“Let the Little Children Come”
Translation & Sermon by Nate
Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 03 Mar. 2013
children were led toward Him
in order that He might place His hands upon and pray for them,
disciples reprimanded them.
“Let go of the children
and stop hindering them from coming toward me,
for the kingdom of the heavens is [made
up] of these sort [of individuals].
after placing His hands upon them, He proceeded on from there.
As we look at our next
passage in Matthew, let us remember the context of it: Jesus has left His
residence in the town of Capernaum at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee,
and He is heading toward Jerusalem. We are reading about several conversations
He has along the way. Currently Jesus is in someone’s house talking with His
disciples (Mark 10:10). In the latest dialogue, He has just affirmed
both singleness and marriage when appropriate. Now, if you’re going to affirm
marriage, you’re going to have to deal with children, so, appropriately enough,
a dialogue regarding children comes next:
Then children were led toward Him in order that He might place His hands upon
and pray for them, but the disciples reprimanded them.
‘ινα τας χειρας
- The word for
“children” here in the Greek New Testament is “paidia,” which Matthew consistently used for young
the word Matthew used of Jesus at around 1 year old when the magi visited
Him and then Herod sent soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem (Mt.
is also the word used of Jesus when he was around 2 years old and Joseph
moved the family back from Egypt to Israel (Mt. 2:20-21).
- The word is later used by Matthew to refer to
children that were old enough to talk and sing as they played games in
the marketplace (11:16), and then at the feeding of the 5,000, of
children who ate the bread and fish that Jesus provided (14:21).
- In Luke 18:15, we
see a parallel passage to Matthew 19:13 where Luke records that it was
“βρεφη/ infants, babies” who were brought to
Jesus to receive His touch. The Greek word brephe used in Luke’s account shows up only 5 other
times in the Bible, always referring to a baby around the time of its
- Luke’s more
specific term should govern the meaning of the more general term Matthew
used. These were just babies.
- Only one chapter
ago, Jesus had said to His disciples, “…whichever one [of you] will humble
himself like this child (paidia),
it is this man who is the greater one in the kingdom of the heavens, and
whoever shall receive this child on the basis of my name is receiving me
myself!” (Mt. 18:4-5, NAW) The
disciples should have remembered this and received the children that were
being led to Jesus! Why didn’t they?
- Matthew may
have felt some anxiety as babies were brought into the room, snot running
from their noses, spitting drool all over the place, crying and making
extraneous noise, their feet and hands dirty from playing in the dust. Matthew
was probably one of the disciples who said, “Hey, I’m sorry, but Jesus is
tired, and that’s why He’s resting here in the house (Mark
10:10). Furthermore, if we let you do this, then every parent in
the country is going ask, and we’ll never see the end of it! Besides,
Jesus is teaching us disciples important things; take your kids somewhere
else to play; they are bothering us!”
“But wait,” the mom says, “we wanted Jesus to pray for our children!”
- Notice that the
children did not come of their own accord; they were “brought” or
literally “led toward” Jesus. The children’s guardians or parents wanted
Jesus to bless their children by laying His hands on them and praying for
them. I suspect that these were the
children of the family who was hosting them.
- These parents had
been blessed by Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry, and they wanted
their children to “also” receive the same blessings they did (The word “also”
is in Luke’s parallel account).
- These parents
believed that Jesus had the ability, as the Son of God, to command
blessings upon children, or they wouldn’t have asked Jesus to bless them.
- I can reach no
other conclusion than that these were the children of believers.
- So they brought
their children to Jesus. These parents
were doing the right thing.
- In so doing, these
parents set a powerful example to all of us who believe in Jesus: let us
bring our children – and everybody else we love – to Jesus
so that they can be blessed by Him just as we have been!
- But wait, mightn’t
that have been a bit presumptuous? Was there any reason for these parents
to hope that the blessings they experienced from God as a result of their own
personal faith could ever be passed on to their children without their
children first understanding the gospel message and expressing their
own personal faith first? Actually yes.
These parents had plenty of Biblical basis for expecting that
Jesus could bring spiritual blessings to their children: (I only have time
to mention a few, but there are many more!)
In Deut 4:37, God said, “because He loved your fathers,
therefore He chose their seed after them”
Deut 7:9 Know therefore that Jehovah your
God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness with
them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations,”
not just to the one generation currently
expressing faith in Him but to a thousand generations in a row! How can this
29:14, 15 …I make this covenant and this oath… also with
him that is not here with us today… 22
the generation to come, your children that shall rise up after you, and
the foreigner that shall come from a far land… 29 The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the
things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children. (Hold that thought until we see Peter quote this
passage to an international audience in the book of Acts.)
30:6 And Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart, and
the heart of your children, to love Jehovah your God with all your heart, and
with all your soul, that your may live. (This
is New Testament language!)
thousand years later in the prophets, Malachi wrote, “…guard yourselves in
your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your
youth... Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their
union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring!” (Mal.
the New Testament, Peter preaches in Acts 2:33-39, “[you who repent and
are baptized] shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is
the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God
shall call unto Him.”
why Paul later on in 1 Cor. 7:14 states that the
children of a believer are in a special relationship with God: they are
“holy,” whereas the children of unbelievers are “unclean.”
these promises are not only for you who believe but also for the children
of believers, believing parents are commanded by God to make every effort
to teach the faith and cultivate it in their children: (Again,
there is only time to mention a few)
- Deut 4:9-10 Only
take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the
things which your eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the
days of thy life; but make them known unto your children and your
- Deut 6:4-9 “you shall love
Jehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be
upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently unto thy children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when thou walk by
the way, and when thou lie down, and when thou rise up…”
11:18-21 Therefore, lay up these my words in your heart
and in your soul; and bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall
be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your
children, talking of them, when you sit in your house, and when you
walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And write
them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates; that your
days may be multiplied, and the days of your children…
31:10-13 “At the end of every seven years, in the set
time of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before Jehovah your God in the place which He shall choose, you shall read
this law before all Israel in their hearing. [But hire babysitters for the little ones
because they could never sit still long enough to listen to the whole Penteteuch
read, and besides, they wouldn’t understand it anyway… NOT!] Assemble
the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and thy
sojourner that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may
learn, and fear Jehovah your God, and observe to do all the words of this
law; and that their children, who have not known, may hear, and learn
to fear Jehovah your God...
God states it negatively, making the same point: Deut 7:1-5
You shall not intermarry with [the Caananites], giving your daughters to their
sons or taking their daughters for your sons, [Why?]
for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other
gods. Then the anger of Jehovah would be kindled against you, and he would
destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down
their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and
burn their carved images with fire… Not
only did God want His people to teach their children His ways, but He also
wanted them to remove any competing religious influences so that the children
would walk with God.
- Deut 4:40
Therefore you shall keep His statutes and His commandments, which
I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your
children after you...
it any wonder then that in the New Testament, fathers are commanded, “provoke
not your children to wrath: but raise them up in the chastening and
admonition of the Lord (Ephesians
- Did those parents
who brought their children to Jesus have any grounds to expect God to
bless their children? You better
- But the disciples
were not tuned in to all this. They rebuked these faith-filled parents for
imposing upon Jesus to bless their children.
Then Jesus said, “Let go of the children and stop hindering them from coming
toward me, for the kingdom of the heavens is [made up] of these sort [of
παιδια και μη
ελθειν προς με
‘η βασιλεια των
- Jesus was “moved by
indignation” (ATR) to see His disciples turning the children away (Mark
- Why should
Jesus be angry about this? Because He intended for His blessings to flow
to the children of those believers, and yet the disciples (who were
supposed to be facilitating His will on earth) were doing the very opposite
of what He wanted!
- Are any of us ever guilty of that? Ouch!
- So Jesus yells two
commands at His disciples which amount to the same thing stated positively
= sufferKJV/ allow /let [go]/release these children. “Let your
attitude toward those children and their parents be one of permission,
welcome, and freedom of movement toward me!”
- And, stated
negatively: me kwluete =
- Elsewhere in the
Bible this word is translated “hold back/ put restraints on/ keep away/
withhold/ prevent/ refuse.”
- Thayer’s Greek
lexicon traces the root of this to a word that means to punish by
withholding privileges. The disciples were trying to punish these
parents and children by “grounding” them from Jesus, and Jesus is
saying, “Whoah! Don’t do that! They belong with me!”
- “Stop doing
those things that would get in the way of them coming toward me!” Is there anything that you are doing
which might get in the way of the children in this church being blessed
- Next, Jesus gives
the reason why His followers should take this attitude toward the
children of believers. However, the wording in Greek could be interpreted
two different ways, as reflected in the different versions of our English
- The KJV
translated it “of such is the kingdom” (speaking of who
is in the kingdom),
- But the NAS, NIV,
and ESV translated it, “to such belongs the kingdom” (speaking of ownership
of the kingdom)
- I side with the KJV
and interpret it as who the kingdom is made up of:
- This kingdom of
heaven is the same as the kingdom of God,
as the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke make clear. (Matthew, who
pitched his gospel toward Jews followed the Jewish tradition of avoiding
using the term “God” out of respect for the name of God, so he tended to
say “heaven” instead.)
- A kingdom can only
be owned by a king, not by his subjects. A kingdom includes those who
acknowledge the king to be king indeed – in this case God.
- Mark and Luke’s
parallel accounts mention an additional comment from Christ which seems
to confirm my interpretation, “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.” (Mk. 10:15/Lk. 18:17, NAW) This explanatory
comment indicates that Jesus was speaking about who can enter the
kingdom rather than who owns the kingdom: It is those who, in childlike fashion, humbly
submit to Jesus as their king.
- Did Jesus mean then
only adults who are like children in faith could be in the kingdom,
but not these actual children themselves?
- It stretches the
limits of credulity for me to believe that Jesus would have used these
children as an object lesson of who is in the kingdom while at the same
time denying that they could actually be in the kingdom because they
couldn’t articulate the theology of substitutionary atonement.
- As Matthew Henry
put it in his commentary, “‘Of such,’ not only ‘of such’ in disposition and affection (that
might have served for a reason why doves or lambs should be
brought to Him), but of such, in age,
is the kingdom of heaven; to them pertain the privileges of visible
church-membership, as among the Jews of old.”
after placing His hands upon them, He proceeded on from there.
- Jesus considered
children who had not come to Him by their own will to be worthy of His
welcome and blessing.
10:16 adds that Jesus “took the children into His arms,” rather than
merely blessing them at arm’s length. He
enthusiastically received the children of these believers!
- Then Jesus epithet/ putKJV/placedNIV/layNAS,ESV
[hands] on and prayed for them.
- This may
have included healing sick children (cf. Matt. 9:18), or simply praying
blessings on them (Gen. 48:14).
- Note that if Jesus
were to lay both hands on each child (the word “hands” is plural in our
text), then Jesus would have to have given individual attention to
each child. This was not an impersonal, “God bless all these children”
sort of prayer.
- Now, what sort of
blessing would Jesus have prayed for a child?
- Could He
have, in good conscience, asked God to bless them if their eternal
destiny were uncertain? Can you see Jesus hugging a child and saying,
“O.K. little Joshua, I don’t know if you are going to choose me or not,
so I don’t know if you are going to live long and have a happy life or
not, but if you pray for me to come into your heart when you get old
enough, then I will reward you with a long and happy life.”
- Or how about
this? “Oh Miriam, I can forsee that you are going to hell, so I’ll just
pray for you to be able to grow long, beautiful fingernails.”
- No, He said, “of
such is the kingdom of heaven.” Whether you take that to mean that the
kingdom of heaven is owned by such or whether you take it to mean
that the kingdom of heaven is composed of such, He is saying that
they are “in” and not to be considered as outside the kingdom of
heaven, and His blessings would be commensurate with that.
- Matthew Henry noted
in his commentary on this passage that once the children were blessed, Jesus’
mission was completed at that house: “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.” It’s an interesting thought.
- It is on this basis
that many Christian parents baptize their children,
Let us bring our children – and
everybody else we love – to Jesus so that they can be
blessed by Him! How do
we do that today? By bringing them to
the Word of Christ and to the Body of Christ.
- recognizing their children to be included in the bounds of God’s
kingdom (Mt. 19:14),
- recognizing that
their children are in a holy relationship with God (1 Cor. 7:14),
- and recognizing
that their children are expected recipients of the blessings of God as
they are raised in His ways (Acts 2:39).
- In infant baptism,
the parents ask God to give their child a clean conscience through the
work of Jesus Christ as per
1 Peter 3:21, and then trust the Holy Spirit to do that work in their
- Is it
possible for a child to reject this inheritance and forfeit this promise?
Of course. (Heb. 6:4-8 is used to argue against the perseverance of the
saints, but I believe it refers to people like the children of believers
who have tasted of the blessings of the Spirit yet reject the inheritance
of their parent’s faith.)
- The fact
that some baptized people – even some baptized as adults – later reject
Christianity does not ultimately compromise baptism. (When I did
evangelism at the Chattanooga Flea Market on Sunday mornings just before
our church worship service, it seemed like half of the people there were
backslidden Baptists, and the other half were Seventh Day Adventists who
went to church on Saturday!) We baptize people when the circumstances
give the church every right to expect those recipients of baptism to be
saved, but sometimes the chickens came home to roost and we realize that the
recipient of baptism was not chosen by God for salvation after all, and
through the process of church discipline, both the adult who made an
empty confession of faith and the covenant-breaking child are cut off from
the membership of the church (although we may still hope in the grace of
God to bring them back).
- But whether or not
you go so far as to apply this principle of the inclusion of little
children in the kingdom of heaven to baptizing your children, hear
the words of A.T. Robertson, one of the most renowned scholars of N.T.
Greek – and a Baptist who did not believe in infant baptism – in his
commentary on this verse: “It is a tragedy to make children feel that
they are in the way at home and at church.” “It is a tragedy to make children feel that they are in the way at
home and at church.”
- This is why we include our children in our church.
This Bible passage teaches us to consider our children part of the
community of God’s people and to raise them in such a way that personal
faith in Jesus is constantly nurtured in those children.
- I want my children to sing the hymns along with
me because I want them singing those songs from their hearts as adults
to express their own faith.
- I want my children to recite the Lord’s Prayer
while they are children because I want them praying to God from their
hearts according to God’s will, as adults.
- I want my children to meet my Christian friends
in church because I want them to have Christian friends as adults. Bring them to the Body of Christ!
- In parallel with that, let us bring our children
(and other friends) to Jesus by exposing them to His word, the Bible
– in church and in the home.
- I want to discipline my children to avoid
breaking the Ten Commandments so that they will desire to obey King
Jesus as adults.
- I want my children to hear the words of the
Bible while they are little so that they will know God when they are
- But I can only teach so much with one sermon a
week at church. I need the help of all the adults in this church to
multiply the ministry of teaching God’s word so that everybody in this
church is not only hearing God’s word on Sunday morning, but throughout
the day every day, when they sit and when they lie down and when they
walk by the way!
- “It is no wonder that the great mass of children
are so wicked, when so few are put under the care of Christ by humble,
praying, believing parents. Let every parent that fears God bring up his
children in that fear; and, by baptism, let each be dedicated to the Holy
Trinity. Whatever is solemnly consecrated to God abides under His protection
and blessing.” ~Adam Clark For those
who do not practice infant baptism, you can substitute “child dedication”
in Dr. Clark’s statement and get much the same application. Jesus did not
in fact baptize these children; all He did was bless them, so I recognize
that it takes a step of inference to reach the paedobaptist position (just
as it takes a step of inference to reach an anti-paedobaptist position).
We can all bring our children to the Word of Christ and to the Body of
Christ so that they will come to Christ themselves.
- “It is well for us,
that Christ has more love and tenderness in him than the best of his
disciples have. And let us learn of Him not to discountenance any willing
well-meaning souls in their enquiries after Christ, though they are but
weak.” ~Matthew Henry
- Let us remove influences that
could destroy our children’s faith.
- Why is it that 75% of Christian children leave
the church? That’s what Dr. Voddie Baucham discovered after interviewing
thousands of college kids with Southern Baptist backgrounds. I suggest that
it is not only because their parents did not bring them to Christ, but
also because there were stumbling blocks in their home life as well:
- Are your children spending time with people who
can steer their faith off course? Are your children being influenced by
books and movies and programs that ignore God and teach an unbiblical
worldview? Get rid of those influences
–better to enter heaven with one eye than keep both eyes and be cast into
- By the way, our childrens’ faith is not merely protected
by insulating them from ever hearing different ideas; it is not possible
to control your children so tightly that they never hear any different
ideas. Instead you can inoculate them against wrong ideas by discussing
wrong ideas that they might encounter and preparing your children to
resist those wrong ideas with the truth of God’s Word.
- In addition to outside influences that might
hurt the faith of others, is there anything that you are doing
which might get in the way of the children in this church being blessed
- Our own hypocrisy, our unwillingness to trust
God, and our disobedience to God can be huge barriers. Examine your life
for anything you need to repent of.
- Another thing that can cause our
children to stray is busy-ness. If you are too busy at work and at
watching the news, or too busy cooking and cleaning and typing on your
computer, and if they are too busy with school and sports for you to
teach them when you sit down to eat, when you sit around in the living
room, when you walk by the way (or drive around), when you go to bed,
and when you wake up, then you need to go to war against the busyness in
order to nurture the souls of your children in the “discipline and
instruction of the Lord”!
- Let us include children in the life of our
church, pray for the children of the church, and do everything in our
power to encourage them towards their own faith in Jesus.