Jesus and Children

Recently, Ray Miller (the pulpit minister I work with) lost a 2 month old grandbaby after his short struggle with life. As a result, Ray prepared and preached a sermon entitled “When a Baby Dies” which you can listen to here (May 17, 2009, AM service). One of the passages he brought up during his sermon was a parallel passage to Luke 18.15-17. I do believe that this (and the parallel passages) offer a lot of comfort on the subject of children and their relationship with God and Christ.

The Children Rebuked by the Disciples

We are not told who exactly was bringing the children to Jesus. “Them” is very vague but probably refers to the parents of these children, not only mothers of the “infants” but also fathers (the Greek word is masculine). It is interesting to note that these parents are bringing “even infants” to Jesus. Not only are there “children” (Matt. 19.13; Mark 10.13), but little babies are brought to Jesus. The intention of the parents is to have Jesus touch them. Matthew gets specific and says that Jesus would lay his hands on the children and pray (Matt 19.13). So here is our invoking blessing on these little children and even babies.

But all is not well in this scene. Jesus’s disciples, the Twelve as it were, see what is going on and start running families off. We are not told why they responded the way they did. Some have speculated that perhaps they though Jesus was too busy for the children. Others say they may have thought Jesus was too tired to be bothered now. Leon Morris in his commentary on Luke writes, “…it is a fact that few of the world’s greatest religious teachers have been greatly concerned with children.” Perhaps the disciples thought he didn’t like children. Who knows? The fact is that the disciples did not have the mind of Christ in this instance.

The Children Received by Christ

Mark tells us that Jesus was “indignant” because of the disciples (Mark 10.14). What the disciples were doing upset Jesus. Instead, he called these little children over and invited the small babes into his arms to do what the parents requested: he invokes a blessing upon them. He says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Don’t allow anything to get in these children’s way; not any person or any thing. Why? “For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Here is the blessing of the innocence of childhood: you belong to the kingdom. Children are sinless and innocent and therefore are members of the kingdom of God. That is, Jesus and God have unique fellowship with children and babies.

Again, what comfort to know that any child, any baby who is prematurely taken from this life is welcome by God and Christ into eternal life. Many do not believe this. Those who believe in “original sin” (that man is born with the sin of Adam) do not, nay, cannot believe this. Unfortunately, their doctrine does not line up with Christ’s doctrine. He says these little ones, children, babies, are members already of the kingdom. Like David, we can remark that though the child cannot come to us, we can go to them (2 Samuel 12.23).

Finally, Jesus tells us how we, like the children, can enter the kingdom of God. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Commentators say that has to do with humility and trust. Children are small and know it; they know their proper place in this great big world. Also, children are very trusting, totally dependent upon others for food, clothing, house, etc. I think these are accurate descriptions of anyone who would seek the kingdom, find it, and recieve it. We cannot be haughty nor can we be distrusting of God. If we are to have any part of the kingdom, we must have those same attributes a child has.

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Deafening Ego

Jesus follows up His previous parable on prayer with another parable relating to prayer. Note that both parables are about prayer, but this present parable is directed to a certain group of people: “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18.9). It is very likely that He levelled this parable at the Pharisees, but not necessarily. It would seem he is aiming this at the crowds in general who looked to the Pharisees, the religious elites of the day, and tried to imitate their practices. Jesus uses this parable, then, to say 1) your righteous ought to embarrass you before God and 2) your attitude toward others is wrong.

First, these people trusted in themselves as being righteous before God. They smack with conceit and overconfidence. Their boasting is as great as the Pharisee’s is in the parable. Their ego is great but it is getting in the way of their communication with God. They are ignorant of this, though. Second, these people look down on people. All the other people are despicable. All other people are inherently worthless when compared to them, the spiritual giants. It is these people to whom Jesus speaks this parable.

The Haughty Pharisee

Jesus describes a common scene in the Jewish realm: people going to the temple to pray. The first character we are introduced to in any detail is a Pharisee. Now the details about the Pharisee are interesting: either this man is “standing by himself” and praying or he stands “praying to himself.” Either interpretation is valid and shows the man’s self-righteousness: if he is standing by himself, while standing was a common posture, to be by himself is to sever himself from the “others” (like the tax collector). If he is praying to himself, then his prayer, though addressed to God, is really empty of any true fellowship with God; he has removed God from His proper position in a persons life and has made self God.

The Pharisee’s confidence is self is further highlighted in the prayer. He is not like other men. He is, in his own eyes, blameless. But this is not the result of anything God has done; it is totally the Pharisee’s own effort and commandment keeping which has got him to this place in life. Hence, he thanks God for his own virtues and goodness, and not the mercies God gives to men. The climax of the list of sinners is the tax collector, no doubt standing within distance of the Pharisee’s voice.

But it is not enough to tell God about what he has not done, so he goes on to explain what righteous deeds he has done. He fasts twice a week, a common Pharisee practice usually performed Mondays and Thursdays (second and fifth day of the week). Also he gives the tithe, the common practice of Jews since it was commanded by God. Hmm…nothing real extraordinary in this man’s life. Yet, he is so proud of his deeds. His ego is so loud it is deafening, drowning out the sound of his prayer even in the ears of God. His prayer oozes with self: no less than 5 times he uses the personal pronoun “I”. This is one egotistical Pharisee.

The Humble Publican

Contrast this portrait of the self-righteous with this picture of humility before God. He is not standing for all to see (i.e. by himself) but is far off, hidden, in a corner perhaps. This is the position of embarrassment before God because of what sins he has committed. He is so embarrassed he cannot even lift his eyes to heaven. Ever been here? You do something so terrible in the eyes of God…of course we all have – those hideous deeds are called sins. And every sin is just as weighty as the next. One sin breaks fellowship with God. This tax collector shows us the proper position we sinners need when before God: “God, be merciful on me, a sinner.” We are hurt from our sins because our sins have hurt God.

Two men leave the temple day, but only one goes home justified. Only one goes home with things set right and deemed rigtheous before God: the tax collector. What?! The dreaded tax collector, the vile helper of the Romans?! Yes. He is shown mercy for he has seen his sorry lot before God Almighty. There is no possible way back into fellowship with God except for the mercy of God. If our ego is so loud we drown out our prayers, how can we expect God to show us mercy. Hence, the admonition from our Lord: humble yourselves before God. This lesson is seen elsewhere in the New Testament (James 4.10; 1 Peter 5.6). If we do not humble ourselves, God will not exalt us. If we are exalting ourselves, allowing our ego to run wild, God will humble us. Not may or might; He will! Our duty is to work at keeping God in the proper perspective and ourselves in the proper position: face down before a holy God.

The Persistent Elect

My wife and I are not parents yet, although we hope to be someday. But certainly many parents can relate to the family vacation taken in the car. It will not be too long before the kids in the back will begin asking, “Are we there yet?” Usually it is not a quick answer that will satisfy them, and so they will persist: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Ever been there? Ever answer, “We’ll get there when we get there”?

In one of his most powerful parables, Jesus addresses the persistence a disciple needs in prayer by describing a widow who has child-like persistence. Luke 18.1 sets the scene for us: “And he told them a parable…” That is, Jesus told his disciples (17.22) a parable. What was the parable about? “…to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In other words, that they should have a persistent prayer life, speaking often with God.

The Persistent Widow

The first character we are introduced to is a judge. Jesus gives us the specific details that he “neither feared God nor respected man.” So here is a “man’s man,” who needs no one to tell him what to do or how to do his job. He is self-sufficient. The next character is a widow. She is the picture of helplessness, no one to depend on. Unlike the judge who needs no one, this widow does need someone, anyone to help her. Someone has harmed her and she has no husband to give her the protection. She turns to the judge for help.

Here is where it gets interesting: it not simply a one time affair with this widow – again and again she keeps coming back to this judge probably with the same plea, “Give me justice against my adversary.” This man, it would seem, refuses to grant it. According to the Law, this man was under a curse because of his refusal to grant this widow justice (Deut. 27.19). Apparently his punishment was seeing this widow over and over. For a while he could do it…but eventually she wore him out. His final assessment: He will give her justice lest she totally wear him out with her persistence. Although he neither feared God nor respected man, he granted this woman the justice due her.

The Persistent Elect

This parable is about the elect, the chosen of God, and their prayer life. Jesus says, “Listen to this unrighteous judge.” There is something we need to understand about God even from this bad dude. How much more will God, who is righteous, answer the constant pleas of those he has chosen as his very own possession. Connect “day and night” in v.7 with “always” of v.1 – pray all the time. Not necessarily pray more, although this teaching directed to a Jewish audience would imply that, but pray and keep praying and don’t stop. The Jews thought three times a day was plenty of prayer. For us today, we think meals and morning and evening prayers will do. Jesus teaches to “pray always.” Said by Paul, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5.17).

There’s a promise here: God will hear and “give justice speedily.” That is, he will right the wrongs committed and deal out retribution. Too often we want to deal out our own vengence; God says, “Vengence is mine, I will repay” (Rom 12.19; Deut 32.35). What are we to do when wronged? Pray and keep praying and don’t stop praying to God.

There is one final note: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This is an invitation. We may have faith now, but will we continue to have faith in God when we may not see the answer to our prayers right away. What if it does take to the Day of Judgment for your prayers to be answered and justice to be served. Will your faith still be intact? Will Jesus find you engaged in constant prayer? Or will he find you in spiritual slumber? Will he find you lukewarm in your Christianity (and therefore your prayer life)? Its a challenge, yes. But that is the nature of our Lord: He is always trying to make us better.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my good friend Justin White for your input and thoughts concerning this parable.

Those were the days

 There were some guys I went to school with at Sunset International Bible Institute that were looking forward to the day when Lubbock, TX would be nothing more than a dusty smudge in their rear view mirror. Not me, though. I loved every second I was there and look forward every year to going back for the annual workshop. And I suppose, if I very honest, there are times I wish I could just go back, even for one day, to those times when it was class all day with some of the finest instructors the brotherhood has to offer, evenings of study and fellowship with friends and fellow classmates, just laughing and talking and laughing some more. Those were the days.

In Luke 17.22-37, Jesus speaks to his disciples about nostalgic moments they would experience when he was gone. In verse 22 he says to his disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” He’s preparing his disciples and telling about the days that are ahead where they will wish for the good old days, when they had Jesus with them to fellowship with and laugh with. But though they long for those days, they won’t see them. Well then Jesus, what should the disciples do to get ready?

The Caution to the disciples

He says “they” are coming. You know “them” don’t you? “They” are the ones who know best. It is usually “them” who have told someone how things are going to be. Who are “they”? Very simply, “they” are people. These people (“they”) show up several times in this section of Scripture (v.23, 27, 28, 29). They’re the rabble, the alarmists, the comfort seekers, the leisure lovers, the ignorant ones. In verse 23, they are alarming the people, trying even to alarm the disciples about this thing or that. Jesus warns not to listen to them. Though these people seem to know best, they don’t. Therefore, don’t listen to them. And Jesus goes on to explain the facts in the case in v.24. He uses simile to describe one of his future comings: it will be like lightning lighting up the sky – everyone will see it and know about it. But something has to happen before he come in judgment: he must suffer and die (rejection) at the hands of the curent generation. He is warning his disciples of events soon to take place.

The Condition of the people

Jesus then uses two past events to describe the condition the people will be in when he comes. First, the people will be like the people of Noah’s day. Here “they” are just partying away, having a good time, enjoying life without a care in the world. All the while, Noah the preacher of righteousness is warning them of the impending doom about to come upon them. They ignored the warnings and God came in judgment. So it will be when the Son of Man comes in judgment. The people continue to ignore the warnings and then judgment comes. The flood came and destroyed the people. The Son of Man will come and vanquish the people of his days.

Second, Jesus uses the example of Sodom in Lot’s day. Again, the scene was similar to Noah’s day: business as usual, not a care in the world. Everyone is ignorant and blissful because of it. But when Lot left Sodom, God rained down judgment on that city and to this day it cannot be found. So total was its destruction. When people become insensitive to sin and ignore the warnings of God, something terrible is waiting at the door. Its called the judgment of God. A lot of people want to remain blissfully ignorant of the wrath of God; but just becuase you ignore it and even though may claim it does not exist does make it so. I can say all day long the sky is green and even honestly and sincerely believe that, but it doesn’t make it so. Christ was warning his disciples who were to get the word out: judgment is coming on the people. 

The Coming of the Lord

“On that day” – the day the Lord comes in judgment. The people are not to go back inside their house or turn back from the field. They are to flee! Run away and don’t look back (“Remember Lot’s wife” who looked back and died because of it). If you look back, if you hesistate, nothing good will come of it. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” It is human nature to preserve self. Its built in. But Jesus says not to preserve your life because if you do, you’ll lose it anyway. What does this mean? Jesus seems to be advocating entrusting your life to God. Bleak times are ahead and clinging selfishly to your life will in an attempt to preserve it will not end well. Instead, entrust your life to him who can keep your life. James rightly says, “What is your life?” Is it even really your life to begin with? Turn it over to God and he can preserve it.

Verses 34-35 are often interpreted to mean the rapture and 1 Thessalonians 4.17 is cited to “prove” their interpretation. But I do not think this passage is speaking of the rapture or even speaking to the “Second Coming” of Christ. Will Christ return someday to judge and take Christians to heaven? Yes. But this passage is not speaking to that. Then what is Jesus talking about? He is talking about a coming judgment upon the people of Israel, namely, AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem. When you go back and look at history, you can understand what Jesus is talking about in v.34-35: in both cases, one is left and one is taken. Josephus writes that when Jerusalem fell, 97,000 people were carried off into captivity and 111, 000 perished in the seige (The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, chapter 9). So we have approximately half perishing in the seige and the other half are taken away in captivity. Families and friends are split because of death and/or captivity.

So terrifying is this scene that the disciples ask “Where, Lord?” Where will these things happen? Jesus answers, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (v.37). What are we to make of these cryptic words of Jesus? Well, remember that while Jesus is on earth, the Jewish Law was in effect. But Christ came to nail it to cross (Col 2.14). And so Christ by his put to death the old Law and established the New Covenant. Jesus died approximately AD 33; so for nearly 40 years, although the theocracy was dead, the economy and even the sacrifices continued despite being a dead system. Jerusalem was nothing more than a corpse and the vultures (the Romans) gathered round her to pick her to pieces. This occured in AD 70. In AD 70, God carried out judgment upon Israel, using the Romans to accomplish his will. By the way, that is not something new for God to do; simply look back in the Old Testament and you will see God using very bad and wicked nations to punish other nations. He even used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish Israel and Judah (respectively). So it should not surprise us to see and hear Jesus speak of the impending doom of Jerusalem and even speaking of himself coming in judgment, since Christ is God.