Mella Sommerville - Victoria and Tasmania, Australia - September 2013

Matthew 18, when we read through this chapter, we will see it is an essential chapter.  Essential means it is absolutely necessary, that is, if we’re going to follow Jesus, and if we’re going to be where Jesus is forever.  I think it’s over 20 years since my older companion was talking about it one day, and she gave me the first of five chapters for essential reading.  She said that is the advice she was given, and she did it and passed it on to me.  I am so thankful.  What a gift!  It was an excellent gift! 

These chapters she told me about are best read on our knees, because they don’t come naturally, and because they are not humanly able.  There’s Matthew 18, Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and Philippians 4.  I know these chapters, because I’ve read them often over the years, because they are essential reading.  When you read them you will see why they are so essential.  So this is Matthew 18 now, and this is what Jesus said from verse 2 to His disciples, “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.'”  That is why this chapter is so essential.  He was talking to men, grown up, independently living men, who just began to follow Jesus.  Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as a little child, you have no place in God’s Kingdom, not now and not eternally. 

Now, about a little child first of all; and we won’t make any mistake about this; no one can say a little child doesn’t make mistakes.  There is no other group that really needs to be taken care of, and taught or helped, as much as a little child - so Jesus was not holding up a huge standard before us, like - you have to be good, because a little child makes many mistakes often - but little children grow.  Jesus said, "You need to be like this."  We know an example is the highest form of teaching and the kindest form of correction.  There He is, setting up a little child as an example, in front of them.  You be converted and become like a little child, otherwise Heaven is not for you.  So then, what you do is, remember this example, and try to be as a little child.

I’ve spent quite a good deal of time with this chapter, and when I read about it again this week, what stood out so clearly to me were the words, “Except ye be converted.”  So just in case I haven’t the correct definition of “converted,” I consulted my dictionary and to my surprise, I found there is much more than I realized!  It means not only change, but to our very character inside us - so our nature changes.  One example given in the dictionary is when we eat starchy foods, it’s converted into sugars – that is, the makeup of starchy foods changes when eaten, so that is why we use that word - and  because in this verse, it means a change of function.  A good example of that is when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.  We all know what a caterpillar looks like; it’s not particularly nice looking and we brush it off fast if it gets on our jacket!  The caterpillar spins a cocoon and in the process of time and to our amazement - and it happens unseen - out comes a butterfly.  It’s a natural conversion and it means a change in our very nature.  It’s a change from what we are humanly to what Christ is, to be like His character.  It’s a fundamental change for every child of God through Christ Jesus. “Ye must be born again.”  It must be a total change that starts inside when we receive Jesus into our heart and life and give Him room.  It is the very nature of Jesus Christ Himself - that comes into this verse.  Jesus said, “Except you are born again, and be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

It says in I Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature….”  A new creature!  A process of change begins that shapes our ugly human nature and tendencies and reactions.  Instead, there comes the life of Christ that’s seen.  I think we see that in the men and woman gathered here, who have known this experience and you can see it going on.  It’s not about the refined human nature of a new creature, but what is more clearly manifested is the Spirit and nature of Christ.  When a caterpillar changes into a butterfly, there are two clear things we start to see.  It’s not immediate, but soon we start to see a beauty.

There is no comparison between the attractive butterflies and the caterpillars.  There is no other comparison between a person's experience, when they are born again, and have the Christ life within - there’s no comparison to what could have been if left to our own tendencies and we let them develop in that way.  A beautification is going on.  Not in the face but in the manner, the attitude, and the way people receive correction, and the way they recover from their mistakes. We see the God-like spirit clearly. 

Little children make many mistakes, because they are little.  Every person born again has the feeling of being little in their own estimation - in ability and worship.  Little children look up to people.  It’s a rare little child that looks down on others.  A little child fits easily into any position.  You just try putting me into a little space!  I might curl up the best I can, but I would be too stiff to bend and unable, but for the little child, it’s effortless for them to fit in.  A little child with the spirit of Jesus fits in anywhere; they can bend in their understanding, their acceptance and resistance.  Little children are eager to learn; little children are very dependent.  I greatly fear independence, that I wouldn’t feel a deep heartfelt need for God’s teaching and controlling me.

Another thing about a person’s conversion is they become capable of doing what they couldn’t do before.  It’s like a butterfly, it can fly to great heights - like up to a flower, but when it’s a caterpillar, it can’t.

Now, let’s read the rest of Matthew 18:8, “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.”  Verse 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.”  You see, unless a person becomes a new creature in Christ, the rest of these things in this chapter are impossible for our human nature.  One thing is, if we get our eye on something that hinders our soul, but not in the sense of mutilating the body, we can see the wisdom of plucking it out.  We will have the wisdom to attend to it.  If our hand offends, and we hold onto something that hinders our soul, then we must cut it off.  We don’t actually do it in the natural sense, but we see the wisdom of it, spiritually.  We will say, yes – it's better I do it now then lose my salvation over it.

The last of this chapter is about forgiveness.  Verse 23, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.”  Verse 21, “Then came Peter to him, and said, 'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Till seven times?'"  Verse 22, “Jesus saith unto him, 'I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.'”  In Luke 17:5 it says, “And the apostles said unto the Lord, 'Increase our faith.'”  They meant, "Is that possible?"  It’s hard to believe!  It would seem impossible and you would soon get tired if a person kept doing the same thing.  It doesn’t happen of course, but Jesus said forgive, even to that extent.  Jesus said to the disciples He sent out into the ministry, "If you become as a little child, you’ll be great in God’s Kingdom."  This path of greatness in the sight of God is open to all; it’s within our reach.

There are three things I’d like to share with you that will make you great in God’s sight.
(1) Come when God calls us.
(2) Stay in the place where God places us.
(3) Do what God asks you to do.  For if we do the things Jesus said, then “....the same is great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  These teachings of Jesus do often.  I haven’t profited as I would have liked, but I do keep trying. So that’s why reading Matthew 18 is so essential.

Hymn 33, "Give of Your Best to the Master"