Forgiveness—God’s Grace Initiative
Matthew Lesson #102
November 22, 2015
“Father, we’re so grateful for all that You have given us. You are the source of all that we have. You’re the source of our salvation which is so important to us. You’re the source of our new spiritual life, and You are the source of the Scriptures that we study that we may learn about You and about our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we may learn about the rich life that You have promised us, and that You will supply us if we walk with You.
Now Father, as we study Your Word today, may we be challenged by what we learn, understanding that we have a challenge before us as believers, and that is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be disciples, to be spiritually mature, to be lights in the world, and to shine forth as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. We pray that we might have the spiritual courage to step up to the challenge—that we might glorify You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 10. You might keep a note or something over in Mark 9 because we’ll go there eventually, but we’re primarily looking at Matthew 18 as we go through the Gospels.
One of the things that happens as you study through the Gospels is, especially the synoptics. They’re called synoptics because they’re like synonyms, they are parallel to one another.
But there are differences, and those differences relate to what the author is trying to accomplish to his audience.
Matthew is writing somewhere around AD 58, so 17 years have gone by since the Cross. He’s writing to a primarily Jewish audience reaffirming that yes indeed, even though Jesus was crucified and was resurrected, the kingdom will still come eventually, and explaining why it has been postponed.
He’s reaffirming to them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the One who fulfills all of the promises and prophecies related to the Messiah from the Old Testament, but first He came to suffer. He came for the Cross, and then He will return a second time in order to establish His kingdom.
In the meantime, a new age has entered in, and this age is related to the church. That word is mentioned for only the second time in this chapter we’re studying in Matthew 18. The focal point in this age is to make students.
The word that is used in the Scriptures—“disciples”—is a word that is used so much and over-used I think a lot, that people lose the sense of what it means.
It means to be students, to be followers, to be willing to give your life completely to the teaching of the person you’re following.
Now that’s not the condition for getting into Heaven. That is the condition for spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. Salvation is a free gift. We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him and Him alone for our eternal salvation. We do nothing to earn or deserve it.
But then Scripture says in addition to our salvation, which guarantees an eternal destiny in Heaven, that in addition to that, we are to grow and mature. And that to the degree that we do, there’s an incentive that’s available, and that is related to rewards. Rewards are for those disciples who do well.
That’s the thrust of what Jesus is teaching in this passage: some of the characteristics of a disciple. The teaching aid that He uses is a little child, and He’s addressing the issues that are raised in this particular chapter related to the position in the kingdom by understanding something about little children and comparing that, using that as an analogy.
Now where we’re going in Matthew 18 is important because as we get into the next section, He lays the foundation. We’ve got to just walk our way through this. What He’s going to focus on and what will become the focus is on forgiveness.
For many people forgiveness is an exceptionally difficult doctrine, the forgiveness of one another. And even understanding God’s forgiveness for us is difficult for some people who feel like whatever they have gone through in life is just somehow too great for the grace of God. But nothing that anybody goes through is too great for the grace of God.
God’s grace is related to His omnipotence. That means He is able to do whatever He wants to do in relation to His plan. He is able to solve the sin problem.
He’s omniscient, which means He knows every sin everyone’s ever committed, and in His grace He imputed that sin, or credited that sin, to Jesus so that Jesus paid for every sin on the cross. Nothing got dropped. Nothing was forgotten. Nothing was too great for Christ to pay the penalty for. And it was all paid for at the Cross.
That’s our pattern for understanding forgiveness—that as Romans 5:8 says, we were at enmity with God. We were God’s enemies. We were hostile to God, but “God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God was willing to forgive us. He initiated grace, and He initiated this grace forgiveness, and that becomes a pattern for us. And that’s what’s going to be developed and explained by Jesus in Matthew 18.
But for many people, they just have problems with forgiveness. It’s related to unconditional love. There are some people who are saying, “Lord, You just can’t ask me to love that person.” And part of love as Jesus demonstrates in John 13 is forgiving one another.
That’s part of the illustration when Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet. That’s an illustration of forgiveness and cleansing.
Then He says, “Go and do likewise.” He says at the end of that chapter, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” That command grows out of His demonstration of forgiveness. So you can’t separate forgiveness from love.
Last time I talked about the fact that this section in Matthew 18:5–9 is really related to understanding God’s love, and yet He builds on that.
So even though we face in life people who do things to us that seem inexcusable and unforgivable, they continue to do things, they continue to provoke us in many different ways through betrayal, abuse, consistent failures, lack of loyalty, God again and again in the Scripture reminds us that we are to forgive one another.
In Matthew there are numerous places where this is emphasized. We’ve seen it emphasized in Matthew 6:9.
We’ve seen it emphasized in Matthew 6:14–15, and in Matthew 9:1–8. And again, forgiveness lies at the heart of much of what Jesus is going to teach in the rest of Matthew.
The easy part for us in terms of forgiveness often are minor infractions, especially somebody we care about. Sometimes we are so willing to forgive someone we care deeply about, but if somebody we don’t care about so much does the same thing, we don’t want to forgive them. Have you ever noticed how we’re that inconsistent?
So we need to learn what it means to forgive because that’s inherent in what it means to love. Now just a reminder of the context. This is important.
The first thing that’s raised is the question. As we look at the beginning of Matthew 18:1, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The question is on ranking. Who’s going to out rank the others? Who’s going to have the best position? Who’s going to have personal status? That’s the focal point of their question. The answer that Jesus gives them is that they need to be humble “like this little child.”
The focus on humility as we’ve seen in our study is that there are two aspects, two dimensions, to humility that are mentioned in Scripture or emphasized in Scripture.
One is submission to authority. Jesus humbled Himself by being obedient and going to the Cross in Philippians 2:7–8.
Second, in Philippians 2:6, humility is not asserting your own rights or seeking personal status or position for its own sake. That’s what the context is. They’re saying who’s going to have the best position? Who’s going to out rank the others?
The analogy with the child is not emphasizing that, and this second aspect of humility is what is emphasized in Philippians 2:6, that “though he existed”—that is Jesus existed in eternity past in the form of God—“He did not regard equality with God as something to be asserted.” He’s not going to assert His rank, His privilege, His position. He’s going to enter into human history as a human being.
Now, the second point we need to remember in terms of context is this analogy to a child. This has often, as I pointed out in the past a couple of weeks, been misunderstood. There are a lot of different qualities you can go to for a child that might be analogous, but the issue here is ranking. The question set that up.
In the ancient world, it wasn’t that the child was innocent, or the child wasn’t self-assertive, or the child wasn’t arrogant or wasn’t rebellious or any of those things.
It’s that a child had no position. It wasn’t like a child should be seen and not heard. A child shouldn’t be seen or heard. A child had no ranking whatsoever in society and that’s the point—that disciples are to be like little children in that they’re not asserting or focused on their position or their privilege at all.
Then in Matthew 18:5, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one little child like this.”
He’s changing from that little boy that He’s taken to be the visual training aid, and He’s now talking about the spiritual little child, the one who has humbled himself.
So He’s no longer talking about little children. That is such a common error in the way this passage is often exposited—is that that’s missed that He’s no longer talking about children.
This isn’t about babies. This isn’t about God’s love for children. This is about God’s love for the little spiritual child who humbles himself so that he can enter with fullness into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’ve pointed out that these are not terms or phrases that are related to justification because Jesus is talking to disciples who are already justified. They’re already regenerate, so Jesus isn’t telling them that you need to convert and become like little children because they’re already justified. He’s telling them, “Quit acting in arrogance. Change your mind and act with humility.”
He’s talking to them about his spiritual life issue—not about a justification or salvation issue. So in Matthew 18:5, He says we have to be like a little child, humble like a little child in order to grow and mature in the spiritual life.
The third thing we came to last time is that Jesus gives us a serious warning as to what’s going to happen if we as disciples don’t do this. There are consequences.
The consequence can’t be the eternal Lake of Fire can it, because we’re already saved.
That’s where we get into understanding a couple of these metaphors that are used in the Gospels that are often mistranslated and mishandled. It really sets us off to misunderstand the focal point of the passage. This is why I keep laboring this a little bit just because we have visitors that come in, and some folks miss a Sunday. So just to make sure everybody understands where we are. And some of this I haven’t taught in a while, so I want to remind everybody of this.
There’s a warning that if you cause one of these little ones to sin (we’ll get back to what that means a little later on), but it means to cause them to stumble primarily in the area of doctrine and apostasy. If you lead them astray into false teaching, then it would be better if someone casts a millstone.
This is not the smaller one that might be used in the kitchen, but the really large one that was turned to grind the wheat outside and was pulled by a donkey. It would be better to have a donkey stone hung around your neck and drown in the depth of the sea. That sounds pretty harsh.
Then He goes on to pronounce two woes. He says, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come.”
Now what’s interesting (and we’ll get back to this later on), I’ll show you the words—the words “cause you to sin” is the word SKANDALIZO. It’s the verb, and it doesn’t mean to sin. It means to cause you to fall off the track in terms of apostasy. It’s being a stumbling block.
The word for “offenses” is SKANDALON. That’s just the noun form. So by translating words, you miss the connections.
Remember when the old, old, old cartoons said follow the bouncing ball. Well, the bouncing ball is hitting on similar words, and when you don’t translate something with the same words as you go through the English, you miss the connections, the connecting points that God the Holy Spirit wants us to see.
He says, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses”—that is false teaching. We could just translate it that way—“Woe to the world because of false doctrine, because of false teaching, for false teaching must come, but woe to that man”—that makes it individual and personal—“to whom that false teaching comes.”
Then there’s the warning that if you’re the one guilty of this, and if you’re guilty of this, then you’re going to come under divine discipline.
The way it’s structured is Jesus uses a hyperbole. He’s not saying deliberately maim yourself, but He’s using this as an extreme form of a statement in order to get our attention so we can understand how serious it is.
Then He says, it’s better to have your hand, your foot cut off or your eye put out rather than be cast into everlasting fire. And the everlasting fire here is parallel to hell fire in the English in verse 9. But this is a bit of a problem because it seems like Jesus is threatening them with the Lake of Fire.
But wait a minute. Didn’t we already say that they’re believers? They’re disciples! Eleven of them are going to go on to be apostles, so how could Jesus be threatening them with the Lake of Fire?
This is such an important verse because it relates to understanding the free grace Gospel—that we can’t lose our salvation. So Jesus isn’t threatening them with a loss of salvation, and He’s not threatening them with the Lake of Fire.
Once we come to understand that, we realize this isn’t at all talking about unbelievers. But it’s difficult to handle, so let me just review this a bit, and then while I’m doing this, you might want to flip back over to Mark 9.
Remember I pointed out that the term, if you look at the top of the slide, you see that Hebrew phrase on the left, the Greek word on the right. The Hebrew original is ge’ hinnom, “The Valley of Hinnom.” Ge’ is the Hebrew word for valley. So that’s pulled together to one word in the Greek as GEHENNA, but it refers to The Valley of Hinnom.
If they’d just left it and translated it “The Valley of Hinnom,” we wouldn’t have these problems, because every time you turn around, you see this in the Gospels and Jesus using this word. People think you’re talking about going to the Lake of Fire. Even the word “hell” is a bad translation, and that comes out of a Norwegian background word, so it’s confusing.
In the Old Testament, The Valley of Hinnom was south of Jerusalem and still is just south of Jerusalem. It was a place by the time of Christ that they used as a garbage dump. So fires were continuously burning there as they were burning the garbage and burning the refuse, and it was thought by a lot of people that “Wow! What a great picture of the Lake of Fire!”
And besides, it’s called the eternal fire there in the verse we just looked at in Matthew 8, so it’s got to be the Lake of Fire, right?” Wrong.
The Valley of Gehenna was the place where in the Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles 28:3, Jeremiah 7:31, and other passages, that they set up these huge idols to Molech. Not just one or two, but there were dozens and dozens of them. And the people would come, huge crowds of people, several hundred, and they would bring their infants to sacrifice, to burn alive in the arms of Molech.
This was the low point in Israel’s spirituality in the ancient world as they were murdering their children by the dozens. So Gehenna came to symbolize a place of idolatry, a place of disobedience and a place of spiritual failure in the life of Israel.
This was one of the reasons God brought judgment on them in 586 BC. The judgment for Gehenna is an historical judgment in time, it’s not eternal. That’s the main point there.
This isn’t talking about an eternal punishment, and in Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah predicted that as punishment for the sins, the valley would be used as a mass burial place when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Where they murdered their children, they in turn would be killed and buried when God brought temporal judgment upon Jerusalem.
So the conclusion from our Old Testament study is that the Valley of Hinnom doesn’t refer to eternal judgment, but to God’s judgment against disobedience in time.
When we get over in the New Testament, most English translations translate this as hell or hellfire as in the Lake of Fire. Most Bible dictionaries you read will do that. Commentaries you look at will do that, other translations you look at will do that.
So I’m just warning you that if you want to go read this somewhere, there are some people who’ve done technical work on this. This isn’t new with me, but you don’t find it in too many places. It’s pretty much become a traditional sort of interpretation.
But the other thing that happens, under the third point, is it’s used in places like Matthew 18:8 with eternal fire.
The question comes, “Well, isn’t it clear that this is eternal fire and doesn’t eternal mean eternal and everlasting?”
Now I want you to go back to what we were reading in Mark 9. In Mark 9 we have the same kind of context. Jesus is talking about this same thing, causing the little ones to stumble, and He adds something.
For example, in verse 43, He uses the same hyperbole, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better for you to enter into life maimed, rather having two hands, to go to hell,”—see that’s Gehenna—“into the fire that shall never be quenched.” Wait a minute. I thought you said eternal doesn’t necessarily mean eternal!
I pointed that out last time, that there are passages such as Jeremiah 17:4 talking about at the time of the 586 BC judgment, God says, “And you, even yourself, shall let go of your heritage which I gave you”—I’m kicking you out of the land. The land was their heritage—“And I will cause you to serve your enemies in the land which you do not know”—they were going to be taken to Babylon—“for you have kindled a fire in My anger which shall burn forever.”
Does that mean God’s still mad at them? No, because He brought them back to the land in 538 BC. So forever doesn’t mean forever. It just means for a long time in some context.
Deuteronomy 15:17 is talking about a slave who was supposed to be released at the end of seven years and decides no, he wants to stay a slave—that he would have his ear pierced. And they would take him, put his ear up against a door post, take an awl and pierce it.
It says, “he shall be your servant forever.” Well, that just means to the end of his physical life. He’s not going to be a slave to this person on into eternity.
So those are two examples where forever doesn’t mean eternity.
When we get into Mark, and we look at this verse in Mark 9:44, Jesus goes on to say that the fire shall never be quenched—“where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” That sounds pretty eternal to me, doesn’t it? What in the world is going on here? And then it goes on.
Three times He quotes that verse. So I just picked the last one up here and put it up on the screen, Mark 9:47–48, “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
Now this is important to understand that this is a quote from the Old Testament. It’s a quotation from Isaiah 66:24, which is the very last verse in the book of Isaiah. We read there “They shall go forth”—that is those who are ventured into the kingdom—“shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” That’s how Isaiah ends. Almost sounds eternal.
I want you to turn there because I want to look at the context just a minute because sooner or later this is going to come up, and this is again one of those passages where you have to do more than just look at the immediate context because the immediate context here might really trick you.
In Isaiah 66:22, “ ‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘so shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the Lord.”
Are we talking about … I bet if I took a poll, everybody here’s going to say, “You have a new word.” That means it’s after the Millennium, after the Great White Throne Judgment where Revelation 21 says that God’s going to create the new heavens and a new earth, right? Wrong! Okay?
You’ve got to look at context. A new heaven and new earth in Isaiah isn’t the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21. It’s the Millennial Kingdom. The way you know that is because in Isaiah 65:17 it defines the term, and it’s clear there that it’s talking about the Millennial Kingdom.
So this is talking about what happens at the end of the Tribulation when you’ve had this assault on Jerusalem and the Lord Jesus Christ returns, destroys the armies of the Antichrist and the false prophet, and Jerusalem and Israel’s just filled with the corpses.
See that’s another key word in Isaiah 66:24. In the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 21 the present heavens and new earth are what? Completely destroyed! So the Satanic rebellion that occurs at the end of the Tribulation, God is going to incinerate their bodies with fire and brimstone.
How many corpses are left when God incinerates you? Not much. So if God has incinerated you, all the enemies at the end of the Millennial Kingdom, how are they going to look at the corpses? That’s a little problem.
Corpses are not going to survive throughout eternity in the Lake of Fire. Corpses belong to this world. They are corporeal. They belong to this world. Your present corpse goes into the ground. It’s going to rot. It is not what’s going to go into the Lake of Fire. So there we have another problem.
It’s obvious that this can’t be talking about what happens at the end of the Millennium. When the new heavens and new earth come, everything that’s on this present earth and universe is completely decimated, completely destroyed. And God gives new heavens and a new earth.
But according to Isaiah 65:17, because Israel has been restored to the land and God restores the kingdom, it’s new heavens, and it’s a new world for Israel, as they’ve entered into this final redemptive relationship with their Messiah, who’s going to rule and reign in Jerusalem.
When that happens, all these dead bodies are around. In fact, if you were to read through Ezekiel 39:11–16, it’s consistent with the picture there because Ezekiel 39:11–16 refers to a seven-month period where the dead are going to be buried. It’s going to take that long to clean up all of the corpses from that victory that the Lord Jesus Christ has over the armies of the Antichrist and false prophet. Seven months it’s going to take to clean up the land.
These corpses are going to be rotting, and this is the focal point of the imagery of the worm. This is the imagery of the worms and the maggots and whatever that are consuming the rotting flesh.
The point of this passage isn’t that this is going to go on forever, but that this is going to go on like those other passages indicate for a very long time.
While we’re in Mark we need to look at what else Jesus says here because it’s not included in Matthew, but boy does it set Matthew up—very important.
Jesus says after verse 48, “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” He then says in verses 49 and 50, “for everyone will be seasoned with fire”—that’s purification—“and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.”
Then He makes the point in verse 50, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Go home, be warm, and be filled. Isn’t that a great verse?
You know, most of us, if we’re reading through our Bible, we’re going to put a question mark next to that verse because what in the world is Jesus talking about?
If you don’t understand the time in which this was written and how salt was used, then you’re really going to miss this. A lot of people try and guess, and we covered this earlier in Matthew.
A more detailed presentation is back in Matthew Lesson #025 where Jesus says you’re to be the salt of the earth.
When I hit this this morning, I said do I want to do this or not? I want to get into forgiveness, but I’ve taught this once or twice, and this has to be locked into your brains because people do this all the time, “Lord, we’re the salt of the earth. We’re to bless the earth.” No! That’s not what that’s talking about.
We need to understand how salt was used in the ancient world, so let me look at Mark 9:50, and then we’ll go forward.
Mark 9:50 says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor.” That’s the top word, ANALOS.
See, the word at the bottom is HALAS. That’s the word for salt. So when you put an alpha prefix because it starts with a vowel, you have to put “an” there, it means no saltiness. It’s lost its savor. It’s become unsalty.
So He says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?” That’s the word ARTUO. What’s interesting is all these different synonyms are used to describe this, and I’m not going to get you all distracted on that.
But it goes back to understanding what Jesus said back in Matthew 5:13. He says, “You’re the salt of the earth.”
Now if Jesus is telling you that you are the salt of the earth, don’t you think we ought to properly understand what it means to be the salt of the earth? He says almost the same thing. He uses different verbiage, but it’s the same thing, “If the salt loses its flavor.”
There it really means if it becomes foolish. In other words, He’s using an idiom, meaning it’s useless because the salt, some of the properties of the salt, don’t seem to be there anymore, and that, in and of itself, is another problem.
He says, “It’s then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
Now if we look at the whole structure there, I put these different translations up there to just show you how it’s handled.
The NKJV says, “but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?”
The NASB says, “if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?”
The Darby translation says, “Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted?”
Then in the NET it says, “but if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again?”
So we’ve got to understand this. What is happening here is this metaphor where some properties of salt are being used as an analogy to understand something about a disciple. There’s a point of comparison. By looking at this diagram with these two circles, you can see that most of what would apply to salt doesn’t apply.
That’s the interesting thing in studying metaphors is you can have twenty characteristics of something, and only one of them is the point of the analogy. The other nineteen are irrelevant. They don’t apply.
What we see historically when we try to interpret this salt metaphor is that salt is designed to create thirst. So you as a believer, if you’re salty, you’re going to create a thirst for the Word of God among people around you.
I haven’t really seen that happen a whole lot other than when I’m here functioning as your pastor, but out in everyday life, I don’t see that happen a lot.
To season food—that would be a kitchen metaphor, okay? Is the point of this going to be a kitchen metaphor, or is this going to be an agricultural or a farming metaphor? That’s the big question.
It’s used to preserve food. That would also be a kitchen metaphor.
It was used as fertilizer. Most of us are going, “Wait a minute! Fertilizer, if you salt a field it’s not going to produce.” But salt was not used as the pure fertilizer. It’s used as an ingredient in fertilizer as a weed killer. It’s not just pure salt.
The rabbis talked about salt as being analogous to wisdom.
Salt was used for purification, and sometimes salt would be put on a lamp’s wick so that it would burn a little brighter.
These are seven ways in which salt is used metaphorically.
So how are we supposed to figure this out?
Jesus is talking to them and He says, “You’re the salt of the earth.”
The way most of us think of that when we hear it is Jesus is saying you’re the salt of the world, the world being the populated cosmos, the populated world around us, that God loved and sent His Son to die for.
But the Hebrew word here for earth isn’t cosmos. “For God so loved the world.” That’s cosmos. It doesn’t say God so loved the earth.
This word in Greek is the word GE, and it means land or soil or physical earth. It’s not talking about the world. It is never used as a synonym of cosmos. Think about that.
So the idea that we’re the salt of the earth, and taking that to mean that somehow we’re to impact culture and society around us doesn’t fit because GE is never used that way. So immediately, 99.9% of the time you’ve probably used that phrase, and I’ve used that phrase, and most people use that phrase has nothing to do with the biblical meaning. So we need to eradicate this whole pseudo idiom out of our vocabulary.
That’s the first issue I’ve pointed out, that GE is used 39 times in Matthew, 92 times in the Gospels, and it’s never used as a synonym with the world.
Option 2 is that the earth, meaning land, soil, ground, earth; it refers to the land. In a couple of places it refers to the planet in contrast to the heavens. It’s talking about the physical planet, not the inhabitants.
So salt of the earth probably means salt for the land, which fits fertilizer.
So if salt of the earth is understood as salt for the earth, then Jesus is not using a kitchen metaphor, He’s using an agricultural metaphor.
This is significant because that’s how Luke seems to use it as he expands on this in Luke 14:34–35. He says, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land.”—GE.
What happened in the ancient world is that salt wasn’t pure. Salt itself is an extremely stable compound. Sodium chloride doesn’t deteriorate. But they would take lumps of what was mostly salt from the Dead Sea and from other areas, and the salt would sort of leach out into the dung pile, and it would develop into sort of a weed killer aspect of that dung.
So that’s what fits here, because what Jesus says is it’s not fit for the land to put it out into the soil, nor is it fit for the dung hill.
See, that’s where they would put it—in the dunghill, and it would become part of the compost that would later be put on the earth. So it’s useless now, so you throw it out. That’s the point of this analogy.
This changes your whole perspective on what Jesus is talking about here.
He’s not talking about creating a thirst for truth or for the Word of God. He’s talking about the fact that as disciples, you’re to be the salt for the soil. You are to generate productiveness. You’re to generate productivity. As disciples you’re to go make disciples who are to be fruitful. That’s the focal point of the analogy—to create productivity among other believers, spiritual productivity.
Slides 26, 27
So when Jesus said, “You’re the salt of the earth, but if the salt becomes foolish, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
This is divine discipline on a believer who is a failure because he’s not being used to challenge and encourage other believers to grow and mature in the spiritual life.
But as I just pointed out, salt (sodium chloride) is incredibly stable and doesn’t decay, so it doesn’t lose its saltiness. Something else has to be going on here, and that has to do with the fact that the salt could leach out because it comes in this compound with all these other elements. The salt will leach out over time, and what is left is useless. It’s not going to do anything to produce fruitfulness in the soil.
What Jesus is doing is using an agricultural method that emphasizes that a disciple should be productive rather than non-productive. That fits the context in Matthew 5 of rewards and good works. That’s what Jesus is emphasizing.
So when we look at this, and we go back to Mark 9:50, Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?” You’ve got to be productive.
“Have salt in yourselves.” In other words, as disciples, you need to be productive, and you are to challenge and encourage other believers to be productive.
But what goes with that? You just can’t be aggravating everybody around you. You’ve got to have “peace with one another.” See, that peace and forgiveness go together in the New Testament. Now this statement isn’t included in Matthew, but it’s the same context, it’s the same conversation.
What that shows us is that all of this, this illustration and this warning about the stumbling block, the warning about severe divine discipline, is all pointed to challenging the disciples to learn what it means to have peace with one another and to forgive one another, which is what is about to be the discussion point in Matthew 18 when Peter says, “Well, what if somebody sins?”
Then you go to them with one witness and then two, and then you eventually, if they’re non-responsive, you take it to the church. Peter says, “Wait a minute! What if they sin against me? How many times do I have to forgive them?”
See the whole rest of the context of Matthew 18 deals with this issue of forgiveness, which is inherent to love—Jesus’s new commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us.
As I pointed out earlier in John 13 when He’s celebrating the Passover meal, the Seder with His disciples before He goes to the Cross, He’s demonstrating forgiveness and cleansing for one another. He says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples.” He doesn’t say, “This is how all people are going to know you’re a believer,” because this is discipleship material. This is how you know you’re growing and maturing as a believer.
I pointed that out last time in Hebrews 13, “Let brotherly love continue.” And that includes hospitality.
But Hebrews 13 grows out of the context of Hebrews 12, where just prior to that, the writer of Hebrews says, “Pursue peace with all people.”
See, that’s understanding and developing forgiveness for one another, even when they’ve exasperated us, even when they’ve walked all over us, no matter what it is because there’s not one person here who’s had somebody betray you like Jesus Christ was betrayed by His creatures. “He came unto His own”, John 1 says, “and His own received Him not.” None of us have ever had done to us what happened between God’s creatures and God.
The warning in Hebrews 12:15 is that we’re to watch “carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.” That doesn’t mean that we lose grace. It means that we quit acting graciously towards others, and instead of responding in grace to rejection, bitterness, hostility, we become bitter. So we have to be careful not to let bitterness spring up, which gives root to a host of mental attitude sins.
So as I wrap up this morning, this is the warning. I’ve put the words in here this time so you can catch it.
Jesus is saying, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” This is talking about family relationships. You as a disciple need to receive other disciples in Jesus’ name because they’re believers, and that involves accepting them into the congregation, that involves accepting them when they come as visitors, that involves sometimes opening our homes to people.
Then He says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble” and not causes them to sin. It’s the word SKANDALIZO, and I pointed out last time that has to do with causing them to fall by the wayside because of false teaching.
Notice He says down in verse 7, “Woe to the world because of offenses.” That’s the same word, SKANDALON, causing false teaching to distract somebody in their spiritual life.
It’s used three times in Matthew 18:7 and Matthew 18:8. It goes back to the verb SKANDALIZO, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble—fall into apostasy—cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame and maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.
“And if your eye causes you to stumble”—or to be apostatized—“pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into extreme divine discipline.”
Next He says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.”
So don’t react if somebody messes up, and they’re new believers, but really want to grow, but they’re young. They’re going to mess up and don’t react to them and despise them because of their youth because of the mistakes they made because they offended you.
“Don’t 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.”
This is the verse that is typically used and is frequently cited as a verse that every little child has a guardian angel. You think that’s what that means? After we look at this context, He’s not talking about physical infants anymore.
He’s talking about believers. Believers who have humbled themselves and want to grow to maturity, that they have a representative angel, and that this angel is an advocate for them in Heaven. That’s what it seems to say, that he sees the face of My Father Who is in Heaven.
Now this relates to the other verse on guardian angels which is Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits”—talking about angels—“sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”
That’s not talking about justification. What’s the key word there? Inheriting.
That is those disciples who are going to be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ—those who have grown and matured.
So who gets a guardian angel? Believers who are pursuing spiritual growth. Those are the ones who get this angel.
Now what else is said about that? That’s it folks. We don’t get much of a glimpse. We get a hint. Doesn’t go much beyond that. So where the Word of God doesn’t go, I’m not going to go.
What is all this doing? It’s setting us up to understand exactly what’s going to take place in the coming illustration of this lost sheep in verse 11. “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.”
Now some of your translations will not have verse 11 in there. Some will. It’s not in some manuscripts, and it is in the Majority Text, but I think it’s probably borrowed from another context in Luke, because I don’t think it really fits the context here, but it could. So we’ll treat it as if it’s there.
The word “saved” isn’t talking about justification here because the context is a little different. It’s similar to the context in Luke 15, where we do have the parable of a shepherd seeking the sheep. So I want to read these verses, give you the summary point, and then we’ll close and come back and talk about it more next time.
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray.”
The man is a shepherd. He owns the sheep. This isn’t talking about getting into the flock, which would be justification. You’re already in the flock. The man owns the sheep.
When you look at the parallel in Luke 15, it talks about a lost sheep; a lost coin; and the lost son, the Prodigal Son. But in each of those cases, they’re not lost like unsaved because the sheep originally belonged to the shepherd, the coin originally belonged to the woman, and the son is already in the family of the man.
This is talking about forgiveness. It’s talking about restoration when someone sins.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,”—you start sinning, and you’re out of fellowship, and you’re going into carnality— “does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?”
This just picks up the thread we’ve been seeing already. This is the initiative of God’s grace and forgiveness. He goes looking to bring us back.
“And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”
That’s the picture of the father of the Prodigal Son. When the Prodigal Son comes back, he throws a big party.
“Even so it is not the will of our Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
It’s not talking about something physical happening to a little child. He’s talking about a believer who goes out of fellowship and then destroys his life. God is going to seek to work in the life of the rebellious believer to bring him back in grace and experience forgiveness so that he can grow and continue.
We always have to make sure we distinguish between the passages of Scripture that are talking about how to be justified and those that are talking about how a believer is to live, how they’re to grow, forgiving one another, loving one another, and how they are going to be forgiven by the Lord no matter what happens.
God’s initiating grace is always going to seek to bring us back. He wants to forgive us and to restore us, and there’s nothing we can do that is too great for the grace of God.
With our heads bowed and eyes closed.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to really look at Your Word, examine it, to understand the significance of these metaphors and these images that are used here that are designed to teach such a tremendous truth related to forgiveness and love and ultimately Your forgiveness for our sins.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone listening to this message that has never trusted in Christ as Savior, that they would, that they would trust in Him—recognizing that Jesus paid the price in full at the Cross, and that we do nothing to earn it or deserve it, but that Jesus Christ paid it all. It’s paid in full, TETELESTAI, and all we do is trust in Him, believe it, accept it as a free gift.
For the rest of us, the challenge is to be a disciple, to be a learner, to grow, to mature, and that You will provide that which is necessary for us to grow and mature. But we have to be willing to be like that little child, not seeking personal status or privilege, but we’re simply to seek obedience to You in every area in life, that we might grow and mature and glorify You.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”