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Counting Dependents

March 14, 2021 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Children Verse: Luke 18:15–18:17

Theme: God saves sinners apart from any of their “achievements.”

I. The Aspiration of Parents – 18:15a

A. The Anxieties of Parents 

  • Since chapter 17:20, the subject of the Kingdom of God has been addressed by Jesus dealing with participation in the spiritual kingdom right now (17:20-21), participation in the kingdom during the Millennium at the 2nd Coming (17:22-37), patience in waiting for the kingdom (18:1-8), and who will not be in the kingdom (18:9-14).
  • The teaching of Jesus advances to talk about who will be included in the kingdom and He uses the situation with babies being brought to Him to teach.
  • One of the great anxieties of parents is the status of their children in the eyes of God – specifically, what happens if my child were to die.
  • This anxiety of parents isn’t a modern concern, but has been true since Eve, evidenced by what we see here: “And they were bringing even their babies to Him …”
  • “babies” [βρέφος] – can describe fetuses to infants up to a year old, often called “sucklings” because of their dependence upon the milk of their mothers – cp. 1 Peter 2:2.
  • This was apparently a common event as the tense used here conveys repetitive action – “were bringing.”

B. The Ambition of Parents 

  • The desire of parents is that they would be protected – even from the wrath of God.
  • We can see this evidenced by what Luke records here – “… they were bringing their babies to Him so that He would touch them …”
  • It was a common thing for parents to bring their children to rabbi’s for a blessing and here they desired that Jesus would “touch” [ἅπτω] their children – “to take hold of” or “to embrace.”
  • Their desire or ambition was for the Lord to bless their children by showing tenderness through a protective embrace – cp. Mark 10:16.
  • Essentially, parents desire for God to show grace to their children, to love them and to protect them – essentially to even save them.
  • Parents will do whatever they can to set their children into a state of “safety” – a sentiment that has given rise to infant baptism whereby many believe that such an action of a parent provides “covenant participation” on the part of their children – something that the Bible never teaches.

Application:

  1. How should parents’ concern over the spiritual condition of children cause them to live? 
  2. What is the greatest thing for which a parent could aspire for their children?

II. The Assumption of Legalists – 18:15b

A. The Ineptitude of Children 

  • When the disciples discovered what was happening, they objected – “… but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them.”
  • “rebuking” [ἐπιτιμάω] – lit. means “against honor” or to show strong censure or disapproval of what they were doing.
  • Essentially it means to strongly correct them – presumably for wasting the Lord’s valuable time.
  • “The disciples had grown up influenced by the Pharisee’s teaching that children could not perform any meritorious works that would earn them salvation.”
  • In their estimation, children were not yet “savable” as they couldn’t contribute in any way through their works to the advancement of the Kingdom.

B. The Ineligibility of Children

  • A legalist’s perspective is that value to God is tied to one’s good works – things that we do that will bring us favor with God.
  • As a result, the assumption is that children are excluded from the kingdom – ineligible of God’s favor.
  • Unfortunately, some within the Christian community view children as “pre-people,” unable to receive the grace of God and are therefore merely entertained or indulged within the context of the Church.
  • Instead of seeing children’s ministries as critical to the fulfillment of taking the Gospel to “every creature,” they see children’s ministries as little more than baby-sitting. 

Application:

  1. Why do self-righteous people resist a “merit-free” salvation?
  2. How should each of us view children within the church?

III. The Assurance by the Savior – 18:16

A. His Compassion for Children

  • Jesus straightens out this misperception – “But Jesus called for them, saying, ‘Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them’ …”
  • Jesus’ value of children is clearly seen here – “permit” [ἀφίημι] emphasizes giving freedom (release) to the children to come – either through their own efforts or the efforts of their parents bringing them.”
  • “hinder” [κωλύω] – they were not to prevent or forbid through being an obstacle – Stop being an obstacle!
  • The Scriptures record for us that God views children with a special sense of ownership – cp. Ezekiel 16:20-21; Exodus 13:2.
  • His compassion for children is evident elsewhere – cp. Deuteronomy 1:39; Jonah 4:11.

B. His Commendation of Children

  • Jesus goes even further – “… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
  • The word “children” [παιδίον] here is different than “babies” in v. 15 – and expands the reference to “such as these …” - that class of “children” who are unable to believe savingly because they have not yet reached the condition of personal accountability.
  • This is an unqualified statement without ambiguity – in direct opposition to the Pharisee’s perspective of the ineligibility of children to know God’s favor, Jesus declares children are under God’s special care until such a time that they are capable of genuine faith and repentance.
  1. This does not suggest that children are without sin – cp. Psalm 51:5; 58:3.
  2. However, the original sin in which a child is born has not had the opportunity to produce conscious, knowing resistance to the law and will of God.
  3. Therefore, until a child reaches the state of accountability to God for the work of the law in their conscience and understand the truth of the gospel, they are under God’s gracious care.
  • When Jesus said “… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” “he was referring to the present form of the kingdom, which is spiritual (the realm of salvation). Children who die before reaching the condition of accountability are then secured in the kingdom forever.”
  • Consistent with this view is the attitude of the Lord toward children who are sacrificed to Baal – who God called innocent – Jeremiah 19:4-5.
  • Further, David was consoled upon the death of his son from his sinful tryst with Bathsheba by the knowledge that he would one day join the child in heaven – 2 Samuel 12:23.
  • This is the primary reformed position since the days of John Calvin who stated: “Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire his blessing; but when they are presented to him, he gently and kindly receives them, and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing.… To exclude from the grace of redemption those who are of that age would be too cruel … it is presumption and sacrilege to drive far from the fold of Christ those whom he cherishes in his bosom, and to shut the door, and exclude as strangers those whom he does not wish to be forbidden to come to him.” (Commentary On A Harmony of Matthew, Mark, And Luke [Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845], 2:389, 390, 391). 
  • Those children who live to a condition where they can discern “the difference between their right and left hand” become responsible for the law and gospel, and their response to it will determine their eternal destinies – cp. Romans 5:13.

Application:

  1. What is the significance of discerning between the right and left hand? 
  2. How is it that God could not hold sin against an infant? 

IV. The Availability of the Kingdom – 18:17

A. The Example of Receiving the Kingdom

  • This demonstration of God’s grace becomes the very thing upon which every sinner must depend – “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
  • People are saved, not based on their accomplishments, but on the basis of God’s sovereign grace – again, despite the lack of anything that would merit salvation.
  • If a person attempts to “force his way into the kingdom,” they will be rejected altogether – cp. Luke 16:15-16.
  • Those who enter the kingdom are those who know they cannot achieve righteousness by their own efforts and are thereby dependent upon God to do it for them.

B. The Exclusion from Entering the Kingdom

  • The proud and the self-righteous are excluded from the kingdom – “… will not enter it at all.”
  • Children thus become a metaphor for how dependent a sinner must be to enter the kingdom of God.

Application:

  1. If entering the kingdom of God requires being like a child, shouldn’t it be easy? 
  2. Why is it so hard to get into the kingdom?

So What?

Children must be viewed as special objects of God’s grace from the moment of conception.

Ministry to children ought to be a priority within the context of the local church.

People who believe that their ability to enter the kingdom of God through their own achievements must dishonor themselves and become like children who are completely dependent.

The self-dependence characterizing a sinner who has become accountable before God will prevent one from entering the kingdom of God at all! 

 

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