Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 7: Saturday
“Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.”
In today’s Bible reading of Matthew 17–19, the fourth section of the Gospel that began in chapter 14, ends, and the fifth section begins in chapter 19. Each section ends with a teaching discourse by Jesus. Matthew 7: 28a states, “When Jesus had finished these words…” You’ll find similar phrases in 11:1a, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1; they mark the end of each set of teachings. R. E. Nixon writes:
“It is evident that there are five discourses in the Gospel (5:1–7:27, ‘The Sermon on the Mount’; 10:1–42, the mission charge to the Twelve; 13:1–15, the parables of the kingdom; 18:1–35, relationships in the kingdom; 24:1–25:46, the second coming). Each of these is followed by a note stating that when Jesus had finished this teaching He went on to further action….
…The first discourse is basically ethical, the second missionary, the third kerygmatic [proclamation of the Gospel], the fourth ecclesiastical and the fifth eschatological. It is probable that ch. 23 (the denunciation of the religious leaders) should be taken as part of the final discourse.”1
Chapters 17–19 include interactions with Jesus and children, and His use of them as an example in teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Of course, that’s not all in that is in these three chapters; the first event in chapter 17 is the Transfiguration, while the last event in chapter 19, is Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man, but I only want to look at His time with the children.
In 18:1–6, when the disciples ask Jesus who is greatest in the kingdom, He answers by calling a little child to Himself and setting the child before them. His example and His answer couldn’t have been what they were expecting to hear in reply to a question clearly motivated by their pride and desire to be the greatest:
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Grown men want to know who will be the greatest, and Jesus shows them a child! The characteristic He focuses on is humility. He gives a severe warning about those who cause one the little ones to stumble, and in the following verses He further expands on stumbling blocks. Then in verse 10, He says:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew Henry has some wonderful commentary on this verse:
“The caution itself; Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones. This is spoken to the disciples. As Christ will be displeased with enemies of his church, if they wrong any of the members of it, even the least, so he will be displeased with the great ones of the church, if they despise the little ones of it. “You that are striving who shall be greatest, take heed lest in this contest you despise the little ones.” We may understand it literally of little children; of them Christ was speaking, Matthew 18:2,4. The infant seed of the faithful belong to the family of Christ, and are not to be despised. Or, figuratively; true but weak believers are these little ones, who in their outward condition, or the frame of their spirits, are like little children, the lambs of Christ’s flock.
“…We must not despise them, not think meanly of them, as lambs despised, Job 12:5. We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them; we must not say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against, Romans 14:3,10,15,20,21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men’s souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.
“…The reasons to enforce the caution. We must not look upon these little ones as contemptible, because really they are considerable. Let not earth despise those whom heaven respects…”2
Bow down, that we may go over is a graphic description of those who mow others down in their path. Pride and power are the antithesis of those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew 19:13–15, people bring little children to Jesus to have Him lay His hands on them and pray for them, only to be met with the disciples rebuke. But Jesus says,
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Jesus once more makes the point that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Matthew Henry again has some insightful words:
“Note, It is well for us, that Christ has more love and tenderness in him than the best of his disciples have. And let us learn of him not to discountenance any willing well-meaning souls in their enquiries after Christ, though they are but weak. If he do not break the bruised reed, we should not.”3
From these verses we must examine our own attitude towards children or to those who are weak. Do we say to them, Bow down that we may go over? Those are the words and the attitude of the proud. We can each recognize the desire within us to be great, but we must realize who we are before God and humble ourselves before Him.
Don’t despise the little ones. Our Lord did not. One of the things that breaks my heart and greatly concerns me is to see parents treat their children like a commodity they can drop off to be under the care of strangers in the same way they would leave a garment at the dry cleaners for later pick up. Our children need our nurture and care. We are not to despise them by placing our careers or material goods above their need for our love and tenderness. For children there is no such thing as quality time without quantity time—the day in and day out presence of their mother who cares for them, sings to them, trains them and loves them as she labors to lay a foundation of nurturing trust as her children learn from her who God is, who they are and what it means to be His child.
“You that are striving who shall be greatest, take heed lest in this contest you despise the little ones.”
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1R. E. Nixon, “Matthew,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 813.
2, 3Henry, Matthew, “Complete Commentary on Matthew 18, Matthew 19” Matthew Henry
Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1706.
Jesus and the Little Child (Jésus et le petit enfant),
Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me (Laisser venir à moi les petits enfants),
James Tissot: No known copyright restrictions.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter