How Jesus was so attractive to children
The model for what Christians do is Jesus. In contrast to other sources, the four gospels in the New Testament of the Bible give us ample information about his message and his deeds. Collectively they contain 89 entire chapters. These plus the scriptures following them also give us the model of his 12+ Apostles. We want to do and say the kinds of things they did, fitted to our 21st century context. There are some things they did that we cannot duplicate, of course, and other things like movies that they couldn’t do, that we hope are faithful, modern-day applications of the things they did. The reason this is our goal is that Jesus commanded it. He commanded Christians to imitate him and to carry on his work in today’s world. For example, Jesus said this:
“Go therefore and make disciples…” –Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 28:19, Bible
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel…” –Jesus, Gospel of Mark 16:14, Bible
“You are the salt of the earth…” –Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 5:13, Bible
“…Do not light a lamp and put it under a basket…” –Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 5:14-16, Bible
“Command and teach these things.” –Apostle Paul, Epistle 1 Timothy, Bible
“Therefore…we persuade others.” Apostle Paul, Epistle 2 Corinthians 5:11, Bible
Therefore, Christians who take these teachings seriously and practice them are normal Christians, not unusual or exceptional ones. You may call them 'missionaries' in their own town, but then all true Christians are missionaries, as Jesus and his Apostles were. Further, most people do not see Jesus or his Apostles as cult leaders, as you and Amanda alleged, so neither am I or my partners when we simply imitate him and follow his commands. As for the things we preach and teach, there is nothing inconsistent with the Bible. If it is claimed otherwise, we invite you to cite specific examples.
Based on the gospels and epistles, Jesus and his Apostles usually engaged with adults and families, not children only. He didn’t seem to call children to him specifically, but rather their parents and their whole families. But he certainly attracted and welcomed the children! And no doubt among the throngs of sick that came to him, many parents brought their children to him for healing. When I read the gospel narratives such as the examples below, in some situations I get the impression that it was the children he had in his sights the most, just by being in public places where they could see him and dare come to him. Anyone can understand why a figure like Jesus was very attractive to children. 1) He performed miracles at-will, hundreds daily. There were days when everyone who needed healing went away healed. Who could not be attracted and amazed? 2) Jesus was ‘magnetically’ approachable to everyone except the Pharisees and scribes who were self-righteous hypocrites. This included rich and poor, men and women, the well and the sick—even those with leprosy who were utterly untouchable and forced out of community. Also included were ethnic minorities such as the ruling Romans and the despised Samaritans, adults of all ages, and children. This degree of approachability was unheard of in Jewish society, especially for a religious teacher considered by thousands as a rabbi, a prophet, and even as the Messiah. At that time and for centuries later in the Middle East, for a figure with this kind of profile it was unthinkable to allow the marginalized to approach him, especially lepers, women, and children. But Jesus did. And in some cases, he went to places where no other Jew would go to give them access to him, such as to the Canaanites of Tyre and Sidon in today’s south Lebanon, to the pig-herding gentiles of the Decapolis in today’s western Jordan, and to Samaria, the land of the half-Jewish Samaritans. (The account of Jesus’s first visit to Samaria is fascinating, contained in chapter 4 of the Apostle John’s gospel in much detail. Most Jews went around Samaria so as not to encounter any Samaritans, but Jesus was different like that. There, at a well outside the village of Sychar, Jesus and his band stopped for water. There he met a lone woman and asked her to draw him some water, and the entire conversation is documented. Among other things, the woman basically told Jesus, “We have our religion.” Do you think Jesus was dissuaded? Nope. By the end of the convo that Samaritan woman ran back to her village to bring as many others as she could, and the whole village converted to being Christ-followers. A year or two later, after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the Book of Acts reports that there was an even bigger awakening resulting from the evangelism of the Apostles, without Jesus this time. (chapter 8:4-25)
[By the way, for a while Jesus was arguably the most influential figure in Palestine. If anyone could have seized power and cleansed the land it was him. But at no time did he aspire to purge them or anyone from the land. Once, when they were still very immature, two of Jesus’s disciples wanted to rain down fire from heaven on the Samaritans for rejecting Jesus, but Jesus rebuked them [Luke 9:51-55]. He was not like that. And for a while they also expected Jesus as Messiah to overthrow the Romans, but he would not. That was not what he was about. Rather, on one occasion he declared a pagan Roman to have had the greatest faith he had ever seen even though they were the enemy [Gospels of Luke 7:1–10 and Matthew 8:5–13]; and he gave similar praise to the Lebanese woman [Gospels of Matthew 15:21–28 and Mark 7:24–30]. On this occasion, and on two similar ones, the miracle Jesus performed was for a child. Her daughter was demon-possessed, and he delivered her on account of the mother’s faith. [see also the healing of an official’s young son reported in the Gospel of John 4:46-54, and the raising of a little girl from the dead reported in the Gospel of Luke 8:40-56]).
Because of deeds such as these Jesus became famous for caring about children while not actually pursuing them. So naturally when children saw him they flocked to him, and they knew he would receive them with open arms. Here are some of the things Jesus and his Apostles said about children:
Gospel of Matthew 11:25 – “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.” –Jesus (also Luke 10:21)
Gospel of Matthew 18:3 – “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” –Jesus
Gospel of Matthew 21:15 – …The chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he [Jesus] did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” [the title they attributed to Jesus as King and Messiah]… –Narrator, Apostle Matthew
Gospel of Mark 10:13-14 – And they were bringing children [infants] to him [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” In Luke 18:17 Jesus adds, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (also Matthew 19:13-14) –Jesus
Gospel of Luke 1:17 – and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” –Jesus quoting from Prophet Malachi 4:6, Old Testament of the Bible (Tanakh)
Gospel of Luke 10:21 – In that same hour he [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “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…” –Jesus
Gospel of John 1:12-13 – But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. –Narrator, Apostle John
Book of Acts 2:39 – For the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” –Luke, disciple of Paul
Epistle Ephesians 5:1 – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. –Apostle Paul
Epistle Hebrews 2:14 – Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… –Apostle (uncertain which]
Epistle 1 John 2:1 – My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. –Apostle John
Epistle 1 John 2:12 - I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his [Jesus] name’s sake. –Apostle John
There are more, but these should be enough to show, again, that children were very special to Jesus and his Apostles. Jesus did not ignore them as was so common for most religious men to do in those days. Neither did he disparage or neglect them. Rather, he praised them and gave them favored status in his kingdom. He even told adults that they had to become like children to enter his kingdom. So Jesus was interested in actual children, but mostly adults who would become childlike. And he is our model, our exemplar. Not that he wanted his followers to dress or eat like him or imitate any of those kinds of habits; he didn’t care about that. (The Apostles who wrote the gospels don’t even give us those kinds of minutiae.) Instead, he wanted his followers—up to the present day—to imitate his love and truth. He also wanted us to imitate his ways of communicating the message of salvation-hope that he called the “gospel”, as well as his ways of making disciples. That is what all faithful Christians try to do.
One last thing: Jesus founded Christianity, which he called the “church”. At least he told his disciples, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Gospel of Matthew 16:18) Starting then, and especially after his resurrection, his church was born in Jerusalem, and his Apostles gave up everything to plant local churches in many other cities of what was then the Roman Empire. But Rome was a pagan empire and for three centuries was not favorable to Christianity and church planting. Today’s gospel-oriented Christians wonder if the tide is turning back to the way it was then. Maybe. In any case, today’s churches are spiritual descendants of the first-century ones, as Jesus surely intended when he said he would build his church. One person in the comments of Zainab’s post expressed that Christians should confine our activities to Dearborn’s many churches, not to take our faith and Jesus’s message outside of them to other places where we can share them with others, like parks. We should keep them to ourselves, in private. But that is not the model Jesus and his Apostles showed us.
Jesus did not bring a private faith and message to be shut up inside of churches, he brought a public one. The Apostle Matthew narrated that
“…Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
Gospel of Matthew 9:35
The Gospel writer Luke reported that
[Jesus] “…went on his way through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him…”
Gospel of Luke 8:1
They…“went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”
Gospel of Luke 9:6
The point is they did not keep their religion to themselves. They were hardly private about it. They took the message of salvation-hope everywhere, to everyone, to people of all ages—even children. They never coerced people, they only put forth the message. No one should ever be forced or coerced to convert, or even to remain in a religion. Rather, people should have the freedom to hear the message and decide for themselves to accept or reject it. That suggests that people of every religion should have the freedom to share their message openly, everywhere—in the parks, the universities, the neighborhoods and in social media, etc. Thankfully, that’s one of the things that defines the United States of America, and always has.