March 15, Sunday
One day on their way back home to Capernaum, the disciples began arguing with each other over who deserved the top positions in Jesus’ Kingdom. When they got to the house, Jesus asked them what the lively discussion was along the road. Of course, no one wanted to admit what the topic was.
Jesus sat down and invited the others to gather around Him. “I’d like to talk about true greatness,” He said. “Whoever wants to be most important must serve others, making their concerns more important than his own.”
The disciples were confused. “How does that work when it comes to deciding who sits on which throne in the Kingdom of Heaven?” they asked.
So Jesus called over a small child and had him stand where all could see him. “First of all,” Jesus said, “you can’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven unless you change and become humble like a child. In My Kingdom, the least is the greatest. Whenever you extend yourself even to one little child, you are giving yourself to Me and to the One who sent Me. That’s how you become the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
John, wanting to draw a clear line between those who were working for the Kingdom, said, “Teacher, we saw someone who isn’t one of us casting out demons using Your Name. We stopped him because he wasn’t with us.”
But Jesus said to him, “Oh, no, don’t stop someone from using My Name to do miracles. Folks doing that are less likely to turn around and say something nasty about Me. In situations like this, if they’re not against Me, we’ll consider them on our side. Yes, even so simple a gift as a cup of water given in My name will carry with it a reward.”
With the child still in their midst, Jesus went on to warn His disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble into sin will wish he’d been thrown into the middle of the ocean with a stone tied to his neck when he sees what torment is coming to him.
“Offenses will happen in this world but woe to those who instigate them. Just how serious is this matter? “If it’s your hand causing you to sin (violence, stealing, etc.), it would be better for you to cut it off and to go through life one-handed than ending up with two hands in the eternal fire that never ends.
“If it’s your foot that makes you sin (taking you down forbidden paths), cut it off and throw it from you as far as you can. Limp through life if you have to, but don’t end up with both feet, burning in the relentless fires of hell.
“If it’s your eye that leads you into sin (covetousness, lust, etc.), it would be better to pluck it out and throw it away. Would you rather get into God’s Kingdom with one eye or keep both to see the fire of hell from which you can never escape?
“Fire, like salt, either destroys or purifies. Everyone goes through the fire in one way or the other. Purify your lives so that you don’t end up destroyed by fire! Let this affect how you treat one another.
“And be especially careful how you treat these little ones. You may not see much in them, but I tell you they have an angel holding them before the face of My Father in heaven. He sent Me to save little lost ones like this.
“Take a shepherd, for instance, who has a hundred sheep to care for. If even one gets lost, does he not go far and wide to rescue that one? And isn’t he completely thrilled when he finds it? That’s how My Father feels about every one of these poor, lost children.
“In your relationships, when someone wrongs you, don’t harbor resentment. This is where you can help each other like a purifying fire or like salt that still works to preserve and enhance. Go privately to them and explain what they did wrong. If they see it and respond humbly, you’ve won them back. If they don’t, take along a couple of witnesses who can hear both sides. If they won’t listen to them, only then do you take public action and seek the intervention of the group. If they stubbornly refuse to heed the counsel of these many “grains of salt,” cut them loose; don’t go any further.
“As you agree together in these difficult situations, all of heaven will work with you in bringing about restoration. Even when it’s just two or three of you, I’m there as an unseen Witness.”
Peter was starting to comprehend God’s desire for reconciliation and asked, “Lord, how far does this go? Should I be expected to forgive my brother up to seven times over?”
Jesus told him, “No, Peter, not seven times. How about seventy times seven? Let me illustrate: “Once upon a time there was a king who decided it was time to settle up with his workers. Among them was a man who owed him millions of dollars. The man couldn’t come up with a penny; so the king instructed that he, his wife, and his children be sold so that he could recover at least something of the enormous debt.
“The worker, stunned by the harsh reality of this judgment, fell down in front of the king, saying, ‘Master, if you’ll just bear with me a little longer, I’ll pay it all back.’ The king, in an unthinkable act of compassion, forgave the entire debt and set the man free from all obligation to repay.
“On his way home the worker encountered an associate who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed the man by the throat and said, ‘Pay up what you owe me, and I mean right now!’
“The other was distraught and cried out for patience, saying, ‘Give me a little more time and I’ll pay it all back.’ But the one who was demanding payment showed him no mercy, throwing him into debtor’s prison until the debt was repaid.
“The other workers, knowing all that had happened, were so upset they went right to the king to tell him what the man forgiven of his debt had just done to a co-worker.
“The king called the man back to his palace to set him straight. ‘You are a wicked servant! Here I forgave you that huge debt just because you begged me for mercy. How could you come down on this other man for such a trifling amount? You showed no pity, therefore I have no pity on you.’ With that the king had the man sent to the torturers until he found a way to pay back the millions he owed.
“My point is this: unless from the core of your being you truly forgive those who wrong you, My Father in heaven will have to deal with you in this same way. He is serious about grace ruling your relationships!”