The mom panics, the dad’s face turns a touch red, and the old ladies begin to shake their heads. The baby has cried. As the baby is run out the sanctuary back door like patient about to be airlifted to the hospital for a brain transplant, the murmurs start: “Why did they bring that kid in?” What a distraction; I can’t focus with all that noise.” “Nursery, anyone?”
And while parents with young children should seek to be considerate of others, most of the people who dislike having kids in their services don’t have a people problem. They have a gospel problem.
When the disciples rebuked the parents who wanted Jesus to bless their kids, Jesus rebukes his disciples. And Jesus rebukes his disciples not because kids’ ministry is his number one passion. He rebukes the disciples because they get the gospel wrong.
The disciples didn’t want the kids interrupting Jesus’ day because they thought salvation was a matter of works. I.e. you help God help you be what God wants you to be. Because the little babies being thrust before Jesus could do nothing meaningful for the kingdom of God, the disciples shewed them away. Jesus only had time for those who belong in Big Church. No distractions please. Or so they thought.
But the disciples got the message of the gospel wrong. Jesus flipped the religion on its head. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). Jesus was saying that the church doesn’t belong to all the cranky, self-righteous people. The church, the kingdom of God belongs to the children! How can this be? The babies don’t vote, tithe, or lead Sunday school classes!
Well it all goes back to our understanding of salvation. According to the scriptures, salvation is a free gift of God. Our Lord saves us not because we were able to focus on the sermon for 50 straight years, not because we earned our 100th Sunday School Pen, and not because we tithed 3% of our income for the last 60 years. God saves us by his grace. He saves us not because of works that we have done but because of his love (Eph. 2:8-9). And because God is loving and merciful, he saves little babies and children that die. (For a full look at how this happens, see my blog Onesies: the doctrine of salvation.) As John MacArthur wrote:
The salvation of young children…is a deathblow to any form of legalism, since such children obviously can do nothing to merit salvation.
In a since the disciples were right. The little children could offer nothing to the kingdom of God. But they missed was the fact that they too could offer nothing to the kingdom of God. If we view children as a nuisance, as a bother, or as an unwanted distraction, we need to check our hearts for pride. We need to ask: “Are we impressed with what we and our church is offering to God? Do we think ourselves as being more worthy and deserving than little babies? Have we forgotten that we add nothing to our salvation?” And then, we need to welcome the little babies like Jesus did. We need to be glad that they are with us.
At the end of the day, the church does not belong to the senior adults. Is also is not supposed to be the millennials’ new coffee house. The church belongs to those who are trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. The church belongs to those who have been saved by grace. As a result of God’s mercy, there will be more crying babies in heaven than self-righteous old ladies. Shouldn’t our churches reflect heaven?