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LITTLE CHILDREN AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Matthew 19:13-19:15
Key Verse: 19:14

Last week we studied about marriage and divorce. Thank God that we could learn anew the biblical meaning of marriage. It is the union of the two in Christ and God’s utmost blessing for mankind. In our society divorce seems to be so common and many people doubt the necessity of marriage. But without marriages there will be no sound families and no concept of family. Our Lord Jesus clearly said, “…‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” May we teach the words of the Bible tirelessly to our campus students and pray for them so that we may see many godly marriages and Christian families established one by one in our country. Today, the title of the message is “little children and the kingdom of heaven.” It seems to be more reasonable to say, “Old People and the kingdom of heaven.” To our understanding the kingdom of heaven is related more to old men and women than little kids. But in today’s passage Jesus talked about little children and the kingdom of heaven. In this study we can think of two things, the blessing of the kingdom of heaven and the attitude to the kingdom of heaven.

First, the blessing of the kingdom of heaven. Look at verse 13. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.” I think all parents here want their children to be blessed by Jesus. It was a beautiful thing that little children were brought to Jesus to receive his blessing of prayer. In Luke’s gospel it is written, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them…” (Lk 18:15) The disciples regarded the babies’ coming to Jesus a nuisance and rebuked those who brought them. How did Jesus react to this? Look at verse 14. “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” We can understand the words, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Jesus could have said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for I came to bless them, not grownups only.” But he suddenly mentioned the kingdom of heaven, saying, “…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Why did Jesus say this? Probably at this time Jesus must have been full of the thought of the kingdom of heaven as he was heading toward Jerusalem, the final destination of his life on earth. Obviously, he wanted to teach his disciples and the people around him a right attitude in coming to him and toward the kingdom of heaven. However, we cannot overlook Jesus’ heart that he was eager to bless the little children with the kingdom of heaven.

One UBF pastor stores up many cookies and candies in his office so that whenever children come to him, he gives them cookies and candies out of love and a blessing heart for them. We can say, “Cookies, candies, chocolates and gummy bears and toys belong to them.” Little children like those things. But Jesus said, “…the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It seems that the kingdom of heaven is the last thing that little children are concerned about. Undoubtedly, they do not have even the concept of the kingdom of heaven. What they saw was Jesus and they really liked to come to Jesus by the help of their parents or some others. And Jesus was happy with their coming and wanted to bless them with all kinds of blessings. Certainly, Jesus would desire to bless them with the prayer that they might honour their father and mother and grow up to be great in God’s sight and useful servants of God in that generation. Yet, Jesus wanted to bless them with the best, that is, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the very blessing Jesus wanted to give all people and little children as well. Isaiah 11:8,9 says, “The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain.” Jesus wants little children to be endlessly happy in the kingdom of heaven. Verse 15 says, “When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” In Mark, “And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mk 10:16). Jesus willingly blessed the little children.

The summary of the Bible can be paradise lost; paradise restored. As we have been studying in Matthew’s gospel, one of the clear themes of Matthew’s gospel is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus began his messianic ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17). He taught his disciples the Sermon on the Mount, which is like the constitution of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wanted them to learn the kingdom’s constitution by heart and live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He taught the kingdom of heaven through many parables so that people might grasp the kingdom of heaven. In particular, the kingdom of heaven comes when one understands the word of God. Matthew emphasized the importance of understanding God’s word (Mt 13:13, 19, 230. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to hidden-treasure and the pearl of great value, implying that people on earth must seek the kingdom of heaven, which is the most valuable thing in the world (Mt 13:44, 45). The kingdom of heaven is possible because of the king’s merciful and forgiving heart, cancelling all our debts. The kingdom of heaven displays its joy, which is like the joy of a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. In the end the king will come to the earth and gather his people who have received the kingdom of heaven into hearts, and all the nations will be gathered before him to be judged. Finally the kingdom will be visible on earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The kingdom of heaven is real. It is the place in heaven where his people can enter after life in this world. It is eternal and imperishable with no sin and death. It is our original home in heaven. Sara stayed in Israel more than three months. By God’s grace she enjoyed her life there, travelling where Jesus walked and having fellowship with M. Joseph and Maria Sohn and their children, meeting some nice people, and doing her study in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Even she could attend European Young Leaders’ conference in Germany. I thought she would be excited in Israel until the last day, August 31. However, from three weeks before her returning date, she began to miss home. She said, “I am very lonely here; I am homesick,” and wanted to come back home right away if possible. I told her, “Fight a good fight of faith to the end,” although I missed her also. Finally she came back home. Our family members rejoiced to see one another after a long period of parting and thanked God for gathering us together. Then how much more joyful we will be when we return to our original home in heaven. Truly the kingdom of heaven is the living hope for all those who live in this wearisome and perishing world.

Also, the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God. It is the place where God rules beyond time and space. Ever since Adam was defeated by the devil’s temptation, Satan’s rule came into the world and the ruling was rampant. But Jesus came and defeated the devil’s temptation decisively. Matthew wrote this victory of Jesus over the devil in detail (Mt 4:1-11). After this victory over Satan he began his messianic work preaching the good news of the kingdom, healing the sick, driving out demons. Jesus once healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and the man could both talk and see. At this all the people were astonished. However, the Pharisees regarded it as the work of a prince of demons. Jesus told them clearly that the work was done by the Spirit of God, and thus the kingdom of God had come upon them (Mt 12:28). Through the coming of Jesus the kingdom of God has come to us. God’s rule came in the heart of each individual who came to Jesus and put his faith in him. Through faith in Jesus people were moved from the kingdom of Satan, which is the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of light. Matthew described it this way, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of shadow of death a light has dawned” (Mt 4:16). Under Satan’s rule people were harassed and helpless. But in God’s ruling people could have rest and peace and joy and hope (Mt 11:28). Man’s happiness and destiny wholly depend on who rules the heart.

There was one woman who suffered from her legalism, human obligation and unforgiving heart. To her life was very burdensome with sorrow and bitterness. But since she accepted the word of God very personally and decided to follow Jesus, she could be set free from the burdens of life and taste freedom and forgiving heart and joy in Jesus. As she goes deeper into the words of Jesus, she is tasting the kingdom of heaven more and more. She looks more beautiful than ever. Now she has a divine obligation to serve God’s purpose on her for the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is God’s amazing and immeasurable blessing upon mankind. Jesus came to give this blessing to mankind, men and women, young and old including little children. Thank and praise Jesus for the kingdom of heaven. May we share the kingdom of heaven with coming freshmen through 1:1 Bible study this fall.

Second, the attitude to the kingdom of heaven. Look at verse 14 again. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” We know that no human is qualified to receive the kingdom of heaven. No human good merit works for the kingdom of heaven. In Mark’s gospel it is written, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk 10:14b,15). In Luke’s gospel exactly the same words as in Mark’s gospel are written (Lk 18:16-17). In Mark and Luke, Jesus spoke sternly. Matthew seemed to omit the strict words of Jesus. But he had already written such words of Jesus in 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Although Matthew often uses repetition for emphasis, he does not do so redundantly. In all these synoptic gospels Jesus was serious about peoples’ entering the kingdom of heaven. In John’s gospel, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3). He said again, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:5). As for Jesus whether one can enter the kingdom of heaven is the most serious matter to mankind.

Then what does it mean when Jesus said, “…the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?” What makes little children fit to the kingdom of heaven? Humanly speaking, they have not accomplished anything in the world. They have no accomplishments, no degrees, no social positions, and no money. They have nothing to be proud of and nothing to depend on. They are totally dependent on their parents. They fully trust in their parents. They also cry a lot in helplessness for the help of the parents. We believe that their total dependence and full trust and helpless cry make them fit to the kingdom of heaven, despite their many shortcomings. With such attitude they came to Jesus and was embraced in his bosom and so would be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. They are lowly and humble to accept Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. This is a constant teaching of the Bible.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:8). Here the poor are the needy, and they are those who are desperate in the need of God. They are many examples of this. When Jesus came down from the mountainside after teaching the Sermon on the Mount, a man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Among many with leprosy only this man knew his misery and was desperate in the need of Jesus’ healing mercy. In his lowly and humble spirit, he received the mercy of Jesus’ healing and was cleansed. Surely, the kingdom of heaven came upon him. Afterward when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. As for this centurion, his servant was terribly ill. The centurion was desperate for Jesus’ healing mercy on his servant who was in terrible suffering. He could have been complacent and proud, ignoring his ill servant, because he himself was healthy and had a high social position. But his servant’s illness made the centurion humble and desperate for Jesus’ mercy and grace. Then soon after encountering Jesus he realized that what he needed was Jesus’ word. So in his humble attitude he asked Jesus not come to come to his house but just say the word. He wanted to take Jesus at his word. Finally the centurion could hear Jesus’ word and his servant was healed at that moment with no more suffering. After experiencing this centurion, Jesus said to those following him, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Through this centurion Jesus saw the vision of many humble people coming to the kingdom of heaven, while the proud of his own people would be thrown outside.

God wants us to always examine our heart whether we are poor in spirit. When we are poor in spirit are different, we desperately seek God and long for the living word of God. They have a crying out prayer to God. In this way we can keep God’s amazing grace of the kingdom of heaven in our hearts.

Thank God that today we are worshipping God together with his precious servant, Pastor Abraham. Through the inauguration ceremony of the fourth UBF General director, he gave us three clear prayer topics: 1. Sanctification of our inner persons by the word of God 2. Raise disciples through one-to-one Bible studies 3. Raise 100,000 missionaries by 2041 and send them out to 140 countries unreached by UBF and to all major campuses of the world. I believe that the first prayer topic is very significant to us. In his inaugural message he stressed that our inner persons should be transformed through sincere repentance before the word of God. God esteems and blesses the one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at his word” (Isa 66:2b). We cannot trust anything in the world but the word of God, which is trustworthy and stands forever (1 Pe 1:25). May God help us to feel always the need of Gods’ word and seek for the living word of God. We pay put our full trust in the words of God and rely on them so that the power of God’s word sanctify and transform us and so the kingdom of God grow in our hearts.

Thank God for the amazing blessing of the kingdom of heaven that came to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. May we keep this blessing of God with the attitude of the little children and the kingdom of heaven be expanded through our 1:1 Bible teaching and life of faith.

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