Then children were brought to him 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. Mt. 19.13-15
In the face of growing opposition and rejection, Jesus has been steadily teaching his disciples, preparing them for what was coming. In chapter 19, he moves out of Galilee for the last time and moves his ministry into Judea on his way to Jerusalem (20.17), on his way to the cross. On this journey, as R.T. France says, “the paradoxical values of the kingdom of heaven will be revealed …” This chapter contains a critical discipleship lesson that his followers had yet to learn – that in those we consider to be the least, there is often the greatest treasure if we will only look for it. The parallels for this teaching are found in Mark 10:13-16 and in Luke 18:15-17.
Parents know a good thing for their kids when they see it, and in this case, some were bringing their little ones to see Jesus to have him pray and ask God’s favor to rest on them. As is common in our day, children didn’t carry much weight or influence. They needed to stay in their place and out of the way. I mean this wasn’t just anyone. This was Jesus, and he had more important concerns than to be bothered by kids – or so his disciples thought. The disciples, instead of welcoming them, acted more like bodyguards and were, therefore, shooing the kids away. Mark’s gospel is especially clear on how Jesus feels about all of this, telling us he was “indignant” over the disciples’ response. Jesus was not happy about it at all – very displeased. He had already stated how he feels about the ‘little ones’ of the kingdom (any true disciple) in Matthew 18:1-5. We would be wise to reflect on it.
Jesus essentially tells his disciples, “Don’t get between them and me” (vs.14a, The Message). They exhibit what the kingdom is all about. The disciples’ rebuke was due to their own blindness about some critical qualities of the kingdom that are often overlooked. These critical qualities are found, of all places, in little children! Jesus makes it clear from Mark and Luke’s accounts that without these qualities that are found in little children, we won’t get into the kingdom at all! It is to those who possess these childlike qualities that the kingdom is given (‘to such belongs the kingdom’ vs.14b).
Here’s a short list of these kingdom qualities children seem to carry around without even knowing it. Maybe you can add to them and reflect on how and why they are so important to Jesus in our belonging to the kingdom.
- Children Are Totally Dependent.
- Children Are Absolutely Curious.
- Children Believe Anything is Possible.
- Children Are Really Authentic.
- Children Forgive Quickly.
- Children Love Well.
- Children Model Humility.
We too are often like those first disciples of Jesus. We readily miss what’s most important to him. Jesus knew children reveal the essence of what the kingdom is all about. Just as we learn from observing the things of creation, we can learn from closely listening to what children say and do, even in the most unlikely places and strangest circumstances. I recently ran across this collection of short letters that children have written to their pastor. If we read between the lines we might observe some of those qualities to which Jesus refers.
Please say in your sermon Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. I am Peter Peterson. Sincerely, Pete, age 9
Are there any devils on earth? I think there may be one in my class.—Carla, age 10
I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister. Yours Sincerely, Arnold, age 8
I’m sorry I can’t leave more money in the plate, but my father didn’t give me a raise in my allowance. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance? Love Patty, age 10
My mother is very religious. She goes to play bingo at church every week even if she has a cold. Yours truly, Annette, age 9
I would like to go to Heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there.
—Stephen, age 8
I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland.
—Loreen, age 9
Please say a prayer for our Little League team. We need God’s help or a new pitcher. Thank you, Alexander, age 10
My father says I should learn the Ten Commandments. But I don’t think I want to because we have enough rules already in my house.—Joshua, age 10
How does God know the good people from the bad people? Do you tell Him or does He read about it in the newspapers? Sincerely, Marie, age 9
I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished.—Ralph, age 11
I hope to go to Heaven some day but later than sooner. Love Ellen, age 9
My father should be a minister. Every day he gives us a sermon about something.—Peter, age 10
Jesus in Matthew 18:3 says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”