The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Let the Children Come to Me
13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Odd, isn’t it, that none of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship?
Surely, the future of the Church lies in parents, guardians and other responsible adults bringing children to Christ.
The word ‘then’ in verse 13 implies that our Lord’s blessing of children took place in the house where He had delivered His teaching on marriage and divorce to the disciples. Mark’s account makes this clearer (Mark 10:13):
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
Therefore, it would appear that this followed soon afterwards, particularly if the disciples were trying to shoo people away.
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them.
The Jews of Jesus’s time carried on this beautiful tradition. As Jesus’s teachings and miracles were well known far and wide, especially at this point in His ministry, it was only natural that adults would seek His blessing of the children in their care. This was so that these children would lead a godly life. This tradition continues in the Christian faith. Matthew Henry explains:
If they cannot stretch out their hands to Christ, yet he can lay his hands on them, and so make them his own, and own them for his own.
Jesus rebuked the disciples for rebuking the adults with these children. He told them two things (verse 14): let the children come to Him and do not hinder them. John MacArthur analyses this for us (emphases mine):
Interesting that He uses two verbs and there’s a reason. The first one is in the aorist tense, point action, permit right now this moment, let them come. And then “forbid them not” is present tense. And what He’s saying is right now let these come and from now on don’t ever make it a practice to stop them from coming. So He takes care of the present and the future.
MacArthur says that these children were probably infants, even though Matthew’s manuscript used the generic Greek word for children, paedia:
But if we were to compare the other passages and go to Mark, we would find that he uses the term brephos. And so, whereas Matthew just generally says little children, Mark tells us how little, brephos, and that word means a suckling, a nursing baby, an infant. They were bringing in their arms their infants. And we know they must have been infants by our Lord’s response because the Bible says in Mark that He took them in His arms and blessed them. They were bringing babies to Jesus. They wanted Him to pray for them with His unique divine power, with His unique proximity to God, they felt, they wanted His prayers on the behalf of their little ones.
Jesus blessed these little ones — laid hands on them — and left afterwards (verse 15). Henry explains:
As if he reckoned he had done enough there, when he had thus asserted the rights of the lambs of his flock, and made this provision for a succession of subjects in his kingdom.
MacArthur tells us why Jesus was so angry with the disciples:
He was furious with them. Only two or three times He really got mad at them. Frustrated with them a lot, disappointed a lot, but really angry, just a few times. This is one of them. And the only time that particular word of indignation is used of Jesus in reference to them. But He was very angry with them for trying to stop these parents from bringing their children …
Reason number one, He loved babies. He loved them. And He knew they were a creation of God, a creation of His. And He felt a tender affection for them. And He felt a sympathy for them for the world in which they were born. And it seemed, of course, that the disciples were utterly deficient in such an attitude.
Secondly, I think He is angry with them because He also loved adults and He knew full well that if you say no to people’s children, you’re going to have a tough time getting their attention. Politicians learned that long ago. I mean, He knew the first and foremost way to a parent’s heart was through their baby and He wanted to demonstrate the genuineness of His tender love and care for the little ones.
Thirdly, I think He was angry with them because no one is outside the care and plan and love of God, not even a baby. No one is outside the concern of God, not a baby. No one ever coming to Jesus Christ intrudes on Him.
Fourthly, I think He was angry because children provided Him a tremendous picture, a tremendous illustration, a tremendous analogy for salvation. And He took advantage of it every time He could.
Fifthly, I think He was angry with them because He needed to set them straight about something. And that something was this, you don’t ever say who can or cannot come to Christ. That’s not within your prerogative. If you follow the life of Christ, you will find that He refused some people they brought and He sought some people they rejected. And it is a lesson of who’s in charge, again. And so, He really was eliminating their misunderstanding, their lack of concern for little ones.
Note that Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (verse 14). It belongs to them and to believers who have their innocence of the world and dependence on God the Father. If that sounds familiar, it is because Matthew recorded it in the previous chapter (Matthew 18:1-4), verses which I covered in May 2016.
Parents and people in charge of children close to them — family friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents — do well to begin religious instruction of some sort from an early age. My mother taught me how to pray by the time I was three years old. The sooner adults begin, the sooner the child begins to know Jesus Christ and God the Father. Furthermore, the sooner that begins the longer that journey in faith progresses and continues.
MacArthur gives us the following advice about children:
… if God made them and God gave them and God gave them to be a blessing, then God wants them “returned” to Him for His use. And that is why Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he’s old he won’t depart from it.” That’s why Ephesians 6:4 very clearly says, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Because the task that you have is to give your children back to God, that’s your stewardship. So remember, where they came from, and to where they are to return.
Go back to the Pentateuch, I’m thinking of Deuteronomy 6 for a minute. Let me give you just a look at a pattern that you need to understand if you’re going to effectively teach children. We must remember whose they are, where they came from and where they’re to return and we must teach them…we must teach them. And here is how. I believe God gave this to Moses in the very beginning with His people because it’s so basic, it hasn’t changed, the principles are here. Verse 4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” In other words, if you’re going to teach your children, it all begins with you worshiping the right God in the right way. No idols. You cannot teach them unless you commit yourself to the true religion.
Secondly, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart.” What does that mean? That means internalize what you believe about God. Not only have the right theology, but the right heart. You’ve got to commit to your children not only truth but truth in an uncompromising heart of conviction, truth in a pure heart, truth in a holy life so that you see God in everything. You love Him with your heart, your mind, your soul, your power, everything. If you’re going to teach your children, you’ve got to have the right God and the right faith and it’s got to come right out of your heart. It has to be internal with you, not just external.
And then verse 7, I love this, “Teach them diligently unto thy children and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.” What does that say? That simply says that you have to teach from life situations. You have the right faith in God, you’ve internalized it, your heart is filled with love, your passion is toward God, you love Him with your heart, mind and strength and now out of every vicissitude, every trial, every struggle, every moment of life, you teach the truth of God….when you stand up, sit down, walk in the way, lie down, every time you’ve got an opportunity. It isn’t enough to sit down with your kids and read them a Bible story and then go on and live a worldly life the rest of the day. You’ve got to draw God into every analogy, into every aspect of life. They have to see the Lord in everything. All of life becomes a blackboard in which you teach the truth of God. And it’s unending, unceasing, constant. Teach it diligently all the time, sitting down, walking, lying down, rising up so that it’s the flow of life.
Bedtime Bible stories, a religious bedroom wall plaque, simple prayers for toddlers, the Lord’s Prayer by the time the child starts nursery school, conversations about God’s creation when looking at plants or animals, saying Grace before meals in thanksgiving of His provisions are just a few ways parents, families and other guardians can convey the reality of divine truth.
Don’t wait for Sunday School or Christian school teachers to do it. Start with yourselves — today. Teaching a child about God’s love for him or her will be more effective than their hearing it from someone they see once a week for an hour. Patience, faith and a pure heart will benefit children enormously in their religious journey.
Next time: Matthew 19:16-22