People were bringing little children to Jesus: Our Lord must have had a reputation for being both approachable and gentle. For all of his fame, authoritative teaching and actions ordinary people were not deterred from coming to him, and there was no sense of embarrassment in presenting their little ones to him. Public figures can be daunting but Jesus gave no signs of administering a rebuff. The comers were confident of a welcome.
to have him touch them: The encounter with Jesus was neither remote nor formal but warmly reverent. The demeanour of the Saviour was inviting and his touch was desired and generously given without hesitation. Jesus’ work of redemption was hands on: hands on the needy and outcast; hands on the cross bar of a Roman gibbet.
but the disciples rebuked them: Men on a mission can be instinctively dismissive. Self- importance can attach itself to important undertakings and it may be an exercise of petty power to exclude access to a prominent person or leader. Besides, in the view of the disciples, babes in arms are more likely to be carried by women and people of importance do not need to be besieged by mothers and infants. Their station in life is inferior and a man making his mark on the populace should not be at risk of humiliation at attracting such unimpressive company. Jesus needed protection from feminine intrusion and crying children. He had big matters to attend to: large crowds to address, miracles to perform, and elite opposition to deal with. He shouldn’t have to perform nursery duty.
When Jesus saw this he was indignant: Jesus was displeased with the behaviour of the disciples and he issued an immediate rebuke. Their scale of priorities differed to his. The folk milling around him were not unimportant but central to his purpose. There were no VIPs in the Redeemer’s reckoning. The housewife and the helpless were not to be treated with rejection or condescension. He knew a mother’s care, and a child’s place in the covenant community recognized for centuries from Abraham on. He was not about to dissolve valued Jewish institutions – the family living in corporate faith.
Let the little children come to me: The word “let” doubles as an invitation and strong command. Israel is inclusive of children. They are a gift of the Lord and are to be nurtured in his knowledge. The way to the Lord is open to little children. His touch is conveyed through godly parental care and his truth is to accompany the diet of mother’s milk until the young one can participate in the breaking of bread. Jesus’ fondness for the family of the redeemed was expressed in the term “little”. It was a term of endearment and a recognition of dependence. The noun “children” in this context is most definitely a reference to babes in arms and possibly even infants still held to the breast for nourishment from the mother. Such are not to be turned away. Jesus bids them come even though they cannot make their own way. They are so weak that they have to be brought even though they have no power to comply with the Lord’s instruction, or to meet any condition of entry to his presence. By whatever instrumentality he uses grace brings us to God. Word, Spirit, witness carry us to him by his fatherly power. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Babyhood has a lot to teach proud adulthood about the ways of God.
Do not hinder them: No barriers are to be erected between little children and the Lord as if his grace cannot be extended to them presently or prospectively. For a while little children are purely recipients of goodness and gifts of nourishment and kindness. They serve no use and deserve no rewards. The love bestowed upon them is unearned and unconditional. They have no status, exhibit no virtues, can boast of no attainments. The life they live is utterly free and guaranteed by parental affection and obligation. Jesus is suggesting something vital for us to consider here. He is gently demolishing our sense of pride and performance, and all things we suppose commend us to God and win his approval. The babes at the breast are saying something opposite to our proud thoughts and pretensions. When we are given to Jesus, for we are supernaturally drawn to him, we bring nothing. We have no claims – no credit balance to speak of. We are as weak and reliant as infants. Everything depends on Abba – Father dear. We are brought powerless to Jesus by grace, and obedient, responsible co-operation with our heavenly parent begins and grows through the donation of his strength and righteousness. We move gradually, as it were, from bottle to bread to beef as we live out our lives before him and for him.
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these: This is the crowning statement that the Lord Jesus makes concerning infant privileges among the true people of God. The kingdom belongs to such as these. “Such” means that we cannot determine for ourselves which children, as children, specifically inherit the kingdom or are heirs prospectively, but we joyfully hold to the promises that believers raising children Christianly will see the Lord’s promises fulfilled in them. Baptism obliges us to obedience and faith in both sponsor and candidate. We grip the promises of the kingdom in the sacrament and pray for their realization. Our hearts are filled with great and good hope.
The kingdom of God embraces all the saving mercies that God can bring into human life and experience in this world and all the blessings of the next. The people of God may be regenerated by the Spirit at any age and at any time. New birth may precede baptism, accompany it, or follow the ordinance. The ritual washing points to the cleansing blood of Jesus that we are brought by grace to confide in.
I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it: The words of Christ are emphatic – “I tell you”. They amount to a “verily” and are incontestably true. Infants are receivers without credit or contribution. They are passive except for their wailing cries for their necessary wants. When we receive Jesus it is not due to our bright idea or ability. The initiative is always God’s in infants and adults. When adults are brought to faith by grace they admit their helplessness and total dependence upon God. We have nothing of which to boast. Again, nothing of worth to bring. Rather we have much to rue, regret, and seek forgiveness for.
If our haughtiness is not reduced to humbleness we shall never enter the kingdom. It is the truly childlike in spirit that the Saviour takes into his arms. The impotent are graced by him. The undeserving are rewarded. Our approach to our mighty Saviour in the consciousness of our need is always characterized by the attitude and awareness of being “little ones”. With that self-designation in our minds we are safe, loved, provided, and cared for by the One who never drives comers of any sort away. Such a fact drives us to him and prayer for all whom we love. May grace prevail.