The New Testament's Use of the Old Testament: Worship Like a Child and With Your Children - Christ's Use of Psalm 8:2 in Matthew 21:16

In church, do you swagger with solemnity?  Does a heavy countenance fall like a cloud over your pew?  Are you so austere in worship that the children and babes in Christ near you know they best keep their mouths shut?

In Matthew 21, the chief priests and scribes prove to be God’s enemies by not joining the children in humble, excited, Messianic praise of Jesus for His miraculous healings.  And Jesus calls them out for such sinful unbelief by applying Psalm 8 in His answer to their sneering accusations against His receiving the children’s worship.

Responding to the priests’ objection about the children crying out Hosannas to Him as the Son of David in verse 16 of Matthew 21, our Lord cites verse 2 of Psalm 8, saying … have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?...  Here Jesus quotes only the first clause to applaud the children.  But “listen” to the omitted clause that surely would resound in the educated ears of His accusers as an indictment against them for not truly being sons of Abraham: …Because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.  Christ essentially infers, “if the shoe fits …”, and it seems in verse 17 that they understand and are left silent by His implication.

Conversely, in verse 16, Jesus affirms the children’s wondrous rejoicing in Him by what He explicitly uses from verse 2 of Psalm 8.  Be encouraged that while Jesus rejects the pride of His sophisticated antagonists, He welcomes the loud Hosannas of simple children, young and older (the youngsters inside the Temple were mimicking the multitude of adults outside who similarly praised Jesus while waving palm branches as He rode into Jerusalem).

What’s more, in verse 16, Jesus adjusts verse 2 of Psalm 8 from “ordained strength” to “perfected praise”, the Greek for “perfected” meaning to mend, restore, or set right—such worship the Father seeks, and Christ says it is being done by children!  The imperfect response to Jesus and His miracles by vain religious rulers is made pure by unassuming little ones.

We must worship Jesus like children.  And we must not remove our children from worship when Jesus receives them gladly.  When you hear a baby cry in the sanctuary, smile and say to yourself, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.”  Jesus loves the Church’s little children. And He accepts them as family.

Jesus also adjusts verse 2 of Psalm 8 in Matthew for another application by changing “ordained strength” to “perfected praise”.  Are we not emboldened by the exultation coming out of the mouths of our children during covenant family worship and life?  Such as when my wife and I were blessed to hear our two-and-a-half-year-old son who had been sick recently say to us while on the mend, “King Jesus helping me better.”  This same wee lad always eagerly opens his prayers with, “King Jesus”.

The very theme of Psalm 8 is a childlike wonder at God’s majesty in His creation and providence.  Proud men and women will never so respond. But little boys and girls will, and Jesus says to follow their example.

Let us be careful not to carelessly misapply Psalm 8 verse 2 as is often done.  When a child says something odd, awkward, or embarrassingly revealing, many adults condescendingly jest, “Out of the mouth of children!”  But this is to misuse the verse; the Son of David instead makes use of it to give children much more credit than we do in being able to glorify Him against pretentious parents.

Teach your children as commanded in Deuteronomy 6 and 11 and Ephesians 6.  Sing the Psalms with them in family worship and catechize them.  Baptize them as the Biblical sign of the new covenant of grace now with both little boys and little girls:  because Jesus welcomes them into His arms – even nursing infants, lays His hands upon them, and blesses them, for of such worshippers is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Follow Christ’s attitude and example in Luke 10 verse 21, as He there rejoiced in the Spirit, saying: I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes…  And heed Christ’s instruction quoting Psalm 8 verse 2 in Matthew 21 verse 16 about how to approach Him in the assembly of the saints: worship Jesus with your covenant children, and worship like them.[1]

[1] This message was taken and adapted from a sermon by the author on Matthew 21:14-17, entitled “Worship Jesus with a Childlike Faith and Worship with Your Children.”  It was originally developed and preached in chapel for a class on preaching sections of New Testament Scriptures that use sections of Old Testament Scriptures while he was a Master of Divinity student at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He is the adoring husband of Jennifer Van Leuven and a proud father of their four covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, and Isaac.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

Grant Van Leuven