Feeding the Lambs


Feeding the Lambs

August 19th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM

John 1:15-17

John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 21:15-17

8-19-73    8:15 a.m.



And all of you who are on radio sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, this is the pastor bringing the message, and I am changing it from the evening sermon, which was to be delivered tonight. I’m going to preach it this morning, and the sermon that was supposed to be preached this morning, I’m going to preach it tonight.  That’s what I was trying to do up here in this pulpit a moment ago, to get things to fit together, because it is a real change.  We’ll start with the invitation hymn.  The invitation hymn is going to be 479, that’s the one announced in our program for tonight, which is:


Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong, we are weak but He is strong.

["Jesus Loves Me, This I Know"; Anna Bartlett Warner]


And to sing that for the sermon that was scheduled for the sermon this morning would surely be out of place.

The sermon that was announced for tonight is going to be delivered now because at the ten-fifty o’clock service, over television, we’re going to present the teachers in our First Baptist Church School.  And in my preaching through the Gospel of John – it wasn’t planned that way, but the sermon just fit the hour in which we are launching the second year of our day school.  In the twenty-first chapter of John verses 15 through 17, this is an appearance of the Lord Jesus after His resurrection to seven of the disciples in Galilee.  Now we begin at verse [15]:


So when they had dined – when they had eaten breakfast – Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me more than these?  He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.  He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?  He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee.  He saith unto him, Feed My sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?  Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me?  And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.  Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep.


There is a distinct contradistinction between what the Lord says, "Feed My lambs," and second, "Feed My sheep," and third, "Feed My sheep."  It is very evident, the distinction that He makes between, "Feed My lambs," and then, "Shepherd My sheep."  So when I look at that word "lambs", I cannot but be impressed by the word that He uses for "lamb."  The word for a sheep is an arnos, an arnos, a sheep, an arnos.  The word for a little lamb is "arnion".  Now the Greeks had an "-ion" at the end of a word to make it diminutive.  We do something like that in English:  we put an "e-t", sometimes euphonically we put an "l-e-t" to make a diminutive of it.  We’ll have the word "book, book"; "booklet" would be a little book.  We have the word "river"; we will say "rivulet" to be a little river.  We will have a word "sermon", and we will have "sermonette," a little sermon, which you never hear around here, and these youngsters do not know what I was talking about.  But in our language we have a little syllable at the end that we can add that makes it diminutive.  Now, the Greeks did that, except theirs is an "i-o-n".  An arnos, sheep, arnion, little sheep, little lamb.  They would have the word biblos, book; biblion, little book.  They’ll have the word paidos, child; paidarion, little child.  So they have the word arnos, lamb, arnion, little lamb, little tiny lamb.

Now what brought that to my heart with all-increasing impressiveness:  I was looking at the Greek text in 2 Timothy chapter 3, and I was surprised at the word that is used.  The apostle, speaking to his young son in the ministry named Timothy, writes, "And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."  Then he writes that famous passage, "All scripture is theopneusta, God-breathed," translated here, "given by inspiration of God."  Well, I was looking at that passage and I noticed the word "child, child."  I would have supposed from reading it here in the English language that the author, the apostle Paul, would have at least used the word teknos, child; paide, paidos, child, pediatrics comes from it, paidos, child; "pedobaptist," a pedobaptist would be a denomination that baptizes little children, sprinkles little children; paidos.  But he doesn’t use the word paidos.  "And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures."  So not using the word paidos I would suppose he would have used the word paidarion, little child, little child.  But he doesn’t use that.  To my amazement, in writing the passage by inspiration he uses the word brephos, b-r-e-p-h-o-s, brephos.  "And that from a brephos, thou hast known the holy Scriptures."  Now let me show you passages in the Bible, one or two, that’ll show you the meaning of that word brephos.

When Mary was told by Gabriel that she was going to be the mother of a foreordained Child conceived of the Holy Spirit, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  And the first chapter of Luke says that when Mary came into the house and greeted Elizabeth, that Elizabeth, being six months pregnant, that "the child, brephos, leaped in her womb at the greeting, the salutation of Mary." 

All right, in the second chapter of the Book of Luke, the angels from heaven come and announce to the shepherds, the holy Savior of the whole world has been born.  You go to Bethlehem and see for yourself. 


And behold you will find the brephos wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  So the shepherds made hast to go to Bethlehem to see this marvelous thing that has come to pass.  And they found the brephos with Mary and Joseph, and the brephos lying in a manger.


Now do you see what he uses here, the word he uses here?  "And that from a brephos, from a babe thou hast known the holy Scriptures."  Now I submit to you that any thinking reader of the Bible, of the Scriptures, could not but pause before the revelation of these sacred pages.  He says to Simon Peter, the head of the apostles, through whom the keys of the kingdom were to be used to open the door to the Jews, to open the door to the Samaritans, and to open the door to the Gentiles, He says to him first of all, "Boske, feed My arnia," the plural of "arnion"; "feed My arnia, take care of My little lambs;" not even lamb, but little lambs.  When I look at this passage here in 2 Timothy, "And that from a brephos, from a babe, thou hast known the holy Scriptures." 

Well, when you read these things, immediately you begin to think through the whole Word of God.  Is this unique?  Is it separate?  Is it apart?  Is it something unusual and strange and isolated?  Well, when your mind thinks through the Word of God, immediately you will find a corroboration of what divine inspiration has chosen in the use of these words; you will find it throughout the whole Book.

Now think for just a moment.  "And Moses, when he became of age, chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" [Hebrews 11:24-25].  What does that refer to, that "when Moses came of age", the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the throne, he chose rather to suffer affliction, slavery, beating, under the taskmaster’s whip, with the despised people of God than to be the Pharaoh of the land?  Well, where did that decision come from?  How did he know anything particularly about the people of God, much less that he belonged to them?  Well, when you go back to the story, when Jochebed and Amram couldn’t hide their little baby any longer, they hid him in the flags by the side of the River Nile where Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe.  And Miriam, about twelve-year-old little sister, was hiding in the reeds to see what would happen to the child placed in a little basket, floating on the bosom of the river. And Pharaoh’s daughter, seeing the basket, sent a maid to fetch it.  And when she brought back the basket, opened it, there was a little child, a beautiful child, a comely child; the King James Version will translate the word "a proper child, a beautiful child".  And the babe wept, and that touched the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter.  And she said, "This is a child of the Hebrew people."  And Miriam watching, had drawn near, and said to Pharaoh’s daughter, "Would you like a nurse to mother the child?"  And Pharaoh’s daughter said, "Yes."  And she fetched the child’s mother; and Pharaoh’s daughter said, "Take this baby, this brephos, take this baby and rear the child for me."  And the mother took the baby and nursed it from her breast; and delivered the baby after it was weaned in the hands of Pharaoh’s daughter.  And he grew up in the palace, learned in all the arts and wisdom of the Egyptians.  That’s the only time we know, there’s no other thing in the Bible to hint anything else, there’s no other time that we know that Moses knew who he was, where he came from, and the name of Jehovah God, except that time when he nursed from his mother’s breast.   And yet, and yet, as the years passed and he came to be a man, and as a man, heir apparent to the throne, when the time came to choose between his people and the regency of the greatest nation in the earth, he chose his mother’s people [Exodus 2].  As the Scriptures say, "From a brephos thou hast known the holy Word of God."

That isn’t unusual.  Little Samuel, how old was he when he was brought to the tabernacle and placed in the hands of old Eli at Shiloh, how old was he?  The book says that when Hannah weaned him she brought him to the man of God in Shiloh, and there the child worshiped the Lord.  It says that.  When she weaned him, she brought him to the house of the Lord.  And that vision that appeared to Samuel when the Lord called him, how old was the little lad?  He was a little child, and yet the Scriptures say, "All Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that he was established to be a prophet of the Lord."  A brephos

The Lord God said to Jeremiah, "Jeremiah, before I formed the inner matrix, and before thou wast born from the womb, I called thee and ordained thee to be a prophet of God."  Zechariah says to the child John, "The angel Gabriel said to me that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit from your birth;" a brephos, a brephos.  It is interesting to read when the people around the Lord Jesus, in His royal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when they were shouting, "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; blessed is the Son of David."  They said, "Hush these disciples."  And the Lord said, "If these were hushed, the very stones would cry out;" like that song these youngsters sing.  If we don’t praise the Lord, the stones will cry out.  The Lord said, "These stone will cry out, that it might be fulfilled," listen to the eighth Psalm, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained praise,That from a brephos thou hast known the Lord."

You know, the whole Bible is sort of like that:  there’s a child, there’s a child, there’s a child, there’s a child.  First, there’s a child coming, there’s a child to be born; "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head" [Genesis 3:15].  There’s a child coming, the seed of the woman.  Nathan stood before King David and said, "There will be born of thy loins a son" [2 Samuel 7:12-16].  That’s exactly what God had said to Abraham:  "Look at the stars, if you can count them, so shall thy seed be from one born out of thy loins; not this Eleazar of Damascus, but out of the aged womb of Sarah, and out of the dry stalk of Abraham himself.  Out of your loins shall he be born" [Genesis 15:1-6].  A child, a child, a child.  Isaiah said, "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and call his name God with us" [Isaiah 7:14].  And in the beautiful passage of the ninth chapter:


For unto us a Child, a brephos, is born; and unto us a Son is given.  And the government shall rest upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  And of the increase of his government upon the throne of his father David there shall be no end, to establish it in justice and judgment forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.

[Isaiah 9:6-7]


A child, a child.  When you come to the New Testament it is the same story.  Matthew begins:


The angel said to Joseph, Don’t hesitate to take unto you your espoused wife Mary, heavy with child; that which is in her is conceived of the Holy Ghost.  She shall give birth to a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, Joshua, Savior, for He shall save His people from their sins,And the wise men come from afar saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews?

[Matthew 1:20-2:2]


And the Gospel of Luke begins like that with the angel Gabriel announcing the birth of a child.  And John’s gospel begins like that, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God; and the Word became flesh," a child, a child.  And the preaching of the gospel was like that.  The apostle Paul said, "In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, a brephos, a child."  And the great consummation is like that.  In the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, "I saw a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of seven stars; and she being with child, brephos, child, pained to be delivered.  She gave birth to a man Child that shall rule the world with a rod of iron."  The whole Bible is like that:  a child, a child, a child.  All of which brings to us the corroboration in human experience.  That’s what we see, that’s what we know.

One of the great missionaries of all time was Stanley Jones, recently translated to heaven.  I may not have been very enthusiastic about some of his theology, but he was a tremendously effective missionary.  I heard him say – when I was in the seminary, he was speaking in the city; I went down to hear him – I heard him say that when he was a little, little, little boy, when he was a small, small, small, child, when he was a paidarion, a little child, that he saw a picture of a little Indian lad – not an American Indian; an Indian, the subcontinent under China – he saw a picture of a little Indian boy standing by the side of a tiger, and underneath the caption, "Who will tell me about Jesus?  Who will tell me about Jesus?"  And I heard Stanley Jones say before a vast audience that that moment, that moment God spoke to his heart and called him to be a missionary to India, when he was a little, little, little, little child.

Ah, the things, the things, the things that are wrapped up in the life of that child.  Quote, "If Christians had ever taken their children as seriously as do the great modern collectivist states, such movements as Nazism would never have appeared."  Could I change that quotation to "Communism"?  The collectivist state.  When I was over there in Russia, I cannot tell you the number of times that on the city streets and in the city parks I’d see the children in the state kindergarten, hanging on to one another’s shirt tail or coat tail or dress, and the little children, they were moved around in duck file, hanging on to one another. That was the child in the kindergarten, taken from the mother by the state.  And when the state has trained the child from birth to kindergarten age, then the child becomes an Octoberist from age seven to nine, and they wear the red star; you see them everywhere.  Then when the child grows beyond the Octoberists, he becomes a Young Pioneer, from age nine to fourteen; and he wears a red handkerchief, and you see him everywhere.  Then when the child goes beyond the young pioneer at the age of fourteen, he becomes a member of the Komsomol, age fourteen to twenty-eight.  And the collectivists state, taking that child from birth through young manhood and young womanhood, they educate them in atheism and all of the other things that go with political communism, and they succeed because they seize the child.

Why, our in tourist guide in Odessa, the capital of the Ukraine, the great fort on the Black Sea, our in tourist guide was a Jewess; and she had her husband, a young Jewish, with her several times, and I talked to them.  She is an atheist, he is an atheist.  They have renounced the God of their fathers, and they are no longer Jews, and they are emphatic in that repudiation.  Why, I said, "Was your father and mother devout?"


"Were your grandparents devout?"


"Are they still living?"

"Yes."  And Svetlana – that’s the name of Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, that’s a very common name in Russia; her name was Svetlana – she said, "When my parents die and when my grandparents die, the synagogue will be closed; it’ll be turned to a museum.  There won’t be anybody there."  Well, I said, "I’ve just read the last few days where the Russian government is giving you opportunity to go to the synagogue and pray."  She says, "That’s true, but we don’t want to pray, and we’ll not be there to pray."  Well, I said to her, "Suppose some great dire emergency were to come in your life, wouldn’t you call on the name of God?"  She said, "No, never."  Well, I said, "What if death came, and you desperately needed God, wouldn’t you pray?  Wouldn’t you call on His name?"  She said, "Never, never, never, never, never," and repeated the "never."  Their parents, both of them, were devout Jews; their grandparents were devout Jews; but they are atheists.  They have repudiated the faith.  Where did that come from?  That came from those kindergartens, and those Octoberists, and those Young Pioneers, and those Komsomols.  They are succeeding.  Well, do they succeed altogether?  No.  Some of those Jews are faithful unto death, and some of their children are faithful unto death, like some of those Christians are faithful unto death, and some of they are faithful unto death.  But the great mass, they sweep into atheism and communism because they take their minds as little children.

I remember Samuel Palmer Brooks, the president of Baylor University in a chaplain talk one time.  He was comparing in that talk the relative effect in life of heredity and environment.  And I remember a sentence he said.  He said, "I do not say that environment is everything.  But I do say this:  that whether a child is an atheist, or a Christian, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or a cannibal, or a communist, or a goose-stepping Nazi will be determined by his education, his training."

Let me show you.  In a southern city, down here in the Bible Belt, a survey was made by young people – now they told me they were teenagers – the survey was made by teenagers, the young people themselves.  They went into a high school, and had face-to-face interviews in the high school.  And here’s what they found. 

The subject:  "Cheating on examinations".  They interviewed 290 of them; and 210 of them approved, if you can get by with it.  Out of 290 interviewed, 210 said, "It’s all right to cheat on examinations, or any other way, if you can get by with it."  All right, lying: they interviewed 1, and 101 of them said, "It’s all right to lie."  Gambling: they interviewed 171; 142 of them said, "It’s all right to gamble."  Using drugs: they interviewed 182 of them; 116 said, "It’s all right to use drugs."  Drinking alcohol:  They interviewed 260 of them, and 190 of them said, "It’s all right to drink alcohol."  Now these are kids.  Sabbath desecration: they interviewed 190; and 160 of them said, "It’s all right."  Reading pornography: they interviewed 159 of them, and 109 of them said, "It’s all right, it’s all right."  "There’s nothing wrong with cheating, there’s nothing wrong with lying, there’s nothing wrong with drugs, there’s nothing wrong with drink."  That comes from somewhere.  These kids are in high school.  It came from down there, from brephos, from the child.

I have to close.  Let me just point out a moral.  I have always felt – I’ve felt that way ever since I was able to think – I have always felt that for our religious people to establish colleges was fine, because the college was established for the purpose of training the ministry; that’s where it came from.  It was never the thought, it was never the thought, it was never the thought of our religious forefathers to educate the masses of the people.  The school was founded to educate the ministry, and then as time went on, to educate a leadership for the church.  But for the church to be in the business of trying to educate everybody is inane.  We cannot do it.  The original purpose was never that.  It was never the thought of our forefathers to create a university system.  In Texas, the Texas University system, we don’t have the money, nor would we ever have, we just don’t.  The purpose of that religious school in its beginning was to educate the leadership of the church, especially the ministry. 

Now to go back.  Ever since I have been a thinking person I have always felt that where you ought to begin is not there in the college level; by that time the young men and young women have formed their character, they have made their choices, they have come into those decisions that color life forever.  That’s too late.  Where should you begin?  You ought to begin where the Book begins: with the brephos, with the little child.  That’s the place to begin.

That’s God’s turning of how life is made, when the child is little, that’s the place to begin.  That’s the time to witness to the little fellow.  That’s the time to tell him about Jesus.  That’s the time to win him to the Lord.  That’s the time to train him in the faith.  You know what?  One day this week, I was walking down that hallway there, and I stopped in front of that little placard place where our cradle roll puts the names of the children that have been born to our families.  And they had a poem there, and this is it:


The soul of a child is the loveliest flower

That blooms in the garden of God

It climbs from weakness to knowledge and power,

To the sky from the clay and the clod

To beauty and sweetness it grows under care,

And neglected it’s ragged and wild

‘Tis a plant that is wondrously rare,

The sweet wistful soul of a child

Be tender great Gardener, and give it its share

Of moisture and warmth and light

And let it not lack from painstaking care

To protect it from frost and from blight

For the day soon will come when the bud will be bloom,

To the ways of the world beguiled

Let’s win him to Christ – that brephos, that child,

Let’s win him to Christ while yet there is room

In the sensitive soul of a child.

[Author and work unknown]


That’s the poem back there on that wall.

That’s what lovely Hannah did.  She brought the child to old Eli, the pastor of the church at Shiloh.  And this is what she said, she said, "For this child I prayed, for this child I have prayed; therefore now I have led him to the Lord all the days of his life.  And the child worshiped the Lord at Shiloh."  You can’t read that and not be moved; I mean every faculty corroborates it.  Your mind corroborates it, your heart corroborates it, your experience corroborates it, God’s holy inspired Word corroborates it.  "And now, therefore, I have loaned him to the Lord, all the days of his life, that he honor God, that he be worthy the name of his great Savior in heaven.  And he worshiped the Lord at Shiloh."  That’s great.  That’s it.  That’s the stuff out of which the Kingdom of God is made.

Ah, the Lord bless our hearts, as faithfully in Sunday School and in these other areas of life where we can, we rear the child in the love and nurture of Christ Jesus.

Now, we sing our hymn of appeal.  That’s why that change of the song:  "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong," and while we sing this song, a family, a couple, or just you, give your heart to Christ, put your life in the church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now.  Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.