Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alelluia! Let us pray:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In the name of Jesus.
Over the course of the last two years of instruction, the two boys who sit here this morning, on the cusp of being Confirmed, and then receiving the body of blood of Jesus in The Sacrament of the Altar for the first time have completed: 49 different memory work assignments, 46 different vocabulary quizes including 204 vocabulary terms, more than 36 sermon summaries, 6 major tests, they have each compiled personal prayer books consisting of an order of devotion, prayers, passages for important subjects, and favorite hymns, and last week, while sitting with the Chairman of the Board of Elders, their parents, and their pastor, they each successfully confessed the Christian faith in an oral examination.
Later on, during the reception in the Fellowship Hall—which you are all encouraged to attend—they will be presented with certain gifts, congratulatory remarks will be made, their Confirmation Certificates will be handed to them, and we’ll be able to say that all of that is a result of a job well-done. This morning, Christopher and Eli, I am proud of you, your parents are proud of you, and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that are here today are also proud of you. This is a big day; you’re wearing suits, after all! And all of this might tempt you—and the rest of us—to believe that the Kingdom of God, grace, forgiveness, salvation, and even the body and blood of Jesus are things that can be earned.
Thankfully, we have this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke to remind us otherwise. Thankfully, we have the words of Jesus Christ himself, to remind you—and all of us—that the Kingdom of God, grace, forgiveness, salvation and even the body and blood of Jesus are not things we earn, but are things we receive by faith, as gifts from God himself.
Now they were bringing even infants to him.
If you’ve heard this story before, you’re probably more familiar with how Matthew and Mark tell the story. Both of them simply say that children were being brought to Jesus. And so, it is quite likely, that when you’ve pictured these events in your mind’s eye, you’ve pictured children gathered around the feet of Jesus, much like children gather of the children’s message. You know, children. Four-year-olds; six-year-olds; eight-year-olds; even ten-year-olds and above. But when Luke tells the very same story, he gets a bit more specific; he helps us understand just what kind of children were being brought to Jesus. You see, Luke uses the Greek word bre,foj, which means an infant baby. So what is happening is that parents were bringing their infant babies to Jesus so that he might touch them.
And the disciples saw what was happening, and they rebuked the parents—they tried to stop the parents—because, for some reason, the disciples had this strange idea that those infant babies weren’t the sort of people that should be brought to Jesus.
It could have been that the disciples had fallen into the trap of thinking that the Kingdom of God was for those who could achieve some sort of intellectual qualification—you know: learning enough—and since infant babies didn’t have that sort of intellectual development yet, those parents shouldn’t bother bringing them to Jesus.
It could have been that the disciples saw more important people standing around and thought that Jesus shouldn’t be wasting His time with those infant babies. I mean, this story takes place in the context of a chapter in which Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, and in the very next verse, a ruling leader of the synagogue who was also very rich asked Jesus a question. Maybe the disciples had been tempted to believe that the Kingdom of God was for those who were prestigious, or wealthy, or held in high regard by the community.
We really don’t know for sure, why the disciples were rebuking the parents; why they were trying to keep the parents from bringing their infant babies to Jesus so that the one who had been sent to save and redeem the entire world might touch them and bless them. But whatever reason the disciples might have had, really doesn’t matter. Whatever their reason; however well-intentioned it may have been; their actions are unacceptable to Jesus. By rebuking those parents, and attempting to stop them from bringing their infant babies to Jesus, they were not working for the Kingdom of God, but had begun working against it. They were trying to keep those infant babies from the one who was there for them. They were keeping them from Jesus.
Of course, we have done the same. Maybe you haven’t stood outside the Church with bats and chains, and threatened to chase away anybody who would dare to bring their children to Church, but those soccer games, or baseball games, or other activities that society, or other parents, or our children’ friends have decided are so important have definitely been allowed by us to keep our children from coming, and hearing, and being touched, and blessed, by the voice of Jesus.
We lament the loss of children in our churches, but in our failure to rebuke that which would keep our children from coming to Jesus, and being blessed by Jesus, we have contributed to the problem.
I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying this is fun. Who wants to be mocked by coaches who can’t understand why you would remember the Sabbath day and keep it set apart, and holy, and make sure that it was the day on which your children would be brought to Jesus to be blessed by Jesus? Fellow parents or coaches look at you, with a sort of puzzled, surprised look, and say something like, “Don’t you understand that your child will be fine if he misses church a few times, but that his team really needs him?”
And what child enjoys having his or her friends make fun of them for having to miss a game, or a practice, or a concert, or leave a sleepover a bit early because you’re one of those “Church people”?
It’s not fun to say “no” to that which would keep your child from being brought to Jesus. And it can be quite a burden when it is your own child who is the one putting up the fight, and who can’t seem to understand why you would be so mean. I’m not saying this is fun, or that it’s easy, or that the other parents, or coaches, or dance instructors will even understand and encourage you. I’m simply saying that we have done the same as the disciples in our text. We have done what Jesus says in unacceptable.
They were stopping parents from bringing infant babies to Jesus, so that He might touch them and bless them. And in our failure to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; in our inability to say no to a host of things that keep our children from coming to the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day; by our failure to make sure that we would rebuke anything that would keep our children from being brought to Jesus, to be touched by Jesus, and blessed by Jesus, through the Word of Jesus, we have sinned, and fallen short of our calling as Christian parents, and grandparents, and even as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ve never seen an infant, driving himself to Church on Sunday. And I’ve never seen a baby open up the Bible and read for himself about the cross and empty tomb. And I’ve never seen one of those tiny little ones bring himself to the Communion Rail to receive the body and blood of Jesus. You see, the point that Luke wants us to get, and the reason Jesus rebukes the disciples for trying to keep those babies from being brought to Jesus; and the reason you and I need to think about what we have allowed to keep our children from being touched and blessed by the Word of Jesus, is because these little ones cannot bring themselves. They’re helpless. That’s why, the Lord gave them parents, right? So that the parents could give to those little ones what those little ones need. And what those little ones need more than anything else in the world, is Jesus.
But here’s the thing. Jesus say that the Kingdom of God, with all its blessings of grace, and forgiveness, and salvation, is a kingdom that belongs even to infant babies. And then he adds these words: Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. In other words, His desire is for all of you to be like a baby. Whether you’re two-months old, two-years old, twenty-two, fifty-two, or ninety-two, Jesus says that the only way for you to enter His Father’s Kingdom, is to be like a baby.
But not just any baby; a baby that is brought to Jesus. The kingdom of God belongs to all, who like a baby, depend on Jesus, and need Jesus, and cry out for Jesus, and joyfully receive the help that comes from Jesus when he touches you, and blesses you, and with His Word, gives you everything that you need. Like a baby that cannot live without its mother’s milk, unless you receive the blessing of Jesus in the Word of Jesus you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Truly, truly, I say to you, the kingdom of God belongs to babies of all ages who, by faith, confess their sin, and are completely dependent on the blessings which come from God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You see, the truth is, Christopher and Eli didn’t always know all their memory work; and they didn’t get perfect scores on their vocabulary quizzes, and I know that there were times when they didn’t want to be there, and would rather have been sleeping, or playing video games, or doing something but sitting and studying the Word of God. And if the Kingdom of God were something to be earned, all of that would disqualify them, as much as our own failings would disqualify us.
But the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The Kingdom of God belongs to those, like Christopher and Eli, who week after week, and year after year, have lived like babies; babies who have been brought to Jesus so that he might touch them with His teaching, and blessing them with His Gospel, which the Holy Spirit uses to strengthen and keep them in the one true faith. And this is not the result of works; it is a gift of God. Given through the Gospel, and received by those, who have learned, like babies, to depend on Jesus.
Christopher and Eli haven’t earned the Kingdom of God; they’ve been given the Kingdom of God. That’s why we’re here to celebrate. Because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, who have learned to see their failures and faults not as a reason to be damned, but as the reason they are desperate to be brought to Jesus. Because the Kingdom of God belongs to all of us who have fallen short of the glory of God, and like the disciples, have made foolish choices that have, at times, even kept our children from being brought to Jesus. As parents, and grandparents, and as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we have sinned; we have fallen short of the glory of God. Which is why today’s Holy Gospel is such Good News, not only to Christopher and Eli, but to all of us. Because it means that you are just the kind of person to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. You are a person, who is helpless to do anything for yourself, and must, by faith, simply depend on the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
Sure, today marks the end of Christopher and Eli having to take vocabulary quizzes, and learn memory work; and maybe there is something to celebrate in being done with all of that. But today, by His Word, Jesus has taught us all to believe, and to rejoice, that these two teenage boys, will have no problem being called babies.
And after hearing Jesus’ Word, maybe you won’t either. Maybe you, and I, and Christopher and Eli, and everyone here today, regardless of your age, or your understanding, or your experience in the Church, will believe, that like a baby who depends on his mother’s milk, you depend on Jesus. For if that is the faith you confess, then I can say, without a doubt: to you, belongs the Kingdom of God. And the kingdom is yours as a gift which is given in the teaching, and preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Which is why, I pray, no matter what might try to keep you away, you’ll never stop coming to be touched, and blessed, and fed, and forgiven by Jesus. For that is how you will live, not only today, but in the Kingdom of God, forever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.