Like A Child

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 18:15-17

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17 RSV

Suppose you were one of those parents. You had heard about Jesus and eventually you had met Him. You were impressed, deeply moved. This man seemed to have come right from the presence of God. He spoke God’s truth. He radiated God’s love. To be around Him made God seem powerfully real. It occurred to you and your spouse that you’d like to bring your baby into His presence. Maybe He would hold your tiny girl in His arms and pronounce God’s blessing on her. Maybe He’d kiss your little boy and pray for Him. So carrying your child, you try to make your way through the crowd to where He is. Others are doing the same.

But you meet with resistance. The disciples of Jesus are acting like body guards! As you try to get near Him, they block the way. “Don’t bother the Master now,” they say, “He’s had a long day. He’s tired. Look at all the people He’s been healing and teaching. He has a lot on His mind. Bring your children some other time.”

The disciples surely meant well. They were trying to protect Jesus’ privacy, to shield Him from the myriad demands made upon His time and attention. That was surely a good thing, wasn’t it? They cared about Him, didn’t want to see Him overtaxed.

And perhaps like many in their time, they did not place an especially high value on children. They may have thought that Jesus’ mission was mainly to adults, to people who could understand the truths He shared, to those who could make a responsible decision about His claims. They weren’t sure that Jesus should be bothered with these little children when there were so many grownups and youth who needed Him. But this was another point at which they missed the mind of the Lord. Listen as I read about that from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 18, at verse 15:

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

LET THEM COME

Isn’t that a heartening word of Jesus, “Let the children come to me”? He wasn’t worried about His busy schedule. And He surely didn’t share the view of the disciples about children. The American evangelist Billy Sunday once expressed the Lord’s concern when he said, “The only way on God’s earth you will ever solve the problem of reaching the masses is by getting hold of the children.” We can’t imagine Jesus saying, “These little ones are too young to come to Me” or “The good news of the kingdom is not for them.” With Him it is, “Let the children come.”

I wish every parent in the world could take those words to heart. We sing it in the children’s song, “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.” He wants parents and all those responsible for these young lives to bring them into His presence. Let the children be taught the gospel of Jesus and what it means to follow Him. Let them be brought before Him in the prayers of those who love them. Let them be in the place of worship, sharing in the praise and celebration of God’s people. That’s how the Lord feels about it.

Some parents believe that a child should not be instructed about religion. Their view is that all such questions should be kept open. The child should make up his or her own mind about them later in life. Parents, on this view, should not teach religious doctrine or inculcate religious values. Let the child in maturity decide which religion he wants, if he wants any at all.

Strange, isn’t it, that some adults would want their children taught about language and art, math and science, history and economics, but nothing about the most profound human questions? They want them to learn how to think but not how to live, to encounter great minds but not the living God. Jesus was not of their school. He wanted every child on earth brought within the circle of His love. He longed to touch and bless the tiniest infants.

He says, “Do not hinder them.” Do not set stumbling blocks in the way of their coming to Him. Don’t make it difficult for them to know His love for them.

Jesus talked on another occasion about how tragic it is to cause one of these little ones who believe in Him to stumble. It would be better for that person, He said, that a millstone be hanged about his neck and he be cast into the midst of the sea. How urgently important are children to the Lord! How much it grieves Him to see them harmed! What a terrible thing it must be to hinder them from coming to Him!

It’s sadly possible for us to do what the disciples did. We can get in the way, we can discourage efforts made by others to bring children to Jesus. Wittingly or not, we can be stumbling blocks in their path. I hinder children from coming to Jesus Christ when I withhold from them the message of His saving love. As a Christian parent, I hinder them when I speak of Jesus but do not seek to follow Him, when they hear about Him from me but do not sense His presence and grace in my life. I hinder them when, God forbid, instead of cherishing them, I abuse them. Instead of affirming them, I show them nothing but scolding and censure. I hinder them from coming to Jesus when I withhold any of the means that can make Him real to their young lives.

Where I’ve done that, where you’ve done that, let’s confess it to the Lord. Let’s receive His forgiveness and pray for grace to be like these parents in Jesus’ day who braved disapproval and discouragements to bring their children to the Lord.

THE KINGDOM IS THEIRS

Imagine it. Jesus says, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” The disciples were acting as though children have no place in the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. Little ones would have to wait until they grew up. Then they could embrace His kingly rule, they thought, and commit their lives to Him. But Jesus says no. They are already the objects of God’s love, already the heirs of His promises. Wherever any parent wants to bring his or her child to Jesus, that parent can know that the Lord’s love is way ahead of them. These are covenant children, sons and daughters of promise. The kingdom and all the love behind it belongs to them. It’s not necessary for a child to become an adult before participating in the kingdom. In fact, the reverse is the case: the adult must become converted, turn back, and become like a child.

Now what can Jesus mean by that? How do we understand His word, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” It doesn’t mean, decidedly, that children are good enough to enter the kingdom of God, that they are always innocent and guileless. Children at an early age often display qualities quite different from these. With Jesus, there’s no romanticizing of childhood, no attempt to deny the reality of human sinfulness, even among the very young. But there are some things about children’s ways that all who aspire to enter God’s kingdom need to learn.

One is a sense of wonder at the mysteries around us that we adults are prone to take for granted. My young grandsons are fascinated by moonlight, flowers and all creeping things. And they can greet the gospel with wonder too. Children and those childlike in heart can sing “Amazing Grace.” They can marvel at this, “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me”? How can we enter the kingdom of God if the marvel of His love for us in Christ strikes no responsive chord in our hearts?

I think about a child’s inquisitiveness, his or her eagerness to learn. Sometimes when I get in the car with my oldest grandson Ben, I’m amazed at this. He has several books along with him. He keeps on reading them as we drive, when we stop, sometimes even after a call to dinner. He’s full of questions; he soaks up knowledge like a sponge. Is Jesus saying that you have to be teachable to enter His kingdom, that you need a thirst to know Him and His truth?

BLESSED RECEIVING

All of that may be a part of the picture, but the chief trait of childlikeness lifted up by Jesus here is receptivity. Children are willing to receive from others, willing to be dependent on others. They can welcome the kingdom as a gift, and that’s what all of us need to do.

We talked last week about the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, about the two men who prayed in the temple. The Pharisee was decidedly an adult. He was well educated, highly religious, scrupulously moral. But with all of that, he was far from the kingdom. What was the problem? There was no receptiveness in his life. He knew it all. He had done it all. He assumed that he was on the inside because of his performance. And all of that kept him from welcoming the grace of God as a gift. It kept him from receiving the kingdom like a little child.

The tax collector was different. He had no religious credentials to offer, no fine record to boast of. He brought nothing but his waywardness and need, the sacrifice of a broken spirit. “God be merciful to me, a sinner” was his prayer. Jesus said that he went down to his house a forgiven man, rejoicing in God’s gracious acceptance. He, you see, became like a little child. He was humble enough, trusting enough, dependent enough, to receive grace.

Studying this passage has alerted me afresh to watch little children more carefully. As Charles Dickens once put it, “They come to us so fresh from God.” We discover a lot about His ways in their presence. We often feel that we are the superior ones who need to enlighten little children with our instruction. In many ways, of course, that’s true. But in the most important things in life, they have a great deal to teach us. They know how to jump into the arms of a waiting parent, never doubting that they’ll be caught, held and loved. They know how to trust. Hear also how they plead for what they really want. How eagerly and single mindedly they go for it! They know how to ask. Most of all, they have the knack of receiving grace.

Receiving, that’s the key response we all make to what God has done for us. Remember those words in the Gospel according to John, about how the world treated Jesus when He came? Listen. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:10-12). Did you notice that? All who received Jesus were enabled to become God’s children. And the receiving is equated here with believing in His name. To believe in Jesus is to welcome Him and His salvation into our lives.

Sometimes Jesus spoke of believing in terms of taking water into our bodies. “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Sometimes it was like eating food. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Believing is like taking food and drink into your body, receiving what nurtures and sustains life. That’s an act for which we can claim no credit, and it involves partaking of something we didn’t create. We can only receive God’s mercy, like our daily food and drink, with a grateful heart.

But how hard it sometimes is to be genuinely receptive. We’d rather give than receive. We’d rather earn our keep than have it donated. And it’s difficult for us to learn that the kingdom comes only as a gift. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, whoever receives Him, may have eternal life.

Have you ever done that? Would you like to do it right now? You can say to the living Lord Jesus Christ in a simple prayer, “Lord, I confess my sins. I believe that You died for me out of love for me, and that You’re risen, offering me forgiveness and new life. Lord Jesus, by faith I now receive You, I welcome You into my life. Come and be my Savior. I commit myself entirely to You.” That’s what it is to receive the kingdom of God like a little child.