The little booklet that you received, if you got one, has a little picture in there of the book that I finished called The War on Children. It will be available in January. It’s at the printer’s now. It was in the process of going through that book and taking stock with what is happening to the children of our culture that I felt like we as a church needed to affirm our commitment to children. That is a stewardship, obviously, that God has given to us, and we need to take it seriously. I know–I know we do.
What is happening to the children in this culture is horrific. It is disastrous both temporally and eternally. It is being played out by basically every interest group in our country, from the media to the politicians, to create a world that will assault children. But if you understand God’s interest in children, you will understand how serious the consequences are to action taken against children. In fact, Jesus made the comment that rather than offend a little one—using it as an illustration of a believer—you’d be better off for a millstone to be hanged around your neck and be drowned in the sea. God is watching how we care for children. And if there was no other evidence of the judgment of God on this nation than the way it has come to treat its children, that alone would evidence that God has moved in judgment against us.
The church and the gospel, of course, is the only hope for the next generation. And I know we’re all asking ourselves, What is the next generation going to be like? I can answer that biblically: It’s going to be worse, because the Bible says, “Evil men grow worse and worse.” It doesn’t get better, it gets worse. And that means that the people who will make this culture worse are the children of this generation. The influences you are very aware of; I don’t need to talk about those. What we’re concerned about is the right response, both as a church and as parents and individual believers.
Grace is for the children, and I mean that in a couple of ways. Divine grace is certainly for the children, and Grace Church is certainly for the children. Whatever may come in the future of our society, we are going to do everything we can to provide a place where the Word of God reigns supreme, because that is Christ ruling in His church, and where the children are protected and instructed in righteousness so that they can grow up to love the Lord and be blessed and inherit eternal life.
Now, Jesus had a full understanding of children. And it is true, as the song says, Jesus loves the children. That is true. But He saw them in a very real way, and I want to show you that for just a few minutes this morning.
Turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 11, Matthew chapter 11. And our Lord, of course, is facing the fact that He has come to Israel, and the people have rejected Him. The religious leaders have rejected Him even though He is the Son of God and He is their Messiah, their long-awaited King. They have rejected Him. They’ve turned their back on Him. They’ve turned against Him. And as you know, they were so hostile toward Jesus that they pressed the Roman powers that were occupying Israel at the time to execute Him on a cross.
The issue of the national rejection of Israel against their own Savior and Messiah is connected to the behavior of children in this passage in Matthew 11, verse 16: “But to what shall I compare this generation?” As I look at a generation that resists the work of God, that resists the Son of God, that ignores the Son of God, that rejects the Son of God, what could I compare that to? And Jesus chooses an illustration of children: “It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” Now that may, on its surface, seem a little obscure, so let me tell you what’s going on here.
Jesus is identifying children as an illustration of sinners. That’s right, as an illustration of sinners. Sinners are like stubborn children, peevish children, indifferent children, disobedient children. And you see that stubbornness and you see that peevishness and you see that recalcitrance when you watch them play.
Now children in ancient times liked to play, like children do today, games that mimic their parents’ behavior. And the two biggest events in life for that ancient people were weddings and funerals. Everything stopped, and all the celebration focused on the family at the wedding. And it was a time of great joy and happiness, and it was such a special event. It took many days to fulfill, and there were all kinds of elements to it.
So children like to play wedding. But they also were just as likely to play another game: funeral, you could call it, because that also was an elongated experience over several days, as they remembered the life of the person who was gone and as they expressed their sorrow and their sadness. And there were certain behaviors at a wedding, like the music and the dancing; and then there were certain behaviors at a funeral. The music became a dirge; that’s a word that means a funeral song, a sad song.
But there were children in the marketplace, and they were playing wedding and they were playing funeral, and they were saying to some other children, “Come and join us. Come and join us.” And they refused to do that. They refused to do that. “We tried the happy thing. We played the flute for you, and you didn’t come. And we tried the sad thing, and we sang a sad song, and you didn’t come. You didn’t want to join us.”
What is this looking at? Well, Jesus explains it directly in verses 18 and 19: “For John”—John the Baptist, the prophet who preceded Christ—“came neither eating nor drinking.” He was kind of a funeral symbol. He lived in the wilderness. He wore an animal skin. He ate locust and wild honey, which would be, really, a kind of fasting, shunning any normal food, living in a deprived situation on a bare-minimum existence. This was John. And he was calling people to come to the Messiah who had arrived, and the people didn’t join. They didn’t want anything to do with John. In fact, they said about him that “He has a demon!” And Jesus said he was the greatest prophet who had ever lived up until that time; yes, the greatest man who’d ever lived up until that time. The people of Israel weren’t about to join John the Baptist in his austerity and attitude of repentance and preparation for the arrival of Messiah.
On the other hand, “The Son of Man came,” in verse 19, and He was not cut off from people. He didn’t live in the wilderness. He didn’t eat locust and wild honey. He ate normal food, and He ate with lots of people in lots of settings, and He ate what they served Him, and He drank. And that’s to say that He had a normal life, the kind of a life that would reflect celebration, like a wedding.
And here came the Son of Man joining in fully in the social context with people, and they said about Him, “[He’s] a gluttonous man and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” In other words, with Israel you couldn’t win. If it was a man who was sort of symbolical of a sad time, a sober time, a time of repentance, a time to do some deep heart searching, they said he has a demon.
And if Jesus came healing everyone day after day after day, there was joy everywhere because of His healings and His teaching, and the crowds were massive around Jesus, and it was a time of music, and it was time, I guess you could say, for dancing with joy. But Israel wouldn’t do that either. They said about Jesus that “[He’s] a gluttonous man.” Because He eats with everybody, they accused Him of gluttony. And then because He ate and drank with everybody, they accused Him of being “a drunkard.” And then they accused Him, because He was with everybody, of associating with the riffraff. So it didn’t matter whether it was the austerity of John the Baptist or it was the complete involvement of Jesus in the fullness of social life, the nation rejected both of them. And that’s illustrated by the attitude of children.
So just establish this in your mind. Jesus understood that children could be reluctant, recalcitrant, stubborn, obstinate, unfriendly. In a word, He uses them as an illustration of sinners. In fact, it just really is pretty startling that when you think about the proportion of Israel’s sin in the rejection of the forerunner to the Messiah and the Messiah Himself, to say the illustration of that is children is to show you how severe the sin in the human heart is even with children. So Jesus understood that children can be an illustration of those who reject Him.
Now turn to Matthew 18, because here you find just the opposite. In Matthew 18 and verse 1, the disciples come to Jesus and they ask Him a question: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? “And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said [this], ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Now here He uses children as an illustration of acceptance, of conversion, because as verse 4 says, “Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” On the one hand, children can, by their sinful nature, be an illustration of the rejection of the Lord. On the other hand, they can be an illustration by their humility and acceptance of those who come to the Lord and enter His kingdom.
He says the thing that marks the children, that makes them a good illustration of salvation, is their humility. Children have accomplished nothing, nothing—nothing certainly that would somehow render them acceptable to God, certainly not in the Jewish legalistic system. The leaders of Israel were indifferent toward children. They were more than indifferent toward children; they saw children as an intrusion, because in a system where you have to earn your salvation by certain religious ceremonies and certain moral behaviors, children have no role to play. So they are really irrelevant.
When Jesus said, “You have to become like a child to enter the kingdom,” He was saying something that was so disturbing, it’s hard for us to even understand it. “You think you have to achieve to enter the kingdom. But a child who has achieved nothing is an illustration of one who actually inherits the kingdom.” They were all caught up in this works system. And since children couldn’t accomplish that, they were, in their childhood, irrelevant and of little interest to the religious leaders of Israel.
Now if you look at chapter 21 of Matthew, Jesus again introduces the children. It’s in chapter 21 and verse 14: “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.” Did this every day, just—He’d walk up to a blind man and say, “You can see.” Walk up to a deaf person and say, “You can now hear.” Walk up to a person who couldn’t walk and say, “Now you can walk.” Walk up to a person who couldn’t speak and say, “Open your mouth, you can speak.”
He did that day after day, after day, after day, after day. And “the chief priests,” verse 15, “and the scribes saw the wonderful things [He did].” They saw it all. There were no Hosannas coming from them, even though they saw it and couldn’t deny it.
And then verse 15 says, “[But] the children who were shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’” There’s children running around in the temple and seeing what Jesus is doing. They start shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” That is the recognition of the Messiah.
Where did they get that? Where children get everything. That’s what their parents said on the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem, right? They’re just mimicking their parents. “Hosanna to the son of David.” They are literally illustrations of true worshipers. So they were used by Jesus to illustrate those who reject Him, to illustrate those who accept Him, and to illustrate those who praise Him.
And Jesus said to the crowd that was so indignant because these children were praising Jesus, He said to them, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” It’s not that they had the full understanding of what it meant. But what they were saying was true, and it was a fulfillment of Psalm 8. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself”?’” We’re talking about tiny children mimicking their parents who had said, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The children then, again, are illustrations of true worshipers, true worshipers.
But understand, this offended the people in the system of works religion, because children could not, in their view, be any part of the kingdom of heaven. Nothing that they said of praise to God could have any significance at all because they had not achieved the maturity to have earned their right to be worshipers. That’s the system of works. It overlooks children. It has nothing to offer children because they can’t earn their way to heaven.
Turn to chapter 19 then. So in chapter 19 of Matthew, “some children were brought to Him.” “Some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray.” Now look, Jewish parents were concerned about their children, just like you are. They were concerned about the kingdom of heaven and their children being a part of the kingdom of heaven. They were concerned about their salvation. They were concerned that they would be under the blessing and favor of God. And so it was traditional in Jewish religious life for parents to bring their children to a prophet, or to a scribe or a teacher, a rabbi, and to ask the religious person to pray for their children, to pray blessing on their children. It was common to do that, particularly on the Day of Atonement. That was a feature of parental behavior.
So they were doing something that was customarily done. And they were desiring Jesus to pray for the children. What would they expect that prayer to be? Well, we know what it was because there is a long-standing prayer that parents prayed and asked others to pray on behalf of their children. It essentially featured three things: “Pray that they would be famous in the law”—did you get that? And I’m quoting—“famous in the law,” that they be known as those who keep the law of God. Why that is so important: because that was the way they believed you entered heaven.
“Pray that he be famous in the law; two, faithful in marriage; thirdly, abundant in good works”—and that’s a quote from a very common prayer. The child was brought by the parents, who said to God, “Make my child famous in the law, faithful in marriage, abundant in good works.” That’s a reasonable prayer if you believe that it’s by the law of God and by good works that your child is going to get into heaven. You earned your way in. It was achieved by morality, certain moral behavior.
And the disciples had imbibed this theology. Notice verse 13, the disciples rebuked those parents—“Don’t bother Jesus with these kids”—because they were, I guess you could say, victimized by the prevailing attitude toward children. It’s very interesting, just as a corollary to this, this incident with Jesus and the children is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; all three of them have an account of it. But in Luke’s account, in Luke chapter 18—you don’t have to go to it. But in Luke’s account, it is preceded by a story that Jesus told.
He said, “Two men went [to] the temple to pray. One [of them was] a Pharisee”—very religious, very moral, keeping the law of God—“and the other [one was] a tax collector.” Now, to be a tax collector today is fine; we’ve got to have them. Nothing wrong with that. But in those days, if you were a Jewish person who had a tax franchise, you had sold your soul to the occupying Romans, because the Romans were extorting money out of the Jews; and if they could use Jewish people to do the extortion, they could get the money they wanted. But the person who was a tax collector was viewed by the other Jewish people as somebody who was a traitor who had betrayed them.
So nothing was worse than a tax collector, and nothing was better than a Pharisee. So how you have a Pharisee and a tax collector, and they go to the temple, and they pray. And what does the Pharisee say? “I thank You”—it says this—“The Pharisee . . . [said] to himself.” Now you know your prayers aren’t going very far when all you’re doing is talking to you. So the Pharisee says to himself, “God, I thank You that I’m not like these other people. I keep all the rules. I keep all the rules. I give my money.” He was parading his self-righteousness.
The tax collector, he’s over in the corner. He won’t look up toward heaven because he doesn’t feel that he has any right to even have a conversation with God because he’s such a horrible person, and it’s been told to him every day of his life since he started in his business of tax collecting. So he’s got his head bowed to the ground. He starts pounding on his chest and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” “I have nothing to offer.”
And Jesus ended the story by saying this: The tax collector was saved, he was “justified,” and not the other guy, because salvation is not by works, it is by grace. And the repentant tax collector calling for mercy was the one who was justified.
That’s an important story in Luke in chapter 18 because it comes right before the incident with the children. And the story right after that incident is another very well-known story, of a man called the rich young ruler. And he’s talking to Jesus about eternal life, and Jesus lays out the Ten Commandments. And he says, “Oh, I’ve kept those my whole life. I’ve obeyed God’s law my whole life.” And he also is totally deceived. First of all, he didn’t obey the law of God his whole life; we know better than that. But he was counting on the fact that he could deceive others with his false righteousness.
So the dominant issue in Israel is this legalistic religion by which you earn your way to heaven. So placed between the story of the proud Pharisee and the self-righteous rich young ruler in Luke’s gospel is this incident that we’re seeing in Matthew. And Matthew does also include the story of the rich young ruler in a subsequent text.
The point is this: What Jesus says is completely contrary to everything they understand about the kingdom of heaven, because notice verse 14 of Matthew 19. What did Jesus say when the parents brought the children? Jesus said, “Let the children alone, do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I mean, you can’t begin to comprehend what a shocking statement that is, because they don’t believe children have any way possible to be in the kingdom because they haven’t achieved anything.
But Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” He didn’t say “to these,” meaning these specific children who were there, but “such as these,” meaning this category of people: children. And in the three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the word paidia is used, translated “children.” It means just children in general. But brephos is also used, and it means babies, infants.
Babies, infants, children? The kingdom belongs to them? How is that possible?
How is that possible? Are they not sinners? Oh, no; they’re definitely sinners. The heart is evil from youth, it says in Genesis. Proverbs 22, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” “In sin did my mother conceive me. I was shaped in iniquity.” “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and the flesh cannot please God.”
But Jesus—verse 15—“[Laid] His hands on them.” Mark says in chapter 10, verse 16, Jesus “began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” What do you mean “blessing them”? Pronouncing divine favor on them.
Now nowhere in the Scripture does Jesus pronounce divine favor on an unbeliever, somebody who’s not His own. He blesses His own. In fact, blessing is the distinguishing evidence that you belong to God. That’s why in the Beatitudes, “Blessed is the one. Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed,” and it defines someone who has come into the kingdom.
So are we saying that Jesus says they’re in the kingdom? That’s exactly what He says: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Here’s how you have to understand that. Children, before they reach the point that we sometimes call accountability or culpability—and I’ll say more about that in a minute—before they reach that point they are in a special relationship to God, because the Bible describes them in these terms.
In Deuteronomy 1:39, “Little ones who . . . have no knowledge of good or evil,” “no knowledge of good or evil.” Jeremiah 19, verse 4, describes them as “innocent,” innocent before God. Isaiah 7, interesting passage, talks about a boy in Isaiah 7:15 and 16, “At the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.” Very, very important statement: “The time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.”
You remember the story of Jonah at the end of the book of Jonah? God said, “I’m not going to destroy Nineveh.” Why? “Because there are 120,000 children in Nineveh,” and He describes them as those who don’t know their right hand from their left. To bring down judgment on them would make no sense.
So children are, for a time in their childhood, the subjects of divine care. They have a place in His kingdom. That’s why in Ezekiel 16, even when the prophet talks about the children of those who worship Moloch and burn their babies, “Those children,” the Lord says, “are My children, My children.”
So here’s the important thing. If one of them dies, there’s no knowledge of good or evil. There’s no culpability. There’s innocence. They weren’t able to refuse evil and choose good. They were His children, they didn’t deserve judgment, and so the Scripture is clear that they would enter into heaven. And that’s what David knew when his infant son died; and he said, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” David knew where he was going, and he knew he would see that infant in the presence of the Lord.
You say, “Well, wait a minute. How does God do that?” He does it by grace, right? I mean, they are the most perfect illustration of a grace salvation, because they do nothing, they bring nothing, they offer nothing. And again, in Luke, Jesus makes that same exact statement that He made in Mattew 18, that unless you become as a child, you won’t enter the kingdom. What does that mean? Humble, not counting on your own achievement, your own righteousness.
So here’s the compelling message. Heaven is filled, filled, folks, with little ones born through human history who never reached the age where they could refuse evil and choose good. They may well be the largest population in heaven because they’re a part of His kingdom. But here’s the urgency of understanding. They don’t stay that way. They cross a line, when they no longer are protected because of their innocence, because they’re not innocent anymore.
Sometimes people talk about that. I’ve had people ask me through the years, “How do you know what the age of accountability is? How do you know what the age of culpability is?” It’s not a certain age. It’s not a certain year. It’s different for every child. Obviously it’s around a certain time in their life when they’re young; some say eleven, twelve, thirteen, whatever. But for every child it’s different. But here’s the key. You know when your children have reached that age because accepting the gospel is difficult. Did you hear that? Because submitting to the law of God is difficult.
If I said to a group of children, elementary children, say, in the first few years of elementary school, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” every hand would go up. “How many of you want Jesus in your heart?” every hand would go up. That is wonderful. Cultivate that for sure. But understand this: True salvation is hard. And you’ll know when your child reaches the point where they must be saved, because it’s not as easy as it was when they were six and seven and eight, and they were compliant. Why? Because they have become mature enough to refuse good and choose evil. So you know your child has reached that age not because they can believe, but because it’s a struggle to confront their sin, turn from their sin, submit their lives to Christ.
So as you look at those little ones that the Lord gives you, let me give you three things you have to be involved with. One, teach, teach, teach, teach. And we’re here to help you do that, because all that you teach them, all that input in their little minds will be available to them when they come to the point where the struggle begins, right? And you want them filled up with the knowledge of Scripture. You want them singing the kinds of songs you heard today, reciting Scripture, memorizing verses, understanding the Bible—because that truth in their heart is what mitigates against their fallen nature when it begins to raise its ugly head. Teach, teach, teach, teach. Fill them with the truth.
Secondly, set an example. If you teach and don’t live, it cancels it out. You can’t teach your children, and even discipline your children to behave, in a way that is inconsistent with how you behave. Whatever level of godliness you want out of your children has to be demonstrated.
And thirdly, give them the gospel. Give them the gospel. And you’ll know when they have reached the point where it’s got to be personal because there will be some struggles. They will be dealing with some real heart issues that little children, again, don’t deal with.
You heard on the video, dear lady, say, “It’s wonderful when children believe.” And it is. But they will do whatever the adults tell them to do until they get to the point where they don’t want to do what the adults tell them to do. And they’re conscious of evil in their hearts, and they want to cling to that. They’re not sure they want to abandon their life fully to Christ. That’s really the compelling message.
So we as a church are here alongside of all of you parents, desiring to bring into their lives every possible good, godly, spiritual influence, so that when they reach that age where they become responsible and the battle begins, the battle for virtue, turning from sin, understanding your sinfulness, and the battle to really totally confess Jesus as Lord and turn your life over to Him—when that battle starts, if they have been filled up with divine truth and they have seen the blessings and rewards of it lived out in their parents’ lives, the Spirit of God will use that to strengthen them and bring them to their own salvation.
We are for the children here: for your children, and for as many children as we can possibly reach and rescue from the horrors of what this society and the eternal enemy of their souls is doing to them. So we’re so grateful for those of you who participate with us, and who serve and lead, and for you parents and you people that work with children. And as you heard Jay say earlier, we need more people, more people. We’re going to do everything we can, as I said, to help you with them.
And tonight we’re going to have a wonderful time. It’s a pretty rare privilege for any church to have the Gettys for an evening of just the best Christian music. We—I know Patricia and I through the years have always, always seen the benefit of the music that our children sing, and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, when it honors Christ and when it rehearses biblical truth. Grace for the children from heaven, and certainly from our church, to your children and all those the Lord will allow us to minister to.
Father, we thank You for the wonderful opportunity of being together today and just focusing on the children. Do a work in every heart here—parent, mother, dad, grandmother, grandfather, relatives, brothers and sisters, and even the children, particularly for those who have reached that point where they’re struggling to refuse the evil and choose the good. Would You be gracious to them and bring to mind all that they have known and the truth that they have heard and seen lived out, and grant them that eternal salvation which will bring them to glory and glory to You. Thank You, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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