We live in a world where children are not valued for who they truly are – people created in the image of God. Simply put, the world views children as an inconvenience and a hassle. Whether it is through the annual statistics that are released telling us how expensive it is to raise a child from birth to 18, or through the advertising industry’s constant bombardment of stuff and the idea that single and free is super cool, married and childless is second runner up but married and lots of kids is uncool, environmentally destructive, and irresponsible.
The view that children are an inconvenience and a hassle isn’t too different from the view of the disciples. As we will see, the disciples actually disapproved of children being brought to Jesus. The disciples were clearly bothered by the presence of children in their midst, maybe they didn’t like the kids stepping on their toes, or running through the crowds. It got so on their nerves that the disciples actually rebuked the children and their families for coming to Jesus. Imagine that! You are in line to see Jesus and Peter walks up to you and escorts you out of the line because you have a baby or a child with you. To the disciples, these kids were a disruption and a distraction. They made noises, and created messes and got in the way, and made it hard to hear what Jesus was saying. These kids took up valuable time that Jesus could be using to do some real kingdom of God work, like fighting demons or healing the sick, or presenting extraordinary teaching, so they thought. Children were not to be the center of attention and the focal point of this ministry.
Unfortunately too many churches and its members share these inappropriate beliefs wanting to keep the kids out of the way and definitely not underfoot. There are subtle ways this is communicated like complaining when crumbs are found on the floor, drinks are spilled; there is grumbling that too much noise is made or too fast of running is undertaken. And there are not so subtle ways. For example, I recently heard about a church in Seattle with this view. A pastor friend of mine who was visiting tried to take his family to church. As he was going into the sanctuary, a greeter stopped him and told him that there were children’s programs for his kids if he wanted. When he declined, he was pointed to a sign on the doors to their sanctuary that read, “No one under 12 allow.” This church wasn’t kidding, they didn’t want kids present when the Word of God was preached.
But that is not the view of children this church wants to promote. Your pastor and elders love children. We want more children. And speaking for myself, I would just as soon have all the kids present with us all year long in worship than to ever send them away. Children belong with the entire body of Christ. They are a gift and a joy. They bring wonder and life, awe and humor. They are our future, our great reward.
And that is what we see when we contrast the views of the disciples with the views of the believing parents. There was and still is a group of parents who are bringing their children to Jesus. These parents, not just mothers, but fathers as we know from the pronoun them in the Greek, which is masculine. These fathers and mothers were desirous that their children be presented to God. Just as they brought sacrifices to the temple to present them for worship and use in God’s kingdom, so also these parents wanted their children to be presented to God so that the Lord would touch them and bless them and set them apart for godly service.
Have you ever thought about what the touch of Jesus really means? Whenever Jesus touched something or someone in the gospel, life flows to it, healing comes, wholeness is restored. These parents wanted Jesus to touch their children in such a way that life was granted and secured and that they received the blessing of the Lord. Interestingly, the word to touch also means to ignite as in to light a candle. I may be reading too much in to the story but to me it seems as though these parents are desirous that the touch of Christ ignite in these boys and girls a love for God, a hunger for his word and a will to live according to its teachings. These parents wanted their children to be ignited for God.
Isn’t that the desire of so many Christian parents – to see our children fall in love with Jesus? Isn’t that why we live the way we do as parents? Fathers aren’t we striving to bring our children into the presence of Jesus? Isn’t that why we lead our families in worship in our homes? Isn’t that why we strive to make family worship a joyful experience in our homes? Isn’t that why we teach our children to pray about everything that matters to them? Moms and dads, isn’t that why we are praying for our children regularly, speaking with them often and modeling by example what it looks like to walk in the ways of Christ? Isn’t that why the Word is being memorized in fun and enjoyable ways? Don’t we talk about our life with Christ and the way he is working in us to will and to do his desires so that our children will learn to love and obey him? The parents in our story took concrete steps in order to walk into the presence of Jesus with their kids. What steps are we taking to present our children to Jesus? As the old puritans might say, “Oh let it not be for a lack of effort on our part that our children fail to come to Christ.”
Now the view of the parents towards their children was much better than the view of the disciples and the world, but let me tell you that it gets even better. Jesus viewed the children in three wonderful ways. First, Jesus viewed children as valuable and he wanted them to be in his midst. Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them (Mark 10:14). We only invite things into our midst, which we think are important and worthy of spending time. Jesus thought that children were valuable to spend time with and have in his presence. In fact, they are so valuable that he gave to commands: Let them come! Do not hinder! Whether they run, crawl, scream, or lay quietly in their father’s and mother’s arms, get them into my presence. Children are valuable. They are valuable because they are created in God’s image. They are valuable because they are the very people whom the Father desires to redeem from sin. They are valuable because God formed them and made them in the womb (Ps 139:13ff). They are valuable because they are helpless and in need of a Savior who can watch out for their interests. And Jesus is that savior who cares for the needy and helpless.
Not only are children valuable in Jesus’ eyes, they are also worthy of a blessing. Jesus thought that every boy and girl brought to him deserved to be blessed. He wanted them to know that God was for them and not against them. He wanted them to hear the words of God declared in such a way that they knew their value and worth in God’s eyes. They were not forgotten children. They were not worthless children. They were not just to be bossed around and left out in seclusion for no one to care for them and watch out for their concerns and needs. They were children of the kingdom. They were also being redeemed so that they could become worshippers. That is why he took the children in his arms and blessed them. They were worthy of God’s best and to really shake up the disciples view of children, Jesus declared a third thing: for the kingdom of God is of such a kind [children] (Mk 10:14c). (Weren’t bringing themselves, but were brought and received not took.)
Consider the countercultural challenge this would be to the disciples. Children were nobodies. They were a blessing, but they certainly weren’t to be emulated. They were to be raised up to adulthood, particularly in order to be able to take on adherence to the Torah. This last point is important. Until they were adults, children had no responsibility to obey the Law of God on their own volition, rather they simply did what they were told and their “righteousness” came from those guiding their steps. They gain righteousness from someone else who guides their path and daily life. If their guide is righteous then they are righteous, if the guide is crooked, then they are crooked… Jesus has just declared that the people who will populate God’s sovereign territory will be people who have ‘such a kind’ of life as these children. What I believe Jesus is saying is that God’s subjects have no inherent righteousness in themselves, but gain their righteousness by listening to another and doing what he says.
That is also why Jesus goes on to say, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child shall never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
There are two main ways of interpretting these words. Many people read that and they immediately start asking the question, “So how do children receive things and how can I act like a child in receiving the Kingdom?” In this interpretation, What made the children so worthy of comparison was their lack of ability and belief that they could be complete doers of the law in and of themselves? It wasn’t their honesty or sense of wonder or some misguided sense of childlike purity. Rather it was exactly what they lacked that made them models of receiving the kingdom. Their weakness, lack of power, insignificance, and total dependence upon others for all that they needed, that was what made them an apt image for receiving the kingdom. Are you a child? Do you recognize your utter need for Christ to guide you every day into righteousness? Or are you still trying to earn your way? It is impossible to bargain your way or to prove your worth in the kingdom. God’s kingdom will only be populated with the poor in spirit, those who recognize their utter need for Christ and wait upon his every blessing.
Though all of this is true, I am not sure that is the right way of reading the passage, especially in light of being like a child who has his righteousness imputed from another as the pattern for kingdom population. What if we understood these words about receiving the kingdom in this way, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as they receive a child shall never enter it.”1 If we understood it this way, then we would ask, “How do we receive children?” We receive them as a blessing, as a gift, as, as a mark of God’s favor, as something that brings joy and security and happiness.
The Scriptures are full of declarations that children are a blessing from the Lord. Abraham’s son Isaac was a blessing and gift for the future securing of the covenant promises. Samuel was a joy to his mother Hannah who brought him to the tabernacle and presented him for service. Jesus was the promised son of Adam and or David, the one who would crush the serpent. Sons are a heritage from the Lord and Children are a reward from him (Psalm 127:3). Grandchildren are a crown to the aged (Prov 17:6).
Doesn’t that make more sense. Taking those last two teachings together, we get the following: We are to receive the reign and rule of God as a blessing on our life, as something that imparts righteousness and holiness, grants us joy and gives us security apart from our own intrinsic ability to keep the Law and to live outstanding moral lives. We are to be this kind of people, ones who obey the leading of God over us and who receive the righteousness that only Jesus can impart. Then and only then can we truly be participants in the Kingdom of God.2
Are God’s ways a joy to us? Are they a gift beyond measure, worthy of welcoming into our homes and cherishing in our thoughts? Is his way of cruciform living a welcome blessing to a world full of selfish lifestyles? Is his fulfillment of the laws of God truly a joy to our hearts and are we willing to walk in his ways doing whatever he tells us so that his righteousness can be imputed or granted to each of us? Are we receiving his calling upon our life as a gift as we would receive a new child into our home? Such is the life of a child of the Kingdom.
1 Judith Gundry-Volf, To such as these belongs the reign of God, Theology Today, January 1, 2000 ,vol 56, no. 4, pg. 469-480, particularly pg. 472-473 and 472n5.
2The NIV uses the word belongs to them in Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16 and Matt 19:14. I don’t really like that because the word belong insinuates that there is some right of ownership, and that isn’t so. We have no right to the kingdom. But more than that, the translation of estin as belong, though a legitimate possibility that BDAG seems to advance, is not the only option. Belong is the 9th and 10th definitions out of 11 possibilities. But why not just accept a simple is or even the 2nd definition to be in close connection with? These definitions don’t make people possessors of the kingdom, but it allows their qualities to be used as close comparisons for Kingdom qualities.