Jeremy Sarber / The Bible Readers Podcast

Jesus loves the little children and so should every Christian parent

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

David’s son to build the temple

King David once had grand plans to build the temple of God, a resting place for the ark of the covenant, a dwelling place for God on earth. But God had different plans. He intended for his house to be built by David’s son, Solomon, so David “assembled at Jerusalem all the officials of Israel” to reveal what God had told him (1Ch 28:1).

King David stood up before the men and said:

“Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’ Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me, ‘It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.’” (1 Chronicles 28:2-7).

Inspiration for Psalm 127

As David contemplated the incredible work designated for his son, Solomon, he wrote these precious words of Psalm 127:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

David desperately wanted Solomon to understand that while he would serve as God’s primary instrument in building in his temple, Solomon would not be the chief architect. He should not deceive himself into believing the temple would be his temple or that it would represent his majesty. It would be the house of God and God alone. The first two verses of that psalm were meant to teach Solomon to be obedient to God’s word and trust in his providential care.

Then, David wrote:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

As David tried to impart his wisdom to Solomon, you can imagine him swelling up with a father’s joy while he thought about what his son would accomplish. In the middle of the psalm, he began describing children as a heritage or gift passed down from God. He compared them to the arrows used by men in battle. Just as an archer pulls an arrow from his quiver, sets it against his bow, and carefully aims it before releasing, parents do the same with their children.

The latter half of Psalm 127 not only serves as a reminder that children are a blessing, but it also implores us to be diligent in training them while they are still young. Paul told fathers to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Solomon said, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Our mission is to steady the arrows before they are released so they will fly in a straight path.

Teach children the words of God

More than once in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to remember the words of God and teach them to their children. In what has become one of my favorite passages, God says through Moses:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

God has never wanted parents to become complacent or allow an easy opportunity for the next generation to forget him and his Word. We are not to merely teach our children the basic differences between right and wrong or how to be so-called responsible adults. We are to teach them the nature of sin and temptation. We are to teach them to fear God and be obedient. We are to guide them through the pages of Scripture. We are to make disciples out of them. Ultimately, we are to lead them to Jesus Christ.

Blessing children in the Bible

Mark writes, “And they were bringing children to him” (Mk 10:13). Matthew’s account of this event tells us, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray” (Mt 19:13). What must have prompted these people to take their children to Christ was an ancient tradition among those in Israel. It was customary for fathers to lay hands on their children, pray, and bless them. It was a father’s way of dedicating them to the Lord and ensuring their future prosperity. For instance, when Isaac attempted to bless his son, Esau, though he unknowingly blessed Jacob instead, he said:

“May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” (Genesis 27:28-29)

Similarly, firstborn infants were taken to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord and sanctified. You may remember that Jesus was taken to the temple as a baby. That’s when a man by the name of Simeon excitedly announced:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

When Simeon finished speaking, he blessed Jesus.

Parents in Israel would also take their children to rabbis in the local synagogues so they could pray for the children and bless them. In many cases, the elders would stand in a long line as the infant was passed from one man to the next, each elder praying for the child. Every parent anxious to see the personal blessing of God manifested in the lives of their children would seek the prayers of spiritual leaders. As James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Or, if you prefer the King James Version which many of us have memorized, we could say, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

The supreme blessing of Jesus

The parents described here in Mark 10 have even greater reason to seek the blessing and prayer of Jesus. The Lord’s touch had accomplished more than every rabbi and priest combined. More than a few times, Christ healed lifelong disabilities with a single touch. His prayers were able to move mountains. He would later ask his disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) After all, Christ is the Word of God which spoke this entire world into existence. John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Jn 1:3).

There was even more reason for these people to bring their children to Jesus. In the very next story of this chapter, a rich man approached him and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17) Despite the man’s misguided assumption that he could perform the necessary works to be saved, he was still inclined to think that somehow Jesus held the key to eternal life. He does hold the key to eternal life. He is the life.

The rich man looked to Jesus so he could learn how to save himself. These parents looked to Jesus because perhaps they knew he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). If anyone questions their sincerity, consider how Jesus rose to their defense and honored their request. He sent the rich man away feeling sad and grieving, but he was willing to rebuke his own disciples when they stood in the way of him laying hands on these children.

Lead children to Christ

Parents cannot have a more honorable desire than that which longs to see their children come to Christ. It may be exciting to see them receive good grades in school. It may thrill us to watch them excel in sports. We may be quite thankful when our children grow up to be successful in college and later their careers. Please keep in mind, however, what King Solomon concluded after evaluating his own achievements in life. He described it all as “vanity” (Ecc 1:2). In his final remarks, he said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecc 12:1).

Parents, you should not only hope that your children will come to Christ, but you should also be instrumental in leading them. Psalm 78 says:

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments; (Psalm 78:4-7)

In writing to Timothy for the last time, Paul said:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

How did Timothy learn the Scriptures when he was a child? Paul also mentioned how it brought him joy to remember Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice” (2Ti 1:5). He was taught the Bible by his mother and grandmother. Timothy along with his labors in the ministry have been known to countless people throughout the entire world for generations because two women two-thousand years ago were faithful to teach one child about the Lord our God.

Parents, do not wait any longer

These parents “were bringing children” to Christ (Mk 10:13). The verb is in the imperfect tense meaning they were in the process of bringing. It appears there was a flow of people coming into the house, one after another, with no end in sight. The word parents is never used, but who else would “they” be? By the way, they is in the masculine form indicating that men or fathers were the predominant ones bringing in their children. It follows the biblical pattern of husbands and fathers being the spiritual leader of the home.

It may surprise you to know that children mentioned here are not only young; they are infants. We wouldn’t know that by the word used in Matthew and Mark. Luke’s account, however, uses a word that can either refer to a newborn child or even a child still in his mother’s womb. It’s the same word used by Peter when he said, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1Pe 2:2).

If you are waiting until your children are older before you introduce them to Jesus Christ, do not wait any longer. John the Baptist was not even born yet when he first met Jesus and “leaped” within his mother’s womb (Lk 1:41). King David sang these words to God: “You are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Ps. 22:9-10)

God’s sovereignty v. parents’ responsibility

Someone might ask, “Didn’t Christ say that no one could come to him unless God the Father first draws him? Didn’t Christ tell Peter that his knowledge of Jesus’ deity was not revealed by flesh and blood but by God alone?” Yes, but Paul says a believer possesses the ability to sanctify an unbelieving spouse or children. See 1 Corinthians 7. A solitary believer in the home is a benefit to the entire family whether they are born again or not. Solomon did not say, “Train up your born-again child.” He said, “Train up a child,” any child (Pr 22:6).

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit will do his work on his time according to his will. Parents are to do their work regardless. Keep in mind that the “word of God” is described as “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17). As you encourage your children to read, learn, and obey the Word, the Spirit could take that Word in his hand at any moment and use it to pierce “to the division of soul and of spirit” (Heb 4:12).

A child’s stumbling block

Sadly, the text in Mark 10 says, “The disciples rebuked them” (Mk 10:13). It’s hard to say why the disciples wanted to stop these parents from bringing their children to Christ. Perhaps they felt it wasn’t the best use of the Lord’s time. After all, He was a King who repeatedly taught them he had a kingdom to build. His time was precious, and he indicated more than once that it was also limited. Maybe the disciples assumed Jesus wanted to be left alone. He often sought opportunities to escape into isolation so he could pray to God his Father. Perhaps they understood how Jesus had primarily brought his public ministry to an end by this time.

Whatever the reason, the disciples on this occasion may very well represent anyone who stands in the way of a child being led to Jesus Christ. God forbid we ever be a stumbling block to anyone, especially a child. Through Isaiah, God said, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isa 54:13). Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21).

Why would any believing adult in the church allow themselves to become a stumbling block to children? There are several possibilities, but they all boil down to a couple of fundamental problems: pride and neglect.

The pride of adults

Concerning pride, Jesus teaches, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). He also says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Humility, the kind of humility we see among dependent children, is a requirement to entering our Lord’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, the church has often been guilty of brushing off young people to the side. Parents will say something to them like, “Not now. The adults are talking.” Assuming the adults are having a spiritually-edifying conversation, we should pull in the children, not push them out. When the apostles argued over who among them was the greatest, and Jesus decided it was time to have a spiritual lesson on humility, he put a young child in front of them as a vivid illustration. Then again, if we’re not having spiritual conversations, we may want to carefully evaluate what it is we are discussing in earshot of our children.

It is nothing more than pride when we think so little of our children that we refuse to teach them because we assume they can’t understand. According to Paul, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1Co 2:11). If the Spirit could cause John to respond to Christ before he was even born and David to trust in God while he was still an infant, surely the Spirit can give understanding to our children at any age.

It is also arrogance when we are inclined to water down the rich substance of the Word of God for our young people. It is one thing to offer “milk” to those who are “unskilled in the word” (Heb 5:13). It’s something else altogether to presume children are incapable of knowing Christ and his precious truths without being entertained or told nothing more than a series of fun Bible stories.

Teachers, whether they be parents or pastors, should become “weak, that [they] might win the weak” (1Co 9:22). Paul said of his own labors in the ministry, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1Co 9:22-23). Jesus instructed Peter to feed both his sheep and his lambs. Children may require personalized attention and easily digestible teaching, but they need the same spiritual nourishment as the adults.

The arrogance of adults

As for the other issue that commonly confronts us, neglect tends to be our biggest fault. Even when we understand the desperate need to instruct our children, we fail to do it because we let ourselves get too busy or too distracted. Pastors are prone to focus on the adults in the church and forget about the children’s needs. Parents get tired from work and other responsibilities, so the children get neglected at home as well.

Sometimes the adults themselves lack a necessary understanding to teach their children. The writer of Hebrews criticized his original readers by saying, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Heb 5:12). If parents are not disciplined to spend sufficient time in prayer and Bible study, how will they ever be qualified to do the most vital task they have been given which is to make disciples out of their children?

Both pastors and parents must consciously take up the children in our arms and bring them to Jesus. If not, we make ourselves like these disciples to whom Christ was not pleased.

Jesus was outraged

When Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:14-16)

When Jesus realized his disciples were preventing these parents from bringing their children to him, he was angry. He was filled with indignation. Jesus felt something more than disappointment over his disciples. He was outraged at their behavior. Granted, the disciples were acting in ignorance, but rebuking parents for taking their children to Christ would set a dangerous and appalling precedent if Jesus were to let it go without correcting them.

First of all, the Lord’s acceptance of infants proves his grace to be unconditional. These children were passive recipients of the Lord’s blessing having done nothing to earn it. The disciples were unknowingly attempting to establish conditions for God’s favor while making themselves the gatekeepers of God’s kingdom.

Second, had the disciples succeeded in their mission without being corrected, we would be left to believe it is wrong for parents to be concerned about their children’s spiritual welfare.

Pray for your children

Frankly, some people do believe it’s wrong. They say, “Salvation is in God’s hand.” True story: A preacher once rebuked me for encouraging parents to pray for the salvation of their children. He and others have reasoned that salvation is a matter of God’s sovereign will, so prayer is not necessary and may even be wrong. On the contrary, God’s sovereignty is the very reason we should pray. We pray to God, “Your will be done,” because we know God is in control and we are not (Mt 6:10).

In a relatively obscure book that I’m sure you’ve never read, a Baptist preacher in the 19th century described his mother praying for him while he still a rebellious unbeliever. He said:

It was through [the Lord] that an affectionate and believing mother hoped and prayed that the lost might be found; that the brand might be plucked from the fire. That prayer … was heard and answered by Him who had in mercy prompted it. The prayer was the gift of grace … enabling a distressed mother to trust in God for the salvation of her son under all the adverse circumstances of his case. (The Old Baptist Test by John Watson)

Jesus never hinted that he was bothered by these parents nor did he correct them for anything. Instead, he gave his disciples a strict commandment. He told them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10:14). He used two distinct verbs. The first was to tell his disciples to allow the parents to bring their children at that very moment. The second was to tell them to allow the parents from that day forward. It was as if Jesus said, “Let the children come to me right now and forever. Never stand in their way.”

Jesus loves the little children

Next, Jesus gave his reason: “For to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:14). The expression he used does not mean he was singling out these particular infants as if they belong to the kingdom while others do not. He was saying this group of infants is a representation of a larger group who belongs to the kingdom. While the Bible is never explicit about the salvation of all children who die in infancy, this passage comes undeniably close. If these infants represent the citizenship of God’s heavenly kingdom, then it’s reasonable to think that all infants could be members of the kingdom.

With that Jesus couldn’t help but get very practical with his disciples. He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10:15). This statement alludes to the disciples’ motives. They resisted the children coming to Christ as a result of the same pride that affects us at times. Jesus taught them a similar lesson in Matthew 18 when they allowed their pride to get the best of them. On that occasion, he said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Mt 18:4-5).

To be clear, when we talk about childlike faith, it is not a faith that lacks understanding. It is not ignorant or naive faith. Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1Co 13:11). No, childlike faith is humble faith. It is faith that is utterly dependent on God.

Finally, Jesus “took [the children] in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mk 10:16). Notice the tender care and affection Christ had for these infants. He held them in his arms. He touched them. He blessed them. If the Lord of lords and King of kings has such affection for children, how much more encouragement do we need to teach and lead our children to Christ?

(I preached this message at Joy Christian Church on January 28, 2018.)