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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Family Snapshot
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 25:2,6                                                                                      

Hy 4:1,2,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Matthew 7:7-29; Matthew 18:1-14

Ps 78:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 39

Hy 58:1,2,3

Ps 128:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, a snapshot can be a revealing thing. Say you’re looking through old photo albums, and you see a picture taken ten or fifteen years ago. That little 4x6 can say a lot. In the picture, you might see familiar scenery, the friends and family present that day, and the activities you were enjoying. Even sounds and smells can come rushing back when you look at a picture. A snapshot “freezes a moment,” and reveals a lot.

A snapshot of our family life can be pretty revealing too, when you look at what goes on inside our homes. Say you isolated a moment in time at your dinner table on a typical Thursday evening, and you studied the result. What would someone notice about your mealtime? How would everyone be talking to one another? What attitudes would be floating in the air?

Or take another family moment: children and parents traveling in the car on the way to the grandparents. Freeze the frame—from the backseat, do you see a resentment toward Dad and Mom’s authority? Or in the front seat, do you see parents distracted and cold toward the kids? Or is there good harmony?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives “a snapshot” of family life. It’s a simple picture, the snapshot of a child asking his father for something to eat. But it’s a situation that can say a lot about the relations between parents and children and how things should be. Let’s take a closer look at Matthew 7 in connection with Lord’s Day 39.

The Lord Jesus gives us a snapshot of proper family life:

  1. we hear children asking
  2. we see parents giving
  3. we experience God blessing


1) we hear children asking: One thing that children do very well is ask questions. They ask “Why?” and “How?” and “Are we there yet?” And perhaps more frequently than any of these other questions, children will ask for things: “Can I have juice? Can I have a snack?” And a bit later in life, “Can I borrow the car?” Especially for mothers of young children, the days can be filled with pleading questions and urgent requests.

Now, there’s something to be said for asking in the right way. You don’t want to be demanding, and you shouldn’t whine. But it’s unavoidable that children will ask for stuff. In his sermon, Jesus even assumes that this will be the case.

In Matthew 7, He’s talking about prayer. He opens with those well-known words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v 7). As general principles in life, these things are true.

Then, good teacher that He is, Christ illustrates his lesson with an example. It’s an example from family life: “What man is there among you, who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (vv 9-10).

In this family snapshot, we hear children asking. Jesus just assumes that children will ask,  because they tend to need things! A child is a dependent creature. I remember from growing up on the farm that when a baby cow was born, within a few minutes it would be up and walking around on its shaky legs—already on its way to independence. But perhaps more than any other of God’s creatures, children are helpless for a long time. They can’t do it by themselves, but they need help. So they reach out.

And who do they reach out to? In Christ’s example, the son asks his father. It could just as well be a daughter, asking her mother. Point is, children ask their parents. And they do so, because they trust them. A child doesn’t mind acknowledging his need or dependence—in fact, a child usually thinks nothing of it.           

This kind of confidence is basic to being a child. Think of what Jesus says in that other passage we read, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). There He’s talking about being humble enough to rely on God, admitting that you can’t do it all yourself but relying completely on his grace.

There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, there’s everything right about it. And by their example, children show us the way. In our homes, see how children rely on their parents for food and drink and other basics. See how children want to feel secure when Dad and Mom are around. See how they often ask for help with this or that—and they expect it!

As we said, parents sometimes get annoyed with the endless requests. We’d like it if children could sometimes handle things themselves. We get tired of giving and reminding. Yet this is how God in his wisdom made our children, and this is the task He gave us parents. Even our older children—yes, even our teenagers—stand in a position of dependence. They don’t have it all figured out, so they need help.

One thing that Christ highlights is a child’s need for spiritual instruction. Children need guidance in the ways of holiness. In chapter 18, for example, He warns: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (v 6).

That’s a scary image. But the positive lesson is that of all the other things children need, they firstly need nurturing in faith and obedience. Our little ones need to be guarded from sin and encouraged in holiness. No, they probably won’t come out and say it. Children might ask for a hundred other things before they ask for guidance in faith! But the need is there, just as much as they need food and drink.

Their hearts are crying out to be shaped and molded for walking with God. And so Jesus says that parents are sinning grievously if we stifle our children spiritually, or if we stunt their development in godliness, or if we confuse them with our own bad example. Children must be able to depend on their parents for lessons in taking those first steps of faith—and the many following steps. That’s something we’ll come back to.

And all this emphasis on children needing and asking and receiving, doesn’t mean that kids have it easy. In the fifth commandment, God lays on them a serious obligation and duty. He says, “Honour your father and your mother.” And that begins with obedience. Boys and girls, if you love your parents, and you’re grateful to them, then this is the best way you can honour them: obey them. Hug them, kiss them, make cards for them—but this comes first: obey them.

What does it mean to obey? Is it just keeping the rules? For example, when I was growing up there was a list of household rules posted in the kitchen: “If you sleep on it, make it up. If you wear it, hang it up. If you step on it, wipe it up.” Not that we always followed those rules… But if that’s all the fifth commandment meant—making your bed in the morning, being polite, coming home by curfew—if that’s all it was, it’d be easy.

Yet one of the vital themes in the Sermon on the Mount is about inward obedience. For example, it’s not enough not to murder someone, you have to love them and refrain from speaking ill of them. The wellspring of obedience is our attitude. God’s law is about changing our way of thinking, and not just our speaking or acting.

That goes for Commandment #5 as well. Boys and girls, it’s great if you try to keep the household rules your parents have made. But the Catechism says that we must also show their parents “honour, love and faithfulness” (Q&A 104).

Children are called to honour Dad and Mom. Now, we’ll be able to honour someone only if we first look at them in the right way. So children have to see that their parents have a God-given responsibility. And parents shouldn’t be afraid to teach this, to say to their children, “God wants me to take care of you. God wants me to make sure you have enough to eat, and to make sure you know about Jesus and the Bible.” The greatest honour children can pay their parents is to treasure them for this God-given calling.

God expects children also to love their parents. Now, the challenge is that we attach our love to our moods, or make it dependent on what someone has done for us lately. Of course kids love Dad and Mom when they treat everyone to ice cream! But children must love—and we all must love—because that is God’s command. And true love is expressed. Love is shown in the way you talk to your parents. Love is shown in the way you talk about your parents. And let’s underline what we said before: love is shown by obeying what your parents have said.

The Catechism also says children are called to show “faithfulness.” That means your obedience must be consistent, something your parents can depend on. It’s always possible to break the rules of the house in little ways, to hide your disobedience from your parents. Maybe you agree to their rules about technology, but then you still use your device at all hours of the night. That’s not faithfulness. Or you tell them you’ve completed your homework, but you haven’t, and you know they’ll never find out. But be faithful. Speak the truth to your parents, be open with them, honour their words, even when they’re not looking.

Jesus assumes that children will ask a lot of questions. But sometimes the questions stop coming. Children don’t ask, because they don’t expect their parents to respond. Because parents get too busy. As parents, we get distracted or tired. We fail as parents by not being available when our kids reach out for help.

But part of the fifth commandment is a lesson that children should be mindful of their parents’ weakness. We ought to “have patience with their weaknesses and shortcomings” (Q&A 104). Believe it or not, parents are human. Dad and Mom might exasperate you. They’ll make mistakes. Their answers won’t always satisfy. But keep going to them! Despite all their weaknesses, the LORD can use parents for good.


2) we see parents giving: It’s just a thumbnail of family life in Matthew 7, but in it, we see another powerful truth: the expectation that parents will give. Christ says, “If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (v 11).

What kind of good gifts does Christ mean? If you say “gifts” to little children (or older children), they’ll probably think of getting birthday presents. They’ll think of FitBits and Lego and new socks. But we mean gifts in a more basic sense. The child in this snapshot is asking for food, and the good gift he receives is his daily bread. He gets what he truly needs.

So what good gifts does a Christian parent want to give? We want to load our children up with things like a sense of responsibility, and the skills to be independent, and certain qualities like being polite and punctual.

But what gifts do they need more than any other? Parents must give an education in the things that matter. With a single phrase, the Catechism sums up their huge calling: parents must give their children “good instruction and discipline” (Q&A 104). And let’s underline one of the proof texts listed below, from Ephesians 6: “Bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (v 4).

“Good instruction” is God’s Word. More than anything else, children need to learn the ways and service of God. The heart of godly parenting is to show children that the best life is the life of walking with Christ. Like Jesus keeps telling us in the Sermon on the Mount, if the heart is filled with good things, this will overflow into all of life.

So that’s Lesson #1. That our children learn about the greatness of God and of his Son Jesus Christ; that they learn God can always be trusted and obeyed; that our faithful God can always be turned to for help, no matter what.

There is so much other training to do too, for the ways of the Lord relate to all of life. It’s a systematic and comprehensive education. We teach prayer, and stewardship, and what it means to be part of the church. We teach hard work, and forgiveness, and service, and how to read with discernment. We even teach them about marriage and becoming parents themselves. We need to teach our children everything we know, and even teach them more than we know—the lessons about Christian living that we should’ve learned ourselves, or the lessons that we should’ve learned far earlier in our life…

Parents do this teaching by word and deed. That’s a daunting prospect, especially when we consider that children learn both from our positive example and our negative example. As one author put it, “A man who does not pray is teaching his children not to pray; he who neglects public worship is teaching his children to neglect it; he who does not read the Bible is teaching his children not to read it.”

But when as parents we strive to live faithfully, our children see it. They see it when we act with gentleness and mercy to others. They see the priority we put on personal devotions. They see it when we aim to show hospitality. By listening our words and watching our choices, they soon understand what’s important to us.

And one more part of this training has to include instruction about our enemy. It’s an evil world, and sin surrounds us everywhere. Here we can think again of what Jesus says: “What man is there among you, who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matt 7:9-10). Do we give our children useless stuff like rocks to munch on, or dangerous things to play with, like snakes? As an equivalent, we could ask: Will a dad let his little child play with power tools, or will he let his kids drink the chemicals stored in the shed? Of course not!

The lesson is that parents must guard our children from what is useless and dangerous. Do we let them play with any video or computer games, however violent? Do we let our children access the Internet without any supervision, or do we let them watch just any movie, or read any book? Jesus says: “Which of you will give his son a serpent?” We don’t deny that evil is out there, or that children will have to confront it someday. Yet before our children grow up and fully enter that world—that is our chance to train them right.

Parents, see what an important task we have. Christ said in Matthew 18, “Whoever receives one little child like this in my name receives me” (v 5). Notice how closely our Lord connects himself to the children. Love for them is love for him! Concern for them is concern for him! When we embrace our children in our care, when we provide them with a safe and secure and a godly home, we are receiving and welcoming Christ Jesus himself.

That encourages us parents, for raising children can be a draining task. To satisfy their physical needs—to do the laundry, put band-aids on the cuts, and plan the meals, or to work all day in order to earn money for paying the bills and supporting the schools—all this can seem like an endless and a thankless job. Then to give spiritual instruction that is meaningful, and to figure out proper discipline, and to set them on the road to independence… It can feel like you’re always giving, and half the time you’re just making it up as you go along.

Yet what are parents doing? Scripture says that when we receive covenant children, we receive Christ himself. When we love them, we love our Saviour. For just a few years, parents can take part in this everlasting project, so it is work to pursue with diligence and prayer. As Christ said, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:14). When we give, God will bless.


3) we experience God blessing: There’s one more detail in the snapshot of family life in Matthew 7. That God is a God of blessing! If sinful parents care for children, if they give whatever is needed, then “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (v 11).

In the context, we said, that’s a lesson on prayer. But it reveals more generally the character of God. He gives good gifts to those who ask. He gives good gifts to those who depend on Him, to parents and to children alike. This is the same promise which is built right into the fifth commandment: “Honour your father and mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12). 

God delights to bless his people when they honour his Word. This is true for every commandment, also the fifth commandment. When we honour this command, life goes better. Take a snapshot of a home that is built on the Rock, and you’ll see that it is a place of refuge from the craziness of the world all around us. A godly home is a place of understanding and helping. A home built on the words of Christ is a place where we can laugh and cry together, a safe place for growing and maturing.

Reflect on how the opposite is true. Consider the tension that fills a home when children don’t respect to their parents. Or the deep sadness that results when a child continues to disobey. Almost no child who rebels against his parents is going to enjoy a secure life, but so often he’ll end in ruin. And sometimes an entire home looks like it’s ready to collapse with a great fall.

But there is hope for our homes, because God loves to give good things to those who ask. We can ask for his grace and wisdom, and He’ll grant it. Even when parents see their mistakes, and they know they’ve failed. Even when a child rejects the instruction offered by Dad and Mom. Even when relationships are strained and broken—even then, we can go back to Christ and we can build on him. For Christ forgives our past mistakes, gives hope for healing, and points out the way forward. 

Being a Christian family is going to be hard. Even on the good days, it’s going to be hard. But remember how God attaches his promise to the fifth commandment. So as parents and children, depend on him. Expect good things from him. And He will bless.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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