A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 11 May 2014.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, its author — John Mark, who is mentioned 8 times in other parts of the New Testament — records Jesus giving numerous illustrations of what the coming Kingdom of God is like. In this section of the gospel he describes numerous healings; the religious leaders asking for a sign; Peter’s confession; Jesus predicting his death & resurrection three separate times; and the Transfiguration, all of which are to teach us what God’s Kingdom will be like.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” — Mark 10.13-16
It is fitting that Jesus should use children as an illustration for the Kingdom because children show us what it really means to enter the Kingdom of God. Children are helpless. What can they do for themselves? It’s only as they lose their childishness and begin to take on adult characteristics that they can begin to take care of themselves.
And so it is with us. When we entered the Kingdom of God, we were helpless in our sins and struggles. We could do nothing to provide for ourselves spiritually. We were lost and broken and falling short by any measurement. But Jesus intervened. He did everything we were supposed to do, everything we had failed to do. He did it for us, in our place, including even God’s wrath at our rebellion against him.
Here is another way that children illustrate the Kingdom to us: Children are fresh and real and adventurous and honest and new! Just like the Kingdom of God. Children are so innocent that it’s both beautiful and dangerous and they trust so completely that it makes them vulnerable. In that way they display the kind of faith that is necessary to be a part of his Kingdom.
Now just because Jesus used children to illustrate the Kingdom does not mean he was naive about children. He would’ve been around children growing up in a village context, and don’t forget that he was big brother to probably quite a number of siblings! Jesus knew about diapers & crying, so he’s not trying to idealize children.
But he is giving us a wonderful picture of the Christian life. To be a Christian is to be a like a child. We start out by declaring our helplessness. We cannot do anything to provide for ourselves spiritually. We cannot live unless someone else acts on our behalf.
Like children, we need to be nourished and cared for and taught. We start out knowing nothing but our parents’ love, and by their love we learn and grow and mature. We need the gentle love and steady care of our Father in heaven and the Church, who the Reformers called our Mother.
So if you want to know what the Kingdom of God is like or what your place in it is, you can look to children and learn from them!
What can we learn from this passage? Here are two things; one is more big-picture and the other is more specific.
First, the big-picture perspective: We learn from this passage that Jesus has an entirely different way of seeing or valuing things than we do. In Roman culture, children were viewed as sub-human, as disposable commodities. They were a necessary evil and more of an obstacle to living the good life than an essential part of it.
The disciples’ reaction to the children would have been perfectly normal in the context of the Roman Empire. “The Teacher doesn’t have time for these kind of people! They’re so below him that they don’t warrant his attention.” The disciples were only saying what everyone in the crowd was thinking. “Why are these silly moms bringing their children here? Go away and come back when you’re old enough to be worth paying attention to!”
And it was not just the Roman Empire that had that attitude. All civilizations throughout history, have looked down on children. Yes, I said every civilization, even our own day. We think of ourselves as so advanced, so different, so much better than anything before us. And yet so often we see children as a disruption, a burden, an interruption to our lives.
But think about how different Jesus’s reaction to these children was! As one writer described Jesus, “He isn’t bothered by the fact that some of the children brought to him can’t talk properly, that some may be dirty and smelly, and that some will be up to mischief the moment they think nobody’s looking. He simply relishes young life, bubbling up like water from a fountain and refusing to be quenched.”
Jesus’s reaction to the children in this passage shows us that, praise be to God, he doesn’t see things the way we do! He has different values than we do, and it turns out we have it backwards. How many times did Jesus teach that the first will be last and the last will be first? That those who think they understand really don’t get it?
The Kingdom of God does not work like we think it does! Who would’ve ever guessed that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor and persecuted? That the meek will inherit the earth? That those who mourn will actually be comforted? That it is those who seek righteousness, of all things, who will be satisfied? That the pure in heart will get to actually see the God who made everything?
The Kingdom of God never works like we expect it to, and that’s because Jesus sees everything differently than we do. And think about it: Of course he does! Why would we ever expect the Son of God to see or measure or value things the same way we do?
We have such a very limited knowledge, and the lens through which we view everything is so self-focused. We struggle to understand the thoughts and emotions swirling around in our own heads, and we don’t know how to solve our own problems, let alone other people’s.
Contrast that with Jesus: The one who created everything, and therefore has a knowledge of not just each individual thing, but even how every little detail connects together! He not only understands our thoughts and struggles, but he is also willing to enter into them and serve us, even to death!
Jesus is so incredibly altogether different than us — and it should be no surprise to us at all that he sees and measures and values things differently than we do. Of course he does! He’s God! Why would we ever expect God to think like us? Why would he want what we want, or do what we do?
It only makes sense that Jesus would be altogether, 100% different than we are. And yet so often we are surprised, and we complain, and we struggle against him. How silly that is really. We should content ourselves to be the limited creatures, and we should want the all-knowing, all-powerful God who made us to do what he does best: be God.
And we should be immensely, immeasurably encouraged that Jesus does not see and measure and value things like we do. We elevate ourselves, we discount and discard people, and we try to evaluate the world in terms of how it can serve me and my interests. Thank God that he doesn’t see things like we do, or there would be no hope for us at all.
So that is the first thing we should learn from this passage, the big-picture lesson Jesus is teaching here. But there is a second thing that we must learn, and it is much more specific and practical: Christians should invest in children!
We often have a very ambiguous perspective on our children when it comes to faith. Here is what I mean: Parents, would you describe your daughter or son as a Christian? For most of us, that’s a tough question to answer. We can describe our own faith; we can say, yes or no, I am a Christian or I am not. But when asked about our children, we don’t know what to say.
We feel ambiguous on this point because without thinking about it, we have defined a Christian as someone who professes faith in Jesus. Because our children are not yet old enough to do that — perhaps like the two little girls that we will baptize in a few minutes, they are not yet even old enough to talk! — because they have not yet professed their faith, we are reluctant to call them Christians. And so they remain in an intermittent state of limbo as far as their faith is concerned.
But that is not how the Bible sees children. There is no ambiguity in Scripture about what we should call the children of God’s people — they are a part of the earthly community of the people of God. In the OT, that was Israel; today, that is the Church Throughout the Bible, we see that:
– It is God’s declared purpose that his saving grace should run in the lines of generations
– The biblical paradigm is for covenant children to grow up in faith from infancy
– Parents are charged to nurture their children in Christian faith & love
– The God-ordained means of awakening covenant children to spiritual life is being raised in the gospel by their parents and their church
I do not mean to say that anyone is saved in any way except for faith in Jesus. But I do mean to say that faith is a gift of God, one that we know from Scripture can be given to a child even still in its mother’s womb. And the promises of God throughout the Bible indicate that the children in our community deserve the benefit of the doubt.
We should call them Christians until they are proven to be otherwise. We should include them in the family of the Church, as authentic members of the community of the people of God. We need to invest in them, nurture them, encourage them, care for them, and love them as our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in Christ!
Let me put it another way: Anyone who has been baptized has been outwardly designated as a member of the community of God’s people. That person is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that come with being a part of the Church. Throughout its history, the Church’s duties have been:
– To proclaim the Word of God
– To administer the Sacraments
– To exercise discipline, all for the edification of God’s people
When you were baptized into the family of God, as two little girls will be in a few minutes, the church’s work in each of those three — Word, Sacraments, & Discipline — began for you. Why would we exclude our littlest members from these benefits?
But let’s make this even more practical: Jesus’s rebuke to his disciples — “No, let the little children come to me!” — rings loud in today’s world, where far too often children are viewed as sub-human, as disposable commodities, as an obstacle to living the good life instead of a part of it. We don’t have to look far to see it: abuse, neglect, detached & uninvested parents, abortion, and just our general culture attitudes toward the family. These must change, and they must change with us.
That change begins when we shed tears. If you’re not grieving the horrors that children around the world experience, it’s because you’re not paying attention. We must be affected by this.
It’s easy to ignore the facts or harden ourselves against them. But that is not what Jesus calls us to do — in fact, it’s the opposite! Ignoring evil and hardening our hearts are satanic responses. Instead we should be grieved to tears about the evil that happens in this world, especially to children.
And our grief should move us to get involved and serve children with the love of Jesus. None of us is excluded from this call; we all need to extend the love of Christ to children:
At all Saints:
– Help parents! It’s hard; they need help! Requires us all
– There are numerous ways you can serve children in the church: Vacation Bible School, nursery (reading stories), Sunday school
– We need to work hard to make this their place, a place where children know they are welcomed and loved, a place that they want to come to again and again.
– Building a community that welcomes children takes work! It doesn’t happen naturally or accidentally. It’s an investment we need to make.
Beyond our church:
Numerous ministries designed to bless children: Compassion International, Africa Bright Future-Rwanda, Sacred Road, Royal Family Kids Camp, foster care system
Ultimately: Loving children is an opportunity for us to follow Jesus, to be like him: Just as he taught and served and loved those who were helpless — that’s us! — so we must do the same. “If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”
Let me finish with this: I’d like to speak to only the children for a minute [have them stand]:
Children, I have a question for you: Do you know that Jesus loves you? How do you know that?
One of my favorite teachers once told me that the best song in the world is “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so… [little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong].” Do you ever sing that? Do you want to sing it right now?
Learn that song, and sing it over and over again, so many times until you never forget it. Jesus loves you. So do I. And so do all of us — Jesus’s people, the Church.