When you hang around kids (including my own), it doesn’t take long to discover they have a particular ease about saying exactly what’s on their minds…for better or worse. It’s the reality that made Bill Cosby’s show “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” such a hit in the 90s. It’s also one of the things that makes going out in public with our kids a high risk, high reward venture at times. In the worst cases, most parents can remember a few face-palm moments and subsequent efforts to explain away what our kids have said to unknowingly offend or embarrass someone nearby. But in the best case scenarios, which thankfully outweigh the awkward ones, a child’s spontaneous expressions of affirmation and appreciation can produce warm-fuzzies like nothing else can.
IN THE COMPANY OF KIDS
Jesus appreciated this quality of childlike communication, and I think that’s why, as He neared the passion week, He seemed to crave the company of children more and more. When asked about greatness, Jesus brings a child front and center and flips our natural framework of selfish ambition upside down (Mt. 18:1-4). Later Jesus makes sure kids have full access to Himself and adamantly instructs His disciples to “let the little children come to Me” (Mt. 19:13-15). He wanted children nearby. He wanted to connect personally with them. Not only for what they could receive from Him, but I believe there was something that He received from them that was hard to come by as His earthly ministry drew to a close. I think there was something healing and therapeutic for Jesus to surrounded by little ones whose hearts were unpretending.
He knew that kids have a knack for making their hearts heard without much prodding and without much fear of consequence.
Genuine interaction like that was a stark contrast to the subtle, subversive testing (cf. Mt. 19:3) of the religious leaders who would say one thing but really mean another.
And then comes a crucial sequence that brings things to a head. Jesus rides into Jerusalem in prophetic, kingly fashion and cleanses the temple to restore it as a house of prayer for all nations (Mt. 21:1-13). This public display of authority generates a collision of popular sentiment and Pharisaical hostility. At the same time, those who love Jesus can’t get enough of Him, and those opposed to Jesus can’t wait to arrest and kill Him. What happens next?
IN THE MOUTH OF BABES
Leave it to the kids. Heated arguments and haggling over inflated temple trade rates are now replaced scenes of healing and and sounds of hosannas…childlike sounds of heavenly praise.
But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?”
Matthew 21:15-16, NKJV
The religious leaders are aghast! At the sound of kids belting out glory to God, the chief priests conclude that this is one of those embarrassing moments, needing explanation for offended ears, but Jesus hears things differently. He doesn’t hear offensive blasphemy. He hears perfected praise.
And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”
Matthew 21:16, NKJV
Hold the phone. What did Jesus hear? He didn’t hear praise that was perfect, but praise that was perfected. Jesus heard praise that had been mended, restored, katarizo’d if you will (see last post). These young voices were expressing worship that was in extreme contrast to the broken chords of the chief priest’s feigned zeal for God’s glory.
tune my heart
Question: When Jesus puts His ear to my heart, what kind of sound does He hear? In other words, does my praise need to be mended?
The praise of the scribes & priests needed some serious rehabilitation. Their was a praise that merely pretended, a worship that was more concerned about how they’d be perceived by others than received by heaven. Their worship was more about what they could get from God and others than what they could give to God and others (e.g. “I just didn’t get anything from worship today.”) This kind of broken praise oozed from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and persists even in our day. And whenever and wherever it shows up, we tend to become tone-deaf to our own need for heart tuning and get indignant when others’ praise is out of tune with our own. When we start walking the road of the chief priests, worship becomes more about my preferences and my expectations than about God’s purposes and God’s revelation. Taken to its logical end, we unconsciously cultivate an elitism and exclusivism that keeps our hearts and others’ from knowing who God is. Broken praise results in modern-day dens of thieves that rob the nations of knowing God and knowing salvation. Oh Lord! Please mend our broken praise!
But those children…
Their praise was perfected. Their praise had been kataritzo’d. There’s something about a child’s praise that doesn’t go through an over-thought editing process and results in a genuineness and authenticity that cannot be matched. When my son says things like “You’re the best daddy ever!” he means it. Of course, he’s not factually correct in his assessment of my fatherly prowess. But he’s not wrong for saying so, thank you very much. :) Why? Because he’s expressing real appreciation in the best way he knows how. No one prodded him to coin those superlatives. They spontaneously originated in a heart that was bursting with awe and needed a way to express itself.
In the temple courts that last week before the crucifixion? Jesus heard the very same. Unsolicited, unrestrained response to a vision of Jesus that was untainted by their own expectations of who Messiah ought to be. Perfected praise sees Jesus for who He really is and is humble enough to let God reveal Himself in ways we didn’t previously know or anticipate. The heart whose praise has been mended views Jesus as the Promised One and calls on Him to save out of a genuine sense of need for salvation and a healthy sense of self-distrust. Perfected praise has a big view of God and a small view of self (cf. Ex. 4:31, Lk. 5:8). When our praise is mended like this, we won’t be robbing God of His glory but becoming a community where real communion with God opens up for our own hearts and those God brings us in contact with. Healing and wholeness go hand in hand with perfected praise just like it did in that house of prayer that day. Oh that God would perfect our praise!