We continue our study of the gospel of Matthew today. If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 19. In Matthew 19, the Lord Jesus is teaching us about the nature of the kingdom, the character of the kingdom that He is preaching in, bringing in, and He focuses especially on three subjects, marriage, children and possessions. Last week we considered Jesus' strong words about marriage and divorce and singleness. This week we turn to an important incident in Jesus' ministry regarding the blessing of children. So let's give attention to God's holy word in Matthew 19, beginning in verse 13. This is the word of God.
“Then some children were brought to him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there.”
Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let us look to Him again in prayer.
Our Lord we come to You this day in this hour asking for spiritual enlightenment that we might be hearers and doers of the word. May we read, mark, learn and study this truth of Your word in such a way that our lives are transformed and that our understanding of Your kingdom is enhanced. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This event seems mundane enough but it was important enough to the gospel writers that not only Matthew but also Mark and Luke took the time to record it, with Mark adding some details that Matthew and Luke do not provide. So its brevity belies its significance. There is terse truth in this passage that warrants our attention.
The story itself is straightforward. Some parents have come to Jesus asking Him to bless their children, to pray for their children, requesting their infants to be taken in the arms of the Savior and blessed. The disciples have attempted to keep these parents from bringing their children to Jesus and Jesus responds, not by rebuking the parents, but by rebuking the disciples. And His saying to the disciples in response to their attitude to these parents and children reveals two important truths that I want us to consider today. The first one is this: in this passage Jesus uses this opportunity of parents bringing children to Him for blessing, He uses this opportunity to teach His disciples the necessity of humility. In fact, in this incident there is a great lesson for you and me. And that lesson is: we must aspire to child-like lowliness if we want to be a part of Jesus' kingdom. We must aspire to child-like lowliness and humility if we want to be in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
I. We must aspire to child-like lowliness and humility if we want to be in the kingdom of Jesus Christ
We don't know exactly why Jesus Christ's disciples were rebuffing these parents, the passage doesn't tell us. Mark doesn't tell us. Luke doesn't tell us. We have to infer what that objection was from verse 14. It may have been that the disciples thought that Jesus was too important to be bothered with dealing with children that would have been too young to understand His message, the proclamation to the kingdom of heaven to the people of Israel, that Israel should repent and turn to the God of their fathers and should receive the blessings of the kingdom of heaven and recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Perhaps the disciples thought that Jesus was too great a personage as the Messiah of Israel to be bothered with these children. Perhaps it was their concern that by praying for these children, by blessing these children, it would delay the Lord Jesus in His journey toward Jerusalem. Perhaps they thought that this request was too similar to a current practice that was done by the people, whereby they took their children to the scribes and asked the scribes to bless their children. And perhaps the disciples thought, “O well, you see they are equating the Lord Jesus with the scribes and that's a bad thing, it sort of offends us, and so we're going to keep them away.”
Whatever the case is, Jesus' response in verse 14 indicates that close to the heart of the lesson that He wanted to convey, was the lesson of humility. And so, His very response indicates what the sin of the disciples was that He thought necessary to rebuke. Jesus wants to make it clear again that the kingdom that He is setting up belongs to the humble. Think how often He continually presses that truth home to the disciples. Chapter 18 opened up with that declaration that the one who is great in the kingdom is humble. And now, Jesus, speaking to His disciples who are beginning to grasp that He is the Messiah of Israel, the rightful king of all God's people, but who also think that, “Well if He's the king and He's the Messiah, then we're pretty important. Which one of us is greatest in this kingdom? And surely He would only be concerned with those who are great and important in the land.”
Once again Jesus says, if you want to be in My kingdom, you've got to have child-like humility. Jesus is using this event as an opportunity to instruct His disciples in the necessity of humility. Children were loved in Jesus' time but they were socially powerless. There was a high infant mortality rate that meant that they were physically powerless as well, many of them dying before maturity. In fact, in Egypt, it is probable that the infant mortality rate was about 50%. That is, about 50% of the children died before the age of 12. And so, eager to get on with the business of setting up the kingdom, the disciples have little time for these little people who wield little power.
But the Lord Jesus stops to bless and to pray for these children and in so doing says to the disciples a word that indicates that they must adopt the posture of these children, humility and weakness, if they are going to be great in the kingdom. And so it seems that the disciples did not want to see the Messiah's work interrupted by this negligible ministry to marginal members of the society. What they see as an insignificant ritual is only going to take up the important time of the Messiah.
But Jesus responds by rebuking His disciples. No, He says in effect, children should be allowed to come to Me, indeed, indeed, they and those like them, those who are children in humility, are part of My kingdom. That is, kingdom membership is invariable connected with a spirit of humility. Don Carson says this, “Jesus insisted that the kingdom belongs to those who from a position of spiritual bankruptcy. Not the haughty and self-seeking but the humble and open like children inherit eternal life and find positions of imminence.” Gospel humility is indispensable. That is one of the lessons that Jesus is pressing home to us today and we need to ask ourselves is that our posture towards Christ.
Do we have gospel humility? Do we feel entitled to the grace of God? Do we feel entitled to the blessings of God so that when things go wrong with our lives we shake our fists at God as if He has done us a personal wrong? How dare He make our lives difficult! Or, do we have gospel humility? Recognizing that every good gift comes from the heavenly Father by His mercy and every difficulty is not as difficult as it ought to be because His grace is intervening. Have we had gospel humility in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whereby we have recognized that we deserve to be damned? We deserve to be cast off and condemned. We are sinners! And so we simply come to the Lord Jesus Christ with our empty hands and say, “Lord save me, not only from my sins but from myself, not only from my evil deeds but from my good deeds, save me Lord because I have no claims on You.”
Have we demonstrated that type of gospel humility, or do we feel like God owes us forgiveness, because that's His business? You see, if that's our spirit, we don't have the kind of gospel humility that Jesus is speaking of here. Jesus is calling on us to recognize our spiritual poverty and humble ourselves before Him.
And it's not just that He is saying, “You have to do that to get into My kingdom, but then you're done with humility.” No, we grow in humility in the kingdom, because the way we enter into the kingdom is also the way that we grow in the kingdom. And so gospel humility is indispensable.
And there are a couple of good tests that we can apply to ourselves to evaluate how we are doing with regard to gospel humility. The first one is this: do you love, or do you resent the gospel? When someone comes to you and tells you that you're a sinner and that you deserve the condemnation of God, but that God in His love and mercy sent His Son to bear your sins so that by His grace through trust in the Lord Jesus Christ you can be made a child of God, does that offend you? Does it offend you for someone to say, yes, you're a sinner and you deserve to be condemned? Does that sound a little old fashioned? Does that sound a little out of date? Does that sound offensive to the good person that you are? If so, you may not yet have tasted of the gospel humility that Jesus says is necessary for His kingdom. Or do you love the gospel? When you hear that message that you are but a sinner saved by grace does it thrill you again? Do you love to hear that message realizing that your salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and none of your deeds contributed towards it? If that message thrills you then it is very, very probable that gospel humility has taken root in your heart and is growing. And you'll never get tired of that story of God's grace.
There's a second test. What about when difficulties come into your lives? Do you find yourself resenting God and thinking of God as someone who is treating you unfairly. Someone who is doing you wrong. Someone who is an ogre in the sky, raining on your parade, destroying your life without compassion? Then, that shows that you do not have gospel humility. For gospel humility, even in the dark providences of life, recognizes that behind that frowning providence is the smiling face of the loving God and Father. And gospel humility accepts from the hands of the Lord the trials, the losses and crosses that He brings into our experience and asks His Holy Spirit to help us endure. Both of those would be good tests to ascertain whether we have gospel humility. Now that's the first lesson that Jesus teaches in this passage. Jesus uses children, in other words, as a metaphor to speak of those who are child-like in their humility. He's saying, my kingdom belongs to those who will humble themselves like these children, to those who will be child-like in their humility.
II. Children in the New Testament also have a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. We must strive to bring our children to Christ
But the metaphor itself is based upon another reality revealed in this passage, that children of believers are accorded a special place in Jesus' kingdom just like they were under the old covenant administration of the covenant of grace. And that observation brings us to the second point that I want to press home today. This passage teaches us about the role of children in Christ's kingdom. It teaches us about the place which children have in the kingdom agenda that Jesus was not only preaching, not only proclaiming, but was actually bringing about in His life and in His death, and this principle about place of children in the kingdom teaches us that we must strive by every means to bring our children to Christ.
This passage reveals the importance which the Lord Jesus attached to children. Have you noticed that Matthew often recognizes the special ministry that Jesus had to children? For instance, if you were to turn back to Matthew 14 and Matthew 15, in Matthew 14:21 and in Matthew 15:38 in the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, respectively, it's very interesting that Matthew notices that not only were five thousand men fed and then four thousand men fed, but that women and children were present as well. Matthew often points out the ministry of Christ to women and to children, those who would have been seen as marginal in the power structure of society in His day, and in Jesus' blessing of the children here in Matthew 19, verses 13 through 15, He is revealing their inclusion in His kingdom program.
Now, some ministers will go to the last three words of verse 14; look at them. If you're reading in the New American Standard, the last three words of verse 14 are, such as these. And some ministers will say, “Now look, Jesus is not saying that the kingdom belongs to children; He's saying that the kingdom belongs to those who are like children in their humility.”
Well, that's of course true that He is saying that, that Jesus is saying that the kingdom belongs to those who are child-like in humility. But Jesus is not blessing and praying for those who are child-like in their humility here; He's blessing and praying for children. It is children who are being brought to him. He is praying for children. He is laying His hands on children.
This is very important in light of two things that we see, one in the Scripture and one in Jesus' time. The first is, in the Old Testament, for instance in the book of Genesis, very often the patriarchs prayed for God's blessing and favor upon their children by the laying-on of hands. Remember Genesis 48? If you turn to Genesis 48, verse 14, you will see there an instance in which the patriarch laid his hands on his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, or rather he laid his hands on his son, Ephraim and Manasseh and pronounced a blessing upon them, calling down God's favor upon them. This was a pattern established in the Old Testament of fathers calling down God's blessings, spiritual blessings, upon their sons. And in Jesus' time it was indeed a practice on the evening of the Day of Atonement, for good, faithful, observant Jews to take their young children, their infants in arm and take them to the scribe and to ask the scribe to pray for two things. They would ask the scribe to pray that the child would not depart from the way of righteousness and that the child would grow up into a full understanding of the knowledge of the law.
Now these parents are taking their children, not to a scribe, but to Jesus. You see, these parents are believing in some measure on the Lord, Jesus Christ. The passage doesn't tell us how much they knew, or how much they understood, but they apparently recognized Jesus is the one that they wanted to bless their children. Not only to pray that their children would not depart from the way of righteousness but that they might grow up in the knowledge of the Lord. So the Lord Jesus welcomes these children to Himself, and He prays and He blesses them. The laying on of hands for the purpose of blessing the children was done by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus responds to the faith of these parents with His favor. Calvin observes this, “This story is very useful. It teaches us that Christ does not receive only those who voluntarily come to Him out of a holy desire and moved by faith, but also those who may not yet be old enough to realize how much they need His grace. These small children still have no understanding that they should seek His blessing and yet when they are brought to him He receives them kindly and lovingly and consecrates them to His Father in a solemn ceremony of blessing.” And J.C. Ryle says, “Let us learn from these verses that the Lord Jesus cares tenderly for the souls of little children. Young as they are, they are not beneath His thought and attention. That mighty heart of His has room for the babe in its cradle as well as the king on his throne. He regards each infant as possessing within its little body an undying principle which will outlive the pyramids of Egypt and see the sun and moon quenched at that last day, and so He cares for their souls.”
And so my friends, underlying this passage and the illustration which Jesus gives to His disciples about humility is a principle about the kingdom. And that is, even in the new covenant, even in the kingdom of heaven, children have a place and a roll in the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And there are several practical ramifications for that and I'd like to speak to you about them for just a few moments.
The first thing is that this passage has something to do with our understanding of baptism. Very often, our friends who do not baptize infants say to Presbyterians and others who baptize children, “Where do you get this idea that children are to be baptized?’ Well, this passage is not speaking about baptism, but it is speaking about the principle of the inclusion of children in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, it is a foundation point for our understanding of infant baptism because children are part of Jesus' kingdom. Therefore they are to receive the sign of membership and union in that kingdom. Many, many years ago Calvin would say this, “That Jesus embraced children was a testimony that Christ reckoned them in His flock.” And hundreds of years before that, the early church father, Basil, said, “The apostle praised Timothy who had known the holy Scripture from infancy, and he also instructed that children be reared in the discipline and correction of the Lord. So we consider every time of life, even the very earliest, suitable for receiving persons into the community of faith.” This passage shows us that Jesus considered that the children of believers had a part in the covenant of grace and that truth undergirds our practice of baptism.
We don't baptize children because it's cute. We don't baptize children because it's a sweet ritual or ceremony. We don't do it because that's the way they did it in the Roman Catholic church and we just haven't quite gotten Reformed enough in the Reformation. We do it because we believe the Scriptures lay down this principle, that children of believing parents are part of the kingdom plan of the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage undergirds that truth.
We do it because we believe that the covenant of grace has two sign, one of union, one of communion, and that all members of the covenant of grace ought to have the sign of union applied to them and that sign is baptism. And we do it because the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter make it clear that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant in the new covenant.
Those are very simple reasons, very straightforward biblical reasons. That's why we baptize children. It's not just a nice tradition. We do it because we really believe that the Bible teaches it.
But that's not the only lesson for us, not the only practical application of the truth in this passage. More than that, does not this passage call us to family worship and real and earnest prayer for our children? Begin today to read your children the bible if you're not. Begin today to pray with them and for them. Begin today to sing with them the songs and hymns of our faith. This passage reminds us that Jesus thought the children of the kingdom were important enough to stop and bless and lay hands on and pray for. Do we pray for our own children? There's an elder of our church who is fond of saying this, “If you don't pray for your child today, who will?”
Are we praying for our children? Are we praying for them? Are we leading them in the worship of God in our families? John Trapp, the Puritan, many years ago said, commenting on these words, “They were there brought unto Him little ones by their parents. These children were brought because they were careful of their greatest good.” We must also present our children as we can to Christ. Why? And how? So that praying for them before, at, and after their birth, by kindly bringing them to the ordinance of baptism with faith and much joy in such a privilege, and by training them up in God's holy fear, we might be instruments in their embracing the promises of God. J. C. Ryle says, let us draw from these verses encouragement to attempt great things in the religious instruction of our children. Let us begin from their very earliest years to deal with them as having souls to be lost or saved and let us strive to bring them to Christ. Let us make them acquainted with the bible as soon as they can understand anything. Let us pray with them and pray for them and teach them to pray for themselves. The seed sown in infancy is often found after many days.
Happy is the church whose infant members are cared for as much as the oldest communicants. The blessing of him that was crucified will surely be on the church. He put His hands on the little children. Let us pray for ours.
Now that's a message for all of us, not just those of us who have children, it's a message for all of us. Every time there is a baptism here, by God's grace we raise our hands and say that as a congregation we are committing ourselves to the spiritual nurture and admonition, to the aid of the parents in the spiritual nurture and admonition, of that child. And whether we are single, whether we are married without children, whether our children have long left the home, or whether we are struggling with three under the age of three and one-half, it is our glorious privilege and responsibility to help in the Christian nurture and admonition of the children of this flock. It is a truism that children are our future. But truisms have this in favor of them - they are true. And so, we must devote ourselves as a congregation and look here, here is Jesus, the man who is single, the man with no natural children of His own, giving us the example of Christian care and concern for the souls of our children.
Do we long to see the day when our children embrace the savior in His promises? Do we long for that day? Well, if we do, what are we doing about it? Jesus has taught us of the roll of children in the kingdom of God. Let us heed His words. May God bless His word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that by the grace of the Spirit, You would give us gospel humility and then set ourselves about the task of bringing your young ones to You. For Christ's sake we ask it. Amen.
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