Over the years attitudes towards children have fluctuated enormously. Sometimes they have been seen as a blessing and sometimes as a nuisance. Sometimes they have been longed for and cherished and sometimes their arrival has been seen as unfortunate to say the least.
The famous saying that "Children should be seen and not heard" first put in its appearance as early as the 15 th century and many parents since then have tried in vain to keep their children quiet!
For much of history children have been dividing opinion:
those parents taking the long-
those parents seeing the more immediate reality of another mouth to feed in the here and now
For centuries children have been dominated by their parents and seen as having few if any rights but in more recent times how that has changed with the notion of the enfant-
As Christians what is to be our attitude towards children and how should we regard them? This will be our subject this evening as we come to our text which shows us how Jesus related to the children who were brought to him.
But we’ll not start immediately with our text but with the general view that pervades the Bible; and that is that children are to be seen as a blessing. (The Bible does not however pretend that children are "little angels" and makes it clear that some children can be a real pain to their parents. David had many children but he failed to exercise proper consistent discipline towards them and he lived to reap the whirlwind effects of that failure as Absalom, one of his sons not only rebelled against him but actually wanted to see him dead and buried.)
Psalm 127, which we have already read, presents children as gift from the LORD himself adding that the man who has a quiverful of them is a blessed man indeed.
We know Job as a man who suffered enormously in his walk with God – well, his life was bookended with rich blessings. Before his troubles began he was blessed with children – 7 sons and 3 daughters (Job 1:2). After all his troubles were finally over during which time he lost not just his wealth and prosperity but also those children – we read of fresh blessing being brought into his life with a further set of 7 sons and 3 more daughters. We also told that he lived to see not only his sons but his sons’ sons – even four generations! (Job 42:13, 16). The Book of Proverbs in speaking about family life declares that:
Pr.17:6 "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,"
Children, then, in Scripture are considered a blessing.
With blessing comes responsibility and parents at times find such responsibility irksome and beyond them. Children, and in particular little children, are vulnerable. They cannot meet their own needs and are dependent upon others to meet those needs – they can easily be abused and treated in a very poor manner. Such abuse has been dished out by parents whether from rich or poor backgrounds and can take various forms and, as we’re all too familiar. It is a problem that is still very much with us in 21 st century Britain. We hear regularly of cases of sexual abuse, physical and emotional violence and various other kinds of exploitation.
Thankfully most parents want to do the right thing by their children and we should be grateful that we live in a country that does seek to protect the vulnerable in society. We are right however to be concerned when governments and other official agencies overstep the mark in an excess of misguided zeal. The ideological commitment of some who occupy positions of responsibility can lead to the implementation of policies that run counter to the best moral and spiritual interests of children.
Jesus had been talking with some Pharisees about divorce. Jesus had been very clear that divorce was a very serious matter. It was not something to be treated lightly or flippantly. His teaching challenged his own disciples in their thinking and they took the opportunity of questioning Jesus further in private once the Pharisees had left. Maybe they felt threatened and bruised by it all. Perhaps they thought that they it would be good to rest on it but they weren’t able to enjoy peace for very long.
People were bringing their children (including babes in arms) and they wanted Jesus to touch them, to bless them and to pray for them. It is natural for parents to seek the well-
So people were bringing their kids along but Jesus’ disciples weren’t impressed. They didn’t like all this clamouring for attention – after all it was only little children. Didn’t these people realise that Jesus was about important business and didn’t want to be disturbed by the likes of them?
And so we find that the disciples tried to bar the route to Jesus as they rebuked those bringing their children for blessing. They found fault with those who would come to Jesus to secure a blessing for their children!
This certainly should not be our attitude but it can be. Perhaps we should stop and ask the question whether what we do and say inhibits little ones from being brought to Jesus. When little ones are present with us are we glad? Do we have positive interaction with them? Do the little ones and their families know that they are valued and considered precious by us? Will our little ones and their families when, perhaps many years down the line, they look back on their time with us do so with warm positive thoughts? What example are we setting?
The disciples didn’t think like that and they spoke harshly and their attitude was the polar opposite of Jesus’ own attitude. If these disciples thought that Jesus would be grateful for the protection they wanted to secure for him they had another think coming. Jesus was incensed! The word means to be angry or to be indignant and what an evidence this is of the full humanity of our Lord!
Not only is it not wrong to be offended by poor behaviour, it is right to be stirred by it. The problem with so much of human anger is that it gets so quickly out of control causing damage and hurt to those nearby. How different Jesus is! He is angry but he does not sin.
There aren’t many occasions when we learn of Jesus being angry but he was moved to anger and grieved when he saw his closest friends dominated by a spirit that was at odds with his own. On one occasion he rebuked his right-
In this particular instance Jesus rebuked his disciples however well-
(While we are concentrating our thoughts this evening on children we should realise that such teaching could easily enough be applied to other vulnerable or disadvantaged people within society. Jesus ministered in a predominantly Jewish context where Gentiles by and large were looked down on. When some Greek worshippers approached Philip asking if they could see Jesus he went and spoke with his brother Andrew about it. This time they didn’t seek to protect Jesus but told him about the request.)
Jesus didn’t simply rebuke his disciples for the way they tried to keep the children away from him he added some explanations as to why such behaviour was inappropriate:
v.14 "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God."
Children, particularly little children, are as we have already said weak and vulnerable and dependent upon others for just about everything. And those criteria are just the criteria necessary for entry into the Kingdom of God.
What do I mean by that?
Well it is such a temptation to the human heart to think in terms of merit and desert. We like to think that we have to do something or be someone in order to secure God’s approval and we are so easily tempted to look for promising candidates (why else did James later have to warn against treating the rich outsider more favourably than the poor?)
But the Kingdom of God is not a reward for good conduct; an honour attributed for services rendered. The Kingdom of God is for those who know they have no such claim to make and who know that they come empty-
I would suggest that we should be careful too when we talk of children as "the future of the church". I know what is meant but it seems to me that what Jesus is saying here has nothing to do with potential either. He doesn’t give a hint that these children should be brought to him because of the potential they have for future service. The child with no potential whatsoever, the child who is so handicapped that he/she will never be able to grow into a position of responsibility and who may ostensibly be more of a drain upon resources than anything else is to be welcomed just as warmly.
v.15 "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
Jesus is not telling us that we must all act in childish ways and pretend we are not adults if we are to be true Christians. He is not saying that as the little child doesn’t know many things we are to close off our minds and behave contrary to rational thought. What he does mean is that we are to respond to the gospel with the same simplicity and lack of complexity that a little child accepts at face value what is offered to it.
Offer a child a gift and he/she’ll take it. There will be no angst as to "have I deserved it?" "must I deserve it?" "what will others think about me accepting it?" or any other of the plethora of concerns the adult comes up with. The adult so often has grown to be suspicious and to look for the catch in it all and so hesitates where the child simply responds.
Having spoken to his disciples, presumably in the hearing of those whom the disciples had been resisting, Jesus proceeded to act.
He didn’t keep the children at distance but received them taking them into his arms: whether this implies babies who needed to be held or simply that he put his arms round toddlers and other young kids to give them a hug doesn’t really matter. There was a warmth, a genuine warmth about what he did.
And he prayed for them; he laid his hands on them and he blessed them.
We don’t know just what the precise content of his concerns were that he expressed that day in prayer but it surely was for their well-
How can we follow both the teaching and the example of our Lord’s teaching?
By welcoming, valuing and not hindering the children we have contact with – in the church and in our own families.
By praying – for the children who come and their families, not forgetting those who come on a Friday. Let’s pray too for those who use their gifts to minister particularly to children – our own Sunday school teachers, leaders of Christian camps, beach missions etc.
By sharing spiritual truths.
By helping parents of little children with their responsibilities of bringing up their children in "the fear and admonition of the Lord" or, in more modern English, "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord". Eph.6:4
Gifts of books etc. In a couple of weeks the church will be giving the children who are leaving the Nursery school some little Bible booklets – well let us as a church pray for this that these books be read at home.
Grandparents have a role too to play. Do we speak to our grandchildren (nephews and nieces too for that matter) about the Lord Jesus? Do we read Christian books with them? Do we pray with them?
May God help us to follow the example, not of those failing early disciples, but of the Lord Jesus himself.
And may he be pleased to bless our efforts to the glory of his own name.