October 4, 2013
Then children were brought to [Jesus] that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)
In Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 19:13-30, we considered these opening verses primarily for how they help us to answer the question posed by the rich young ruler: “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” If the kingdom of heaven belongs “to such,” to those who approach Jesus like children, then the question is completely wrongheaded.
But this vignette also informs our understanding of the place of children in the life of the church. Consider these five simple implications:
1) Children need to come to Jesus.
2) We can hinder them from coming.
Scripture uses children as negative as well as positive examples (see Matthew 11:16 and Ephesians 4:14). So in Matthew 19, Jesus is not saying children are perfectly innocent and pure.
Thus, these first two implications go together. Hindering children from coming to Jesus is serious – serious enough for Jesus to rebuke His disciples. Children need Jesus – and are hurt when we keep them from coming to Him.
How do we do this? Obviously, when we fail to teach them anything about Him and fail to bring them to settings where they can learn about Him. But we also hinder them when we mouth Christian faith and then are, on the one hand, harsh and domineering, or on the other hand, overly permissive, abdicating our responsibility to discipline. We also hinder them when we go to church and proclaim Christ, and then come home and fail to live out those truths.
3) Instead, we must help them to come to hear about the Kingdom and to come to Him.
In Matthew 19, those bringing the children want Jesus to lay His hands on them and pray for them. They helped the children to come where they might be blessed by Him. That is our responsibility – as parents, certainly, but also as other adults within the church body. We other adults do this both through encouraging and assisting parents, and by ministering to the children ourselves.
4) Ministry to children is much more than child care.
It is easy for churches to fall into the error of thinking, “This teaching is so important for the adults! We need to get the children somewhere else so their parents can listen without interruption and profit from what they hear.” While parents may at times need help caring for their children, the children also need to hear about Jesus, about Scripture, about God’s plan of redemption: About creation, fall, the cross, the resurrection, and Jesus’ return. We can hinder children from coming to Jesus by treating them as obstacles to their parents’ faith, rather than as those who, like their parents’, need to hear these great truths.
So we put a high value on work with children, formally in nursery and Sunday School, and informally interacting after church and in homes, living out the Gospel, speaking the Gospel, displaying the love of Christ, teaching the love of the Father.
5) We value having children in our worship services.
In corporate worship, we come together to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. Worship is acting and thinking and feeling in a way that brings glory to God, as we value Christ more than all the world has to offer. Our children benefit from participating in such corporate worship, seeing their parents and other adults who love them expressing joy in Christ and deepening their joy in Christ. Indeed, might excluding them from that setting actually hinder their coming to Jesus?
In addition, we communicate an important truth when families in corporate worship sing together, read Scripture together, pray together, and respond to the preached Word together: The Gospel is for everyone. A young child benefits from hearing the Gospel in its simplicity; the most seasoned believer who has read the entire Bible 100 times benefits from hearing the same Gospel in its complexity. A two-year-old can understand the essence of the Gospel; the most brilliant scholar can never plumb the depths of God’s revelation. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
So please pray, thanking God for the children of Desiring God Community Church, and ask yourself: How can I spur on these little ones to love and good works? How can I help them to know Jesus and to love Him? Have I done anything, even inadvertently, that hinders their coming to Him?
So may the God of encouragement grant us to live in such harmony with one another as we follow our Savior that all of us together, young and old, with one voice, may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.