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September 16, 1984 (Evening)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor

Let the Children Come to Me
(Luke 18:15-17)
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when
the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying,
"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the
kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of
God like a child shall not enter it."

The teaching that I would like to stress from this text tonight is this: Disciples of
Jesus should remove all hindrances that keep children from coming to Jesus. The
disciples hindered the children and Jesus rebuked the disciples and invited the
children. The lesson is clear: Disciples of Jesus should remove all hindrances that
keep children from coming to Jesus.

To apply this teaching to our situation I would like to spell out five hindrances that
we should try to remove from our children at Bethlehem and the children in our
neighborhoods. The first one comes from the text. The other four are based on our
experience together in the ministry to children at home and in church.

The first hindrance to children is something in us adults, namely, pride.

In the parable just prior to this event Jesus finished with this sentence: "Every one
who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." So
it is especially fitting that Luke should follow up that parable with a story about
children that ends with the words, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God
like a little child shall not enter it."

I think these two sentences mean virtually the same thing. "Every one who exalts
himself will be humbled" is the same as saying, "Every one who will not receive the
kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." And "Every one who humbles himself
will be exalted," is the same as saying, "Every one who receives the kingdom of
God like a child will enter it." So the childlikeness in view is humility.

But this story in Luke 18:15-17 has to do not just with adults who should be
childlike in the way they receive the kingdom; but also with children who were being
brought to Jesus for his touch. So to see all that Jesus wants to teach us here we
need to find out how the children relate to the childlike -- or not so childlike -- adults.

In verse 15 there were parents bringing their infants to Jesus. The disciples rebuke
them. Jesus rejects this rebuke and encourages the parents to bring their children
to him. Then, as if to warn the disciples, he says, "Whoever does not receive the
kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." In other words when Jesus sees a
disciple hindering a child from coming to him he sees someone who is in danger of
missing the Kingdom because of pride.

If you are receiving the kingdom yourself like a little child, then you will not do
anything to hinder little children from coming to Jesus. But if you are trying to enter
the kingdom some other way than by receiving it like a child, then you will probably
be a hindrance to children. If you are not childlike toward God, children will probably
be beneath you and not worth your time.

So there is a very close connection between your own humility and your ability to
lead children to Jesus. The great hindrance to effective ministry to children is pride,
and the great gift for ministry to children is humility.

But there are many other hindrances that we put in the way of the children as they
come to Jesus. Most of these are in some way or other the result of pride even
though they don't look like it on the surface. Let's mention some of them, and how
we might work to remove them.

After pride I would mention, secondly, the hindrance of parental unbelief.

When a child's parents are not believers the child is at an extraordinary
disadvantage. There is no one at home to bring him to Jesus. There are some
children in our church and many in our neighborhoods who live in these tragic
circumstances.

There are two ways to remove this kind of hindrance. One is to try to reach the child
and lead him to Jesus even if the parents don't want to come along. Many parents
are willing to let someone else take their children into the presence of Jesus. If they
will let us we should do it.

But it would be far more effective for the child and beneficial for the parents if we
could lead the parents into the presence of Jesus at the same time. If the unbelief of
the parents is the chief hindrance to the children, then the best way to remove the
hindrance is to seek the conversion of the parents. So you can see how closely
related are the ministry to children and the larger ministry of evangelism in our
church.

A third hindrance that keeps children out of the kingdom or weakens their
usefulness in it is the lack of deep and accurate theology among the parents
and teachers.

It takes as much or more understanding of a Biblical doctrine to teach it to children
than it does to teach it to adults. If you understand a thing well, you can usually
make it plain for ordinary people and children. But if you are fuzzy in your own
understanding, you will generally be overly complex in your explanation.

A great hindrance to the salvation and the growth of our children is the weakness of
our own grasp of the full range of Biblical truth and the unity of the whole counsel of
God. I am overwhelmed at what children can absorb and retain when they are
repeatedly and systematically and progressively instructed in the great doctrines of
the Bible.

The best way to remove this hindrance is to help all the adults of our church get
excited about the joy of knowing God and growing in their understanding of his
character and ways. Here we need to develop our own little institute of biblical
studies perhaps to teach and train as many as are willing in the great truths of
scripture and how to share them.

A fourth hindrance to our children is the lack of disciplined planning
especially in us parents.

What I have in mind is the fact that we often fail to teach our children not just
because we lack understanding of what needs to be taught, but because we do not
take the time to plan to teach. Periodically we feel guilty that our children are
growing up so fast, but then we never sit down for fifteen minutes and plan a
strategy to take ten minutes a day to teach them the most important truths in the
world.

Fathers it is your duty to teach your children about the glorious truths of
justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, adoption, salvation,
reconciliation, original sin, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the
resurrection, the second coming, the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature and
importance of the church, the inspiration and authority of the Bible. It is a great
hindrance to our children that we do not sit down and plan a systematic
presentation of these things to them during family devotions for a few minutes each
day.

The way to remove this hindrance is to cultivate a church in which parents do not
neglect their duty thinking that it is the responsibility of the church to teach those
things. We need to get into the hands of all our parents something like a good old
fashioned catechism with questions and answers and texts on all these important
issues. Many parents would be eager to spend ten minutes a day teaching their
children systematically if they had some help and some good material to use at
home. I hope that we can get that into your hands soon.

The importance of the fifth hindrance to our children will depend on your
estimate of the value of Sunday School in the overall life of our ministry.

The hindrance is lack of space. If the ministry of Sunday School is crucial in the
lives of our children (as well as our adults) we are reaching a point at Bethlehem
where the lack of space will be a significant hindrance to our children and the
children who are yet to come.

With the help of the task force for the future site development, headed by Cavour
Justus, the Deacon Council is gathering data to present to the church at an open
forum after the Sunday evening service September 30. It is time that we enter on
some very serious discussions regarding the probability of double Sunday School
sessions and the eventual possibility of building more space. I hope you are praying
already that there will be a wonderful spirit of excitement and unity in whatever way
the Lord leads us to handle the growth that he is giving us at Bethlehem.

So the teaching of the passage is plain: Disciples of Jesus should remove all
hindrances that keep children from coming to Jesus.

We should remove the hindrance of pride, the hindrance of parental unbelief, the
hindrance of the lack of deep and accurate theology among parents and teachers,
the hindrance of the lack of disciplined planning among parents, and the hindrance
of the lack of space to handle a growing Sunday School.

I believe that God has sent Char Ransom to Bethlehem for a very crucial juncture of
growth. If we pray for her and cooperate with her, God will do a mighty work through
her to bring the children to himself and raise up a new generation of disciples who
put their hope in the Lord.

...