Youth or young people don’t hold prominent mention in the New Testament. Rather, it seems that Jesus and His apostles raised children and babies to a high level of importance in the church. On the other hand, one of the few “young people” that Jesus has an interaction with was the rich young ruler whom he rebuked for his love for wealth (Matt. 19:16-22).
I was reflecting on this after the other night when I had the opportunity to hold my newest niece who is about a week old. She trusted me when she was passed on to sleep on me. Then when she went to her dad she woke up a little bit and made small contented grunts.
I’m not denying that she has a sinful nature and will need discipline, or even trying to romanticize baby-hood. But for some reason, Jesus used such a child such as this one as an example for faith: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” (Mark 10:13-16) When the chief priests and scribes were indignant at the praises of the young children (Matt. 21:14-17), Jesus was indignant with them and quotes Psalm 8:2 “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.“
Like the chief priests and scribes, I find that we are quick to doubt the testimony of the little ones. We might zone in exclusively on the metaphorical value in these passages, which doesn’t make any sense, because Jesus is using real examples as the basis for the metaphors. We might put twenty 5-year-old or 6-year-old kids on stage and giggle about how they are so cute when in fact, they are singing the praises of the King of Kings. Or we might just teach them rote prayers and skip connecting the daily events of life to a knowledge of Jesus, because we think they are too young to really understand that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour. But how do we learn more about the kingdom of Christ and its advance/victory from them? Jesus actually did teach us that the two are connected. It really is a humbling thought that I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3), that I have to be like one of these (Matt. 18:3) to enter the kingdom of heaven.
I want to push back against a potential paradigm. Who says that a young adult is more capable of knowing the glories of Jesus Christ than a little baby or a child? I’m not presuming the regeneration of little children, that is an intense theological debate for theologians to butt heads over, and which I could debate against ad nauseum. I’m not saying that sin does not have to be methodically and diligently uprooted from the heart of a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that a child does not have to be warned of the dangers of Hell because they are refusing to walk with God and talk with God in knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes children are just being silly and should be taught holy reverence, but that thought should not be our default position when we hear their praises, or when we think about their relationship to Jesus Christ.
In fact, we should consider how the little child is a rebuke in the midst of our own bickering and pomposity. Jesus is dealing with bickering and boasting among His disciples in Mark 9: “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” (Mark 9:35-37) In other words, when I am disillusioned by politicking or need to be rebuked for my own politicking, remember to invite me to a baby-baptism or to hear a child singing a Psalm when they don’t realize anyone is around.
Childlike faith is different from childish faith. We are growing in knowledge and love, because we only look in a mirror but dimly (I Cor. 13). In other words, youth ministry encourages youth to pursue maturity, but there is something paradoxical about faith. I’m sure that even elderly people would find something important to learn in the faith of the little ones. It all makes sense when you see Jesus teaching His disciples and also the manner in which He teaches His disciples. Every baptism of a baby teaches me that there is something deeper to the kingdom of heaven than the intellectual aspect of faith.
In Psalm 8, we hear a promise of the coming Messiah who would come as a baby, born in Bethlehem. He humbled Himself so that He would be exalted. In worldly terms, it truly was a laughable matter. But when the 3 Magi came from the East, they knew that what was humble was glorious. This birth of a baby stopped the mouth of the Devil when he raged against that birth with all his might. But the Devil lost. And after the victory on a cross, the Son of Man was crowned with glory and honour and all things were placed under His feet.