Scripture reading – Mark 9; Matthew 18

Our study of the Synoptic Gospels continues with Mark 9 and Matthew 18. You will notice Mark 9 is a parallel study of events we considered in a prior study of Matthew 17 and included the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13), Jesus casting an evil spirit out of a father’s sons, and a lesson on faith, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:12-29). Our devotional will focus on Matthew 18.

The Spiritual Character of Believers: Greatness Defined (18:1-4)

Matthew 18 marks a shift in the focus of Christ’s ministry. For three years, He focused on the great multitudes that followed His ministry and miracles throughout Judaea and Galilee. With only six months to the Cross, the LORD prepared His disciples for the great events before Him and them. Though He had spoken plainly of His betrayal, death, and resurrection (17:22-23), the disciples evidenced they were mere men. Falling prey to petty rivalries and jealousy, they came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1)

The LORD answered their question with an illustration that was simple and powerful. Taking a small child to Himself, Jesus taught the disciples that a child is a portrait of greatness clothed in humility (18:3). The central truth: The citizens of Christ’s kingdom will be defined, not by greatness, but by humility (18:4).

God’s Love, Care, and Compassion for His Children (18:5-14)

In a world scarred by child abuse and sex trafficking, we have an admonition from the LORD that serves as a warning to all who harm or lead astray the youthful and naive. Remember the small child Jesus used as an illustration of humility? Jesus now turned His focus to His spiritual children, and warned, “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (18:6).

Admonition: God will protect His children. (18:6-7)

The LORD is jealous for the welfare of His people, and there are some who, under the guise of “Christian liberty,” lead believers to sin. Jesus warned, mistreat or entice a believer to sin, and you invite God’s judgment. Become a stumbling block for a child of God, and it would be better had you never been born! (18:7)

Exhortation: Sever Your Sinful Ways (18:8-9)

Continuing to teach His disciples and speaking figuratively, Jesus warned it would be better to go through life maimed (to cut off one’s hand or foot, or pluck out one’s eye), than lead a believer astray and down a path of sin (18:8-9). In a practical sense, it would be better to live a life of self-sacrifice, deny your flesh the pleasures of sin, and your eyes the lust of the flesh, than be “cast into everlasting fire…[or] having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (18:8-9).

Closing thoughts – Compassionate Love (18:10-14)

God’s love for His people is evidenced in His loving care for them. Unlike the Pharisees who were guilty of abusing their role among the people, Jesus cautioned His disciples, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones” (18:10a). What followed was a wonderful lesson in the love, grace, and mercy of God. In closing, consider four qualities we can identify in God’s love for His people.

The first, God’s love is proactive, therefore the LORD commanded, “despise not one” (18:10a). The implication is we are not to dishonor, put down, or think ourselves better than another. After all, every soul is precious in the sight of God. Secondly, the love of God is protective, for “in heaven their [God’s children’s] angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (18:10b). That verse does not teach every believer has a guardian angel; however, the promise is the LORD dispatches His angels to aid and protect His people.

God’s love is also personal, for He loves His people like a shepherd knows and loves His sheep. If one sheep is lost, a good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep in the fold and seek the one that is lost. Like a good shepherd, Jesus came “to save that which was lost” (18:11). Finally, the love of God is perpetual, everlasting, and enduring. It is the will of God the Father that not “one of these little ones should perish” (18:14).

You and I might be a disappointment, and even a failure in the eyes of others; yet, God loves us with the same loving compassion a shepherd loves and nurtures his sheep. The love of God is proactive, protective, personal, and perpetual. After all, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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