One of the things that makes our church distinct is that we are a “family integrated church.” You don’t find a lot of churches around here seeking to integrate children into their worship services. But the reason for this is because we believe something unique about children. You might say we have a family integrated theology.
As Luke wrote to this gentile friends about the kingdom of God and sought to clarify who was in it, he was sure to remind them that the kingdom did not simply consist of believers. It also incorporates the children of believers as well.
Now I understand that some of you might raise an eyebrow at this. You might be sitting there saying, “Did he just say that children are de facto members of God’s kingdom?” This is, no doubt, something new to you, and perhaps it sounds downright heretical.
Before you cast any stones or jump up and storm out, I want you to look again at the text with me. As you listen to the text I believe it will become more clear.
As we look at this passage I want you to see three things about a child’s membership in God’s kingdom. I want you to see that their membership is affirmed by Christ, cultivated by parents, and, ultimately, internalized by personal faith.
Now, I know some of you might be shaking your heads and wondering if you really are hearing me right. “Did he really say that children are members of God’s kingdom?”
And the first thing I want you to see from our text is that Christ affirms as much here in this text. Look at verse 16.
I. Christ affirms it in his word
In verse 16 Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Of course, He says this because his disciples were telling the people who were bringing children to him to skedaddle. They evidently thought that Jesus was much too busy to bother with little babies.
But Jesus rebukes them, and he says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
I know there are some who interpret this to say, “for the kingdom belongs to such as these.” And they say that this refers not to children, but adults who are like a child in that they have simple, childlike faith in God. But I would suggest to you that does not do justice to our text. Jesus is rebuking his disciples for running off the little babies. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Let the little children come for the kingdom of God belongs to adults.” That would be completely contrary to the point he is trying to make.
The best way to interpret this is to understand that Jesus is talking about the children. “Let them come to me, because the kingdom belongs to them.”
Christ is telling his disciples that he puts a priority on these little guys because they are just as much members of his kingdom as any professing adult. He welcomes them because they are just as precious to him as anyone else and have right of access to their God by virtue of their birthright.
Now, let’s examine this a little closer. Make sure your see that Luke specifies what kind of children these were. In verse 15 he makes sure to point out that they are infants. They were babies.
The word that Luke uses is the same word that is used to describe John the Baptist when he leaped in the womb of his mother. The same word is used in reference to Jesus when he was a day or two old. The angels told the shepherds that they would find a baby wrapped in cloth and laying in a manger.
So I want you to understand that Jesus is talking about newborn children. He’s affirming that these infants, ones who were so small that they had to be carried by their parents, were in fact members of his kingdom.
Do you understand this? These are not children who have grown up and reached some nebulous “age of accountability” where they can now make their own profession of faith. They were ones who were so fresh that they had no capacity to speak, let alone the cognitive ability personally understand the gospel. Jesus says, “These guys who are still in diapers, they are part of my kingdom.”
Of course, when we take into consideration all of what God has revealed up to this point, this shouldn’t be a shocker to us. Back in the Old Testament, children were very much a part of God’s kingdom. If you were born to Jewish parents, then you were members of the kingdom of Israel. You were very much a part of God’s kingdom here on earth. There was absolutely no question about it. As a matter of fact, if you were a boy, you would be circumcised and physically distinguished as being part of that kingdom.
And here in this passage, Jesus is saying that nothing has changed. Even though the new covenant has come the children of believers are still very much a part of God’s kingdom.
Now, understanding what Jesus says here about a covenant child’s status in the kingdom can help you understand why some of us believe that we should baptize our children. I know that it doesn’t expressly say here “You must go baptize your babies.” But you can see the implication and understand why some of us in this congregation and why many people in the world believe that you should baptize you babies.
We at Providence church allow for freedom on this issue. I recognize that not everyone believes this should be done, but you can at least see why many throughout the church do practice infant baptism. If a child is a member of God’s kingdom, as Jesus says here, then it logically follows that they should be designated as such by water baptism.
For instance, if you are born in Ohio, you are given a birth certificate. It is a sign and a confirmation that you have indeed been born into the kingdom of Ohio. If you, or anyone else, has any question about your citizenship in this kingdom, then you have the proof of this piece of paper.
The same is true regarding baptism. If you have been born into the kingdom, then you ought to have the sign that designates you as a citizen of that kingdom.
Another implication of this text, perhaps a more important one. What Jesus says here can help us if we would happen to have a child die in infancy. The question naturally arises, “What happens to that child?” I believe that a text like this provides us great comfort. It can help to assure us that the Lord’s mercies are not just ours, but they also belong to our children because of his relationship to them.
Now, those are two sides to the issue. Important ones, I think. There are perhaps many other applications we could make. What is important to see here is that Christ does affirm that the children of believers are members of his kingdom.
But don’t think for a moment that that is enough. Their membership in God’s kingdom isn’t static. Yes, it is theirs by virtue of their birthright, as we have seen Christ affirm. But you have to understand that parents have to cultivate their membership in this kingdom through godly, Christian nurture.
II. Parents cultivate it by their nurture
It shouldn’t go without notice that these parents were the ones initiating this whole ordeal. These babies were not pulling up their diapers and running over to Jesus all by themselves. The disciples weren’t chasing the babies around and telling them to scram. No, they were infuriated at the parents who were bringing the children.
This is important for us to understand. Because, if we miss this, we miss a vital ingredient for a child’s participation in the kingdom. Godly parents are the means that God uses to confirm children in His kingdom.
This passage is great in this regard. These parents recognized that their children needed Christ’s blessing. We don’t know if they had a full understanding of who he was as the Messiah. But they certainly understood that their children would benefit greatly by having Jesus touch them. They knew that if Jesus had the power to bless these children and impart to them something profound. They knew that if Jesus had contact with their children, their children would be somehow further confirmed in God’s kingdom.
What these parents were doing was seeking to have their children further ensconced in God’s kingdom. Yes they were members of it, but they knew that these children needed further nurture. They understood Christ could bless their child and foster their spirituality. You might say that they knew that Christ could deepen their rootedness in the kingdom.
Let me put it this way: Some of you are starting to see your flowers pop up in your flower garden. It is amazing! Spring is actually going to make it this year! Now, is that seedling that is starting to spout a flower? Yes, of course it is. It is a baby one; it is a very small one, but it is no less a flower. Now, how does it continue to be a flower? Well, it takes sunlight. It takes water. It has to have all the nutrients it needs. If it doesn’t, it won’t continue to be a flower. It will die. God uses those means to cause it to flourish.
The same is true when it comes to our citizenship in the kingdom of the United States. We become members of this nation when we were born. But as we grow up, we need to be taught the principles of our kingdom. We need to learn about the constitution and about the freedoms that it grants. Those things help to confirm us in our citizenship and guide us to be good Americans
That’s exactly what happens with our citizenship in the kingdom of God. Yes, our children are members of God’s kingdom, but they are dependent upon us to help cultivate that membership. They need to grow and develop as citizens of that kingdom. They need to be raised in such a way as to encourage their interests in Christ and his law.
You might remember from a few weeks ago when we baptized Truman. My wife and I took vows to raise Truman in the fear and admonition of God. We pledged to pray with him and for him. We promised to teach him the Scriptures and set before him a godly example, that he might learn to walk in it.
Now, this is integral for the lives of our kids. Just because they are members of God’s kingdom, doesn’t mean that they are automatically saved. They need to be brought to Christ on a daily basis in order to foster their relationship with him.
In other words, we as parents are responsible to expose them to the means of grace. You know, this is one of the reasons why were call ourselves a “family-integrated” church. We think it is important that children be here to hear the word of God. We want to train them to pray—and I should say, kids, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to pray with us during our open prayer time. That’s a good thing! That’s a great thing! We are glad you are singing with us, and we don’t mind if you pray out loud with us too.
And parents, let me remind you again how important it is to be practicing godliness in the home. Ulrich Zwingli, one of the Reformers, once said that parents who don’t raise their children in the nurture of the gospel are robbing God of his children. That is exactly what happens when a father doesn’t read the Scriptures with his kids. That’s what happens when mom doesn’t sing to her children or stop and discipline her kids when it is needed.
Far be it from you to stunt your child’s growth or be the cause of their rebellion against God’s kingdom. The Lord has ordained that you would be His vessel to raise up kingdom kids. And I hope you take that seriously.
Your role is very important. Otherwise a child will never internalize it for himself. And really, that brings us to what Jesus says in verse 17.
III. Children internalize it through childlike faith
He takes the little babies in his arms and he says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
What I want you to understand here is that it is not enough for kids to be recognized as a member of God’s kingdom. It is not enough for parents to cultivate them in a kingdom life. It is imperative that children internalize the kingdom for themselves. Ultimately, they need to personally profess faith themselves.
You see, everything to this point has been very external. They’ve been acknowledged as kingdom members. They have parents who are trying to nurture them in a kingdom lifestyle. But those things must blossom into a personal faith. The kingdom must be personally internalized. And if a child does not embrace it—if a child does not come to appropriate the promises of God himself or herself, then what Jesus says here will come true: He or she will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Children, you need to recognize that. You cannot get to heaven simply by being born into a Christian home. Just because you come to church, doesn’t mean anything. Just because you’ve been baptized, that does not guarantee that you’ve been saved. You must recognize that you have been given a special place in God’s kingdom. You must take the things that your parents have taught you and you must embrace the gospel for yourself.
Jesus says that you must receive the kingdom. You must acknowledge Jesus as your king, your God, and your Savior. You must trust his word and obey his law. If you are going to be part of the kingdom that Christ is one day coming back for, then you must believe that it will come to pass and take him to be your personal God.
And that goes for anyone else in this room. If you wish to be part of that eternal kingdom that God is restoring, then you must receive it. How do you do that? Jesus says it is through simple childlike faith. You must receive it like a child.
The thing about a baby is that he is very trusting. Truman, my little guy, is completely dependent upon his mother and I. When we stick that bottle in his mouth, he sucks it. He trusts that it is going to have something good in it and not be a bunch of poison.
That’s the same way we must come to God. We must simply trust him and take his word as true.
In a passage like this we are reminded that God’s word touches every aspect of our lives. Our theology doesn't just cover the nature of God, the way of salvation, or the basic constitution of man. We understand that it touches every aspect of life, even down to the tiniest baby in our household.
What’s more, we are reminded of God’s love for these kids. He holds them in special regard and relates to them in a special way. Our children are not the same as the children of unbelievers. They are not to be evangelized, but are to be disciple and raised as kingdom members.
After what Christ affirms here, not one of us should doubt the love our God has for our children. Instead, we should be encouraged that he does love and care for them. Moreover, knowing that their membership is valid, we must work it out. May we never prevent a child’s coming to Christ. But may we let the little children come to him and do everything in our power to foster that relationship.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.