Little Children and the Kingdom (Matthew 19:13-15)

Published on Sunday, 10 December 2017 12:15
This statement here that Jesus made about children has become very well-known, and is often cited in a sentimental way without much understanding of what Jesus was saying. Jesus made this statement to his disciples, which means that the group of people who should understand what it means are the followers of Jesus. The description of the incident given by Luke in his gospel says that the children were infants, which tells us why they were taken to Jesus by adults rather than being children playing without supervision whom he happened to speak to.

The faith of the parents
We are not told who the parents were, but obviously they had concluded that it would be good for their children to have the blessing of Jesus. Surely that should be the desire of all parents, yet we know that is not the case. Nevertheless, many can trace their interest in salvation to what their parents said to them consistently about Jesus when they were young.

Here is what Spurgeon recollected about his mother’s care when he was a young child: ‘I cannot tell you how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother. It was the custom on Sunday evenings, while we were yet little children, for her to stay at home with us, and then we sat round the table and read verse by verse, and she explained the Scripture to us. After that was done, then came the time of pleading; there was a little piece of “Allaine’s Alarm”, or of Baxter's “Call to the Unconverted”, and this was read with pointed observations made to each of us as we sat round the table; and the question was asked how long it would be before we would think about our state, how long before we would seek the Lord. Then came a mother's prayer, and some of the words of a mother's prayer we shall never forget, even when our hair is grey.’

The main reason why the parents brought the children to Jesus was because they had faith in him as the Saviour. They realised that he could bring divine blessing into the lives of their families. This suggests that at some stage they had been influenced by his teaching and realised that he was the Messiah. After all, there were Old Testament predictions that pointed to the blessing that children would experience when the Messiah came.

Sometimes, parents brought a child to Jesus because there was something wrong. That does not seem to be the case here. The situation was not like the one that Jairus faced when his daughter was dying or what faced the distressed man and his oppressed son whom Jesus helped when he descended from the Mount of Transfiguration. Instead, the persons here brought their children to Jesus when everything was normal. Moreover, they brought their children together to Jesus. It may be that this was not planned, but on the other hand they may have planned to do this together. In either scenario, the action became one of fellowship in which believing parents brought their children to Jesus.

The folly of the disciples
Matthew records that the disciples rebuked the parents for having this intention. I am sure he wants us to say that he was among them and we can easily imagine his embarrassment as he wrote this account a couple of decades later. Perhaps he stopped for a moment as he wrote these words and thanked the Lord for being so gracious with him at that time and not treating him in the way his folly deserved. And all the genuine disciples would say the same.

Why did the disciples respond in this way? Because they had ceased to act as disciples. The duty of a disciple when a new situation develops is not to decide the response but instead to go and ask Jesus what he would want to happen. The disciples did not do this. Maybe they thought the situation was too small to be considered by Jesus, maybe they thought they should judge by common sense, maybe they imagined that Jesus was too tired, or maybe they thought that they could engage in prayer and bless the families coming to them. Whatever their reason, they were wrong. Despite being his followers, they had not yet realised that Jesus had time for children and that he wanted to bless them as families.

We make similar mistakes and the outcome is always chaos and misunderstandings about the situation. What should we do instead? While we cannot ask Jesus in a physical way as these disciples could, we can ask for his guidance when we pray. We can ask him to lead us to passages in his Word that deal with our dilemma, and we can ask others whom he has helped for advice on how to do so. The important lesson is not to set ourselves up as those who decide what to do, but to ask Jesus what he would want us to do for him.

In the context here, there is an obvious application, which is that the followers of Jesus should not do anything that would prevent children coming to Jesus. As a congregation, we have to bear that in mind because a lot of children are influenced by us. Sadly, in the story, the only hindrances to the children having contact with Jesus were his disciples. If we are followers of Jesus, we should encourage children to speak about Jesus and to speak to Jesus.

Features of the kingdom
It is obvious that the kingdom of Jesus has surprising elements. For example, it sits over and among the kingdoms of this world and allows its members to contribute to life in earthly kingdoms provided such actions are not sinful. Another surprising feature is the type of persons who the King wants to be in his kingdom – he invites sinners and outcasts, the despised and the unwanted of earth to enter in. Moreover, each member of the kingdom has access to the ruler at all times. And we can note the features of the kingdom already mentioned in this chapter, which are that he allows the existence of evil alongside the genuine and that the kingdom continues to grow despite the circumstances. And here we have another surprise, which is that his kingdom welcomes children as members of it.

Today, it is common for politicians and others in public life to have their pictures taken with children. Such a thing would not have happened usually in the time of Jesus. Children were not usually given a public place and it would have been rare to see a man with children. Obviously, parents would care for their own children, but even then this would mainly occur at home. So when Jesus made this statement he said something very radical.

As we have seen in our studies in this chapter, the kingdom in focus is not the eternal state nor the invisible church. Instead the kingdom that is described is what can be called the visible church, the community of people who acknowledge the authority of Christ and who attempt to live as his disciples. What is life like for those in this kingdom?

The first detail to observe is that there is an entrance into it. Normally this occurs when a person affirms that he wants to be a disciple of Jesus and submits to baptism as the sign of his dedication. Yet Jesus here states that children can belong to his kingdom. At the time that he said this, the sign of belonging to the visible community of God’s people was circumcision and no doubt any boys among this group would have been circumcised. Circumcision is no longer the mark of membership of God’s kingdom. Instead baptism is, and it is now the sign that someone has entered the visible church. We should note that we do not become members because we are born into a Christian family but because we have been baptised in the name of the Trinity.

The second detail is that the life of the kingdom is about education in the things of God. This is what Jesus told his apostles to engage in when he gave to them the instructions we call the Great Commission. His disciples, as they continue in the kingdom, discover many aspects of truth that inform their minds and warm their hearts. This is why we have Sunday Schools and Bible Classes for young people as well as sermons for others.

The third feature of the kingdom of Jesus is that its members become examples for one another. They are examples not only in terms of external behaviour but also in the use they make of the means of grace. The use can easily be seen because they will experience the blessings connected to those means. Those who pray will receive answers to their prayers. Those who meditate on the Scriptures will become like strong trees as detailed in Psalm 1. Those who spend time in the presence of God will show it in their expressions.

Favours of the King
Jesus did for these parents what they wanted from him. They desired that he would bless their children by laying his hands on them. There is a sense that Jesus here identified himself with these children, and we know that in baptism God identifies with the child because his name is put on them when they are baptised in the name of the Trinity.

Of course, the children did not understand what he was doing. Yet we can assume that eventually those children would have come to faith in him. In this connection, we can see from Jesus’ decision to leave soon afterwards shows that we do not need the physical presence of Jesus in order to experience his blessing. Those parents and their children may have never seen Jesus again in this life, although it is impossible to know one way or the other. But since his blessing would continue, they would be provided for in a spiritual sense. And they will still be enjoying it in another world.

The day of being blessed by Jesus was an important day in the spiritual experience of those children even although they would have been too young to understand what was taking place. Today we are bringing one child to the Lord for his blessing and for future blessing to be shown to her by him in his kingdom.   

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