Third Sunday after Trinity June 28, 1998
20, 347, 334, 457
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, DEAR CHILDREN,
Are you surprised to hear me address you that way? Perhaps you adults already feel a little left out—“Why should I listen if the pastor is only going to talk to the children?” You may be right. Today’s sermon is only for children—because there’s something very special about being a child.
Now that seems odd, doesn’t it? We usually talk about childhood as though it were something to escape. Kids generally can’t wait to grow up, so they can have more responsibility and do more fun things. When a person does something we consider foolish, we often say, “Don’t be so childish! Aren’t you ever going to grow up?” But there is one area of life in which it pays to be childish—or, more properly speaking, childlike—and that’s the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words in our text for today reveal that, not only are children included in the kingdom of God—but only children may enter it! Consider with me the words of our Lord:
At the wrong time and in the wrong place, having kids around can be kind of a pain in the neck, isn’t it true? Well, at the time of our text, Jesus and His disciples were in the region of Transjordan in Judea. On this particular day Jesus was teaching them about the sanctity of God’s holy institution of marriage, a subject the disciples were very interested in. That’s why they became rather annoyed when their discussion was interrupted—by a bunch of kids. Actually, it was a group of Jewish mothers who were bringing their children to Jesus. By the way, the parallel account in Luke reveals that at least some of these children were “infants”—newborn babies. What did the mothers want? They wanted Jesus to lay His hands on them and bless them. And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
The word for “rebuke” there is very strong—they forbade them, they threatened them. There was an important discussion going on! They were talking about matters that concerned the kingdom of God. Certainly Jesus had no time for children! That’s what the disciples thought, anyway. Keep the kids out of here! What have they got to do with the kingdom of God? Very shortly, however, the disciples would find themselves on the sharp end of Jesus’ tongue. They’d learn a hard lesson about children; Jesus’ lesson, that the kingdom IS for children!
The disciples were making a big mistake by forbidding little children to come to Jesus. But you know, they’re not the only ones. It’s a mistake a lot of people make, even in our day. Many Reformed churches refuse to baptize little children. Like those disciples, they want to withhold this divine gift and blessing of the Savior from little children. Why? First, they believe that baptism is nothing more than a symbol, an act of confession and obedience performed by us; while Scripture proves that what baptism actually is is an act of divine grace performed by God. Second, if baptism is just a symbolic confession, then they figure you should first reach an “age of discretion”—13 or 14 years old—so you can understand what you’re confessing. You see the point: they’re saying you can’t really believe until you’re old enough to know what you believe in. And that obviously doesn’t include little children.
How terrible it would be if that were true! Without faith in Jesus, the kingdom of God is locked. And if little children can’t believe, then little children simply are not for the kingdom. Then the disciples were right in forbidding them to come to Jesus. But notice our text. Jesus didn’t approve of what the disciples were doing. Far from it—He lashed out at them in righteous anger! But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. You’re wrong, He said, children ARE for the kingdom, and don’t you forget it!
“Of such IS the kingdom of God.” With these words, Jesus specifically includes even the smallest children in the congregation of His saved believers. Make no mistake about it, children ARE for the kingdom! “Let them come to Me,” Jesus says. That means little children are ready to come to Jesus, if only some misguided grownups don’t get in the way! What a warning this is for those who would deny baptism to little children. What a warning for those parents who take their children to school, to activities, to sporting events—but won’t bring them to Jesus—won’t bring them to church and to Sunday School! How chilling are the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 18, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”—Mat 18:6.
On the other hand, what a blessed invitation we have here from Jesus. “Children ARE for the kingdom,” Jesus says, “so bring them to Me!” That’s why we bring even our infant children to be baptized—because they’re part of the “all nations” Jesus commanded us to baptize, because they too are sinful and need forgiveness, and because they too can believe—as this text so clearly proves!
Like those Jewish mothers did that day, Christian parents are encouraged by the Savior to bring their children to Him. Bring them early, and bring them often! An expert on child development once advised, “Be very careful what you put into the head of a child, because chances are you’ll never get it out again.” How true that is! The lessons your children learn now will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Many a elderly Christian has gone to his rest treasuring the Bible stories he learned at his mother’s knee, the faithful doctrines he learned in Sunday School and confirmation class—the beloved hymns he sang in the church he grew up in. Wise King Solomon said in the Book of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”—Pr 22:6. As often as you bring your children to Jesus, you will never be turned away. Christ promises to give them His richest blessings. At the conclusion of our text comes the scene that we’ve often seen portrayed so touchingly in artists’ pictures: And Jesus took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
Children ARE for the kingdom, there’s no doubt about that. If that were the only message of this text, I could say “Amen” right now. But Jesus has another lesson to teach us here, and this one is for everybody—parents and single people, children and grownups alike. The lesson is: The kingdom is for CHILDREN.
Jesus said, “Of such is the kingdom of God,” and He was talking about children. We understand that part. But He added this: Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. This is something else again! Jesus says that not only are children admitted to the kingdom—but nobody except children can be admitted. You have to be a child to be saved! In other words, you must have a faith that is CHILDLIKE. Jesus said you have to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child.”
And how does a child receive things? With simple acceptance. The kingdom of God is only for those with a child’s acceptance. When a little child asks her parents what a giraffe is, or how an automobile works, and they explain it to her, she accepts what they tell her in simple faith. For a child, the test of truth is very simple: if Mom and Dad say so, then it must be true. When parents tell their children about Jesus—how He loves them, and how He suffered and died to take away their sins so they could live in heaven with Him one day—they accept it. For us grownups, having a childlike faith means that we accept the truths of salvation in the same way. Not because we have scientific proof. Certainly not because it makes sense to us—after all, the idea that God would sacrifice His perfect Son to save us sinners doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? Still, we believe it, simply because our Heavenly Father says it’s true: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!” A childlike faith accepts that wonder of God’s grace simply because the Bible says so.
Furthermore, the kingdom of God is only for those with a child’s humility. Can you imagine a child refusing to eat the food his parents give him because he didn’t have a hand in providing it? Of course not! Your two-year-old doesn’t try to pay you for his supper. He accepts it from you gratefully, simply because he needs it, he’s hungry for it, and because you’re the only one who can provide it. But so many adults will reject the grace of God unless they can provide some wretched good works in exchange. They ignore the Word of God which says, “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” They’re too proud to admit that they need forgiveness, that they’re hungry for it, and that Jesus is the only One who can provide it! Let us come to our Savior with a childlike humility, realizing our helplessness, and trusting in His precious blood for our complete forgiveness.
Finally, the kingdom of God is only for those with a child’s trust. When a father picks up his little daughter and tosses her up in the air, she laughs and enjoys it. Why? Because she trust her father—she has faith in him. Even though she finds herself eight feet off the floor with nothing supporting her which would normally be very frightening, she’s not afraid, because she has faith in her father. That’s the kind of childlike faith our Heavenly Father wants you to have in Him. You need to have that kind of faith, because between here and the grave you’re going to find yourself in some situations that would be very frightening if you had no Heavenly Father to put your trust in! But with a child’s trust, your mind can be at ease, no matter what troubles come your way. Your Father promises you simply, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me!”—Ps 50:1
You hear it every day—people asking that old question, “When are you going to grow up?” It’s a comfort to know that, when it comes to the most important part of our existence—membership in Christ’s kingdom of grace—the Lord doesn’t expect us to be grown-ups. He allows us, and encourages us, to be children. God grant that we all may be such children—for of such is the kingdom of God! AMEN.
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