[Matthew 18:10-14] “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
Cherish the Little Ones
Who are the “little ones?” Are they children, literally? Or little ones in the faith? Or, sheep who stray? Or, are the little ones the humble, the lowly? “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” Or, to say it the other way, cherish the little ones. Who are they?
The little ones are, first, literally little ones, children. Matthew chapter eighteen begins with children. The disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replied by calling a child forward, putting that child in the center, and saying, “If you were like this child you would be the greatest.”
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus points to a child and is teaching the adults a lesson. Children know they are the children. We adults have to learn that we are God’s children and not assume the place of grown-ups over and above each other.
Nevertheless, Jesus does speak about His concern for literal children in this passage. With that child still standing there, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me – we receive children in Christ’s name when they are baptized in Christ’s name – and we are to cherish them, not only as our own, but as God’s sons and daughters.
So these next words apply: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin – to stumble – to fall from the faith even – “it would be better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Jesus cherishes the little ones. He does not take it lightly when they are neglected.
Causing our children to stumble – even when they’re older – can be by what we do. Our harshness. Our immoral deeds. Or, our negativity and grumbling. And causing children to stumble in their faith happens – maybe most of all – by what we fail to do.
What must we do? We must raise children in the faith at home – and be their examples in the faith after they are out of the home. We must give them a biblical foundation when they’re young. We must teach them and then be their guides and guide them in God’s commandments.
And we must treat them with the love and patience of Christ. And when they fall, we must actively seek to lift them up in the gentleness of the Lord. We must above all tell them – and keep telling them – of Christ undying love for them and His forgiveness of their sins.
Whether your children are young ones or middle-aged ones, they are God’s little ones entrusted to you. You are called by God to cherish them and not to neglect doing these things.
Nevertheless, our chapter in Matthew goes on and it is clear that “little ones” refers to more than children. It is them but more. You have all kinds of “little ones” to be cherishing.
A little one among you might be that one who is fragile in faith. Maybe they are suffering something hard – going through a divorce or they lost a child or some other difficult thing. Like eggshells, you may crush them more easily than you realize by a careless word or mean look. Or by your silence or absence in their life or at church.
Therefore, take time to be good to others – especially those you may not usually converse with – take time to do so. Check in on the absent. And be careful and aware that others may be hurting even when you can’t see it. Assume there are “little ones” around and therefore make it a point to act and speak with the love and kindness of Christ in every interaction. Give good attention to each other.
A little one may also be one who is little in the faith. New to the faith. Just learning. They need a positive church environment like a plant needs light. They need kindhearted explanation about things they don’t know about. They need to see the best side of God’s people.
There are, in fact, little ones in the faith who may have been in the faith their whole life. They’ve always heard the faith, but, for whatever reason, it is just now clicking – it is just now growing. There are always little ones among us. Just as we are all always children.
Also, there are those little ones in spirit. Humble and lowly by nature. Innocent and quiet. Pleasing to God. They are the first to be bruised and scandalized when God’s people show their worst side. Their angels are always before the face of the Father, and God does repay.
Finally, we come to the section of the chapter I read at the beginning of the sermon. The little ones here are clearly who? Sinners. Those who go astray. Jesus teaches us, cherish these little ones – the ones who have strayed – just as He has cherished them:
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
He is the Shepherd who finds the sheep who has strayed and brings him or her home. To stray is to sin. Elsewhere Jesus says these same words in response to those who grumbled that He was spending time with “sinners and tax-collectors” [Luke 15:3-7]. Immoral and doers of wrong – heaven itself rejoices, Jesus says, when they are returned to God.
To be a Christian who doesn’t like to work with sinners would be like being a doctor’s assistant who doesn’t like working with sick people. You forgot to read the job description. Jesus is a Physician for our guilt, our sins, our inward and outward evils and wrongs – He is a healing hand for us.
He’s the Physician – He’s the Shepherd – you, yes, even you – you are the patient, the sick, the sinner, the one who is straying. He has and is saving you. He calls you to forgive and to be painstakingly patient with your fellow little ones. You are all children to Him.
Jesus – THE Child of God – the Son of God – is the only Righteous One, and He has gone to great lengths to save each of your brothers and sisters in this place. He died for them. And He has died for you. He loves you. He took the millstone for you around His neck and died in your place – suffering the very depths of hell – upon the cross for you.
What He has done for you, He has done for all. God, in His Son Jesus, loves His little ones. He cherishes each of you individually.
The littles ones are those who have sinned. And, lastly, the little ones are those who have sinned against you. In the next part of the Gospel, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you” – and Jesus shows us how we are to cherish – and not despise – those who have sinned against us by our painstaking efforts to win them back.
It’s about serious sin that endangers their soul – so Jesus says, “If your brother listens to you, you have gained your brother.” It can all be summarized in these words, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” [Galatians 6:1].
Children, the young in faith, the fragile and the humble, the straying sheep, and those who have trespassed against you – they are in your care to do them good and cherish them as Christ has and does cherish you. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.