Every parent wants the best for their children, don’t they? Its our natural instinct to try to give our children the best possible education, the happiest home, the best healthcare, the healthiest diet and so on. Things were just the same 2,000 years ago. Parent’s love for their children has changed little over the centuries. So just like loving parents today, Jewish mums and dads in the time of Christ wanted the best for their children. And so they would seek out rabbis and respected elders in their community, and ask them to pray for God’s blessing on their infants.
So it’s no surprise that in our Bible passage this morning, we see parents bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. By this stage of his ministry, Jesus had clearly become well-known as a man of God. As a powerful preacher and an amazing healer. Someone you would certainly want your child to be blessed by.
But so often in life our best intentions for our children can be frustrated. Obstacles and challenges can crop up. There may be no space left in the local school. We may lack the money to buy the latest toys for our offspring. We may struggle to give the kids quality time in our busy working week – and so on. And the parents in today’s passage also faced an obstacle. Jesus’ disciples were frustrating their efforts to take their children to him. The disciples were “rebuking” these parents and blocking their childrens’ path to Christ. Jesus’ disciples seemed to believe that their Master was either too busy, too important or simply too tired to give time to these ‘insignificant’ little children.
But the disciples were seriously mistaken. They were wrong about the worth of children in the eyes of Jesus. And they were ignorant about the importance of being like a child before God. Because we see in this passage the value of children to Christ, and the value of being childlike before God. We’ll look at both of these things in turn, but first let’s pray: Lord Jesus, please speak to us through our passage today, and may your Spirit apply it to our hearts and lives. Amen.
1. The value of children to Christ
Firstly then, this passages shows us the value of children to Christ. Verse 14 of our passage tells us that Jesus was “indignant” when he saw his disciples’ obstructive behaviour. Indignant is a strong word – a word that expresses the combination of anger and frustration Jesus felt at his disciples’ attitude. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them” he said, before taking “the children in his arms”, placing his hands on them and blessing them.
By these words and actions Jesus was showing his followers, both then and now, that he values children and wants them to meet him. And I believe Christ wants us to have the same attitude to children in our own family and our own congregation. Such a positive attitude to children was counter-cultural in the ancient world. Children were very much “to be seen and not heard”. Children had little or no social status, and often regarded as insignificant and useless to society until they reached working age. But Jesus was different. He recognised these children as people made in the image of God. People who had intrinsic value. People who mattered to him and his heavenly Father whether they were economically productive or not. People who had value in God’s eyes even if others overlooked them. In fact, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus always gave time to the marginalised and insignificant. He showed God love for people whom society looked down on or simply looked over. People like tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the poor, the Samaritans and many more. All these people, as well as children, matter to God and mattered to his Son on earth.
So today, we must have the same loving attitude to children as Christ did, and point our young people towards him. It’s great that at St.Michael’s we have some many activities for children, activities that enable them to encounter Jesus for themselves. Activities like crèche, Little Angels and Sunday School . I hope as parents (or grandparents) our greatest ambition for our children (or grandchildren) is for them to come to know Christ. I hope our most heartfelt desire is that they grow up as faithful followers of Jesus. In our own home, Helen and I try and take time to say prayers with our children and regularly read a Bible story with them.
More generally, as a church family let’s seek to become ever more welcoming to people whom our non-Christian peers might be tempted look down on or ignore. Can I challenge us all to befriend members of our congregation who are different to ourselves. To share fellowship with people whom we might not otherwise want spend time with. Jesus gave quality time to children and others low on the social ladder, and so should we. Whenever we give time to people who are unimpressive or insignificant in the world’s eyes we are imitating Jesus and adopting the mindset of Christ.
2. The value of being child-like before God
If the first lesson from our passage is the value of children to Christ, then the second is the value of being child-like before God. Because in verse 15 Jesus gives the disciples a serious warning. He says; “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. It’s a single sentence, but one we need to carefully unpack and understand. What does Jesus mean when he talks about ‘receiving’ and ‘entering’ the kingdom of God? And in what way do we need to be childlike? Surely he can’t mean we need to be immature and infantile in our behaviour. Jesus can’t possibly be saying that we need to have tantrums, wear a nappy or use a dummy! But what does he mean? What is it about a child that’s so essential for someone to enter God’s kingdom?
Firstly, we need to be clear about what it means to receive and enter God’s kingdom. Whole books have been written about what the “kingdom of God” involves, but in short, to enter God’s kingdom is to submit yourself to Christ’s rule over your life. To enter the kingdom of God is to make Jesus your Saviour, Lord and King.
So what has all this to do with being child-like? One thing common to all young children is that they are utterly dependent on their parents, especially their mothers. As I know from personal experience, the very youngest infants are dependent on their mum and dad for their every need. For food, for drink, for clothing, for cleaning – the list goes on!
In a similar way, to enter the Kingdom of God we need to acknowledge our utter dependence on God. We need to be humble and honest enough to realise that we cannot force our way into God’s good books. We can’t earn his forgiveness or put him in our debt in any way. The only way to receive the Kingdom of God is as a free, undeserved gift. The only way to enter God’s Kingdom is to humbly admit our guilt before him and ask his forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. A proud person cannot enter the Kingdom of God, because:
- Someone who thinks they are self-sufficient and autonomous will never make Jesus the King of their lives.
- Someone who thinks they are already good enough for God will never seek his forgiveness.
- And someone who thinks they have enough power, wealth and health of their own will never acknowledge their dependence on God for every moment of their lives.
Only a humble person will receive the Kingdom of God. Only someone who has a child-like sense of their utter dependence on God will make Jesus their Saviour, Lord and King.
So this morning, I hope we have seen the value of children to Christ. They mattered to him and they should matter to us. As adult Christians it is our responsibility to care for our children and seek to bring them up to know and love the Lord Jesus.
But we adults can learn something from young children in return. As we see their dependence on us for their most basic needs, we should be reminded that we should have the same humble dependence and obedience to our own Heavenly Father. Every good thing in life we enjoy comes from him, including our salvation, and is to be received with gratitude and thanks.
So let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for inviting us to enter your kingdom and be part of your church family. Help us to be childlike in our dependence on you, and Christlike in our obedience and humility. In his name we pray, Amen.