The Old Testament is full of passages about the importance of raising children to love and worship God (Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 22:6). Parents are reminded that children are a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). And children are instructed to obey the instruction of their parents (Exodus 20:12).
It’s in the Gospels that we really discover God’s soft spot for children. He’s gentle and kind with them, and passionate about protecting them from harm.
Here are three passages where Jesus demonstrated God’s heart for children:
1. Greatest in the kingdom of heaven
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:1-5, New International Version).
Jesus often used things in His environment to teach spiritual truth. In this case, there were children in the crowd and Jesus used them to make an important point.
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
It seems like a simple question. From the disciple’s religious context, they likely would have answered, “One who keeps the law.” No one answers right away-probably because they’re all waiting for Peter to give the wrong answer. Meanwhile, Jesus calls a child over and tells them:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
There’s a lot of conjecture about what Jesus means. Are we supposed to become innocent like children? Do we need childlike trust? Luckily, we don’t have to guess what Jesus meant. He tells us.
Children didn’t have a lot of rights in the first century. Kids were seen and not heard. We see this in Luke 18 when parents were bringing their infants to be blessed by Jesus, and the disciples try and chase them away. In their opinion, the Lord had more important things to do.
Jesus uses this opportunity to reiterate one of His most common points about godly leadership. Like children, kingdom-minded leaders shouldn’t be jockeying for position, looking to have power over others, or worrying about how people perceive them. They should serve God by serving others.
He then makes a point that He’ll come back to in a parable about sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46). By welcoming and serving those that society doesn’t value, we welcome and serve God. In this case, we serve God by serving children.
2. Christ’s stern warning about protecting children
“If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in me-to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7, NIV)
When Jesus had something important to say, He often used hyperbole. This was His way of communicating the sheer magnitude of what He was trying to communicate. You see this in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells the crowd, “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:30, NIV).
When it comes to temptation, we’re all responsible for our own behavior. But here Jesus wants His listeners to understand the dangers of being the vehicle through which temptation comes. If your behavior leads innocent children astray, it’s better to be tossed into the depth of the sea than to face the judgment of Jesus.
(If you’d like to learn more about handling temptation, check out the post “Lessons from the Temptations of Jesus.”)
3. Jesus raises a child from the dead
When Jesus entered the synagogue leaders house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region (Matthew 9:22-26, NIV).
During Jesus ministry, He raised three people from the dead. One was Lazarus (John 11), who Jesus loved. Another was a young man in the town of Nain. Jesus got caught in a funeral procession and was moved by a mother’s grieving so he raised her son (Luke 7).
In the third case, a synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus because his daughter is sick and near death (Luke 8:41). He begs Jesus to come and do something, but by the time our Lord gets there, the child has died.
And, in a time when the child mortality rate was likely very high, Jesus was moved enough by this man’s faith-and this girl’s untimely death-to intervene. He demonstrates His compassion and love for children by raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.
Video: Jairus’s Daughter Brought Back to Life
Jesus loves the little children
In the Gospels, we see God’s tender heart for children. His willingness to devote time to them, His recognition of their societal status, and His zeal for protecting their innocence demonstrates His high regard.