Mark 10:13-16 “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch 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. I tell you the truth, 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, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

“When mothers of Salem, their children brought to Jesus
The stern disciples drove them back and bade them depart.
But Jesus saw them ere they fled,
And sweetly smiled and kindly said,
‘Suffer little children to come unto Me.'” (William Medlen Hutchings, 1827-76)

Those are the words of a children’s hymn written and sung more often in those years before floods of choruses and praise songs washed such hymns far away from most churches. The hymn is referring to this well-known incident in the life of our Lord when men and women brought little children to Jesus but the disciples rebuked them. In both words and actions the importance of bringing children to the Son of God was emphasised by our Lord. You see it in Jesus’ attitude of indignation towards those who would have prevented children coming to him. You hear it in his positive command, “Let them come to me.” You meet it again as he rebukes his disciples, ‘Do not hinder them,’ and then he says very clearly that the kingdom of God belongs to these children as much as it belongs to anyone, even to all whom God calls. More than that, Jesus tells them that a child’s reception of the kingdom of God is the model for any grown up person who wants to come under the reign of grace over their lives. In other words, those who would receive the kingdom of God must do so by coming to Jesus Christ for his blessings; there is no other way. Finally our Lord welcomes the children to him, even taking them in his arms; he puts his hands on them and he blesses them.

“‘For I will receive them, and fold them in My bosom;
I’ll be a Shepherd to those lambs, O drive them not away!
For if their hearts to Me they give,
They shall with Me in glory live:
Suffer little children to come unto me'” (William Medlen Hutchings, 1827-76).

This scene has a certain contemporaneity about it. It is not unusual to us; it is certainly not shocking. We live in an age where politicians, whether dictators from Asia and the Middle East right across the political spectrum to men and women running for office in our western democracies, all will pose before a camera with a voter’s baby in their arms. No one can afford to be seen driving mothers and children away. It was not so in Jesus’ day. Childhood was recognised as a necessary stage on the journey to maturity, but children had no rights or status before puberty, and after that they were expected to work like an adult. Jesus changed the world’s attitude to children. He resisted the ethos of his day which had affected even everyone’s favourite apostles, John and Andrew, I guess. Those men had looked at these people with their children and said to them angrily, “What do you think you’re doing bringing kids to the Master?” Jesus tells them that little children too may have a place in the kingdom of God. In the light of our Lord’s example the great question for us is how are we to bring children to Jesus.


i] Christian parents are to bring their children to Jesus.

Here is a family, a father and mother and their children, an embattled institution, dismissed as a bourgeois invention irrelevant to today except for the ‘antiquated minority’ who promote it. The word of God tells us that the family is a divinely conceived institution, that it is not the result of evolution but it was designed by the Creator. The all wise God is the one responsible for the distance of the earth from the sun, and the exact angle at which the earth tilts, and the speed at which it revolves, and the composition of water. In the beginning he created the heavens and the earth, and it was then that he also created marriage. God designed it with the male being the head, the protector and chief provider. With the support of his wife he establishes a rule which is lovingly exercised in the whole family’s submission to all the truths God has spoken. The father and the mother are called upon to train up their children in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. From this responsibility no parent may escape. All will be called upon to account for their stewardship. They will be asked on Judgment Day not if they brought up ‘open-minded’ children, nor if they brought or sent their children to a church, but if they brought their children to the Lord Jesus. These children have been born of natural descent, and also of human decision (“Let’s get married and have children”). They have been born through a husband’s will to know his wife, but many of them have not yet been born of God because those children have not yet been united to Christ. To them all Jesus Christ must be brought.

One of the characteristics of a Christian home is that it is a worshipping unit. Thanking God for each meal is a constant reminder of our dependence. Family prayers draw the family around Jesus Christ who never leaves them. The Lord’s Day gives special opportunities for worship together. A small child will look forward to a Sunday morning treat of being able to sit in his parents’ bed listening to a Bible story. The afternoon can give opportunity for learning his Bible text, or for colouring his Bible story book, or in the case of an older child producing a missionary scrap book.

Paul can say to Timothy, “You know those from whom you learned the Christian faith” (II Tim. 3:14). Timothy’s father was a Greek, and almost certainly was a pagan, but Timothy was blessed with a godly mother and grandmother, and from a child they instinctively instructed the lad in the Holy Scriptures. Mothers and fathers have a great privilege; it is not a privilege that God gives to everybody; but alongside it there goes immense responsibility. Of course a parent cannot convey saving grace to a child (for that matter neither can a preacher of the Word convey saving grace to any of his hearers), but a parent can convey the raw materials of the Scriptures out of which the Holy Spirit may bring his salvation to that child. The fact of the matter is that in Timothy’s case Paul could trace his spiritual genealogy back to his mother and to his grandmother, not in terms of blood, but in these terms, that they sought to bring Timothy to Jesus. They were advocates, unfailingly and lovingly commending the Lord to the lad. They found it impossible to describe the Christian faith to him in some neutral, dispassionate and detached way. They had to present it in all its glory that Timothy might receive the truth and the love of the truth. I think that any training concerning the word of God has failed unless the child is enthralled and captivated by the message of the gospel. When Timothy was taught the word of God from childhood I am sure that his mother and grandmother didn’t brainwash him. They did not pressurise him in any kind of way to repeat some formula after them. Rather they taught him lovingly, firmly, ardently and wisely and so commended it that Christian convictions were instilled into him, and Christian responses were drawn out of him.

ii] The congregation is to bring its children to Jesus.

All of us are conscious of the danger of the congregation splintering family life with a multiplicity of organisations, for women, for children and young people. Let’s avoid that. Again, it needs to be pointed out that professing Christian parents may not shift the responsibility for their children’s Christian education onto the Sunday School or onto the youth workers in a church. The Sunday School is not meant to relieve parents of their duties in constantly bring children to the Lord Jesus. When we speak of the responsibility of the local church we don’t want its concern for the children present to fragment family life. It need not. Every time we meet to worship, then each occasion can be dubbed ‘family church’ at 6 p.m. as well as 10.30 am. In the Old Testament when the people of God met together in a great assembly then it might be noted in Scripture that the little ones were also there. For example, we are told that “men, women and children gathered around Ezra” (Ezra 10:1). Children are important enough to be noticed by the Holy Spirit, and so children are important enough to be noticed by the preacher on Sundays and addressed. Children are to be greeted by church members so that when they come to a Sunday service, though they will necessarily understand less than some others, they will feel loved. Certainly children must feel the power of the word of God on Sundays. They subconsciously notice that their parents pay earnest attention to what the preacher is saying about coming to Jesus Christ, and this has its own impact on them; “what our minister is saying is very important.” I don’t know of a family in which there is coolness towards the preacher which doesn’t affect the children’s attitude to him also. That is fairly obvious. So the church by its happy corporate life and praying and various agencies is bringing a message to children than they should themselves come to Jesus.

iii] Children are themselves to come to Jesus.

That is the scene before us. People bring little children to Jesus; the disciples turn them away, and then our Lord says, “Let them come.” He does not say, “Let these people bring them.” It is, “Let the little children themselves come to me.” In other words, “let these children pass through the crowd and let them come walking right up to me.” Little children may come right into Christ’s presence, so let us tell them this fact.

“There’s a friend for little children
Above the bright blue sky,
A Friend who never changes,
Whose love will never die.
Unlike our friends by nature,
Who change with changing years,
This friend is always worthy
The precious name He bears.” (Albert Midlane, 1825-1909).

You may feel that you are only 6 or 7 years of age, and that coming to Jesus is something which only older people do, that it is for students or for grown-ups. No, it is also for you. The moment you children know you are sinners, and that you are guilty before God and need him to forgive your sins, then that moment you know you need a Saviour. You know the gospel, children, that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died for us. The moment you know that you must come to Jesus by yourself, not with your sister or your brother for company, not using the voice or words of Mummy or Daddy, but all by yourself and speaking to Jesus with your own thoughts. You must think about your own life, that you have sinned against God by what you have thought and said and done. You need Jesus Christ to accept you and pardon you. You need to receive him as your very own Lord and Saviour. You must pray, “Show me myself O Lord, and show me the Saviour, and help me to be sure that he is my very own Jesus,” and to go on praying that prayer earnestly until you know that he’s answered you. You will not have to pray it for very long if you are in earnest. I am promising that you won’t have to pray that prayer for years before Jesus answers you, because he wants you to come. He doesn’t want you to stay on the fringes looking on. He won’t tantalise. He won’t play games with you. He wants you to come to him today. That is why he has brought you here. That is one of the reasons he visits us each Sunday to speak to us and listen to us as we sing and pray. He notices when we refuse to sing a hymn. So those are the various means by which children come to Jesus, through Christian parents, through the local church, and by their own decision.


Paul reminds Timothy that “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:15). “From infancy” Paul writes, and the word he uses is identical with the one found in Luke’s version of this incident of ours describing the infants being brought to Christ (Luke 18:15). The word Paul and Luke use does not mean a new-born baby, nor a child beginning to become independent of its parents. This is a child in kindergarten, we may say one of play school age. From that time in his life Timothy had known the Scriptures. Before he was able to read them for himself he knew what they contained. So Paul is reminding us that we cannot begin too early to instil in the minds of children a knowledge of the truth. A little child learns quickly, especially in the context of parental relationships. He may or may not show what he is learning, but he does learn. He gains knowledge.

What is the link between the Scriptures and bringing children to Jesus? It is of course this, that it is to the Christ of the Scriptures we are bringing them. He is not the latest opinion of who Christ is. Opinions of Christ change like the Welsh weather, but the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible transcends all those theological and cultural fashions that wax and wane. So children are to come to the Jesus of the Scriptures, the one who is the same yesterday and today and for ever, and to no other Christ. From the Scriptures we show them who the Lord is. From the Scriptures we show them why the Lord must be known. From the Scriptures we show them their need of Christ. It all comes from the Scriptures. With God’s blessing children may get a knowledge of all the Scriptures that are necessary to salvation. Children can get as plain, simple and meaningful an understanding of sin as their mother can. Children can get as plain, simple and meaningful an understanding of the atonement as their grandmothers can.

“He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by His precious blood” (Cecil Alexander, 1818-95).

No child needs to become a theologian in order to see its own sinfulness, and to trust the Saviour, and have that blessed atoning work applied to him.

As Ken Howard has written, “The holy Scriptures may be learned by children just as soon as they are capable of learning anything. I clearly remember verses that I learned at three. I didn’t understand the meaning then as I understand it now, but that is not what Paul is saying. He says, ‘From childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, you have been acquainted with them, you have become aware of them you know what they say.’ Mark, my friends, a child will never understand what it doesn’t know. You may draw a distinction between understanding and knowing, but knowing comes first. If a child doesn’t know what the Scripture says it will never understand. So the beginning and the basis of coming to Christ is that the child knows the holy Scriptures. Parts of Scriptures are above a child’s mind, but when you’ve said this you’ve said no more than you’ve said about yourself. Parts of Scripture are above your mind and above mine; only the Holy Spirit gives them meaning. But we make a big mistake if we think, concerning children, that we’ve got to begin with something else, and from that lead up to Scripture. That is a notion common is some quarters, that the Bible is too difficult, so you don’t start with the Bible, you start with something else. Both history and experience explode that notion as utterly false and fallacious” (K.W.H. Howard, “Preaching to the Glory of God,” Gospel Tidings Publications, 2000, ISBN 0-904435-82-2, p.135).

Experience tells us to start with the word of God. We know from the biographical sketch of Ken Howard’s life at that beginning of that book of sermons that an elderly nurse helped him to commit portions of Scripture to memory between the ages of 9 and 11. If any of us went to the local old people’s home to take a service and he began to read to them the hundredth psalm or the twenty-third psalm then these old people would start joining in with you one by one in repeating such psalms as those, and by the end of the psalm, with increasing joy at a realisation that their frail memories were not totally inept, that whole elderly congregation would loudly and triumphantly complete the psalm with you. From a child each one of them had come to know the holy Scriptures. Experience tells us to start with Scripture.

History brings the same message. One of the greatest Christian statesmen and philanthropists in the history of England was the Earl of Shaftesbury. He had a godly nurse who recited passages of Scripture to him in his cradle, and went on doing so until she died when he was only seven years old. By that time Shaftesbury had the ABC of gospel truths. Exactly the same thing can be said of John Newton. I stood for a moment of thanksgiving for his life this week at the side of his grave in Olney. As a boy Newton hardly knew his father because he was a seaman and always on the ocean far away. John was brought up by his mother who died when he was seven, but by that time he was well versed in the Scriptures he had been taught, and not only in Bible passages but in Isaac Watts’ catechism for children. The instruction of both these men began when they were children; one could quote many other examples.

Nowadays many educationalists are quite ready to say that a child receives all its basic knowledge by the age of seven. What happens after that is simply an expansion, an extension and an application of that basic knowledge. So I am saying that from a child we are bringing our children to the Jesus Christ of the Bible, just like these people in Mark’s gospel. That is the time for them to be impressed with him. In the very first years, when the clay is soft, when it is malleable, when character is being formed. That period goes a long way to decide and determine the form of the later character. Scripture says so again and again. The book of Proverbs is full of it, and the apostle Paul says so. The experience of many of us confirms and endorses this. First impressions of Jesus Christ are lasting impressions on a child’s mind and character. How vitally important it is to bring our children to the Christ of Scripture at the earliest age. So God has given to us the Scriptures and knowledge of them will bring children to the Christ of the Scriptures.


The answer to that is not that they get a momentary heightened religious experience when they are at a special meeting, or at a camp, or a children’s mission and thus all is well. That is too fragile a foundation to build a hope that a child is a new creation. Such experiences are the easiest things for the devil to counterfeit. We do want children to come from death to life; we want them to be converted, but we do not insist on a date. They might later on tell people that this change happened in their early years but they cannot say when, not even the year it happened. That is fine. They have moved from knowing the Scriptures to knowing personally the Christ of the Scriptures. Sound instruction quickened by saving faith has created a good character, and a solid character. That is the mark that children have come to Christ never to leave him. They have become anchored into the divine life and influences of the Lord Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel there is the great summary of the childhood life of Jesus, and it well describes a Christian child today enjoying the fellowship of the Saviour to whom he or she has come, and with whom he or she remains: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). You will see that a fourfold development is being described (and I received insights into this from a message of Principal Macleod):

i] Children must grow in wisdom.

That is, there is intellectual development; their minds are stretched, broadening and deepening. It means first and foremost that they go on acquiring information, a body of factual knowledge within their possession which is constantly increasing. The child learns about himself, about his whole environment, about his history and the background of his own nation. This is part of our vocation as parents to do all in our power to place within the reach of the child this great fascinating body of factual knowledge, and to encourage him in every possible way to explore his total environment. There is a lot that can be learned from books, but perhaps much of it – the most important part – cannot.

God has placed children in a world that is the expression of God’s own infinite mind in all its depth and complexity and beauty. Let them explore it. Let them understand it. Let them search it. Let them know their past. Let them know their nation’s past and the past of the Christian church, all this, not only as a body of factual knowledge but with some ability to recall it. Earlier generations didn’t have our kinds of media, or our ways of storing knowledge or retrieving such data. They carried about with them, as a matter of course, vast amounts of information. They had the most incredible grasp of astronomy. They also could recall the history of their people and of events which had taken place hundred of years earlier. That is why, for example, we have the four gospels, because there was behind them a great oral tradition. Men had been with the Lord. They had charged their memories with storing that knowledge, and their memories obeyed, and we ought to make a point of training our memories to retain great information.

Do not disdain memorising factual information, like times tables (as we used to call them), and dates, and the names of flora and fauna, and vocabulary, and catechism answers. Children have got to acquire this, and retain this, and be able to recall it, and perhaps, most of all, to apply it, because the emphasis of Luke 2:52 is not on intelligence. The emphasis is on wisdom, and the fear of the Lord begins with wisdom. It may be that each of us is born with only a certain educational potential, that may be so. We don’t know, but the point here is not our I.Q. The point the New Testament is making is that Christian children should grow wiser as the years went by. I would think that much of this is gained from the environment in which they grow up, from the people who come to their homes, and the conversations they listen to, and the values that surround them.

This wisdom Luke is referring to is largely common sense, and that is in many ways (short of grace) the most important thing we can instill into children, by example, and by instruction, so that they will apply as much as they know to decisions great and small which they themselves have to make day after day, that they will be wise in ways dictated by conscience, and by prudence, and by humanity, and by self-control. We are to make conscience therefore of the intellectual side of our children’s development if they have come to Jesus Christ.

ii] Children must grow in stature.

Children who have come to Christ develop physically. You imagine that that is something organic and automatic over which we have no control, but you consider the contribution parents make to the kind of food their children will eat, the contribution teachers make to how children regard their bodies, and the contribution schools make to physical fitness. In the Lord’s prayer you meet the first petition which the Saviour asks us to bring to our Father, and it is that he give us today our daily bread. In other words the first petition concerns the physical. Glorify God in your bodies, says the apostle. Yield your members instruments unto God. Present your bodies as living sacrifices to God. Parents are to cherish the bodies of their children as the temples of God. So parents are concerned with the physical side of their children’s development.

But more that that is involved here, there is the concern to instill in children a certain wise attitude to the human body. How are they going to behave? Are they going to be ashamed of their bodies? Are they going to be immodest? Are they going to be prudish or disdainful? Are they going to pamper their bodies? Are they going to discipline them as their servants and not let their bodies become their tyrants? There is a biblical attitude to the body that it is a temple of the Holy Spirit, dedicated to God, used in his service. There is a need to acquire certain physical and manual skills. Both men and women need to be able to operate a computer, and change a fuse, and jack up a car and change a car tyre, and, I guess, to operate a washing machine, and with that remark I can see my wife’s wry smile.

Every Jewish child learned a trade and that was to emphasise for him the dignity of manual labour. That was quite an alien concept to the Greeks. They employed slaves for manual labour, but not the Jews. Eden was not a university, it was a garden which man was told to keep. Man found delight and expressed himself in working, before man fell into sin. Almost every Christian has been raised in a home where the hard work of his father has made its own impact on his children’s lives.

A child can use his body in the service of God. His dexterity, and his strength, and his co-ordination serves God in various ways, and in any healthy kind of Christian education there has to be this emphasis on the physical, whether at home or in school. The body has to be disciplined, and the skills developed in every way. In the light of that we believe that games are not a total waste of time. Watching games on TV is a different matter, but games themselves are a normal part of human development. They are almost indispensable to full Biblical education. The only justification for a man or a child playing games is that God gave them a body, and beyond that I don’t defend games. They need no defence. It is deemed significant about the Son of God that he increased in stature. His strength, and co-ordination, and balance, and manual skills, and dexterity all increased, and that is deemed important. I think we must have the same wholesome Biblical attitude to evaluating the credibility of the life of a child that claims to have come to Christ. He grows in stature day by day.

iii] Children must grow in favour with man.

There is this emphasis on children’s social skills, that they get on with people, that they are interested in them, and well disposed towards them. Children must learn to be communicative as social and sociable beings. This is tremendously important because it is something we commonly ignore, and it can be a skill in which religious people are lacking. Yet we are told here that people spoke well of the boy Jesus in Nazareth. He was highly esteemed by people; there was a certain popularity, an affability, a social ease and grace about him.

John the Baptist was not like that. He was a hermit, a recluse who spent his life in the wilderness. He was unsociable, stern and forbidding to a high degree. Luke quite deliberately informs us that Christ was not like that. The problem comes when John the Baptist is set up as the model for religious men, as if Christians ought to be stern and forbidding, apart and separate. We have to make conscience of this because we know what influence unsociable and difficult people have in a congregation, men who are stern and intolerant and awkward.

Jesus was not like that; he grew in favour with people, but there came a day when that popularity was not enough to deliver him. They despised and rejected him; no man spoke well of him; the mob shouted together, “Crucify him, crucify him,” but that was not because our Lord was deficient in humanness, in humanity, in courtesy and good manners, in social skills and graces. It was not for any of those reasons that men shouted, “Crucify!” A day came when it was incidental to his public ministry that he must tread upon the prejudices of men, condemning and exposing their sins. At such a point his social graces were not enough to secure immunity from their hatred and barbarity.

If you suffer, Peter says, make sure that it’s not because you are a bigot, or discourteous, or selfish, or proud, or rough, or unthinking. Be sure that if you are being persecuted, in home, in school, or in work that it is because of righteousness’ sake. You find the exhortation in Hebrews, to follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Follow peace! Make sure that that is the aim of your life as a Christian, that you are serving the cause of peace, and what is the limiting condition? “And holiness.” Do not follow peace beyond the interests of holiness. Do not cultivate the favour of men beyond the point where it compromises you in the estimation of God.

It is important to instill within children who have come to Christ social skills, that they can mix freely, and without compromise (in a moral or spiritual sense), that they have cultivated within them from the earliest age an interest in other people, a concern for them, and a willingness to submit their own interests to the interests of other people.

iv] Children must grow in favour with God.

Let the children who have come to Christ grow in their appreciation of him and obedience to him. We affirm that sanctification is effectual in all God’s elect. We wouldn’t tell a child that truth in that theological way would we? We would explain it to a Christian child like this, “If you have come to the Lord Jesus Christ and known the blessing of his salvation then he will never let go of you, and he is going change you sweetly and surely so that one day you will be just like him, full of love and joy and peace. He has made up his mind to do this in you.” That is effectual grace.

There is no other way of explaining these fifty years since I first confessed Jesus Christ as a teenager and was baptised. I did not live in an ivory tower. I went to school two miles from where I lived. It was a grammar school for boys many of whom were of the foulest and worst kind of calibre. Though their language never rubbed off on me others of their ideas and practices alas did. I left school and studied the Bible at university where all the teachers without exception were modernists, and yet God kept me. I don’t yet understand it all; I have not yet come to the full stature of a man in Christ, but I am what I am by the grace of God manifested through Bible-based evangelical Christianity. I bless God for his keeping grace, and I thank him for the men and women he brought into my life fifty years ago, and ever since.

From the time children come to the Saviour they have to grow in favour with God, and that growth will be by inches, won’t it? I think we often err because we expect a child’s faith to be excepted from the ordinary processes of development, but everything about them is childish. My children’s idea of me was a childish idea. Children’s ideas of the whole world around them is childish, and their religion is the religion of a child. The concepts of a child are childish, and so are his doctrines, and factual grasp, and devotional life. It may be a tremendously real and glorious faith notwithstanding. If a person comes to Christ in old age at that time too he is going to have what in many ways is a childish religion. A child’s faith is no more full grown than his body. It is no more to be judged in adult terms than his physical stature.

We ought not to make it a criterion of whether a child has come to Christ that his faith looks like the faith of a grown up in its grasp, or in the maturity of its devotions, nor should we expect them to let go their childish things, their toys or games. I don’t think that we should expect those who come to Christ at a tender age to free themselves from the paraphernalia of childhood, simply because they are Christians. I would be horrified if they didn’t play just like any other children play, but I would also be horrified if a child who was a Christian wanted to play in the services, or that he wanted to turn the worship of Almighty God into play. Keep out the clowns on their mono-cycles and such comedians. Sunday worship is a play-free zone. There is a time to play and a time to refrain from playing. Some of you return from holidays and report the degree of entertainment that now characterises religious services which are supposed to be worshipping the God who is light in whom is no darkness at all. Let the religion of a child be a childish religion. Let the religion of an adolescent be an adolescent’s religion full of mighty highs, lowly lows and fierce opinions, but let a man’s religion be a man’s religion.

So remember the criteria for a life that has come to Christ and is being blessed by him, that there is a growth in wisdom, and in stature, in social skills too, and with God’s blessing resting on you day by day. In biblical terms, a person has never come to Christ if in his heart a conviction of the grandeur of the Saviour is absent, nor if on his lips a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is absent. See to it that you have come, just as you are to Jesus. He wants you to come, and he will welcome you and bless you.

29th June 2004 GEOFF THOMAS