Jesus and the Children

by Wes Stafford

For the last eight months, I've been writing about children-how important they are to God and how important it is that we minister to them. I hope the message is getting through.

Children make up a huge percentage of the spiritual harvest for the church. They are eager to learn, pliable, and willing to receive the gospel without many of the hesitations that adults carry with them. And, in spite of their small number of years on this earth, they can be powerful evangelists. Throughout my life, many people have asked why I'm so passionate about kids. My answer is always the same: because God is passionate about kids.

God talks about children a lot in His Word. There are more verses in Scripture about children and poverty than there are about heaven or hell. In fact, one of the best examples I can give you of why I believe God is so passionate about children comes from a story told in three of the four Gospels.

You're probably familiar with the story. Jesus is talking with His disciples when they are interrupted by a group of children. The disciples, obviously not understanding how important children are to Jesus, rebuked the little ones for interrupting and began to send them away. Then, we see a powerful illustration of our Savior's heart for children: "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" (Mark 10:14).

You may have never noticed the part of the verse that talks about Jesus being "indignant." Or perhaps you've never considered the significance of the word. Other versions say He was "greatly displeased" or even "pained." I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: "But Jesus was irate and let them know it. Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom'" (Mark 10:14).

Why did Jesus become so irate with the disciples when they began to turn the children away? To find the answer, I think you need to look back to the previous chapter in Mark. (Matthew also provides both stories in chapters 18 and 19.) It all began with an ugly conversation on the road to Capernaum. The disciples had exchanged some snippy remarks.

Later on, Jesus called them to account by asking, "What were you arguing about on the road?" The text says "They kept quiet." But Jesus knew exactly what they had been arguing about. They were debating over who among them was the greatest and who would have the more important seat in heaven. It must have broken Jesus' heart to realize that they had not yet learned the importance of humility and servanthood.

So I can understand why Jesus would want to surround Himself, instead, with a group of precious children who just wanted to be close to their Lord. Why not show the disciples, by example, what is truly important? It's not about who has a higher position in heaven-it's about being with our Savior. The children somehow got the message that these disciples had missed. They just wanted to climb into the lap of Jesus, to be held by Him, touched by Him.

Jesus, despite His disappointment and anger, showed His patience by deciding to teach the lesson one more time: "Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me'" (Matt. 18:2-5 NKJV).

This must have been a tough pill to swallow for these grown men, each struggling with pride and ego. Jesus had answered their question, telling them: "You want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Humble yourself like a child."

In one simple story Jesus tells us so much about how God sees children. He sees their hearts, their innocence. Through children, He gives us a glimpse of heaven. He was practically saying: "You want to know what heaven looks like? Take a look at these children." He tells us how much God treasures their humility. In fact, He may as well have been saying, "Don't be so concerned about your stature in heaven. If you don't become like this precious child, you won't even get in!"

I wish I could tell you that, for the past 2000 years, the church has followed this example and valued children for all the things God loves about them. I wish I could say that there is a great respect and appreciation for children-a whole theology that places children at the center of the work of the church. I wish I could tell you that children are the priority for programs, budgets, and strategies at churches large and small.

But that's not the case! The majority of churches in our country spend less than 15 percent of their budget on children. Yet 85 percent of believers make a decision for Christ before the age of 14. Such a disparity!

The words of Jesus couldn't have been any clearer: "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these." How unbelievable that the disciples would forget all this within a few days. How unbelievable it is that the church would also forget it for the next two thousand years!

If you are a pastor, I pray that you will think about how your church strategy involves children. I pray that you'll seriously consider giving at least one sermon this year on how much God cares about children and how strategic they are in His kingdom. Missions pastors, I pray that you will emphasize ministry to children in the mission field. The next time you talk to the missionaries your church supports, I hope you remember to ask "What about the children?"

If you are not a pastor or church leader, I pray that you will encourage your church leadership to do these things and that you, too, will get involved in the children's ministry in your church. There is, I believe, nothing more strategic, more powerful, or closer to God's heart than ministering to those sweet young ones who are so important to our heavenly Father.

Now, perhaps, you have an idea about why I am so passionate about children: because Jesus was. Because He still is.

Reprinted from Too Small to Ignore, Copyright © 2005 by Compassion International, Inc. Used by permission of WaterBrook Press, colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved.

Wess Stafford is president of Compassion International, Inc.

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