As one reads the Gospel stories, it becomes apparent that Jesus is very interested in people. He welcomes and cares about all kinds of people, and He makes time for all types – religious and irreligious, rich and poor, healthy and sick, old and young (even the very young). Today’s story tells us about Jesus and little children. The story gives us a heartwarming word picture of an approachable Jesus who cares about kids.
Parents were bringing their children – even babies – to Jesus, according to our text. They wanted their children to be blessed by this celebrity rabbi who had gained notoriety for being a wonderful teacher and miracle worker. However, the disciples rebuked those parents.
Jesus doesn’t have time for that.
It’s a waste of His time and energy.
He has a tight schedule!
Their attitude was children were not important!
Children in that society, of course, were valued and loved by their parents, but they were to be seen and not heard. Jesus used this scene for a teachable moment. He called those parents with the kids to Himself, perhaps motioning them to come near. Then He corrected His disciples with these words: “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.”
In Mark’s version of this episode, we are given a touching description of Jesus taking children in His arms and laying His hands upon them to bless them. I’ve seen some wonderful pictures by artists of this scene. Maybe you have too. It’s a heartwarming picture of Jesus playing with the children.
This story teaches us a few lessons about Jesus’ relationship with kids and the kingdom.
First, we learn Jesus wants children to be brought to Him. “For to such belong the kingdom.” They are important and precious in His sight. As the song says,
♬Jesus loves little children,
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”♪
What is this “kingdom of God” Jesus talks about? It’s not a geographical place at all. And it’s not limited to heaven. When Jesus talks about the kingdom, He is talking about life with Him under His care, with His rule in our lives. He is our King. A personal relationship with God begins now and continues into eternity. Jesus wants children to have that too. I’m not here just for adults who believe they have everything figured out. I want the kids to know me and trust me. This, my friends, is very good news.
And while it is good news, it is also a calling for us to take seriously. As a grandparent, one of my daily petitions is for my children to bring their children to Jesus so they will come to know Him and trust Him. I was thrilled when they brought their kids to the baptismal font to be adopted into the kingdom, but now the work of raising them in their baptismal covenant must be carried out. They must be brought to worship, Sunday school, and children’s programming. They must be read to from a beginners’ Bible and taught to pray. Someone needs to model what it means to follow Jesus. I am so thrilled my children are teaching them about Jesus!
Julie and I believe our calling as grandparents is to support and pray for them as well as teach and model what it means to follow Jesus. It is important and obedient to bring our grandchildren, whom we love so very much, to Jesus.
In my church, we emphasized and invested heavily in children and youth programming. We recognized how important those beginning years are to establish a firm foundation in those kids’ lives. Most of them made their decision about Jesus before they graduate from high school. Hundreds, even thousands of kids, have met Christ Jesus over the years at church. It takes a committed congregation, as well as committed parents, to raise a child to faithfully follow and trust Jesus.
Jesus warns us: “Do not hinder them.” Children can be hindered in so many ways.
• Hypocrisy. If you are skipping church more than you are going, you are communicating the message that worship is not as important as other things, and you don’t walk the talk. Your kids observe you all the time. You are hindering them in their walk with Christ.
• Lies (even little lies). Children soon learn that integrity isn’t really important for the disciple of Jesus. You are hindering them.
• Prejudice. When you speak hatefully of other races, your hypocrisy is teaching them that the love of neighbors is conditional upon the color of their skin. You are hindering them in loving like Jesus.
• Selfishness. You are hindering them in loving like Jesus if you look out for yourself first and not serve others in Christ’s name. If you keep your possessions held tightly to yourself and not act with generosity, you are hindering them in following the servant King, Jesus Christ who gave His all for us. Your hypocrisy will hinder them.
• Spiritual Ignorance. The attitude to let them figure this thing out for themselves is deadly. When we don’t talk about Jesus and what He has done for them at the cross by dying for their sins to pay for their salvation and their forgiveness, we hinder them.
• Marginalization. When we do not value and love them as Jesus does. When we don’t make time for them but treat them as extras in the picture of life, we hinder them.
• Prayer Neglect. Christian parents and grandparents are called to evangelism in our homes. We need to pray for their souls. Our children, no matter how young, are sinners. They need a Savior, Jesus Christ. Don’t hinder them.
While Jesus calls the children to Him in our text, the primary point He makes is with adults. In His last statement, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you . . .” (When He says truly, it means He is about to share something important.)
“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Receiving the kingdom of God like a child does not mean to go back and be a little kid again. Instead, we are to be childlike in our attitude.
In John chapter three, Jesus tells Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher, that he must be born again. Another way to say it is, born from above to enter the kingdom. Nicodemus asks, Hey wait a minute! Does that mean I have to enter my mother’s womb again? That is impossible! But that is not what He is saying at all. So what does Jesus mean when He says we have to receive His saving gift of God’s kingdom like a child?
1. We come empty-handed. Infants come empty-handed, bringing nothing into this world. So must we as we approach our Savior.
2. We declare our neediness and our dependence upon God’s grace. Kids come dependent upon their parents to provide for them, to care for them. This is how we approach Jesus’ kingdom.
3. We come trusting. Children are trusting. They learn along the way that they can turn to mom and dad and rest securely with them.
I was recently at a Bible camp teaching an Elderversity. We were studying Psalm 131, which gives us a picture of what it means to quietly trust God. The psalmist writes,
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great, too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”
This is a beautiful picture of what it means to trust. The weaned child – not the suckling child who mindlessly, instinctively comes to mother (Christ) for milk. This child has learned the mother’s love by resting securely in her arms. This is what God wants for you – to rest securely in Him.
4. Finally, we receive God’s kingdom not only empty-handed, dependent, and trusting, but with humility. Jesus had just finished telling a parable to the religious elite and His disciples about a Pharisee and a tax collector who approached God in the temple – one with pride and the other with humility (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus said it was the tax collector who walked away justified – the one who approached with humility, asking for mercy.
Jesus then summarized this parable by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He is talking about coming to Him in humbleness, like children. Children are symbols of littleness and neediness. Only empty hands can be filled. We receive God’s kingdom and His promises humbly, empty-handed, trusting, knowing we don’t deserve His mercy by any means. It is all by God’s grace. We don’t have a leg to stand on to be in His kingdom. It is grace.
The big idea in this text is the kingdom of God is for kids only. As Jesus loves children and wants them as members of His church, so should we. We should be baptizing them, praying for them, investing in them, and doing whatever we can for them to meet and trust the Savior of the world for their salvation and receive the abundant life Jesus wants to give them.
We should be rejoicing when they’re in worship, even when they are noisy and disruptive. After all, someone is bringing their kids to church. It’s important. They are living out their promise made at the baptismal font. Let’s not gripe about it, but rejoice in it. These kids are precious and important in God’s sight just as much as you are.
David Stone shared this poem about kids, and I want to share it with you. It’s entitled, “The Trouble With Old Clay.”
I took a piece of plastic clay
and idly fashioned it one day.
And as my fingers pressed it still,
it moved and yielded to my will.
I came again when the days were passed,
the bit of clay was hard at last.
The form I gave it still it bore,
but I could change that form no more.
I took a piece of living clay,
And gently formed it day by day.
And molded with my power and art,
a young child’s soft and yielding heart.
I came again when the days were gone,
it was a man I looked upon.
He still that early impress wore
but I could change that form no more.
We can only enter the kingdom of heaven like a child, my friend, with childlike trust and dependence upon Jesus. Are you a kid of the kingdom? You can be, for Jesus is calling you to come like a child, trusting in His promises that He has given His life for you. He died and paid for your sins at the cross, and you can receive a new eternal life. Put aside your pride that says you can make life work right without Him. Approach Him humbly like a child – empty-handed, ready to receive what He wants to give you – salvation.
Of course, in your relationship with Him, you will want to explore and learn all you can about Jesus. But never leave behind the simple basics.
Karl Barth was an important theologian of the 20th century. In 1962, he was asked in an interview how he would summarize the millions of theological words he had published. “With a song, I learned at my mother’s knee,” he replied. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me.”
Let’s end this message today by singing that beautiful children’s song of faith together. ♬Jesus loves me, this I know . . .
Pastor Steve Kramer