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Despise Not These Little Ones

Leading children to Christ is a vitally important ministry

I thought it would be good for us to consider this very important mission field and responsibility the Lord Jesus has given to his church, that of reaching children. And I want to do so under three heads. The first is why we should bring children to Jesus. You'll notice in verse 13 that people were bringing little children to Jesus. Then secondly, how we may do it, and thirdly, what joy and blessing are ours if we do.

There are three reasons we should bring little children to Jesus.

Why should we bring little children to Jesus? First, because he bids them welcome, and we are his representatives. As we're told in the Bible, we're to have the mind of Christ. Indeed, we read in verse 14 that the Lord Jesus was indignant when he realized his disciples were trying to keep the children from him. And then there's that other passage: "Do not look down on these little ones; despise not these little ones."

We all know that if princes had been asking to meet with Jesus, they would have said, "Well, of course. How nice to see you. We'd like to open the way for you to come to Jesus. He's a little tired, but I'm sure he will see you."

But when children came, "Go away," they said, "the Master is busy. He's too tired."

That isn't the way he saw it, and it isn't the way we should see it. Princes and kings and presidents and pop stars and ballplayers are not more important than children or anybody else, because God doesn't see as we see. We have our heroes, our stars, and we say, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if that person became a Christian?" It would, but it would be just as wonderful if the person who lives next door to you or who works at the next desk became a Christian.

There's a second reason we should bring children to Jesus, and I want to spend some time on this: clearly, they are eminently suitable to receive the gospel. Verse 15: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And then in Matthew 18, when Jesus was asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he called a little child and had him stand among them. It's clear that children were never far away, so Jesus just indicated to a little child to come and stand, and then he said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change, unless you be converted"--the word means turned around--"and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." He doesn't mean we're to become childish or immature, but there must be some things about a child that grownups have to emulate in order to enter his kingdom. You would have thought, therefore, that we would have had a fruitful ministry amongst children, because they're already like that, eminently suitable to receive the gospel.

What is it about children that makes them eminently suitable to receive the gospel? I would say in the first place that little children have no difficulty believing in God. It's as they get older and become more sophisticated that they say they have some difficulty believing in God. But when little children see something that's beautiful and intricate, they say, "Somebody made that." It's only after lies are received in their education that they say it happened by chance and accident. But little children believe in God the Creator.

And they believe that God the Creator can do anything, because that's the only God worth believing in, isn't it? It's only when people get grown up that they say, "I believe in God the Creator, but I don't believe he can do miracles. I can't believe all these things I read in the Bible; they're impossible." But that's the point about God; he can do the impossible because he is God.

When my children were little, I used to do their prayer time with them at night before they went to sleep. We used to discuss what we would pray for, and one night when I asked what we should pray about, Richard, the youngest, didn't answer because he was nearly asleep. He was allowed to go to sleep during prayer time because he was very tiny. And Timothy, the oldest boy, said, "Let's pray for the queen." I said, "That's good. We're told in the Bible to pray for those who rule over us." So he said, "Yes, we'll pray for Queen Mary." I said, "Well, the queen's name is Elizabeth. Queen Mary is dead. We don't pray for the dead." So then my daughter Allison said, "How did she die?" And I said, "I don't really know how she died. I think she just got to be a very old lady, and then God called her to himself." And Richard, who I thought was asleep, took his thumb out of his mouth and said, "And then God turned her into a boat." When queens die, they obviously get turned into boatsÂ…and a child has no problem believing that God could do that.

Thinking back, I don't know how he dealt with the ship named the Queen Elizabeth, because she's still alive. But one of the things about little children is that they don't have any difficulty believing in God. The world didn't make itself, did it? And God can do anything.

Children are also open to teaching. They grow up to become know-it-alls, particularly in the realm of theology, but when they are little, children know they don't know about God. They want to know about God. "What is he like?" they say. "What does he look like? How old is he? Who made God?" and so forth. They're interested. They're teachable.

But I find that grownups often, as the Lord Jesus was indicating, put all that behind them and become expert theologians. They say, "Well, I think God is like this, and I think God is like that. And the God I believe in, he does this and he does that." Usually with people who talk like that, the one thing you can be sure of is that they don't think. They preface everything with, "I think," but they don't think. They make it up. They make a god out of their own minds as the pagans, the idolaters, do. The idolaters take a piece of wood and make shapes out of it, and then they put it on a pedestal and say, "That's god. We're going to pray to the god." Or they take a piece of stone and they chisel it this way and that, and then they put it in a temple and say, "We're going to pray to that; that's god." And we say, "How silly." But some of us do the same thing, only we don't use our hands. We use our minds, and we say, "I think I'll make God like this, and then I'll make him like that, and I'll have him do this but not that." We haven't a clue what he's like, because we don't read the Bible. We end up with a god made in our own image, and it's worthless. But children say, "I want to know the truth. What is God like? What did Jesus do? Does he love me?"

And they have tender consciences. It's only as they grow up that their consciences become, as the Bible puts it, "seared as with a hot iron," or insensitive. When children are little, they aren't like that. With two of mine anyway, I only had to say, "You've disappointed me. I'm sad today because you did that," and the little eyes would fill with tears. I didn't have to do anything else. And we need a tender conscience if we're to know we need the Savior.

If our conscience is seared and we do things wrong and don't think it matters, how can we ever know we need him who came from heaven and went to the cross that we might be forgiven? And how can we ever come in the right attitude to this great God and Creator, the God of the impossible, and say, "God, you made me and you will judge me, but please be merciful to me, a sinner"?

A little child is also used to accepting authority. When we grow older, we say, "Nobody is going to run my life, not even God, and certainly not Jesus Christ. I'll do it my way." Hell will be full of people who said, "I'll do it my way." The great I is right in the middle of the word sin.

One of the things we need to do when we become Christians is to say, "Lord, you are the Lord. Be the Lord of my life; I surrender my heart to you."

Next, children are responsive to love and friendship. They know they need that; they like people to care for them. D. L. Moody ran a wonderful Sunday school amongst children in Chicago one hundred years ago. Little boys and girls would come, often ragged and some of them barefoot, sometimes literally walking miles to get there. One day he asked a little fellow, "Why do you come so far to get here?"

And the boy said, "Because they love a fellow here, Mr. Moody."

I hope that's how our boys and girls feel. So, children are eminently suitable to receive the gospel precisely because they have the characteristics of a child.

And then a third reason we should bring children to Jesus is that Jesus saves children--he really does. Mark 10:14, "For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." It means what it says. And Matthew 18:6, "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea." The text calls children those "who believe in me"--it couldn't be plainer. Therefore, I believe that although children are young and there are many things they don't understand, they can know that Jesus loves them, and they can learn that Jesus came to take away their naughtiness that they might be forgiven. And in response, they can give their little hearts and lives to Jesus.

There are three ways to bring little children to Jesus.

How can we do it?

First of all, we bring children to Jesus by prayer. This we must do, because their salvation is not automatic. Just because they're little children and open to the gospel doesn't mean they will hear and believe the gospel. No one is born a Christian. They may be born in a Christian country in the sense that the country has been heavily influenced by the Christian faith. They may be born in a Christian family, and that's a wonderful privilege, but even that doesn't guarantee they will become Christians, because becoming a Christian is a choice that each one must make. God has no grandchildren; he only has children, and each person must be born again. Only God can do this great and gracious work. So we're to pray for our children.

One of the greatest preachers the world has ever known was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was raised in a town called Colchester in the East of England, and his father was a lay preacher who used to go out every Sunday ministering the Word. But one day, as his father left home, he felt convicted that he was going to minister to other people and was neglecting his own family's spiritual welfare. So he turned about and went back, and as he was going up the stairway to the apartment, he heard his wife's raised voice. At first he wondered if she were angry, if someone were misbehaving. Then he realized as he stood outside the door that she was in prayer. With a tremor in her voice, she was pleading for the salvation of her children--"especially," he heard her say, "my eldest son, Charles." God heard her prayer, saved the boy in his teens, and made him a preacher who led tens of thousands to Jesus Christ.

Pray for your children, for your grandchildren, for your nephews and nieces, for your neighbor's children, and for the children of your friends at work. Perhaps you'll be the only one who ever prays for those children. That's how we're to bring children to Jesus, by bringing them to his throne in prayer as Mrs. Spurgeon did.

And then we bring children to Jesus by teaching them. Second Timothy 3:15 says, "From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." We shall teach them many things, but let's teach them this Book. Let that be the basis of our curriculum always. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God's ancient people were told, "Teach your children the things of God. Bind them upon your forehead, bind them upon your hands, talk with them in the home, talk with them by the way." In other words, don't teach just in formal sessions, but let conversation in the family often be about the things of God.

And it isn't only the parents who have that responsibility. I believe the church has it, too. Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my lambs" as well as, "Feed my sheep." We bring them to Jesus by bringing Jesus to them, by teaching them the Word and the gospel. When they are skillfully prepared for each age, stories and songs will stay in the memory, making indelible impressions.

When I was a teacher years ago, my principal was not a believer. He told me that one day he'd been at home, and his little grandson was there. And his grandson said, "Play the piano, Grandpa." Grandpa was playing piano, and he swung into "Baa, Baa Black Sheep."

The little chap said, "No, play 'Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.'"

But Grandpa didn't know that song, so he said, "I don't know that."

"Play it!" the lad insisted. You see, he wasn't sanctified yet. He got cross. He demanded "Jesus Loves Me," and Grandpa kept saying he didn't know that song. Finally, with wide eyes the little boy said to his grandfather, "Doesn't Jesus live in your heart?"

I'd had many a conversation with this man, but I think that got through to him more than Harry Kilbride had ever done. This little boy's father and mother were not believers, either. I couldn't find out how he came to learn that song except that I suspect, from what the grandfather told me, that some neighbor had a Bible club and had taken all the children of the district who would come into her home and was teaching them the old, old stories of the Bible and how to sing the gospel. Oh, it's a wonderful ministry!

And then we should bring them to Jesus by loving them lavishly, because God loves us, and Jesus loved children, and we should also. That's not opposed to discipline. Godly discipline is an expression of love; it says in the Bible, "Whom the Lord loves he disciplines." The Roman noblemen were very promiscuous. They had many children who were bastards. They didn't discipline them. They may have provided a few coins for their upkeep, but they weren't very interested in those children. But those born to the wife, the sons and daughters who were heirs and heiresses, they were disciplined and taught because they were loved.

But we should remember that God is slow to anger, plenteous in mercy. It says, "As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him, for he knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust." We're to always remember he's only little; she's only in the fifth or sixth grade; he's going through that stormy time of adolescence; she's in between being dependent and yearning for independence. We're to be understanding.

And we're to remember that Christianity is a faith of voluntary choice. Never abuse the mind or heart or will of a child. There comes that point--and I don't know in any particular life when that point will be--when sometimes we have to say, "You yourself must decide." We have to keep hands off and let them choose, because we can't make people into Christians. We can teach them the gospel from the cradle. We can pray for them and with them, but we're always to remember that our prayer is that they of their own choice will come to see their need of Christ and put their trust in him. What joy and blessing are ours if they do!

We will have the joy of Jesus in this ministry.

My last point is that we shall have the joy of the Lord Jesus, because he said he rejoiced that these things were hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to babes, for such was the Father's gracious will. He rejoiced when he saw that. We share the joy of the parents. Is it not a parent's most desirable thing for a child that he should be saved and given to Christ over and above academic prowess, sporting honors, or career success? For what does it profit parents if a child gains the whole world but loses his soul? Shall we not share the joy of the child himself, because no one converted later in life doesn't wish his whole life had been spent serving Christ.

D. L. Moody was once asked after a mission, "Did you see any fruit from your evangelistic mission?"

He said, "Two and a half conversions."

"Do you mean," said his questioner, "two adults and one child?"

"No," said Mr. Moody, "two children and one adult. One of those who came forward had half his life already gone. But two who trusted Jesus have their whole life before them."

Mr. Moody had the mind of Christ. What is more valuable than the soul of a child? How could we possibly neglect this ministry? Even the atheists and humanists and evolutionists will in certain circumstances acknowledge this.

Picture with me a great museum that is ablaze. There are priceless treasures in that place: paintings that can never be replaced, documents of great historical importance, antique porcelain. The fire tenders are coming from far and wide. "Save this, save that, save the other!" people cry. Then in an upper-story window comes the face of a little child. Don't you think that every man and woman in that crowd would say, "Save the child!"?

Well, what about the atheists and evolutionists and humanists? Wouldn't they say, "Never mind the child. Children can be replaced. There are paintings in there that can't be replaced. There are documents beyond price. There are too many children in the world anyway, too many mouths to feed. Let the child bum." Only a fiend would say that.

You see, an atheist may be one thing in the lecture hall, but he'd be another thing in those circumstances. All the humanity God had put within him that he tried by his pride to deny would come welling up, and he would say, "Save the child!" He's not, after all, a complex piece of protoplasm. He's a little person made in the image of God. The world generally doesn't believe that, but we believe it. That's why we have to preach this Book.

There is only a small percentage of children in this area, I am told, who come under any gospel influence. And this Book is not allowed into public schools. Who is telling them what's there, then? And if we don't tell them, who will? We believe that children are of the utmost importance to Almighty God. 'They're unique, priceless treasures.

And my last word is this: Have you come as a little child to the Savior? No, I'm not asking if you've abandoned your mind or thrown your intellect away. That's not what Jesus meant. Have you come humbly, teachable, and with a tender conscience to a God that you know is there and said, "I need you. I can't do it by myself. And I certainly can't get to heaven all by myself"? "Except ye be converted and come as a little child, you will not see the kingdom of God." But coming like that, you will.

(c) Harry Kilbride

Preaching Today Tape #64


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. There are three reasons we should bring little children to Jesus

II. There are three ways to bring little children to Jesus

III. We will have the joy of Jesus in this ministry