Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
When we were last in Mark together, we considered vv1-12 under the heading – MARRIAGE, ELEVATED.
And the word elevated means ‘to lift up.’
Marriage had fallen on hard times in Jesus’ day and the focus, even in the church, was legitimate reasons for divorce. But Jesus elevated marriage; He lifted up marriage; He called on His disciples to embrace God’s ideal for marriage, which is that it is a lifelong commitment.
And if you were here then you may recall that we ended with words addressed especially to men, who are so often the cause of marriage breakup. And this means that it is generally women who bear the brunt of divorce.
So amongst the other important truths in Jesus words we saw also His care for the spiritual and physical well-being of women. And because women didn’t enjoy a valued place in the society of Jesus’ time, His words were strikingly counter-cultural.
Well, this continues in this passage as Jesus now speaks about children. They also did not enjoy a valued place in society. But Jesus demonstrates a care for the spiritual and physical well-being of children as see CHILDREN, ELEVATED.
And after the issue about children is identified in v13, we simply consider the next three verses as we witness Jesus’ REBUKE and then Jesus’ WARNING.
So the issue about children is identified in v13.
1. Just back in ch. 9, Jesus took a little child into His arms and urged the disciples to welcome little children “in His name.” Well, those recent words have been forgotten as the disciples rebuke the people bringing their little children to Jesus to have Him bless them.
a. Now, even apart from Jesus’ direct command, this should not have happened given all that the OT says about children:
i. Earlier in the service we read about JOSEPH bringing his two sons to Jacob to have him bless them. And there are other examples of this recorded in Scripture. So the idea that it was good to have your children receive the blessing of godly saints was well-ingrained in Jewish society.
ii. And on top of this, as God established His COVENANT relationship with Abraham, He was very specific that Abraham’s children were to be a part of this covenant relationship.
iii. And God spoke directly to children in the 10 COMMANDMENTS calling on them to honour their parents.
iv. And the OT has a number of stories of women who were unable to have children and how much sadness this brought them. Children were seen as a great blessing of the Lord.
v. PSALM 127 says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” To have many children was considered a great blessing from the Lord.
b. So why was all this apparently lost on the disciples? Well, as ever, when there is an apparent disconnect between what the Bible says and the thinking and behaviour of the Lord’s people, a good place to look for an explanation is outside in the world. And this is because, sadly, what the world thinks and does often influences what believers think and do:
i. You boys and girls will remember the story of the birth of Jesus. KING HEROD felt threatened by the birth of Jesus so he asked the wise men to tell him where Jesus was so that he also could go and worship Him. But the wise men were warned by an angel not to tell Herod. And do you remember what Herod ordered when he found out that they had gone home without telling Him where Jesus was? He ordered that all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two and under be killed. Just like that – dead!
ii. And its was not just Herod who easily disposed of children. Infanticide, the practice of killing new born babies if you did not want them, was not made illegal until AD 375. Prior to that, if you didn’t want your baby, that was your business, as a father.
iii. A Father did not usually enjoy a close and intimate relationship with his children. They were tolerated and raised by mothers or nannies. Children ‘got in the way.’
iv. Children were not considered blessings in the non-Christian culture of Christ’s day.
c. So what we see here is that the attitudes in the world had crept into the church to the point that the disciples of Jesus didn’t think Jesus’ should be bothered with children.
So Jesus seizes this as an opportunity to teach His disciples about the priorities of the gospel of the kingdom. And so, first of all, He REBUKES them.
We can see Him waiving His finger at the disciples – uh-uh-uh! No brothers! “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
1. Now, Jesus is teaching something about the kingdom in what He says and does, but the most basic truth here is that JESUS LOVES CHILDREN.
a. In NZ, we have a CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER. His name is?…. Dr. Russell Wills. He and the staff in his agency advocate for the interests, rights and well-being of children and young people and monitor the crown services provided for children.
i. Well, the children in our passage were being denied access to Jesus and the opportunity to receive His blessing. And I don’t say this as any reflection on Dr. Mills, because I have no idea about how effective he is in his role, but Jesus doesn’t just write up legislation or give the disciples a handout with His policy on children. No, He rebukes His disciples and He takes the children into His arms and blesses them.
ii. He has crowds who constantly seek His attention, He has Pharisees to deal with, He has disciples who He has to train because He will not be with them for much longer, but He takes time to hold and bless children.
iii. And we have already seen in Mark’s Gospel that a number of His healing miracles involved little children. Who can forget the time that he raised the little girl from death where we are told that He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’
iv. Jesus loves children. DO YOU? Or could it be that we also are affected by the thinking and behaviour of the world around us in relation to children?
v. You see, infanticide is also practised in NZ. 50 children a day in NZ are killed by abortion largely because they are inconvenient, deformed or disabled in some way, and unwanted. Does that trouble you? Are you distressed to know that the Lord will surely judge this nation for this horrific crime? Do you love children?
vi. But let’s bring it a little closer to home: Jesus made time for children and was physically affectionate and tender with them. How about you? Now, I know that what I just said about being physically affectionate in relation to other peoples’ children is a bit of a minefield these days, so let me set this example before you: Do you recall the last time you spoke with or played with a child after church as we fellowship? Have you pushed them around on those little three wheelers they like to ride? Or played hide and seek with them, outside? Or are they beneath your attention? Could it be, instead, that the closest you come to thinking about children during our fellowship time is to wonder why their parents don’t have those ratbag kids under control? Do you love children?
vii. Psalm 127, which I read before, says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Well, the world says children are expensive and demanding and they cramp your lifestyle. So the world is having less and less children. But what about you? Do you love children?
viii. More and more husbands are sending their wives back to work soon after birth so they can keep up with the mortgage and the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. And so the children are in nursery and daycare from a very young age. Now, I realize that there can be extreme circumstances at times, but it used to be universally acknowledged in Christian homes that mum’s place was in the home caring for the children. But this is not the case anymore. How about you: Do you love children? Jesus did.
2. But Jesus also says something very important ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL WORTH OF CHILDREN. He says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
a. As one commentator puts it, with these words “Christ affirms and proclaims the spiritual capacity of children.” The Holy Spirit can do a work of saving grace in the child in the womb or the in the toddler or the 7 year old or the 12 year old.
i. I know I will not be alone in saying that if you were to ask me When did I become a Christian, I would tell you that I do not recall a time when I did not love the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, my love for Him and my trust in Him has deepened over the years, as my understanding and experience of who He is and what He has done for me has increased. But I do not recall a time when I did not love Jesus.
b. And of course, as a church that BAPTIZES THE CHILDREN OF BELIEVERS, we point to these words of Jesus as part of the reason why we do this.
i. We don’t baptize them because we think they are saved and we don’t baptize them thinking that baptism saves.
ii. We baptize them because Jesus says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
iii. We baptize them because just as God included the children of believers in the visible congregation of the OT, by circumcision, so He includes the children of believers in NT times by baptism.
iv. We baptize them because, as 1 Cor. 7:14b tells us, the children of even one believing parent are “holy.”
v. And as our children grow, we hold their baptism before them pointing them to the blood of Jesus as only hope of salvation. And we teach them that as baptized ones they have been set apart unto God and must live for Him.
c. The evangelist, D.L. MOODY, once came back from a meeting and reported to his host 2 ½ conversions. “Ah!,” the host said, “Two adults and a child?” “No,” said Moody, “two children and an adult. The children have given their whole lives to the Lord, the adult has only half his life left to give.”
i. Parents, why do you read the Bible and pray with your children from their earliest days? Why do you leave your homes early on a Sunday morning to bring the children to Sunday school and late on a Tuesday evening to bring them to catechism? Why do you pay fees to have them taught at a Christian school? Why do you bring them into worship to sit under the preaching of the Word? Because “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
ii. And in terms of evangelism, is it worthwhile being involved with programs like Bible in schools and Holiday Bible Clubs? Yes. “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
So from the WARNING of Jesus we learn that Jesus loves children and that they also have souls which will live forever in heaven or hell. So we cannot begin early enough to bring them to Christ. But secondly and lastly, we must also listen to Jesus’ WARNING.
He says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
1. So we are being pointed to children and HOW THEY RECEIVE THINGS as an example for how we receive the kingdom.
a. So picture the eight month old infant about to be fed lunch? Are they worried about earning the tin of vanilla bean custard? Are they worried that they lack the right educational achievements to earn their food? Are they offering to pull some weeds out to earn their food? Are they considering different ways they could feed themselves? No. They are entirely dependent on Mum to feed them and they have complete trust in mum that she will put the food on the spoon and ladle it into his or her mouth. Especially at a young age, a child is entirely dependent upon the parent. Total trust is the centre of a child’s existence. They are absolutely, totally, subjectively and objectively helpless! They just receive.
b. Well, so it must be for the disciple and eternal life. You cannot earn it. You can only receive it thankfully as God’s gift.
i. So think back now to those we have met in the Mark’s Gospel thus far: Who has received Christ ‘like a child’? Is it the religious leaders? Is it Jesus’ own family? Is it the crowds? No. Do you know who it is? It is the dead that He has raised; it is the demon-possessed that He has released; it is the deaf and blind person who He has healed. For their ‘condition’ made them unable to contribute anything to their healing; they just received it from Christ!
c. Now, we need to note here that at this stage in Mark’s Gospel, not everything that needs to be known about Jesus to fully embrace Him is known; He still has to die and rise again. And it is after that and after He has poured out the Holy Spirit on them that the disciples will remember these words and receive the kingdom ‘like a child’ and enter in.
d. And it is only as you recognize that you have nothing worthy to bring to Jesus and that you depend wholly on Him for your salvation that you receive the kingdom ‘like a child’ and thus may enter into the kingdom.
i. The hymn-writer said:
Not the labours of my hands, can fulfill thy law’s demands. Could my zeal no languor know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, saviour, or I die.
Is that how you approach this table? Do you come confident in your striving against sin or clinging to the cross? Amen.