January 1, 2017
From the time we were wee tykes in Sunday School, we learned these little songs:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
And then, of course, perhaps the first one we ever learned:
Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.
Where? Where does it tell me so – that Jesus loves little children? In our text this morning in Mark 10. Of course, we’ve grown up now, so we don’t sing those songs anymore, do we? Right, we’ve mastered the truths of those little Sunday School choruses, and we don’t need the juvenile reminders anymore. No, now that we’ve grown up, we’ve moved on to much deeper truths. And perhaps we’ve forgotten those childish things. Jesus loves me this I know just doesn’t do much anymore, and so we forget to sing the songs, and perhaps the truths they contain. We pat our kids on the head, and we’re glad they’re singing those simple little ditties, but we’ve moved on. And maybe, just maybe, we need to be reminded of the truths in those songs again today.
I’m going to preach my entire message to you right now – I’ll probably expand on it just a bit – but write this down and you’ll have it all, ready? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, and as His followers, so should we. In fact, to even be His followers, we must be converted like little children. So maybe we’re talking about more than little babies. Maybe we’re talking about believers. Maybe those songs are quite so juvenile after all. Let’s read the text – Mark 10:13-16.
Just four verses today – to remind us Jesus loves little children. Let me give you the outline:
- First, in verse 13, we see Children Brought to Jesus.
- Then, also in verse 13, we’ll see the Response of the Disciples to the Children.
- And third, because every good message has three points, we’ll see the Response of Jesus to the Disciples and the Children in verses 14-16.
We begin by reading they were bringing children to Jesus. Who is they? The parallel passage in Luke tells us – these children were brought by their parents.
Now, the word for children here is paidia, which we’ve seen recently. Back in chapter 9, Jesus took a little paidia – remember that – a little toddler and set him before the disciples. The word paidia speaks of a little child – from an infant up through grade school. But the parallel passage in Luke uses a different word – Luke 18:15 says, “And they were bringing even their [not paidia, but brephos, which means baby or infant] – they were bringing even their babies to Him…” The point is this – parents were bringing little children to Jesus. Now, why would they do that – were they sick? Did they need healing?
No, Mark says they wanted Him to touch their babies – Matthew spells it out a little more clearly – they wanted Jesus to lay His hands on them and pray for them. You see, as we talked about a few weeks ago, while children were pretty far down the food chain – not real important members of society – it was still the practice of the day to take your children to a rabbi to have him pray for them. So, it’s a fairly significant thing happening here – these parents, wanting a blessing from God, wanted Jesus, someone they recognized as a teacher, a rabbi – to pray for their children.
I suppose it’s not unlike our children’s dedication from a couple weeks ago when we dedicate our children to the Lord. Every few months, we do that – a child dedication – a time when new parents present themselves and their children to the Lord before the church body, committing themselves to rear their children in Christian, godly homes. Then, we pray for the little children. It’s not necessarily commanded in Scripture, but we do see it as a practice – even in this text.
So, can you imagine what it would be like if, a couple months from now, when it comes time to dedicate some children, as they make their way to the front, some guys – let’s make it some Elders – jump in front of the parent and start yelling at them – “What in the world is this all about? We don’t have time for your kids – we’ve got more important things to do – you know, kingdom stuff like worship and prayer and the Word of God – get your kids outta here – take ‘em to the nursery.”
Well, that’s almost exactly what happened here – with Jesus and those wonderful, godly, compassionate disciples who had the kingdom all figured out. Look at the end of verse 13 – “but the disciples rebuked them.” Get that – it wasn’t the crowds blocking the way – it was the disciples – followers of Jesus – representatives of God, if you will, who said, if you want to get to God, you’ve got to come through me – and you can’t come – not the way you are. You’re insignificant, you don’t matter.
The disciples rebuked them – rebuked who? The parents, the ones bringing the children to Jesus. The word speaks of a harsh rebuke – of scolding them, shaming them. It’s used of casting out demons. In fact, it carries the idea of threatening punishment. And the tense is such they did it over and over – every time a parent walked up with a child, the disciples went ballistic. “Get the kid outta here – what do you think you’re doing – we don’t have time for this.” Now, why were the disciples so strong – why the rebuke?
I really think it’s because they thought Jesus, and they, were doing some really important stuff. Deeper truths – we don’t have time for Jesus loves the little children anymore. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem – don’t get in His way. To the disciples, these children were just an irritating distraction. They were an intrusion, an interruption of real ministry. They didn’t think children had anything of importance to offer Jesus, or them for that matter. Come on, they were just kids, what did they matter? Don’t waste our time with children, let’s focus on more important ministry.
The disciples showed by their actions they still didn’t get it – they were still operating under a performance-based system. “What do you have to offer? What do you bring to the table?” And children certainly couldn’t meet their standards of acceptability and performance. So shoo – get out of here. Get the picture – children were literally being blocked from coming to Jesus by His representatives.
Well, how did Jesus respond to the disciples? We see that in verse 14. Mark actually says Jesus was indignant. Literally, Jesus was burning with anger – this is the only place in the gospels where this word is used of Jesus. Now, He’d been disappointed with the disciples before – we’ve seen Him frustrated with them. But usually, He reserved His anger for Pharisees – maybe the moneychangers in the temple. Make no mistake about it – this time, Jesus was angry with His disciples.
Why? A couple of reasons. First and most obvious is, Jesus loved children – He wanted to be with them. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so – little ones to Him belong. I know it’s possible for kids to get on your nerves every once in awhile – but followers of Jesus – people who want to be like Jesus – love children. Don’t tell me you don’t like kids – that’s a problem.
The second reason He was angry is the disciples had been with Jesus for three years – they were supposed to be figuring this out by now. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the Father – that is, He was about to leave the future of Christianity in their hands. And once again, they were demonstrating they didn’t get it. Children were coming to Jesus, and the disciples said – no – you don’t make the cut – you don’t have anything to offer – you’re not kingdom material – we don’t have time for you.
You know, it occurred to me as I was looking at this passage that Jesus had to be getting frustrated by now – apparently so. He’s on His way out, and nobody seems to get it – and it’s been like that. There’s been this continued dullness of the disciples, and Jesus’ rising frustration with them. Flip back a few chapters – let’s do a little survey.
It seemed to start in Mark 4. Jesus began teaching the crowds in parables. He’d just given them the parable of the Sower. When they were alone, the disciples began asking about it. In verse 13, Jesus says, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?” Translated, this is basic stuff, guys – Christianity 101 – you’re supposed to be getting this by now.
Later in Mark 4, they’re all in a boat together when a storm threatens to sink them. Remember, Jesus is asleep, but they wake Him up. Jesus, don’t You care if we drown? He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” It became perfectly calm. Then He looked at the disciples and said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Why would He say that? Because they’d been with Him and seen Him cast out demons. Because they’d seen Him heal people of all kinds of diseases, to include a leper. He even healed a paralytic and told him his sins were forgiven. Why, at this point, were they still lacking faith?
In chapter 8, the crowds had followed Jesus to a desolate place, and they were hungry. We read Jesus had compassion on them, told His disciples to give them something to eat. Again remember, in chapter 6, Jesus had just fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish – it wasn’t that long ago. What was the disciples’ answer? Verse 4, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” Oh, I don’t know, maybe Jesus?
Later in that same chapter, they’re on the way back across the sea. Jesus says to them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” Their response? “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” Don’t you figure Jesus wanted to throw them overboard? He says to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Don’t you remember how I fed the crowds before?”
Later, same chapter, they’re up in Caesarea Philippi and Peter has just given his great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Finally – maybe somebody’s starting to get it. Now listen guys – I have to go to Jerusalem where I’ll be handed over to the chief priests, suffer many things, be killed, but the good news is, I’ll rise again the third day. Peter’s response – No way, Lord, this will never happen to you – not while I’m alive. Get behind Me Satan – you still don’t get it.
Mark 9 – the transfiguration. Peter, James and John are taken to a high mountain where they see Jesus peel back the flesh – they actually see Him in His glory. Peter’s response? This is great, Lord, it’s good for us to have been here – let’s build three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but this time, God’s about ready to punt Peter – “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And by the way, while Jesus and these three disciples were up on the mountain, the other nine disciples were failing an attempted exorcism of a demon-possessed boy.
Still in Mark 9 – after the Transfiguration and their exorcism failure, after Jesus’ second passion prediction, they’re arguing about which one of them was greatest. Jesus sets a child in front of them and says, this is greatness. And whoever receives him, receives Me. He just told them that in chapter 9. We’re just in chapter 10. The disciples actually rebuke parents who were bringing their children to Jesus.
And it goes on and on from there as we’ll see over the next few weeks. Nobody seemed to get Him – not the Pharisees, not the crowds, not even His disciples. Children coming to Jesus, wanting to be near Jesus – the disciples response? Get out of here. No wonder He was angry.
But can I encourage you just a moment. I believe if our lives today, our walks with Jesus were recorded, they would demonstrate just about the same pattern of repeated failure. And the good news this morning is – He is patient with us. Wouldn’t you have found some different disciples by now? Sorry Peter, James and John – here’s your pink slip – clean out your lockers, this thing is just not working out. And yet, Jesus was patient: teaching, rebuking, correcting, training them. Because He saw in them what Pentecost – the presence of the Holy Spirit would produce. He saw the church He would build through them. He put up with them and all their faults, just like He does you and me – because He sees the end as well as the journey. He was angry, but He was patient, and brought them along again – just like He brings us along.
So, how did He respond? First, to the disciples, He said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them….” Two verbs here and the tenses in Greek are important. Basically, He says, stop it, right now, once and for all, stop – leave the children alone. Then, He says, let the children keep coming to Me – and keep coming to Me – over and over. The idea is this: I’ve had it with you guys – stop preventing the children once and for all – don’t you ever hinder them from coming to Me again – and I don’t want to have to talk to you about this again. Remember, He’s indignant, He’s angry. Let the children, now, and forever, come to Me. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Why? “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What does that mean? I think there are two ideas in mind here:
The first, I believe, is literal – the kingdom belongs literally to these children. One of the questions everyone has sooner or later is this: what about babies – what about small children who die in infancy – before they’re able to understand the claims of Christ – before they have the intellectual capacity to make a commitment to Christ? Will they go to heaven? I believe they do, and I believe this passage implies that. The kingdom belongs to such as these – such as these what? Small children, infants, who were being brought to Jesus for His blessing.
The second idea is more clear: Jesus has already said to the disciples back in chapter 9 that His followers welcome children. But now He takes it a step further – the kingdom belongs to such as these – to those who are like children. That is, to those who realize Jesus is their only hope. Unless you become like this little child – in dependent humility – you will not even enter the kingdom. These children were a picture – the “such as these” the kingdom belonged to. Helpless, dependent, humble, broken people who come to Jesus offering nothing, bringing nothing – simply bringing all they have of themselves to all they know about Jesus. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones do Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong.” A simple, childlike, dependent, trusting faith. The kingdom belongs to them. And the disciples are still looking at the externals – at performance – at what people can bring. All I want, Jesus says, is dependent, simple, humble faith. Let the children come.
And then He makes this incredible statement. He sets it off as one of His more important statements, “Truly I say to you…” Pay attention – this is important. Whoever does not receive the kingdom – let me add, the Gospel of the Kingdom – like a child will not enter it at all. It’s in the emphatic in the Greek – you will in no way enter the kingdom. This is significant.
We need to make one thing clear. It’s not the way the child receives the kingdom that somehow makes him worthy of the kingdom. It’s not his or her innocence, gentleness, simplicity or purity – anything like that. It is not their virtue – it is their helplessness. They are not blessed for what they bring, but for what they lack. You see, it is simple humble, helpless dependent faith. They are small, insignificant, powerless, needy. One author said, “Every child in the world is absolutely, completely, totally, objectively, subjectively, existentially helpless!” (Hughes) If you are counting on anything you bring to the table to somehow get you in the kingdom, you will not enter it at all.
And we remember, such helplessness produces humble dependence. We remember what Jesus said in Matthew 18 in a similar context, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
So, He took them in His arms, laying His hands on them and blessed them. Because – remember – the point of the message: Jesus loves little children, and as His followers, so should we. His touch brought blessing, a tangible expression of God’s unconditional love, for what could they bring? His touch was reserved for the unclean, the outcasts, the sick, the needy, women and children. Common people. Needy people.
Which brings us to our conclusion. Okay fine, you might say – but how does this apply to us? I like kids – I’ve even had a couple. We have child dedications around here, and no one screams about it. I would never prevent children from coming to Jesus. But let me ask you, are there some more subtle ways in which we might prevent them? Ways in which we might not love them – ways in which we subtly rebuke them? Let me suggest a couple of significant things we can do as a church, a family of believers, to accept our children – to love them to Christ.
First, when we’re walking around here – not just Sunday mornings, but any time we’re together – we can lower our eyes. What do I mean? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but children are short people. And if we just talk to people at our level, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally at our level – then we can literally overlook our kids. We have millions of ‘em running around here. When’s the last time you bent over and talked to one at his or her level? Let’s do that. Let’s love our kids to Jesus.
Secondly, some of you can do more than that. You can get involved in their lives. Child Evangelism Fellowship, a ministry based in Missouri with over 1000 missionaries to children around the world, points out that 85% of all professing Christians made their commitment to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14. It’s one reason we are so committed to Operation Christmas Child.
85% of Christians became so before the age of 14. Do you suppose that highlights the vast importance of our children’s ministry around here? We have nurseries for the brephos and the paidias – the infants and toddlers Jesus took in His arms that day. We have Little Alliance and KidZone for the older children, through 5th Grade. We have AWANA, a children’s program on Wednesday evenings. And we should never have to plead for workers in those ministries.
But we do – because sometimes I think we think real ministry, kingdom ministry, is more challenging than that – preaching to the multitudes, driving out demons, fighting Pharisees – adult ministry, college ministry, Life groups, etc. There is a tendency to think real important ministry is not with the little ones – it’s somewhere else. And if I can’t do something else, maybe I’ll do kids. Jesus here lays that kind of thinking to rest. The most fertile ministry in our church is with little ones. Real ministry, kingdom ministry, is ministry even to the little ones – which means, we should have some of the most gifted people in those ministries – and, in fact, we do. We should never have to plead for children’s workers in this church – not if we love the children of the world, all the children of the world – even the ones in this church. Jesus does.
Finally, let me remind you that Jesus’ initial proclamation in this gospel was, repent and believe the good news. Repentance means recognizing your own unworthiness, acknowledging your sin, and turning from it, to Christ. Believing the good news means trusting God’s provision for your salvation, and nothing you bring to the table. Unless you are converted like this child, you will not enter the kingdom. You’ll remember at the home Levi – Matthew – Jesus told the religious leaders He came, not to call the righteous, but sinners. This is the theme throughout Scripture. Jesus came for the lowly, the repentant, those trusting in Him alone for their salvation. We come completely in need of God’s grace.