James Merritt - Catching Up
Well, I will say good morning. Those were watching online, which are ton of you out there right now, and those who are in our building today. We are certainly glad that you're here and I'm really pumped about the message today. And the reason is because we're in a series that we're calling "Seeing Red," and I've never preached on this topic before, and I've never preached these passages before and I always loved doing brand new things. And God reveals so much, and it begins with a story of a young man that came to see me, I don't know, several months ago, he and his then fiance and they were talking about getting married and they were in love and things were going great.
And they filled out the proper forms. They got along really well. They had a deep physical attraction to each other. They had overlapping interests, they, everything was good, and I didn't know at the time, but there was one thing they couldn't agree on. And so he comes back to me later and says, "Hey, the wedding is off and we're not getting married". And I'm shocked, and I said, well, what happened? She said, well, there's one thing we can't agree on. And I said, what's that? He said, well, whether or not to have children. He said, I want to have children, but she doesn't want to have children. And then he said this, he said, finally, he said, "We got into an argument and she just finally looked at me and said, 'I don't even like children.'"
And I thought to myself, that is so unlike Jesus. When we look at the life and the ministry of Jesus, he had this gaping soft spot for children. In fact, it was the way that children were treated on one occasion that drove his blood pressure through the roof. There was an occasion, there was an event in His ministry that the gospel writers talk about. And it not only shows how much Jesus loved kids, but it also shows what a great eternal lesson we can learn from children. We're going to be in two gospels today, the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Matthew. I'm going to begin in Mark chapter 10. I want you to listen to what happens. "People were bringing little children to Jesus, for Him to place His hands on them". They wanted him to bless them. "But the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant".
That's a very mild word, we'll get back to that in a minute. He was ticked. "He said to them, 'Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and He blessed them". One of the things I've noticed is children, parents who know the Lord and love the Lord, they want God to bless their children. And hey, if you're a parent or a grandparent, if I would ask you today, do you want God's blessing on your children or grandchildren?
You'd say "Absolutely, I want God's favor on them all of their life," it's why parents dedicate their children in churches. Why parents have their babies christened and all these parents wanted, they weren't trying to get in Jesus's way, they just wanted Jesus to put His hands on their kids and bless them. What do the disciples do? They start acting like bouncers in a bar. "Get away, leave Him alone, do you know who this is? Don't bother him". That word indignant, by the way, is a word that means to be full of anger at something that's been done wrong. Jesus was hot, I mean, His cheeks were flushed. He was so upset. In fact, it's one of the few times that Jesus ever got angry with His own team.
You know, most of the time when Jesus got angry, as we've been talking about, it was with the religious people. It was with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He rarely got angry at the disciples. He didn't give her even get angry at the disciples when they ran off and left Him when He needed them the most. But this was one time He let them have it. So why was he so upset? It seems like just a little thing. Here's why: nothing made Jesus angry quite like trying to keep people from coming to Him. Nothing makes Jesus angry quite like trying to keep people from coming to Him. Seeing red, the things that made Jesus angry. And today we're going to look at something that happened that when you first read it, it may seem like a little thing, just trying to keep children from bothering Jesus. It was actually a big thing.
What you're going to find out is, the reason why it was such a big thing was not just because what these little children were physically, but it's what these children represented spiritually. Let me give you a deeper explanation. There was another occasion when the disciples came to Jesus, they always asking Jesus questions. And there was a time when they came to Jesus and they asked a very ambitious question. This is what they said. At that time, we're in Matthew 18. "At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and they asked who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"? It's a good question. I mean the disciples, they believed in the kingdom of heaven. I hope you believe in the kingdom of heaven, I believe in the kingdom of heaven and they were full of such ambition. They wanted to rise to the top. They spent three years with Jesus. They wanted to know who was going to get the A-plus grade.
So they said, hey, by the way, there's no greater success than being the greatest in the kingdom. As a matter of fact, you may remember if you know your Bible, there was another time when two of the disciples pulled Jesus aside, and they said, Hey, can we sit on either side of you when you come into your kingdom? Can I have the left seat? And can he have the right seat? Well, they asked Jesus, so who is the greatest in the kingdom? And they're waiting with bated breath. Everybody's looking at each other. Will it be you? Will it be you? Will it be you? Will it be me? What did Jesus do? Typical Jesus. He does something totally unexpected. Something nobody dreamed about. He said, would you really like for me to answer your question? Well, I'm not going to, in fact, I'm going to bypass your question. And He did this. "He called a little child," probably a little three or four year old, little boy, little girl. "He called a little child to Him and he placed the child among them".
Now if you're one of those disciples, you know what you're doing, you're doing this? What? Excuse me, I don't know what you're doing. I just asked who's the greatest in the kingdom. And they're stunned, I mean, they had asked Jesus a very serious, theological, eschatological question. And what does Jesus do? He takes them to kindergarten. He takes them downstairs to the nursery. And here's what He says to them. "'Truly I'll tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'" He's talking to disciples, 12 disciples, battle-tested, been out in the field, had cast out demons, had healed the sick. They had been with him for three years. They had seen all the miracles that he'd done. They thought they had it all together. They thought they were ready for primetime.
And Jesus says to them, you will never catch up with Me until you catch up with her. You'll never get to Me until you become like him. And one of the reasons why Jesus saw little children so differently than they did and the way adults did is because, I don't know if you've ever thought about this or not, children see Jesus in such a different way than adults do. I was reading the other day about a little three-year-old girl, and she came home from church. She was so excited, her mama then said, "Well, what did you learn in church today"? She said, "Mama, you won't believe this. You know what I learned"? She said, "I learned that if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, if you invite Jesus to come into your heart, He'll come live with you". And Mom said, "you know what"? She said, "that's true. It really is, if you ask Jesus in your heart, He'll come live with you".
Well, the next day, the little girl and her mother, they're sitting on the couch, watching television and without any warning at all, all of a sudden, the little girl leans over and puts her ear to her mother's chest. And the mother said, "What are you doing"? She's says "I'm listening to Jesus in your heart". After a few seconds, the Mom said, "Well, what did you hear"? She said, sounds like he's making coffee to me. Now, you know, we laugh, but that's the kind of childlike faith Jesus said, you've got to have, I've got to have, anybody got to have if they're going to be a part of God's kingdom. So here's the point: if you want to catch up to Jesus, you got to catch up to children.
So the question then becomes, well, how do you do that? What steps do you have to take? Jesus tells us. He said the first thing you've got to do, if you want to get into the kingdom, if you want to come to Jesus, first thing you got to do, you've got to accept the spiritual position of a child. If you're going to come to Jesus, you've got to accept the spiritual position of a child. Now keep in mind the background of this conversation. Here's the question Jesus is answering. Who is the greatest in the kingdom? Who's going to be at the top of the ladder? Who's going to be at the point of the pyramid? Who is going to be the best and the greatest of all? So what Jesus does is, first he makes a statement and then he gives a conclusion. Here's the statement: "'Truly I say to you, unless you change,'" that's big, "'Unless you change and you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"
Now we're keeping in mind, Jesus is talking to adults, full grown adults, not just adults, disciples. They'd been with him for three years. You know they'd grown a great deal spiritually. They have learned so much, they've got so much knowledge. They never had before. They knew more about real spiritual truth than all the rabbis put together, and yet Jesus, it must have shaken them to the core when He said, you need to understand something. Children don't need to become like you. You need to become like them. You see, your problem is that's the only way you want to enter the kingdom of God. You guys are thinking, you guys are so obsessed with who's going to be the greatest in the kingdom. You better make sure you're in the kingdom. Because if you don't come like that child, you will never enter in.
You know, Jesus is so opposite of us. How many times have we, we've all done this as parents. How many times as parents do you get frustrated with your children and you say, you need to grow up. We've all done it, you need to grow up. What are we telling them? You need to become like us. Jesus turns that completely around. He says, in the kingdom of God, if you want to get in, children, you know, children don't need to catch up to you. You need to catch up to them. They don't need to become like you, you need to become like them, so here's the question. What is it about a child that made Jesus say that? What is it about a child that you've got to become like a child if you want to enter into the kingdom of God?
Well, Jesus is referring to one thing that children have. We all know what it is. We even have a work term, it's called child-like trust. It's the reason, why particularly today, more than ever, if you've got children, small children in a store, you can't let them out of your sight, why? Because a stranger can talk them into getting into their car. A stranger can talk them into leaving that store. Why can a stranger talk them into doing that but not us? Because we don't trust like children. We don't have that childlike faith. And that's why exactly what Jesus was referring to. You don't want a child is born, they come into this world trusting. They don't have a choice, they learn pretty quickly.
I don't know who this person is. I don't know who this man is and this woman is, but I'll tell you what, I figured this out. I can believe they're going to feed me. I can believe they're going to clothe me. I can believe they're going to change me. I believe they're going to take care of me. I believe I can run to them whenever I'm in trouble. And that's exactly the kind of childlike faith it takes to get into the kingdom of God, which leads to the next statement, listen to this. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Amazing statement. You want to get big, got to get small. Want to go up, got to go down. You want to become the greatest, you got to become the least, just like a little child.
See, so often we tell kids, you got to catch up to us. No, we need to catch up to them. He turns everything around. So He says to get into the kingdom of God, here's what you got to do. You've got to humble yourself like a child. And he said to do that, you've got to be radically changed. You know why? Because by nature, we're not humble people. You ever noticed humility? Humility is such a hard thing to grasp. I've told you this before, the minute you think you've got it, you just lost it. The minute you tell somebody you're humble, you're not. He says, but you've got to change it. You got to be humble.
Well, how are we born? We're not born humble. How are we born? Selfish, self-centered, self-seeking. From the moment we're born, our ego sits in the driver's seat of our heart. And it takes real humility, it takes humility to admit I'm a sinner, I need a savior. It takes humility to admit I may think I'm a good guy. You may think I'm a good guy. You all may think I'm a good guy, but I got news for you. I'm nowhere near good enough to get to God by myself. I can't do it, you've got to humble yourself to do that. That's why it's impossible to say I've never asked God for forgiveness and be a Christian. That's impossible. That's what you've got to do to become a Christian. You've got to humble yourself to realize I'm as much as center is anybody that's ever lived. And I need God's grace... By the way, that Greek word for taking a lowly position, it literally means to humble yourself?
That did not describe a very positive virtue in the days of Jesus, you need to understand this. Back in that day, you didn't teach your kids humility. You know what the word humility literally meant? It meant to crush, to bring down, to humiliate. In other words, here's what Jesus was saying. If you want to get into the kingdom of God, the first thing you got to do is get over you. If you want to get into the kingdom of God, the first thing you've got to do is to get over you. You got to get over this idea that you're good enough to get into the kingdom of God on your own. You got to get over this idea, I don't need any help from God. You got to get over this idea that salvation is a do-it-yourself project.
You've got to realize that apart from the grace of God, you have no hope of getting into the kingdom of heaven. You can be baptized so many times that the tadpoles know your social security number. You're not going to heaven. You can go to catechism, you can take communion. You can be blessed by the priest. You can be canonized, you can become a Saint. You can do everything, you know, to do religiously and in a ritual way, but on your own, you will never get into God's kingdom. See, you know, what's wrong with too many Christians? And I say this about me sometimes, because I'm guilty of it as well. Too many Christians, listen to what I'm about to tell you. Too many Christians are childish, not childlike. Too many Christians are childish, they're not child-like.
So even though we're Christians, what do we do? We don't get our way, we gripe. We don't like the music, we complain. We were confronted with something we don't like, we pout. We think we're the most important people in the world. Jesus said, don't be childish, be childlike. You're to have that innocent trust and just believe, you know, in spite of anything I hear on the outside or see what's going on on the outside, I believe there's a God that loves me and God that cares for me and a God that will give me the grace and the mercy I need if I just put my faith in Him. So the first step to getting into the kingdom of God, you got to accept the spiritual position of a child. But Jesus doesn't stop, He's on a roll. He said, "Then you must applaud the spiritual decision of a child".
You need to applaud the spiritual decision of a child. You have no idea where I'm going so I want you to listen. Because this is really going to get close to home. He's on a roll, and He's talking about little children, not just spiritually, he's talking about being physically, being children spiritually. So here's what he says, watch this. "And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me". Let me just stop right there and say something else about Jesus. You got to understand how counter-cultural this was back in that day, for Jesus to use a little child as an example for anything good. I mean, that was a shock, because in Greco-Roman culture, children were treated as non persons.
Do you know who the most valuable person was in Greek Roman culture? You're looking at him. The most valuable person was a free born adult male, not female ladies, sorry. The top of the totem pole was a free born adult male. He had the most value. Then you started going down the ladder. Children, slaves and women. They were all at the bottom of the list, all of them, children, slaves, women, all at the bottom of the list. Abortion was widely practiced. Unwanted children were abandoned and left to die. It was a normal thing to physically abuse kids. And by the way, in Rome, in Rome, if you were a dad, you had the legal right to kill a child at any point in that child's life for any reason whatsoever. That's how little children were valued.
And then Jesus comes along. He says, you want to talk about greatness? You want to talk about being somebody? You want to talk about connecting with God? You want to talk about getting into the kingdom? He goes to the very bottom of the social order and he takes children and he moves them to the very top. What Jesus did in that moment, you need to get this. He just took children off of the trash heap of life and He just put them in a trophy case. Nobody in history before had ever set up children as the model for adults, and by the way, the love that Jesus showed for children, guess what? It was passed on to the early church. And it grew so strong that the church was able to persuade parents to give up their babies to the church instead of leaving them to die, which by the way, led to the very first orphanages that were ever built. It all came because of Jesus's love for children.
But now remember, who do these children represent? They represent people who have entered the kingdom of God. People who realize I'm sinful, I need a savior, Jesus is that savior, He died on the cross. He paid for my sins, He came back from the grave and they placed their faith and trust in Him. And what Jesus was saying was, when you become like that little child with that faith and you come into the kingdom of God, when anybody does that, now He's talking to the disciples. He said, look, not only should you welcome little children, physically, but even more importantly, when anybody humbles themselves and realizes I'm a sinner, I need a savior, I'll never be good enough for you. I have no hope apart from your grace and your mercy. And I give my life to you, He said, at the moment somebody makes that decision. He said, you ought to welcome them. And when you welcome them, it's just like welcoming me.
By the way, you know what that word welcome means? In the Greek, it's a strong word. It literally means to throw out the red carpet. It needs to receive enthusiastically. You know, as I was reading about this and thinking about this, one of the things, and I love kids by the way, but one of the things about children that's just so cool to me, children never lose the wonder. They never lose the wonder. You know, it doesn't take a lot to amaze a child. It doesn't take a lot to bring a smile to a child's face. They get amazed at the smallest things. They laugh at the simplest things.
That's why, and I know you know this, and I know what makes it harder, but let me just tell you, this is Dr. Merritt's commandment, this is the pastor's commandment. Don't you ever go to Disney World and not take a child with you. Shame on you if you do that. Don't ever go to Disney World and not take a child with you. You know why? You can't even put into words the joy of seeing little children's eyes open wide. They talk incessantly, they laugh. They have the time of their life.
Now I've done this before, so I know what I'm talking about. If you take kids to Disney World for a week, when it's time to leave, if you're an adult, here's how you know you're an adult. You're ready to go, but they're not. They don't want to leave. They wish they never had to leave. And on the trip back, what are you thinking about, us adults? We're thinking about how tired we are, how much money we spent, how much it costs, how much our feet hurt, how much work we've got to do when we get back. But you know what those kids are talking about? Mickey, Minnie, magic castle, the princesses, the parades, the food, the fireworks. And now you say okay.
What's the point? Here's my point. You know what's wrong with a lot of us who are believers? I've been a believer for over 50 years. Here's what's wrong with the average Christian. The average Christian and the average church got saved, but they got over it. A lot of you got over it. That's why a lot of you coming to church is not a joy, it's a chore. For some of you coming to church, you're just checking off the box. Some of you came, and I'm not fussing, I'm being honest. You came because you feel guilty if you don't come. There's not the excitement, there's not the enthusiasm. There's not the anticipation. We got saved, but somewhere we got over it. And because we got over it, we don't think it's a big deal. when somebody gets saved. We just don't think it's a big deal when somebody comes into God's kingdom, that you know, we just don't.
So here's my point. This is why at the end of every service we, not every church does this, but at the end of every service, we invite people to literally become like children and come to Jesus, we do it every service. We invite people to come like children and come to Jesus, and that's why, you listening? You never leave during that time. Hello? You never leave during, that's not the time, I'd rather you leave in the middle of my sermon. I'd rather you get up and leave right now. If you're in such a hurry, there's the door. I'd rather you leave then than to leave at that very time when we're asking people to become like children, because whenever anyone with childlike faith comes and they go from death to life and from darkness to light, from lost to found, from lost to being saved, from being on the outside looking in to the inside looking out, we ought to applaud.
We ought to celebrate, we ought to be full of joy. We ought to realize we're welcoming you because we're also welcoming Jesus. We ought to never get over the wonder of people being saved, ever. So what do you do to become like a child? Jesus said you've got to accept the spiritual position of a child. You need to applaud the spiritual decision of a child. But Jesus is really into it now. You talk about how valuable a little kids are, now He drops the hammer. He says, "You better avoid the spiritual confusion of a child".
Now I want you to pay attention, listen closely. With all that as a backdrop, you can now understand why Jesus, of all the things he ever said. He makes one of the most frightening, hair-raising, chill bump moving, bone chilling statements of His entire ministry. Now listen to what he said. And he doesn't mince words. "'If anyone causes one of these little ones, those who believe in me, to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble. Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come.'"
I don't know how many times I've read the gospels, hundreds. I don't know how many times I've read the words, every word that Jesus said, but Jesus never in His entire ministry gave a plainer more powerful warning than this one. He's talking about believers and people who want to become believers. And He is warning those who either by false teaching, and there's a lot of it out there or intentional temptation, they either keep people from Jesus or they try to lead people away from Jesus. That word, 'to cause to stumble,' it's an interesting Greek word. Listen to the word, it's the word skandalizo. What word do you think we give from that word? Scandal. Scandal. He said it is a scandal of the highest order for a false teacher, a false prophet or someone by the way, they're living or not living to do anything that would either cause the spiritual believer confusion or to cause that spiritual believer to stray from Jesus or to keep a lost person from coming to Jesus. It literally means to put a snare in someone's way, to trip them up, to cause them to fall, to lead astray.
And remember, we're not dealing with just the physical welfare of a child. We're dealing with a spiritual soul of everyone. This is a hot button issue for Jesus. So I'm not trying to self myself up here as a Paragon of virtue in what I'm about to tell you, but I'm going to tell you this plainly. Whether you are a preacher or a professor or a priest or a lay Christian, I'm going to give you my word on something. I don't know how my ministry is going to end, I don't even know my life's going to end, but I will tell you one thing I am never going to do. And you better not either. I will never do anything, I will never be a part of anything, I won't even be a party to anything that would cause people to deny the Son of God. I won't do it. To doubt the word of God, I'll not do it. To disobey by the will of God, I won't do it. To disregard the spirit of God, I will not do it.
Jesus said before you do anything that might lead another Christian into sin or to lead a potential believer away from God, you would be better off dead. So that's why we'll tell the truth about marriage. And we will tell the truth about homosexuality and adultery and fornication and gossip. That's why we don't miss words, because Jesus didn't. I'd rather be called cruel for being kind than to be called kind for being cruel and Jesus didn't mince words. He didn't back up, let up, put up or shut up. That's why he goes on to say this, He tightens the screws. "'If your hand or foot causing you to stumble, cut it off, throw it away. It's better if you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.'"
That's strong stuff. I don't say you going "That's Jesus"? Yeah, that's Jesus. What did He mean? He said, if you do anything with your hands, if you go anywhere with your feet, if you see anything with your eyes, they either causes you to miss God, or causes others to miss God, you better cut them off. You better gouge them out. Not literally, but spiritually and figuratively.
I remember went to college, a very liberal school filled with false professors. I went to a very liberal seminary, thank God it's not anymore, with false professors. There was a guy that I went to school with, his name was Richard, Stetson University. He went to, his name was Richard. He was a year ahead of me. Richard was, I'd never met anybody more devout in my life than Richard. He was going into the ministry. He was so devout, he would set his alarm. He'd get up at 4:30 in the morning and he would pray by candle light. I mean really. He was so spiritually mature, his senior year, he became the pastor of the church I attended as a student. He leaves and he goes to the seminary that I went to, that I attended. I walked over to the BCM one day my senior year, Dick was always, Richard was always clean cut, you know, no facial hair, just a clean cut. Always just always prim and proper.
And I remember walking up on the front porch, there was a guy sitting on the front porch. He had red hair, it was down to here, had a long flowing beard, he was dressed shabbily and I just said, hello and he stopped. He said, "You going speak to me". And I turned and I said, "I'm sorry, what is your name"? He said, "It's Richard". And I looked and I said, "Richard, what has happened to you"? And he'd gone to that seminary, and some of those ungodly false professors who didn't even believe in the resurrection of Jesus teaching at our seminary totally destroyed his faith.
I don't know where some of them are today. If they're listening, God help you, shame on you for what you did, shame on you, shame for any false prophet, any false preacher that would do anything to lead anybody away from Jesus, to lead anybody to doubt the word of God, to lead anybody to deny the son of God, to lead anybody to disobey the truth of God. So I want to close with this story, real life story. It'll break your heart, but it's a modern day illustration of what I'm talking about and we'll be done.
There was an article in the New York Times Magazine by a lady named Dana Tierney. She tells the story of how her and her husband John, who was a writer for the New York Times rejected their childhood faith. They evidently went to church, grew up in Georgia, but they walked away, they rejected their faith. They had a little boy named Luke.
Now they baptized Luke as a little boy, but they did that just to placate their families. It didn't mean anything to them at all. And when her husband went to Iraq and was an embedded reporter, Dana was worried, but she was surprised at how calm Luke, four years old, she was surprised how calm Luke was. He didn't seem to be worried about his dad at all. Well, she thought he just didn't realize really what was going on, until one day she's watching TV, they're watching TV together and they see this soldier getting married, he had just returned from Iraq. Well thinking she had really forgotten that his dad was even in Iraq, that he had, she's figured it'd be okay if they watch this wedding together.
So she and that four-year-old were watching the wedding. And so the soldier begins to describe how he had returned from Iraq, he was getting married, but he had to go back to Iraq and he didn't want to go back. Dana said she saw something then out of the corner of her eye, and she said it made her freeze. That little four-year-old boy had put his hands together and had his head bowed as if he was going to pray.
Well, when she asked Luke about it, he at first denied it, but then he confessed that he was praying for that soldier. Dana said she was stunned. Not only by the faith of a little boy, but how that faith allowed him to be so calm, and how her lack of faith caused her to be so fearful. She said she was also so embarrassed that her four-year-old son somehow had figured out that praying for her dad was just inappropriate, that praying for his dad was just not something you were supposed to do in their house. Get that in your mind.
When Dana asked Luke when he first began to believe in God, here's what that little four year old boys said: "I don't know, I've just always known in my heart He was there". She concluded by simply saying that when she watches her religious friends, she notices how they have hope and faith and trust, but she just doesn't get the message. And I read that article and I read that story while working on this message. And I put that my put everything down and my heart was just shattered. And I thought to myself, I wonder whatever happened to Luke. I wonder where Luke is today? And I can only pray that so many around the world, just like Dana and her husband, will one day catch up to Luke. Let's pray together.