Out of the mouths of babes
We might think of today’s phrase as an ancient equivalent of “Kids say the darnedest things.” But Jesus was making a deeper point. He wasn’t just pointing us to children. He was encouraging us to child-like-ness. It is not only infants, but more generally the simple trusters in Jesus whose surprising wisdom will shock the world.
To understand this teaching we need to know that Jesus splits the world into the “wise” and the “babes.”
“I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25)
The wise and prudent are self-reliant and self-assured. They don’t need Jesus and they don’t want Him. The “babes” are dependent and happy to be so. They know their desperate need and are not ashamed to receive from the Lord of life.
An eight year old could play the part of the wise and prudent. And an eighty year old could be one of the “babes.” It’s not about age but about guileless dependence.
How does Jesus react to these two groups?
Well previously we saw Jesus “cleansing the temple.” The religious had turned His house of prayer into a den of thieves. He violently opposes their religious posturing, overturning the tables.
You might think that such aggression would frighten the little ones. We could imagine that the timid and weak would be disturbed and stay at a distance. In fact, the opposite is true. When they see Him overturn the tables of the strong, the weak are magnetically drawn to Him:
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matthew 21:14-16)
The blind, the lame and the children are not put off by Christ’s strength because they see it employed in their liberation. The very weakest members of society flock to this holy Rioter, perhaps still holding His whip!
What kind of personality can walk into the holiest place on earth, throw around the furniture and so attract the wrath of the authorities and the love of the little ones? In this world, there are some who can face down the powers that be. And there are some who can win the trust and affection of the weak and timid. But Jesus does both. He stands between the “wise” and the “babes”, giving both exactly what they need. In the process He polarizes them even further!
And then He quotes Scripture. He’s not some outlaw with the support of a rebellious fringe. He is the ultimate Law Abiding Citizen (Galatians 4:4). He doesn’t stand on one side against the other – He comes from above with the wisdom of heaven. And so He gives them the biblical explanation for it all:
“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” (Psalm 8:2)
The children had been applying the Messianic title: “Son of David” to Jesus. The authorities want Him to disown it. But Jesus says, No, remember the Psalm, you need to listen to the “babes.”
In the world of Psalm 8, Jesus is the Son of Man/Son of David, the little children are the “babes” and the chief priests and scribes… who are the? They are the “enemies”! Yet, here’s a wonderful thought. How is the battle between the “Son of David” and His enemies to be adjudicated? By the little children.
What “stills” the enemy? Not just a bigger whip. What stills the enemy is the praise of the little ones. You see the Son of David is not vindicated by the size of His army, but by the simple-hearted praise of the “babes.”
I speak to many Christians who worry about their feebleness in witness. They lament that they don’t give impressive proofs to their friends and family regarding Jesus. But Jesus is not the kind of Lord who is vindicated by worldly strength. He is vindicated by the blind, the lame and the infants. The words that best point to Christ are the words “out of the mouths of babes.” Because “wisdom is justified by her children.” (Matthew 11:19)