Jesus was ever watchful for those who were vulnerable in society, and throughout the ages this has included children. Many of the more developed countries of the world today forget the plight of children that continues to haunt our planet. We are appalled when we hear about the harsh child labor environments, rampant child abuse, and the stories of kidnappings for the purpose of military conscription that youth are still exposed to in many cultures.
The fact that these conditions still exist reminds us of the at-risk status of children and should inspire us to work even more diligently for them in our local communities and churches.
Jesus recognized the plight of children, but He also recognized their potential, as we will see in our study of how to include them in our discipleship efforts this week.
Memory Text: “‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”?'” Matthew 21:16 NIV
The context places this verse directly after Jesus has made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The “children were crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David” v. 15.
How can we hear it worded this way and not recall the many times we have heard children crying in church? I’ll never forget one amusing incident when a little girl needed to be carried out of church for some infraction or disturbance. Her mother was carrying her over her shoulder, and the little toddler held out her arms and pleaded for all the church to hear, “Help me, daddy, help me!” while he remained steadfastly, and sheepishly, in the pew.
How hard it must have been for that father to stay in his seat with the cry of his little girl in his ears. Shouldn’t we all be hearing the cries of our youth at church in a different way? Do we remain in our seats or do we take an active role in the nurture and discipleship of the young ones in our midst?
Sunday: The Hebrew Child’s Advantage
The nation of Israel, when they were following Yahweh, was strikingly different from their idolatrous neighbors when it came to valuing their children. For one thing, the practice of child sacrifice was pretty standard in these heathen tribes. What a horrific torture it must have been for children–whether they or their siblings were the targeted victims for this ritual.
Here are some verses that inform us that God intended for children to be valued more than this. After all, Christ’s death was to cover every human being, even children.
- “…to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.” Jeremiah 7:31 KJV
[God definitely does not require us to sacrifice our children. He values them as He does every human being.]
- “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Psalm 127:3-5 KJV
[Notice it said children are the Lord’s heritage–they belong to Him, not us! And that they should bring joy to the parents. We shouldn’t consider them a burden.]
- “…thy children like olive plants round about thy table…Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.” Psalm 128:3-6 KJV
[I love the reference to grandchildren here: thy children’s children! Don’t we love to see all the family around the table at our holiday meals?]
- “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Deuteronomy 6:6, 7 KJV
[Having it in our heart is mentioned before teaching it diligently. Could the teaching be the natural result of having God’s word in our heart?]
Discussion Questions: What’s the difference in sacrificing our children and dedicating them to God in the manner some Christians have adopted? Why is this church ceremony of child or baby dedication valuable and who reaps the most benefits?
What does it mean to teach our children in the manner spoken of in Deuteronomy? Do we have to be “preaching” to them continuously?
They say if you are in the presence of a child and you’re an adult, then you’re a mentor. How does this impact the church and not just parents?
Monday: Jesus’ Childhood
Jesus seemed to have an inherent ability to identify with children. They loved to be around Him. Although we know that Jesus grew up in the same manner as all of us, the first and only glimpse we are given of His childhood in found in Luke 2:40-52.
The last verse, v. 52, says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
This passage tells how when Jesus was twelve years old (the Jewish age of graduating out of childhood), He came to Jerusalem with His parents for the Passover and they found Him in the temple having a deep theological discussion with the rabbis. He was astounding them with His understanding and answers.
The fact that only this episode of his childhood is mentioned and it involved His spiritual maturity alerts us to the importance of this aspect of a child’s development.
According to our lesson, here are some of the things that have been attributed to Jesus’ successful upbringing:
- discipline of learning carpentry skills
- the attention of devoted parents
- regular exposure to Scripture
- interaction with Nazareth’s townspeople
Discussion Questions: Why did Jesus have to experience childhood at all? How did His childhood contribute to His ministry later?
What was there about Jesus’ childhood that made it difficult? Was He given any special advantage in those early years? And was this fair?
What temptations do youth have today that differ from Jesus’ day? How do they compare?
What programs can or does the church have to reach all ages of youth?
Are we seeking the contribution of all youth to our church body, realizing their potential in the future as adults?
Tuesday: Healing the Children
Each of the four Gospels relates stories of Jesus healing children:
- Matthew 9:18-26 (the ruler’s daughter healed)
- Mark 7:24-30 (devil cast out of Greek woman’s daughter)
- Luke 9:37-43 (a man’s son had a devil cast out)
- John 4:46-54 (the son of a Capernaum nobleman is healed)
Each of these stories tells of a desperate parent coming to Jesus for help, and it must be assumed that Jesus is just as interested in helping the children as He is the parents. No parent is turned away.
Discussion Questions: Why are some parents’ answers for healing of their little ones seemingly not answered?
As a matter of fact, what do you say to a parent who has lost a child in death? Why does a parent’s mourning the death of a child feel so unnatural?
What about parents who agonize over a son or daughter who has left the church and seems lost in the ways of the world–how do you and the church minister to those parents?
Wednesday: A Fearsome Warning
We usually try to be good examples for our children, but one day Jesus turned the tables on that notion. The disciples had come to Him asking who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. We can all guess what motivated their question. Evidently pride.
Jesus took the opportunity to illustrate His answer by calling a little child to Him and pointing out that conversion meant becoming like little children. In other words, whoever was greatest in humility would be greatest in heaven.
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 KJV
He further warned that anyone who caused a child to sin would be lost. He was quite graphic about it too. He said it would be better for him to have a rock tied around his neck and be drowned. In other words, the person who caused a child to sin would be least in the kingdom of heaven.
This certainly followed the line of questioning the disciples had asked for. They wanted to know who would be greatest, and He also told them who would be least.
In the context of this passage we can expand this definition of child to those who are new in the faith, to those who have just been converted. He likened them to children as well. How important it is for church members to be mentors for recently-baptized babes in Christ.
Discussion Questions: What other qualities besides humility do we see in children that we should emulate or imitate? [suggestions: their trust, dependence, innocence, genuineness, simplicity]
If we neglect trying to nurture either a child or a new church member and they turn to sin, are we held accountable in some way for their choices? Is this causing them to sin as Jesus warned the disciples?
What did Jesus mean when He said in Matthew 18:10 that “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven”?
Thursday: Suffer the Little Children
Here’s a reader-friendly way of relating the story in Mark 10:13-16 from The Living Bible:
“Once when some mothers were bringing their children to Jesus to bless them, the disciples shooed them away, telling them not to bother him. But when Jesus saw what was happening he was very much displeased with his disciples, and said to them, “‘Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as they. Don’t send them away! I tell you as seriously as I know how that anyone who refuses to come to God as a little child will never be allowed into his Kingdom.'” Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and he blessed them.”
Every child, not just the sick ones or the very young, must have been loved by Jesus. What a loving tribute this is to the young ones in our churches.
As humans, we gravitate to certain age groups when it comes to ministering and mentoring. Some of us are more comfortable with babies, toddlers, school-age children, and some would rather work with teens. But Jesus would have fit in anywhere. And He should be included for them in all our activities when youth are present.
Discussion Questions: Studies have shown that most Christians have committed their lives to God at an early age. Relatively few converts are made as adults. How should this impact the evangelistic efforts of our churches?
Are we as impressed at seeing young people in the baptismal tank as we are adults? Do we get as excited about the attendance of our Vacation Bible Schools as we do for those coming to an evangelistic series for adults?
Although church growth isn’t everything, why is it important?
“One hundred years from now it won’t matter what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had, nor what my clothes were like, but the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.” ~adapted from Forest Witcraft
Challenge: Be important in the life of a child this week…and every week.
Next Week: Discipling the Sick