Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"JESUS TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES THAT COVENANT CHILDREN ARE HEIRS OF GODíS KINGDOM."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 25:5 (Psalm 111:5 after baptism)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
We were privileged this morning to witness the administration of baptism to a child in the congregation. The event is rather a highlight, and thatís not only, brothers and sisters, because we do not have too many baptisms in Kelmscott; itís a highlight because of the amazing content of the event. Jenna is a covenant child, God has claimed Jenna for Himself, and so she is an heir to Godís kingdom! And sheís not the only one; all our children have this privileged identity.
These children. I want this morning to set out with you from the word of our God what the Lord says about these children of ours. We shall learn that these little ones, with their talents and their handicaps, are Godís children; He has claimed them for Himself so that all His promises in Jesus Christ are for them. This royal identity implies that each child in the congregation is special to God, exceedingly special, and so we need to treat them with Godly love and care.
I summarise the sermon this morning with this theme:
JESUS TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES THAT COVENANT CHILDREN ARE HEIRS OF GODíS
1. These heirs are depraved.
The story before us this morning is so well known to us that we can picture the event in our minds. Jesus is busy, busy as always teaching the people (cf vs 1), doing what He came to do. In the midst of His busyness, a number of parents approach Him with their little ones in tow. Their intent is to have Jesus touch their little ones (vs 13). Had Jesus in previous days and weeks not touched so many sick and healed them? Would it not then be desirable to have this Jesus touch oneís newborn, oneís toddler, oneís pre-schooler, oneís son or daughter?? The challenges of parenting are legion, and to have a touch from this famous Rabbi Ė it could only be for the good of the childÖ.
But the disciples say No. While the parents seek access to Jesus, the twelve in their wisdom block their way. Did they think Jesus was too busy to bother with little children? Whatever the reason, the parents may go home again with their little ones Ė minus the desired touch.
Till Jesus sees whatís going on. Our translation tells us that "when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased." That translation puts it mildly. The word used to describe Jesusí reaction is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe fury, being livid. Jesus was livid with His disciples, He seethed at their conduct. So He tells them in no uncertain terms to "let the little children come to me, do not restrain them." Then Jesus sets the little ones on His knee, one after the other, and blesses each with His hands over the child. We understand: the parents went home satisfied, while the disciples could nurse their wounds.
The question that jumps at us is this: why was Jesus so furious with the disciplesí conduct? Were the twelve not doing their best to help their Rabbi? Is teaching the crowds not more important than touching toddlers?? Isnít there even something mystical, something superstitious in the mothersí wish for a touch?
Jesus was furious. He also explains why. Itís our text: "of such is the kingdom of God." And the fact that He was furious with the disciples implies that the disciples should know that the kingdom of God belonged to such children.
"Of such is the kingdom of God." What is meant by the sentence? Various commentators tell us that Jesus here refers to a childís innocence and emptiness. That is: Jesus Ėsay these commentatorsĖ is teaching His disciples that only those who are like children can enter the kingdom of heaven. So: those who want to achieve in order to enter the kingdom canít get in, and those who receive grudgingly canít either. One needs to be like a child, empty handed, and ready to receive a free handout Ė isnít that what a child is like?! Then vs 15 is understood like this: "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God with the innocence and readiness and trust of a child cannot enter it." So the disciples should let the children come to Jesus because these childrenís attitude in receiving is a good example to the older.
Now, itís certainly true, beloved, that none will receive salvation striving to earn it. We certainly need to stand empty-handed before Godís throne and be willing simply to receive. But is this the instruction of the passage?? If thatís what Jesus wanted to teach, did that justify His "great displeasure", His seething fury with the disciples on account of their behaviour?
Here I need to make two comments. The first is this: the "little children" mentioned in our passage refers to a child in age anywhere from infancy to, say, age 12. I say that because the term used in our text for Ďchildrení comes back in Scripture to describe John the Baptist at his circumcision Ė so, an infant (Lu 1:59). It also comes back to describe the sick daughter of the synagogue ruler of Mk 5 Ė and she was 12 years of age (Mt 5:39f).
Now, Scripture is very clear on the point that children are not at all so innocent. David says in Ps 51 that he "was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin [his] mother conceived" him (vs 5), and thatís to say that he was depraved from the word Go. In Ps 58 the human race is described as "go[ing] astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies" (vs 3). In other words, the doctrine of human depravity is valid not only for the older in our midst; every child from conception is evil, corrupt, totally void of innocence and holiness. Our experience tells us that too. A newborn looks so perfect, so innocent, but it doesnít take long for the child to assert his own will; ĎI want a feed now, and I canít waití. Or consider the toddler who receives a baby sibling. The toddler can quickly get jealous of Mother having to divide her attention, and so reject the new baby: ĎBaby, go away!í We find it cute, but in actual fact itís evidence of blatant selfishness, sinfulness. And the self-centeredness of the child does not stop when he first goes to school - as every teacher will tell you. Be like a child in order to receive the kingdom of God? No, congregation, Scripture does not present the child as being so innocent, such an example in self-denial. Well does the Form for the Baptism of Infants word it: "We and our children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath, so that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again." Thatís true also of infants.
The second thing we need to note is this: Jesus in our text does not say that the kingdom of God is for grown persons who are like children. The comparative Ďlikeí does not receive a mention here. The text says that the kingdom of God is "of such" children themselves. That is: the children themselves are possessors of this kingdom; the kingdom is theirs. Thatís Jesusí point as He speaks to the twelve disciples standing around Him (and the parents of the children can hear it!); Jesus tells the disciples that these very physical children standing there with their parents possess the kingdom of God, that kingdom is "of" them. Though sinful, though conceived and born in sin and subject to all sorts of misery, even to condemnation, these little ones are possessors of the kingdom of God. Thatís the obvious meaning of the words Jesus uses.
We come now to our second point. Jesus speaks very categorically about these children being "of" the kingdom of God Ė though they are so depraved. How come Jesus can be so sure about the identity of these children that He could get furious with the disciples? The answer is this:
2. These depraved children have been claimed by God.
"Of such is the kingdom of God," Jesus said to the disciples. From where did Jesus get that information? With those words, brothers and sisters, Jesus simply took at face value what the Lord had revealed in the Old Testament about children. No, Jesus does not say that all children are possessors of Godís kingdom. He is speaking of that specific group who had been brought to Him to receive His touch. These were children of Israel, that is, were persons who by birth had received from God a place in His eternal covenant of grace. It is not true that God has a soft spot for children as such. That little ditty I learned back in Grade 1, that ĎJesus loves all the little children of the worldí, is simply not true. Recall that in the flood the whole human race died, except for the eight in the ark. The whole human race includes the aged and the strong, includes also the infants of one day old and the toddlers just learning to walk. Recall too that the people of Israel were commanded, when they entered the Promised Land, to kill all the inhabitants, including not just the aged and the strong, but also the infants of one day old and the toddlers just learning to walk (cf Dt 7:2; 20:17). It is just not true that Jesus loves all the little children of the world. That little song is a heresy.
What is true, though, is that God loves the believer, those who trust in Him, and loves also the family, the children of the believer. In the flood God was sovereignly pleased to save not just the believer Noah, but also his family, including wife and sons and daughters-in-law (Gen 6:17f). This love for the family Ėbelievers and their childrenĖ is enshrined into a normative pattern for God in the promise He voiced to Abraham. Said God to Abraham in Gen 17:
"I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you" (vs 7).
God claims as His special possession the children He gives to believers. In Godís covenant with Abraham God promised that He would be God to Abraham, and in the context of Godís revelation in the covenant this promise meant nothing else than that God imposed such a bond between Himself and Abraham that He would be Abrahamís God forever, that God would care for Abraham, would forgive His sins, would reconcile him to God, yes, that God would be his Friend always. That wonderful promise, though, was not for the man Abraham alone; it was equally valid for Abrahamís children!
When God, then, delivered a people from Egypt, God did not deliver the adults only, or the pious only; God Ėin faithfulness to the promise spoken to father AbrahamĖ took out of bondage His people, older and younger alike. When God made His covenant with Israel at Mt Sinai, God made special mention of the children in Israel; "I," said the Lord,
"am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex 20:5f).
"Showing mercy to thousands": that is, into countless generations of the faithful God would bless the children.
Since the children received from God the same promises as the believing parents, God also promised to bless the families, the children. In Dt 30 God have this promise to the obedient and faithful in Israel:
"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (vs 6).
"I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (vs 19).
The children in Israel, that holy seed, was special to God, so precious in His eyes that He would bless the obedience of the parents into coming generations.
What God thought of the children in Israel is pointed up too through the words of the prophet Isaiah. In chap 40 he spoke of the Lord coming to His people in these terms:
"He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young" (vs 11).
The little ones, the lambs, are so precious to God that the Messiah will "carry them in His bosom". These little ones, by Godís sovereign decision, are the heirs of Godís promises of life and grace, of forgiveness and mercy everlasting.
Shall the disciples then send away the little ones mothers brought to Jesus?! Given Godís revelation in the Old Testament, itís so understandable that Jesus was seething at the audacity of the twelve! Had they not read the Scriptures? Did they not know from the Word of God itself what God thought of His children by covenant? Their Bibles were so crystal clear: of the little ones was the kingdom of God! Send them away? Deny them access to the Saviour of the world? No, a thousand times NO! Godís revelation made so clear, so very clear that the little ones Ėthose whom God in wisdom entrusted to believing parentsĖ were precious, so very precious to God. God sent His only Son into the world not only for the mature, the adults, those who can think; God sent His only Son into the world for the salvation of the little ones also. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Thatís what the Old Testament taught, and so thatís what the disciples should work with, should embrace, should believe. And so let the little children come to Jesus! "For of such is the kingdom of God."
I know that in our day it is said that children do not really belong in the same sense as adults do, until theyíve come to maturity of years and made profession of faith. But please consider, then, that God in Gen 17 made no distinction at all between Abraham and Abrahamís descendents; what He promised to Abraham He promised equally to Abrahamís offspring Ė regardless of age. Thatís why Jesus Ėand He could read the Old Testament perfectly!- welcomed the little ones of Israel, welcomed them as heirs of the kingdom of God. Itís simply wrong to say that children do not fully belong until theyíve come to maturity of years and made profession of faith. Itís for us today, as Jesus did long ago, to accept what the Scriptures plainly say.
And lest anyone suggest that the New Testament operates on a different principle, listen to Peter on the day of Pentecost. Peter addressed the very crowds who had once crucified Jesus and cried out that His blood "be on us and on our children" (Mt 27:25). Said Peter to that crowd:
"Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Now: why could Peter be so certain that this crowd of sinners could be forgiven, could receive the Holy Spirit? Because, said Peter in the next verse, "the promise is to you." What promise? The one of Gen 17, that God will be God to the believer. But, he adds, the promise is not only for you adults; the promise is also "to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." Thatís Gen 17:
"I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you" (vs 7).
Because the principle of Gen 17 operates in the New Testament too, the apostle Paul can say in I Cor 7 that the children of the believing parent "are holy" (vs 14). And when the Philippian jailer after the earthquake asked the apostles what he had to do, Paul told him to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). Again, when Cornelius was told by the angel to send for Peter, he was assured that Peter would speak words "by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:14). Lydia believed the preaching of the apostle Paul, and as a result she was baptised "and her household" (Acts 16:14f). You see, beloved, time and again the Scriptures of the New Testament confirm the principle of the Old Testament: the children of believers, no matter how little, are precious to God, are claimed by God as His.
Itís this teaching of Scripture that prompted the Fathers in the Canons of Dort to pen this confession:
"We must judge concerning the will of God from His Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents. Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy" (Art I.17).
There it is, beloved, in the words of your own confession. Here you and I echo the words of Jesus in our text: "of such is the kingdom of God." Every child conceived in the womb of a believer is a child of God! Neither miscarriage nor handicap nor timely birth nor illness can change that reality: "of such is the kingdom of God."
It is, therefore, simply not true that our children need to make profession of faith before it can be said that they belong to Christ, before it can be said that they are possessors of the kingdom of God. That kingdom belongs to them already, because God has said so. Certainly, those little ones need to be taught Who their God and Father is. But it is not true that they donít really yet belong to God, or belong to God in a lesser sense, until the day they actually themselves believe in the Lord and profess the faith.
Jesus was furious with His disciples when they failed to understand and apply the plain and straightforward teaching of Scripture. Let us for our part, congregation, make sure that we do appreciate well the glorious identity God in mercy His granted to our children! That brings us to our third point:
3. Those God claimed are royally treated.
I need yet to draw your attention to Jesusí action by which He visibly underlined for His disciples the truth of our text. "Of such is the kingdom of God," Jesus had said. Then He demonstrated the reality of what He said by taking these little ones up in His arms. He, the One sent by God to save His people from their sins, embraced these little children, and so gave concrete evidence to the disciples and the parents, yes, and to the children themselves, that the forgiveness of sins Jesus would obtain on the cross of Calvary was valid for these specific little children. The embrace pointed up for all in attendance that Jesus loved these specific children, loved them not because they may have been His nephews or nieces, loved them not because they were so nice of themselves, but loved them in obedience to His Fatherís Word of old; these children belonged to God, and therefore belonged to the Son of God.
Jesus, though, didnít just take them in His arms and embrace them. He also, we read, "blessed them", blessed them by "laying His hands on them." The laying on of hands, we learn from the Old Testament, was used to convey the notion of transferring something from one to the other. So the Israelite laid his hands on the goat in the sacrifice in order to transfer his sins from the self to the animal (cf Lev 3:1,8,13; 4:4; Num 8:12). This same concept operated in transferring a blessing to another. Jacob laid his hands on his grandsonsí heads in order to impart to them a blessing (Gen 49:14). Thatís the notion here too when Jesus lays His hands on the children. In the blessing He gives, He transfers something to them. What is transferred to the children? Why, obviously, the same thing as Jesus said in the words of our text! God had said that these children are His heirs; Godís promises of salvation and life in Jesus Christ are for them. That reality Jesus Ėfaithful servant of God that He isĖ imparts to the children. Here is royal treatment: the children receive from Jesusí hand what God has promised to them; they receive Jesusí blessing. And make no mistake: those whom Jesus blesses certainly are blessed!
What, then, should the disciples think of the children brought to Jesus? And what should the parents think as they walk their children home? It will be clear, beloved: disciples and mothers alike should know that these children are rich, rich beyond compare. God had claimed them for Himself, and so Jesus welcomes them, blesses them. Itís now for the parents to treat these children with the same love and care that God has displayed to them by sending His Son. These parents, in other words, need to show their children Who their Father is. The royal identity of the children demands that the parents in turn give the children of God entrusted to them special training, special instruction. In the words of the apostle Paul:
"Öyou, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).
And mothers, of course, under the leadership of the head of the family, have to help in that. Godís children need to be brought up in the training and admonition of the Lord because the Lord is their Father by covenant, their Saviour and Master by Godís decree.
This morning a child in the congregation could receive the sign and seal of Godís covenant of grace. We understand it now: Jenna is so rich, so incredibly rich. She, like we all, is an heir to the kingdom of God! That is why Jeremy and Emily had to promise that they as father and mother would instruct their daughter in this doctrine, and cause her to be instructed therein. Jenna needs to know what God said about her, needs to know her royal identity!
And thatís true for all of us as parents, brothers and sisters, and not only as parents but also as fellow heirs together within one congregation. Godís little ones, even when they become six feet tall, need to be instructed repeatedly in Godís claim upon them, taught at home and in church and at school of the riches God in mercy has laid upon them. Godís children they are; never may the younger generation forget that or be unclear as to what that means! Godís children they are, and thatís why the home is always Ė24 hours a day, 7 days a week- to be God-centered in its activities and its atmosphere. Godís children they are, and thatís why God-centered school is not an option but a duty Ė a duty rooted in the wonderful identity God has been pleased to give to the children He entrusted to us: theirís is the kingdom of heaven! Godís children they are, and thatís why they belong in church as soon as reasonably possible Ė and parents need to explain what the sermon is about. Godís children they are, and thatís why we all together have a role to play in directing them time and again to their royal identity and its glorious consequences.
What, my brothers and sisters, do you think of the children sitting around you? What do you think of the toddlers in the nursery, the infant in the crib, the baby in your womb? Those little ones, by Godís decree, are His children by covenant, "of such is the kingdom of God," all Godís riches are promised to them. And you, you are allowed to tell them about it, in word and deed.
And who, boys and girls, do you think you are? You are Godís children, precious to Him. Thatís why He gave you your Daddy and your Mommy, so that they can tell you about Him, and care for you as He would care for you. Thatís why you need to honor your parents, and listen to them especially when they speak about your God in heaven. For this God loves you. Amen.