Matthew 18

Jesus on Listening

Who's the Greatest? (1-60)

While Jesus was closing down His Galilean ministry, His disciples, being confused by His talk about death, came and asked Him who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The disciples were still anticipating an earthly kingdom; they still could not believe Jesus' predictions of His own death (1).

Jesus called a little child to come to Him; the Gospel of Mark implies He even set the little one on His lap in the middle of them all.

A child had no rights under law and was considered in many respects insignificant and unimportant in that culture (2).

Jesus then dropped the bomb on them—they would need to become or literally "turned like" children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (3). Entrance into the Kingdom was not to be based on one's ability to earn or deserve but on child-like humility of spirit. The ability to do what the child Jesus was holding did was imperative; the child had responded to His voice. Such a humble, listening person would be the greatest person of the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course Jesus was the only such Person to ever live in perfect humility (4).

Jesus then began to fully answer the question that would not make sense until after His death and resurrection. Whoever received a child, Jesus told them, received Him. Jesus was the Chief of all children, He being the perfect child, the One Who perfectly responded to the voice of the Father and took on complete insignificance. All who received those who followed this example of character quality in Jesus were in essence receiving Christ. To embrace the God-like character quality of the humility of Christ seen in others was to receive and embrace Christ Himself (5). On the other hand, for all who caused anyone else to dump their child-like quality of listening and insignificance and become self-important, Jesus claimed it would be better if they were chained by the neck to a concrete block and be drowned in the sea. Likely the metaphor was Jesus' way of saying that it would be better to make such a person who offends another (by enticing them to leave their child-like trust) be placed in a circumstance where they would once again experience the full of depth of their desperation and need, and cry out for saving (6).

The Temptation to Sin (7-9)

Jesus then told His disciples that temptations are inevitable but woe, or in danger of being cursed (Matthew 8:7,9), are those by whom the temptations come (7).

Jesus then told His disciples that it would be better to go through life limbless and eyeless and completely dependent than to tempt any humble, listening follower to fall away from child-like humility. To turn someone from child-like character was the lowest of all actions in the new Kingdom and Jesus' economy. To turn someone from child-like humility was like treating as cursed the most precious character quality anyone could ever embrace (8-9).

Jesus wasn't so much encouraging actual maiming and gouging at any level; He was making a point about being ruthless with our own lives to remain Christ-like, humble, walking with a sense of insignificance, no matter what the price of death to self might cost.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (10-14)

Jesus then sought to explain just how valuable a person was with child-like faith and why they should never be devalued but treated as one would treat Christ Himself, the greatest in the Kingdom.

First, their personal angels were in constant and personal touch with the Father (Psalm 91:11), taking their command from Him to care for those child-like followers (10).
Second, any shepherd who had 100 sheep but had one who had gone astray would leave the other ninety-nine sheep with the help, even if they were on the mountain and vulnerable, and go personally and search for his lost sheep. He would never not take personal responsibility for finding his lost sheep (12).
Third, when the shepherd finds that sheep, he will begin to rejoice wildly about his find and not over the ninety-nine remaining safely under the care of his hired hand but for the sheep he has found (13).

It was Jesus' purpose to come for the Father and to save the lost, and He would do so by searching for them rigorously (11). God does not will for one child, one with child-like, listening, and humble character quality to perish, but in every way to be saved because He would personally find them every time. Jesus was making the point that those of listening faith and humble nature were of special care to Him (14).

If Your Brother Sins (15-20)

Jesus then seems to teach His disciples how to go searching for those who had lost their ability to listen and remain humble.

If your sister or brother sins, Jesus taught, he or she had also lost their ability to listen—they had gone astray from humility.

In such cases, someone who knew of their sin, someone with child-like, listening, and humble character were to go tell their brother or sister their fault and in privacy and without shame restore their sister or brother back into relationship among the humble listening (15).

If the sister or brother refused to listen, then the original brother or sister was to take one or two others of child-like, listening, and humble character and establish the truth of their sin (16). If the brother or sister still refused to listen, and the key word here is "listen," then the ones who had confronted their sinning brother or sister were to bring together a small group of people who possessed child-like, listening, and humble character and tell them about the sin. If the brother or sister refused to listen, and the key word here again is “listen," to the larger group or church, then the brother or sister was to be treated with the mercy and kindness with which they treated Gentiles and tax-collectors. Someone on the outside of child-like, listening, and humble character would be in desperate need of being found (17).

It’s important to note that the brother or sister was not considered lost to them for doing some sin but for losing their heart to listen, act as a child, take a place of being unimportant, and walking with Christ. The sin did not lead to the change of treatment; failure to be able to continue to listen became the ultimate sin.

Jesus then told His child-like, listening, and humble-of-character disciples that all their binding and loosing was to be directed by heaven, and if it was directed by heaven, it would be absolutely binding and loosing on earth.

Some would think the above verses were Jesus' process of excommunication, but it was more the process of loosing a non-listening family member back into the arms of those bound to search for him or her in mercy and with grace (18).

Jesus' principle was clear: if two followers come into agreement with heaven, it's lights out, so to speak—it would be done by the Father in heaven (19). If they wanted to know where Jesus would especially be gathered to meet with people, it would be any time two or three or more gathered with the purpose of listening in child-like, humble faith to Jesus Christ. That group so gathered to honor His name by listening would always find Jesus right in the middle of it all (20).

The Unforgiving Servant (21-35)

Upon listening to Jesus talk about how to treat a wayward brother, they wondered how often they should forgive their brother's sin. Rabbinic teaching held the number to be three, so Peter was imagining Jesus to be far more generous and proposed the number seven (21).

Jesus ran with the number seven and multiplied it by seventy (22). Jesus then launched into a parable about forgiveness, explaining how it worked in His Kingdom (23).

Jesus told of a king wishing to settle up his accounts with the officials of his kingdom and calling for a day of reckoning. He began with one official who had overspent the royal treasury or was in debt to the king—the amount was in the millions of dollars (24).

The official was a poor manager of money and could not repay His account, so the king ordered all he owned, including wife and children, to be sold, seeking to get some of the losses to his kingdom back (25).

The servant fell and begged for mercy, claiming he would somehow get the millions paid back and would earn his way back into the king's favor (26).

The king had pity and did what no right-minded king would do: he forgave the debt completely. Remember, Jesus was trying to show how the Kingdom worked in terms Peter could understand (27).

In the second half of the parable, the forgiven servant found one of his servants owed him money, about a third of a year's salary; a large sum, a significant sum, but not impossible to repay. Seizing the man by the throat, the forgiven man began to choke the one who owed him a smaller debt, demanding he immediately pay it (28).

The man with the less significant debt pleaded for mercy and patience (29). The man with the debt so large he could never repay threw him in prison, making it impossible for him to repay without surrendering all he had and turning over his wife and children as slaves (30).

His friends witnessed the gross injustice and reported it to the king (31). The king summoned the one who owed him an insurmountable debt which had been forgiven and dubbed him wicked, rebuking him for not being able to have mercy on another after having been shown such great mercy himself (32-33).

The angered king had him imprisoned and made him pay back all he owed (34).

Jesus was making these points:

a) The debt we owe God is more than any debt owed us.
b) Every God-forgiven debt should produce in us the same kind of mercy in our hearts that we were shown.
c) The forgiveness of our debts by God is directly tied to the forgiving of others and not merely words or pretentious actions but from our heart.
d) Unforgiving people are those who have closed their hearts and ears to God and have drifted from being humble listeners. If you can no longer hear, you can no longer receive forgiveness. To receive forgiveness, one must be able to hear the words, “You're forgiven" and have a heart to receive those words by faith.

It is impossible to be hard-hearted toward another and soft-hearted toward God. Once the heart has turned from listening to God, it cannot even bear the words, “You're forgiven." Of course all who do not hear the words and are not freed by God's forgiveness are imprisoned and bound up in so many ways; so goes and so is the Kingdom of Heaven.

To forgive the impossible debt is to forgive seventy times seven, just as Jesus has done for us. In forgiving others, our ears listen at a whole new humble level (35).