And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them–Mat 18:2
Jesus’ Love for Children
I want to speak on Jesus and the child to show you out of the Bible story how precious childhood was to Jesus Christ. And I want to do it just that we may feel that when the Church which is His body tends the children it is certain to have the blessing of the Master.
First, then, we may find how Jesus valued them by the loving way in which He had observed them. With a quick eye and with a loving heart He had been watching them when they never dreamed of it. You can tell how closely He had watched the world by the exquisite beauty of His parables. You can tell how closely He had watched His nation from His certainty that ruin was impending. And so by innumerable incidental references, occurring everywhere throughout His teaching, you can tell how closely He had watched the child. He had watched the mother fondling her babe, and in her joy forgetting all her agony. He had watched the children playing in the market place, and sulking, and quarrelling with each other. And He had watched the boy, when school was over, hurrying home and asking for a piece of bread, and always getting it and not a stone. For Christ the coming ruin was doubly terrible just because children were to be involved in it. For Christ there was no test of loyalty more searching than that a man should love Him more than he loved his children. And all these references to the little people, these recognitions of them in unexpected moments, show you how dear they were to Jesus Christ. That is one of the great and striking differences between the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. You would never gather from the Pauline letters that the writer was a lover of the child. But when you follow Jesus through the Gospels, when you see how He had observed the ways of children, when you mark the niceness of His references to them, as of One who had watched them for Himself, why then you feel at once that here was One for whom there was a joy for every child. He loved the little as deeply as the lost.
The Busy Jesus Had Time for the Child
Again, the same impression is intensified when we think of the access He gave them to His presence. There was never a more crowded life than His, and yet He always had leisure for the child. The fact is, friends, that in the life of Christ that air of leisure always is amazing. With such a mighty work for God to do, might you not reasonably expect some sign of strain. And yet the one thing that took the hearts of men, and awed them as with the touch of heaven, was just the infinite restfulness that clothed Him. He had a baptism to be baptised with, yet had He leisure for the summer lilies. He had but three short years to do His work, yet He had eyes for the sparrow when it fell. He had to ransom from the power of darkness men and women who were the slaves of Satan, yet always had He leisure for the child. The fact is that Christ like all of us, always had leisure for the thing He loved. It is in the heart rather than in the clock that there lies the secret of the leisure hour. And so when in the midst of all His stress, you find that Christ gave access to the children, you may learn certainly how much He loved them. It is but seldom in the Gospel story that you read of Christ as being much displeased. The impression made upon you there is this, that it took something mighty to stir Him to the depths. Yet one of the rare occasions in the Gospel when we do read that Christ was much displeased was when the disciples sought to keep the children back. It was not done in anger but in kindness. They were distressed because Christ was overburdened. Here was something they could save Him from, as if a mortal man could save the Saviour. But Christ for once made no account of motive, found no excuse in an intended kindliness; He chided His followers because they sought to bar Him from the child. My brother, there was something divine in that; but there was also something human. They were trying to keep from Him, although they knew it not, the very company in which He most delighted. And that–that constant leisure for the child, that open access in the busiest day, is another sweet and subtle indication of the value of the children in His eyes.
Jesus Loved to Help Children When They Suffered
This impression once again is deepened by the appeal which the sufferings of children made to Him. He not only loved to watch them when they played; but He also loved to help them when they suffered. There were some appeals which Jesus disregarded, as that of the man who wanted a judgment on his property. There were some prayers that Jesus would not listen to, as when the healed demoniac prayed that he might follow Him. But the one prayer that carried Him by storm, the one appeal He never could finally resist, was when a father or a mother came and used the words “My son”–“my little daughter.” Everything else must stand aside if it be a child that cries for healing. He cares not what all the mourners think of Him when He asks them unceremoniously to leave the room. With an intensity that we shall never fathom, because our hearts at their warmest are but cold, Christ felt the sufferings of little children. The first healing miracle He wrought was wrought not on a man but on a child. The only cure He gave outside of Israel was given to a little Gentile girl. Of His three rescues from the grip of death, it was only Lazarus who was an adult. The other two who were brought back again were young. You recall the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration, and how Peter would have had Him stay there forever. But Jesus could not stay and would not stay simply because the world was calling Him. And so He descended from the Mount of Glory to take up His cross again and be obedient, and the first to meet Him was an epileptic boy. It is as if, transfigured on the hill, He had heard the calling of the child. It is as if the writhings of that lad had pierced the radiance that en-wrapped Him there. And so may we learn, brethren, if we will, from that irresistible appeal of childish suffering, how near and dear the children were to Christ.
Jesus Delighted in the Services of Children
That impression received further vividness when we recall how Christ delighted in their services. He sometimes refused the service of a man; He never refused the service of a child. There is an excellent sermon by Mr. Spurgeon on Christ refusing first offers of service. Strange though it may seem, He sometimes did that, and sometimes He is doing it today. But the one service that He welcomed eagerly, and never checked, and never thought unworthy, was the sweet service of the little people. “There is a lad here,” said Andrew to Him. I think that one word “lad” was all Christ wanted. There is a lad here with five small loaves, and he wants us to take them and make the best of them. I take it that Andrew was intensely tickled at a lad’s luncheon for five thousand people; but it was just the thing that Jesus loved. He would not add a scrap to that small store. He wanted to use the offering of the boy. He wanted to show them that in Messiah’s kingdom a little child shall lead them. And if that were so out on the hills of Galilee, how much more truly so in the last days, when the children flocked to the triumphal entry, and cried “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Men had wanted to cry that before, and on every such occasion Christ had checked them. They had wanted to hail Him as Messiah, and Jesus had refused to be so hailed. But now the children break into that service–for praise is service just as much as alms, and Christ with a glad heart accepts of it. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings He felt that God was perfecting His praise. There was hope for the future, though the Cross was coming, when He had won the hearts of little children. We all long to be loved by those we love. We are proud and happy when they praise us. And it was just because Jesus loved the children that their shouting was like music in His ear.
Christ’s Estimate of the Child Spirit
The same impression is confirmed again by the estimate which Christ made of the child spirit. It was in the child that Jesus found the type of the true citizen of the heavenly kingdom. “Suffer the little children to come to Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Except ye become as little children, ye cannot even see the kingdom. To enter the kingdom it is by no means necessary that a child should grow into a man. But to enter the kingdom it is always necessary that a man should grow into a child. Christ did not speak of the innocence of childhood. That innocence is gone and gone forever. He came to call the sinners to repentance. His kingdom is a kingdom for the lost. He was thinking of the receptiveness of childhood, of its glorious freedom from the worldly spirit, of the love that fills it, of the hope that stirs it, of its simplicity and sublimity of faith. To you and me, my brother, that is commonplace; but remember it is Christ who made it so. As dearly as the Jew had loved his children, he had never seen that glory in his children. It was Christ who was the first to see it. It was Christ who drew it into the light of day. And now we see it, and we reverence childhood because we are looking at it with His eyes. When a man is far from home, in a strange country, he loves whatever reminds him of his home. Some glimpse of hill, some blossom like the heather, will bring a tenderness into his heart. And that, I think, was why Christ loved the children, and was always so exquisitely tender with them. He was a stranger in a distant land here, and the children reminded Him of home. Of such is the kingdom of heaven–the kingdom here, the kingdom in the glory. I say unto you that in heaven, yonder, their angels are looking on the Father’s face. Brethren, with such deep words from Jesus’ heart is it any wonder the child is precious now? Is it any wonder that the Church which is His body gives of her best and noblest to their service?
“Feed the Lambs” Comes before “Feed the Sheep.”
And then this ever-deepening impression is crowned when Christ risen from the dead. “Simon, Son of Jonas, lovest thou “Yea, Lord”; then, “Feed my lambs.” Then twice over Simon was bidden feed the sheep. That repetition has the note of urgency. But it is not the sheep that are first mentioned, mark you. First of all is “Feed my lambs. “Still in the forefront of the love of Jesus, unchanged by Calvary and by the grave, still deep within His heart, there are the children. My brother and sister, there are many voices that say to us today, “Amuse the children.” But this is the glory of the love of Christ that its command is “Feed the children.” And this is the wonder of the Christian Gospel that, with great depths in it that none can fathom, it is so simple in its central message that you can tell it to the little child. Tell it, you mothers, to your children, then. Tell it, you Sabbath teachers, to your classes. Let your class witness when you meet in heaven that you were not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. So let us prosecute our work with patience, remembering how Jesus loved the children. So let us welcome the glad song of Christmas, “Unto us a child is born.”