WORSHIP VIDEO LINK (linked after 10:45 AM Service)





Pentecost 15 2023 Proper 18
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 10, 2023
Ezekiel 33:7-9, Romans 13:1-10, Matthew 18:1-20

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            If you are driving along late at night and you see a teenager walking alone on the sidewalk you may think, they shouldn’t be out alone so late at night, something could happen -- but you are not going to stop.  If you are driving along and see a toddler walking alone on a sidewalk even in the middle of the day you are going to stop and figure out what is happening.  You are going to move the child away from the road and call the police and stay with that child until help arrives.  A toddler is utterly helpless and vulnerable; bad things could happen quickly.  This child is a precious treasure and you will make sure the child stays safe. 

            In our Gospel reading this week we find Jesus’ disciples, after His transfiguration, hearing His second passion and resurrection prediction. Matthew 17:22–23 (ESV) 22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And [the disciples] were greatly distressed.”

            Their distress, however, does not last long because soon after this the disciples come to Jesus with what they believe is a very important question. Matthew 18:1 (ESV) 1 … “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

            Well, really, they want to know which one of them is the greatest.  Is it Peter who made the rock-like confession of Jesus’ identity? Is it James who was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?  Is it John, the disciple whom Jesus loves?  Who is the greatest?

            Those thickheaded disciples.  You just want to shake your head at them.  They are right there with Jesus and they get caught up in a comparison game.  Who is better than whom? 

Thank goodness we are not like that.  We just humbly love our neighbors without ever comparing ourselves to others. Well, except all the time.

            Pastors compare themselves to other pastors based on their congregations.  If another pastor has a smaller congregation it must be because they just are not a very good preacher or they are not dedicated enough.  If another pastor has a larger congregation it must be because they are selling out to the culture and just preaching what people’s itching ears want to hear. 

            Sadly, we can all relate to a life of comparison. We play the comparison game at school, at work, at the gym, even with our families.  We compare intelligence, abilities, athleticism, wealth, houses, cars, cell phones, video game systems.  Who is better and who is worse.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Is it me?  Maybe it’s me. Maybe I am the greatest. 

Matthew 18:2–4 (ESV) 2 And calling to him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

            The helpless toddler on the side of the road is the greatest.  Utter helplessness is the mark of being the greatest in the kingdom.  What a crushing blow to your self-esteem.  To be the greatest is to know that you are utterly helpless.  Salvation is not about you, it is about Jesus for you.  Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. ...”  You cannot save yourself.  You need Jesus.  You can do nothing on your own.  To know you are utterly helpless is to strip away any pretense you have of self-righteousness.  Being utterly helpless pops your puffed-up ego that thinks you are good enough, or at least you are better than that other guy.  Being utterly helpless is to admit you are a poor miserable sinner who needs Jesus.   

            The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is utterly helpless.  The one who needs the most care is the greatest.  Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus lifts up the utterly helpless and washes away their sin and gives them forgiveness and eternal life.  The utterly helpless are Jesus’ treasure. 

            It can be a frustrating adventure to have to get treatment at a hospital emergency room.  You may have to wait hours to see a doctor and that is frustrating.  But it is not a good sign if you arrive at the ER and all the doctors and nurses and techs surround you.  If you are the top priority it is because you are in the worst shape.  You get the most care because you are the neediest.

            Our readings today, teach you all, as God’s Church, how to care for the greatest in the kingdom.  How do you, the utterly helpless, care for others who are utterly helpless?

            One thing about being utterly helpless is that it makes you vulnerable.  When you know it is not about you, that you are not in control, it can make you easy prey for false teachings that promise salvation in another way.  There are far too many wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing teaching whatever they can dream up, not caring what happens to the sheep. Jude warns, Jude 8 (ESV) 8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.”  So many who call themselves Christians; so many who call themselves pastors, do not follow the Word of God, instead they follow their dreams.  Stay awake!  Be so familiar with the true Word of God that you can easily spot a fake.  Always be on guard -- child-like faith should not be a childish faith.  Knowing you are utterly helpless and you desperately need Jesus exhorts you to learn as much as you can about Jesus. 

            How are you to live together as a gathering of the utterly helpless?  St. Paul teaches in, Romans 13:9–10 (ESV) 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

            You love one another.  You care for one another as you would care for a toddler walking alone on the side of the road.  The one who is in the most need is the greatest.

            The utterly helpless are utterly helpless, so you protect each other.  You do not lead others into sin.  There is a special place in hell for those who lead people away from God’s truth into sin.  Matthew 18:5–6 (ESV) 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  Jesus cares so much about His utterly helpless followers that He issues this strong, unbending warning. 

On this opening day of Sunday school we remember that preachers and teachers are held to a higher standard.  James 3:1 (ESV) 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  Preachers and teachers have a great responsibility to preach and teach the truth of God and not mix in your own opinions and your own loopholes to God’s law.  You are called to speak the truth in love to one another, warning where God warns, and blessing where God blesses. 

            You love one another.  You care for one another as you would care for a toddler walking alone on the side of the road.  The one who is in the most need is the greatest.

            God calls on you to fight temptation and cut sin out of your own life so you do not infect others.  Cutting away your sinful behaviors can be as painful as cutting off your hand or foot or tearing out your eye.  Cut sin out of your life because, out of love for others, it is that important to make sure you are not a source of temptation. 

            You are warned not to despise one of these little ones. You are to treat each other as the treasures that you are, and care for one another, and protect one another.  If someone wanders away you seek after the stray sheep.  It is too easy to let sheep wander off and be lost.  We lock up the Sunday offerings in the safe, but the true treasures of the church are all of you.  We strive in our meeting together to lock up your hearts with God’s truth.

            This gathering of ours on Sunday morning is a assembly of the utterly helpless who are treasured by God, redeemed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus and who love and care for one another.  Sometimes that care is tough love.  What do you do if you find out that one of your fellow Christians has fallen into ongoing, unrepentant sin?  What if one of God’s pearls of great price is in danger of being led away by the lies of the evil one?  What do you do?  Unfortunately, our tendency is to want to gossip about it with others but Jesus gives a better way because that sinner…that fellow sinner…is utterly helpless and needs to hear the truth spoken in love.  So if someone sins against you go to them directly; just the two of you. If he won’t listen bring one or two witnesses to bring the loving truth that repentance is needed and forgiveness and redemption is available.  When dealing with stubborn sinners, the goal is to protect and preserve them as the greatest in the kingdom of God.  If they won’t listen to the two or three of you, bring it to the church so they can call this person to repentance so they are saved from the evil one.  If they still won’t listen, you have to put them out of the church so that they understand that their sin is serious and has eternal consequences.  You want them to again know that they are utterly helpless and need Jesus.

            The Church is God’s instrument to care for all His little ones who are utterly helpless to save themselves.  Little ones like little_______ and little _____ and little pastor and little vicar and little ______ and _____ and _____. 

            Know you are utterly helpless and treasure Jesus’ gifts to you of forgiveness and eternal life.  Love one another.  Speak the truth in love to protect the utterly helpless little ones; the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Amen.