monarch over the lives and property of his subjects, Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1. The terror and distress of the condemned servant were naturally pitiful, the prospect of his being sold into slavery, perhaps to a hard and cruel master, seared his soul. Throwing himself down, therefore, crouching and almost groveling before the monarch in absolute submission and anxiety, he pleads for an extension of time; he promises to pay all. It was a promise beyond his ability to keep, but this fact did not even occur to him in the greatness of his distress. The king was deeply moved by this picture of terror and misery. He set that servant, whose pitiful plea had touched his heart, free from imprisonment, and the debt he canceled in its totality. The text implies also that he was continued in the service of the king, the latter assuming that the impression made would be a lasting one, that the lesson conveyed to him would never be forgotten.
The Revolting lack of mercy:
v. 28. But the same servant went out and found one of his fellow-servants which owed him an hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
v. 29. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
v. 30. And he would not, but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
Note the emphasis: Hardly had he left the presence of the king when this happened; it was the identical servant that had received such an immeasurable present of mercy. "He found," not accidentally, but after deliberate search; the malice of the deed brought out. The fellow-servant owed him but a hundred denarii , that is, at 16 2
cents per denarius , less than seventeen dollars, an insignificant sum, one that could not even come into consideration beside the immense debt which the king had just canceled for him. But here is the height of brutality: Seizing him by the throat, he choked him, after the manner permitted a creditor according to Roman law. In the harshest possible form he threatens to bring him before the tribunal unless immediate payment be made. Taken by surprise and filled with fear, the fellow-servant fell down and implored and begged for extension of time. The sum being so small, he could easily find ways and means of paying, if his creditor would but have patience. But the latter had no intention of doing so, he wanted to wreak his vengeance upon the poor fellow. Going away, he cast him into prison until such a time as he would be able to make payment of the debt. It was the climax of harshness.
v. 31. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
v. 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.
v. 33. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?
v. 34. And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due unto him.
The treatment which had been accorded to their fellow-servant filled those that had witnessed the inhuman proceeding with deep sorrow and grief. Coming to their lord, they made a report of all that had happened. Cited into the presence of the king, the guilty one was speechless. He could not bring forth a single argument in defense of his action. But the lord characterizes him and his treatment of his fellow-servant: Having received such a large measure of mercy upon his imploring pleading, would it not have been a matter of obligation to pass on this mercy to his own debtor? And so, since the king's wrath mounted high over such cruelty, the servant was delivered, not only to the keepers of the prison, but to the tormentors, with instructions that his life be made as miserable as possible, to atone, at least in part, for his total lack of humaneness, not to speak of decency and gratitude.
v. 35. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Christ here opens up the meaning of the entire parable. He pictures the average person in his treatment of his fellow-man. "Such is man, so harsh and hard, when he walks otherwise than in a constant sense of forgiveness received from God. Ignorance or forgetfulness of his own guilt make him harsh, unforgiving, and cruel to others; or, at least, he is only hindered from being such by those weak defenses of natural character which may at any moment be broken down. " God is merciless to the merciless. He wants every person without exception to be ready at all times to forgive from the heart, without sham or lip pardon, not with a cruel: Forgive, but not forget. For we Christians are all servants of God, the heavenly King. And by nature we are unprofitable servants. We are guilty before the Lord on account of our thousandfold transgressions of the Law. Our debt before Him is so great that it staggers the imagination, as Luther suggests, that we can never hope to pay it off. We are therefore guilty of hell and damnation before Him. But now God has had mercy upon us for the sake of Jesus, who paid the debt of our sin. He has loosed us from the imprisonment we deserve and forgiven the debt. Therefore we have the obligation of gratitude resting upon us that we gladly forgive our fellow-men what they have sinned against us. Even if such a transgression be great in the sight of men, it cannot come into consideration in comparison with the debt which God has mercifully forgiven us. Any man, therefore, that is unmerciful, hardhearted, unforgiving toward his fellow-man, thereby denies and repudiates God's grace and mercy. His former debt is again charged to his account. The just anger of God will deliver him into a merciless judgment, from which there is no salvation, no delivery. "It is a fine, comforting Gospel, and sweet for the saddened consciences, since it has nothing but forgiveness of sins. But on the other hand, to the hard heads and to the stubborn it is a terrible judgment, and, especially, since the servant is not a heathen, but belongs under the Gospel and had faith. For since the lord has mercy upon him and forgives what he has done, he must undoubtedly be a Christian. Therefore this is not a punishment for the heathen, nor for the great mass that do not hear the Word of God, but for those that hear the Gospel with the ears and have it on the tongue, but will not live in harmony with it."
Summary. Christ warns against giving offense to children and to the lowly in His kingdom, illustrating His discourse with the parable of the lost sheep, teaches how to deal with an erring brother, and gives a lesson on forgiveness, illustrated with the parable of the unmerciful servant.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11