A Basis for Children’s Ministry

children.jpgBeing a kid is tough in today's world.  I have five of my own; and even though my children live in a Christian home and are well connected to spiritual activity, I am acutely aware that they are under more spiritual bombardment than I ever was as a child.  Did you realize that less than 17% of children that grow up in Bible-believing homes today will end up in a Bible-believing church as adults?  Did you know that nearly 25 million children in America today live without a father?  Did you know that parents tend to spend less than 40 minutes a week engaging in meaningful conversation with their children, who typically spend long hours in front of the TV, which is on in the average home some 49 hours a week? Am I burdened about children?  You better believe it!  Everywhere I look, I hear them crying.  I hear refugee children sobbing for their family in their homeland.  I hear inner-city children crying for friends who died in drive-by shootings.  I see latchkey children wiping tears as they go home to empty houses.  I hear depressed children crying for help as they consider killing themselves.  There are rejected children crying because they are shut out of cliques…Brokenhearted children weeping because their parents have divorced…Frightened children quietly weeping after being bullied by classmates…And even juvenile killers sobbing in prison cells because they committed adult crimes. 

Can you hear them crying?  Can you see the plight of today's child?  The question is: what will we do about it?  Following the tragedy at Columbine High School, Jefferson County sheriff John Stone asked "What are the answers?"  And then, his voice quivering with grief, he answered his own question this way, "We don't have the answers."

 Is that it?  Do we surrender to the destruction of the home, the destruction of the next generation?  I say, "Absolutely not!"  We will never surrender one of our most precious treasures to the kingdom of darkness.  And children are a very precious treasure, a very unique gift from God.  In this article, my goal is that every Christian will see the importance of taking an active role in ministry to children. 

Text: Mark 10:13-16

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Background: It is absolutely amazing to me that the disciples who were with Jesus many times didn't get it.  They heard the very Word of God with their own ears and they didn't get it.  Just days before, the disciples had been arguing who would be the greatest in God's kingdom.  Jesus took a child and explained in chapter 9:37 that "Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me."  He had further gone on to say in verse 42, "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."  But obviously, the disciples didn't get it, for here were people bringing small children to Jesus for a blessing, and the disciples were rebuking them-they were actually talking to these parents in a serious, threatening way to prevent them from getting the children to Jesus.  Jesus responds quickly and firmly and in the process again teaches the disciples the importance of children, a lesson we must learn as well.

 I. Jesus issues a sharp command.

A. His command is two-fold.

1. First, start allowing the children to get to Jesus.

2. Second, stop preventing the children to get to Jesus.

B. His command leads to two questions.

1. Why would the disciples prevent the children in the first place?

Answer: In both Jewish and Greco-Roman society, the child was the least significant person.  The disciples were protecting their VIP from the "unimportant."

2. Why is it so important that children get to Jesus for blessing? Or, we could ask: why do we invest so much in children? Why do we commit pastoral staff to pour their lives into children? Why do we have so many programs for kids? Why do we use curriculum and memory verses, even for very small children? Why are we spending time right now talking about children?

Answer: Well the answer that Jesus gives is surprising. Why should the children not be hindered, but rather brought to him for his blessing? He gives the answer in verse 14b: " Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: [why?] for of such is the kingdom of God. [or "to such as these belongs the kingdom of God]" Why not hinder them? Or to put it positively, Why should we help them and minister to them? His answer is that they stand for something; they represent something. Don't hinder them, because to such as these, belongs the kingdom of God.

He did not say, "Don't hinder them because to these belong the kingdom." He said, "Don't hinder them because to such as these belong the kingdom." Don't hinder them – help them, lead them to me for blessing, because they represent the kind of people who will inherit the kingdom.

II. Jesus illuminates a spiritual truth.

A. What is the kingdom of God?

Mark records the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry with a declaration about the kingdom.  Mark 1:14-15 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.  The term kingdom means "royal rule" and refers to the wise and gracious rule of God.  The Jews, of course, were familiar with the concept of the kingdom of God through Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and his kingdom.  When Jesus said "the kingdom of God is at hand," most of the Jews including His disciples thought that Jesus the Messiah was about to setup His kingdom on the earth and conquer the Romans.  Jesus, however, meant something quite different-He was simply stating that God's rule has arrived in the sense that Jesus was present among them.  Luke 17:20-21 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your midst].  Sadly, even His disciples did not understand this until after His death and resurrection.

B. Who can enter the kingdom of God?

The next verse (15) gives the answer: "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." People who receive the kingdom – the wise and gracious rule of God over their lives – as a child receives the provision and guidance it needs, will enter the kingdom and live with Christ forever.

The Lord Jesus in effect assures them that… the very way in which a child enters the kingdom, is the way in which everybody must enter it. How does a child enter the kingdom of heaven? Why, its faith is very simple; it does not understand mysteries and controversies, but it believes what it is told upon the authority of God's Word, and it comes to God's Word without previous prejudice. It has its natural sinfulness, but grace overcomes it, and the child receives the Word as it finds it. You will notice in boyish and girlish conversions, a peculiar simplicity of belief: they believe just what Christ says, exactly what he says. If they pray, they believe Christ will hear them: if they talk about Jesus, it is as of a person near at hand. (Charles H. Spurgeon)

So don't hinder children from coming to Jesus for blessing; help them, because to such as these – to people who receive the kingdom in a childlike way – to these the kingdom belongs.

Have you ever asked why God designed the world so that the human race multiplies by having babies that take years to become adults? Why didn't God design the human race so that we multiply like flatworms: one adult splits to become another adult? He could have done it that way or any number of ways. Why did God ordain that there be children? And not just adults?…At the heart of the answer is this: children stand for something. They point to something. They represent something. They signify something bigger than themselves. They stand for the kind of dependence and helplessness and need and insufficiency and faith that is required of adults to enter the kingdom of God. To "such as these" (verse 14) belongs the kingdom. That's the meaning of their unique existence. They point the way to salvation: to such as these belongs the kingdom. (Piper, www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/98/030198.html)

III.  Jesus imparts a special blessing.

His blessing was passionately communicated with words and hugs.

Conclusion: So, what are we to do with the commands of Christ?  How will you and I respond?  Some of us need to stop preventing our children from the blessing of Jesus.  In a time when our children are under constant spiritual attack, we must not hold them back from the blessing of Christ in their lives.  We should not hold them back from opportunities of spiritual growth.  Your children and my children need every ounce of spiritual encouragement they can get.  This starts in the home.  Christian schools and youth groups and camps are great, but we are still losing our children.  The responsibility of the spiritual training of children is primarily and ultimately the father's.  In an era where 1 out of every 3 pregnancies will be an unwed mother, I realize that not all children will have a father.  But where they do, it is your job, dad, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Children must experience worship on a daily basis in the home.  Shame on us fathers for abandoning one of our highest spiritual priorities!  But it doesn't stop in the home.  The church is God's tool to equip families to minister.  Our children should be immersed in all the spiritually enriching aspects of the church.  Let's spend time-quality time-helping our children to know God and love God.  Let's spend time talking with our children about how God has worked in our past.  Let's control the input of the media into our children's minds.  Let's get consistent in our discipline.  Let's be real with our children and let them see us take up our cross and die to self.  Let's incorporate our own family scripture memory programs.  Let's be families who pray.  Let's be strong enough to say "NO" when needed and stop the catering to and spoiling of children through over-indulgence.  Moms, let's teach our daughters how to talk, dress, and act as ladies; dads, let's teach our sons how to talk, dress, and act as gentlemen.  They'll thank us for it. 

Perhaps you have never truly entered the kingdom of God.  Listen again to some words from the late Pastor Charles Spurgeon of London, England: "Well now, just the very way in which a child receives Christ, is the way in which you must receive Christ if you would be saved. You who know so much that you know too much; you who have big brains; you who are always thinking, and have tendency to criticism, and perhaps to scepticism, you must come and receive the gospel as a little child. You will never get a hold of my Lord and Master while you are wearing that quizzing cap; no, you must take it off, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you must come trusting Jesus, simply trusting him, for this is the right way to receive the kingdom."

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