August 19, 2020 – Wednesday
Matthew 18:6 NIV
6 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those 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.
Matthew 18:6 ESV
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
As you read this verse it is easy to look at the punishment described and think it is simply a form of great hyperbole. After all it is difficult to imagine putting a large millstone around someone’s neck and drowning them in the depths of the sea. Plus, Jesus is clearly making the point the actual punishment would be worse, much worse than the one mentioned.
However, it turns out such a punishment did exist and while, according to Ellicott’s Commentary, the punishment was not recognized in Jewish law, it was in occasional use among the Greeks and had been inflicted by Augustus in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that it was practiced in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrection headed by Judas of Galilee. Thus, Jesus was not using hyperbole at all, especially as He was in Galilee where such punishment had been practiced. dditionally, while there were other forms of death much crueler (such as crucifixion) its chief horror, for Jews and Gentiles alike was that it denied the dead of any burial rites.
Now for a bit of context, just prior to this, the disciples had asked Jesus in verse one of this chapter Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? But that was not the real question. The real question was which one of us will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? They were hoping and expecting an answer that would detail all the wonderful positions they would have in the kingdom of heaven.
His answer must have shocked them for He called a little child over, placed the child in the midst of them and said 3Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me. Of course, the lowly position of a child is that of a person with no rights. So, to take such a position is to truly humble oneself and to do so like a child knowing you really have no rights. This is the reality of taking an inferior position, just as Jesus did to become a man in the flesh and then to die on the cross.
Now we come to our verse of the day where Jesus states in no uncertain terms, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those 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. And He is not speaking only of children, but even more so of believers, those who believe in me, those who have come to Him with the humility and humbleness of a child. Jesus then adds in the very next verse, Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! Could He be any clearer? You do not want to be the one who in any way causes a believer to stumble.
Recall, that believing (pisteuo) comes as a result of faith (pistis). Causing one who believes to stumble is to damage or question their faith. To do so would be akin to stealing one of Jesus’ flock. In the American West that would be rustling which often resulted in a death sentence, hanging. Those who seek to drive a wedge between Jesus and members of His flock – and there are people who seek to do just that – put their eternal souls at great risk.
We have our own responsibility as well. Jesus and others in the New Testament as well as in the Old Testament (especially Proverbs) provide great advice on how to avoid falling into sin and those who would entice us into sin. Paul in Galatians 5:6b gives some of the best when he said, The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Daily question, How am I expressing my faith today? You?