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Bible treehuggercomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons cited below).

Luke 18:15-17

Let the Children Come to Me

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

——————————————————————————————

This passage might look familiar to my longstanding readers. I covered Mark’s version of it in 2012: Mark 10:13-16.

That post will help grieving parents who wonder what happens to their babies that die before they are baptised. John MacArthur and Matthew Henry offer several analyses as to why they are part of the kingdom of God.

Today’s passage reinforces that reassuring message.

MacArthur says that a Jesus was addressing a large crowd. Some parents, moved by what they had seen and heard of Him, began bringing their young children to Him for a blessing (verse 15). However, the disciples had words with the parents. No doubt this might occur in some Christian circumstances today for the usual reasons: don’t bother our teacher with children; people are waiting to hear him speak; stop hindering proceedings.

MacArthur says the disciples acted within Jewish traditions. Although children were brought to their synagogues for blessings and certain high day and holiday prayers were said for children, by and large, teaching was seen as being for those who had reached the age of reason.

MacArthur explains:

Even though the synagogue they had training for children, there were certain boundaries for children. And the adult world of theological discussion about the Kingdom of God was not an appropriate place, nor in their view was it appropriate for Jesus to stop what He was doing to pay attention to these little ones who had capacity to understand or to believe. So they strongly protested the parents’ action.

However, Jesus tells the disciples to allow the children to approach Him because, they too, are part of the kingdom of God (verse 16). Both MacArthur and Henry say that they ranged in age from infants to toddlers. Whereas Matthew and Mark use the word paideia (children) in their accounts, Luke the physician refers to them as brephos, children who were receiving their mothers’ milk. MacArthur says that mothers nursed their children for longer in that era, so some would have been two or three years old.

In Mark’s account, Jesus was indignant. MacArthur says that Luke’s account in the original Greek conveys the same strength with regard to the word ‘called’:

Literally in the Greek called is summoned them, a sort of official word. He gave them a summons.

Henry’s commentary explains our Lord’s welcome to children:

The promise is to us, and to our seed and therefore he that has the dispensing of promised blessings will bid them welcome to him with us.

MacArthur says that Jesus’s welcome was unique (emphases mine):

This is the only time our Lord ever spoke blessing on non-believers, only time. It therefore puts them in a very unique category…very unique category. Jesus never pronounces blessing on people outside His Kingdom because there is no blessing for them. And certainly He is not obligated to bless them. But here it is right to bless them, it is wrong to prevent them from being blessed and He does bless them. And so in verse 16 He called for them saying, “Permit the children to come to Me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Permit the children…literally, let them come…let them come. That’s the positive, aphiemi, let them come. Then the negative, “Don’t ever forbid them,” present tense. Let them come now and don’t ever forbid them ...

Nothing is said about the parents faith. Nothing is said about the parents having circumcised the children so that they were then covenant children. Nothing is said about any covenant at all, parental covenant, national covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. There are no caveats. There are no qualifications. The simple statement is the Kingdom of God belongs to these in this category…babies and children. Jesus uses the word children. They brought babies and He expanded the truth to encompass children. Children would simply be the category of those who are unable to believe savingly. They have not reached the condition of personal accountability. Not an age, it’s a condition and it varies from child to child. They belong to the Kingdom and the Kingdom belongs to them because they’re babies. This is wondrous truth. This is rich truth.

Now if Jesus ever wanted to teach covenantal inclusion in the Kingdom, this would have been the place to put it. If He had said, “The Kingdom of God belongs to all the children of faithful Jews who are part of the covenant,” or if He wanted to say, “The Kingdom of God belongs to all circumcised children who have manifest the sign of the covenant,” or if He wanted to say, “All children who are baptized,” or if He wanted to say, “All children who are not Gentiles,” or if He wanted to say, “All children of parents who are faithful to their covenant to God, all children of those who know God,” but there are no such exceptions, or limitations. Babies because they’re babies, children because they’re children belong to the Kingdom and the Kingdom belongs to them.

Therefore, although they are born with Original Sin, they are too innocent to understand what that is. Condemnation to hell would be unjust.

MacArthur tells us that even Calvinists believe this:

Listen to what Calvin said. “Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire His blessing. But when they are presented to Him, He gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ those whom He held in His bosom and to shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them at all.”

B.B. Warfield, the Princeton theologian said this … if death in infancy does depend on God’s providence…and it does…it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation. This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestinated to salvation from the foundation of the world,” end quote. Warfield says if babies die, they were elect…they were elect.

This raises an important theological point with regard to Arminianism (free will semi-Pelagianism). MacArthur paraphrases what Warfield went on to say:

If only a single infant dying, a single infant dying is saved, the whole Arminian principle is traversed … any infant that is saved without any works. If all infants dying such as…such are saved, not only the majority of the saved, but doubtless the majority of the human race have entered into heaven by a non-Arminian pathway.

It is important to note that this is a special dispensation for those who are too young — or mentally disabled — to understand.

However, that is no reason to leave it there. Faithful, conscientious, loving parents will want to bring their offspring up to embrace the Gospel message. MacArthur gives them this advice:

So what do you do as a parent to maximize those years to bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Let me just make three suggestions. Teach them … They have limited knowledge, we’ve heard that. They don’t know right from wrong, good from evil. Teach them. They have limited reasoning power. They have virtually no discretion. They must be taught … Teach them the Word of God. Put them in an environment where others are teaching them the Word of God.

Secondly, model the truth that you hold them to. It doesn’t do any good to tell them it’s good for them if it’s not for you. That kind of hypocrisy is counter-productive totally. You tell them this is the truth and then you show them how important it is by living it. You must be aware absolutely the personal value of truth for your own sake, not just for the sake of your children. You can’t expect your children to really believe something is right if you don’t demonstrate that same conviction. Their perceptive spirits will see through your hypocrisy when you’re doing something to engineer or manipulate them to respond in a certain way instead of authentic parenting, instead of authentic godly living according to the truth that allows your children to see the freedom and the joy and the blessing that comes when you walk in God’s truth. You pass the truth on in teaching and you live it.

And then thirdly, let me suggest that you love your children. What do I mean by that? Let them know your heart is on them. Be affectionate, tender, compassionate, sensitive, sacrificial, generous. Weep with them, laugh with them, sacrifice for them. Protect them from all the avenues of harm that can come into their lives. Don’t provoke them. Don’t exasperate them. Be utterly unselfish. Serve your children. Show them by your actions that the things that matter to them matter to you and sometimes the things that matter to them matter more to you than the things that are important in your world. Reward them when they do well. Make your home a joyful place. Do fun things with them. Love them.

Jesus concludes by pointing out that those who do not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not share it (verse 17).

What does this mean?

It’s that same innocent pleasure toddlers show when we present them with a treat — a toy or sweets. Their faces light up instantly. They express their thanks with a beaming smile.

Our Lord says that we, too, are called — perhaps summoned — to enjoy the promise of salvation in the same way, as Henry says:

with humility and thankfulness, not pretending to merit them as the Pharisee did …

May we express this same delight every day of our lives.

Next time: Luke 18:18-23

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