The Kingdom and Little Children

Matthew 18:1-4, 19:13-15

This sermon will look at two short passages from Matthew’s gospel. In both passages, Jesus has an important lesson to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven. The theme that links the two teachings is little children.

Humility: Become Like Children – The first of the passages comes in the context of a power struggle between the disciples. They were arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom, and they wanted Jesus to settle the dispute. They were clearly working from a very worldly definition of ‘greatness’. In response, Jesus called over a child and explained that unless they were to become like the child, they would not even enter the kingdom. True kingdom greatness comes not from the pride of vying for position or prestige, but from humility. Children are receptive, teachable, humble and trusting. These are the qualities of the kingdom rather than the power games of this world.

Welcome: The Kingdom Belongs to Children – In the second passage, there are some people bringing children to Jesus, hoping he would pray for them. The people were cut off my the disciples who told them off. It is likely that they thought Jesus had more important priorities to focus on, but Jesus saw thing differently. He rebuked his disciples and instructed them to let the children come. It is to the likes of these that the kingdom belongs. While we may have expectations of who the kingdom should be for, but Jesus so often confounds these expectations and shows us that at the heart of the kingdom are those who are overlooked and pushed aside by the world. To live with a kingdom attitude we must extend a welcome and help rather than hinder others coming to Jesus – even if they are ones that we would not expect.

Possible Applications

  • Challenge Pride – We might not be quite as direct as the disciples in asking who is the greatest in the kingdom, but often our hearts can still focus on the same question. The same desire to be exalted over other can be present and this sermon should be a challenge to that pride and a call to humility.
  • Our Attitude to Children – It is easy to spiritualise what Jesus says here and make generic applications, and the points that he made do have wide implications. But we should not miss the very straight forward application. There is something about the kingdom of heaven that is particularly embodied in children, and as followers of Christ we should ask whether or not the way we act towards children reflects this truth.
  • Welcoming the Lowly – The passage also makes us think about the ways in which we are acting like the disciples when they tried to bar they way to Jesus. Who are the people who we are hindering from coming to Jesus and how could we welcome them in?