Like a Child

Like a Child | Mark 10:13-16

“Some people were bringing little children to Him so He might touch them, but His disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” After taking them in His arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16 HCSB)

Every society and culture has a social, cultural or power structure or hierarchy. For lack of a better term, a pecking order. That term, pecking order, comes from farm life and describes the place and position each hen holds in their flock. It identifies and defines the order of who gets to eat or peck at the feed. The dominant hen is first and then so on down the line, one after the other. While this is readily observed and is true among chickens, it is also true among humans. We tend to create a social structure wherein we identify those who are more prominent and dominant in social groups. We often refer to them as “leaders” in the group while the rest are often referred to as “followers”.

While Jesus acknowledges this natural tendency and even uses it in the social structure of His group of followers, He has been teaching them that leadership, power and authority also brings responsibility and accountability with it. Power and authority are not for personal benefit or gain but are for healing, helping and lifting up those who are oppressed, powerless and hurting. As He said, to be great in the kingdom of God you must be willing to be last – the servant of all. Unfortunately, the disciples struggled to learn this lesson and we have followed in their footsteps.

While I won’t pretend to have any real cultural or social influence (I have a total of 71 people who follow me on Twitter – honestly, most of those are people who followed me because I followed them.), I do have some authority, power and influence over a small group that includes my immediate family and my church. In reality, we all have some form of authority, power and influence even if it is only over our pet dog, cat or fish. In this passage, Jesus is still addressing the issues surrounding the disciples’ argument regarding importance and the cultural issues of power, authority and its abuse towards the weak, vulnerable and oppressed. So, we need to pay close attention to Jesus’ words regarding this issue.

First, Mark tells us that someone was bringing little children to Jesus so that He might touch them. A literal translation would read: “And they were bringing adolescent children to Him so He might touch them.” The “they” in the phrase is a bit ambiguous and could refer to the crowd, parents, friends or even older children. Regardless of who, their actions are clear. They were bringing young, adolescent children to Jesus for the express purpose of Him touching them. I use “adolescent” here because this term is used of children who have not yet reached puberty and that’s the meaning of the term in the original Greek.

But why would they want Jesus to touch the children? There are several possibilities: 1) it was common for parents of that time to want important and powerful people to touch and bless their children in the hope it would ensure future success; 2) the children were in need of healing and Jesus was a known miracle worker whose very touch had cured others; 3) or a combination of these where fame regarding Jesus’ healing touch, His authoritative teaching of God’s Word and a growing belief that He could be the Messiah was fueling a belief in and desire for His healing and blessing.

In reality, this same desire permeates children’s ministry of modern churches. We teach, love, help, feed and care for children because we believe Jesus, the Messiah – the promised Son of God, can and will bless their lives. We want children to know Him, trust Him, listen to Him, believe Him, follow Him and be touched by Him. Why? Because His touch has changed us and our lives. We bring the little children to Him asking Him to touch them, to bless them.

But listen to the rest of that statement: “…but His disciples rebuked them.”

Why would the disciples rebuke and try to stop the children from reaching Jesus? Mark doesn’t explicitly tell us but it is implied based on the context. We have been dealing with power, authority, position and social hierarchy. The disciples have been arguing about which of them is the greatest and Jesus has been trying to teach them about being a servant and placing other’s needs before self. To be first, you must be last and servant of all. It would seem that the disciples are trying to act as “gatekeepers” to Jesus and the kingdom of God. They are standing at the edge of Jesus’ ministry circle and deciding who gets through, who gets an audience with the King, who gets touched by the Messiah… and it really upsets Jesus!

Jesus was indignant, angry or deeply upset because the disciples were trying to keep the young children from getting to Him. He says, “Let the little (young or adolescent) children come to Me. Don’t stop them…” Listen to those words: Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them! We must never be guilty of doing this, whether intentionally or unintentionally or we may be recipients of Jesus’ anger and rebuke.

Sometimes our actions, like those we discussed last week regarding marriage and divorce, can have this same effect. Don’t get me wrong, a failing marriage and divorce aren’t the only actions that can have this effect. He was indignant towards the disciples because their actions were keeping the children from Him. How would He react to our actions that keep children from Him or cause children to turn away from Him. Do we cause them to turn away when we treat them as inferior, worthless and unworthy of our time? Do we cause them to turn away when we claim to love God, but we hate our ethnically or culturally different brother (and his child)? Remember, it would be better to have a millstone hung around our neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Now let’s be honest, children can be noisy and distracting. Especially in church during worship. I suspect that the disciples weren’t too different from us. They didn’t want the children to get in the way, cause distractions and keep Jesus from the “real” ministry work He was doing. In many ways, we aren’t very different in our approach to dealing with the distractions, either. We’ve created programs, places and ways to keep the children from disturbing the “real” worship and ministry of the church. We’ve created a similar ministry circle and we often keep children on the outer edge of it. Instead, maybe we should reconsider how we involve children in worship, in ministry and in discipleship. Children seem to learn best through observation, participation and modeling. Don’t keep them at a distance and away from us when we encounter Jesus, put them in the middle of it.

I’ve often said, one of the best and most exciting signs of life in any church is the sound of children. I think Jesus would agree.

“Let the young children come to Me. Don’t stop them, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD belongs to such as THESE (my emphasis).” What is it about children that would cause Jesus to say that the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like children? We could try and say it is a child’s innocence, humility, simplicity, trust or faith that is Jesus’ focus, but I don’t think so. I think the quality Jesus is referencing is still found in the context of what He is trying to teach the disciples and anyone else that will listen. Children do not have power, position or influence. They cannot earn anyone’s favor through what they own, can buy or achieve. They only survive in this world because they are provided for and cared for by someone who loves and provides for them and I think THAT is Jesus’ point. Here’s why…

He says, “Whoever does not welcome (or receive) the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” It isn’t about a child’s innocence because they aren’t innocent. Naive? Yes. Innocent? No. What about humility? Well, humility is about not being self-centered and that is certainly not true of children. I don’t think Jesus is talking about a characteristic or personality trait. It really appears to go back to the issue of position, power and authority. Young children can only RECEIVE the kingdom because they have nothing and have done nothing that would cause them to believe they have EARNED a place in God’s kingdom.

Ah, there’s the key to the kingdom of God. You don’t earn or deserve entry into the kingdom, you are welcomed and receive entry into God’s kingdom like a child with open hands and empty pockets. Children are at the bottom of their cultural, political, economical and religious hierarchy but they are readily welcomed into the kingdom of God because they need it, want it and seek it but do not deserve it. It is a gift from a loving God for needy people, not a reward for good deeds to people who feel they’ve earned it and deserve it.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 HCSB)

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” – from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

So, if you will gladly receive and welcome the kingdom of God like a hapless, helpless, hopeless and penniless child then you too can receive it “…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Finally, Jesus takes the children who have been held back by the disciples into His arms, He touches them and blessed them. I think it is important to note, the disciples seemed to want to control access and manage the crowd and the children’s access to Jesus but He rebuked them for doing so. They might have been trying to protect Him and provide respite, but Jesus rebuked them for doing so. He doesn’t need our protection and the success of the kingdom is not contingent upon misplaced trust in our skills, people management, the church’s financial resources or her political influence and power.

For He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… “I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep. But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:9-11, 14-16 HCSB)

Jesus took the children into His arms, lays His hands on them and blessed them. That’s what we must be willing to do. Not because they’ve earned it but because they need it and seek it. The most important task you have is to learn enough about Jesus and what it means to follow Him that you are able to teach your children, your grandchildren and every child within hearing distance how to do the same.

You may not be blessed with wisdom, knowledge, money or power but you can do what Jesus did. Take them in your arms, touch them and teach them with mercy, kindness, gentleness, respect, patience and love and bless their lives. In doing so, you will have led them to door of the sheep fold, then they just have to hear His voice and follow Him.

Now go, lead them to Him…

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