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 like that?
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
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
But I ask you today, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”
Certainly the single mother who thinks that she needs to have an
abortion. She is Jesus Christ for us. Who is Christ for us? It is
the unwanted child. It is the child without a family. It is the
child from a broken home. And Jesus says, “If you invite these
children into your home, you have invited me into your home.”
So Jesus said that children are important to him. And then he
said they should be important to us. Listen to verse 6. “But if
anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [or
to stumble], it would be better for him to have a large millstone
hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Wow! You say what does it mean when it says causing a child to sin
or to stumble? That is causing a child to lose his foothold on the
way to the Holy City.
And we can do that through a bad example. Here in Chicago many,
many years ago, there was a man who was going to the saloon to
drink. He was an alcoholic, and he was on his way — and freshly
driven snow had fallen. And as he walked along, he noticed in back
of him this little boy was behind him taking huge steps trying to
be in his father’s steps. And the father turned around and said,
“What are you doing?” And he said, “Daddy, I’m following in your
steps.” And that man turned around and he went home. And by God’s
grace, he never touched alcohol again.
“Daddy, I am following in your steps.” Jesus said that if you
cause one of these little ones to sin or to stumble, what would be
better? And, by the way, we can do it by our example. We can do it
by what we say, by the way in which we treat our children. We can
do it by false teaching, by not leading them to Jesus Christ.
Now listen to what Jesus is saying. Is this serious or is it
not? “It would be better for him to have a large millstone hung
around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” In
order to understand that, you have to realize that children should
be more valuable to us than our own lives.
Listen, you child molesters. Listen, those of you who abuse your
children because of your hot temper, those of you who abuse
children by neglect, those of you who put your own needs ahead of
children. Listen, these aren’t my words; these are the words of
Christ. What Jesus is saying is you can’t abuse children without
God watching and without judgment coming. It would be better to be
Jesus said that not only are our children more important than
our lives, they’re more important than our careers or our own
health or our own ability to function well. You say, “Well, where’s
that in the text?” Well, verse 7. “Woe to the world because of the
things that cause people to sin [or to stumble]. Such things must
come.” They are inevitable.
Do you remember a number of years ago I preached a message on
the little word “must,” all the things that must come? But woe to
the man through whom they come. Yes, it is inevitable that children
are going to be neglected and abused and so forth. But don’t you —
or let me put it positively — make sure that you are not the one
through whom this is going to happen. Let’s not be a part of the
problem, let’s be a part of the solution.
What does Jesus think of children? Jesus is saying do whatever
you need to do, but do not cause them to stumble. They are valuable
to him, they should be valuable to us, and they are valuable to
angels. Verse 10, “See that you do not look down on one of these
little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see
the face of my Father in heaven.” This is where the idea of
guardian angels comes from.
But notice this, they’re God’s angels: “They behold the face of
my Father which is in heaven.” This takes children and puts them
right in the presence of God. And we should not despise those who
have angels as their companions and their friends. Now could Jesus
make it any clearer that children are important to God?
Skip to verse 14. “In the same way your Father in heaven is not
willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Does God
take note of them? Does God see the starvation? Does he see the
abuse? Does he see the fragmentation of the family? Does he grieve?
Yes. You say, “Well, God could intervene.” Yes, that’s also
possible. But he has another agenda that he’s working on. And so he
does intervene, but the way in which he intervenes is through you
and through me.
What can we do about all this? May I make some very, very
important life-changing suggestions?
First of all, we should begin with our own children. If you have
children, the importance that we should be giving to children is
absolutely overwhelming. I look over my life. I thank God for the
fact that we have three daughters all of whom love Christ, two of
whom are with us today, the other in Wheaton College. But I look
back and I said to Rebecca, “You know, I wish that when the
children were smaller, we would have had more fun. I wish I would
have been more relaxed.”
You know life goes by so quickly, and we look back and we have
those regrets. I want you to know today that if God has entrusted
you with a little one, he’s entrusted you with Christ. Jesus said,
“You receive them, you receive me.”
Then we begin to think of the children here at the Moody Church
and the opportunities. You’ve heard something of our Children’s
Club and our afternoon program. We’ve talked to you about Cabrini
Green and Alison Taylor’s work over there. And when Pastor Worley
and I were visiting her there perhaps three weeks ago and seeing
the club program, I thought, well, why couldn’t we have a club
program like this in all of the various buildings of Cabrini Green,
throughout the city of Chicago at many different housing projects.
And we’re doing little things, but we could do so much more. There
are agencies that we can support that help feed children —
Compassion International and others. We can all get involved in the
lives of children.
Here’s what I’d like to suggest. I’d like to suggest that all of
us ask God to bring one child into our lives who is Christ for us.
As a result of this message, there would be children whose lives
would be permanently changed and touched if we committed ourselves
to them. It may be the child of a relative, it may be a child in
your neighborhood, it may be a child that really does need your
attention and love. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? We’d be inviting
Jesus Christ into our homes. And what that would mean in terms of
our involvement in the community and our involvement in Chicago
would have eternal repercussions.
You know what we’re doing in this missions conference, don’t
you? We’re just returning to our roots. It was D.L. Moody, you
know, who came here. He was led to Christ by a man by the name of
[Edward] Kimball, whom you may not have heard of. But he’s the one
who led D.L. Moody to saving faith in Christ. Moody came from
Boston to Chicago.
When Moody came here and began his Sunday school, he went “to
the poorest of the poor.” It was called the Sands. It was called
Little Hell. And it was just north of the Chicago river along the
lake front in those days.
And people used to call Moody “Crazy Moody” for a number of
reasons. First of all, he sometimes went with a pony. And the
children were interested in the pony, and that’s how he attracted
attention. But secondly, he would go there sometimes in the night,
and people would say he was crazy to go there because it was filled
with prostitutes and filled with gangs and filled with all kinds of
alcoholism and everybody. And people in their right minds didn’t go
to that part of town if they were perfectly sane. And so he was
criticized for that.
You know why D.L. Moody chose that? It’s because he felt more
comfortable there because there he was not criticized for his
English and his bad grammar for which others criticized him —
sometimes publicly. It is said that D.L. Moody was able to say the
word “Mesopotamia” in one syllable. So as a result of that, he felt
comfortable because the kids didn’t care if he said “Mesopotamia”
in one syllable.
And what did D.L. Moody do? He began that Sunday school, and all
of us know the story of how president-elect Abraham Lincoln came
and spoke to the Sunday school. The story is that the president
said that he would come to D.L. Moody’s Sunday school if he didn’t
have to say anything; if he didn’t have to give a speech. But
before he left, D.L. said that the president did not want to give a
speech, but possibly he could say something. And he did.
Bottom line: Through the lips of children. What would we like to
have Moody Church known for in the city? Certainly for all the
things we are doing, for all the evangelism, for all of the many,
many ministries which are too numerous to mention. But wouldn’t it
also be wonderful if Moody Church became known as a place for kids?
This is the place where they have club programs after school,
tutoring programs. This is a safe place where honorable people take
care of children. This is a place where we can send our children,
and we can know that they are well- taken-care-of, as in our
childhood center that we have now, the Children’s Learning Center.
A reputation in the community that I’m so glad that we have is that
Moody Church is a good place to bring children because what we are
doing is reviving and committing ourselves to the original vision
of our founder.
But more important, may I end today with the words of Jesus?
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest
in the kingdom, of heaven.” Jesus said to those people, “What you
need to do is to turn; you need to change your hearts.”
And then Jesus added, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this
in my name, welcomes me.” The missions committee has had the vision
for the children of the world, and all of us can be involved
somehow — the children of the city, the children of this church,
the children of our families. And Jesus would say, “If you’re
interested in that, you’re interested in me.”
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer is the senior pastor of Moody Church in
Chicago. This article was adapted from a message aired on the Moody
Broadcasting Network. Please keep in mind that phone numbers,
addresses, and prices are subject to change.