In Matthew 19 Jesus welcomes little children to himself, (gently) touches them and prays over them. The disciples, in contrast, seem too stern and busy to feel the is important kingdom work. The story tells us:
13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
It is easy to rebuke the disciples in this story. But perhaps we have this wrong. Could it be that love made them desire to protect Jesus and seeing he was tired and drained (they had seen multiple miracles of healing, great teaching, etc.). It is likely they were concerned for his well-being. After all, he was now talking about a cross, which puzzled them. I think the tension in his heart and mind would have been evident to men so close to him day-by-day. It would thus be normal to think that at this time little children were a bit of a bother. William Barclay rightly says, “We must not think of the disciples as rough and hard and stern; we must not condemn them.”
But the real point of the story is Jesus. He was plainly the kind of man that children loved. The famous Scottish writer George MacDonald, one of my favorite souls in the history of the church, said that no person could be a follower of Jesus “if children were afraid to play at their door.” The point he makes is rather basic I think. Jesus does not see any person, man or woman, young or old, as unimportant or not worth his time and interest. No one was a nuisance to him, no one. Doesn’t that encourage you friend? It does me. I laid awake last night and had a restless time. I found my mind racing over many, many faults in my sixty-eight years of life. I felt a deep sense of anguish and loss. I had a long list of ways in which I have failed the Master. I even experienced some condemnation. It was not fun, to say the least.
William Barclay says something about this passage that I needed this morning:
“There is a strange difference between Jesus and many a famous preacher or evangelist. It is often next door to impossible to get into the presence of one of these famous ones at all. They have a kind of retinue and bodyguard which keep the public away lest the great man be wearied and bothered. Jesus was the opposite of that. They way to the presence of Jesus is open to the humblest person and to the youngest child” (The Gospel of Mathew, Volume 2, page 234).
Jesus concluded by saying these children were closer to God than anyone else. Why? The simplicity of the child keeps them near to God. It is a tragedy of age that we so often grow away from God, or feel ourselves unworthy of being close to Jesus. This morning I sought to recall to mind the mercies of God from the earliest years of my life. I am tired after a hard night’s unrest but I am refreshed in knowing he draws near to those who humble themselves like little children and come to him. “Lord, I come!”