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A Kingdom for Children

Matthew  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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One of the ways that we teach our children is by showing them proper role models. We can talk to our kids and teach our kids and warn our kids about the character, integrity, and faith that we want them to cultivate in their lives, and they kind of just give you that look like, “Can I get back to my Fruit Loops now?” But, what we all understand is that if we can get them have the right role models in whom they can see and watch live a life of character, integrity, or faith that it often teaches more effectively than a heart-to-heart. So, when we meet someone who is genuinely humble or kind or thoughtful, we are sure to point them out to our children that they might follow their example.
Well, in and 19, we see Jesus doing the same thing with his disciples. They don’t seem to be getting it. They don’t seem to be understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God and their role in it. And so, Jesus keeps doing a funny thing. For us, we often look to our children and point out to them examples of men and women that we want them to strive to become. But, Jesus keeps doing the opposite. He keeps going to the men and pointing out the children to them as examples! And this morning, by looking at this same example, this same role model, we too can grow as Jesus’ disciples.
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay hands on them and pray.” As short as these verses are, this event must’ve made quite an impression on the disciples. Not only do we find this in Matthew but also in both Mark and Luke. The lesson that they learned on this day was one that was to be etched in their minds forever. As we come into , Jesus has left Galilee for the last time in his life and is on the road to Judea with his disciples. He is passing through Judea on his way to Jerusalem where He will ultimately fulfill his own prophetic words and be crucified. You can imagine the tone of severity and sobriety that is hovering over Jesus and his disciples in these last days as they travel together. And, while traveling through Judea, word had travelled that Jesus was there. And many, hearing it, begin to bring their children to Jesus so that He might pray a prayer of blessing over their children.
Jesus was apparently well known for his kindness, particularly toward children. For it was assumed by these zealous parents that if they brought their children to Jesus that He would be willing to see them and to bless them.
Jesus was apparently famous for his kindness, particularly toward children. For it was assumed by these zealous parents that if they brought their children to Jesus that He would be willing to see them and to bless them. There doesn’t seem to be a question in their minds as to whether or not Jesus will be willing to pray over and bless their children.
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“The disciples rebuked the people” Jesus’ disciples see this through a different lens, however. They’ve been with Jesus for 2.5 years, and they understand clearly by this point that Jesus is the most important man to have ever lived! They were there when Jesus turned water into wine. They were there when Jesus gave orders to the stormy sea and the sea listened. They were there when Jesus compassionately gave out fish and bread to 20,000 people and when he cast a demon out of a boy. Some of them watched as Jesus was transfigured in a glimpse of his resurrected glory on the mountain. So, as the parents think only of Jesus’ kindness and their children, the disciples are thinking of Jesus’ schedule and time and mission. They only have so much time left with him, after all! And so, they began to rebuke the people. These were serious times, and they were no babysitting club! How could they be expected to receive children in the shadows of the cross and in the face of promised persecution and suffering.
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Jesus' disciples should be as famous for their kindness as Jesus was. And yet, how do Jesus' disciples react? They react in a way that is directly contradictory to the ways of Jesus.
Jesus' disciples should be as famous for their kindness as Jesus was. And yet, how do Jesus' disciples react? They react in a way that is directly contradictory to the ways of Jesus. These strangers, these parents seem to know Jesus better than his own disciples. They come to him in faith and appeal to his kindness. Jesus’ own disciples instead are turning people away from Jesus, becoming stumbling blocks to children coming to Jesus.
These strangers seem to know Jesus better than his own disciples.
How many people have turned off from the church because the people they meet there live and act in a way that is directly contradictory to the ways of Jesus? They meet Christians who are cruel not kind, harsh not gentle, self-centered not selfless. When they've come into the church they've found that the people aren't happy and joyful but grouchy and boring. Brothers and sisters, these are not the ways of Jesus.
APPLICATION: How many people have turned off from the church because the people they meet there live and act in a way that is directly contradictory to the ways of Jesus? They meet Christians who are cruel not kind, harsh not gentle, self-centered not selfless. When they've come into the church they've found that the people aren't happy and joyful but grouchy and boring. Brothers and sisters, these are not the ways of Jesus.
APPLICATION: Let's make the ways of Jesus famous here! Let's carry ourselves with a humility that stands out in our swag culture. Let's be the one kind voice that people hear at work or at school or in the bleachers of our children's games. Let's be the only people who refuse to yell at the refs or emasculate the coaches. Let's be the kind of neighbors that helps others with their grass and loans out equipment. Look, we live in a world where you just can't count on anyone. Maybe your coworkers and your coaches and your friends and your neighbors totally disagree with your whole belief system, but may they know that they can count on you! Let them know that they can expect them to treat you as Christ would treat them. If we want to win the world over to the ways of Christ, we must actually live in those ways!
Let's make the ways of Jesus famous here! Let's carry ourselves with a humility that stands out in our swag culture. Let's be the one kind voice that people hear at work or at school or in the bleachers of our children's games. Let's be the only people who refuse to yell at the refs or emasculate the coaches. Let's be the kind of neighbors that helps others with their grass and loans out equipment. Look, we live in a world where you just can't count on anyone. Maybe your coworkers and your coaches and your friends and your neighbors totally disagree with your whole belief system, but may they know that they can count on you! Let them know that they can expect them to treat you as Christ would treat them. If we want to win the world over to the ways of Christ, we must actually live in those ways!
“Let the little children come” Watching this scene unfold, Mark tells us in his account that Jesus become indignant with his disciples. He is incensed by their response to these little children and their parents. Certainly, Jesus must’ve asked himself: “How could they spend so much time with me and understand my heart so little?” Here is one of the occasions in which we see Jesus’ angry not with the Pharisees or the Sadducees, not secular playboys and godless pagans but with his own disciples. Jesus had already warned his disciples at the beginning of chapter 18 that it would be better for someone to tie a millstone around their necks and drown in the sea than to be a stumbling block to one of Jesus’ little ones, but here they are buckling the millstones to their own necks as they turn away the pesky children that keep coming for Jesus’ blessing.
“for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” And so, Jesus rebuking his disciples, instructs them to let the children come, and then as He often brilliantly does, Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach his disciples about the truth of the Kingdom. He not only calls for the children to come, but He holds up the children as an example for his disciple to follow. Jesus pointing to the very children that his disciples are rebuking says, “Do you not understand? They are my kingdom! My kingdom is not a place for the self-important. It is not a place for the self-sufficient. It is not for those who are strong and independent and resume building. My Kingdom is a kingdom for children. It is a Kingdom for those who are totally dependent and penniless. My Kingdom is for those who have no hope and no joy and no desire outside of my own kindness to them. My kingdom is for the vulnerable and the weak, for the afraid and the discarded. My kingdom is for those with no stature and no standing and no independent significance. My kingdom is a kingdom for children!”
In , Jesus contrasts the little children with the Pharisees that preceded this passage and with the rich young ruler that follows it. The Pharisees were hard-hearted and cold. Little children are soft-hearted and affectionate. The Rich Young Ruler was self-righteous and worldly. Little children are dependent and simple. The Pharisees knew the Law and the Rich Young Ruler knew the world, but the children knew Jesus. The Pharisees wanted others to feel inferior and the Rich Young Ruler wanted others to feel envious, but the children didn't worry about the others at all, for they had Jesus. But, unfortunately, even more primary to our text this morning, Jesus is not just contrasting the little children to the Pharisees and the rich young ruler; He is contrasting them with his own disciples. At the beginning of , Jesus had taught his disciples that greatness in the kingdom of God takes the form of being child-like. But, what we see here in is that the disciples aren't passing that test. They aren't looking as the humble children; rather, they are turning them away! By preventing the children from coming, Jesus' disciples were more like the hard-hearted pharisees and the self-righteous, self-important young ruler than the humble, dependent, gentle children that make up the Kingdom of God.
In , Matthew contrasts the little children with the Pharisees that preceded this passage and with the rich young ruler that follows it. The Pharisees were hard-hearted and cold. Little children are soft-hearted and affectionate. The Rich Young Ruler was self-righteous and worldly. Little children are dependent and simple. The Pharisees knew the Law and the Rich Young Ruler knew the world, but the children knew Jesus. The Pharisees wanted others to feel inferior and the Rich Young Ruler wanted others to feel envious, but the children didn't worry about the others at all, for they had Jesus. But, unfortunately, even more primary to our text this morning, Matthew is not just contrasting the little children to the Pharisees and the rich young ruler; He is contrasting them with Jesus’ own disciples. At the beginning of , Jesus had taught his disciples that greatness in the kingdom of God takes the form of being child-like. But, what we see here in is that the disciples aren't passing that test. They aren't looking as the humble children; rather, they are turning them away! By preventing the children from coming, Jesus' disciples were more like the hard-hearted pharisees and the self-righteous, self-important young ruler than the humble, dependent, gentle children that make up the Kingdom of God.
Now, I want us to notice the most fundamental problem of the disciples here. Why did Jesus become indignant? Why did Jesus scold them? Why were they deserving of such a strong rebuke? It was because they still, after having spent three years with Jesus and having heard Jesus teach time and again on the subject, fundamentally misunderstood the very nature of the kingdom of heaven. Isn't that Jesus' main teaching point here? He's saying, "Men, again, listen to me. You're not getting it. You're missing the big picture."
Now, I want us to notice the most fundamental problem of the disciples here. Why did Jesus become indignant? Why did Jesus scold them? Why were they deserving of such a strong rebuke? It was because they still, after having spent three years with Jesus and having heard Jesus teach time and again on the subject, fundamentally misunderstood the very nature of the kingdom of heaven. Isn't that Jesus' main teaching point here? He's saying, "Men, again, listen to me. You're not getting it. You're missing the big picture."
There's been a couple of times now that we've seen the disciples rebuke people or seek to turn people away as we see here. In , we see Jesus' disciples begging him to turn away the Canaanite woman. When Blind Bartimaeus cried out for Jesus' help, the disciples had hushed him. And here as the children come, the disciples are not only sending them away, but rebuking them. They were missing the essence of the Kingdom. They were missing the very heart of Jesus. The great bishop of the 19th century J.C. Ryle said it like this: "That mighty heart of His has room for the babe in the cradle as well as the king on his throne. He regards each infant as possessing within its little body an undying principle which will outlive the pyramids of Egypt and see the sun and moon quenched at that last day, and so He cares for their souls."
There's been a couple of times now that we've seen the disciples rebuke people or seek to turn people away as we see here. In , we see Jesus' disciples begging him to turn away the Canaanite woman. When Blind Bartimaeus cried out for Jesus' help, the disciples had hushed him. And here as the children come, the disciples are not only sending them away, but rebuking them. They were missing the essence of the Kingdom. They were missing the very heart of Jesus. The great bishop of the 19th century J.C. Ryle said it like this: "That mighty heart of His has room for the babe in the cradle as well as the king on his throne. He regards each infant as possessing within its little body an undying principle which will outlive the pyramids of Egypt and see the sun and moon quenched at that last day, and so He cares for their souls."
APPLICATION: Jesus is not concerned with the agenda of his disciples; He is concerned with the souls of men and women, boys and girls. The disciples had places to be and things to do. They had no time for such insignificant people. And yet, Jesus never met an insignificant person. Whether He held an infant in his hands or was standing before the throne of Herod himself, Jesus saw them all on grounds of equality, sinners that were helpless and hopeless without the Good News and hope that is found in him.
APPLICATION: Jesus is not concerned with the agenda of his disciples; He is concerned with the souls of men and women, boys and girls. The disciples had places to be and things to do. They had no time for such insignificant people. And yet, Jesus never met an insignificant person. Whether He held an infant in his hands or was standing before the throne of Herod himself, Jesus saw them all on grounds of equality, sinners that were helpless and hopeless without the Good News and hope that is found in him. Could it be that our own agendas are distracting us from the heart of Jesus? Could it be that we have become so set on what we want to do and where want to go and what we want to accomplish, even in our ministries with our family or within our church, that we have forsaken the very heart of Jesus? Brothers and sisters, the souls of men and women, boys and girls have to come before our own agendas! If we want the heart of Jesus, if we want to live to the glory of Jesus, we have to begin to see people as Jesus sees them! That is, we have to see people as they really are!
“do not hinder them” As Jesus warned his disciples, so we must too be warned: Proud people are a hindrance to the gospel. These disciples believed that the ministry to children was beneath them and beneath the time of Jesus, and Jesus calls them a hindrance! Brothers and sisters, wherever humility fails Christ-like ministry will cease.
If your heart hardens like the Pharisees, you won't notice or have time to worry about the people who are struggling around you. You won't give a thought to their being lost and hell-bound. You won't want the inconvenience of inviting them to church or to a cookout on your deck for a long conversation about their struggling marriage. If your heart is self-righteous and secular like the Rich Young Ruler, you won't be comfortable around people that come from the other side of the tracks. You'll be more jealous than concerned for those who seem to have a little more than you. You'll want to save your time and your conversations for those that you perceive will help you or even your church because of their community standing or intellect or financial abilities.
If your heart hardens like the Pharisees, you won't notice or have time to worry about the people who are struggling around you. You won't give a thought to their being lost and hell-bound. You won't want the inconvenience of inviting them to church or to a cookout on your deck or a long conversation about their struggling marriage. If you heart is self-righteous and secular like the Rich Young Ruler, you won't be comfortable around people that come from the other side of the tracks. You'll be more jealous than concerned for those who seem to have a little more than you. You'll want to save your time and your conversations for those that you perceive will help you or even your church because of their community standing or intellect or financial abilities. But, if your heart is like that of these babies, if your heart is defined by Kingdom greatness, your love and friendship will not discriminate. Being dependent on Christ yourself, you'll want to help others find rest in him too. Having experienced and depended upon kindness, you'll offer other kindness. Having known the gentleness of Christ, you, too, will be gentle. You see, humility is the spring from which Christ-centered living and Christ-centered ministry flows.
But, if your heart is like that of these babies, if your heart is defined by Kingdom greatness, your love and friendship will not discriminate. Being dependent on Christ yourself, you'll want to help others find rest in him too. Having experienced and depended upon kindness, you'll offer other kindness. Having known the gentleness of Christ, you, too, will be gentle. You see, humility is the spring from which Christ-centered living and Christ-centered ministry flows.
APPLICATION: What ministry is beneath you? What ministry does your pride prevent? Man, children is the clearest example, isn’t it? Evangelism. Is it anything other than pride that convinces us that our comfort or even our friend's opinion of us is more important than their eternal destiny? Prison ministry. Missions.
And, can I point something out to you? Out of the characters we meet in -- Jesus withstanding -- who do you believe is the happiest? Who do you believe has the greatest joy? Who do you believe has the greatest peace? Is it the Pharisees who believe that they have all the answers to life's questions and pass every morality test? Is it the Rich Young Ruler who has everything that his heart could want except eternal life? Or is it the babies? Is it the babies who are scooped up in the arms of Christ and caring for him and knowing his kindness and provision and love. You see, the humble can be happy if all they have is Jesus. Their hearts aren't full of record-keeping like the Pharisees. Their hearts aren't filled with entitlement and self-importance like the Young Ruler. They just need Jesus, and with him, regardless of what they have or don't have, they have enough. This morning, you're looking for joy. Every, single one of you. And the answer for you all is the same: Come to the arms of Jesus and trust in his kindness to receive you.
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