Sermon notes 07-05-20               Responding Like Children                  Pastor David King

Matthew 11:16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 In the passage David just read for us from Matthew chapter 11, Jesus is speaking to the crowds about how the people of his time were responding to the message of the Gospel.  In the first part of the passage, Jesus speaks about people who had responded negatively to the teachings of Jesus and of John the Baptist.  In the second part, Jesus prays a prayer of thanksgiving for people who had responded positively to those teachings.  In the third part, Jesus issues an invitation for people who have not yet responded to him, and he describes some of the benefits of doing so.  As we consider the words of Jesus to the people of his day, I want to invite each of us to think about how we respond to the message of the Gospel today.  You know, we don’t normally consider it a good thing when adults behave like children, but when it comes to our response to the Gospel, Jesus teaches that it is desirable and even necessary to respond like little children.

We should begin by looking back to try and determine what led Jesus to speak about peoples’ responses to the Gospel.  Earlier in Matthew 11, Jesus had been talking to the crowds about John the Baptist.  As we get to vv. 16-18, Jesus is describing people who had responded negatively to the Gospel message that first John the Baptist and then Jesus proclaimed.  The message they both proclaimed is that Jesus is the One whom God the Father sent to take away the sins of the world.  Many of the people, especially those in the ruling class, rejected this message, and Jesus seems to express some frustration with their reasons for rejecting it.

Jesus asks the question, almost as if thinking aloud, “To what will I compare this generation?”  When Jesus says, “This generation,” he is referring to the rabbis, scribes and Pharisees—the so-called wise men of his day—who rejected the message that Jesus is God’s Son.  Jesus says of them, “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”  Jesus is comparing those who reject the message of the Gospel to children who refuse to play along with games because in the one case the game is too happy for them, so they refuse to respond to the flute by dancing, and in the other case the game is too sad for them, so they refuse to respond to the songs of lament by mourning.

So, what do children’s games have to do with Jesus and John the Baptist?  Jesus answers that question in the next verse when he says, for John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say he is possessed by a demon, and the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard.  In other words, the people who responded negatively, those who rejected the message of John and Jesus, did so for contradictory reasons.  They criticized John because he and his followers fasted, and they criticized Jesus because he and his followers ate and drank.

We could describe these negative responders as contrary.  We have all known and had encounters with people who are contrary, or at least people who are in a contrary mood, where no matter what was done for them, it would not be pleasing to them.  Kim and I have had an encounter or two like that this week with our grandson.  When someone is contrary, or in a contrary state of mind, no matter what is offered, they find fault in it.  Jesus is saying that the people of his day who rejected the gospel message were determined to find fault no matter what, in order to defend their refusal to believe in Jesus.

The fact is, when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will readily enough find an excuse for not listening to it.  They will be critical of what they hear, without even bothering to be consistent in their criticism.  They will criticize the same person, or the same institution, such as the church, for contradictory reasons.  When people are determined to reject Jesus, they will find or create reasons to reject him no matter how the truth of the Gospel is presented to them.

In the next section of this passage, Jesus contrasts these so-called wise persons, these contrary skeptics who responded negatively to the Gospel, with those who responded positively.   In a prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus calls the positive responders to the Gospel message “little children,” or as one translation puts it, “infants.”  Jesus prays, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to little children, (or to infants).”  “These things” Jesus is referring to is the truth of the Gospel and of who he is.  Jesus is praying here about what he observed and experienced in his time, which is that the wise men, the scribes and Pharisees, rejected his message, while the simple people accepted him.  The intellectuals had no use for him, but the humble welcomed him.

I want us to be clear that Jesus is not condemning the use of our God-given intellect when discerning what is true and what is not true.  Jesus is condemning intellectual pride.  Jesus calls those who respond positively to his message “infants” because an infant is someone without intellectual pride.  An infant has a spirit of simplicity and trust.  Jesus teaches that, when it comes to the message of the Gospel, we might be as wise as Solomon, but we will miss the truth unless we have a childlike heart and a spirit of simplicity and trust.

I read a story about someone who was a great example of this kind of childlike simplicity in his response to Jesus.  John Duncan was a 19th century theologian and professor of Hebrew at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Because of his passion for and mastery of Hebrew, his students referred to John Duncan as Rabbi Duncan.  Duncan was so intelligent and accomplished when it came to the Jewish languages that his students were convinced he said his bedtime prayers in Hebrew.  One evening, two of them determined to find out.  When they knew Professor Duncan was preparing for bed, they crept along the corridor outside this brilliant man’s bedroom and they listened.  They expected to hear great, flowery prayers spoken in Hebrew.  Instead, this is what they heard: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child, pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee.” When it came to his response to Jesus, this intellectual giant had a childlike heart of simplicity and trust.

Jesus spoke about those who in their intellectual pride responded negatively to the Gospel message, he spoke about those who in their childlike simplicity responded positively, and in the last section of this passage Jesus issues an invitation for those who have not yet responded as they should.  It is a simple invitation.  He says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus was issuing this invitation and making his appeal to persons who were desperately seeking God, but due either to their intellectual pride, or their contrary skepticism to the Gospel message, or their desire to earn their way into heaven on their own, they were driven to weariness and despair.  Jesus appeals to all such persons to rest from their skepticism and faultfinding, from their lack of simplicity and trust.  His invitation to them is, “Be gentle and humble in heart like me; learn from me.  When you do, you will you find rest for your souls.”

So what about our response to Jesus?  How do we respond to the message, the teachings, the commands, of Jesus?  Do we respond with childlike simplicity by believing and obeying all the teachings and commands of Jesus, or in our intellectual pride and contrariness, do we pick and choose what we will believe and obey?

Have we found rest for our souls, or are we constantly debating and disputing with God about what we will believe about Jesus, about the Bible, about ourselves?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a name many of you know.  Bonhoeffer was a German who was imprisoned for his opposition to the Nazi regime and executed shortly before the Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp was liberated by the allies in 1945.  In his famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes this: “Only the person who follows the command of Jesus without reserve and submits unresistingly to his yoke, finds his burden easy.”  Friends, life is a heavy burden when we resist the teachings and commands of Jesus, but when we yoke ourselves fully to Jesus with childlike simplicity, we find the yoke to be easy and the burden to be light.

As I bring this to a close I want to share one more illustration of a response of childlike simplicity.  The great 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, was on a lecture tour at the University of Chicago in 1962.  In a question and answer session after one of his lectures, a student asked Barth if he could name a hymn that he regarded as having the greatest theological significance.  The audience waited expectantly for the famous theologian’s response, assuming that he would probably name a hymn that described the doctrine of the Trinity, or expounded on one of the theories of the atonement.  They were all surprised when the brilliant scholar Karl Barth responded by saying that the hymn he felt had the greatest theological significance was one he learned at his mother’s knee: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Maybe that is all any of us really needs to know.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.