For of Such Is the Kingdom of Heaven
Next week we will be having Vacation Bible School, which is when the church ministers to the children in our community for a whole week, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at what Jesus has to say about children in the Bible.
Bless the Children
Perhaps one of the more popular stories about Jesus and children is found on Matthew 19.
Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.
Matthew 19:13-15 NKJV
This account is very short, and I wish we were given more information. But I am glad it was considered important enough to be mentioned in the gospels (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). I find this account interesting because the children are not sick. These children are not described as having some illness or demon possession. The text does not say that the children were brought that Jesus might heal them. Being a child is not a disease.
So why were the children brought to Jesus?
The Bible tells us that the children were brought to Jesus that He might put His hands on them and pray. Whoever was bringing the children, I would assume it was their mothers, just wanted Jesus to bless their children. The mothers, the parents, the ones responsible for the children were bringing them to Jesus because they wanted Jesus to bless them. They wanted Jesus to lay his hands on their children and pray for them.
Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and responsible adults who are reading this do you wish for your children to be blessed by Jesus? How often do we bring our children, the children under our care, to Jesus in prayer? Do we ask Jesus to bless our children? Do we pray for our children? Do we hold them, place our hands on them and bless them? Bringing them before Jesus in prayer?
This week we will be having Vacation Bible School at our church. Many parents will be bringing their children to have fun while learning about Jesus. I will be challenging my church members and myself to be an extension of Jesus to these children. I believe we can care for these children like Jesus cared. There will be guests, and by this, I mean families that are new to our staff and volunteers. This means we will many times have no idea the kind of background these kids are coming from. Some of them will be learning about the love of God for the very first time in their lives. Some of them will pray for the very first time in their lives. Perhaps some parents will be bringing their children in a desperate attempt to deal with challenges and turmoil that we have no knowledge of.
So what do we do when we come into contact with children that parents and guardians brought to Vacation Bible School, or Kids Sabbath School, or one of our church ministries for children? We accept them, love them, and bless them, we pray for them and ask Jesus to be with them in a mighty way. The responsible adults brought those children hoping they would spend some time with Jesus and receive a blessing.
We want kids to have fun. We want the children to learn. We want them to be loved. We want them to grow. But above all, we want the children to be blessed by Jesus.
Sadly, part of that ministry involves, at times, removing obstacles ("saints") who would make it unnecessarily difficult for parents to bring their children to Jesus. Sadly there are those who naturally put up barriers and obstacles for those who are desperately searching for Jesus and wanting Jesus to bless their children. These saints often do it out of their desire to help, or out of a sense of what is right or best, but they make it difficult for the children to come to Jesus. When we notice that, we must be willing to step in and facilitate the path of the child to the loving arms of Jesus.
Barriers come up naturally. We must make a special effort to make the path to Jesus a smooth one.
In Matthew 19 we read that it was the disciples that were rebuking the parents. The disciples were not evil, they were doing what they thought was best. They were still learning and did not realize they were not doing Jesus' will, yet they needed to be corrected. Let's not judge those who sometimes make things difficult, perhaps they are only misguided, but they must not be allowed to continue to create difficulties where there should be none.
The kingdom of Heaven
Is it not fascinating that Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these? The children had no standing in society, they had done nothing to deserve anything. Even to this day, children are a liability, a burden. I do not mean to be mean. If we take out the love and emotional attachment, the children really do not produce much value, but rather they take time, money, resources, etc. Many seem to be in a terrible hurry for kids to grow up and stop being so dependent.
Yet, Jesus says that children, who have contributed nothing, have special access to the kingdom of heaven.
I like how the Berean Study Bible translates it,
But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
- Matthew 19:14 Berean Study Bible
The kingdom of heaven is not about earning, but about receiving. Children are great at receiving. They have no problem accepting something they don't deserve and never worked for. We are the ones who tend to struggle with that. Imagine the crowd, the disciples included, all curious about the kingdom and concerned and wanting to know what to do only to have some children waltz in and call dibs! The idea of the kingdom of heaven belonging to children or those who are childlike must have caught many by surprise. It still baffles us to this day! Which brings us to our next text.
Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
Mark 9: 33-37 NKJV
Instead of trying to gain influence and power and accumulate wealth minister to the children, bless them, receive them, care for them. If you want to be the greatest you must become a servant, and ministering to children seems to be a big part of that. I believe ministering to children is important for several reasons.
- There is a real need. Children need to be taken care of, they often are unable to care for themselves.
- There is no immediate reward. A child will easily take you for granted and demand more. A child rarely has a means of paying you unless you accept hugs and kissed as payment.
- The life and destiny of the child will be impacted by your willingness to help. The experiences from childhood have a much greater impact than the ones that come later in life.
A word of warning
This brings us back to a point made in Matthew 19:14 when Jesus told the disciples to let the children come to Him.
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
Mark 9:42 NKJV
Please, please be careful never to cause a child to stumble. Be careful to never be the cause to why a child questions the love of God. Love, embrace, accept, encourage, guide the children, but do not cause them to stumble, to sin, to walk away from God, to stop believing.
When so many are talking about children and what should be done for children I believe it is important for us to understand that Jesus calls us to minister to children. We may be called to minister to them in different ways but we are not allowed to get off the hook by saying its not my gift. You use your gifts to minister. Pray and ask God how you can use what He has given you to minister to children, but you too are called to receive little children in the name of Jesus. Maybe you can help with Vacation Bible School, maybe you can teach a Sabbath School Class. Maybe you can learn the name of a child and ask her how her week was and actually take the time to stop and listen.
A church grows young and vibrant by caring for the children. By being a safe place for young parents to come with their kids. By being kind and gracious towards the little children and parents who already feel guilty and judged.
Do we want more young adults, we can start by ministering to and accommodating young families. We can volunteer to help with the children's division. A strong children's division will impact lives for eternity! We can volunteer, we can fund, we can ask how we can help. We can encourage and appreciate those who help!
I am not saying we let children do whatever they want, Children need to be guided and they need discipline, but in the context of love and from those who love them. If you don't love the child, then I'm afraid you have no right disciplining that child. If you are going to make a mistake, then I recommend you err on the side of grace.
Many young families, young parents, single parents, guardians of children are eagerly searching for a place where their children can be blessed by Jesus. Let's be that place.