Text: Luke 18:15-17
Bulletin: 2018-09-30 Christian Education Sunday
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” He spoke these words to His disciples when they were preventing parents from bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. They were actually blocking them because, to the Disciples, children were beneath the radar – so to speak. In terms of salvation, children, well, need not apply. Of course, right after our text, they let the rich young ruler through to Jesus without hindrance. Why? They did not yet understand completely how salvation works. Though salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus had been clearly preached by the prophets, the Disciples lost sight of that and blocked the children, thinking that they were incapable of meriting salvation.
Jesus set them straight by telling His disciples to let the children through, for He came to save them, too. The kingdom of God belongs also to children, because entrance into that kingdom is by grace through faith, which even a child can receive and have. It is not by our own works or merit. Jesus then said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” He means that unless one receives the kingdom like a child, that is, by faith, he will not enter it. Jesus said that His kingdom belongs even to little children, for they, too, receive Him in faith.
By the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, St. Luke framed our text today between two other texts that are well-known to us. He did this to teach us something key about how salvation works, about the doctrine of justification, really. The two texts that surround ours today are the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and the account of the Rich Young Ruler who left Jesus saddened. He left saddened because he had grown fonder of his riches than God’s kingdom. Both of those texts teach a similar lesson – salvation is not something that is earned. It is given by God’s grace through faith. If it had been by works, then surely the Pharisee (and not the tax collector) would’ve gone home justified and the rich young ruler would’ve been rewarded for his good works. But, that’s not how salvation goes. The Disciples weren’t quite tracking this.
So, when parents began bring even their little infants – and the word in the Greek includes children yet in the womb – to be blessed by Jesus, the Disciples blocked them. They rebuked them, it says. The sense is that the Disciples gave a strong and persistent disapproval to those parents and children. They did not want the children coming to Jesus. They weren’t worth His time – not like the rich and powerful young man who would come by in just a bit. The children could wait their turn, for all they cared. But, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me…for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
This is another text where we often find ourselves falling into the Disciples’ place. Most likely, not in intention or motive, but certainly in end result. The Disciples’ motive for rebuking the parents and children was that they weren’t worth Jesus’ time. I don’t say that we fall into that error. But, we do sin when the end result of our actions (or inaction) is the same as the Disciples’ rebuking – children being prevented from being brought to Jesus. This happens in many areas of our lives. It can happen when we aren’t as diligent in raising children in the faith as we should be. Raising children in the faith means knowing and studying the Scriptures ourselves, modeling the faith in family life, teaching it at home, and having regular family devotions. Grandparents, the responsibility to teach and model the faith to your children doesn’t stop when your children are themselves adults; it just takes a new form as you continue to encourage both your children and your children’s children.
The end result of our actions is the same as the Disciples, also, when we as a congregation don’t actively pass on and share our faith with the next generation. This happens when we absolve ourselves from responsibility, saying that our time to teach has come and gone, and now it’s someone else’s job. It happens when we as a congregation don’t give the support to our youth that they need or to those who do teach the support and encouragement they need. It also happens when we aren’t given to the work of evangelism and mission. As a congregation, we exist not only to hear the Word and receive Sacraments ourselves, but also as the hands and feet of Christ to call all people to His wedding feast.
Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, because the promise of the forgiveness of sins is for them, too. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, all of them. St. Paul wrote that sin came into the world through the one man, Adam, and by natural descent has spread to all mankind. By the Holy Spirit, King David taught that we are all conceived and born in sin. We are all – even children – by nature, enemies of God. Therefore, Jesus became like us in every respect. He endured the assaults of the devil and kept God’s Law perfectly. He suffered and died on the cross, bearing all the guilt of sin, so that by His death, all can be forgiven. The forgiveness of sins which He earned He gives to all as a gift, through faith, so that even children can be part of His kingdom. But, as St. Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” Or, remember how the Ethiopian Eunuch responded to Philip when he asked him if he understood the Good News. The eunuch told asked him, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
As we heard in our Old Testament text (Deut. 6), we have been given the command and responsibility from God to teach our children the one true faith. Jesus desires this and encourages this because He came to die, also, for all the little children of the world. He gives forgiveness and salvation to them by His grace through faith. The Holy Spirit works faith in them when His Word is read and taught in our homes and lives, when it is read and preached here, and through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We have this solemn and joyous responsibility from God, but we have not always honored it. We have excused ourselves from it, we have failed to do it; sometimes we’ve become disheartened and stopped doing it. In this, we have sinned.
Hear, again, these words of Jesus before we close. He said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Also, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus didn’t mean that if you don’t receive the kingdom as a literal child, that you won’t enter it. Rather, it’s a childlike faith that receives His grace. Everything a child has is given to him. He doesn’t earn it. In fact, most of the time a child dis-earns what he has by bad behavior. Rather, a child has what he has because His father loves him. It’s the same for us. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works. If it were by our works, we would be out of the kingdom forever simply for the times we have been less than enthusiastic to teach our children. But, today, let us recognize that and confess that, and believe that – in Christ – though our sins are like scarlet, we are made white as snow.
And so, as we embark and have begun a new Sunday School year, let us confess our sins and believe that, in Christ – by His death and resurrection – we are forgiven. Let us pray for the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit to teach and model the faith to our children, both those within our congregation and those outside. And, let us trust that God by His Holy Spirit will continue to bless our children with the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of salvation, even as we adults, too, have been forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Christ.