(See Mark 10:13-16)
When I was a child I was often told that children were to be seen and not heard. The disciples would have agreed. In Mark 10:13 they are rebuking the parents who were trying to bring their children to Jesus. The disciples no doubt thought that the Savior of the world surely had more important things to do than baby-sit a bunch of noisy brats. But once again, the disciples had it all wrong. Jesus had to rebuke them, and then Jesus welcomed the little children to himself and held them on his lap and blessed them. And then Jesus paid the children the highest of compliments, holding them up as examples and models of the kind of faith everyone should have. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to the likes of these, and if you don’t all become like them, none of you will get in.”
That could have angered the disciples, these men who with great faith had left everything to follow Jesus. They had given up so much, but now they were being told by Jesus that if they wanted to have real faith they would have to be like these bawling, burping, mischievous children. We too might wonder what Jesus is saying here. Yes, kids are cute, but they are kids and they need to be taught. Adults are supposed to be models for children, not imitate them. What does Jesus mean?
As with any question we need to look at all of what the Bible has to say on the subject, and the Bible does have much more to say about adults and children. The book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about raising children properly, as in 22:6 which says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The best known verse of all on the subject is the fourth commandment which says “Honor your father and your mother.” In both verses it is children who look to parents for instruction and not the other way around. In Ephesians 6 Paul has instructions for both generations, telling children to obey their parents and telling parents not to provoke their children. The Bible gives authority in the home to parents, but it is not unlimited authority. Parents must also obey– they must obey God. So Jesus can point to child-like trust and faith and say we should be like that; and at the same time the Bible can teach that children must be taught so that faith can be passed on.
This verse from Mark 10 does not mean that children are smarter than adults. Jesus doesn’t say that. What he does imply is that there is something about the trusting nature of children that adults can learn from. As adults know, the older you get, the more you have seen; and once you have seen enough of this sad life and this wicked world, you can start to get cynical and suspicious and skeptical, and all of that can get in the way of faith. Or, perhaps things have gone very well for you and you have become very comfortable in this ‘happy’ world. Then you can get proud and arrogant and smug, and faith in God can be replaced by faith in yourself. Or perhaps you just grow tired of everything, and you are depressed and down on yourself and bitter about life; and that too can be an obstacle to faith. All of these attitudes and emotions that adults might ‘grow into’ can work against faith. We can be drawn in on ourselves, either to focus on our own strength and importance, or, on our own problems and failures. And by drawing the focus in on ourselves, we are taking the focus off of God.
Children have their own problems, but they still do know that they are under the care and protection of someone bigger than themselves. And so they still trust in and have faith in their parents, and it is this aspect of faith that Jesus is pointing to here. He is reminding us that we are all still children, children of our heavenly Father, who is still a whole lot bigger than we are and can still care for and protect us. God, like a good parent, will not shield us from every bump and bruise, or even from every tragedy. But he has promised that in the end we will all arrive home and be quite safe. Therefore, we ought not get cynical or skeptical, proud or arrogant, depressed or hopeless. We can, like children, live knowing that we are being watched over and cared for, and we can be hopeful for a future when our heavenly father can and will make everything right. Jesus reinforces this message with his favorite name for God which is ‘Father.’ When he taught us to pray, he said we should begin by saying ‘Our Father,’ so that every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we remind ourselves that we are children. Think of that when you say the Lord’s Prayer. We still have someone bigger than us watching over us and taking care of us– now and forever.
I once sat with a grief-stricken old man whose adult son had just committed suicide. This son was recently divorced and had no children. His mother was dead. His father was his closest loved one, even though they lived far apart. The son left a note for his father in which he told him how his many troubles had become too much for him to bear. And then the note said this: “Dad, so many times I have wished I could go back in time to when I was a little boy and you and mom took care of me.” This was a man in his 30’s, now alone and sad and confused; looking back to a time in his life when he had the perfect security of being cared for by someone bigger than himself, someone who he still believed could handle everything. It was a heartbreaking letter of despair and hopelessness. It was sad that he did not know, or could not believe, that his heavenly Father could still take care of him; in a very different way, yes, but in a deeper and more profound way than his earthly father ever could. This is the kind of child-like faith and trust I believe Jesus is calling on us to imitate; a faith and trust that can feel safe and secure in the Father’s care.
Mark 10:14-15 — Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom like a little child, will never enter it.”
Isaiah 49:14-15 — (God said), “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
I Peter 5:7 — Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.
Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you at all. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed all the treasures I have. I am poor, you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner, you are upright. With me there is an abundance of sin, in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore, I will remain with you. –Martin Luther