In Matthew 18, Jesus begins an interesting conversation about children. He tells his disciples that “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Again, drawing on the Jewish idea of a coming kingdom, with royal guards and soldiers and servants and palaces and land and subjects and a king, the idea that a child can enter the kingdom is a complete paradox.
How can a child enter a vast, protected, walled kingdom?
I couldn’t help but think of one of Pixar’s short films, “One Man Band.” A little girl is ready to drop a gold coin in a wishing well, until two street musicians began to compete for that one coin. But her reaction is worth the time, and it’s the sort of stuff I think of when I think of a child. Take a look.
There are a few references to children and families in these chapters. Here are the two big ones from Matthew 18:
- If you welcome a child in the name of Jesus, then you welcome Jesus. (18:5)
- If you harm a child, then you’ll die a slow, awful death. (18:6)
In Matthew 19, then, a similar conversation takes place. We find some parents (presumably) bringing their children to Jesus, to “place his hands on them and pray for them.”
My, how cultures (and parents) have changed.
We now ask much different things from Jesus.
We ask for competitive children’s programs. We ask for monthly calendars with multiple events. We ask for retreats. We ask for trips. We ask for the most fun and adventure they could ever have.
Because we now think that an expansive program will be what lends a child’s attention to Jesus. We want them to be part of the most popular event in town, because we believe that’s what it would take to keep them faithful. Even while membership in the American church is proving otherwise. People are leaving in record numbers.
Yet all these parents wanted, in Matthew 19:13, was for Jesus to touch their children and pray for them.
They weren’t asking Jesus to take their children to an awesome convention or seminar or movie or swim party. They just wanted Jesus to speak words of prayer over them.
And if we want a model for an awesome children’s ministry, then we really need to look no further than Jesus’ reaction. He beckoned these children to come, and rebuked the disciples who thought these little ones had no place at the feet of Jesus, or in the kingdom.
Jesus’ most shocking action was giving the kingdom of God to these children. And not his disciples.
And then he touched them.
In Matthew 19:20-28, the mother of James and John makes an unusual request. She wanted special treatment for her sons, and hoped that Jesus would offer them the two seats next to Jesus in the kingdom.
And, again, Jesus’ idea of kingdom isn’t quite what everyone else was thinking. While she thought of a palace and thrones, Jesus had no such intentions, and remarked that if they wanted the special place their mother requested, then they, too, must give their lives as a ransom for many (19:22).
James and John were probably teenagers here. Maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. They had grit and passion. But their mother still wanted special treatment for these two young men who were old enough to live on their own.
Jesus said earlier that entrance into the kingdom came through innocence. He said here that innocence leads to the willing sacrifice we will make in our lives.
And here we find the perfect model of a student ministry, which is not leading teenagers in awesome retreats and programs, but teaching them that suffering and sacrifice is the way of discipleship.
Jesus just doesn’t play around.
But that’s not all.
He rode into Jerusalem, and people shouted praises to him. One of my favorite verses in Matthew comes in Matthew 21:10, when Matthew writes this:
… the whole city was stirred …
The entire city of Jerusalem, with a population of around 30,000 people, was shaken at Jesus’ entrance into their city.
He went straight to the temple, and in what may have been his first, and only, revolutionary moment, he overturned tables and angered the merchants. But Matthew wasn’t as concerned about this experience as he was about the reaction of the Jewish teachers who saw everything that happened.
Picture it. Tables are overturned. Lambs are running through the square. Doves have been let out of their cages and are flying. Lots of chatter and anger from these merchants. They kick the dust of the ground when they chase their rolling Roman coins. And while this scene erupts, Jesus leaves the hubris of his action to heal both a blind man and a lame man.
The “teachers of the law” who are there do not seem to be concerned with Jesus’ violent reaction to the merchants, though. Nor do they seem to be upset at the miraculous healings.
They were most upset at the reaction of the children.
There were children who saw everything, who were in the temple, and they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
These children praised Jesus. They couldn’t help it. Their immediate response was to worship.
But look at the scene through the eyes of these children. They just watched Jesus do some really crazy things. He chased merchants from the temple. He then healed two well-known, paralyzed men in the temple.
What they witnessed would forever change their lives.
And Jesus, probably sweating from overturning those tables, and still trying to catch his breath while he healed these two men — maybe wiping dirt from his forehead with the sleeve of his cloak — only answered the critique of the teachers by explaining to them that God had already ordained these very children to praise and worship. And I think he smiled when he answered them.
I am a daddy. My life has been blessed beyond words by my daughters. All four of them.
I want their relationship with Jesus to be like what happens in the lives of the kids in Matthew 19. I want to bring them to the Word of God to be touched, and to be prayed over. I want them to make a decision that will transform them into people who are willing to sacrifice and give, even beyond what is expected. And I want them to see such radical transformation in the lives of people that they just can’t help but praise Jesus.
It doesn’t take any Americanized version of the gospel to make this happen.
It doesn’t require packed calendars and competitions and memory verses and perfect attendance in a Sunday school program.
It doesn’t require a week-long VBS.
And it shouldn’t require the most fun a kid can have in a day.
Because the kids and teenagers in Matthew 18 and Matthew 19 and Matthew 21 didn’t have any of those things.
It takes a relationship with Jesus. It takes parents who just want their children to be moved by Jesus. And it takes parents who want their kids to see, with their own eyes, how Jesus can heal the most broken.
Jesus loves the little children. He gave them his entire kingdom.
Thanks for reading. You can find all the posts I am writing as I read the New Testament by clicking here.