By Dr. Mark Scott
My close friend J. K. Jones said, “I spent the first 40 years of my life as a child trying to be an adult. I am thinking of spending the last 40 years of my life as an adult trying to be a child again.” There is a longing in that quote. It is a longing of childlike faith.
There are numerous metaphors in the Bible for God’s people (body, bride, flock, building). A heartwarming metaphor is that of a child. Jesus taught that people who receive him can become children of God (John 1:12). Jesus thanked his Father that the revelation from Heaven was given to little children (Matthew 11:25). In one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, he said, “Children, do you have any fish?” (John 21:5, English Standard Version). God’s love is what allows us the privilege of being called children of God (1 John 3:1).
Our primary text for this lesson is from Luke, but the context of this event in the life of Christ varies from Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark place the story in between the teaching about divorce and the encounter with the rich young ruler. Perhaps the contextual point is that children are products of marriage and victims of divorce and therefore vulnerable. Luke also places the event before the rich young ruler. But he places it after the prayer parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which underlines humility. Vulnerability and humility are both characteristics of children.
Time for Kids
Luke 18:15, 16; Mark 10:16
It is probably safe to say that parents would not have brought their children to Jesus had he not been approachable. No doubt the parents felt that their children would be safe. And more than just children—even babies (Luke used the word for infants). Mark’s account is most tender (took them in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them). While it was true that parents routinely sought blessings for their children from rabbis, it still seems that the word on the streets was that Jesus had time for kids.
On the other hand, the disciples did not have time for kids. They rebuked them. The primary reference was to the parents and people who brought the little ones to Jesus. But it might even refer to the children themselves. Rebuke is a strong word. The disciples were overprotective of Jesus, and Jesus did not like it. Mark’s account says that Jesus was indignant (Mark 10:14). Mistreat a kid, and you will be facing an angry God.
Jesus almost publicly shamed the disciples by calling the children his way. Then he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Let is a command, and hinder is one of Luke’s favorite concepts, especially in Acts (8:36; 16:6, 7; 28:31). God’s people were notorious for putting obstacles in people’s paths (Mark 7:3-8) instead of removing hindrances from people making their way to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26).
Jesus stated his reason for not wanting kids to be hindered from coming to him: “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Some of our religious friends have used this text to affirm infant sprinkling. Of course it does not address that at all. However neither does it say that children automatically go to Heaven if they have not reached the age of accountability. Be careful of making it say something that it does not say. Children gladly put themselves in a posture of receiving, which sometimes gets them into trouble. But this is the point that Jesus went on to make.
Jesus underlined this teaching with the phrase, “Truly I tell you.” If this were the Gospel of John, Jesus would have said, “Truly, truly.” In modern vernacular it means, “Take this to the bank.” In other words Jesus is as serious as a heart attack about this.
The truth is this simple—kids receive. They will receive most anything. The word receive means “to welcome.” Hands up and arms outstretched—that is a picture of kids. Jesus will sometimes allude to the innocence of children and perhaps even their humility (Matthew 18:1-4). But the accent in this text is their posture of dependence to receive.
In the fall semester of 2015, Dr. Leonard Sweet was on the campus of Ozark Christian College. In a luncheon setting a professor asked how Dr. Sweet’s faith had morphed and changed through the years. He thought briefly and then said, “My theology has become more complex, but my faith has become more simple.” Maybe as simple as that of a child.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.