April 16, 2023 ~ Matthew 19:13-15
On Sunday, we witnessed a second scene in Matthew's gospel where Jesus welcomes children to himself. The children were brought to Jesus by their parents. Why? Matthew tells us they wanted Jesus to touch them and pray. The disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus told his disciples, "Leave the children alone, and don't try to keep them from coming to me because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
This event happened in Judea, where the population was Jewish and the beneficiary of God's covenant with Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant is an agreement God offered to Abraham. God promised to make Abraham a great nation, give him a land to live in, and bless all nations through him (Gen 12:2-3). Agreement to this covenant required Abraham and all males of his household to be circumcised. God’s covenant also required future sons to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Gen 17:9-13). Therefore, the Judean children in this story were children of God’s covenant.
Jesus, being God, saw these children through divine, covenant-keeping eyes and declared they had access to him. The disciples had a different perspective. They saw these children through the eyes of the world. In biblical times, children were held in low esteem and worth. Dear brother or sister in Christ, if you consider yourself "lowly" and unworthy because of past failures, struggles with recurring sins, spiritual weakness, or abuse by others, know that Jesus wants you to come to him with the faith of a child. Please don't listen to those who rebuke or shame you of being unworthy of his esteem. Jesus declares that you can access his touch and prayer as an adopted child of God.
As Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition of theology, we teach that God is a covenant-maker with believers and their children. God spoke through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel and announced the coming of a New Covenant, including a ritual cleansing (Jer 31:31-32; Ez 36:25-27). Jesus proclaimed that the blood shed on the cross was the New Covenant. He declared this in the words we hear during the Lord’s Supper (Lk 22:14-23,1 Cor 11:23-25). Just as circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant, the water of baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. The question remains: Who is eligible for baptism?
In the New Testament, gospel preaching produced widespread baptisms. There were times when a believer's baptism also included the baptism of their entire household (Acts 2:37–41; 16:13-15, 16:33-34; 1 Cor. 1:14-16). The reports of these household baptisms do not prohibit or exclude children from being baptized. In Acts, Peter said this about the promise of the gospel: "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39).
In closing, this scripture offers a clear lesson for all believing parents. Children need to be blessed by the Lord. The Lord wants to bless children. Baptized parents and grandparents, do this: Prioritize following Jesus in your own life; your children and grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of his touch and ministry. The kingdom of heaven is for those who follow and seek Jesus with childlike trust, nearness, and need, including you!