The disciples knew that something epic was coming. Jesus had performed incredible miracles right in front of their eyes. The lame walked, the blind could see, and the dead rose at His command. When He told the sea to be still, it obeyed. When He ordered demons out of the wretched victims they kept in bondage, they had to leave.
Jesus confronted the corrupt religious leaders with fearless zeal, exposing their abuses and falsehood so effectively that they were plotting to kill Him.
Imagine what it was like for the disciples. It was as if they were caught up in the stories of old. The great prophets of God like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea clashed with the faithless in Israel as they confronted the toxic offensiveness caused by their willful sin. The Jewish people were called to demonstrate to all of the other nations of the world the breathtaking goodness of God. The prophets were sent by God to warn Israel when they failed. The prophets also told about a coming Kingdom where a descendant of David would rule on an everlasting throne.
John the Baptist, the great preacher, had declared the coming of the Kingdom of God, and He said that Jesus was the one to usher it in. Jesus had declared it’s coming too, but He used strange and veiled explanations and parables to do so. As His disciples followed Him, they grappled with what it all meant.
The disciples were no cowards. They had given their lives to follow Jesus. They stood with Him in the face of the opposition of the most powerful religious leaders in their nation and continued to declare His message by His side. There was reason to feel the dignifying honor of being chosen by Him…but it also created an opening for a nefarious invasion of pride.
One day as they journeyed toward Jerusalem, some of the disciples started arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom that Jesus was going to bring about. Jesus knew what they were talking about. He also knew that the rules of status and power that often dominate how people relate to each other in our world are not going to be the rules of His Kingdom. There was an entirely different way for the human race to relate to each other…a thing of beauty…saturated in love.
The most basic thing about this love was that every son or daughter of God has tremendous worth to Him…He was and is protective of them. Believers should treat every member of God’s Kingdom with tremendous care and concern. In fact, doing this well should be prioritized over the vast majority of things that we get distracted by in this world.
Jesus also knew that promotion in God’s Kingdom will be related to the attitude of the heart. Pride, competition, self-adulation…these are the things that poison the heart’s ability to come with humility and surrendered love to the Father. The blessed in God’s Kingdom are the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, and the merciful.
Jesus pronounced a severe woe against anyone who would tempt another of God’s little ones…those who put their faith in Jesus…to sin against the Lord. Then Jesus declared a stern warning to those who do not honor His words with obedience. Their sin brings stumbling blocks into the world. They can have a powerful influence on the people and the cultures they live in by introducing new and old ways to dishonor God.
This is what Jesus said to them:
“‘Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the man through whom the stumbling block comes!’”
Wow. When Jesus says “woe” it is an intense warning. He knows that in this sinful, fallen world, there will be stumbling blocks, or temptations, that lead people to sin against God. But He fiercely warns against being the person who brings that temptation into the lives of others.
Jesus went on to talk about how to deal with our own sin. It makes perfect sense that Jesus would mention this next. Every one of us who sins is bringing something less that God’s perfect goodness into the world. The Bible talks about sin like it is a toxic poison that easily spreads. What you and I do will inevitably affect the people in our lives. Jesus was watching it happen with His disciples. A few of the disciples seemed to have let their pride take over. They began to be consumed about what their position of power and status would be in the new Kingdom. This concern invaded their conversations, spreading to the other disciples. All of a sudden, Christ’s small band of followers were immersed in selfish competition instead of the critical lessons Jesus had for them.
How easily we humans slip into our selfish desires! The disciples fell to it’s power in the very presence of the Son of God! Jesus explained the extreme importance of doing whatever radical thing we can to stop ourselves from falling into sin:
“‘If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.”
It is a dangerous thing to allow sin in our own lives…and to bring it into the lives of others. Jesus explained that it was better to permanently maim yourself at the place where your sin starts than let it continue…and the reason He gave was directly related to how it affects others. Jesus said:
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
Wow. How amazing is it that the followers are assigned angels. Sit back for a second and let that sink in. If we take Scripture seriously, that is a breathtaking thing to realize. Angels are present with the “little ones”…the meek ones who follow Jesus Christ. They are not to be looked down upon…in fact it offends the Lord when others do. Jesus defends them by declaring their place of honor in the mighty realms of eternal life. Though their dignified position cannot be seen by those on earth who lack eyes of faith, they are of such great value to God that their angels are ever in the presence of God the Father…and He is ever aware of the little ones those angels serve. Wow.
That means that God is also ever aware of those who hurt them, belittle them, or lead them into sin. Woe to them who do so. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
Jesus went on to talk about God’s attitude towards one of His own that gets lost:
“‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about the one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost.’”
Wow. Consider the tender, merciful heart of the Most High God. He is beautiful and right and good in all He does. This is tremendously good news for all of us who struggle to honor Him with obedience…and for all of us who love those who are struggling. This love is the sweet humility and honesty that Christ longs for in His followers. It is the repentant demeanor that allows Him to transform each person, and the interconnection of relationships between each other into the kind of the love that is meant to be in God’s Kingdom.
This kind of love has power to woo others away from their defensive positions of self-centeredness and pride. It alleviates the fears that make us feel like we have to be impressive, “more than,” and never resting. It builds trust, helps people come down from their fences, and creates space for each person to experience God’s love and acceptance. It is the necessary space for healing and transformation from the damage brought to our souls by a dark and hostile world.
Imagine what would happen in our world if this is how we lived and loved. Imagine what would happen to injustice, what goodness would come to the suffering, what healing would come to the sinful lost that our Father so yearns for. Lord Jesus, empower us to love.