I would like to invite you to turn again in your Bibles to Luke Chapter 18 for this, what we’re going to see is such a precious insight into the tender ways of our Lord Jesus Christ. And as we see, as per usual, there is a lot beneath the surface of what seems to be such a simple account of parents bringing their children to Jesus. Uh, Some very profound theology here. It’s the theology, once again, of divine grace. Of divine grace, here in Luke 18:15-17. Let’s read those verses together.
“Now they were bringing even infants to him, that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus calmed them to him saying, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”
At this point in the narrative of Luke’s gospel, Luke has just now, at this point, rejoined the other two synoptic gospel writers, Matthew and Mark. From the point of departure in Luke 9:51, as we entered into this travel section of the narrative of Luke’s gospel, Luke has had a lot of original material, material that’s distinct to his gospel, and we’ve been through that together. But here he comes back together, joining up with where Matthew and Mark are in their gospel narratives. And from this point on, you can see that Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18 pretty much track together and move forward together.
So we have Jesus, children in the Kingdom of God here in this text, and then we’ll see immediately following is the encounter with the rich young ruler. Then we see that Jesus makes a third prediction of his suffering, and then so on, we come to the triumphal entry, the Passion narrative. There are a few differences here and there but, pretty much, Matthew, Mark and Luke will track together from here on.
For our purposes today, it’s important for us to notice, it’s important for me to point out to you that all three synoptic gospel writers connect Jesus’ teaching on the children in the Kingdom to his encounter with the rich young ruler. The two are connected. They immediately follow, one after the other. All three writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they want us to read these two accounts together. Because of the holidays, because of the Christmas schedule and all that’s happening in my life and your lives, I’m not gonna be back to keep these accounts together until the end of January. But you need to know that they are supposed to be kept together. Just shows, shows my limitations and frailty when I can’t do that. So when we come back together in the end of January, I’ll remind you of what we’ve learned here in this text, and we’ll join it together with what’s coming.
But when we do see these two accounts connected closely together, we see once again two extremes that are epitomized. The illustration of two extremes in the children on the one hand, and then the rich young ruler on the other. These characters: the children and then the rich young ruler, they illustrate stark contrast. Polar opposites. They are the kind of people, on the one hand, who will receive the Kingdom, versus the kind of people who will not.
You may have noticed when we read verses 15-17 that, in the short space of just three verses, Jesus spoke twice about the Kingdom of God. In verse 16, “to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Also in verse 17, “Whoever doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child,” and so on. So twice in a row, “The Kingdom of God.” The next time Jesus will speak about the Kingdom of God, it’s also twice in a row. Look up at verse 24, Jesus says “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God,” and then verse 25, “For it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Two other synoptic writers, Matthew and Mark, they follow exactly the same pattern, so this must be important, right? In fact, it’s critical. It’s vital. This passage is vital for us to understand, since you can see that Jesus enjoins his disciples, “Let the children come, and don’t hinder them.” And then he adds this warning: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child, that one” (and there’s a very strong emphasis here in the Greek), “that one shall by no means enter into the Kingdom.”
So it’s especially critical here because Jesus has corrected not just the crowds: not the Sadducees, Pharisees, the scribes; not the elders, the chief priests. He’s corrected, here, his disciples. These are people under his correction, who are in our position as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’d better take note here that these disciples had the opposite intuition that Jesus Christ had with regard to these children, and they ended up contradicting the Lord publicly. Publicly doing the opposite of what he wanted. How did that happen, and how can you and I avoid doing the exact same thing?
Let’s dive right into our outline, and we just have two points for this morning. Number one, we’re gonna talk about the right intuition about the Kingdom, the right intuition about the Kingdom. And then the second point will be the right disposition toward the Kingdom. So the right intuition about the Kingdom, first point, and then the right disposition toward the Kingdom. Let’s look at point one, the right intuition about the Kingdom. Jesus had the right intuition about the Kingdom, he had the right instinct, obviously. He had the right sense. The disciples did not. They did not. And we need to understand what went wrong here.
Look at verse 15 again. “Now they were bringing,” Luke says, “even infants to him, that he might touch ‘em. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” Here at this late stage in his ministry, Cross is just a couple months away. But Jesus has this large crowd of disciples following him. So this includes (obviously) the Twelve, his chosen Apostles, his Twelve, along with other disciples who are at varying degrees of understanding and varying degrees of commitment.
But they are following along. They have left all, whether in Galilee or in parts of Judea or Perea (where-ich is where they are right now), they’ve left everything, and they are following along with Jesus. And this whole entourage is there, making their way through Perea, eventually to go through Jericho and then up, making the route up to Jerusalem. But they’ve come to a stopping point along their journey, and probably taking rest in a village.
And as was typical in these little villages where Jesus came to visit, people there brought their sick to come see Jesus. They, they brought their sick and their infirm and even the demon-possessed. They brought them to Jesus to have him heal their sick loved ones. Also was, as was typical, Jesus never ever was reluctant to give of himself. He didn’t say, “Look, I, I’ve been walking a long time, I need a break, OK? Can you just keep the sick away for right now?” Never says that.
He never puts his disciples in front of the sick, or in front of the infirm, or in front of the demon-possessed and says, “Guys, can you create a barrier for me? Can you do something about that?” He’s never reluctant to give of himself, he’s never reluctant to teach people, to heal them, to cast out demons. And he does it even at the cost of his own energy and strength, even becoming weary in the work. But his compassion is always available.
It’s evident in his willingness (often, as we see, and Luke has drawn this out time and time again), it’s often evident in his willingness to touch people, to put his hands on them, even very sick people, even lepers, he’s willing to touch them, to demonstrate the tender compassion of God in healing them. The verb for touch, hapto, it’s used quite a bit in Luke’s gospel. Luke actually is drawing attention to it time and again. He portrays physical contact between Jesus and those in need of healing, those in need of forgiveness.
So if you’re one of those people in our midst who is a hugger, and you like touching people and hugging people, listen, you’ve got the points on this one. I have no argument against you. I, in fact, I’m the one who needs to repent. I get it. You’ve got biblical evidence for why you should be hugging people. But I just want to challenge you: Go the extra mile and give them that kiss of affection, right? The, all right? Be consistent.
Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, he didn’t shy away from touching a leper in Luke 5. And that just wasn’t done. You didn’t touch lepers. There was a concern about contamination, which is why they had to stay at the outskirts. They had to stay beyond the population to be quarantined away from people. (That’s how quarantines are done. You quarantine the sick, not the healthy.) Lepers were quarantined, and not to touch people. And yet Jesus, because his power would overcome their sickness and overcome their leprosy, he had no problem reaching out and touching them.
In Luke 6, he didn’t pull away from the massive crowds who drew near, all of them wanting to touch him. He didn’t even wear a mask in their presence. He touched them. He brought them near. He was mobbed by them, surrounded by them. He didn’t demand personal space. In Luke 7, he even touched a funeral bier to halt the procession. It’s a funeral procession going on. The only son of a widow had died. She was not only heartsick and heartbroken over losing her only son. Being a widow, had nobody, and so she was left destitute. No one to provide for her. And yet he reached out and touched the bier to halt the procession, raising her son from the dead and giving him back to her.
In Luke 7, also, he allowed a notoriously sinful woman to touch him, washing his feet with her tears as she wept about her sin in his holy presence. She saw the mess she’s making, and she wiped his feet with her hair, and then anointed his feet with perfume while she’s kissing his feet. A lot of human contact there. Made everybody around him uncomfortable. And yet he received that act of worship from that dear woman. Forgiven.
In Luke 8, physical contact with a hemorrhaging woman. She’d been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Dangerous condition she was in, and she’s healed just by his touch. His willingness to touch people, to make physical contact, not only shows the humanity of our Lord, but conveys, all the time, his affection for us sinners. It demonstrates his compassion, his mercy. That’s what we’re seeing here, is Jesus, who is the anointed King of God’s Kingdom, he’s acting in this kingly way that he says, “In this Kingdom, in this Messianic Kingdom, in the Kingdom of God, the King is accessible to people.” He’s approachable, he’s a gentle king.
And these parents feel, evidently, no hesitancy at all. “They were bringing,” it says, “even their infants to him that he might touch them.” The practice here is common in this first century time among the Jews. They were common for parents to come visit famous rabbis and also elders and scribes, and to seek their blessing for their children. And so how fitting it is here for them to bring their children to Jesus. He had the power to deliver people from demons, from disease, even from death itself. His power could conquer anything. So, infant mortality rate sat at about a 30% or even higher in these days. So we can understand any parent’s desire to inoculate their children with just one touch of Jesus Christ, right?
But their chief interest was not just in the physical good of their children, but also the spiritual good of their children, like any godly parent. Like any religious-thinking parent (and they were certainly religious), they wanted their children to be raised in the Lord. They wanted to teach their children to fear the Lord and to listen to his Word and heed the Word of God, such as the Law of Moses, and then hear and obey the prophets as well. Parents wanted their children to be wise and understanding, to fear the Lord, to receive his blessing over their entire lifetimes.
And so obviously, as any good parent would do, they discipline their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord from a very young age, before they could even walk, while they’re learning their words and their letters, while they’re using their bodies and learning how to use everything, parents are teaching their children. They’re teaching them to sit still and learn and listen so that they can receive the word of God. And here they bring their children to this famous rabbi, Jesus. And they want his blessing. Why wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you? That’s what’s happening in verse 15 as parents bring their children to Jesus.
It’s the imperfect tense here, and that helps us to picture that there is a, a steady flow of parents, moms and dads are just lined up here, constantly flowing. It’s like a receiving line. And they are coming, bringing their children to him to receive his blessing. Luke is actually more specific than Matthew and Mark in his account. He tells us they were bringing even infants to him. Matthew and Mark use a broader, more general word for children, which is paidia, referring to kids of various ages (could go from newborns all the way up to toddlers, younger boys, younger girls).
Generally, paidia refers to those who are not yet in a condition of accountability. They’re unable to understand the teaching of the law, so they listen dutifully, they learn their letters and they receive instruction from their parents. But they still don’t have that sense of abstract reasoning and able to, to figure out concepts and things like that. So that’s the idea of paidia. They’re in not in a condition, yet, of accountability, and they’re being brought to Jesus by their parents.
Luke, though, is more specific in his account. He uses the word “infants,” Brephos (which refers to newborn babies), being brought to Jesus. It could also refer to pre, you know, preborn babies, babies still in the womb, but obviously they’re not being placed in Jesus’ hands. Newborn babies are a, little infants. So just think about that for a moment. I’ve had the, the privilege of seeing this recently, uh, close-up and personal. And I know that there are a number of children born to our congregation. Such a grace of God to our folks here, to see babies come into the world, and being born into this world and put into the arms of their parents. But if you can observe anything about new moms, they’re not gonna give their baby just to anybody, right?
Think about that here. They’re putting their newborns into the hands of an unmarried, relatively young man in his early 30s. I know some men in their early 30s. I wouldn’t give ‘em a hammer, let a, let alone a infant. Says a lot, doesn’t it, that these moms are so at ease in his presence, so comfortable with him that they’re willing to put their infants in his hands. Our Lord made himself accessible. He’s approachable. He’s gentle with people.
And listen. This is the spirit, the very spirit and essence of hospitality. To help people be at ease and comfortable in your presence, so that you take down barriers; any barriers to their intimidation, any barriers to their awkwardness, you try to remove those and, and make peep, people feel comfortable with you. That’s hospitality.
These parents brought their children, their infants, to Jesus, and they had the right instincts about him. They knew that he was safe. They had the right intuition about the King and about the Kingdom of God, and they sought, rightly, his prayer for their children. They sought his blessing, they through him sought God’s blessing in their families and for their lifetimes. So Jesus has the right intuition here. The parents have the right intuition. The babies, if they could speak up, they would feel comfortable in his presence too.
So how odd it is, isn’t it, that his own disciples here are so out of touch. Notice what happens when Jesus’ “handlers” get a glimpse of what’s going on. Back to verse 15, so, parents “were bringing even infants to him that he might touch ‘em, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” What? Matthew and Mark are virtually identical in how they portray the scene, but Luke differs from them in just a couple of details. Matthew and Mark tell us rather flatly, “The disciples rebuked” (aorist tense). It’s like “one and done,” just the plain fact of it. But Luke says, “When the disciples saw” (that is, when they noticed what was going on), that’s when they act. It’s the imperfect tense here. That’s when they “were rebuking them.”
So they’re continually rebuking parents. They see more parents come in the line. They’re like, “Whoa, whoa, hold on, step back.” “Imperfect tense” describes the disciples, and they’re reacting to the (imperfect tense) action of the parents who keep on coming, and the disciples keep on rebuking. Parents try to come, disciples try to hinder. As these parents keep on bringing their infants to Jesus, the disciples, they see what they’re doing, they keep on rebuking them. And get, how completely opposite of what we would expect, right?
These disciples, instead of facilitating access to Jesus, which is exactly what a disciple is supposed to do. Do we not get it? Weh, it’s not about us. We don’t want people to come to us individually, personally, except for a testimony that points people to Jesus Christ. Because all of their salvation, all their hope, all their joy, all their sanctification is found in him, not in us.
Who are we to get in the way of those who want to come to Jesus Christ? Disciples here, they’re doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing. They became gatekeepers, blocking access to Jesus Christ. And they do that by this very strong word, “rebuke,” epitimao. Epitimao. That’s the verb there. And in Luke’s gospel, we see most of the time that verb, epitimao, the one doing the rebuking is usually Jesus himself. And it’s appropriate whenever he does it. He rebukes a demon in Luke 4:35, and then later on in the chapter, verse 41, he rebukes a fever. He rebukes the wind and the wa, raging waves. He rebukes an unclean spirit. He rebukes, also, James and John, remember, when they want to incinerate a Samaritan village.
He, he’s the sovereign, clearly, throughout Luke’s gospel and the other gospels as well. He is in charge. So his rebuke bears the weight of his authority. It’s backed by divine power, epitimao. That is the appropriate word. Fascinating word here. At its root, the verb timao. So epi is a preposition. When, whenever a preposition is added to a verb, it intensifies it. It strengthens that verb that here, timao, the root verb means to honor, it means to revere, to esteem highly, as in, “Honor your father and mother.”
So, the honor inherent in epitimao, the idea is that this stern warning, this strict charge, this severe censure, comes from the one who ought to be honored, whose position of authority must be regarded, whose word ought to be heeded and obeyed. And that’s why it’s totally appropriate here for the incarnate Son of God, throughout Luke’s gospel, to rebuke demons. He’s in charge. They need to listen to what he says or suffer the consequence. Disease obeys his command. Natural phenomena like wind and waves, and the elements themselves obey Jesus Christ.
Overzealous disciples? Hm. That’s why it’s totally inappropriate, by the way, for overzealous disciples to use this verb of crowds, and parents, and children making their way to Jesus Christ. They are not sovereign. Here, they seem concerned about protecting Jesus from the crowds. They’re concerned about protecting him and guarding him from the enthusiasm of these parents. They’re maybe concerned about some protocol, some propriety that’s not being regarded here. “This isn’t the way it’s done. How inappropriate. How unfitting.” They believe they’re doing Jesus a service, but yet they are way, way outta line. And we’re right to wonder, right to ask the question, “Why would they do that? Why would they rebuke parents for bringing their little children to Jesus?”
After all, his disciples, these men themselves, had made the decision to follow Jesus. They, they made the decision to leave everything behind and follow him as disciples. Why would they do that? It’s so that they could be nearer to him all the time. Oh, they get the idea of close contact and access to Jesus Christ. They desire it. So why would they deny these parents, and deny their little ones from coming to Jesus Christ? We’re not told why (explicitly, anyway).
In any of the gospels, we’re not told overtly or explicitly why this is so, which tells us something that this original audience hearing Jesus, and the original readers of the gospels, they implicitly understood. They intuitively knew what was going on here. We’re removed by 2,000 years, we’re removed by culture, removed by geography and language. But these people of the same culture, they shared the very same view of children, which is what the disciples were acting upon. That was where their intuition was lined up. It wasn’t lined up with how Jesus thinks.
That’s what we need to discover. In the ancient world, children weren’t regarded as they are now in our time, in our society. You see children, and they evoke feelings of tenderness. There’s a sense of indulgence, feelings of sentiment and sympathy arise within our hearts when we see kids. I know that, you know, just the thought of being a granddad years ago, but then actually when my daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild, I was already wrapped around that kid’s finger. I mean, I didn’t, dudn’t matter what comes out: Boy, girl, alien, something weird. I don’t know. I was going to do whatever that child’s bidding was.
But that’s not the way it’s been throughout history. Bearing and raising children, in many times and many places in the past and all over the world, was a matter of survival. Expanding a family and having a huge family was all about not only survival (because you’re gonna lose some of those children along the way), but also wealth creation, expanding your holdings, expanding your influence. Children all, always, didn’t always survive birth and infancy. Again, infant mortality is around 30% or even higher, and so that affected, obviously, the depth of parental attachment to children. And children who survived? It wasn’t until they reached a productive age, until they started working and earning and producing and providing for the family; children were, until that time, something of a liability. They’re just another mouth to feed with no guarantee that they’re gonna turn out to benefit your family. They could die along the way.
Parents obviously treasured their children. They weren’t harsh, cold, unfeeling, completely. But in the ancient world, children were not significant. Not until they proved themselves, not until they started earning their keep. There was no sentiment like we have in our day. No Hallmark cards, no Precious Moments statues, figurines, no, nothing like that regarding children.
And parents, by the way, they didn’t tolerate foolishness from their children. No backtalk. No disobedience. And it wasn’t just out of principle. It wasn’t just out of good parenting. It was out of concern for survival, for being able to thrive as a family. A child rebelling against the command and authority of his father, that meant that field doesn’t get plowed. That meant that field doesn’t get plowed, those crops don’t get planted. That means the crops don’t get harvested. That means we don’t eat. So, “Knock off the rebellion and get to work.” That’s how parents thought.
Children are on the Earth to work, and to work hard and contribute to the family. It was only a few generations ago that it was the same thing in our country as well. And how far we’ve fallen away from this idea of children actually serving the family with their behavior, with their attitudes, with their obedience, and seeing their place lined up under the authority of their parents.
While they were still young and weak, children were not in this time regarded highly. They were actually relatively insignificant compared to adults, definitely. No resuss, no resources of their own, no strength, no wisdom, no experience, nothing to contribute to a conversation. If a child spoke up in the presence of adults, he’s like, likely to get a backhand. He had no place speaking in public because he has nothing to offer. So nothing to offer, nothing to contribute. Joel Green says this, “Children were viewed as ‘not adults.’” That’s how they’re viewed, “not adults.” “They might be valued for present or future contribution to the family business, especially in an agricultural context, but otherwise they possess little if any intrinsic value as human beings.”
Seems harsh to us, doesn’t it, this view? But that is the first century mentality. It’s actually the mentality of most of the history of the world up until our time in the West. Peop, were very practically-minded. They lived in the harsh realities of life and death in the real world. That view of children, by the way, was not softened by religious, by religion. It was shared by religious leaders as well as other leaders and parents. To the rabbinical mind, spending any time with a child was a total waste of time. One rabbi, he warns scholars about various wastes of time, and he says this: “Morning sleep, mid-day wine, chattering with children… destroy a man.” Stay away from what’s gonna destroy you.
This is why Jesus here, and throughout the gospels, we see such a different picture. He is such a contrast to everything, not just in the society, but everything they’ve come to expect of a religious leader. Who is this guy? He is such a foreigner, such a stranger to this culture. It’s like he’s been dropped in from another planet, or maybe from Heaven.
“Children are on the Earth to work, and to work hard and contribute to the family.”Travis Allen
This is also why the disciples think nothing of rebuking these parents for bringing their children to Jesus. I mean, if I were rebuking children in front of Jesus, even if I was inclined to do that, I’d, like, try to hide it, thinking, “Man, this is really bad. He’s so loving, and I’m, I’m not being loving.” They don’t even think twice about it. They do it right in front of him ‘cause they don’t think it’s wrong. They think they’re acting appropriately. To them, children, for him, are a complete waste of time. “Jesus can’t be bothered with babies. He’s got real work to do. Kingdom work, preach the gospel, heal the sick. So get these parents and all their crying babies outta here. Get ‘em away from him. Now.”
There’s another reason the disciples just might be trying to shoo these parents away. Because, waiting in the wings (if you’ll look ahead just to verse 18), there’s this ambitious and promising young man who is eager to speak with Jesus. There’s no grammatical break here in the narrative. In fact, Luke is quite intentional in keeping verse 18 connected with verse 17. He uses a coordinating conjunction to start out that sentence, the word kai, “And,” that we will not separate these two scenes. We are to read them together.
So could it be, here, that the disciples are trying to clear the path, get the babies out of the way and all these parents and this nursery out of the way, so that this VIP can meet Jesus? After all, he’s rich. After all, he’s a ruler, which means he’s got authority. He’s got power, he’s got some connections, he’s got high levels of influence. Man, this guy could be really, really useful once we get to Jerusalem.
Rich young ruler here seems to be the perfect candidate for discipleship. I mean, in contrast to a bunch of crying babies, many of ‘em needing diaper changes, this guy could be the face of the messianic movement. He’s got a clean-cut image. He’s young, he’s already attained a position of authority. Excellent connection to make. Truly wise use of Jesus’ time. This is a good investment. Not that, not those baby. “This guy, this guy needs your time and attention, Jesus.” Whatever the disciples were actually thinking in verse 16, Jesus corrects any misunderstanding, corrects all their ambitions, corrects all their misguided zeal, and he takes action. He rebukes them for hindering the parents and children from coming to him, and he teaches them.
Here’s point two: he teaches them about the right disposition toward the Kingdom. Teaches them about, number two, the right disposition toward the Kingdom. Let’s read verses 16-17 again. Then we’ll come back and break those verses down just a bit further. “But Jesus called them to him.” Who’s “them?” “Them” is the parents. He’s not obviously not calling the infants and saying, “Get over here.” He’s saying the parents, calling to the parents. “He called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child, shall not enter it.’”
Children are the perfect illustration of Kingdom citizens. Children are the perfect illustration of those who populate the Kingdom of God because they have the right disposition toward the Kingdom. Children have the right disposition toward the Kingdom. Jesus sees this very clearly. It sees it intuitively. He understands this perfectly, and that’s why he acts the way he does, in contrast to his entire culture. The disciples do not. They’re people of their culture, they’re men of their times. They don’t see it the way he does. They got a lot to learn, but they will. They will learn here.
Based on Jesus’ view of children, which we’ll see in a moment, first we see Jesus take action. He takes action. His action is opposed to his disciples. Look at the contrast in verse 15. “When the disciples saw the parents bringing the infants, they rebuked them, but Jesus called them to him.” Compared to Mark, got Mark’s gospel? Luke has presented Jesus’ reaction here rather mildly. Mark’s account says Jesus saw what his disciples are doing and he was “indignant,” very strong word. He is angry to see them putting up roadblocks, to see them hindering parents, preventing children from coming to him. He’s angry that they, his disciples, have become a stumbling block. Totally ath, antithetical to what characterizes Jesus. Antithetical to what characterizes the nature of his ministry, to the tenor of his entire teaching. It’s contrary to his heart. Contrary to his entire mindset.
I mean, these guys have been with him for what, two years? They have seriously blown it. They have misrepresented the Kingdom of God. That’s a serious thing. So he sorts that out first. He wastes no time. He affirms the parents. He establishes this receiving line once again. The disciples tried to mess up and destroy and drive away. He re-sorts it, sets up the assembly line, and he’s overt about it. He summons them to himself. That’s the, that verb there, parakaleo, it means to summon, to call to himself, and that put an end to what the disciples are trying to do. He stops that immediately, post haste.
Secondly, he gives them direction. So, first he takes action; secondly, he gives them direction. “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” “Let the children come.” Here, the word is, that he uses, “children,” paidia. And Jesus, he’s been receiving infants, but here he widens the scope beyond just the infants to include a broad range of children.
As, like we already said, childhood here is less about a certain age. It’s not about chronology, it’s more about a condition. It’s not a certain chronological age. It’s what childhood represents. Childhood: Weakness and dependency and immaturity and inability. And that’s what’s pictured, real, that’s why Luke uses the word brephos, because brephos captures that perfectly. Infants are being brought to him by their parents. That is to say, we can’t picture infants walking up to Jesus on their own power. Even, even by their own will, they don’t do that. Picture here is one of helplessness, weakness, dependency, inability. And whether we see the word brephos, or we see the word paidia, we’re to see the same qualities.
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Grammatically, that prohibitive there is, “stop hindering them, stop getting in their way.” It’s calling ‘em to a full stop here. They are getting in the way. The disciples had put a stumbling block in the way of these parents and children, and that had to stop immediately. So, Jesus here has laid down a principle. It’s a dividing line, really. It’s a watershed text between how the world tends to think about children, and how Jesus in his Kingdom wants us to think about children. And this is a principle of non-interference which not only affirms the value of children, but actually encouragement to increase and raise the esteem in the estimation of Kingdom citizens and in the economy of God’s Kingdom, by using children to illustrate the right disposition of Kingdom citizens.
That’s what he’s using them for here, that’s what he wants to call the attention to. And in this, Jesus has done here what no spiritual leader has ever done. Not before, not since. He has so dignified children by ensuring that no one who names the name of Jesus will ever despise one of these little ones again. It’s very significant. We are to encourage children coming to Jesus and never, ever to hinder them. One theologian has said, and rightly so, that if Jesus’ disciples had prevailed here, if Jesus had said nothing and let this go, “Another gospel,” quote, “another gospel would have resulted, and not that of Jesus; and another church rather than his church, had children been kept from Jesus,” end quote.
That’s true. Whatever religion would have resulted would have just mixed in with all the religions of the world, because there was no distinction, no difference between the religions of the world and the culture of the world. In fact, that’s what religions do. They are a artifact of culture, to preserve and protect the way people typically think. That’s why the Christianity, technically, it is not a religion. It is not a religion in that sense.
So Jesus here has taken immediate action, stopped everything. Returned it the way it was supposed to be, the way these parents, and the way Jesus instinctively think about children. And he’s given his disciples, given the first, the parents, restore them back into the receiving line. But also his disciples, he’s, he’s corrected them. He’s given them immediate direction on what they should do and what they should not do.
And third, notice the explanation that Jesus gives. The explanation he gives at the end of verse 16. And this is why we are to let the children come to Jesus and not to hinder them. “For,” (explanatory clause), “For, to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” “Because to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” That’s why we’re not to hinder them. That’s why we’re to encourage their coming to Jesus. We understand every life is important. Every human life is important. Every life, human life created in the image of God. Every human life is valuable to God. Every human life is under God’s watchful eye. Even in a deadly, destructive culture such as ours, every single one of those lives is under the special care and watch of God. Every human life, which includes the lives of children, which includes the lives of the children yet to be born. God cares for them all, and God will have an accounting for every single life, and how every single life is treated. That justice gives us great hope, even as we see murder happening all around us. A bloodbath.
But in this short explanatory phrase at the end of verse 16, Jesus does not mention the fact that children represent the image of God here. Rather he sees them as representing something more specific, in this instance. “For to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” King James Version translates this more literally: “For of such is the Kingdom of God.” “Of such is the Kingdom of God.” “Belongs” is kind of a translator’s massaging it to try to make it more understandable to us. But it says, “For such is the Kingdom of God. And the word “of such,” toioution or toiouton, it is a plural word, it’s in the genitive case.
So the Kingdom of God is (genitive case) “of such.” And that’s why the “possession” idea, the “belonging to” idea is used here. It’s a genitive of possession. “Kingdom of God is of such,” genitive of possession, and it’s “of such” what? “As these,” plural. “The Kingdom of God belongs to ones like these.” “Ones such as these.” He didn’t say it belongs “to these,” that’d be a different word. He says it’s “of such as these.” There’s a comparative idea here. There is a certain quality in these children that is shared by the citizens of God’s Kingdom, and it’s a quality that no Kingdom citizen is without.
And that is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? In light of verse 17, that is the life and death question. It’s the “in or out” question. It’s “are you a Kingdom, in the Kingdom or out of the Kingdom?” That’s the, the nature of this question. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall by no means enter it.” This is very, very serious. So what is that childlike quality which we need if we’re going to enter into the Kingdom? What is this sine qua non, what is this essential, non-negotiable prerequisite for entry into the Kingdom?
Interesting, isn’t it here, that we are forced here; by Luke’s putting this together, he has prepared us to ask the exact same question that the rich young ruler asked in a different form. But in verse 18, what does the rich young ruler say? Look at it. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What should I do? Essentially the same question we’re asking: “What do we need to have to enter into the Kingdom of God?” And what is the answer to the million-dollar question? If you want to get out your pens, sheet of paper, write this down. Here’s the answer. What do we do? What do we have to have in order to enter into the Kingdom of God? The answer is, “nothing.” It’s not even gonna take much ink. In fact, you can probably remember it. “Nothing.” It’s a paradoxical point, isn’t it? But it is the point. What did these infants do to come to Jesus? Nothing. They were brought to Jesus.
What do children have? Let’s say they grow a little bit. What do children have banked away as credit to make them worthy of consideration, make them worthy of acceptance into the Kingdom? What gains them an audience with the king? What gains them an entrance into the Kingdom? Nothing in them. That’s what everybody in that crowd understood. That’s what the disciples understood. That’s why they acted the way they did. Those children have nothing.
As we said, no one listening to Jesus on this occasion would have had any sentimental thoughts about children. Green says, “Although it’s easy to romanticize about children, such qualities as innocence, openness to the future and trusting are not the first ones that come to mind when reviewing general perceptions of children inna, in the first century.” That’s not how they thought.
And I know that this text, you’ve heard this taught many, many times. And this is oftentimes, in the worst sense, sentimentalized. And in the best senses it can be, “We need to be dependent.” Like, you know, like, “Look at the children being so trusting, and they come with their hands out and hands open, and there’s just trusting, and they’re gonna come to Jesus.” I mean, be a parent for like a year and see how your children are. You who have fed them and clothed them, provided for them, and given over and over and over again. Why do they call it the terrible twos?
The disciples understood perfectly what Jesus is saying here. If children are valued by their earning potential, by their production value, then they are nothing and they have nothing. And that is the point here.
For one perspective, we understand this, don’t we? We get this. Children are the ultimate consumers, aren’t they? Newborn babies, little infants, even little children; do any of them earn their keep? Can they care for themselves? Any of you see your toddlers waddling home in diapers with a paycheck? Are they not the most dependent of all God’s creatures? In fact, they’re often remarkably contrasted with the animal kingdom, because animals days old and hours old can survive even without their mother, some of them. Not children, not babies. Babies are unable to survive without the care of a mother, and that is the point. We’re not supposed to think Jesus is here pointing to some virtue found in children, such as innocence, humility, trusting nature. In some manner of speaking, those things can be true at times of children, but not necessarily true. Not all the time true. But that’s still not the point here.
As Edwards says (and get this, this is very important): “Jesus does not bless the children for their virtues, but for their deficits. They are important” (he’s speaking about here), “They are important because of what they lack. They are small, powerless, without sophistication, overlooked and dispossessed.” End quote. My friends, that’s all of us when it comes to the Kingdom economy. That’s every single one of us. We don’t even have the key to put into the lock at the gate to the Kingdom of God. And if we had a key, we don’t have a pocket to hold the key. If we had a key and a pocket, we don’t have hands. We have nothing. That’s the proper estimation of all those who enter the Kingdom of God. And that’s the disposition that every Kingdom citizen ought to have about themselves, about other Kingdom citizens, is they’ve got nothing.
Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 1: “For consider your calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards. Not many uh were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Amen and Amen.
So listen, it’s of such as these that God’s Kingdom belongs. The foolish, not the wise; the weak, not the powerful; the ignoble, lowly, despised and disregarded, not the highborn, sophisticated and well-regarded and well-connected of this world. True citizens of God’s Kingdom, they have a right disposition toward the Kingdom. There’s no list of qualifications that commends them. They are wholly unable. They are utterly dependent.
So they’re not like the Pharisee in our previous parable, listing all of his positive attributes to God in prayer. They’re like the tax collector who could only see the deficits. They’re not like the rich young ruler having kept the commandments of God from childhood. They have no positive merit to commend themselves before an absolutely holy God.
And listen. That is why Luke uses the word in verse 15, brephos, “infants.” “They were bringing even infants to him.” Matthew and Mark used the broader word, “child,” paidia, but it’s the same intent there. And Luke just wants to make the sure, that this point is inescapably clear for us as Gentile readers. If children have nothing to offer; if they have nothing to commend themselves, no merit to their account at whatever age, infants have even less, right? They got nothing at all. Babies are even weaker, even more helpless. Their dependency on others even more dire than a child. As Edwards points out, newborns are too young to exhibit the trust, openness and receptivity of children, which is the point. They are wholly dependent on God.
Now contrast this picture of childish weakness, infantile weakness with the young man who’s next in line to meet Jesus. We meet him in verse 18. He’s a ruler. He has authority over others. Infants? Got no authority at all. Always under authority. The ruler came to Jesus on his own power. Infants had to be carried because they have no power. Had to be carried by parents, placed in his arms. Jesus, giving them back to their parents. They got no power. The ruler had power at his disposal. He could project power as a ruler. Infants have no power at all. They are the epitome of helplessness. He’s done good works. He’d already accomplished a lot in his young life. Infants, they’ve done nothing at all. They’ve accomplished nothing at all.
He’s, he’s not young. He’s not a, or, he is young. He’s not a child young, but he is young and strong. And that’s in contrast to those who are older, those whose bodies and their energy are on the decline. But he’s strong and he’s capable. He’s young. He’s self-reliant. Infants, they’re at so, so young. They are utterly reliant on others. He’s rich. He’s extremely rich, which just serves his power and his influence. But this, these infants, they have nothing. And even if they had something, even if they had an inheritance coming to them, they don’t understand what they have. They’ve got no knowledge, no comprehension of that. They have no ability to use it, will to use it.
At the beginning of our time, I told you that this is a simple account. Parents bringing their children, their infants, to Jesus. Disciples are in error, rebuking the parents, hindering him, Jesus correcting them. But listen, tucked into this simple account is some truly profound, beautiful theology of divine grace. Can you see it? In the previous section, the Pharisee and the tax collector, they illustrated extremes, didn’t they? We see the same thing here, the tax collector, theologically speaking, he is the picture of total depravity.
Here, the infants, they are the picture of total inability. Both things are true of us in coming to Christ. Total depravity and total inability. The tax collector, just as he epitomized the extremes of sin he portrayed for us (Jesus intended it this way), that he would portray a wholly undesirable person, one who everybody would think, full stop, “This guy is unsavable.” And yet, Jesus said they can go home justified. Justified by faith in divine atonement.
Infants ex, epitomize an extreme as well. In the pa picture of the tax collector, Jesus tells us divine grace can save us from our total depravity. In the picture of infants and all children, Jesus tells us divine grace can overcome our total inability. I’ve said this to people who are trying to grow in some area of their life and work out repentance, and they’re frustrated, maybe even a bit dejected, discouraged about their sanctification.
“Total depravity and total inability. Both things are true of us in coming to Christ. In the picture of infants and all children, Jesus tells us divine grace can overcome our total inability.”Travis Allen
And sometimes I tell them, “It’s like you’re being asked to climb Mount Everest from the very sea floor, the bottom of the ocean, and get up to Mount Everest.” And it’s like, “Yeah, that’s how it feels.” And I say, “Oh, no, it’s even worse than that. You’re being called to climb Mount Everest in this issue of sanctification in your life, but without any arms or legs.” They’re like, “Yeah, that’s sometimes more how it feels.”
You know the good news in our Gospel? That you don’t need arms and legs. In fact, they are a liability to you entering into the Kingdom, if you think that you can rely on your power. That’s the point here. And the most depraved sinner who humbles himself and confesses his sins and trusts in Christ’s atoning sacrifice to propitiate his sin before a holy God, that one will go down to his home justified and not anybody else. Doesn’t matter he has no power, no ability to change himself, no merit of his own. In fact, it’s to acknowledge that that accrues to us as a benefit.
The right disposition toward the Kingdom? It’s to realize our total inability. It’s to recognize our utter dependency before God. And when we acknowledge our helpless condition, when we have our hands out, raised up, open wide before God like a dependent, needy child; that child that looks up and says, “Mama pick me up,” we’re in the right disposition toward the Kingdom. We’re in the right position to be able to receive what God is so willing and eager to give.
So the good news of the Gospel is this: Heh, in contrast to our der, total depravity, Jesus is a Savior who comes in the power of holy purity and perfect righteousness. And in contrast to our total inability, Jesus is a Savior of consummate power who is able to save because he’s kept the whole Law of God perfectly on our behalf. So it’s not our purity that saves us, but his. It’s not our power that resurrects us from the dead, but his. That is such good news for us totally depraved, totally unable sinners: that by faith in Jesus we can be saved. All of us, every single one of us.
Such is the character of our Lord that he regards the weak and the helpless, saves them. Which is why Jesus ends in verse 17 (and this is the fourth thing to point out) with a serious caution. He’s taken action, he’s given direction, he’s provided an explanation. Now he provides us, fourthly (verse 17) with a serious caution here. He says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child, shall not enter it,” or more strongly, “shall by no means enter it.” The strongest way of negating something in the Greek language, ou me, “shall by no means enter it.”
Several ways to interpret that saying if we isolate it from its context. But there’s really only one interpretation that takes into account what Jesus taught in verse 16, what he did in verse 15. And the key interpretive questions have to do with the meaning of the word “receive” in this context, which is the verb dechomai; and then the point of comparison of the subordinate conjunction hos. That’s the word hos.
So here are some options: Shall we receive the Kingdom as we receive a child? That is, is the point here “showing hospitality, and mimicking Jesus’ receptivity toward children?” That’s one option. Or shall we receive the Kingdom as though we are a child, that is, we are passive recipients (second option). Third option: Shall we receive the Kingdom as a child receives it (that is: humbly, freely, eagerly, dependently, all the rest)?
The first option emphasizes one of several meanings for the verb dechomai, which is a legita me, meaning to show hospitality and to have a receptive attitude toward children, open to receiving children. But that can’t be the meaning here, right? Because it makes entrance into the Kingdom dependent on a proper attitude. It depends, it depends on us. It depends on our showing hospitality, which is really a form of works salvation. But you know, but there are some people who teach that.
That third option, that’s the one that kind-of romanticizes children and imagiz, nem, imagines them in soft hues and kinda pastel colors, you know, “Precious Moments” kind of view that says “Ch, children are so innocent.” This is the kind of the liberalizing attitude that says, “They’re innocent, they’re unspoiled by the world, and that’s how we need to come to J God, you know, having an open, humble attitude, eager to receive gifts.”
I mean, for so many reasons, this can’t be the option either. This can’t be the right interpretation. It’s the same as the first option, that it’s kind-of like by works, a slight variation. Besides, we’ve all seen children opening gifts at Christmas. We see how hum, humble, and eager they are to receive a pack of new socks when they wanted something else. You want to see a kid break down in tears and sometimes throw a tantrum on the floor? Give ‘em socks instead of a truck.
Only the second option here is the acceptable interpretation. Luke has drawn our attention to parents bringing infants to Jesus. This is the point. Newborn infants, utterly dependent on their mothers, they are passive recipients of absolutely everything. That’s what we are, every single one of us who comes to the Kingdom, we are passive recipients. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, that is the right disposition that we all need to have about the Kingdom, and we need to walk in humility, mindful of our total inability. We need to walk in humility before God and meekness before others.
How do we get that right disposition? God gives it to us. God grants it by his grace. It’s called regeneration. It’s called being born again. We need to be born completely anew, born from above, in order that God takes out that old pride, self-reliant nature, and replaces it with this one: Childlike, in the sense of infant-like. Everything we have, we receive as a gift of divine grace.
When we have the right disposition, the right nature toward the Kingdom, we’ll also have the right intuition about the Kingdom. The right intuition and instincts about our fellow citizens. We’ll be very, very careful that we do not despise any of these little ones. We’re gonna share Jesus’ view of the little children. We’re gonna love them and receive them and bring them to Jesus. We’re gonna honor the weakest of these. We’re gonna esteem them so highly as living pictures of our total inability. No one receives the Kingdom in his own strength and in his own merit. Nothing pictures that better than an infant.
As Christians, Kingdom citizens, in the end we’re all passive recipients of divine grace. As we look at infants, we see what the hymn says: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and his righteousness.” “No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” That’s the theology we find in this text. That’s the theology that we sing whenever we sing that song, “My hope is Built on Nothing Less.” And hopefully now when you sing it, you’ll sing it with information, right information in your mind.
In Matthew 21, after Jesus has entered into Jerusalem (which we’re gonna see pretty soon here), he’s just gone to the Temple and cleared out the Temple, all the money changers and the buyers and the sellers. He’s just wiped them out, driven them away. Says, “My Father’s house is not to be a den of robbers. It’s to be a house of prayer for all the nations.”
And in the aftermath of that event, as he’s there in the Temple, it says in verse 14, Matthew 21, that the blind and the lame came to him in the Temple. He had just displayed ferocious anger, driving away all these people: Powerful people, rich people, people with financial interest. And the blind and the lame, they’re not driven away. They now feel comfortable to come. They hear the invitation, and it says there that the blind and lame who came to him in the Temple, he healed them. Again, another expression of compassion for those who are wholly unable on their own. The blind had to be led there, the lame had to be carried there. They’re virtually infants.
When the chief priests and the scribes saw all of this, and they heard the children, says there in the text, “children crying out in the Temple, ‘Hosanna to the son of David,’” you know what they were? They were not praising God along with the children. They were indignant, and they said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying? Like “Blasphemy!” Jesus said, “Yeah, I hear it. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise’?”
Jesus has always understood this. Back in Luke 10:21, “He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, saying, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the understanding’” (and the chief priests and the scribes and the Pharisees and all these religious leaders), “‘You’ve hidden ‘em, and you’ve revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”
And this is why Jesus commands us as his disciples, “Let the children come to me, don’t hinder them.” Let ‘em come. Those are the only imperatives, by the way, in the text in this account. “Let ‘em come, don’t hinder.” So how are we encouraging children to come to Jesus? Are we intentional about evangelizing our children and modeling Christlike behavior before them? Do we do that in our church? Do we do that in our homes? How wy, how might our words, our behavior, our actions, our lack of action; how might that be hindering children from coming to Jesus?
Be very careful that you do not follow the example, certainly, of the chief priests and scribes and the Pharisees who tried to rebuke Jesus. Or even, like these disciples, unwittingly putting stumbling blocks before children (whether your children or anybody else’s children). Be very careful how you think about other people’s children. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you know what your job is? It’s to bring others to Jesus. Both the totally depraved and the totally unable, which we all are, folks. All of us. Whether it’s your own kids, or it’s other kids as well. Looking at these newborn babies, taking these helpless infants into his arms, Jesus saw in them what we need to see: that an infant is a living picture of a true Kingdom citizen.
Moms, remember that when you’re tired. When you’ve had kids pulling on you all day. When your little ones are arguing with themselves and you’re just, you can’t stand the noise anymore. When you’ve done all the clean up and everything, and your children spills everything all over the table again. Remember that when your kids are testing your patience; when they are showing their sin to you and they’re tempting yours to come out. Remember that.
And when you clear your head, when you go to a private place, sometimes in your closet, sometimes on Pluto, you know, just to get away from the kids. But remember that: that God has given you these children, yes, to raise in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but also to remind you daily that these infants are a picture of you. Totally depraved (and on their worst days you see it), but also totally unable. They need you, just as you need your Lord.
As Jesus looked down at this infant in his capable hands (these are hands that would soon be pierced by iron spikes), and he must have thought something like this, looking at that infant: “My people, for whom I will lay down my life, are as helpless and as needy as this infant. They need me. They need me and I can save them. I love them all, and the Father has given them to me, and I will lay down my life for them.” Like a loving parent, the Father places his elect tenderly in Jesus’ capable arms and says (Luke doesn’t wrap it up this way, but Matthew and Mark do), in Matthew 19:15, “He laid his hands on them.” He blessed ‘em, (Mark 10:16), “He took them in his arms and he blessed them all, laying his hands on them.”
Jesus loves the little children, doesn’t he? And so do we. So do we. We have the right disposition because we’re Kingdom citizens, and that means we have the right intuition, the right instincts about all these children. Helpless, weak, needy. They are living pictures of all of us. In a condition of total inability, wholly dependent on divine grace, like every single one of us. Amen? Let’s pray.
Our Father, we are profoundly grateful that you have been pleased, in your divine grace, to save us. Every single one of us has acted the spoiled child and thrown tantrums on the floor. Every single one of us has ignored proper, right, good commandments, and gone and done our own thing. Every single one of us has defiled ourselves with sin and committed great sins against you, before your presence. And we are like that tax collector and like that Pharisee. We are totally depraved and yet proud of it.
And Father, you were pleased, as we were lying there in our sins, you were pleased to reach down and pluck us out of that mess. Like brands in the burning fire, you plucked us from the burning fire, and you’ve saved us.
We were unable to save ourselves, and yet you are wholly able. And what’s more, you are willing. And we see in the Lord Jesus Christ your compassion shine through, and your mercy, and your kindness that calls us to you. And so I pray, Father, that you would be pleased, if there are any here who do not yet know your mercy and compassion and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we pray that you would bring them to come and make that need known, and let us lead those people to Jesus Christ.
We pray for the rest of us that you would deepen our appreciation of the Gospel that we have been so blessed to receive. That we would have deeper gratitude and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ who’s been pleased to save us with those nail-scarred hands, shedding his own blood, putting his own body on the Cross that we might be saved. Father, we love you. We thank you so much for your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.