The Shepherd And His Lambs
From the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, I want to read just these few verses, but oh, how beautiful they are. “And they were bringing children to Jesus, that He might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw that, He was indignant, and He 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 He put His hands upon them, and He blessed them.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
What a happy turn of events it is for me as a preacher. You see, circumstances have conspired to compel me to preach upon one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s the passage which I just read for you from the tenth chapter of Mark, the passage which speaks of the very special relationship which exists between Jesus Christ and our children, the very special relationship that exists between the Shepherd and His little lambs.
What are those circumstances? Well, you have witnessed them this morning, for today we have celebrated ten years of significant ministry to children through our First Presbyterian Church Infant Child Care Center. And we have also celebrated the sacrament of baptism administered to one of our little ones. Now, why do we do these things? Why do we baptize our children? Why is it that ministering to children is so central to our lives together as a church? Well, the Bible says, “Always be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you.” And so today I want to share with you some reasons why we do these things.
Now, mind you, I do not wish to start an argument at this point. I’m very sensitive to the fact that there are numbers of our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ who do not believe in baptism for small children. I respect their belief. And my Christ would never permit me to be so arrogant as to stand here today and say that we are right, and they are wrong. No, I’m not looking today to try to win a debate. Not at all. I simply want to share with you from my heart some of the reasons why we as Presbyterians believe and act as we do.
Now, there are some people who would say that we baptize our children because that’s what the vast majority of Christians in the world do. And of course, that’s quite true. There are more than one billion Christians on the face of the earth today. And of those more than one billion Christians, some 960 million practice infant baptism. Only a small percentage, less than 5% of the Christians in the world today, do not baptize small children. And yet, that is not sufficient reason for me.
You see, I’m very much aware of the fact that Martin Luther was not on the side of the majority during the Reformation, and yet, Martin Luther was absolutely right. And so the fact that the vast majority of Christians in the world today baptize small children, that in and of itself is not sufficient reason for the practice.
Well, there are others who would say that the reason we do this kind of thing is because – well, because it’s been done from the very earliest days of the history of the church. And of course, that’s also quite true. All of the great Fathers of the early Christian church, men like Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus and Cyprian and Polycarp and Augustine, all of these knew, acknowledged and support it, the practice of baptism for small children. Perhaps the most touching evidence we have for the baptism of children came in the second century, words that are carved on a tombstone. That tombstone was unearthed not very long ago by archaeologists in the city of Rome. On that tombstone are carved these words – listen to the epitaph – “I, Zosimus, a baptized believer, lie here having lived two years, one month, and 25 days.”
What’s true, right from its earliest days in the history of the church, baptism has been administered to children, but that in and of itself is not sufficient reason for me, no. I’m much more concerned as to what the Word of God says, not so concerned as to what the history of the church says, for I recognize that at times, in its history, the church has led the people of God astray.
And so I’ve taken this whole matter of baptism to children and our ministry to children, I’ve taken the whole matter to the Scriptures to see what I find. And I want to share with you now at least something of what I have found there.
First, this, our baptism of children and our ministry to them arise out of the teachings of the whole Bible.
Now, the key word there is the word “whole.” We need to remember always that the Bible contains both New and Old Testaments. Neither Testament is more important than the other.
The roots of the New Testament are found in the Old, and the fruits of the Old Testament are found in the New. And what God has joined together by the power of His Spirit, we dare not put asunder. We must consider the Bible as a whole, both Testaments, if you will.
And if we look at the teachings of the Bible as a whole, the first thing we notice in the Old Testament is that three very crucial factors come immediately to our attention. The first is this: God is a covenant-making God. You can’t help but see that in the pages of the Old Testament. God is repeatedly making covenants with His people. As a matter of fact, that’s what the story of the Bible as a whole is all about, the story of the covenants that God makes with His people and how God remains faithful to those covenants and how His people are constantly breaking those covenants. God is a covenant-making God.
But then the second thing we see in the Old Testament is that when God makes a covenant with His people, He makes that covenant not only with adults but also with children. That’s true in every case. The language is there, right straight through the pages of the Old Testament. In every case, it’s true. The covenants are made for both adults and for children.
But then that leads to the third thing that arises out of the Old Testament. It is the fact that we notice that the signs of the covenant, those acts, those rituals which are the symbol of the reality of what God has done for His people, those signs of the covenant, as it were, are also extended to the children. Look, for example, at the covenant with Abraham. Listen to what God says to Abraham in Genesis 17. He says, “Circumcision is the sign of the covenant made between you and Me. Therefore, let he who is eight days old among you be circumcised.” There it is. Both the covenant and the sign of the covenant include the children.
But then we need to move to the pages of the New Testament. And once again, on the pages of the New Testament, we find God making a new covenant as it were with these people in Jesus Christ, only now the sign of the covenant has changed. The sign of the covenant becomes baptism. Why the change? Well, because circumcision involved the shedding of blood. And after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, there became no more need for people to shed blood in order to put themselves right with God, Jesus Christ shed all the blood that ever needed to be shed.
Not only that, but circumcision is for males. And in the death of Jesus Christ, the curse of sin was lifted from both men and women. Therefore, a sign of the covenant had to be found, which would include both male and female. Baptism was the logical choice.
Remember what we said on the pages of the Old Testament, the covenants and the signs of the covenant, all of those included the children? Well, in all of the pages of the New Testament, there’s not a single word to indicate a change in that procedure. And so, I say to you that on the basis of the teachings of the Bible as a whole, we have reason for baptism of children and for ministering to the needs of children in our midst.
But there’s a second factor here. Our Baptism of children and our ministry to them arise out of specific teachings in the New Testament.
You see it clearly, I think, on the day of Pentecost. You remember when Peter stood to preach before that huge throng of people, and he proceeded to speak to those people about the promise of God’s grace to those who believed? And what did Peter say? You read it for yourself in the second chapter of Acts. Peter said, “The promise of grace is to you and to your children.”
Or you see it, I think, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We are right at the outset. Paul says that he’s writing this letter to the saints, to the believers, to the Christians who lived in the region of Ephesus. And then later on in the fifth and sixth chapters of that letter, he speaks very specifically to some of those saints. He speaks to husbands, and he speaks to wives, and he speaks to parents, and then he speaks to children. And when you read what he says to the children, you cannot escape the conviction that Paul regarded the children as being believers in Jesus Christ.
But then, I think, perhaps, you see it most clearly of all in those many references on the pages of the New Testament to whole households which were baptized. Now, what did that word household mean in biblical times? That word household meant simply this, all the members of a family who dwell together under one roof, and that word household was used repeatedly in referring to families with children.
Just one example. Do you remember the time when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi? And there, they did amazing things that impressed the man who was their jailer? And as a result of that, the jailer came to them and said, “Man, what must I do to be saved?” And immediately, Paul responded, “Believe, and you shall be saved. You,” Paul said, “and all your household.” And then in the very next line, we read these words, “He was baptized. He and all his family.” Now, the story makes it quite plain that this man alone came to Paul asking the question. This man alone accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This man alone believed. And yet, it was on the strength of his belief that his whole household was baptized, including the children.
You see, I think the message of the New Testament is simply this: when the sheep belong to the Shepherd, so do the lambs. Let me try to express it this way. If you were to travel this summer in Great Britain, and while there, you were to give birth to a child, you as a parent would have the option at that point of deciding the child’s citizenship. The child could be a citizen of Great Britain because the child had been born on British soil, or the child could be a citizen of America because the child was born to American parents. You could make the choice. But then, when that child reaches the age of 18, that child will then have the right to remake that decision. The child at that point can either affirm the decision which the parent made earlier, or the child can choose the other citizenship. Baptism is very much like that. The New Testament teaches us that, as parents, we can determine that our children shall be citizens of the Kingdom of God. And on the basis of that, they are baptized. But then later on, when those children reach the age of responsibility, they have the right to remake that decision, to choose the faith to which the parents had committed them or to reject it. I say it again. The message of the New Testament is simply this: when the sheep belong to the Shepherd, so do the lambs.
But then there’s a third factor. It’s this: our baptism of children and our ministry to them arise out of this specific command of Jesus Himself.
I do so love that passage of scripture I read for you a moment ago, that passage which tells of Jesus and the children. More than likely, it happened on the Day of Atonement. That was a great Hebrew feast day. And on the Day of Atonement, it was traditional for parents to bring their children to the temple. And there, the scribes of the temple would bless the children. And so on this Day of Atonement, numbers of parents brought their children not to the temple, but to Jesus to ask Him to bless them.
And you can see, that’s precisely the reason why the disciples didn’t want the children there. It wasn’t that the disciples didn’t like children. Of course not. No. It was because they felt that this was making Jesus appear to be like one of the scribes on the temple. And they didn’t have a very high opinion of the scribes of the temple. And they didn’t want that label hung on their master, and so they tried to chase the children away. But Jesus never gave a thought as to His own reputation. He thought of only one thing: He wanted those children. He wanted them in His hands and in His arms. He wanted them crawling up in His lap and running their fingers through His hair. He wanted those children. He wanted to hold them, to hug them, to kiss them, to bless them. He wanted to hear the sound of their laughter, and He wanted to bask in their refreshing innocence. He wanted those children for His very own. And He says it himself. “Do not forbid them to come. I want them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” There it is from the lips of the Master: children are a part of the kingdom. He says it himself, “To such belongs the Kingdom of God.” You see, Jesus is affirming here the great unity of the family, affirming what the Bible teaches, that the family is the divinely ordained basic unit of all society. This book, this Bible is from its first page to its last a family book, from the first word to the last it says again and again and again that God loves adults. Yes, but God also loves children, and God wants those children for His very own.
Ooh, I wish we understood that as profoundly as the communists do. Are you aware of the fact that the communists almost relentlessly, viciously attack the practice of the baptism of children? And not only that, but the communists refuse to tolerate the church having any part at all of a ministry to children? Are you aware of that the communists will tolerate some things from the church, but not that. Why? Because the entire communist system hangs on the destruction of family unity. The whole heart and soul of the communist philosophy is that people work not for the benefit and welfare of their families, but for the benefit and welfare of the state. And the only way to accomplish that goal is to destroy the unity of the family. And the best way to destroy the unity of the family is to attack the Christian faith which above all else exalts the unity of the Christian family. That’s why they attack it as they do. And that’s why we, as Christians, ought to commit ourselves to maintaining a profoundly beautiful ministry to children in our midst. That’s why it thrills me to see every single day of the week, hundreds of children who come to this church, where here, they are surrounded by the Spirit of Christ and the love of Christ and the teachings of Christ and the people of Christ. That’s why it thrills me that this church for so many years has taken seriously the command of Christ Jesus. “Forbid them not.”
Well, do you know that that if you took all of the experiences of Jesus which are recorded in the gospels and placed them on a calendar, they would cover a period of six weeks? Imagine that, just six weeks out of a ministry that lasted some three years, just six weeks. It’s obvious from that that the gospel writers have chosen to share with us just the highlights, just the most significant parts of the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ. Why, then, in light of that, why, then do you suppose that three of the gospel writers include the story of Jesus and the children in a very prominent place in their Gospel accounts? I would contend with you today that it is simply because they heard the voice of God speaking through the lips of His only Son, saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” That, my friends, is the word of the Shepherd about His little lambs.
Let us pray. Most gracious God, let us continue to celebrate the glory of the children who live in our midst, the children whom You wish to claim as Your very own. We love them even as You do. We love holding them and hearing them and sharing with them even as You do, and we love You for giving them to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.