Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jesus & Children

Jesus has just finished teaching about the very serious matter of marriage and divorce (Mark 10:1-12). It is not surprising that from the teaching on the intended permanency of marriage, the discussion naturally turned to children (Mark 10:13-16). The statement “and they twain shall be one flesh” (Matthew 19:15) is literally fulfilled when a married couple come together to produce a child, and their children are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In this particular instance, as soon as Jesus had finished teaching, a group of parents bring their little children to Him. It was customary for Jewish parents to bring their children to the rabbis for a blessing. (Similar to what we do today when we dedicate a child and parents to the Lord.) This is why they brought their little ones to Jesus. Some were infants in arms (Luke 18:15), while others were young children able to walk. Jesus welcomed them all.

The beautiful picture of children being brought before to Jesus is marred by the Twelve’s reaction. They severely rebuked the parents. Apparently, they felt that this was a waste of the Master’s time and energy. This led to the disciples being severely rebuked by Jesus for their attitude. He was clear. “Let the children come to me. Do not forbid them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

The disciples had a hard time being in tune with Jesus. Before He fed the 5,000 they told Jesus “send them away.” He said, “You feed them.” When He warned them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod”, they thought He was talking about no bread on the boat galley. Here parents are bringing their children to Jesus and the disciples are trying to run them off, and Jesus says “Don’t you dare!”

Before you shake your head in derision at the disciples, it would do you well to bear in mind that we are not always in step with Jesus. Don’t mock these men as if you wouldn’t have been right there messing up just as they did. Instead, learn from this humbling event in their lives, and pray for the heart of Jesus Christ.

And, let’s face it; children are not always cute and cuddly. There are quite often noisy in church; they require a lot of special attention; and they do not contribute to the financial burden of the church (although they are never too young to learn to give!). While they may not be easy to keep still and are always expensive, children are not a curse to be endured; they are a blessing to be enjoyed! Psalm 127:3 says, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” Every family is blessed when they have children, and the same is true of every church.

This passage has something to say about children, and by extension, the Savior’s kingdom. Let’s walk through these important but often neglected verses. We’ll learn how Jesus related to children, and observe some lessons about parents, children and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Lesson about Service

This passage clearly reveals certain responsibilities that both the parent and the church have toward our children. Fulfilling these responsibilities is a form of service to our children. Let me show you how we serve them.

We serve our children by evangelizing them. This passage nowhere implies that Jesus was saving these children. He was merely praying for them and pronouncing a blessing on their young lives. This scene teaches us that these parents cared enough about the spiritual condition of their children to bring them to Jesus so that they might be blessed through His praying and His touch.

Bible believers are challenged from the OT (Deuteronomy 6:1-8) and the NT (Ephesians 6:4) to share the things of God with their children. Parents should do everything in their power to ensure that their children are exposed to the Gospel. That means bringing them to church on a consistent basis. It means praying for them and with them. It means opening the Bible with them at home, and being open about your own faith. It means being consistent in your walk with Christ; teaching them that nothing in this world is more important than the Lord and His work. Yes, the Gospel should be preached from this pulpit, but the primary responsibility for evangelizing the children of this congregation rests on the shoulders of Mom and Dad. Studies have consistently shown that the majority of people come to faith while they are under the age of 18.

We serve our children by educating them. By bringing their children to Jesus, these parents were telling their children that they saw something special in Him. Like those ancient parents, believers in our day have the responsibility of modeling our faith in Jesus so that the younger generation can see that He is worth knowing. If I have a “faith” which doesn’t result in a changed life, a life marked by following Christ, my children will pick up on that. I can talk about my faith, but if I do not live my faith, my children won’t see Christ, they’ll see hypocrisy. Children are quick to spot a phony!

We are responsible for educating our children about the things of God. In Ephesians 6:4, the word “nurture” refers to “the whole training and education” of a child. It is not the public school teacher’s responsibility to teach our children morality, let alone bring our children to Jesus. It is our duty to bring them face to face with a saving Lord. If we make much of Jesus in front of them, they will be far more likely to come to Him at an early age and remain faithful to Him as they mature.

We serve our Children by encouraging them. When these parents came to Jesus with their children they were encouraging them to approach Him as well. Christian parents are told in Ephesians 6:4 to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The word admonition has the idea of encouragement. We ought to encourage our children to seek the things of God. Teach them to pray at an early age. Make the Bible a big part of their daily life. Pray with them. Bring them to church, and involve them in church ministry. Expose them to everything of a godly nature that is available.

One of the best things a mature believer can do for children is for them to be in love with Jesus Christ. When mature adults love Jesus with a sincere devotion, it encourages children to love Him too!

There is no greater blessing than for a child to be saved and for them to live their whole lives for Jesus. D. L. Moody once returned from a meeting and reported two and a half conversions. “Two adults and a child, I suppose?” asked his host. “No,” said Moody, “two children and an adult. The children gave their whole lives. The adult had only half of his left to give.”

A Lesson about Salvation

While this text certainly highlights every adult’s responsibility to serve our children by helping them form a spiritual foundation, it also speaks about the matter of salvation.

The fact that children are invited to come to the Savior implies that children need a Savior. Now, most folks don’t like to hear this, but children are sinners too (Psalm 58:3; Psalm 51:5; Job 15:14; Proverbs 22:15; Isaiah 48:8; Ephesians 2:3). While children may possess a kind of innocence, they still stand in need of salvation.

That is why parents and other concerned adults must do all they can to bring children face to face with the claims of the Gospel. And I do mean the entire Gospel. We must not shield children from the truth of the cross. Half of a Gospel is of no value. It is not our duty to save them, but it is our duty to expose them to the Word of God. When children hear the Gospel preached, taught and lived out, they are far more likely to come to Jesus at an early age, Romans 10:17. Here is what Paul told Timothy about exposing children to the Word of God, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” 2 Timothy 3:15.

Whenever a discussion about childhood salvation comes up, someone always mentions the age of accountability. For many, the magic age of accountability has been twelve. When a child reached the age of twelve, it was time for them to get saved, join the church and be baptized.

It surprises some people when they find out that the Bible does not mention a specific age of accountability. A child becomes accountable for his or her sins when they come to a place where they can understand the difference between right and wrong; to understand that they are sinners (Isaiah 7:16).

The term age of decision is a better term than age of accountability. When a person reaches a level of mental understanding regarding the nature of sin and its consequences and are able to make a decision for or against Jesus Christ, they have reached the age of decision.

So, when is that age? Well, it is different for every child. The age of some may be as young as 6. Others may not come to a realization of their condition until their teens. Some people, such as those with severe mental handicaps, may never come to that place.

You know you at that age when you reach a place in your life where you understand that you are a sinner; that your sin offends a holy God, and those who die in their sins will go to Hell; and where you understand that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead to save you; if you understand that then you need to come to Jesus and be saved.

Wise parents will consistently tell and model the Gospel for their children, but they will not attempt to force a “decision” from them. It is not uncommon for young kids to ask their parents about salvation. That is a good thing! You should never put them off, but you should definitely take the time to ask them some pointed questions like:

  • What does it mean to be saved?
  • Why do you feel that you need to be saved?
  • Can you explain to me how a person gets saved?
  • Can you explain to me what sin is?
  • Who is Jesus? Why did He have to die? Is He still dead?

There are other questions, but you get the idea. If they do not understand then keep praying for them and talking to them about Jesus. They will come back when they are ready. It may be that your child is interested but not quite ready. Praise God! It probably won’t be long! When they are ready to receive Jesus, be careful that you point them to Him and allow them to come to Him by faith. In other words, do not put words into their mouths.

I’ll pause here for a moment to ask and answer a serious question. What about children who die before they reach the “age of decision”? What happens to them? The short answer is instant heaven. I do not say that sentimentally but convictionally. The conviction is Biblically based. When David lost an infant son he was convinced that his son had gone to be with the Lord, 2 Sam. 12:23. Children and others who cannot choose for themselves are not saved, but they are safe. When they die in that safe condition they are taken to Heaven! Parents who have lost children to death, miscarriage, or still birth should never fear because their little ones are in Heaven with the Lord Jesus today. What a gracious Savior we serve!

This whole matter of children coming to Jesus was used by our Lord to illustrate the way all believers must come to Him. All who come to Him must come as a little child. Children are trusting, humble and dependent. They are so trusting, that they have to be warned not to talk to strangers. They are so humble, that they will readily accept what they are told. They are so dependent, that they simply rest in the ability and willingness of those around them to meet their needs. They don’t worry over food, clothing or shelter. They don’t worry about who will pay the bills. Children don’t doubt that their family members love them. Children simply accept profound things by faith. They don’t look beyond the obvious. They just believe!

Those are the requirements for a person to come to Jesus. For a person to be saved, regardless of their age, they must humble themselves before God. They must lay down their pride, and not trust in their achievements but in the Lord. They must humble themselves by acknowledging their sins before God. They must be willing to admit that their works and religious activity can never save them. They must come to the place where they, like a little child, simply look to Jesus in pure faith, trusting that He will do everything He has promised to do.

The next passage (Mark 10:17-22) will contrast this image of childlike faith. The 'Rich Young Ruler' came to Jesus but he refused to turn loose of his pride, his money, or his self-righteousness. He left with all his possessions but without Jesus!
A person must look to Jesus by faith alone, trusting Him and His finished work on the cross for their soul’s salvation. This requires the childlike qualities of trust, humility and dependence. This is the only way anyone ever receives salvation.

A Lesson about the Savior

This passage not only speaks about service and salvation, it also has something to say about the Savior. Watching Jesus minister to these children, we get a glimpse of aspects of our Lord’s personality.

We see the Savior’s heart. The disciples thought Jesus was too busy for a bunch of children. When the Bible says, “brought unto Him”, it has the idea of a long line of children being brought to Jesus. Parents from all over the area had brought their children to Jesus so that He could pray for them and pronounce a blessing over them. When the disciples rebuked the parents Jesus was “much displeased”. He was very angry with the disciples for trying to prevent children from coming to Him. Children hold a special place in our Lord’s heart!

Jesus always defends the defenseless! In Roman society children were often treated with contempt and viewed as property. In ancient Rome, fathers held absolute power over their children. This power was called “Patria Potestas”. A father could condemn a child to die simply by commanding it be done. It was not uncommon for fathers to kill newborns who had some “defect” or who had the audacity to be the wrong sex.

Don’t for a moment think that is the stuff of ancient history. Those abominable practices still occur to this day.

Jesus’ words and actions elevated the status of children to a place of equal importance with all human life, and He demonstrated what we already knew about the Lord from the OT. Children hold a special place in His heart. This scene reveals a lot about Jesus. Children cannot serve Him like those who are older, but they can and should serve Him. He loves them and reaches out to them in grace. They cannot contribute as much money as those who are older, but they can and should contribute.
This reminds us that God is not interested in what we can do, what we can give or how old we are. He simply invited people to come to Him on the basis of pure grace! Jesus loves lost sinners and He invites them all to come (Revelation 22:17; Matthew 11:28; John 3:16).

Finally, we see the Savior’s hands. This verse says “and He laid His hands on them”. He took the time to touch and bless each child individually. Those that came before Him, no matter how young or how insignificant they appeared, were cared for and attended to by Jesus.

Never think for an instant that Jesus doesn’t care about you. He loves you and will not turn away those who come to Him in humble faith. No matter where the path of life has taken you; no matter what you may have done; no matter how insignificant you may feel; Jesus Christ will save you and change your life if you will come to Him. He cares about your condition and He will take the time to touch your life if you will only come to Him by faith.

Regardless of whether you are saved or lost, young or old, Jesus cares about you. While this message has been about children, it isn’t only for children. If you have never been saved, regardless of your age, you need to come to Jesus today. He died on the cross to save you if you are lost.

If your life has gotten complicated by living in an adult world and you need some help from God today, you can get it. If sin has crept into your relationship with Jesus and is hindering your walk with Him, He can forgive that today. If you will come to Him, you will find that His grace will be sufficient for you. If there are needs in your life, you can come to Him like those little children did two thousand years ago and you can find the help you need!

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