Our Children Ė Godís Children
Rev C Bouwman
Mark 10:14c "for of such is the kingdom of God"
Very much of our time as parents is taken up by our children; they have a central, very central place in our daily lives. We tie their shoe-laces, dry up their tears, sit with them at the table, read them stories. We send them off to school, fix their torn clothes, help with their homework, listen to their stories, kiss them good-night. We coach them so they can get their licence, rejoice with them when they make profession of faith, clutch our hearts as they make their first forays into the work force, put together again the heart broken by the failed romance. And once theyíre married, the involvement remains (be it on a different level), and the fun starts with the next generation. Children take up so much of our time.
With this article, I want to draw out that the children entrusted into our care are heirs of Godís kingdom; God has claimed these children for Himself in His covenant of grace, so that all His promises in Jesus Christ are for them. This royal identity implies that each of our children are exceedingly special to God. This identity in turn affects Ėeven dictatesĖ the way we treat our offspring.
The article is made up of three parts. The first section takes the reader to a scene in Israel many years ago, when Jesusí disciples attempted to save their Master from the neighbourhood children. The following section seeks to understand why Jesus was so furious with His disciples for their attempt to blockade the children. The final section attempts to draw out the consequence.
I. The Scene in Israel
That event in Palestine so many years ago is so well-known to us that we can picture it in our minds. Jesus is busy, busy as always teaching the people (cf Mk 10:1), doing what He came to do. In the midst of His busy-ness, 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 new-born, 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.
Jesus sees whatís going on. Our translation tells us that "when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased." Thatís mildly put. The word used to describe Jesusí reaction is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe fury.1 Jesus was furious 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 forbid 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 their wish for a touch?
Jesus explains why He was furious. Says He: "of such is the kingdom of God." Thatís why He was furious with the disciples: "of such is the kingdom of God," and the disciples should know it.
Children an example?
What is meant by the sentence? Various commentators2 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. Those who want to work 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.
It is certainly true that none will receive salvation if he intends to earn it. We need to stand empty-handed before Godís throne and be willing simply to receive. But is this the instruction of the passage?? I do not think so, for the following reasons:
Be like a child in order to receive the kingdom of God? No, dear reader, Scripture does not present the child as being so innocent, such an example. 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."
How did Jesus Know?
"Of such is the kingdom of God," Jesus said to the disciples. Where did Jesus get that from? Why could Jesus speak so categorically about these children being "of" the kingdom of God?
As it turns out, Jesus simply took at face value what the Lord had revealed in the OT about children in Israel. Note: 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. In the flood the whole human race died, except for the eight adults 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. 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 ditty is an outright lie.
What is true, though, is that God loves the believers, those who trust in Him, and loves also the family, the children of the believer.6 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).7 This love for the family Ėbelievers and their childrenĖ is enshrined by God into a normative pattern for Himself in the promise He voiced to Abraham. Said God to Abraham in Gen 17:
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,
So, when the prophet Isaiah had to speak of the coming Messiah, he did it like this:
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young" (Is 40:11).
Shall the disciples then send away the little ones brought to Jesus?! 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. Theirís is the kingdom of heaven! Thatís what the OT 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."
The NT is not Different
That the NT operates on a the same principle is evident from various passages of the NT Scripture. Peter on the day of Pentecost 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:
Because the principle of Genesis 17 is operative in the NT era, the apostle Paul says to the saints of Corinth that the children of the believing parent "are holy" (I Cor 7:14). And when the Philippian jailer after the earthquake asked the apostles what he had to do, Paul said to him this:
In agreement with this revelation of God in Scripture, the fathers at the Synod of Dort made the following confession:
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. In the words of Lordís Day 27: "Infants as well as adults belong to Godís covenantÖ."
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 make sure that we appreciate well the glorious identity God in mercy His granted to our children! And therefore treat them literally as Godís children.
The baby in the womb, the infant in the craddle, the toddler in the play pen, the school ager, the teenager: all our children Ėirrespective of talents receivedĖ are children of God by covenant. In Jesusí words: "of such is the kingdom of God," all Godís riches are promised to them. How rich, how wonderfully rich, those little ones are!
And we parents are allowed to tell them about it!! I cannot imagine a more glorious task!