O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)
It was the children they couldn’t bear.
They had tolerated the palm branches and the crowd’s acclamations. They held their tongues as the money-changers dragged their tables from the temple. They barely endured the city’s blind and lame coming to him in the outer courts. But when the chief priests and the scribes heard the high-pitched hosannas echo through Jerusalem, “they were indignant” (Matthew 21:15).
Indignant — a dignified word for what the King James Version renders more vividly as sore displeased. The kingdom belonged to children such as these (Matthew 19:13–14), but Israel’s elites couldn’t stand their songs to the King.
So, like old men shouting in the middle of an orchestra, they asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying?” (Matthew 21:16). They might have expected his response by now. For the fourth time in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4), Jesus asks the Bible scholars if they’ve read their Bibles:
Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise”? (Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2)
Too Old for the Kingdom
Have you never read? The priests and scribes had done more than read Psalm 8. They had copied it, memorized it, taught it. But for all their familiarity, they were acting like the word psalm was a foreign language. What had they missed?
Psalm 8, unlike most of the psalms Jesus quotes, is a song with nearly no shadows. David takes us back before the conquest, the exodus, and the flood, back even through the cherubim’s fiery sword, into the lost land of Eden. Here is a world without darkness, where the glory of God sits high above the heavens (Psalm 8:1), rests like a crown upon his people (Psalm 8:5), and follows his image-bearers wherever they go (Psalm 8:1, 9). Men and women, mere dust motes on the cosmic scale, nevertheless walk as royalty (Psalm 8:3–6), taking God’s majestic name from Eden to the ends of the earth (Psalm 8:6–9).
Like Eden, however, the garden of Psalm 8 is not without its serpents. Foes, enemies, and avengers lurk behind the bushes (Psalm 8:2), at war with God’s name and God’s people. In response, God sends against them his finest troops, a battalion that has subdued more armies than David’s mighty men: children. “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes” (Psalm 8:2).
Who are these children who wage war with their mouths? Not literal newborns, most likely, but rather humans as God made them to be: limited, needy, and filled with praise. Although mere babes in the world’s eyes, they defeat devils and rebels with a song: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). These are the children God uses to conquer the world.
Somehow, the chief priests and scribes looked up to the same heavens and saw no glory worth singing about. And even now, as the heavenly glory stood before them as human, they refused to add their hosannas to the children’s song. Hardened into self-sufficient, respectable adulthood, they had grown too old for the kingdom.
Let the Children Come
What is it about children that makes them God’s soldiers of choice? Psalm 8 has already given us some clues. The God who fashions galaxies with his fingers needs no assistance from the world’s mighty ones (Psalm 8:3). He delights, rather, in those who find their strength in his strength, and leave self-sufficiency to the devil.
The Gospel of Matthew, however, adds new notes to David’s psalm. Children, literal and figurative, are some of Jesus’s favorites in the Gospels. They are the models of true greatness (Matthew 18:1–4). They are on intimate terms with the Father (Matthew 11:25). To them belongs the kingdom (Matthew 19:13–14).
Perhaps the clearest window into Jesus’s affinity for children comes in Matthew 11:25–26:
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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Children, unlike the worldly wise, cannot claim to have found the kingdom through discernment, power, or influence, for they have none. Their only hope is in the Lord of heaven and earth, who is pleased to make a name for himself in the world’s most unlikely characters, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).
Jesus did not come to curry favor with the proud ones of the earth, asking if maybe they might consider joining his kingdom. He came to confound them. He came to shame them. And he came to gather all the weak and wounded, all the poor and needy, all the helpless and destitute — anyone willing to repent of self-importance and, with the children, sing, “Hosanna! Save me.”
Praise Will Conquer the World
Holy Week, then, is an invitation to join Jerusalem’s children, and stand in awe of how God wields weakness for glory.
Holy Week itself is the climax of a story of weakness slaying strength. As an infant, Jesus confounded the king and escaped the serpent’s mouth (Matthew 2:13–18). In his ministry, Jesus mingled with the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leprous, the dirty (Matthew 8:16–17). And when his hour finally came, he gave himself to the foe, the enemy, and the avenger, and “was crucified in weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4).
If the rulers of the world knew what they were doing, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Through weakness, Jesus dragged worldly strength down from its throne. He pierced the dragon through with its own fangs. He took the sin that damns us and drowned it in his blood. And then, when weakness seemed to bury him, he rose up in the power of an indestructible life.
This is how God saves us, and this is how we go forth to conquer the world. Not with a sword in our hands, but with a song in our mouths, inviting everyone to lay down every mirror of self-worth, every mantra of “I am enough,” every filtered image of strength and beauty, and to join the kingdom of children as we worship Christ the King.