Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there. …Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. – Matthew 19:1-2, 13-15
Matthew reminds us that at times great multitudes followed Jesus, wherever he traveled, seeking to hear him and seeking his help. On this occasion also, Jesus taught the people and “he healed them there.” Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. “And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.”
In such a great multitude, we are not surprised to know that there were also a good number of children of all ages. When the teaching and healing services were complete, some of the people began bringing the little children to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples objected to this and they rebuked the parents, thinking it was a waste of Jesus’ time. Surely, they thought, Jesus wants to spend his time with the adults, answering their difficult questions and helping with their serious problems. Besides, so they thought, the little children can’t benefit from Jesus as they cannot comprehend what he is saying. Luke’s record of the same story (chp 18) uses the Greek word for breast-fed babies. The NIV Bible translates “infants.”
But Jesus corrected his well-meaning disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Yes, the kingdom of heaven belongs to little, nursing infants. Jesus wants children of all ages brought to him that he might hold them in his hands and bless them. Jesus knew that even little infants could know him, love him, and believe in him. Faith is a miracle worked by the Spirit through Christ’s Word in human hearts. It is no more difficult for Jesus to perform that miracle in a little baby than in an adult. We baptize little babies not because they can’t believe, but precisely because they can believe. The Holy Spirit works faith in them through the Gospel of Baptism. If someone can show us from Scripture that little children cannot believe in Jesus, we will stop baptizing them. But they will run into this story of Jesus, which can be interpreted in no other way: “For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus doesn’t walk among us visibly today. We can’t bring the little children and watch him take them in his hands and pray with them. But Jesus still wants them in his presence. He said in another place, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). God is present with us in our Christian assemblies. Why wouldn’t we want the children to be part of that? God is there to bless us through our Scripture hymns and songs, through the Scripture lessons, through the sermon, through the prayers, through the confession of faith and the confession of sin. We bring little children to Jesus when we bring them to church. We bring the children to Jesus when we bring them to his Word. We bring the children to Jesus when we open the Scriptures to them, teach them the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, and the Gospel of Christ.
Jesus loved the little infants- the most vulnerable, dependent, needy members of our race. The children could do nothing for Jesus. They had no money, they could not follow him, they could not serve as disciples or apostles. But Jesus wanted to do something for them. He wanted to lay his hands on them and bless them. Jesus loves our entire human race, great and small, and the kingdom of Heaven belongs to all of those who believe in him.
Lord God, heavenly Father, thank you for calling us through the Gospel into your Kingdom. Many of us were just little babies when you first called. Strengthen us in the faith and help us to gather the little children and bring them to you today that you might bless them. We can do no greater service to our children. Amen.