Let the Little Children Come
August 18. 2019
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. 
The Word of God for the people of God.
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, help us turn our hearts to you and hear what you will speak, for you speak peace to your people through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. He is currently on the eastern side of the River Jordan, in the territory of Herod Agrippa. Last week, we saw that as Jesus was in the towns and villages on the eastern side of the River Jordan, Jesus was teaching. The people were coming to Jesus in crowds and droves. It wasn’t just adults coming to Jesus. There were also children in the crowds.
Preventing Children from Coming
The parents are bringing their children to Jesus. And as they are bringing their children to Jesus, the Disciples are preventing them from seeing Jesus. It seems as though they were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. Jesus is a popular teaching / prophet. He is well known throughout the country by everyone. And the parents want Jesus to bless their kids. If the children were sick or demon possessed, the Disciples would have almost certainly have allowed the children to come to Jesus. So more than likely, the parents wanted their children blessed by Jesus and the Disciples were preventing them from seeing him.
The Disciples are acting as gatekeepers, deciding who was allowed to see Jesus. Why? Why would they prevent certain people from seeing Jesus? The Disciples had this view they could regulate who was allowed to see Jesus. Back in Mark 9:38-41, they prevented a man from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. The reason they forbade this man from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name because they thought they had the right to decide who could be Jesus’ follower. Here, they’re doing the same thing. They are deciding who can come to Jesus and be in presence. They are acting like gatekeepers; that they have the right to decide who can see Jesus and who can’t. And they decide that the little children cannot so they prevent them from seeing him.
The reason they were preventing children from coming to Jesus was that children were considered a nuisance. Ancient cultures considered children to be nuisances and unimportant. Children were needy, whinny, crying things that needed to be constantly cared for. Children were considered unimportant persons. They didn’t have any cultural power; they weren’t the decision makers in the community. They didn’t even have a right to come in and cry “daddy, daddy” when company was over. They were to be seen and not heard. The Disciples probably thought that Jesus was too important for such unimportant people who were nuisances.
We often prevent children from coming to Jesus by separating them out of our worship. When I was an intern at a church in Wichita, there were hardly any kids in worship. In fact, the middle and high school Sunday school was during the most well attended worship. As a result, there were only a handful of youth in worship. And the vast majority of youth only attended Sunday school.
This was something that the Session noticed and was concerned about. Session was concerned about the fact that most of the youth in the congregation were not attending worship. So they proposed moving the time of Sunday school so that it wouldn’t compete with corporate worship but many of the parents were very much against that idea.
When we asked the parents why they were against having their children in worship, they said they wanted quiet worship. What they were really saying was that children are a nuisance and we don’t want them disrupting our time with Jesus.
One person was so adamant that youth should not be in worship with adults that he proposed we start a service specifically for them. He didn’t want children in worship with him because they were a nuisance to him.
Another person came complaining to me because a child cooed a couple of times during worship. She was incensed that parents would be so irresponsible and rude as to have their child in worship.
How often is that true of us? While we don’t have many children in worship, but if we did, would that be what goes through your mind? We might think, “That child is crying and cooing; they’re being a nuisance and ruining my time with Jesus.” We wouldn’t say anything. We may just glare and glower at them until the parents get the impression that we want that child out of worship because they’re being a nuisance. When we do that, we act as gatekeepers, regulating who can come to Jesus and who can’t.
Ultimately when we segregate our worship by separating children out, we tell them that they aren’t important enough to be in Jesus’ presence. When we gather as the Church for worship, Jesus is present. That’s what Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:20. He says where two or three are gathered in his name, he is present. So when we gather for worship, Jesus is present. And when we separate children out from that worship, we tell them they are not important enough to be in Jesus’ presence. We may not say that in so many words but that is ultimately what we communicate to them when we separate children from our worship.
Jesus Commands That We Bring our Children to Him
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
When Jesus saw how the Disciples were deciding who could enter into his presence, he became indignant. We often imagine that Jesus is this laid-back guy who never gets angry. Look at any popular depiction of Jesus in movies or books and you’ll see that they portray him as a laid-back guy who never gets angry. One TV show said this about Jesus, “He was a laid-back guy; he wore sandals”. That is the common perception about Jesus; that he never gets angry.
But Jesus does get angry. He gets angry when people prevent anyone from coming to him – especially the least. Jesus is indignant when we prevent someone from hearing his Word. That was why Jesus spoke so harshly in 9:42 about causing someone to sin. He gets incredibly angry when we prevent someone from coming to him.
So Jesus commands that the little children come to him. Yes Jesus is an important person, but He is not too important for children. Jesus is not too big to have children who cry, coo, and be a nuisance in his presence. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Let us allow the children to come to Jesus. We can do that in two ways. First, and this is probably the more controversial application, let us baptize our children. I know there is a lot of heat and passion around the topic of baptism. As a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, we affirm infant baptism. The Westminster Larger Catechism says this: Infants descending from parents, either both or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and are to be baptized.
Many in our culture view baptism as a response to faith in Jesus. That is the traditional Baptist view. We come to faith and then we are baptized. That’s not the way Presbyterians have traditionally viewed baptism. The way Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutherans have always understood baptism is that baptism is a picture of our salvation. Just as an infant is unable to provide for themselves, we are unable to provide salvation for ourselves. We are incapable of renewing and regenerating our hearts and minds. We are unable to wash ourselves clean from the stain of our sin. Only God can do that. When we baptize an infant, we have a picture of our salvation.
When we bring our children forward to be baptized, we are doing just as the parents did 2,000 years ago. We are bringing our children to Jesus and asking him to bless that child. We are asking Jesus to bless that child with faith; that he would renew the child’s heart and mind; that Jesus would wash them clean of their sin.
I know some of you are objecting to this. You’re thinking that nowhere in the bible are we commanded to baptize our child. J.C. Ryle has this response to that objection. He says, “The objection that our Lord Jesus Christ himself never directly commanded infants to be baptized is not a weighty one. The church of the Jews, to which he came, had always been accustomed to admit children into the church by the sign of circumcision. The very fact that Jesus says nothing about the age for baptizing goes far to prove that he intended no change to be made”. The sign of the covenant has always been applied to children. First, in the Old Testament, it was circumcision. Now in the new covenant we baptize our children for the same reason the Jews circumcised their sons; we baptize them asking God to be the one who brings them to faith. If you’re interested, I have a chart that shows the link between circumcision and baptism. When we have children in our midst, let us bring them forward for baptism.
Second, let us keep our children in worship. When families join our congregation and have children, let us not separate them out from our worship. Worship is the place where we teach the faith and form the faithful. Pastor and Professor Kevin Vanhoozer wrote a great book called “Faith Speaking Understanding”. In it, he makes a case that worship is the place where we teach the faith and form the faithful. In worship each and every week, we teach people the rhythms of the Christian life.
In worship each and every week we proclaim the gospel. We begin worship with a call to worship that helps us magnify and glorify God as creator. Then when we see the glory and majesty of God, we see that we are sinners and confess our sins. Once we have confessed our sins, we hear the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven of all of our sins. After that, we have the reading and expounding of God’s word to us. And finally we have our response to that Word where we intercede for others and are sent on mission. Each and every week our service of worship proclaims the gospel.
If that is the case that during worship we teach the faith and form the faithful, then we ought to have our children in worship. When our children are in worship, we teach them the faith. When we have our children in worship and teach them the faith, we fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 6.
When our children are in worship, we fulfill the vows we take when we baptize them. When we baptize children, the parents take vows but us as the congregation also takes vows. We vow to assume responsibility for the spiritual nurture of the children alongside with the parents and we vow to be godly examples for the child. When our children are in worship with us we get to fulfill those vows.
In my own life, I have experienced the benefit of being in worship and seeing older, mature saints and those saints seeing me and caring for me. One of them took a special interest in me. Every week he’d make sure he said hello and asked about my life. Then when I was going through confirmation, he met with me every week and nurtured me in the faith. He was fulfilling the vows he made when I was baptized. He was and is a godly example for people to see and emulate and he assumed responsibility for my spiritual nurture. That only happened because I was in corporate worship each and every week where he could see me.
When we have our children in worship with us, we bring them forward for baptism where we ask Jesus to bless them with faith and we teach them the faith. So let us allow the children to come to Jesus.
Receiving the Kingdom
Jesus goes on and says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Jesus has just commanded the Disciples to allow children to come to him. Now he commands the Disciples to be like children. He is not saying “be childish”. He is saying that to receive the kingdom of God we must be like a child. Jesus is not extolling any specific childlike virtue. What he is commanding is that we recognize that we are unable to attain salvation on our own.
Children cannot provide for themselves. They are unable to work and provide for their needs. They need someone to provide for themselves. They need someone to put food on the table, a roof over their head, and clothes on their back. They need someone to provide for their needs.
We must see ourselves as children. We cannot provide for our salvation. There is nothing we can do to provide for any of the needs of our salvation. Sin has affected every aspect of our being. We sin intentionally and unintentionally. We sin by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We sin when we don’t do the right thing and we sin when we do the right thing but for the wrong reason. Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest pastors and theologians America has ever produced, said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary”.
The Apostle Paul puts it like this in Galatians 2:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Since we have sinned and do not keep all of the law, we are cursed; we cannot do anything to provide for our salvation.
The only way to receive salvation is to recognize that we can’t do anything to provide for it but Jesus has. Jesus lived the perfect life. He has never sinned. He has kept God’s law to the minutest degree. He never sinned by leaving something undone. He never sinned by doing the right thing for the wrong reason. He lived the perfect life.
And yet he was crucified. He died a horrible, excruciating death where he slowly suffocated. Deuteronomy says that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed (Deut. 27:26). But Paul says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13a).
Jesus bore the consequences of our sins and became a curse so that we could be free from the curse of our sin. Every sin you have ever committed or ever will commit, Jesus Christ bore the consequences of that on the cross. He bore the consequences of our sin so that we could be redeemed and be made right with God. And he rose on the third day showing that sin and death have been defeated in his death.
The only way for you to receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection is to receive as a child receives food from his parents. The only way for you to receive the redemption found in Jesus is to receive it as a child receives the provision of her parents. That is the only way, to receive as a child receives things from their parents.
I know this goes against our culture and our work ethic. Our culture says, “If you want to be CEO, you work hard for it and you earn it.” Our culture says, “If you want to be a professional athlete, you work hard for it and you earn it.”
But the gospel says, “You cannot work for it and earn it. You must receive it as a child receives bread from their parents’ table.” That is the only way for anyone to receive the kingdom of God. They must receive it as a child.
The only ones who receive the kingdom of God are children. So let us allow them to come to Jesus. Let us baptize them in the promise that God will be faithful to word to wash them clean of their sin and renew their heart and mind. Let us teach the faith to our children by keeping them in worship where we proclaim the gospel each and every week. Let us receive the kingdom as a child.
 Westminster Larger Catechism, XXVIII.4
 EPC Book of Worship, 3 G. 4 c.