What shall we ponder in the warm days of summer? We Canadians are particularly fond of this season. We are keenly aware of the need to seize the moment, to enjoy this day now, as a gift from God, for the season is short. Now is the time to seek fish, to leap into the ocean and to swim. Now is the time to bask in the sun and go to picnics.
Let us imagine a warm day over 2000 years ago, “in a region of Judea beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 19:1).” There is a group of people meeting outside, talking to each other. Perhaps it is a kind of large picnic. People of all ages are there, including children. There is joy in the air. One man in particular is attracting a lot of attention. The children are curious. Who is that man and why do all the grown-ups want to talk to him?
How beautiful are children? It is not necessarily easy to raise children, but suffice to say most parents would do anything to protect and help their children.
Can we ever experience joy the way we did when we were children?
The children at the picnic are curious about the man. They want to run to him, to get his attention. Maybe he will play with them. Maybe he will take time out from talking to all those grown-ups. They are talking about such serious things.
Children do not worry much. All that is needed for a full life is something good to eat and a chance to play. Smiles and laughter come so easily. Why wouldn’t they?
Adults know very well how complicated and dangerous life can be. Of course they are asking serious questions—they are concerned about the well-being of their families, about the laws of God, about the future. How shall we live this complicated life, this life where accident, disease, poverty and war are capable of terminating anyone’s life—even the life of a child—without a moment’s notice? The man who is the center of attention seems to have something to say about everything.
The man’s friends are stern. They tell the children to go away, play somewhere else. They are not to bother the man who is the center of attention. But Jesus has something to say:
Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:14). (ESV).
Here is the answer to the unanswerable questions about children who have lived short lives. To them belongs the kingdom of heaven.
R. T. France comments:
While it is the children themselves whom Jesus welcomes for their own sake, such also points beyond them to all those of whatever age whose acceptance of a childlike status makes them great in Jesus’ new value scale, where the insignificant and rejected—the sick, outcast, gentiles, women, children—achieve a new acceptance and importance. The Gospel According to Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans) 1985. Page 284.
This is well-said and well-meant, but perhaps this author is making the same mistake as the disciples—by trying to expand the meaning of the verse, he is minimizing the profound significance of children. We are talking about real, literal children—the running, jumping, laughing kind. This verse belongs to them, or to re-state: the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
John Calvin states:
Hence our Lord Jesus Christ, to give an example from which the world might learn that he had come to enlarge rather than to limit the grace of the Father, kindly takes the little children in his arms and rebukes his disciples for attempting to prevent them from coming (Matthew 19:13) because they were keeping those to whom the kingdom of heaven belonged away from him, through whom alone there is access to heaven. Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. H. Beveridge, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans) 1989. (Book 4, Chap 16, p.533).
When pondering the great things of God, we are guided by Scripture, but must never presume to know the mind of God. When we think of salvation, we of course return to John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
There is something frighteningly beautiful about this mystery. The sacrifice of God’s own son enables salvation for all of us. God the Father understands the pain of a parent who has lost a child. We are lost in mystery. Or perhaps it is better to say we are in mystery, but we are not lost.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all guidance and grace.
In faith and fellowship,
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