People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
What a picture – ‘he took them in his arms’. When you take a child in your arms you are lifting them up, saying they are special, protecting them, taking responsibility for them, pressing them to your heart and blessing them.
Many years ago there was a common essay title for students of New Testament theology, ‘Was Jesus a revolutionary?’ In those days many of us were wearing our Che Guevara t-shirts and thinking of Marxist or Marxist-type revolutionaries. The answer then was no, but today it is yes. If we look at the way Jesus cared for the poor and lepers and his incredible interest in and respect for women and children we see a revolutionary. His was not a political revolution but a reaching out, loving one. Children in his day were on the edge, not really listened to and thought about, so the disciples are typical in their disregard of them. Jesus on the other hand thinks they are special, vulnerable and important.
We today are completely different. As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles we are positively obsessed by our children. We are indulgent to a fault and often completely sentimental in how we think about them. They are at the centre of everything, shielded from infections, abuse and from all manner of dangerous play activities such as climbing trees, riding their bikes on proper roads and wandering off into woods and parks. We spend small fortunes on them at Christmas, birthdays and holiday times and devote a chunk of our lives to driving them around from school to clubs to shopping centres.
I wonder however if there is one vital area of living and growing where children are perhaps more deprived than ever before. We provide for their material, physical and educational development but what about their spiritual growth?
Luke’s picture of Jesus as a young boy gives us a great model of a child growing healthily in a rounded way. Jesus ‘grew strong, filled with wisdom and the favour of God was upon him’ (2:40). Jesus the child grew in body, mind and spirit. We are all desperate to see our children grow up strong and healthy. We want them to do well at school and pass their exams with massive ‘A’ star approval. But what are we doing to develop them spiritually, how are we nourishing their souls, their own individual spark of divinity which rests inside them.
The very physical act of Jesus taking children in his arms meant that he clutched them to his heart. He laid his hand on them and blessed them. If we are following Jesus there is a big series of footsteps here for us to walk in. They are about helping the children in our church, in our friendship circle and in our own family. Building relationships with these children, having conversations with them, praying for them and encouraging them to join in with a children’s Christian group. So here are a couple of questions for you to think about:
- Who is the child in your life that you can help to draw closer to Jesus?
- Where is the child in you that you that still needs to be taken up in his arms?
Dear Lord Jesus,
What about my children,
Nephews and nieces,
The children of my friends and neighbours?
How they need to be lifted up in your arms,
And held to your heart.
Perhaps they need a bit of help from me,
To make it happen.