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 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… 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. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” (Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14)
I hope you will take the time to carefully read through the long quote at the beginning of this article. It is such a powerful and clear statement, it could serve, without further elaboration, as this month’s main article! Still, a few comments may be in order. Children have been much on my mind of late. Mark and Julie’s new twin baby girls, along with their two older brothers, have made us very proud and happy grandparents! We know it is a big job for their parents to care for them and we are happy to help as much as we are able. Another recent reminder about the importance of children came when we went to see the documentary on Fred Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
Fred was a passionate advocate for children, especially in the cause of providing young children with quality television programming. Even before he had seen a television he realozed that it could be a wonderful tool for good, as well as evil. He wanted to weigh in on the side of good, especially for children. He wanted children to know that their feelings were important and that there was someone out there who took them seriously. He saw that children needed their questions answered, their fears addressed and, most of all, their value affirmed.
Andy Flett was also someone who felt a strong calling to serve children – of all ages. When I received the call from his wife, Genny, that Andy Flett had passed (see article following) Tyla and I were at the Sacramento Zoo with Julie, the boys and the baby girls. As we absorbed the shock and felt the grief fill our hearts on losing such a wonderful friend, we reflected that we were doing two things that Andy would have really appreciated – we were with children enjoying God’s wonderful creations.
Jesus’ words to the disciples about children show us how much He loved and valued them. He took the occasion of a question from His disciples about who is greatest in God’s kingdom to honor children. Jesus called over a little child and told the disciples that no one will even enter the kingdom if they do not become like that little child. And as for achieving the status of being the greatest in the kingdom, they would need to humble themselves as this little child to do that. Wow! That must have shocked the disciples for in their day the expectation was that children “should be seen and not heard.” Adult males were at the top of the social structure, women below them and children below them. Of course Jesus was not advocating that children should run wild or be disrespectful to adults. Rather, He was pointing out to these adults that children deserved their respect and that in some ways they could learn from them. But that was not all.
He went on to warn them not to cause one of these little ones to stumble. For those who did this, Jesus warned, it would be better if they had never been born! Stern warning indeed! For Jesus, the humble faith of little children is a model for adults and anyone who caused little ones to stumble in their trust, to stumble in their confidence in God, the punishment would be severe. This should serve to warn us as well. Children should be taught and given plenty of reason to believe, that God loves them, that He is always with them and that it is safe to trust in Him. In fact, these are God’s children on loan to us and we are His servants to take care of them and nurture them in faith, hope and love. He has given us an awesome and wonderful mission as adults to serve as role models for, and nurturers of their, as yet, tender faith.
When we bring unnecessary suffering and pain to children, especially through pursuit of our own selfish desires and indifference to them, we will have to answer to Jesus. God has given us everything we need on this planet to provide a good, wholesome and godly environment for children so that they would have the least amount of hindrance to their faith in and love for God. In this wealthy nation of ours it is a crime reaching up to heaven that so many children go to bed hungry at night, live in cockroach infested buildings (if they have a roof to live under at all) where lead paint damages their brains, polluted drinking water ruins their health and in neighborhoods where gunfire and violent deaths are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, adult society is riven left and right with people on the left unable to recognize the humanity of children in the womb and people on the right blind to the many ways the unfettered pursuit of profits damages the lives of children both before and after they are born.
Not long after Jesus uttered the words we quoted at the beginning of this article, an incident arose that shows what Jesus wants us to do for children:
And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them.But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these...”And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:13-14, 16) Is there really any question concerning what Jesus wants us to do for children?Let us seriously consider how what we do, neglect to do or permit to be done helps or hinders any child from coming to Him who truly is the “Fount of every blessing.”