Why do children love Jesus so much? In the Gospels, it’s clear that they loved Jesus because He first loved them. Jesus wasn’t posing for future artists when He invited children to gather around him. Actually, He didn’t have to do any coaxing. Children loved Him. So did their parents, who were eager for Jesus to bless their children.
Jesus With Children
Like a beloved uncle or grandfather, Jesus would put His hands on their heads and pray for them. I can imagine parents reminding their children, “Do you remember when Jesus prayed for you?” What a treasured memory.
It’s sometimes said that adults who love children at heart are really kids themselves. That is, they’ve retained the best qualities of their childhood.
While some grown-ups love to be around kids, some apparently don’t. There’s no question when we look at Jesus.
Jesus loved to be with children. During His three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children who, in that culture, were sometimes considered incapable and unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.
Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send twelve hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.
Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a twelve-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.
In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of His kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told His disciples, “Listen, my kingdom belongs to kids.” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into my kingdom.”
What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your beloved grandparents send you a birthday satchel with five shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a warm sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.
The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says, That’s not the way to get into my kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into my kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust me.
What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, someone.
In a bygone era, millions of children said a common bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Like many classic nursery rhymes and fairytales, it’s a bit sober, don’t you think?
Yet, we can’t hide children from the sobering news that the day comes when Jesus Christ’s public ministry here on earth ends. God-become-flesh bears the sins of the world, suffers the horrors of crucifixion, gives up His spirit, and His lifeless body is buried in a rich man’s tomb.
Even then, Jesus is true to His word. Never the hypocrite, He shows the full extent of his love. Not just dying, but keeping His promise to rise from the dead.
In prayer this morning, I marveled again at the wonderful gifts that are ours because of God’s infinite love, ultimate sacrifice, and eternal triumph.
The Gospel truly is Good News to all.
In all we do with children, let’s be sure to cultivate their love for Jesus, our victorious King and Savior.
But that’s not enough.
We also have to guard their love for Jesus.
I had the privilege of interviewing a fairly large group of third to sixth graders at my church. Each child sat on a “hot seat” and answered five questions. The first four answers were easy: name, grade, number of siblings, and how many years they have gone to church.
The final answer was a little tougher: talk about when it’s hard for you to trust God. I was amazed at their responses. First, they had a much shorter list of reasons than adults usually do. Second, several of the children honestly and sincerely told me, “It’s always been easy for me to trust God.” You should have seen the smiles on their faces.
What could possibly ruin such wonderful, child-like trust in God?
Sadly, it’s very possible for a child to grow up in a faith community, learn lots of Bible stories, sing lots of songs, memorize plenty of Scripture verses, say all the right things, look good—very good—and yet lose his or her faith.
Sometimes, it’s the individual’s own choice.
Sometimes, however, it’s because of the sinful, terrible choices of adults the child should have been able to trust.
Scripture couldn’t be clearer that anyone who repeatedly or severely harms a boy or girl or young adult by sinning against them—physically, psychologically, socially, sexually, or spiritually—is in grave danger of God’s judgment. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, verses 5 and 6.
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (NIV)
Believe me, ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else. Even experienced fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John, were scared to death of drowning. Sure, some like Peter could swim, but that wasn’t a given. There certainly was no Michael Phelps back then. Even if there were, imagine a judge ordering a crew of Roman sailors to take you 10 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, tie a 100-pound milestone around your neck, and send you to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker.
Peter and his fellow disciples shuddered at the thought. It should make us shudder too. Why? Because Jesus warns each and every one of us that such a fate would be much better than causing a child to lose his or her faith in Jesus Christ.
The point Jesus is making is crystal clear: Don’t let your attitudes, your words, and/or your actions soil or steal the God-given faith of a child.
But perhaps Jesus Christ’s warning should also cause us to think of other smaller ways we can cause children to begin to lose faith—by our critical attitudes, hypocrisy, self-centered living—anything that doesn’t truly reflect Christ-like, child-like kingdom living.
I’m not talking about being perfect. Instead, I’m saying that a child’s faith grows, not diminishes when an adult apologizes to the child for, say, losing his or her temper.
When it comes to sharing the love of Jesus, let’s always make sure it includes children. And then let’s do all we can to guard their trust in Jesus.
The Faith of a Child
Some claim a small child’s belief in God doesn’t really count. But that’s not the case. The apostle Paul could say to Timothy, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV).
True, children can’t understand everything they’re taught. So? There is nothing wrong about a child’s inadequate concept of God or of the Christian faith. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” The Bible doesn’t criticize a child’s way of thinking. The One who made us knows us.