By Christy Lee, Children's Director
Matthew 19:13-15 (ESV)
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.
I often tell my students in the Children's Ministry that “the Bible is not a book that we read, but that it is a book that reads us”. I’m sure many of you have heard this age old saying as well. I am reminded of how true this is once more as I reflect on Matthew 19:13-15, the gospel text for today’s devotional. I’ve read this passage many, many times as a Christian. However, as life circumstances have drastically changed in the last year for me as a new mother, this passage has recently taken on new life for me.
When people were bringing little children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them to bless them and to pray for them, the disciples rebuked them. How dare they bring their children, who were probably running around everywhere, making loud noises during the service, with booger-crusted faces and grubby little hands before the Messiah, the Savior of the world? I’m sure that their intentions weren’t nefarious; they probably just wanted to protect Jesus’ time and energy so that he could spend his time ministering to adults and people of greater importance. After all, he was the Messiah; he had places to be and people to heal! However, it’s in this fleeting moment that Jesus stops the disciples and instead says: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” He stopped everything, blessed them, and then went on his way.
I love this passage because it shows us the tenderness of Christ’s character. No person is too small or too unimportant to be seen and loved by Jesus. This is one of the guiding passages for me as a Children’s minister who strives to remember that even our littlest brothers and sisters are of utmost importance to Jesus. However, lately the last part of Jesus’ statement in this scene has been on my heart: for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean that to such belongs the kingdom of heaven? We can only assume that he is referring to the children who are brought before him earlier in the passage. But what about children makes them worthy receivers of the kingdom of heaven? Surely it does not mean that we should all become immature or ignorant like children, as the Bible tells us countless times, especially in the book of James, what it looks like to be mature followers of Christ. Additionally, it doesn’t mean that we are sinless. There’s a false notion that children are born sinless and that they start off with a blank slate, only to be tainted by the world. However, the book of Romans tells us that not one is sinless except Christ himself. Not even the cutest little baby is immune to the curse of sin that is inherited through Adam (trust me: I am reminded of this every day as I change my baby’s vile poopie diapers).
What does it mean to be childlike before Jesus, then? This made sense to me recently as I have been at home, sheltered in place with our now six month old baby, Karis. To be childlike in our faith before Jesus means to be vulnerable before Jesus.
There is a lot to say about this, but the chief characteristic that I have observed in my child is that she is extremely vulnerable to life’s harshness. A child needs his/her parents constantly. Beyond the physical needs of food, clothing, and shelter, there are countless emotional and spiritual needs as well. For instance, at night time even after Karis has been bathed, changed, fed, burped, read to, sang to, and rocked, she still sometimes screams her head off for minutes on end until we comfort her again to let her know we are there for her (sometimes any times throughout the night!) Our child has many needs, and is not scared to tell us about it! She doesn’t act like everything is fine and put on a strong face; instead, she cries loudly and expressively until we come to her rescue because she trusts that we will meet her needs and that we will always be there for her.
It’s funny how we enter this world as utterly dependent beings yet we forget over time that we are still vulnerable to the chaos and uncertainty of this world as we try to protect ourselves with money, possessions, and status. We may not need to be bathed or fed like we were as babies, but we are certainly not as independent as we think. I think this Coronavirus pandemic depicts this so clearly. We as adults like to pretend that we have everything within our control, yet we clearly don’t have control over the happenings of this world, let alone our own lives (even our ability to obtain simple necessities like toilet paper!) Yet how many times do we come before God and act like we are completely fine without him? Even when things are going horribly and we are in the storms of life, we have the tendency to put on a false pretense before God and one another, grit our teeth, and try to survive on our own strength. We show up to church in our “Sunday best”, slap a smile on our face, and act like everything is fine. Perhaps we feel that vulnerability is weakness and that others will look down upon us. Or maybe we refuse to be vulnerable because we don’t really trust that our Father in heaven will hear us and answer. Perhaps we have been in “survival mode” for so long that we don’t even remember how to come before God with our burdens.
Whatever the reason may be, I want to remind you of Matthew 7:9-11:
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Dear Church: meekness is not weakness. We are vulnerable and we cry out before God in our brokenness because we trust that he is the Good Father. In fact, Jesus loves us so much that he made himself utterly vulnerable taking on flesh and then dying naked on the cross. He was ultimately vulnerable as he was forsaken by the Father for us: all so that we would never be left vulnerable and forsaken by Him. If it is the innate instinct of an earthly parent to protect, nurture, and love their child, how much more is the Father’s love for us?
Today, I encourage you in your time of solitude to go before God as you are: his child. No matter your age or situation, receive the love he has for you.