The most important disciple
- 18:1 That’s the same time the disciples went to Jesus and asked him, “Which one of us is most important in the Kingdom of Heaven?”1
- 18:2 Jesus invited a child to come over to him. He put the child in front of the disciples.
- 18:3 Then Jesus said, “I’m telling you the truth, if you don’t change and start acting like children, you’re never going to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven.
- 18:4 You’ve got to become as humble as this little child if you want to become greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- 18:5 Anyone who welcomes a little child like this because of me, welcomes me.
- 18:6 Take a look at these little kids who believe in me. I’ll tell you something about anyone who convinces little children like this to sin. People like that would be better off thrown into the sea with one of those grain-grinding millstones tied around their neck.
If it tempts you to sin, cut it out of your life
- 18:7 How tragic it’s going to be for this world because of the way it lures people into sin. It’s inevitable. Sin is going to happen. But how tragic it’s going to be for the people who cause it.
- 18:8 If your hand or your foot is what makes you sin, cut it off and throw the thing away.2 It’s better to go one-handed into eternal life3 than two-fisted into hellfire.4 And it’s better to go crippled into eternal life than dancing into hellfire.
- 18:9 If your eye makes you sin, cut it out and throw it away. It’s better to go into eternal life with one eye than to get thrown into hellfire and see what that’s like with both eyes.
- 18:10 Listen to me. Don’t look down on any of these children as though you’re more important than they are. I’m telling you, their angels in heaven have direct access to my Father all the time.
- 18:11 The Son of Humans has come on a search and rescue mission, to save those who are lost.5
The sheep that got away
- 18:12 May I ask you something? Let’s say a man has a flock of 100 sheep and one sheep wanders off. Wouldn’t you expect the man to leave those 99 sheep on the hillside and go looking for the one that wandered away?
- 18:13 And if he found it, I’m telling you he’ll celebrate more over that one sheep than over all the 99 that didn’t wander off.
- 18:14 In the same way, your Father in heaven doesn’t want anyone to get lost and die.
When someone does you wrong
- 18:15 If someone close to you hurts you in some way, go and talk to the person about it—just the two of you. If the person listens, great, you’ve restored the relationship.
- 18:16 If the person won’t listen to you, try again. This time, take one or two others with you. That way you’ll have two or three witnesses to confirm every detail of what happened.
- 18:17 If the person still won’t listen, take the problem to the full group.6 And if the person won’t listen to even the full group, call it quits. Just start treating that person like a stranger you don’t want anything to do with—like an atheist or a tax collector.
The power of agreement
- 18:18 I’m telling you the truth, if you forbid something here on earth, it’s going to be forbidden in heaven, too. And whatever you allow on earth, it’s going to be allowed in heaven.
- 18:19 If two of you agree about something that you want my Father to do for you, he’ll do it. And that’s the truth.
- 18:20 When two or three people get together on my behalf, I’m right there with them.”
Never stop forgiving
- 18:21 Peter went to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, when someone7 close to me does something that hurts me, how many times do I have to forgive that person? As many as seven times, perhaps?”
- 18:22 Jesus said, “I’m not going to tell you it’s as many as seven times. I’m telling you it’s as many as seventy times seven.
The unforgiving debtor
- 18:23 The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated this way. A king decided to collect the money that people owed him.
- 18:24 One man owed him the equivalent of 375 tons of silver (340 metric tons).8
- 18:25 The man couldn’t repay the debt. So the king ordered that the man’s assets be liquidated. The man and his wife and his children and everything they owned would be sold to cover the debt.
- 18:26 The man dropped flat on his face in front of the king and said, ‘Please be patient with me. I’ll pay you everything I owe.’
- 18:27 This request touched the king. He freed the man and canceled his debt.
- 18:28 That same man decided to collect some debts of his own. He found one man who owed him less than one pound of silver (390 grams).9 He grabbed the man by the throat and started choking him and yelling, ‘Pay me what you owe me!’
- 18:29 The man fell to the ground and started begging, ‘Please have patience with me and I’ll pay you back what I owe you.’
- 18:30 But the man demanding his money refused the request. He threw the other man in prison and intended to keep him there until the debt was paid.
- 18:31 When others saw what this man had done, they were furious. They went to the king and told him what had happened.
- 18:32 The king called the man back and said, ‘How wicked can you get? I canceled your debt for you because you asked me to.
- 18:33 Shouldn’t you have shown a little mercy to that other guy, like I did for you?’
- 18:34 The king handed that man over to the prison guards and ordered them to torture him until the debt was paid in full.
- 18:35 That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you don’t sincerely forgive those who are close to you.”10
Matthew phrases the question more generically than Mark or Luke does. Matthew puts the question this way, “So who is the most important in the Kingdom of Heaven?” But Mark and Luke both report that the question came about because the disciples were arguing over which disciple was most important (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46).
Heads up. Not heads off. Jesus would not encourage us to cut our heads off if our heads make us sin. Ditto for hands, feet, and eyes. Bible scholars agree Jesus is using hyperbole. It’s an exaggerated way of talking about self-discipline, and about the strategies we need to use to distance ourselves from temptation. Some people in ancient times as well as modern have taken these words of Jesus literally. They have cut off important body parts. That’s missing the point Jesus is trying to make, scholars say. Temptation doesn’t start with those body parts. It comes from deep within, and has to be dealt with there, long before the body parts get involved.
More literally “life,” referring to eternal life.
Jesus uses the phrase “eternal fire” which he often associates with a word usually translated as “hell.” But the word for hell is literally “Gehenna,” Aramaic for “Valley of Hinnom,” on the south side of Jerusalem. It was, for a time, the constantly smoldering city dump. But in Old Testament times, some Jews sacrificed to idols there. King Manasseh (reigned 696-642 BC), Hezekiah’s son, “sacrificed his own sons in the fire in Hinnom Valley” (2 Chronicles 33:6). Later, in 586 BC, Babylonian invaders arrived from what is now Iraq. They leveled the Jewish cities including Jerusalem and erased the Jewish nation from the world map. Some Jews considered that God’s judgment on their nation’s lingering idolatry. For the Jews, Hinnom Valley became a synonym for God’s judgment, much like 9/11, for Americans, refers to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City. So 9/11 means “terrorist attack” and Gehenna means “God’s judgment.”
Some copies of the Gospel don’t include this verse, which appears in Luke 19:10.
The Greek word is ekklesia, which can mean “community” or “church.” Followers of Jesus did not start meeting in church groups for regular worship services until after the resurrection of Jesus.
Literally, “brother,” sometimes translated as a fellow believer.
The currency was 100 denarii. One silver denarius was a day’s salary for a common worker. This would have been about four months of wages.
Where do you think the disciples got the chutzpah to go to Jesus and ask him which one of them is “most important in the Kingdom of Heaven” (18:1)?
To settle an argument about which disciple was most important—it was Peter by the way, who always gets listed first when the Holy Dozen show up in the Bible—Jesus uses a little child to make his point. What point do you think he was trying to make?
Jesus tells his followers, “If your hand is what makes you sin, cut it off and throw that thing away” (18:8). Then Jesus moves along to other body parts, saying we should cut off the foot that leads us into sin and pull out the offensive eyeball. Throughout history, people have literally done that. They have cut off other important body parts, too. What do you think Jesus was trying to tell his disciples?
In the parable of the lost sheep (18:12-14), Jesus says a shepherd would leave 99 sheep to go looking for one lost sheep. Doesn’t that sound like a bit of a stretch, to risk losing 99 sheep just to look for one lost one?
Jesus says if someone commits a sin against us, hurting us…and they do it “as many as seventy times seven” (18:22), we’re supposed to keep forgiving that person. Is he kidding? Who, but a putz or a doormat, is going to do that?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus offers a four-part strategy for settling disagreements with people close to us, such as fellow church members. Confront them privately. If that doesn’t work, “take one or two others with you” (18:16). If that doesn’t work, bring the matter before the full group, which might mean the board of local church leaders, for example. And if that doesn’t work, break off contact with the person. How would you react to that? Would you add anything to those suggestions?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus tells the story of one man who had a massive debt that he got forgiven. He owed 375 tons of silver. That’s enough to fill a large bedroom, floor to ceiling. But the man sent to prison someone who owed him less than a pound of silver—about the size of a golf ball. What do you think Jesus wants us to get out of that parable?