Texts: Deut. 6, Acts 2, Lk. 18
I have to be very careful with the illustration I’m about to use. I’ll do my best, but I’ll have to beg your pardon if this comes out the wrong way. I know of a phrase, a four-long set of words that you can use to get someone to do just about anything. You can tack this clause onto the end of nearly any sentence and get a favorable response. “What’s the phrase,” you ask? “It’s for the kids.” I’m sorry, but it often works. Some examples: “I think we should get a dog…it’s for the kids!” “Maybe we should consider a new car…it’s for the kids!” “Let’s think about switching to decaf coffee. It’s for the kids.” I need to be very careful with this line of thought, but an appeal to the good of our children will drive us to a great many things.
But not all things, it seems. For, when we hear the clear call of God to take up Bible and Catechism and teach our children, we’re aren’t always so quick to jump on that bandwagon. There are many reasons why that is. We’re too busy; that’s why we have pastors; I’m too old; I’m embarrassed; I’m not qualified to teach. Beloved in Christ, let us hear today the words of Christ and not be swayed by the temptations of the flesh. Christ says in the Gospel, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of God.” St. Peter says likewise in his Pentecost sermon. “The promise,” the good news of Jesus Christ, “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” From our texts we should learn that God has given us the solemn responsibility of commending the faith to next generation, for the forgiveness of sins in Christ is not just for us, but for our children, too.
Today we are celebrating Christian education. That’s what our readings are about. It’s what our hymns are about. But, if we’re going to talk about educating children in the good news of Jesus Christ, we should start at the beginning – The Beginning, actually. We should ask: whose idea was it to pass on the faith; whose idea is it that children should be taught God’s Word? God. Not only did God come up with the idea that children should learn His Word but He also instituted the primary way that that happens, the family. The Scriptures say that on the sixth day of creation, the sixth of all the days that have ever been, God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God brought to Adam all the different animals He had made, each with its mate. “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man,” and made Eve out of Adam’s rib.
It was not good that man was alone so God created woman to live with man, thereby instituting marriage, and at the same time, the family. God has bestowed upon marriage many blessings: a divinely-blessed friendship, a place of mutual of support and comfort, a place for man and woman to find delight in each other, and the wonder that is the birth of children. Both marriage and family exist because of God’s good will. Alongside the many blessings God provides, He has also placed a solemn responsibility upon those who are married. Included in the command to be fruitful and multiply is also the instruction of God to pass on the faith to our children. When husband and wife come together and God blesses their union with the conception of a child, He expects that the fruit of their union would continue in the knowledge of our God and savior. God taught Adam, Adam taught Eve, Adam and Eve taught their children, Seth taught his children, and so on. As the psalmist sings, “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”
Unfortunately the command and will of God was lost among His people. The Fall into Sin shattered our relationships with God and with each other, and so the education of children in the faith was cast aside. For forty years, Israel grumbled against their God and acted against Him by not circumcising their children through all their time in the wilderness. On the eve of the entrance into the Promised Land, God recalled to His people through the mouth of Moses His divine intention for the family. “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Or, to cast God’s will for the family and the responsibility of parents toward their children in a New Testament light, St. Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In other words, when God instituted marriage and the family, He created the household to be like a small-scale church, where the Word is daily taught and Baptism remembered, and where faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper is continually encouraged.
So far we’ve seen the “what” of God’s will for children, but our texts this week also give us the “why.” In Luke 18, Jesus has just told the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. The two men go up to the temple to pray, but only the tax collector returned justified. Unlike the Pharisee, he cast himself entire upon the mercy of God, trusting in His mercy for salvation and not in anything of his own. St. Luke writes, “Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the little children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” Jesus was indignant that the children were being prevented from coming to Him, because it is to them, and those like them that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
Like the tax collector in the parable who rested in God’s mercy, everything a child has is given to them. Parents supply their children with what they need because they love them. A child doesn’t have to earn the love of his parents – it’s already there, built into the relationship by God. This is a model of how salvation works as well. We don’t earn salvation. Salvation is won for us by Christ. In perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus kept and fulfilled the whole Law on our behalf, and then died on the cross as the full payment in blood for our transgressions. The promise of salvation, of forgiveness sins and eternal life in heaven, comes through faith in His Word and is itself a free gift.
St. Peter says clearly whom the salvation in Jesus Christ is for. He says in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Today we are celebrating Christian education. We’ve discovered the “what” of God’s will in the matter – all people should be taught His Word, and parents, especially have the responsibility placed on them to teach their children. Now, we have also heard the “why.” Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Jesus likes children. Therefore, His desire is clear: we should teach our children the Word of God, besides the fact that God commands it, because it is through His Word that our children will be saved. The promise of salvation in Christ is for all people, kids included. “It’s for the kids.”
Now, we aren’t always so quick to jump to task. There are any number of obstacles that the Old Adam throws up in our face to pull us back from this joyous responsibility. But, let us today be transformed by the renewal of our minds. St. Peter said that the promise of Christ is for our children, but it’s also for us, too. We are gathered here as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and as a congregation. May God grant us in this new school year a renewed vigor and eagerness to commend His mercy and grace to the next generation, and may He always strengthen us in His forgiveness and love.