Gospel Light Publications
But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased.
You’ve seen the picture often titled “Jesus Blesses the Children.” It is a popular scene for artists to depict. Usually, the children and Jesus are shown interacting happily with butterflies flitting by. The grass and trees look like they are straight out of the Garden of Eden. It is serene. Jesus is happy. And, if a picture is only meant to show Mark 10:16, it may very well be pretty accurate. But then, there is the rest of the story . . .
Mark 10:1-2 says,
He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him.
In verses 1-9, the Pharisees were debating Jesus. As they had done before, they were trying to trip Him up. They were testing Him. The issue of divorce was a hot topic, something about which there was quite a bit of disagreement in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees wanted to try to draw Him into that current controversy. Jesus’ answers to them were very wise, and He startled them with His answers, as He usually did.
The setting changed in verse 10 from a public one to a private home: “In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.” Probably, the Pharisees had left, though the passage doesn’t say for sure. “In the house” implies that Jesus and His disciples retired to a more private setting—not completely private—but at least they were back together as a group. The disciples probably wanted to understand His answer more thoroughly, so they had some further questions. They asked Jesus to give them more information about the topic of divorce, and in verses 11 and 12, He explained it more.
The Disciples’ Error
In the middle of this discussion—we’re not told that it ends—there was an interruption. This conversation in which the disciples had a great deal of interest was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of parents bringing their young children so that Jesus would bless them (verse 13):
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
The children who were brought to Jesus were likely infants or young toddlers. Some scholars believe that it was a tradition to bring children at one year of age to a rabbi in a synagogue for his blessing. And so, it could very well have been that these children were brought to Jesus for His blessing and His prayer for them. Scripture says, “They brought young children to him, that he might touch them” (verse 13).
In the second part of verse 13, the scene switches from focusing on the parents to focusing on the disciples: “The disciples rebuked those who brought them.” The disciples rebuked the parents.
Why do you think the disciples rebuked the parents? What was the underlying attitude of the disciples that caused them to rebuke the parents? The disciples were busy learning, and so they probably thought, This just isn’t the time. They didn’t appreciate the disruption.
Note the sequence of action: Parents bring young children; the disciples become upset; the disciples rebuke the parents.
Since Jesus’ emotional reaction is only recorded in Mark (parallel passages are Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17), it often gets overlooked. An artist who paints this scene without studying the Mark account will portray a happy, peaceful occasion.
However, we can’t appreciate the full impact of the passage, nor understand it accurately, without noting how Jesus responded in verse 14:
But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
The other two accounts don’t say He was displeased. When we read the Matthew and Luke accounts, we might imagine Jesus speaking in very nice, gentle, pearly tones, saying, “Let the children come.” It just sounds so wonderful—so majestic.
But Mark tells us it didn’t happen that way at all! Jesus’ emotional response is revealed in verse 14. We see how He reacted, and wow, was He angry! He was greatly displeased! It was definitely a strong, negative emotional reaction. In fact, if you compare Scripture, you’ll find that it was a very, very strong reaction in light of the other emotional reactions that Jesus had.
But why was He angry? Would Jesus have become angry by accident? Or was His anger purposeful?
And what was He angry at? What made Him displeased?
Clearly, Jesus had a point to make. And clearly, it was the actions and the attitude of the disciples that were the focus of His anger. It was the way they rebuked the parents for bringing the children. Let’s clarify this picture: The disciples were upset at the parents; Jesus became upset at the disciples. The parents thought they were doing something good. They were. The disciples should have been pleased. They weren’t! The disciples thought they were doing something good. They weren’t. They thought Jesus would be pleased with them. He wasn’t!
What did the disciples do that made Jesus so angry? Consider their thinking: They thought children were an interruption. They thought blessing children was less important than the discussion they were having. That attitude was the basis for their actions and was the reason for Jesus’ anger. To put it another way, they thought adult issues were more important than ministering to children.
Jesus’ reaction was extremely strong. In fact, there is only one other place in Scripture where Jesus is this angry—His reaction to the moneychangers in the Temple (see Luke 19:45-48). Jesus was angry because the disciples put a higher priority on discussing an adult topic than on ministering to children. The disciples simply didn’t see children as they should have seen children.
Our View of Children
In local churches and families, four different attitudes toward children are seen.
Attitude 1: Children Are a Bother.
This view is wrong!
You know the attitude—we have to take care of them, especially during the worship service! There has to be a children’s church, because the children will distract the attention of the adults! We have to do something with them—even if it is just showing them a video to keep them quiet. Somebody’s got to do it or else ministry to adults will be hindered. Possibly, the disciples themselves would have had this attitude.
When this attitude is present, there is apathy toward children’s ministry.
When this thinking infiltrates the church, it reveals itself through the alignment of resources. The best of recruiting efforts, church budgets, facility upkeep, etc., are reserved for adult ministry and children’s ministry gets the leftovers.
But children’s workers can also have this attitude: Lesson preparation is at a bare minimum; little attention is given to learning objectives; there is no communication or cooperation with the children’s parents; and the various children’s ministries do not coordinate their efforts.
When this thinking is in the home, the television becomes the primary tool to keep the kids quiet. Parents secretly are glad when their children play video games, because they are not bothered. Rarely do they give the spiritual nurture of their children a thought. It’s never a priority.
Attitude 2: Children Are a Tool.
This view is practical!
Without a doubt, this view is common in Western churches. Children are potential tools for reaching their families. Pastors and church leaders who focus on church growth understand that one of the most effective ways to build a church is to have an effective children’s ministry. And so the value given to children’s ministry is due to its potential for reaching adults. Such a view is inadequate. It’s good—and it works—but it’s inadequate.
When this attitude is present, there is approval of children’s ministry. In comparison with the first attitude, children’s ministry has more value to church leadership.
In the church, children’s workers are lauded. But the leaders’ interest is in how many parents are brought in through the children’s ministry. All of the activities and programs of the children’s department are assessed in light of the impact upon the adult population of the church.
Pathetically, parents often use children as tools, too. A Little League dad may try to find fulfillment of his own dreams in his son. A divorced mom may manipulate the activities or emotions of a child to get even with her ex-husband.
Attitude 3: Children Are Our Future.
This view is true!
On several occasions Moses reminded the children of Israel of this view of children (see Deuteronomy 4:40; 6:1-2). And nothing has changed since—we understand that if we don’t minister to children, Christianity will die. They are the instruments of carrying the message of the gospel to another generation and into the future. We see how important all of that is. Such a view is essential—but it also is inadequate. This view still sees children as a tool to accomplish another end.
When this attitude is present, there is appreciation of children’s ministry. It receives attention. Workers are recognized and adequate facilities and curricula are a concern.
Vladimir Belous was a pastor in Ukraine during the years of Soviet rule. He learned of the importance of children’s ministry from communist propaganda. One day, he saw a flyer that essentially said, “The real danger from America is not their missiles, but that they are teaching their children about God.” The pamphlet went on to describe (in a very derogatory manner) the efforts in the United States churches to train their children, and to warn the people of the Soviet Union not to allow such contamination in their country, or the future of communism would be in doubt. Pastor Belous knew at once that children’s ministry was essential to his church if it was to survive into the future. Out of this conviction came an openness to establish children’s ministry, and his church became the beachhead for launching the Awana Club ministry in Ukraine.
Attitude 4: Children Are People.
This view is the best—because it is biblical and because it is Jesus’ view.
Close your eyes and say the word “people.” What do you see? Only adults? Or are there children in your mind’s picture? When the disciples saw the little children who were brought to Jesus, they didn’t see people. Maybe they saw future people, but not real-time people.
Jesus’ response demonstrates a different perspective. He didn’t say to the disciples, “Let the little children come to Me, because they are our future;” rather, He scolded them, “Let the little children come to me, . . . for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14, NIV). In other words, not merely because of their future value, but because of their present value—the little children were important to Jesus. They were real-time people who needed Him. To Jesus, a child was definitely not a bother, not merely a tool, not someone with future value, but a real person—now. He stopped what He was doing and gave the children His full attention.
When we see children as Jesus sees them, ministering to them becomes a priority:
• In the church, children’s ministry takes its place on equal footing with other ministries. The budget reflects the equal value of children’s ministry. Church objectives include the equal importance of children’s ministry. Facility use demonstrates the equal significance of children’s ministry. Its leadership is on “peer status” with other ministry leaders.
• Parents demonstrate their conviction that the most important training they can provide for their children is spiritual training. They, like Jesus, are willing to spend time in the spiritual nurture of their children.
Which attitude is prevalent in your church? If you are a parent, which attitude best describes your regular pattern of activity? As a children’s worker, does your preparation time reflect the best attitude?
Think through this summary. Which perspective is yours?
One thing is very clear: Children were important to Jesus.
When He said “Let the little children come,” He didn’t do it in a peaceful scene. He didn’t do it outside in a beautiful, green parklike setting. He didn’t do it with gentle tones and a peaceful look on His face. Instead, the words “Let the little children come” were words of strong anger. When Jesus spoke them, the message was sharp and full of emotion! It was a strong rebuke to the disciples for their actions. This scene was not at all the way that it is usually painted.
At age 13, I committed my life to working with children at a Bible camp. God has graciously allowed me to participate in children’s ministry ever since. Yet there have been many occasions when I have sensed from others the attitude, When are you going to get a real ministry? The most important attitude of all, however, is that of my Savior. And if He thinks ministry to children is important, that’s all I need!
Foundation Rock 1: Ministering to children is a high priority.
“He was indignant” (Mark 10:14, NIV). Three words that reveal so very much! They make one issue really clear: Jesus saw children as worthy of His time. To Him, they were a priority.
Ministry to children too often gets pushed down, shoved aside, put off. It gets treated as second-rate, receives secondhand resources and is expected to play second fiddle to “real” ministry—adult ministry.
But not by Jesus. He demonstrated that it was very important.
And if children’s ministry is important to Jesus, that’s all I need.
Barna, George. Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003.
This dynamic book is one of a kind. It provides compelling statistical evidence and persuasive thoughts regarding the need to make children’s ministry a priority in the church.
Gospel Light. Children’s Ministry Smart Pages. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2004.
This book provides children’s ministry leaders with up-to-date guidelines and tools for creating and carrying out a vision for ministering to children.
Haystead, Wes and Sheryl. Children’s Ministry: No Higher Calling. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 1998.
This video will inspire you to embrace the important role of teaching children of all ages about God’s Word and His amazing love.
Haystead, Wes and Sheryl. How to Have a Great Sunday School. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2000.
A must-have resource that gives expert advice and proven methods to help both small and large churches plan and organize their Sunday Schools for effective Bible teaching.
London, H. B., Jr., and Neil B. Wiseman. For Kids’ Sake: Winning the Tug-of-War for Future Generations. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2004.
This book will instruct you about the critical importance of instilling a biblical worldview in children.