First, a clarification on the text. The word “turn” near the beginning of the text means to be converted, that is, to repent. This is a gift of God, not a human work. It is a passive thing that is done to us by the Holy Spirit’s power. Those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven do not convert themselves, but they are converted by God. He does not wait for us to repent by our own powers, but instead gives us repentance.
It is important to make this clarification because it links up with the other things He says in the same verse: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We too easily hear this text and then begin to think of the qualities of a child that we need to mimic in order to get the Kingdom. But this puts the shoe on the wrong foot. The point is not that children are full of virtues for us to copy. What is important in little children is that they are weak and vulnerable. They are not mighty ones who conquer. They are not self-sufficient. They must be cared for by others. So we as sinners must be taken care of by our heavenly Father.
In other words, we are saved by grace through faith on account of Christ, not through our own works or qualities or virtues.
So we also look at the other weak and vulnerable ones around us. We must not despise them, but accept them as Christ and His Father have accepted them. We must remember that they are not in the Kingdom because of their great strength or wisdom. No, they (like we) are in God’s Church simply by grace. So they (like we) are vulnerable because of our childlike weakness.
So be very careful to never, ever create a stumbling block that may harm another of these little ones. The Father takes the well-being of His children very seriously.
Again, a clarification: When we say, “stumbling block,” we are not talking about casual or accidental offense. We need not be paranoid here, as if we must never do anything that could possibly be interpreted by anyone as sinful. We need not tiptoe on eggshells to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, as if souls will be lost by an accidental word. Instead, Christ is here talking about setting a trap for weak souls by leading them into false teaching.
Presumably, those who teach falsely are not knowingly setting traps to destroy souls. We may assume that they do not know that they are following false doctrine, nor leading others to do the same. Yet ignorance of the truth does not excuse the weighty guilt that falls upon false teachers. They are leading the tender, weak children into destruction. What could be more cruel? Yet they do not know how cruel their teachings are.
God will not ignore this great offense. As much as He cares that our nation has destroyed millions of helpless babies in the womb, so He will not turn a blind eye upon the destruction of millions of souls through false teaching.
As a weak child, make sure that you are not led away by dangerous men. Be ready to cut off the “weak members” that would lead you astray, no matter how indispensable they seem to you. Someone may seem as indispensable to you as your own eye or hand or foot, yet they are exposing or subjecting you to false teaching. Do not tolerate their influence, but cut them out of your life.
This does not mean that you necessarily must lose them as a friend, for example. But if that is the only way to avoid hearing their false doctrine in your ears, then that is what must be.
This is because you are not a mighty, wise paragon of virtue who can resist all temptations of false teaching. No, you are a little child, as we all are, and must be until the next life.
Avoid people or situations if they are trying to lead you into sin or false belief. Do you think that you are better than Joseph, who did not sit still to listen to temptation, but fled for his life? Let him be our example.
But too often we have thought that we are immune to any lure. Too often we have thought that we can stand against the devil with all his might and cunning. Too often we have not controlled ourselves in eye and hand and foot. We should be horrified by sin and false teaching, and avoid them at all costs.
On the other hand, we also have been too quick sometimes to speak what we feel is truth, when that is all it is: our feeling. “I don’t think God would ever ...” and then we say what our heart imagines, instead of what the Scripture says. In this way, we may lead someone astray. It seems like such a little thing. But be seriously warned! A multi-ton millstone dragging us down to drown in the sea is preferable to the fate of one who not only believes false doctrine, but also teaches others to follow the same. Test yourself in what you believe. Guard your mouth that you do not speak with certainty something that you cannot prove from Scripture. Better to be uncertain and keep silent than to open your mouth and speak falsehood.
Remember, both your soul and that of those who listen to you may be harmed. For we are all little children: foolish and weak.
The upside of this is that we are little children whom the Father loves and protects and sends angels to watch us. He knows that we have great dangers all around and even within our own hearts. So He will guard us against our own foolishness by sending His Word. He will never be negligent, as if He might get too busy and distracted to defend our weak, tender souls.
We know how deep His care for us is because He sent His Son into the world to save the lost. That’s us! We are by nature the ruined, the destroyed, the dead. Our sinful foolishness led us away from God to paths of utter destruction. Like helpless children, we could not find our way back to Him.
But the Son of Man has found us by becoming the Lost One in our place on the Cross. He became the Forsaken One. The guardian angels were commanded to not rescue Him, and the Father turned His face away – so that He would never do such things with us. We will never be forsaken, and His angels will never fail to watch over us, and He will always shine His face upon us. All this because Christ let Himself be lost on the Cross.
As weak children, we do not trust in our ability to cleanse, purify, and protect ourselves. We trust in the Son of Man who came into the world for us, and the Father whose love never fails. This Triune God alone is the help for us little children.
In His Name and to His glory alone. Amen.
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