I’ll never forget the evening I was dressing our son, when he proved to me how attentive he is. We had seldom spent time tutoring our toddler to associate his body parts with words. Then one day, just for fun, I asked him where his ears were. He correctly identified his ears, eyes, nose, head, mouth, hands… on and on. Just from observing our interactions and listening to us, he had picked up far more than we realized. We got so excited about this that we decided to make it a point to review his ability to identify objects around him on a regular basis. One day, my wife dedicated a substantial amount of time to this incredible game; by the end of it, he had correctly identified 154 objects on his body and around the house. We were astonished.
It’s amazing how intuitively children learn! Children have a way of observing, imitating, and catching knowledge and behaviors from the people around them. People instinctively learn through imitation and repetition. And children have an amazing capacity for picking up on behaviors, especially those of their parents. Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “Train up a child in the way he should go – but be sure you go that way yourself.”
“Children learn all kinds of things through imitation and observation; from basic motor skills to worship.”
And children learn all kinds of things through imitation and observation; from basic motor skills to worship. Which leads me to a section of Scripture I stumbled across today.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.”Matthew 21:1-17 ESV
Picture the scene – Jesus and His donkey ride into Jerusalem, received with adoration by the crowds. The disciples have shed their own coats to serve as the saddle – no small act of deference in honoring Jesus. The crowds lay their coats on the ground for the donkey to tread on, and some bring leaves and palm branches to make this grand “red carpet” entrance something to behold. The significance of this act is hard to miss – this was a way of showing honor to royalty. The crowd was welcoming the King.
Word spread that Jesus was in the city; people were telling everyone they saw “the prophet, Jesus, is here!”. Jesus then fulfilled His symbolic duty as the Prophet-King. The gospel of John describes the account in detail:
“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”John 2:15 NIV
Jesus wields this whip as a symbol of purification and authority; there’s no evidence He ever even strikes the animals with it – yet a holy terror falls upon the animals and the crowd!
He turns over the money changers tables, dumping the pagan coins on the ground. What He says is important here – paraphrased, “you make My Lord’s house a den of robbers”. This draws our attention to the unrighteousness of the money-changers who transferred the pagan coins of the Empire (which the Jews considered unclean idols) into coins more acceptable for payment to the temple. They were well-known for over-charging people and jacking up the exchange rate – they severely took advantage of the poor Jews traveling from throughout the Empire to make sacrifices to the Lord.
Indeed, these men and many others came to the temple with selfish intentions – not with the reverence and love that our holy God deserves! Thus Jesus, in holy anger, fulfills prophecy by entering the temple and cleansing it!
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty… He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,”Malachi 3:1, 3 NIV
And suddenly, the afflicted and helpless from all across Jerusalem are coming to Jesus to be healed! He turns away no one; the perfect Son defended the honor of His loving Father, and now the perfect Priest graciously draws His children in with healing and prayers.
But let’s rewind a bit – these crowds who witnessed these events started by showing honor to Jesus. They “rolled out the red carpet” as it were. They welcomed their King! Yet the words they used are important:
“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”Matthew 21:9 NIV
“Hosanna” is a very unique word which essentially amounts to “Our salvation is here!” Or “We are saved!”. They also welcome the “Son of David” which is a direct reference to the messianic, royal office of Jesus as a descendant of King David. Luke’s gospel makes reference to His royalty more directly:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”Luke 19:38 NIV
The crowds shouted these praises as He came in to the city, humble and upon a beast of burden. Between the triumphal entry, His cleansing of the Temple and His healings, the chief priests and scribes couldn’t help but take notice. Jerusalem was in an uproar of praise, gossip, and excitement. And they were indignant at the praise He was receiving!
And what was the obvious, primary source of their irritation? That children were praising Him.
This is a detail which is easy to miss because it’s mentioned so briefly and it’s hedged in around so many other prophetic fulfillments. And let’s be honest, it is something of a cultural reflex to overlook Scripture’s positive emphasis on children. But let’s not overlook it!
A multitude of adults have welcomed in a salvation-bringing Prophet-King. And as they shout their adulation and applaud His miraculous healings, isn’t it obvious the children would be watching closely?
I picture the children running through the crowd of lame beggars singing gleefully the words they had just heard their parents shouting. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they cried excitedly. We have all heard the phrase “more is caught than taught”; and it is obvious that these children had caught something truly remarkable.
When the Levites heard these children, they were incredulous, “Can’t you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus replied, as He always did, with authority!
“Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”?”Matthew 21:16 ESV
What a message! The pure awe of a child before God’s creation is the goal of all human praise! No worship is more delightful to God than the worship of a child.
“The pure awe of a child before God’s creation is the goal of all human praise!”
And yet, these children learned their worship, and inherited their adoration of Jesus. Without a doubt, the actions of the adults impacted the actions of the children. With the adults acting as a template, the children imitated and adapted.
The lesson here?
Children pay attention! Let us be good examples, as our Lord is the perfect example for us in service and sacrifice:
“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”John 13:15 ESV
We recall that pagan parents arrogantly chant “do as I say, not as I do”. They enforce by coercion what they have failed to demonstrate. Christian parents cannot be as the pagans; we are called to tear down the strongholds of Satan in every area of life.
“Christian parents cannot be as the pagans; we are called to tear down the strongholds of Satan in every area of life.”
Punitive discipline may teach children to obey, but has it taught them to repent? Can punitive discipline teach better than parents living by example? Can punitive discipline demonstrate kindness, forgiveness, and worship?
A child’s worship is pure and cherished by God – indeed, it is special. But, just like every other matter, worship comes from a child’s emotions. To provoke a child to worship, the parent must exemplify the character of God and prove His sweetness. Our God saves His children, rescues the downtrodden, restores His rebellious child.
If we perceive God to be a fearsome punisher, do we worship Him in love? Do we wrap our arms around the neck of the executioner? No. But our gentle Savior forgave His executioners. And He is our example.
Paul says it better than anyone else when he writes to the church in Corinth:
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV