I want you to turn in your Bibles for our scripture reading to Mark's Gospel chapter 10, Mark chapter 10, and I want to speak to you later on in our meeting on the subject 'Jesus, Friend Of Children'. It's not a message specifically directed towards children, although a large amount of what I will have to say will be directed towards the children, but it is applicable to all of us as we will see clearly from the text.
Mark chapter 10 verse 13: "And they brought young children to him", that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, "that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children", or "Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them".
We're just going to pray now that the Lord will bless what is said upon the Scriptures, and those who haven't already anchored their soul to Jesus will do so tonight by faith. So do unite your heart with me now as we pray together before we hear God's word. Let us pray: Father, we thank Thee that the Lord Jesus Christ had a special place in His heart for children. Lord, we do pray tonight that young and old may be able to grasp in their minds and hearts what it means to trust Christ, the friend of sinners - whether they be children or adults. Give them the grace, we pray, to understand and to believe. For we ask these things in the precious name of our Lord, Amen.
Now I'm sure it's no surprise to most of you here this evening that most people are converted in childhood. That is, those who call themselves Christians, in the Bible-believing sense, become Christians as children, or at least in their teenage years. Just to illustrate this - I hope this doesn't fall flat on its face - I want you to put your hand up if you were saved under the age of 16 years. Take a good look around you - that's probably most people. What about under 20 years of age, under-sixteen's included? Almost everyone in the place, which bears out an illustration of that fact. In fact, I'm led to believe - I don't know who took these statistics, or how they reached them - that 90% of Christians become Christians as children.
Now we may ask the question: why is that? Psychologists and sceptics in our world, particularly child psychologists, will say: 'Well, you're just taking advantage of simple minds. Sunday Schools, and children's meetings, and child evangelism in general is polluting', they would say, 'brainwashing children at their most vulnerable and impressionable stage of human development'. We need to ask the question: is that the case? Many of you who were converted as children - is that what happened to you? You were taken advantage of and brainwashed? Well, I think if that were the case then it would follow that when we grew up, and when all these children grew up and gained intelligence, they would dispense with their Christian faith in the same way as they dispense of other childhood fantasies.
I want you to understand categorically that when a child trusts Christ, if he or she really trusts Christ it's not the same belief that they have in fairies or the bogeyman - it is true faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accepts. Now I know that the apostle Paul said that when he was a child he spake as a child, and understood as a child, and thought as a child; but when he became a man he put away childish things. We do, when we grow up, put away childish things - but Paul the apostle never put Christ away. He never gave up his faith, and it was in adulthood that he came to a full measure of belief in the gospel. The witness of most of this congregation here this evening of those who are still trusting Christ is that Christ and faith in Him is not a childish thing.
Christ, in this passage of Scripture that we read together this evening, is not talking about childish faith, the faith of fairytales and fantasies; but He's talking about childlike faith. There's a difference between childish and childlike faith, and I want to explain to you tonight as simply as I possibly can what childlike faith is. Here's the first definition of it: childlike faith is trusting Christ early. Childlike faith is trusting Christ early. Now that means whatever age you are, I'm not just talking about trusting Christ early in life, though it does mean that, but I'm talking about trusting Christ as soon as you know that He is true - whatever your age, whether you're young or old. When you realise who He is, what He says is true, what He did for you on the cross was out of love and it is able to take away your sins forever - trust Him early, right away: that is childlike faith.
Now in our story the disciples, like many today, tried to shoo the children away from Jesus when their parents brought them to the Lord to be blessed. We see the reaction of the Lord Jesus Christ - the Saviour was displeased with such an attitude! I believe He is displeased today with such an attitude - those who would keep children from the Lord Jesus Christ - because the Lord Jesus, in this incident, shows His love for the children. In fact, He goes as far to say that theirs is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God belongs to these little children!
Now we're going to look at the children tonight, but before we look at the children I want you to see first of all that there were other people there who brought the children. We sang about the 'Mothers of Salem', the parents. They perhaps weren't all mothers, probably fathers and guardians, maybe older brothers and sisters - and they brought the children to Jesus. Now I want to ask the question of all the parents and the adults in this place tonight: are you doing that? Are you doing that? Are you bringing your children to Jesus? Now I know you bring them to school, perhaps every morning. Maybe you bring them to the playing fields. Maybe you bring them to music practice once or twice a week. You bring them to the swimming pool, you bring them to the shops, maybe in the future you hope to bring them into your business or onto the farm or into your trade, or maybe you want to send them to university or college? But do you realise tonight that, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, the most important thing that you can do for your boy or girl is bring them to Jesus?
Also that means bringing them to the place where they may receive the Gospel of Jesus. These parents brought their children to where Jesus was, that they may receive an eternal blessing from Him - but we see that there were men who hindered the mothers bringing the children to Jesus. Now I don't know if I'm hitting any sore points here tonight or not, but I think that it is often the same in homes around our district and around our land and world. Because the story is often the same: the mothers want to bring the children to Jesus, whether it's Sunday School, or a children's meeting, or a Gospel Church - but there are often strong, arrogant, sometimes violent and abusive men that stop the mothers bringing the children to Jesus. Am I speaking to someone here tonight that's maybe being cruel to children in another way - not just depriving them of Christ's love, but perhaps depriving them of parental love? Many a parent is quick tempered. I've heard it myself: the violent language, the abusive behaviour. What this does is it creates seeds of insecurities in these children that will come to light in adulthood. We need to be warned: one, if we're keeping the Gospel from our children; and two, if in any way we're harming the children - the Son of God loves children! So much so that He has pronounced a judgment upon anyone who will harm children!
In Matthew 18 He said: "But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea". We see from this instance and His words in Matthew 18, that nothing makes the Son of God more angry than cruelty to boys and girls. In fact, the word here for 'angry' is 'indignant', it's made up of two Greek words 'much grief'. It means He was much grieved by the fact that the disciples were shooing the children away from their presence. I can almost see them - Jesus has been so busy, He's healing the sick, He's feeding hungry people, He's making blind eyes to see, all sorts of demoniacs and paralysed people are coming for healing - and all of a sudden, as if it wasn't enough with all that, these mothers are coming to get hands laid on their little children and blessed. The disciples say: 'They're only children, send them all home! Jesus hasn't got time for them!' - and Jesus was much grieved.
Do you know the greatest cruelty that you can have towards a child is hindering one child believing or coming to the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know what parents say today? 'I want to let them make their own mind up. I want to allow them the space, I'm not going to shove my religion down their throat in order that they make up their own mind, and they'll choose from the commercial religious supermarket of life later on'. Well, if that's your philosophy my friend, I say to you: well then, give them the choice! Because if you don't give them the Gospel early in life, what choice do they have? They'll go with the rest of the flow and inevitably they will reject the Lord Jesus Christ. Others conclude: 'They're just children, what can children understand about the type of message that you're preaching tonight?'. Well, here's what the Son of God says: 'These children have the potential to be members of the kingdom of God, just like any man or woman'. The children's hymn goes like this, and I think it's profound:
'I'm not too young to sin,
I'm not too young to die,
I'm not too young to begin
A life of faith and joy.
I'm not too young to know
The Saviour's love to me
In coming down to earth below
To die upon the tree'.
I believe, if we would only let the children see the Lord Jesus, they would run after Him! What Jesus did and said tells us volumes about Him. Believers tonight, if you're wanting to be like the Saviour, you will love the children too. George MacDonald, that old preacher, used to say that he didn't believe in a man's Christianity if boys and girls were never to be found playing around his door. The boys and girls, I believe, would be playing around the carpenter's shop of the Lord Jesus Christ. They followed Him in procession, like the Pied Piper, everywhere He went. Here in this scene we see fathers and mothers, perhaps older children, bringing young children - many of whom, Luke tells us, were little babies. Proud parents handing their precious bundles into Christ's everlasting arms! Can you see the little bundle of flesh snuggling into His bosom as He places His holy hand upon their warm rosy heads, and lifts His eyes heavenward and blesses them in the name of His holy Father? You see, Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.
Now children, I want to address you this evening, because maybe your parents couldn't have encouraged you more to trust the Lord Jesus. I think, perhaps, that that's more the case for many of you here this evening - the fault lies with yourself, you've never trusted Christ. You've been brought up, perhaps, in this church, you've gone to Sunday School, been to the children's meetings, maybe you're now in the Youth Fellowship - but you can't point to a time in your life when you realised that you were a sinner, and you actually trusted Christ, you took that step of faith. Well, I'm saying to you tonight: I beg you, have that childlike faith now. In other words, trust Him early, trust Him while you're young, trust Him before you meet many of life's temptations to sin, before the difficult days of your teens come. I don't want to be too depressive for you, but before those struggles come, those problems of exams and moral choices, ethical issues, strange emotions, somersaulting hormones.
Maybe you're saying: 'Well, I'm experiencing all that now! I am a teenager' - and you probably think things couldn't get any worse than they are now. But I'm telling you that they will get worse, worse and worse - there will be greater temptations, more challenges, greater strains and stresses of life that will increase as you exit adolescence and enter into adulthood. I want to tell you tonight on the authority of God's word, from my experience and the experience of all the Christians here tonight, it makes all the difference in the world entering into adulthood with Jesus at your side! Maybe you're changing schools soon - will you determine to make your mark right from the first day as a Christian? I remember when I was in Primary 7, I wasn't living the way I ought to have done as a Christian. I professed the name of Christ, but I wasn't living up to my profession. I had a decision to make as I was going to the next school: was I going to go in naming myself as a Christian but not living as one? I decided there and then: 'I'm going to nail my colours to the mast'. The way I did it may not be the way you do it, but I just stuck a 'Jesus Saves' badge on my blazer. Maybe it was a coward's way, rather than using my mouth I used a badge - but nevertheless, I was taking the decision - will you take that decision tonight?
Maybe you've never truly been saved, you've never really stepped out and made a mark for Christ yourself, you're resting on your parents' profession or in the experience of this church. I ask you tonight: will you give your whole life to Christ now, early, a fresh life, a whole life, a future prospect before you? D. L. Moody once preached a gospel message like this, and afterwards he told a man that he had two and a half conversions. The man says: 'I suppose you mean two adults and a child?'. He said, 'No, two children and one adult'. The adult's life was half over, but those two children had all their lives ahead of them! I implore you, child tonight, young person, give your mind to Jesus Christ, give your energies, your passions, your wills to Christ. Before you grow to love someone or something else, learn to love Christ, and that love for Christ will shape who you love and what you love in your future. Before you make your own nest - maybe it will be at university, maybe you'll just leave home - make your dwelling place with Christ, and He will build your whole life on the solid ground. Before you make any plans for whatever future you wish, do what Jesus said: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.
Whatever your experience of childhood has been - a non-Christian home that dissuaded you from Christianity, or a Christian home that encouraged you to trust Christ. Whatever your experience of adolescence has been - difficult with or without Christ. I tell everyone here tonight, young, old: Christ is for you! Irenaeus, that great old Christian, said: 'Jesus came to save all by means of Himself: infants, and children, and boys, and youth. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, a child for children, a youth for youths'. Do you know that Jesus was a child, just like you? Do you know that the Lord Jesus was a teenager, just like you? He experienced the testings, the temptations that you've experienced, yet without any sin - and that means He's got the power to get you through too, however young or old you may be.
But here's the miracle of miracles: He took your sin for you, He was nailed to a cross for you, He bled and died - and although you're young and a child, the sins that you have committed are enough to put the Son of God on the cross to have to die in order to bring a child like you to heaven. We sang this morning:
'It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That's God's own Son came down to earth
To die to save a child like me'.
Maybe some people, as I'm talking to the young people tonight, feel an ache within their heart. You were once a child, you once grew up in a Christian atmosphere, and just now as I'm touching some of these points you feel an ache in your heart, you feel the pain of the past. You were brought up with the Gospel, yet you scorned it and squandered those opportunities - and your life has told the tale of the prodigal. You've wasted your youth on riotous living and you've nothing to show for it! You've sown a harvest of missed opportunities in your youth, and now you're reaping the rewards. All you can look back on is a wasted life, shattered dreams, a vacuous empty space in your heart. Your character has been irrevocably soiled, your reputation has been irretrievably sullied - you wish you could go back and change the past. You know that you chose the wrong road, you wish that you could rub it out and start again.
If there's ever a lesson to some of you young people here tonight, about how important it is to trust Christ early as soon as you know He's true, it's that one. Don't live your life a wasted life because you shunned the Gospel! But I say to you older folk: if you feel tonight, afresh, the tug of Christ's love upon your heart as you did when you were a little child, trust Christ now! You can have childlike faith now! What is that childlike faith? Only a faith that is early, a faith that responds as soon as it feels the tug of divine compassion. I urge you to trust Christ early. Trust Christ tonight: one, because of the law of nature. If a man will not do a thing, the time is bound to come when he cannot - that's the law of nature. That means if you stop your leg up and don't use it for long enough, there will come a day when you can't use it. You can do it with your arm; you can do it with your eye, cover it up with a patch and there will come a day that, because the light is not entering, the use of your eye will diminish. The same with your ear, it's a law of nature - but it's also the law of the heart. If your heart feels the love of Christ in your youth but you shun it, if your heart feels it even now, whatever age you are, and you do not respond to Jesus, you do not come to Him like these little boys and girls - there will come a day when you won't feel it anymore, when it won't make a difference!
The law of metaphysics - I know that's a big word, but it simply teaches this, I'll explain it: it would implore us to come to Christ early. It teaches that the first thought that you have on any subject, whatever that subject may be, the first thought that you have on it is the thought that will come to your mind first when you think about that issue again. That means that if you said 'No' the first time to the Gospel, the first thought that will come to your mind the next time you hear the Gospel is the thought of refusal. That's why you should trust Christ early: because the first rejection you ever made of the Gospel is registered on your brain cells, and the more you repeat it the harder it will be to say 'Yes' to Christ.
The law of nature teaches you to come, like a child, early. The law of metaphysics, and then there's the law of psychology. What is that? In relation to coming to Christ early, it's simply this: age hardens the soul, age hardens your soul! It prevents you coming to Christ. When the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to you again and again and again, you don't feel it any more. My friend, I ask the question to you: is it so strange, then, that few old men are saved when we consider these things? It would be a surprise if an old man was saved! Occasionally an old man does sniffle and whine for mercy on his deathbed, but that is the exception rather than the rule. I hear some people saying: 'I'll wait till I die. I'll get an opportunity, these deathbed conversions, I hear about them all the time!'. I hear about them all the time, but statistics tell me that only 3 out of 60 elderly people get the opportunity to cry out to Christ. You can only have a deathbed conversion if you've got the time to have one, if your death is not accidental. You can only have a deathbed conversion if you're not drugged and sedated and doped with anaesthetic and painkillers. You can only have a deathbed conversion if you haven't entered into the demise of dementia and senility. That is why childlike faith is what Christ longs for in every man and woman, an early trusting of Christ!
What else does this childlike faith speak of? Well, I think it is likened to a child...it could be for its trustworthiness - a child trusts you, perhaps, like adults wouldn't. A child has receptiveness: it receives things, it believes things that others wouldn't. A child has a simplicity, it doesn't complicate matters the way we as adults do. A child has wonder, it wonders at the snowflake outside its frosty window. But you know, I don't think that's the main thought that the Lord Jesus is trying to get across to us tonight, I think it is this: a child is helpless. A child is helpless, every child born into this world today is completely, totally, absolutely emotionally, spiritually, intellectually helpless and dependent upon others. Jesus said: 'So is everyone born into the kingdom of God'. Now I'm asking you tonight: have you come into the kingdom of God utterly helpless? Jesus says if you don't, come like this little child, utterly and completely useless of yourself, saying that there's:
'Nothing in my hands that I can bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling,
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace,
Foul, I to the Fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die'.
It's got to be grace plus nothing! God's salvation without yourself, without your righteousness! It's got to be Christ and Christ alone, that's all these children had - but that's how they got in! Childlike faith is not just trusting Christ early, it's trusting Christ completely. The world is obsessed tonight with self-respect, it's just a euphemism for sinful pride and independence from God. Self-image seems to be one of the most important things that you have to try and form in your life, but that's not what God's word says. God's word says that the first step is: 'Blessed are those that are poor in spirit' - that means blessed are those who realise that they have nothing to commend themselves to God. There's nothing in you that can save yourself or can even make God smile on you, but if you can be like a child and admit you're helpless and hopeless without Him, He will receive you.
John Ruskin said: 'What a man needs is not so much to graduate, but to backslide into the simplicity of childhood' - those are the type of backsliders we want in this place! You can't graduate to eternal life, you can't climb some kind of moral high ladder and reach God's standards, but you must backslide - backslide from yourself, backslide from your ethical code that you think is going to get you into heaven. You need to have childlike humility, that which the Lord Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18: 'Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Truly I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven'.
Have you got that humility tonight? Do you see how the Lord Jesus Christ responds to such humility? What did He do for them? He came lowly, down to their level, and He lifted them up. He took them in His arms, and He blessed them eternally. I ask you tonight: do you not long, do not desire to be held in the arms of Jesus Christ and be blessed by Him? Well if you do, my friend, you must humble yourself. You must put yourself down in order that one day He might lift you up to the glory and heights of heaven - because, think of it for a moment, it was He from the heights of heaven who was lowered to your hell. Whoever you are, children, teenagers, adults - Jesus said to His apostles, to the disciples, religious men: 'If you want to enter the kingdom, you must join the children'.
Will you say tonight, in simple, childlike, early, complete faith: 'Jesus, friend of little children, be a friend to me'. Let us pray. It doesn't matter what age you are, I was converted at 8 years of age - there's people here tonight that were converted younger than that. Most people here tonight were converted as a child, just like you, if you're one of them. There's teenagers here, there's adults here, and I'm going to challenge you all - every head bowed, please. When did you trust Christ? I'm not asking you when your father and mother came to the Iron Hall, I'm not asking you when you started Sunday School or you got first prize. I'm asking you not if you're baptised, but I'm asking you: when did you step out yourself, turn from your sin, and trust the Lord Jesus as your own? For if you can't answer me, it means you haven't - but the good news is: you can do it just now. You don't need to complicate it, I might complicate it for you, just say: 'Lord Jesus, save me. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, come in today, come in to stay. Come into my heart Lord Jesus'. Is there an adult here tonight, oh and I've plucked a few chords on your heartstrings? The memories of your childhood that sin has diluted, and almost caused to be cast into a sea of forgetfulness - but yet, tonight, those embers of your Sunday School days, the days at your mother's knee, have been fanned to flame again. Will you not come tonight early, right away, before that flame goes out?
Father, we have read together the old story how Jesus received the children that came to Him. We pray that all those tonight who would come in childlike faith, young or old, that Jesus would receive them again. We believe He will, for He has said: 'Him that comes to me, I will no way cast out'. Lord, may they come tonight, boys and girls, young men and young women, grown men, old men, women, everyone - may they come tonight, Lord. To the glory of the Saviour, who still has power to lay His hands on all men and bless them unto eternity, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Jesus, Friend Of Children" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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