In any political campaign it is a common sight is to see politicians holding and kissing babies. I never really understood why someone would want a politician to kiss their baby, but I do understand that it is a good photo op for the politician. We will always like someone who likes kids, better than someone who does not.
In Luke 18 we are told that Jesus faced a similar situation. People were bringing their babies and small children to Jesus. They were looking for more than a symbolic kiss and a photo; they were looking for a blessing from the man who seemed to know God better than anyone who had ever lived. That I understand.
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The Message records Jesus’ response this way,
“Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (The Message Luke 18:16-17)
This is the second of three insights as to what it means to be a follower of Christ. In the account that precedes this (the story of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector) we were shown the importance of humility and an awareness of need. This week we see the necessity of childlike faith. Next week we will see the need for a willingness to follow Christ completely. As we look at this text we can draw two immediate conclusions
Jesus Loves Those Society Overlooks
You may not see this immediately. In the day of Jesus children were treated like possessions. Their value was in their earning potential. Until a child was able to work or add to the family income they were seen as a drain rather than a blessing. Unlike today, they were not held highly. In fact, the practice of killing children was not outlawed until 375 AD. Roman law gave the father absolute power over his family which extended to life and death. We see this attitude in the slaughter of infants by Herod in the Christmas story.
We see the open arms of Jesus to those the world dismisses time and again. Jesus welcomed and valued woman, he was willing to associate with tax-collectors, Samaritans, and even touched lepers. Jesus saw the intrinsic value of the individual. He looked past the labels, a person’s appearance, income level, or press clippings. Jesus always saw a person as one created in the image of God; a person so loved by God that He sent Jesus to die for them.
In this sense we see that wonderful innocence we love in children. Little children are not entrapped by the labels and taboos of adulthood. They will easily befriend a person of a different nationality or race. They will walk up to someone who is “different” and ask them about their difference (if they even notice the difference). We must teach them to be discerning and even to be afraid. Sadly, we must do this for our child’s protection, but let’s not miss the beauty and the innocence of the child before the fears take hold. For in those times they best reflect the heart of Jesus.
The Parents Were Right in Bringing Their Children to Jesus
These parents were rebuked by the disciples but vindicated by the Lord of Life. His blessing is something every parent should desire. It is sad, isn’t it that we live at a time when many parents neglect, and some even refuse to bring their children to Jesus?
Such parents say things such as, “I don’t want my children to be limited by the narrow-mindedness of Religion” or “I don’t want to unduly influence my child but want them to decide for themselves what they believe.”
Parents have an obligation to “train up a child in the way that they should go.” Jesus is the only source of forgiveness, peace, joy and new life. If we neglect our parental responsibility to our children we are not teaching them to “make their own decisions”, we are essentially abandoning them to the world.
We shudder when we hear about AIDS babies that are left to die on the side of the road in some countries. We recognize that such a thing is shameful. We should be protecting and caring for the children, even those who are sick. Yet, when we fail to train our children in the things of God are we not doing the same thing on a spiritual level? We are abandoning our children to the ways of the world and in many respects surrendering them without a fight to the Devil.
What it Means to Have Childlike Faith?
We are being critical of a person when we tell them that they are being “childish”. By this we usually mean they are being petty, self-absorbed and impulsive. Childishness is a negative thing. Jesus does not tell us to be childish, he tells us to be child-like. He says, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” The person who does not come as a child to Jesus will NEVER enter. In other words, childlike faith is a necessary condition of salvation. Without it we cannot be saved. Consequently, we must ask ourselves: “What does this mean?”
There are several characteristics of Children that could be involved in childlike faith. First is a sense of trust and dependence. Most children do not worry about what they will eat or whether or not they will be protected. They trust that their parents will provide what they need.
A parent stands at the bottom of a flight of stairs, puts out his arms and tells his child to jump, and they do it. A dad may take his child and hold him or her high in the air on his hand and the child is not fearful of being dropped, they just enjoy the view. As a young child we trust what our parents tell us. In fact, some kids believe their parents know everything. They start questioning as they grow toward independence.
We lose that sense of trust as we grow older. Sometimes it is because people we have trusted let us down. But we also lose a sense of trust because we start trusting our own perception more than we do the instruction of others. Our parents may tell us that something is wrong but in our mind and desires we may think it sounds good so we dismiss their counsel. The number of people who influence us grows (there are classmates, teachers, friends, and even the media.) Once we start getting conflicting advice, we tend to believe the advice which is most appealing to us.
Becoming a child of God means we come to God with the trust and dependence of a child. We believe that the Lord can provide what we need for salvation. We trust what He has to say to us. We continue to follow Him even when the path is difficult or distasteful. We set aside worry and fret because we have absolute confidence in the Lord. That is what it means to have faith.
Second, a small child possesses humility. Unfortunately, this stage doesn’t last long. However, a young child does not rank the people around them. They don’t feel the need to trumpet their good deeds to prove their own superiority to others. They are open about their needs. They come to their parents when they hurt and need comfort. When they are hungry or need their diaper changed they ask for help. They are honest and transparent (often to the embarrassment of their parents.)
These are traits that are part of faith. The person who has faith in God comes to the Lord with their hands open. They don’t try to impress God with their resume. They come just as they are. They are honest about their sin and they pray to God with simplicity. A child does not debate with God; they don’t try to instruct the Almighty. They submit, they listen, and they follow.
Third, a Child Possesses a Sense of Wonder. It is fun to take a child to their first amusement park, to let them play in the swimming pool for the first time, to take them to the zoo or the circus, or take them to see fireworks. It’s fun because the child is filled with wonder. They take it all in. They are not distracted.
A child can spend an entire day playing with a magnifying glass. They can spend hours pondering a rainbow or watching fish swim in a pond. As we get older we take things for granted. Our attitude is, “been there, done that!”
God wants us to have that sense of wonder when we come into His presence. He wants us to have that passion to know Him and love Him more. He wants us to stand in awe of Him.
Fourth, a Child is Receptive. David Gooding writes,
Children know how to receive a gift—they simply take it. At their first birthday, they are not sure what a gift is. As two-year-olds, if they have siblings, they understand well enough. And by the time they are three, they are really into receptivity! The wrapping paper flies! “A little child takes its food, its parents’ love and protection, because they are given, without beginning to think of whether it deserves them or whether it is important enough to merit such attention. So must we all receive God’s kingdom and enter into it (see 18:17).”3
A child isn’t suspicious of a person’s motives. He/she doesn’t ask, “and what do you want in return?” A child simply embraces life. God wants us to embrace His grace in the same way. He offers us a gift and wants us to embrace it as a gift that we cannot earn.
Fifth a Child Loves and Forgives Easily. Children are great at giving enthusiastic hugs and kisses. They love freely. There was a period when Gracie would come to the top of the stairs in the foyer after worship and yell, “Papa!” and then she would rush down the stairs to give me a warm hug. Isn’t it a shame that we lose that willingness to love? How quickly we get to that state when we are guarded because we are afraid to get hurt or show vulnerability. Children love freely.
They also forgive easily. Children don’t always like what you have to say to them, but they don’t hold it against you. They may be angry at you for telling them “No!” one minute but the next they are cuddled with you in the chair.
If two children are fighting, if the offender says, “I’m sorry” it is over. Sometimes the apology is not even necessary. A kind gesture will immediately cause the child to embrace their friend once again. Isn’t it true that most parents have a harder time getting over an offense to their child than their child does? The child is off playing once again while the parent continues to stew.
The Lord craves that childlike heart of love. He wants us to know the joy of unencumbered love and the freedom that comes with forgiveness.
I can’t be sure that Jesus meant all of these traits when He told us that we must come to Him like a child, but I hope it gives you the idea of what He is talking about. The Lord wants us to come to Him with our hands and hearts open rather than closed. He wants us to set aside our pettiness and our resistance and embrace Him fully. He wants us to trust Him.
Implications of This Teaching
Youth Ministry is Important. Jesus not only loves children, He knows that children are the most receptive to the gospel.
Dr. Jim Slack, head of demographics for the Southern Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, recently shared the results of a Gallup Survey: nineteen out of twenty people who became Christians did so before the age of twenty-five. At age twenty-five, one in 10,000 will become believers; at thirty-five, one in 50,000; at forty-five, one in 200,000; at fifty-five, one in 300,000; at seventy-five, one in 700,000.
It is fair to ask why this is the case. Cynics would say that you have to get children to convert to Christ because adults see the foolishness of such beliefs. These are the same people who want to wait until their children are adults so they can “decide for themselves”.
It is true that we look for evidence for the claims of Christ as we get older. But that is true whether you came to Christ early or did not. Even the person who has declared their faith in Christ wants to know if their belief is reasonable. The evidence for Christianity is very compelling. The Christian faith has never been afraid of objective examination. The reliability of the Biblical text and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus has been verified by archaeology again and again. You do not have to assassinate your brains to become a follower of Christ.
So why is it so difficult to bring people over 25 to faith? It is not because they are smarter; it is because they have built up a greater resistance. By that stage in life we have invested so much in our sinful justifications for our lifestyles that we cannot bear to admit that we have been wrong for all these years. The older we get, the harder it is to change direction!
Practically this means several things,
- We should work hard to provide good ministries for children (Sunday School, youth groups, children’s church, Vacation Bible School, Mission Trips)
- We should invest ourselves in these ministries because it is a great opportunity to lead people to Christ.
- We should use every means possible to get our children, grandchildren, and neighborhood children involved in the ministries available to them.
- We should evaluate Children’s ministries carefully. Our goal is not to get a crowd; our goal is to expose children to the message of the gospel. It is good for children to have fun at a youth group, however, it is not good if they are only having fun. Get your kids involved where the Scripture is taught and the message of Christ is proclaimed. Don’t waste these years!
We Must Examine Our Own Hearts. If childlike faith is what is required to be a follower of Christ, we should pursue such faith. That will mean different things to different people,
- Maybe you need to rest in God’s provision. Sometimes we are way too “uptight” because we act like our salvation is dependent on doing enough good things or one being better than the other guy. Our salvation is based on the work of Christ on our behalf. Rest in His provision for your life.
- Maybe you need to open your eyes once again to the wonder and life around you. Sometimes we are so busy trying to be successful (or make our children successful) that we miss out on the simple pleasures of life. On a clear night, ponder the wonder of creation by gazing at the stars. Stop and watch the snow falling. Sit in a mall and marvel at the different kinds of people. Instead of being critical of others try to see the beauty in each individual. Stop and ponder your spouse and your children with adoring (rather than critical) eyes.
- Perhaps you need to look at your own heart. As God puts out His arms and says “Jump!” do you trust Him? Are you willing to trust His counsel (as found in the Bible)? Are you willing to live by His priorities and His plan for your life? Dare to love Him and trust Him with that sense of abandon that is so often found in a child.
- Perhaps you need to stop labeling others and instead start loving other people with the heart of God. Instead of viewing life as a contest in which you need to beat others, God calls us to relate to others as a community. He calls us to appreciate, love, embrace, help and encourage each other.
We are not to be child-ish because that is immaturity; God calls us to be childlike because the one who views life with the trust and wonder of a child is the one who can see Him and love Him most fully. They will ironically have the most mature faith.
I close with a great prayer.
Make me, O Lord, a child again,
So tender, frail, and small,
In self possessing nothing, and
In thee possessing all.
O Savior, make me small once more,
That downward I may grow,
And in this heart of mine restore
The faith of long ago.
With thee may I be crucified—
No longer I that lives—
O Savior, crush my sinful pride
By grace which pardon gives.
Make me, O Lord, a child again,
Obedient to thy call,
In self possessing nothing, and
In thee possessing all.