Worship » Sermons » Rebuke, Invitation, Blessing: Jesus’ Stand for Children’s Worth

Rebuke, Invitation, Blessing: Jesus’ Stand for Children’s Worth

with Steve Gumaer

May 12, 2024

The Scripture

Psalm 127:3-5

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

Matthew 19:13-15

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

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A rebuke, an invitation, and a blessing: Jesus sets the record straight on children.

I was in a bomb shelter in Lviv, Ukraine last year and had a life changing revelation. What I learned changed my perspective on work, organized life, family, and children. I’ll come back to that in a few minutes. The following passage informs and confirms what I experienced in that bomb shelter.

“…the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matt 18:1-5

His response doubles as a cultural correction and an object lesson. Jesus highlights the childlike qualities of innocence, trust, and humility that are essential for entering into and experiencing the kingdom of God. He overturns societal norms of meritocracy and credentials by asserting that those who exhibit childlike faith and humility are the ones who belong to the kingdom.

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This same interaction occurs in Mark 10:13-16, and Luke 18:15-17 so the synoptic writers all felt the teaching was supremely important.

Chapter 19 begins with a tough teaching on divorce and ends with another equally tough teaching on wealth. In the middle is this:

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for themBut the disciples rebuked them.14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Matthew 19;11-15

In the Bible, the term “rebuke” is used to convey a strong expression of disapproval, reproof, or correction. It often implies a stern or sharp criticism intended to correct someone’s behavior, attitude, or actions. The concept of rebuke is closely tied to discipline, correction, and the pursuit of righteousness.

To get our heads around this event, let’s imagine Jesus and the disciples gathered in the parking lot of First Presbyterian of Arlington heights.

Jesus and his disciples roll into the parking lot of First Presbyterian of Arlington Heights with a small crown of followers. A boy on his new Schwin bike sees them, then pedals through town saying “ hey guys, Jesus who calls himself the Messiah is over at First Pres! Jesus is famous and controversial, and words spreads like wildfire, drawing masses of people into the lot. Jesus heals people and talks to them about the issues that weigh heavily on them. New interpretations of scripture and even reality are explained with warmth and simplicity.

Peter leads the crew in crowd control. As people nudge their way through the masses towards Jesus, The disciples and especially Peter notice that many children are carried along with the crowd and begin to get close to Jesus. He even notices a little rascal pushing his beloved Schwin bicycle towards Jesus.  Thinking these nuisances will interrupt the important event unfolding. The disciples rebuke the children.

“This word, rebuke. Imagine fingers pointed away from the crowd and indignant voices raised as they shout, “get out of here!” and grumble to each other  “This is no place for a child!”  and exasperated, finally and with absolute authority Peter shouts “Now, beat it!”

 Jesus however, gently and with incredible calm, and before a large crowd of people, challenges the social and cultural opinion of children.

I imagine Jesus calmly and gently standing to get the disciples attention. Not with anger or shame or even irritation. He knows the deal. Kids are the lowest creatures on the 1st century Palestinian pyramid. No, Jesus simply corrects their perceptions with kind confidence and speaks to the entire parking lot, because most feel the same way as Peter does (except the mothers of course) “I understand your feelings, this is a wonderful moment were having here, but take a closer look. Children belong here. They belong in this conversation. They need healing, blessing, and care just as much as any of us. They embody the kingdom with their curious and open humility. Let them come to me please..” then he says come, come to me….He takes each one of them and looking into their eyes, laid his hands on their heads and asked for all Gods blessings on them. He did this while the adults watched and waited. As he bid them farewell, the crowd parted and they walked away from the Messiah, touched forever.

It’s like this. We’ve all done what the disciples did. My parenting often exacerbated conflict and stress rather than cooling it down because I was also overwhelmed and wasn’t very thoughtful about what my daughters were responding to. Our harsh interactions with children are often driven by insensitivity or ignorance that flows from our own wounded egos and cultural conditioning. Normally it doesn’t equate to much damage. But it can and does, even here. More so in a war zone!

In a bomb shelter in Lviv city I was with two psychologists who were working with Novi, the organization I lead, training teachers and local psychologists in the basics of trauma informed care and how to work with children in such a away that they learn healthy ways to cope instead of falling into unhealthy patterns that can hurt them for the rest of their lives, leave them traumatized and broken.

While the air raid siren howled, families with young children poured into the bomb shelter. Many of the children started running around and acting as overwhelmed kids do in a crisis. Their parents quickly and harshly reprimanded them. “Quiet, don’t say a word, sit down and shut up!” some were disciplined for acting out while others obeyed with shame and not understanding why this had to be so harsh.

Kids needing understanding, blessing, and support were “rebuked.”

The psychologists I stood with agreed that if the parents knew the biological effects of stress on kids, the reduction of cognitive abilities driven by a traumatic event and sustained by cortisol and other hormones, the many other simple biological events that take place when fear or surprise occurs, they alter their behavior towards children and also become aware that they are reacting to the same stressors.

With the help of psychologists, we developed some tools to help children self-regulate their strong emotions. One such tool I have here, Novi Life Kits are a backpack with 16 items organized into a game played by rolling dice. By learning about their emotional states and playing a game of activities that helps them cope in healthy ways, children are empowered towards a healthier tomorrow.

This is great. Watching these tools being used and causing children in a war zone to be calm and concentrated on something other than their fears is beautiful.

But more beautiful still is seeing the parents and leaders our team works with adjust how they behave with kids under stress. As soon as they understand what is happening, that these children are reacting to real threats and need calm support, not stern discipline in order to endure the present hardship and become healthy adolescents and adults.

In a war zone with 7 million children, our team spends weekends training parents, professionals, and church leaders to understand these things and give them simple tools to help their children achieve calm despite explosions and air raid sirens every day.

 Jesus meant for children to draw close. He saw their vulnerability as much more than an object lesson. He saw them needing his understanding and blessing to handle the terrible times they were living through. He publicly recognized how important they were when his own disciples told them to get lost.

That’s exactly what we’re doing for kids in war zones. And what I’ve learned applies universally. Kids are resilient and able to make their way through stress in surprising ways. But at some point in crisis and high stress situations like poverty, abuse, or bullying, if someone doesn’t treat them like Jesus did, they may be permanently altered by trauma.

This dawned on me in a war zone. But we don’t have to go to one to learn this. We can start right here being thoughtful and following the lead of Jesus like so many mothers gathered here today do intuitively.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Matthew 19:14

Now let’s leave today with our hearts open, humble, and dependent on our leader to show us how best to love. We must live with childlike dependence of Jesus. We must also treat children the way Jesus did. We can all do this here and now. And if you want to learn more about how my team does this in war zones, please sign up and take some of our literature with you