Welcoming Children in Ministry

This lesson is about how to welcome children into our adult discipleship ministry, and the importance of passing faith on to the next generation. Our passage today is Matthew 19:13-15, here we have the parallel passages in the synoptic gospels:

Text-HinderingChildren

The purpose of this study is to develop an awareness of the spiritual receptivity of children and the tremendous opportunity to evangelize both the children and the parents by offering to pray a blessing over these little ones. Jesus commanded us to let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me. Obedience to this command requires developing a tenderness toward children rather than seeing them as a problem or inconvenience to our adult discipleship program.

The chronology of the Harmony of the Gospels (in Matthew 19:13) appears to suggest that immediately after Jesus had finished teaching the Twelve about marriage, divorce, remarriage, and singleness (Matthew 19:13–12), another group of people came seeking his ministry. At that time some children were brought to him, doubtless by their parents. Both Mark and Luke use the imperfect tense, “they were bringing children,” indicating a continual process, likely over an extended period of time (Mark 10:13, Luke 18:15). When word spread that Jesus was in the area, parents were drawn to this teacher whose love of children have become known throughout Palestine, (Matthew 17:18, 18:2-3, John 4:50).

The commands in this section are: Matthew 19:14, let the children alone, do not hinder, Mark 10:14, permit, do not hinder, Luke 18:16, permit, stop hindering.

1. Where was Jesus when he gave this command? (Mark 10:1, 10, 17) Perea, a region east of the Jordan River and south of Galilee that factors prominently in the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Perea was part of the kingdom of Herod the Great; after his death in 4 BC, it was given (along with Galilee) to Herod Antipas.

2. When were these children brought to Jesus? Matthews implies a close connection with the preceding event. Apparently, the children were brought to him personally while Jesus was in the house, (Mark 10:10) before beginning the journey mentioned in Mark 10:17.

3. Why do you think they were bringing children to Jesus? (Mark 10:13) This text says that, they were bringing children to him, and Luke 18:15 says, they were bringing even their babies to him. The impersonal “they” probably included some fathers, or older sisters, or the mothers. In Mark 10:13, the word “them” is masculine and indicates that those bringing the children were not exclusively mothers.

4. How old were the children that were brought to Jesus? (Matthew 19:13, 15, Mark 10:13, Luke 18:15) The Greek word used here for children is a term referring to young children from infancy through perhaps toddler age. The word was used in Mark 5:39 of a slave girl 12 years old, but it generally referred to young children. The ages of the children no doubt varied, including some babies in their mother’s arms, (Luke 18:15). The verb “bringing” does not necessitate the view that the children were carried.

5. Why were the children being brought to Jesus? (Matthew 19:13, 15, Mark 10:13, Luke 18:15) Mark 10:13 says, so that he might touch them. Matthew’s statement interprets the character of this desire touched, so that they might lay his hands on them and pray, (Matthew 19:13). Jesus had just championed the sanctity of marriage and the home, now those bringing their children wanted this great teacher to pronounce his benediction and blessing upon their children. Clearly, his demeanor had strengthened this desire. There is no warrant for assuming any superstitious idea that this wonderworking touch would convey magical benefits.

6. What is significant about the laying on of hands in prayer by Jesus? (Mark 10:16) The text clearly identifies that the kind of touch and prayer that these parents were seeking from Jesus was a blessing for their children. The text says, and they took them in his arms and again blessing them, laying his hands on them.

The Greek form behind the word “blessing” is intensive, occurring only here in the New Testament. It indicates a passionate fervency, expressing the earnestness of Christ’s emotion, better understood as, he “fervently blessed” these children. Jesus must have smiled with infinite kindness as he looked into the faces of those tiny children. We do not know the specific nature of the blessing, but we can assume that he promised the provision of God on their behalf and the care of God over each one of them.

The Talmud taught Jewish parents to bring their children to respected Rabbis for blessings in prayer. A father would customarily bring his infant child to the synagogue and pray for the child himself. He would then hand the child to the elders, who would each hold the baby and pray for God’s blessing on the young life. Many churches today follow a somewhat similar pattern in prayerfully dedicating small children to the Lord.

This is very similar to the practice that came out of the patriarchal period, (Genesis 48:13–16). Following in this tradition, those Jewish parents in Perea brought their children to Jesus to be blessed. He was not only a popular (if not controversial) Rabbi known for his miracle working power, but was also known for his compassion and his willingness to meet the needs of even the lowliest and most helpless people of society. If he were indeed the Messiah, as he claimed to be, those parents saw a marvelous opportunity to have their children blessed by the Lord own anointed one, the deliverer of Israel.

Because Jesus did not rebuke the parents or resist blessing their children, it is obvious that their motives were pure. They did not understand Jesus’ true greatness, and probably few, if any, of them had put their trust in him as Savior and Lord, but they recognized him as a genuine teacher from God who loved them and who cared for their precious children. They therefore sought his intercession with God on their children’s behalf, in the hope that they might grow up as the Talmud admonished: strong in the law, faithful and marriage, and known by good works.

7. What are some practical suggestions when people praying a blessing upon a Child? In the book, the family blessing by Roth Garborg, he makes the following suggestions,

1) Explain that you are planning to do and why is important for the child
2) Hold a child in your arms when you bless him
3) Place your hand or hands on the head of the child
4) Always include in your blessing an invocation of the name of God.

Mark 10:16 illustrates this when Jesus took them in his arms and begin laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13 and Luke 18:15 also stress the value of touch, and Matthew 19:13 stresses the prayer component of the blessing.

8. How did the disciples respond to these children coming to Jesus? (Matthew 19:13, Mark 10:13, Luke 18:15) The disciples who were outside the house were intent on protecting Jesus from what they considered an unnecessary and perhaps undignified intrusion upon his time and energy. Clearly the disciples did not make access to Jesus and easy matter. They acted in a bossy sense of their own importance as his protectors.

The verb “rebuked” indicates that they provoked or censored the action with the intention of bringing it to an end. The Greek verb behind “rebuke” carries the idea of threatening, and being in the perfect tense suggest that the rebuke was a continuous as the bringing. As more and more parents brought their children to Jesus, the disciples continue to try to rebuke them. Obviously the Twelve, who had spent almost 18 months living with Jesus and his “come and be with me” phase of discipleship and heard every word he spoke and observe everything he did, still didn’t fully share his mind and heartbeat. The disciples felt that Jesus had more important matters to deal with than to spend his time on the little children.

Earlier Jesus had taken a young child in his arms in the disciples’ presence. Specifically for the sake of the disciples, who are in the midst of a dispute about who was the greatest in the kingdom, he declared, whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 18:1–4). No doubt a countless other times the disciples had witnessed similar expressions of Jesus’ tenderness and gentleness and his great patience with those who came to him for help. Had they remembered his teaching concerning children in Capernaum, (Mark 9:36–37, Matthew 18:2–14) they could hardly have objected now.

9. How would you have felt if it was your child who was turned away?

10. How did Jesus emotionally respond when he saw children being rebuked? (Mark 10:14) The text says, when Jesus saw this, he was indignant. When Jesus noticed from inside the house what was going on outside the house, he was filled with righteous anger, (Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 1:19). His short response was prompted by what he saw.

The verb, “was indignant” is used of Jesus only here. It is a term of strong emotion, but denotes his pained, angry reaction to what was going on. He was deeply displeased that the very men whom he had so explicitly taught, so grievously misunderstood the basic principle of what was involved.

11. What to commands did Jesus give his disciples? (Matthew 19:15, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) Jesus said, let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me. This double command at the end put an end to the interference of the disciples. The aorist imperative, “let the children alone” denotes urgency. Mark uses a different first command to correct his disciples’ behavior, permit the children to come to me, (Mark 10:14). The imperative “permit or allow” was a command demanding that they permit the children at once, to have continued access to him. The command sees the children themselves being hindered, rather than their parents being hindered, perhaps they had eagerly run toward Jesus on their own. The present tense of the second imperative is more literally translated “stop hindering them.” The disciples had put out restraining hands, but they were told to cease their interference.

12. Was Jesus saying by the phrase, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” that all children are saved? (Matthew 19:15, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) Jesus was not naïvely sentimental about children. Having created them, he knew they were born with a sinful nature. Children have a certain innocence, but they are not sinless. He knew that they did not have to be taught to do wrong, that their little hearts were naturally bent toward evil, but he loved them with a special compassion. Because of their natural openness and trustfulness, he held them up as examples of the attitude required for kingdom citizenship, (Matthew 18:3–5). The phrase “to such as” denotes those who have certain definite qualities or characteristics. Jesus was not thinking of children exclusively but of them as representative of the spirit of receptivity, dependence, and trustfulness. It is simple that counts and not tender years.

13. What is the reason Jesus gives for permitting the children to have access to him? (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) The reason Jesus wants children to have access to him is found in the words, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

14. How can we hinder her children from coming to Jesus today?
1) Abortion
2) Not providing transportation to Sunday school or church
3) Handling children in small groups as an inconvenience
4) Living hypocritical lives – Timothy grew up in a home with a mother and grandmother who had and authentic faith, (2 Timothy 1:5) and shared the Scriptures with him throughout his childhood, (2 Timothy 3:15).

15. How do Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17 expanded his reason for allowing the children access to him? Jesus added, truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. The point of comparison is not the innocence of children, (for they have a sinful nature and are not innocent) but their attitude of receptiveness and willingness to depend upon others for what they need. The verb “receive” stresses that excepting eternal life as a gift from God is a definite act, it is not a human achievement. Entrance into the kingdom can never be obtained on the basis of human merit. Just as a child receives a gift from a loved one in gentleness and trustfulness, so the kingdom of God must be received as God’s gift in simple, trusting faith. Here is the essence of the doctrine of justification by faith, (Romans 5:17).

The phrase, “will not enter it at all” is a strong double negative in the Greek that categorically excludes any other way of entry. Use of the word, “enter” pictures the kingdom of God as a society under his sovereign rule, where an individual becomes a member by subjected himself to the divine authority. Refusing to receive the kingdom as a gift excludes one from sharing in its blessings and responsibilities.

This is why children need access to Jesus. Even though they naturally possess the traits needed to become a child of God, they still need to personally receive them. Jesus wanted every boy and girl to experience the promised blessings of Abraham, (Galatians 3:8–9). Jesus wanted his Father’s face to shine on these little ones. Jesus knew that children are far more receptive than adults. The older people get, the more set they become in their ways. Their conscience often becomes seared, (1 Timothy 4:2) and they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18).

16. How did Jesus respond to the disciples’ actions and attitudes toward children? (Mark 10:14). From Mark we learn that Jesus was greatly indignant with his disciples. They frequently frustrated and disappointed Jesus by their insensitivity and selfishness, but this is one of only two or three occasions on which he actually became angry with them.

It is likely there were a number of reasons why he was angry with them. He was angry because he loves little children with great affection. He also no doubt felt special compassion for them because of the sinful, painful, corrupt world into which they have been born and whose evils they would progressively have to face as they grew up. He was angry because he loved parents and understood the special longings and anxieties they have for their children. He realized that loving little children was a way to their parents’ hearts. He was angry because no one, not even the tiniest infant, is outside the care and love of God. He was angry because of the disciples’ persistent spiritual dullness and hardness. He doubtlessly was angry because the disciples presumed to determine who could and could not approach him, the Christ and the son of God. It was neither within their prerogative nor their competency to make such choices. It was presumption for them to hinder the parents and their children from coming to Jesus. Specifically, he was angry because the kingdom of heaven belongs to, encompasses and is characterized by children such as these.

17. Can young children be genuinely saved? When children can knowingly sin they can knowingly be saved. People often talk in terms of the age of accountability. This age may differ from child to child but when a child has the capacity to grasp the basic concepts of sin and forgiveness, God can illuminate his understanding of what it means to trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and he or she can experience personal saving faith that is required to enter the kingdom of God.

The implication of “such as these” is that for those who, because of young age or mental deficiency, are incapable of exercising saving faith, God grants them, in the event of death, entrance into the kingdom by the sovereign operation of his grace. These children die before they reach the age of decision, they go into the presence of Jesus Christ, because they are under the special protection of the sovereign King.

It was that comforting truth that David expressed when he lost his infant son born to Bathsheba. “I shall go to him,” David said, “but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). While the statement may indicate little more than a resignation to their both entering the realm of the dead, a personal pronoun such as “I” and “him,” as well as David’s confident belief in the life to come, lend support to the idea that he was confident of personal consciousness and identity in the life to come. David knew that he belonged to God and would one day into his presence, and he had equal confidence that when he entered into the Lord’s presence that he would meet the little son who had preceded him.

It is not that small children are regenerate and then lose their salvation if they do not later receive Christ as Lord and Savior. It is rather that his atoning death is applied on their behalf if they die before they are able to choose on their own. It may be that the infant mortality rate is so high in many countries where the gospel has not yet been penetrated because the Lord is taking those little ones to himself before they can grow up in a culture where it is so difficult to encounter the gospel and believe.

What an awesome responsibility faces Christian parents to make sure that their children are taught about Christ and are led to receive him as Savior when they were able to exercise saving faith.

18. Who will make up the population of the kingdom of heaven? (Luke 18:17). Luke’s parallel passage reports that Jesus then declared, as he had a short while earlier, “truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” (Matthew 18:3). In other words the kingdom is populated by only two kinds of subjects, those who die while little children and those who come in the trusting and humble attitude of a little child. Only those that come to him in the simplicity, openness, dependency, lack of pretension, and the lack of hypocrisy of little children will enter the kingdom of heaven. This is the requirement for kingdom citizenship.

19. How can we understand this teaching in light of Paul telling us to put away childish things? (1 Corinthians 13:11) The impatience of the disciples (Mark 10:13) is perhaps more understandable given the apparently ceaseless demands made upon Jesus and the Twelve by people, and given the general attitude of the time that children, while important and loved by parents, were nevertheless very definitely “to be seen and not heard.” Paul’s contrast between a mere child, who “as long as [he] is a child, he is no different from a slave,” and an adult in Galatians 4:1–3. On the other hand, Jesus’ welcoming of the children (Mark 10:16) is another example of his positive attitude toward those who did not have important social status, such as tax gatherers (Mark 2:13–17) or women (Mark 10:1–12).

In 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, in the context of chapters 12-14, Paul offers a dramatic metaphor in regard to the putting aside of childish ways. Immaturity gives way to maturity, so that a childish concern with flamboyant gifts should run its course and end with the advent of a mature concern for love. The pattern of Paul’s logic is the contrast of lesser with greater, so that through these images he admonishes the Corinthians to have less concern for spectacular spiritual gifts and a greater concern for the reality of love, God’s own love.

So, the point is that all living things grow, children into adults, and immaturity into maturity. Therefore we must come to Christ with the faith of a child, but we do not continue to hold on to childish things.

20. What does the Bible say about the evangelization of children? 1

Jesus’ desire is that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). The mission field is “all nations.” There are no geographical restrictions to the gospel, no cultural restrictions, and no age restrictions. Everyone needs to repent and be forgiven, including the children of “all nations.” Children, therefore, should be evangelized.

The Bible says that children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3). They are in need of instruction (Proverbs 8:32–33) and are quite able to learn. Timothy was a student of the Word at a very young age. He knew the Holy Scriptures “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15), having been taught by his godly mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).

Children are fully able to praise God. In celebrating the Lord’s majestic name, the psalmist sings, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies” (Psalm 8:2). Praise is not something children must wait until they’re older to do—it is their joyful task now. When Jesus arrived in the temple, the chief priests were aloof and reproachful, but not the kids. The children were “shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’” (Matthew 21:15).

In our passage today, Jesus used the occasion of blessing the children to point out the need for faith. The kingdom must be received “like a little child” (Mark 10:15). Children do not strive to earn the kingdom of God but trust Him to give it to them. Theirs is a simple faith. Jesus declared that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child, with simple trust and dependence on God, cannot enter. Only those with a childlike trust in God can be saved.

Elsewhere, Jesus directs our attention to a child to illustrate true humility and the relationship God wants with all of us. The disciples had asked the Lord about who would be the “greatest” in heaven. In response, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2–5).

In the next verse, Jesus strongly advocates for the protection of children: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Jesus specifies that these children are among “those who believe in me.” This plainly indicates that children can believe in Jesus! If they can believe in Jesus, then we must evangelize them.

We must also never cause a believing child to stumble. “Cause to stumble” means “to entrap, trip up or entice to sin.” How does one cause believing children to stumble? Probably when we reject or ignore them—this would be the opposite of welcoming them (Matthew 18:5)—or when we lead them into sin.
Ephesians is a letter addressed to “God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Paul describes them as having redemption through the blood of Christ and forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7). Therefore, the original recipients of this epistle were believers in Christ. Toward the end of the letter, Paul addresses different groups of believers and instructs them on how they can walk in a way worthy of their calling. Children are commanded to obey (in the Lord) their parents (Ephesians 6:1). The fact that Paul addresses children implies that they were saints—part of “God’s holy people in Ephesus.” Children today can and should also trust in Christ, just as the children in Ephesus did.

In the letter to Titus, the qualifications for elders are laid out (Titus 1:6–9): being above reproach, being the husband of one wife, etc. In the list of qualifications is having “children who believe.” If they believe, they must have been evangelized.

In the Old Testament, there was an emphasis on transmitting God’s Law to the next generation so that they, too, would fear the LORD and obey His Word. Moses reminded the people of Israel to obey God’s laws in Deuteronomy 6:1–9. The command was not only for the present generation but also for their children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 6:1–2). The first priority of parents was their own obedience; God’s Word was to be in their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5–6), and then they were to teach it to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). These same principles are applicable to Christian parents today.

If we fail to share the gospel with the next generation, we risk repeating Israel’s mistake in Judges 2:10–11, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” What is needed in every nation, every day, is the transforming power of the gospel of Christ. Sharing the gospel with children is commanded and blessed by God.

Sources:

  1. The Serendipity Bible for Groups
  2. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 16-23
  3. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol. 8
  4. New Testament Commentary, Mark, William Hendriksen
  5. Mark, Portrait of a Servant, Edmond Hiebert
  6. He Came to Serve, Thomas Lovejoy
  7. The Blessing, Smalley and Trent
  8. The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, R.C.H. Lenski
  9. The Power of Spoken Blessings, Bill Gothard
  10. The Family Blessing, Rolf Garborg
  11. The Wordless Book, Child Evangelism Fellowship
  12. Safe in the Arms of God, John MacArthur

[print_link] [email_link] [Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]
1 www.gotquestions.org

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