Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!
Matthew 18:1-20 from the daily reading in the One year Bible
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
In today’s text Jesus says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” In Matthew 23:1-4 it says: Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” For the Pharisees, putting heavy burdens, excessive man made rules and regulations on people was causing stumbling blocks, it was hindering people, not helping them in their relationship with God. Those extra rules and regulations would instead become a millstone around the neck of the Pharisees, as they would be judged by their own standard of measure. We too, need to guard ourselves from the same error as the Pharisees. We need to be certain that, even our zeal for righteousness does not cause us to have higher standards than God. We need to guard against causing others to stumble because we judge them by our own standard, rather than by God’s standard, which is the grace and forgiveness of the cross. In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says: “If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
It is also possible though that we cause others to stumble if we disregard righteousness because of grace. In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The grace of God, His love demonstrated through the cross of Christ, did not and does not do away with the seriousness of sin and its consequences. As Romans 6:23 says: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. For those who reject the free gift of God’s grace, the consequence of sin remains. It is death rather than life through Christ. If we, by extending grace to sin, rather than to sinners, cause people to reject God’s grace, we become a stumbling block to them. By relaxing God’s commandments, we risk the heavy millstone of sin being placed around our neck. God says: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21) Many people, in their own cleverness, pick and choose which portions of God’s commandments to believe and follow. They find ways around righteousness through their own interpretation and application of grace to sin. The grace of God is that we would be forgiven and redeemed from sin. In God’s sight evil can never be good, nor darkness be light, sinners and not sin are redeemed.
In today’s text Jesus says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” Rather than becoming stumbling blocks to others, either by holding them to a higher standard than the standard of God’s grace or by relaxing God’s standards, we should lay stepping stones for them. We should forgive as we have been forgiven. We should be light in the darkness, not calling evil good, but rather exposing it by the light of Christ. We should not despise sinners, but we should love them enough to tell them the truth that Jesus came to save them from sin. Jesus says: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” Far too often we think we have the right or the responsibility to tell others that they have offended us. Our response when people offend us should be that we forgive them as we have been forgiven. On the cross, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) We too should ask that God forgive others as we have been forgiven, not that every mistake or shortcoming in our lives is pointed out to us, but instead as God says, He removes them as far as east from the west. What we should show others, is not how they have offended us, but rather their sin, how they have offended God. The reason for showing others their sin is not for condemnation, but rather that they would be saved and redeemed. Galatians 6:1 says: Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Restoration and reconciliation, not condemnation, should always be our priority in pointing out sin, lest that condemnation becomes a weight around our own necks.
Jesus says: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” If we are truly gathered in Jesus name we will bind the power of sin, darkness and deception. We will loose the power of love, grace and redemption. We will lay stepping stones for others to come to God through Christ, rather than placing stumbling blocks in their way.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit, indeed I desire to become great in the kingdom of heaven, so I come humbly as a child. Through the power of the cross and the guidance of the Holy Spirit may I have the faith of a child to believe. May I also love like a child. May I not judge others by my own standard, but rather by the standard of Your grace. May I forgive where I have been offended, but may I show others when You are offended. May the fact that is confirmed by my witness, be the fact that Jesus died for their sins. Amen.