“Let the Little Children Come to Me”
Deuteronomy 4:9-10; Proverbs 23:6; Matthew 19:13-15 (text)
August 10, 2014 â€¢ Download this sermon (PDF)
As a matter of courtesy, please advise Rev. Nollie MalabuyoÂ if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank you.
Congregation of Christ: Today is the fourth sermon in our series, â€œA Little Church in the House: Raising and Strengthening a Godly Household.â€ Recall that the 17-18th century Presbyterian minister Matthew Henry called for a â€œlittle church in the house,â€ with the three marks of a true church. The parents or heads of households are to teach their children and the whole household sound doctrine, true worship, and exercise discipline.
True worship consists of sound doctrine, psalm-singing and godly prayers. We have studied how to teach our children sound doctrine and psalm-singing. Today, our focus will be on teaching them how to pray.
In our worship services, we usually recite the Lord’s Prayer together. Recall also that Jesus taught his disciples this model prayer after they asked him, â€œLord, teach us to pray.â€ If his adult disciples asked our Lord to teach them to pray, how much more will our little children ask us to teach them to pray? So if they asked you, what and how would you teach them?
When our four children were little, we taught them this simple bedtime prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
Angels watch me through the night,
And wake me up with morning light.
For mealtime prayers, they prayed this simple prayer:
For health and strength and daily bread,
We praise Thy Name, O Lord.
Our text today is what seems to be a minor account in Jesus’ earthly ministry when some parents brought their little children to Jesus. His disciples rebuked the parents, but Jesus welcomed the children, saying, â€œLet the little children come to me.â€
This afternoon we will study Matthew 19:13-15, â€œLet the Little Children Come to Me,â€ under three headings: first, Why Jesus Welcomed Them; second, What Jesus Did for Them; and third, The Duties of Parents Towards Their Children.
Why Jesus Welcomed Them
This story is very well-known to all Christians. Picture this: Jesus is very busy teaching crowds of people (Mk 10:1). But some parents approached Him with their little children. Why did these parents bring their children to him? Luke’s version says, â€œNow they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch themâ€ (Lk 18:15; also Mk 10:13). Their desire was for Jesus to touch their infants (notice not only â€œlittle children,â€ but â€œinfantsâ€).
In Matthew’s version, the parents wanted Jesus to lay his hands upon them and pray for them. Since this famous Rabbi has healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out demons, knew what’s in the minds of people, they believed that he must be a prophet from God. Even if their children were not sick, a touch and a prayer from this miracle-performing Rabbi would obviously be a good thing for them. Much like when people want to touch the Black Nazarene or some other idol because many others have said that they had been blessed by touching them.
But the disciples, seeing Jesus as busy as ever, wanted to protect him from being distracted from teaching the people. He can give attention to the infants when he is not very busy. So they prevented the parents from approaching Jesus, and even rebuked them.
Then Jesus noticed all the fuss, and he was â€œindignantâ€ (Mk 10:14), really angry, not just displeased at his disciples. So he rebuked them in turn, and told them, â€œLet the little children come to me and do not hinder them.â€ So one by one, he held them, laid his hands upon them, and prayed for them. Among the Jews, laying hands upon children is a traditional manner of blessing by the father, as when Jacob blessed his children (Gen 48:14), and by someone older, as when Moses blessed Joshua (Num 27:18).
Jesus must have had a very good reason why he was furious at his disciples for preventing the little children from being brought to him. He givers the reason why: â€œfor to such belongs the kingdom of heavenâ€ (verse 14b). He welcomed them as members of the â€œkingdom of heavenâ€ (â€œkingdom of Godâ€ in Mark and Luke).
What does he mean by this saying? Now, this saying has become a point of disagreement between Baptists and paedobaptists. Most evangelicals have this sentimental notion that what Jesus meant by this is that any adult who does not receive the kingdom of God like an innocent and trusting child cannot enter into it. They believe that Jesus is teaching adults a lesson, saying that one needs to be like an innocent, trusting child to be accepted by him.
But are little children really innocent and trustful? Notice again that the word for â€œlittle childrenâ€ here includes a range of age from 8-day-old John the Baptist (Lk 1:59) to the 12-year-old daughter of the ruler of a synagogue (Mk 5:42). Are these little children really innocent? Psalm 51:5 and 58:3 says that all human beings are conceived and born in sin. Sin rears its ugly head early in a little baby when it cries non-stop as soon as it is laid in the crib, or needs to be fed. So, does the kingdom of God belong to adults when they show their child-like â€œinnocenceâ€? God forbid!!
Also, did Jesus say that the kingdom of God belongs to adults who are â€œlikeâ€ children? No, the comparative word â€œlikeâ€ is not here. Instead, Jesus used â€œto suchâ€â€”meaning, to â€œlittle childrenâ€ themselvesâ€”belong the kingdom. He was not saying that adults who are â€œinnocentâ€ and â€œtrustingâ€ like children will go to heaven, for there are no such kind of people. But little children, though conceived and born in sin, belong to God’s kingdom.
But if little children belong to the kingdom, then are we saying that all children are to be baptized? No, Jesus says that only children of professing believers are to be baptized, since the little children brought to him are members of Israel, the old covenant people of God. Even if we cannot know if they are regenerate or not, they are to be given the sign and seal of membership in the new covenant church. Since we know from John the baptizer and the prophet Jeremiah that even an unborn infant can be regenerate, there is great error and danger in not giving the sign and seal of the new covenant to them who are likely to be elect according to God’s Word.
Jesus welcomed these little children because they belonged to his kingdom. After that, what did he do for them?
What Jesus Did for Them
After welcoming the little children, Jesus laid his hands upon them, blessed them and prayed for them. What does being â€œblessedâ€ by Jesus mean? Recall our study of the Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:24-26. During the time of Israel, the LORD blessed them by them giving good harvests and sufficiency, peace with their pagan neighbors, children, and his own presence. A lack or absence of these things were taken as Godâ€™s disfavor against them. Much like today when we receive good gifts and all kinds of prosperity from God, we say God has â€œblessedâ€ us. And we praise God and thank God for all these things.
It also means that even in sufferings and persecutions, we are blessed and kept by God in the kingdom of heaven. Being blessed also means that God is gracious to us. He is sure to save us from sin, from our enemies, from troubles and from sickness. Surely, he will answer our prayers. The LORD also blesses us with â€œpeace.â€ He gives all of the good things or blessings he has in store for us. Often, these are material things; but not only material things, but also all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.
So when Jesus blesses these covenant children, he prays that they will profess faith when they become young men and women; and that they will enjoy not only a life of prosperity, but the peace of God.
And as Christian parents, we must pray that they are also elect, whether they are saved as unborn infants or young children or adults. Although we give them the sign of membership in the covenant of grace and consider them as covenant children, we do not baptize them because they are regenerate. Rather, we baptize themÂ in obedience to God’s commands.Â On the other hand, we also do not presume that they are unregenerate little pagans, as most evangelicals do, as we regard our pre-professing covenant children as Christians until they behave as unregenerate. So we do not try to “convert” them, but diligently strive to raise them as faithful, godly children. Canons of Dort I:17 confirms this when it says, â€œGodly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancyâ€ (Canons of Dort I:17; see also Westminster Confession 10:3).
Therefore, we are to continue praying that they are truly elect infants or children, just as Job prayed and offered sacrifices for his children daily (Job 1:5).
The Duties of Parents Towards Their Children
Our Old Testament reading is an exhortation and a warning to the parents of Israel:
â€œOnly take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children… [T]he LORD said to me, â€˜Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children soâ€™â€ (Deut 4:9-10).
Teach the children God’s word. Teach them to fear the LORD. Teach them to worship God alone and worship him in Spirit and in Truth. Teach them disciplined behavior. And teach them to pray.
How are we to teach all these things to our children? First of all, God says, â€œTake care, and keep your soul diligently.â€ Paul says the same thing to warn believers to be careful about how they conduct themselves before others, such as, â€œBut take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weakâ€ (1 Cor 8:9; see also 3:10). If we want to teach our children to pray, we must set an example for them. They must see us praying regularly: before meals, before traveling, before bedtime; for those who are sick; for people who need help; for the civil authorities. Let them hear us praying for God’s comfort and protection for our suffering, persecuted brothers and sisters in the world, especially at this very moment in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Nigeria. They must see us praising God for answered prayers. That is why it is also a good idea to teach them to keep a prayer record, so they see how God has answered their prayers.
And when we pray with them when they are little, we are teaching them to pray. Those of you who have been raised in praying Christian households, how did you learn to pray? You learned by example from your parents. You mimic their words. How did you learn what things and who to pray for? You listen to their daily prayers for loved ones, for other people, for food and other provisions, for healing from sickness.
Remember the very first prayers you learned? These are the simple bedtime prayers and prayers before meals your parents taught you. Then as you grew older, you learned how to pray for others and for your own needs. In the church, you learned how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. You also learned to pray in public, in your youth group meetings, Bible studies, and in camps. In short, you learned by example from others, especially by your parents.
As parents, do you show your children that you have zeal and confidence in your prayers? That it is not a mere ritual to be performed, but is done with a zealous expectation of joyful and reverent communion with God himself. That even in the midst of great trials and sufferings and problems, you are confident that the Lord’s will is sovereign. Do you show them how it is to be thankful even when God says no?
Do you show them how to praise and thank God for all his benefits to you: his provisions, his care, and especially his redeeming and forgiving love through the sacrifice of his Only-Begotten Son?
Finally, do you show them how to pray Biblically by praying the prayers in the Bible? The Psalms are not merely songs, but are prayers. Some are prayers of praise, adoration and thanksgiving. And some are prayers for redemption from sin, deliverance from enemies, and joy in sufferings. It is both a tragedy and a travesty that so many professing believers in the church do not even know how to pray in public. We can only conclude that their parents did not teach them to pray.
Dear Family of God: These reminders about teaching our children the habit of prayer and how to pray are not only for parents, but for all the people of God. For someday, God will give all of you children, or family members, or friends whom you will be responsible for teaching. As the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, you are to ask him the same, and to ask him to pray diligently, faithfully, and in Holy Spirit and in the truth of God’s Word.
Most importantly, you are to take care that you are a good example to those whom God has given you to teach. For our Lord Jesus Christ is our greatest example of the pre-eminent Prayer Warrior. Even as he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced God’s wrath, not on his sin, but for the sin of his own people, he prayed for our protection from the world that hates us. He prayed that the truth will make us grow in godliness and righteousness.
He is truly our Great High Priest who taught us how to pray, and always interceding for us before the throne of his Father in heaven.