Good morning and welcome to worship! We’ve got some incredibly important things to discuss this morning. Last week our nation dealt with fires, hurricanes, and the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This week its school shootings and bomb threats.
I can’t think of a better way to respond to all this than the first day of Sunday School! We live in a dangerous world and Satan is a dangerous foe. Don’t underestimate him. Jesus warned us that trouble is coming our way, it’s already here. If our children are to survive, we must teach them what the Bible says about truth, hope, forgiveness and God’s unfailing love.
We must prepare our children so they are ready when these storms of evil sweep over them. We need to be able to discern truth from lie, light from darkness, good from evil. We must know what we believe and why we believe it before the storm arrives. That only happens as we get into God’s Word and God’s Word gets into us. To neglect the Lord or put him off is no different than ignoring the warnings that the hurricane is coming!
In our Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Mt 18:1 They should have asked, “What should I do to be ready when the Kingdom of Heaven comes?”
Their question reveals that Satan’s heresy is already upon them. They are focused on themselves. Some of us have asked Jesus the same kind of question. Instead of praying “Lord, how do I train my child so when the storms of temptation and adversity come, they will be able to stand?” We’ve prayed “Lord, help my child be happy and successful, have good self-esteem, and make the varsity team.” When the hurricane comes ashore none of these things will matter.
Let’s see how Jesus responds. “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Mt 18:2-5
What is it about a little child? Well, one thing a child doesn’t have the ability to discern truth from lie, right from wrong. Someone must love them enough to teach them. If we are to survive the lies of Satan and the storms of life, we must put Jesus first or we won’t be ready.
Some people say, “I already know all that God stuff. We’re busy! There’s just not enough time.” They are right about that! They neglect Jesus’ warning until it’s too late and when the storm takes them by surprise, they and their children are swept away because they weren’t ready.
The Apostle Paul wrote,“They are like infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Eph 4:14
A hurricane is coming. Every day the lies of Satan and the culture slam your heart and home and its getting worse. Are you ready or are you putting it off? Did you know you can come to worship every Sunday and never learn a thing? If you feel that’s happening, the problem might be with you, not the pastor. If you aren’t hungry to grow, if you aren’t open to the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t matter how good the preacher or the program is, you won’t learn a thing because your heart isn’t open. And you won’t be ready when the storm comes.
But if you are open to God, the Holy Spirit will teach you no matter how “boring” the preacher may be. Where are you at this morning? Are you willing to prepare your mind, heart, spirit, children for the storms of heresy, temptation, adversity that are surely coming?
Jesus warned his disciples “If anyone causes one of these little ones 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.” Mt 18:6
These are sobering words! Jesus isn’t just warning those outside the church who are working to deceive our kids, he’s warning us right here in the church who are modeling for our kids that we are too busy to prioritize the things of God or be ready for the battle.
David Baker, our youth director and Kari McCrady, our Christian education director are fighting the most difficult spiritual battle in the church today. We need your help. We need your prayers, partnership and encouragement if we are going to be successful in our ministry to kids. If we don’t get our kids ready to deal with the lies and deceptions coming their way, the Lord is going to hold us accountable – and that includes all of us!
I learned long ago that we will never lead someone else were we refuse to go ourselves. That’s especially true of our kids. If we want our kids to follow Jesus, obey him, love him, we must demonstrate for them what it means to follow him, obey him, love him. Unless we make growing faith our priority, our kids will not be ready when the day of testing come.
Let’s turn to Acts 15. A storm, a day of testing has come to the church in Antioch. Things were going so well. The church was growing; the fellowship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians was so miraculous. Who would believe a storm was coming? But it was. One day these guys from Judea showed up in church.
They told the baby Gentile Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses you cannot be saved.” This was a bald-faced lie. Scripture doesn’t say that anywhere!
But these young believers didn’t have the spiritual maturity to discern it or` reject it. These men were denying that we aren’t saved by grace through faith in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for us. They were teaching that we must earn our salvation by our own religious works, our own sacrifice, our own spiritual achievements.
When Paul and Barnabas heard what these guys were teaching, they sprang into action. They realize the threat to the children, the unity of the church, to people’s eternal destiny, to the truth of the Gospel! Now it gets interesting. Remember, these early Christians have no NT. All they have is the OT and the apostles back in Jerusalem. So they send Paul and Barnabas and some of the other believers to Jerusalem for the first church council meeting.
Along the way they stop and talk with other churches and believers. Everywhere they go people are excited about the way the HS is being poured out on the Gentiles. It was the fulfillment of OT prophesies all the way back to Abraham. God was using these Jewish Christians to bring the world back to himself just like he promised 2000 years before.
But the battle isn’t over. At the council meeting in Jerusalem “…some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” So the apostles and elders met to consider this question.” Acts 15:5-6
Now don’t fall asleep, this is important! The issue is “How are we saved.” Are we saved by being good? Are we saved by being religious? Are we saved by the grace of God received as a gift through faith in Jesus and his blood shed on the cross for us? The only way to keep this straight is to get into the Bible and that’s not just for ourselves, it’s for our kids!
The Bible says circumcision was never a requirement for salvation. It was a sign, a reminder, like wedding ring, of God’s covenant promise to be our God. Paul tells us that baptism is the same kind of sign. It’s not a requirement for salvation, but a sign that we belong to God. We have died to our old way of life. We’ve been buried and raised to new life in Christ. But how can you know this unless someone teaches you this from the Bible?
At this point in the meeting, the whole assembly became silent in astonishment as Paul and Barnabas shared what God was doing among the Gentiles. It was like all the promises of the OT suddenly became alive right there in their midst. Which is exactly what happened!
Then it was James’ turn to share. James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. “Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.” Remember Abraham was a Gentile not a Jew. So God called the Jewish nation out of the Gentiles. Now again, under the cross of Jesus, the Lord is making one people for himself out of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Who are these people? They are sinners, all sinners, all loved by God, all saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
There’s an interesting sub-point in this story. Not only are the Jews to accept the Gentiles without requiring them to be circumcised, but James asks something of the Gentiles as well. In verse 19 James tells the Gentiles to abstain from “food polluted by idols, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.”
Not because what you eat is a requirement for salvation, but listen up – for the sake of enhancing the fellowship in the church at Antioch! He’s telling these new Gentile Christians. “I want you to love and respect your Jewish brothers and sisters enough to eat your bacon and sausage at home. Don’t set it in front of your Jewish brothers and sisters at the next church potluck.”
Let’s get back to the main point. Our nation, our families, our kids are in a battle, a life and death struggle against the lies and deceptions of Satan. This storm isn’t going away. We better be ready. We better get our kids ready or they will be swept away. I’d ask you to reconsider your priorities. If our adults aren’t growing in their faith, our kids won’t be growing either. And if our kids aren’t growing, they won’t stand when the storm sweeps over them.