Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me
What does a true disciple of Jesus look like?
Perhaps we imagine soldiers assembled before their commanding officer.
- Or students in the school of their Rabbi.
- Or labourers in gospel service.
- Or worshippers at the feet of their Lord.
In Matthew chapter 19, Jesus gives us a hands-on portrait of the kingdom:
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
The disciples imagined that Jesus would be too “important” for children. They made the decision for Him and sent away the young families, giving them an earful as they went. We can only imagine what their rebuke was… “The Rabbi’s a busy man! Don’t bring your grubby toddlers here! He’s the King, don’t you know child-care is beneath Him.” In these rebukes they revealed how desperately they had misunderstood Jesus.
This King was all about stooping. He had come from heaven to earth and it was His glory and gladness to do so! To bend down and pick up the helpless, to bless the needy who have nothing to offer, “to gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom” (Isaiah 40:11) – this is His heart-beat.
The disciples had to eat their words as Jesus invites all and sundry:
“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
The disciples had it exactly wrong. It’s the helpless dependants who belong with the King. Therefore their own attempt at excluding the needy puts them on dangerous ground. Who do they think they are barring those whom Jesus welcomes? The disciples should not think of themselves as noble defenders of Jesus’ honour. Jesus welcomes “little children.” If the disciples do not, it only shows that they must repent. They must do what Jesus commands in Matthew 18:
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
It’s not just that these disciples are unfit to judge – they’re unfit for the kingdom itself. They also must come to Jesus, accepting the position of total need which they disdained in the children.
The point about “little children” is that they receive everything and have no complex about it. Has there ever been a seven year old who’s been given a gift and responded: “Are you sure? I feel so bad because I haven’t gotten you anything. Let me pay you for that!”? Little children freely receive, with no thought of desert or pay-back.
This is how Jesus wants us with Him. Little children with no thought of desert or payback, just content to be in His arms.
Nothing in the Bible transforms my prayer life like this image. So often I come before the Lord like I’m a soldier and He’s my Sergeant Major. Or I’m an employee and He is my Line Manager. Or I am a worshipper trying to summon up devotion to a static Object of praise. But no, He wants me to come, and to come as a little child. In fact without “converting” and becoming like a little child I will know nothing of this kingdom and this King.
But in reality the Son invites me into a kingdom where little children belong – in fact, only little children belong. It’s a kingdom whose royal insignia could depict this scene – The Lord of Life stooping to gather up the children as they squeal with delight. This kingdom is, fundamentally, a Family where, in Lewis’s phrase “Everything is for the asking, and absolutely nothing can be bought.” What could stop you from coming to this King?