In Matthew 18, Jesus is coming closer to the cross.  Day by day, He nears the time when He was to offer up His life as a sacrifice on our behalf.  During this time, Jesus was fervently teaching what life should look like for His disciples once He was gone.

The way in which they were to love each other must change in order to show the world there was a difference in them (John 14:15).  They were called to show lives of fruitfulness to prove to be disciples of Christ (John 15:8).  Jesus even raised the amount of how many times the disciples were supposed to forgive one another (Matt. 18:22).

During these last days on earth, He once had someone ask Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  He responded to that question but also included further instruction concerning the role that our example plays in the lives of children.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Listen to what Jesus said in Matt. 18:1-4:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he 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.

It shows us something about Jesus that children wanted to run up to be with him.

It shows something about Jesus that children are often seen in the gospels as comfortable enough to run up and approach Him.  In one case, the disciples attempted to run off parents as they brought their children near Jesus and He rebuked them for their behavior (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus loved children.  He spoke with them, touched them, affirmed them, and blessed them.  Due to Jesus’ love for children, the following passage reveals that He would be speak bold enough in order to protect them.

Read Matt. 18:6-9 and see how serious Jesus takes our examples:

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.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
  1. Keeping in context with the entire passage, what could “the downfall of one of these little ones” actually be (v. 6)?
  2. What did Jesus say He would rather have happen than a child experiencing downfall (v. 6)?  What is He practically saying here?

What Jesus Despises

Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding regarding the severity of this issue.  His words are emphatic.  Whether his words serve as an exaggeration or as a statement of reality, He is clear that He despises when someone causes a child to struggle.  Let’s think practically about what could possibly happen in the life of a child.

  1. What are the challenges for a child who loses a parent to death?
  2. What are the challenges for a child who experiences the moral failure of a parent?

While the pain associated with a child losing a parent is significant, that pain will only last temporarily.  Even if the pain consists throughout one’s life, that life is even temporal.

Jesus despises our decisions and actions that cause children to stumble.

The pain associated with a child losing a parent to moral failure can be eternal.  For a parent to walk away from the Lord shows an example that, if repeated, can lead to pain in this life and misery in the next.  Jesus reminds us that it would be better for us to cause physical harm to ourselves in this life rather than experience eternal torment in hell (v. 8-9).  Our children are going to experience heartache and disappointments, but God forbid they receive those from their parents (v. 7)!

LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is injustice on my hands, if I have done harm to one at peace with me or have plundered my adversary without cause, may an enemy pursue and overtake me; may he trample me to the ground and leave my honor in the dust.  -Ps. 7:3-5

To affirm Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, read the passage above.  David wrote these words at a crossroads in his life.  If God was to find him with sin in his life, it would be better for him to be overtaken and killed than for him to continue on in his rebellious state.  As morbid as it sounds, some children would be better of with a parent no longer on earth than a parent on earth who consistently defies God and disobeys His commandments.

Like Father Like Son

The examples of parents often repeat themselves in the next generation.  Look at some of these biblical examples of “like father, like son:”

  • Abraham & Issac: Abraham lied about his wife, Sarah, twice to save his own life.  He told the Pharaoh of Egypt (Gen. 12:11-13) and the king of Gerar (Gen. 20:2-3) that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife.  His deception opened the door for possible other sins.  Unfortunately, Issac repeated his father’s example by offering his own wife, Rebekah to the king of Gerar (Gen. 26:6-7).
  • David & Solomon: While David was a man after God’s own heart, he made a tragic mistake when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:4).  Eventually, David and Bathsheba had a son named Solomon who “had 700 wives who were princesses and 300 concubines, and they turned his heart away from the LORD” (1 Kings 11:3).  The legend of his father’s immorality was surpassed by the son’s relentless bent towards adultery.
  • Manasseh & Amon: King Manasseh ruled over Judah and did what was evil in the sight of God (2 Chron. 33:2).  While his example of idolatry was extreme, his son, Amon, did just like him (2 Chron. 33:22) and even increased more guilt than his father did (2 Chron. 33:23).

These examples can be discouraging, but there is hope!  While sin can corrupt, grace can heal.  Read Exodus 20:5-6 and see what God can do with someone committed to walking with the LORD.

“You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.” -Ex. 20:5-6

Many fear God punishing them for “sins of the father.”  This passage does not reveal that God makes the next generations pay for the sins of a family member.  It does reveal though that up to four generations might feel the effects of one’s sin if that person hates God.  But if that person repents and shows love, that legacy lasts more than four generations – it lasts up to a thousand generations.

Your walk with God can turn your family’s legacy around.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.