Matthew 17–19: The Lord & Little Ones

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ 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.”
And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
Matthew 19:13–15 LSB

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 19:1 tell us that Jesus was in Galilee and now travels to Judea beyond the Jordan. Notice also at the beginning of Matthew 19:1, Now it happened that when Jesus had finished these words…You’ll find similar phrases in Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1, that mark the end of each teaching discourse by Jesus. R. E. Nixon writes:

“It is evident that there are five discourses in the Gospel ( [1] 5:1–7:27, ‘The Sermon on the Mount’; [2] 10:1–42, the mission charge to the Twelve; [3] 13:1–52, the parables of the kingdom; [4] 18:1–35, relationships in the kingdom; [5] 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 third eschatological.”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.

The first encounter with children occurs in Galilee, in Matthew 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:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore will humble 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 is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; nevertheless, woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”
Matthew 18:1–7 LSB

Grown men want to know who will be the greatest, and Jesus shows them a child! And then the characteristic He focuses on is humility. What a rebuke to them! Matthew Henry has some wonderful commentary on this passage (his emphasis:

“The occasion of this discourse concerning humility was an unbecoming contest among the disciples for precedency…They mean not who by character (then the question had been good, that they might know what graces and duties to excel in), but who by name.

“…Our Lord designs here to show the great danger of pride and ambition; whatever profession men make, if they allow themselves in this sin, they will be rejected from God’s tabernacle and from his holy hill.”2

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. Henry writes:

“Even the little ones who believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they have all obtained like precious faith. There are those that offend these little ones by drawing them to sin (1 Cor. 8:10, 11), grieving and vexing their righteous souls, discouraging them, taking occasion from their mildness to make a prey of them in their persons, families, goods, or good name…

“…The sin is so heinous, and the ruin proportionably so great, that he had better undergo the sorest punishments inflicted on the worst of malefactors, which can only kill the body.”3

In Matthew 18:10, Jesus 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 18:10 LSB

Henry comments:

“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, v. 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, Rom. 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.

“…We must not look upon these little ones as contemptible, because really they are considerable. Let not earth despise those whom heaven respects.”4

Bow down, that we may go over is a graphic description of those who mow others down in their path to gain their own ends. Pride and power are the antithesis of those who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:13–15 takes place later in another place, Judea beyond the Jordan. People bring little children to Jesus to have Him lay His hands on them and pray for them, only to be met with rebuke from the disciples, who apparently did not take to heart what Jesus taught in Galilee about children and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus again rebukes 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.”
Matthew 19:14 LSB

Matthew Henry again has some insightful words:

“We have here the welcome which Christ gave to some little children that were brought to him…How many they were, that were brought, we are not told; but they were so little as to be taken up in arms, a year old, it may be, or two at most…Note, It is a good thing when we come to Christ ourselves, and bring our children to him, before we are driven to him (as they say) by woe-need…

“They desired that he would put his hands on them, and pray…Note, (1.) Little children may be brought to Christ as needing, and being capable of receiving, blessings from him, and having an interest in his intercession. (2.) Therefore they should be brought to him. We cannot do better for our children that to commit them to the Lord Jesus, to be wrought upon, and prayed for, by him.

“…The fault of the disciples in rebuking them. They discountenanced the address as vain and frivolous, and reproved them that made it as impertinent and troublesome. Either they thought it below their Master to take notice of little children, except any thing in particular ailed them; or, they thought he had toil enough with his other work, and would not have him diverted from it; or, they thought if such an address as this were encouraged, all the country would bring their children to him, and they should never see an end to it. 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.”5

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. “If he do not break the bruised reed, we should not.”

Don’t despise the little ones. Our Lord did not. One of the things that breaks my heart is how children are increasingly seen and treated as commodities whose purpose is to enhance and fulfill adult lives. They are used and abused, even killed, in conception (in vitrio and surrogacy), pregnancy (abortion), infancy and childhood (emotional and physical abuse).

It also greatly concerns me when parents do not realize children are not a garment they can leave at the dry cleaners for later pickup. If a dry cleaner has a good reputation, clothing can be left with strangers without concern for damage. Little ones cannot. 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. Her little ones learn from her who God is, who they are and what it means to be His child.

“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 18:10 LSB

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me: James Tissot: Public Domain.
Jesus and the Little Child: James Tissot: Public Domain.
1R. E. Nixon, “Matthew,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 813.
2,3,4,5Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 5 (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody MA: 1994. Originally published 1710.) 203, 205; 205; 206–207; 219–220.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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