More than 145 years ago, D.L. Moody reached out to
children on the streets of Chicago. The Illinois Street Church (now
Moody Church) grew out of his Sunday school ministry. Today, the
senior pastor of Moody Church reveals Christ’s heart for
We’re going to take off our own set of glasses, and we’re going to
try to understand children from Christ’s viewpoint.
The text is Matthew 18. The disciples come to Jesus with a
question. And the question in verse 1 is “Who is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven? He called a little child and had him stand
among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change
and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom
of heaven.’ “
What a revealing question. And what a revealing answer. If the
disciples had actually known what the kingdom of heaven was like,
they would not have asked this question. Who is the greatest was
the wrong question for the kingdom of heaven. In fact it is those
who do not ask a question like that who are the greatest in the
kingdom. Jesus takes a child and puts him in the center, a little
boy, and says that if you want to be great in the kingdom, you be
Why does Jesus use a child as an example of greatness in the
kingdom? Well, first of all, because of children’s humility. Most
of the time children want to be in the background. They have a kind
of innocence about them…You can’t help but love them. They feel
deeply. They are easily hurt. And they are just precious. So Jesus
I think also a sense of dependence. No child actually dreams of
living alone. He does not want to face life by himself. He is
utterly and joyfully dependent on those who can take care of him.
So Jesus said be like a little child.
There’s also along with that, of course, that instinctive trust. I
happened to be brought up in a good home and it never dawned on me,
it never ever crossed my mind, that someday I would not have a bed
to sleep in or clothes on my back or food on the table. It was
assumed that that’s just provided by my parents. Well, Jesus said
those qualities are inherent in children.
And of course you can’t help but love them because of some of the
things that children sometimes say. All of us as parents can brag a
little bit about things that no speech writer could ever possibly
think of. And they come through the lips of children. Like our
daughter Lisa once said before she went to bed, “Mommy, my teddy
bear knows that he isn’t real.” Who could come up with something
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Now friends, I want you to think with me for just a moment about
how the spirit and the lives of children, these precious sensitive
children, are being crushed in our world. I will not spend much
time on this because you already know the statistics, the
destruction of the family around the world.
In Britain, three-fourths of a million children have no contact at
all with their fathers, and I’m sure that here in America the
number is much greater. UNICEF said that one million children
worldwide will become prostitutes each year. There are another
million children oftentimes sold into the most hideous and the most
awful kinds of sexual experiences and prostitution that one could
imagine. One hundred million children worldwide live on the
We live in a country of violence — incredibly violent — where
children are abused verbally, sexually, physically. One hundred
thirty-five thousand children take guns with them to school. Do you
not weep about the fact that today, even as I speak, there is an
11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy sitting in a jail,
responsible for the murders of five people and the wounding of
others? These little children — these are little children — they
should be home playing with toy trains, not toy guns and not being
introduced into the world of violence. There’s violence on
television; there’s violence all over and people like violence.
They must like violence or there would not be so much of it. And so
you have a world of violence.
You have a world of suffering. Seventeen million children die each
year of starvation and malnutrition. And in our society, we are
crushing the most tender plants.
Now let’s look at why children are so valuable. Let’s listen from
the words of Jesus. Notice what he says. First of all, [children] are valuable to him. In verse 5, “Whoever welcomes a little child
like this in my name welcomes me.” What a statement. Jesus is
saying that children give us the opportunity to invite Jesus Christ
into our homes. Christ is looking for a place to stay, and if we
invite a child into our homes, we have invited Christ into our
homes. We’re to receive children in the name of Christ.
Remember [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer? During those dark days of Hitler,
he used to challenge congregations with this question, “Who is
Jesus Christ to you?” Jesus said, “If you visit me in prison, if
you visit the least of these, my bothers, you have visited me. If
you clothe those [who]are needy, you have clothed me.” And so
Bonhoeffer said, “Who is Christ for us today?” And in his day, it
was the persecuted Jews that the church did not harbor and did not