Every serious Christian wants to value what the Lord Jesus values. Whether it’s politics, relationships, work ethics, or even our own relationship with God the Father, we want, or we should want, to value those things the way Jesus values them. We need to ask ourselves, “Does Jesus care about what I care about? Do I care about what Jesus cares about?”
In Luke 18, an event happened that showed the disconnect between what the disciples valued and what the Lord valued. It was one of those events where you think that you are doing the right thing, but it turns out that you are completely out of line. You were expecting praise…but you got a stern rebuke instead.
1) JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN
Luke 18:15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
As these families stood around Jesus, waiting for the chance to have Him touch their babies, the disciples decided it was time to take action. They moved from family to family, rebuking them for bothering the great Teacher with their children. Perhaps they said things like, “Get back! Respect the Teacher’s dignity! Children need to be in the back so that others can hear!”
We know that they were harsh in their words because the Greek word for “rebuked” (epitimaō) is a strong word. It’s the same word used to rebuke demons (e.g., Luke 9:42). You can imagine a few mothers softly crying as they moved away from Jesus as they were directed.
Why were the disciples so harsh with them? It could be that they were simply trying to protect Jesus from unnecessary interruptions. He was so busy all the time what with all the important teaching He was doing. There were seriously sick people who needed healing. And here comes these people with healthy infants wanting Jesus to touch them. Why bother Jesus with such trivial things?
In that time, children weren’t viewed as all that important, especially in Roman culture. Here are a couple facts that help us understand the low value placed on children:
(1) If an infant was born with a defect or was an unwanted girl, Greek and Roman people (but not Jews) would leave them exposed to the elements to die. People in our culture might be repulsed by such brutality, but abortion snuffs out a life just the same.
As Christianity grew, Christians quietly went about saving these infants…finding them in the popular “dump sites” and taking them in to raise as their own. Their efforts eventually lead to infant exposure being outlawed in AD 374.1
(2) Between 30 and 50 percent of children died before the age of 10. Perhaps the parents were bringing their babies to Jesus because they thought a blessing from Him would insure that they would survive.
The point is, people did not place much value on children until they were older and were more certain to survive. While the Jews did not practice infanticide like the Romans, they also did not place a high value on children until they were old enough to be a help to the family. This comes out in attitude of the disciples here. But Jesus’s attitude is markedly different.
Luke 18:16a But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer [allow] little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…
Jesus calls the children to Himself. In your mind, you can see Jesus holding a baby with toddlers surrounding Him. To the parents and the disciples, He says, “[Allow] little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…”
Mark records for us something that Luke leaves out. Jesus wasn’t just a little perturbed with the disciples for their actions, rather “he was much displeased” (Mark 10:13-14). Can you imagine Jesus being “much displeased” with you, especially when you thought that you were just being helpful?
When someone is displeased with something, it’s an indicator of what they value. We see this all the time when people with differing ideals argue. The debate gets heated because what they value is at stake. What does Jesus value so much that He would be displeased with the disciples for ignoring it? He is displeased with the disciple’s harshness towards the small children.
Here we see a common mistake people make regarding children—they are too harsh with them—especially when it comes to church. You have to wonder how many children grew up in church and left later, in part, because they only experienced harshness towards them by adults in the church: “Sit down, Be quiet, Don’t touch.”
I have softened a bit in the last few years. I used to look at little kids doing something that seemed to me a little “disrespectful” and wanted them to stop it. Now I look and think, “They only get one shot at being a little kid, it’s soon over…then they are grown up and gone. Let them have their fun now.”
Here’s an example of where I changed. A few years ago, it annoyed me a bit that the kids would get candy from the older people in church. It doesn’t anymore. Why?
Because I watched as they grew up, something happened—they would stop coming to get candy. A season of childhood had passed away and was gone forever. Parents, don’t blow that time by being overly strict. Let your kids be kids while they are still kids. This part of what Paul means when he says,
4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Jesus values children and He values them as children. Jesus loves the little children.
Another value we learn from Jesus being displeased with the disciples for being harsh with the children is—can we honestly think as Christians that Jesus would be okay with aborting a child?
Yes, I know that the text isn’t about unborn children…but we do get a sense of Jesus’s values towards very young children. We see how His love towards them was greater than the average person, such as the disciples.
Who are we to say that His value of children stops at them being born? Should we not assume that He would value the unborn just as equally? Jesus is far more consistent with His beliefs than we are. In our society, it’s murder for someone to do something to a pregnant woman that kills her unborn baby. Yet, if she aborts the baby, it’s not murder.
When we examine our values in the light of Jesus—will they be consistent with His values?
2) HOW CHILDREN POINT US TO HEAVEN AND HEAVEN’S VALUES
After His encouragement to the parents to bring their children to Him, Jesus continues to make a spiritual point about the incident. He shows them how children point us to Heaven and to Heaven’s values.
Luke 18:16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
What does Jesus mean by the “kingdom of God”? At least two things:
(1) It’s synonymous with salvation. If you are in the “kingdom of God” you obviously must have salvation.
(2) It’s a catch-all phrase for the things that God values. In this passage, one of those “Kingdom values” is the value that God places on children. It’s a good examination question to ask ourselves: Does God value what I value? Do I value what God values?
Missionary John Hess-Yoder shared an illustration of the kingdom of God and the values that a Christian holds. Before foreign powers came in and established the national boundaries…
…the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas.
Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians.
On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese.
The exact location of a person’s home was not what determined his or her nationality. Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited.
So it is with us: we live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom’s values.2
The “kingdom of God” refers to being saved and to the values that God has. With those two understandings of the “kingdom of God” in mind, what does Jesus mean when makes these two statements in verses 16 and 17?
Luke 18:16b of such [children] is the kingdom of God
Luke 18:17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
It shouldn’t have to be said that Jesus does not mean that we should behave as children in any of the immature ways that children behave. Rather we need to look for positive attributes of children that have a spiritual and metaphorical relation to either: (1) being saved and/or (2) understanding what God values.
2.1) Children Are Helpless
Children, especially unborn children, babies, and toddlers, are helpless. They are completely dependent on someone greater to survive. They need to be fed—they have no idea how to get food for themselves. The unborn baby depends on its mother to desire it to even be born. If the mother doesn’t want the baby…it has no hope of survival, it’s completely helpless.
This has obvious reference to salvation. We like to think like an adult when it comes to being saved. Many people think they are saved because they have reasoned their way to a sort of religion.
They say “I think God is so loving, that He would just not allow a good person to go to Hell…if Hell even exists, because why would a loving God allow such a place?” Or they say, “I know I am a sinner, but overall, I am a good person and so God will accept me.”
How do we come to salvation? By admitting that we are helpless to save ourselves and trusting Jesus to save us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
Are you still trying to save yourself through your own strength? Or have you admitted that you are like a helpless baby in a crib?
How do we know what God values? Imagine yourself as a little baby in a crib. How do you know of anything outside the crib? You can see a short distance, but to see any farther, you have to wait until someone comes and lifts you from the crib and shows you around.
That is our situation. We are stuck in the physical world. We can see a little ways, but we cannot see into the spiritual realm where God lives. He must come and lift us out of our crib and reveal it to us. He does just that in the Bible. We are helpless to know what God values except that He reveals it to us in the Bible.
That means that, if you want to be serious about changing your values to match up with God’s values, you need you spend serious time studying the Bible. A quick devotional minute will not do.
You need to look at the things that are important to you and check with the Bible to see if they are important to God. You also need to read looking for those things in the Bible that God values most—hint, they come up again and again—and ask, “Are these things important to me?”
There is no substitute for a deep study and meditation in the Bible if you want to actually make God’s values your own.
A second trait of children that point us to Heaven’s values is that…
2.2) Children Are Trusting
If someone grabbed you suddenly and hoisted you high above their head, you’d probably scream in shock and terror. But a father can thrust his baby far above his head and the baby will laugh. Why? Because the baby trusts the father.
A toddler, lost in a store, will take the hand of a kindly stranger and follow them to the customer service counter.
Children are known for being more trusting than skeptical. Adults default to skepticism rather than to trust. Adults start with the premise: God doesn’t exist and you have to prove Him to me. A child’s mindset is more trusting. You have to prove that God doesn’t exist!
When we come to Jesus for salvation, we must come with a trusting mindset. The doubt and skepticism need to be set aside and our trust put in Him to save us.
As we continue on in the Christian life, we need to continue to trust Him. As we learn more about God in the Bible, we’ll come across areas of our life that are not in sync with God’s Word. We’ll find that we have values that are not His values.
It’s then, as a trusting child, we need to set aside the values from the old life and trust that God’s values are best for us. But sometimes we look at the Bible and say, “Surely, we can’t do that today…what would people think…etc.” Certainly there are things in the Bible that don’t apply to us, but are we avoiding adopting some of God’s values because we are simply not trusting Him to know best? A child will trust that his Father knows best.
A third trait of children that point us to Heaven’s values is that…
2.3) Children Are Receptive
Little kids know how to receive gifts. They don’t do as adults will do. They don’t say, “I don’t deserve this.” They don’t take the gift and say, “I owe you one…I’ll make this up to you.” Children—if handed a piece of candy or a brand-new bicycle—will, without fail, take the gift!
In the same way, we need to receive the gift of salvation without thinking that we need to pay Jesus back somehow. The Bible says…
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12)
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
When a typical child receives a gift, they don’t boast in how they earned it. They receive it gladly.
Have you received the gift of salvation gladly, like a child?
We’ve been looking at how Jesus loves the little children. Do you know that song?
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
We should also say that Jesus loves all children—both the born and unborn children. That’s one of His values.
Do you value what Jesus values? Does Jesus value what you value?
1. Meredith Faubel Nyberg, “Children,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
2. Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 291–292.