Luke 18:15-17 “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 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. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The disciples had been with the Lord Jesus for over two year. That was a long period especially for young men, those slow formative years of one’s early twenties spent by them in his company, but they still didn’t know Jesus well. When they saw some mothers carrying babies to Christ to receive his touch they were unhappy enough with those girls to rebuke them. I suppose that few of those boys were married, and none had become fathers yet. They had heard Jesus’ teaching and seen his relationship with all kinds of people for two years, but they’d never witnessed a one-to-one encounter of Jesus and a mother with her baby. Their outrage seems very perplexing to us; they’d been in his company observing him carefully and yet they hadn’t worked out from his personality and attitudes to people that he’d be a man who’d be very pleased to have mothers bring their children to him. So what is said here by Christ in our text is addressed not to the children but to his disciples. This was not a children’s talk. It was addressed to disciples about people receiving the kingdom of God.
1. THE MOST UNEXPECTED PEOPLE ARE TO BE BROUGHT TO JESUS.
You have to expect that a discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ and his extraordinary personality, teaching and miracles must result in the discoverer telling other people about what had happened, and that he would bring them to Jesus. In the New Testament we find that that’s the case again and again. We are all familiar with the experience of Andrew, the brother of Peter, after Andrew had spent a day with Jesus. We are told, “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (Jn. 1:40-42). Or again, after Philip told Nathanael that they had found the Messiah then he said to him, “‘Come and see.”
Others were physically brought to Jesus. Four friends were determined to bring their paralyzed friend to him. They turned the pallet he lay on into a stretcher and they carried him all the way to the village where Jesus was speaking, and when they couldn’t get through the crowd because of the press of people, they lugged their friend up an outside staircase and uncovered a section of the roof and let him down on ropes into the room and at the feet of the Master. They were determined to bring him to the Lord Jesus. There was a Samaritan woman who had an encounter with Jesus which resulted in her going to the town and telling the people there, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn.4:29).
Others brought the needs of their families and friends to our Saviour. A Gentile Syro-Phoenician woman brought the need of her demon-possessed daughter to him. A centurion in the Roman army brought the need of his dying servant to Jesus, confident that our Lord would only have to will his recovery for him to be restored. “There is no need for you to come to see him,” he told Jesus, “You can cure him from here.” Just informing the Saviour about him was all that was needed. Two sisters sent a message to Jesus that their brother was very ill. “He whom you love is sick,” they said. Once at a wedding the mother of Jesus brought him the concern of a worried friend that they had run out of wine.
You can see the variety of people who were brought to Jesus, children, Gentile servants, paralyzed men, a dying brother, Samaritans and even the embarrassment of a friend having run out of wine in a middle-east wedding reception. The crucial matter was to draw Jesus’ attention to this need, to inform him about this concern, and bring it into his orbit. They were all to cast these cares on him knowing that he was a caring person. They were not to bear these anxieties all by themselves, and fret over them. They were to bring to the Lord all such requests for their family and friends and the nation they lived in.
Then something wonderful happens to those prayed-for people. By talking to Jesus about them the people they are praying about are immediately set apart from others. They are taken into the heart and mind and awareness of the Lord Jesus. He takes these requests for these people on board. He treats their concerns very seriously. The Saviour is very upset about these attempts to discourage people from coming and telling him about their concerns. He not only rebukes the disciples for driving away the mothers who are bringing their children to him, but he inspires the gospel writers to record this incident three times, Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. The very phrase in the Authorized Version, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not” has passed into the English culture.
We know that such children or other members of our families brought to the Lord in our prayers are in that way set apart, sanctified and made holy. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians in I Corinthians chapter 7 and verse 14; “the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” The influence that the Christian in that family has over the other people in that home is a sanctifying influence. In other words, it sets them apart; it places them in the sphere of God’s grace – before they are converted, and generally in preparation for their conversion. Some of you recently have told me about a Christian couple going through a very rough patch in their marriage so that the husband is thinking of leaving the marriage home. Don’t encourage him! The Christian brings Christ to the members of his family by his or her daily life, and then in his or her prayers brings them to Christ. Compare them to millions of other unfortunate people for whom no-one is praying; no one whatsoever is bringing them to Jesus. But that is not the case with these people; they are being set apart by this Christian who is joined to Jesus, and he or she brings these others to Jesus constantly. So Paul writes to Christian wives or husbands of unconverted partners in Greece and he urges them, ‘Don’t walk out on your non-Christian spouses, not at all.” As Christians they are not going to get contaminated by their unbelieving partners, but those unbelievers are certainly going to be set apart by the presence and influence and prayers of the Christian in that home.
So we see how this happened in Timothy’s conversion. It seems likely that his Greek father was not a Christian, but Paul is happy to remind Timothy that, “your sincere faith . . . first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Lois brought the grand-child to Jesus. Eunice brought her child Timothy to Jesus, and in God’s time he also became a sincere believer, just like them. So that is my first point that everyone, even the most inconspicuous and unexpected and needy people are to be brought by Christians into the kingdom influences of the Lord Jesus.
2. TO THE MOST UNEXPECTED PEOPLE THE KINGDOM OF GOD CAN BELONG.
So the Lord Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (v.17).
i] The kingdom of God belongs to children as well as to adults. What does it mean for the kingdom of God to belong to us? There are people who move to our country and they apply for citizenship. They want to ‘belong,’ they say. There are enormous social security and health and education benefits that will come to them from belonging. They also admire the history, tolerance and freedoms of our society. So they send in their applications and are interviewed; their sincerity and commitment to becoming citizens of the United Kingdom are tested. Not anyone who asks is permitted to become a citizen. Terrorists are banned from citizenship. Your motives and skills for belonging to the kingdom are examined. Do you submit to this authority? Will you honour and serve the monarch? Will you do his will? Will you follow his decrees? Will you promote his cause? Will you recognize all the other members of his kingdom as your fellow citizens? Will you confess this publicly with your lips, and believe it in your heart? There is no back door into this kingdom. You can’t sneak in. It has to be done openly. You are not to be ashamed of being a member of this kingdom, and it is exactly like this regarding entry into the kingdom of heaven. You are receiving heaven’s King as the absolute lord over your life from this time forth. He is the king, he alone. You are not. You are his subject. So you have to receive the king. Then the kingdom belongs to you too.
Let us see John simply explaining this in the first chapter of his gospel. He is talking of the Lord Jesus, the eternal Word who was in the beginning, as very God, and with God, the Maker of everything, and yet who was himself made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Then John says about him, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:10-12). The Lord Jesus was the promised one who would crush the head of the serpent. He was the promised seed of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He was great David’s greater son, and thus to his own fellow countrymen he came fulfilling all the prophecies of the Messiah, but they did not receive him. He was despised and rejected of men. They shouted, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him! Release unto us Barabbas!” and they killed him. They certainly did not receive him. They mocked him as he died with a sign over his head, “This is the king of the Jews.”
Yet there were those who did receive him into the hearts and lives, 500 of them, to all of which he appeared after he rose from the dead. They met the living risen Jesus in Galilee, and for a long time on that occasion they spoke with him and he with them. Many of them were still alive 25 years later and they would talk to anyone until they died of that unforgettable occasion. “We met the risen Jesus!” What was the reason these people in particular met with him? It was not that they were the wealthiest, or the smartest, or the most beautiful people in the land. No. It was this, that they had carefully listened to his sermons, and they had looked at his life, and they had heard his claims, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” They had been with him as he healed others or even that they themselves had been healed by him, and so because of all of that then they proceeded to take action and they received the Lord Jesus into their lives, certainly as a friend, but more than that, as their God and Lord, their all in all. They did not receive the Sanhedrin’s verdict that Jesus was a blasphemer and worthy of being crucified. They rejected that. They received him, just like Thomas did when he knelt before him and said, “My Lord and my God.” It is when you receive the King that you enter his kingdom.
You receive him as your Teacher, the one in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is divine wisdom incarnate, and for you he can say nothing wrong. He says “Learn of me!” So you ask him to teach you about how this world was made, and how and why things have gone so horribly wrong, and how he, Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, has begun to put things right. He teaches you the way of salvation. He teaches you how you should live, the sort of husband and wife and parent you ought to be. He teaches you about the end of the world, and the end of your own life, and what is the eternal state. You receive all his teaching, and you are keen to learn more and more of it. So you sit under the best biblical ministry you can, hearing sermons that explain to you everything about God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You receive that ministry because that is also receiving the kingdom of God. So you receive the King into your life.
ii] The most unexpected people may receive him. There was a woman whose name was Mary Magdalene and the gospels tell us that her life was in a bad way. Seven demons possessed her. I don’t know what that entailed, but it was bad news for her, and yet she received the delivering King. There was a tax official named Matthew who was a quisling and a traitor to his own people, someone who took all the money he could tear out of his fellow countrymen, kept much of it and gave the rest to the occupying Roman authorities. Jesus invited him to enter the kingdom. There was a zealot, a freedom fighter, on the opposite side of the fence to Matthew, and this terrorist Simon received Jesus as his King. There was a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was now living with another fellow but she also received the King. There was a man who was justly crucified (by his own acknowledgment) as having done horrible things. He was dying alongside Jesus with nothing to offer him at all except a couple of hours of painful consciousness. He wasn’t going to tithe to Jesus, and work and preach for Jesus, and be a missionary for Jesus. Four more hours of agony and he’d be dead. He was going nowhere but to his grave, and yet he was permitted to enter the kingdom of God. He received Jesus.
iii] The kingdom of God belongs to children too. They can receive the kingdom of God. Children, do you know when you have behaved badly? There have been times when you have been mean to your brother or sister. You have said “No” to Mummy or Daddy when they asked you to come to the table or to do something for them? You have made fun of someone who is not as clever as you. You have said, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!”? You have not said,”Please” or “Thank you.” Do you know that you have said and done bad things like that? Then you know that you need a Saviour. You need to ask God to forgive you, and change you, and stop doing those things. You need to ask God to take you out of the darkness where boys and girls live their lives who all do things like that and they don’t care that they hurt other people, and you need to ask God to put you into Jesus’ kingdom. If you are young enough to know that you’ve been bad then you are young enough for Jesus to become your very own Saviour. Jesus says here, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them.” So he is willing to receive you. Are you willing to receive him?
3. EVERYONE WHO TRULY RECEIVES THE KINGDOM OF GOD MUST DO SO AS A CHILD.
That is what the Lord Jesus says here: “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (v.17). Jesus states it in a negative way to underline its importance. He is bringing a word of warning to his disciples because they’ve been with him over two years and they still haven’t learned elementary things about his character and his attitude, that in fact he welcomes anyone to come to him. He is willing to meet people on their terms, but they can stay with him and follow him only on his terms. He won’t exclude anyone because of that person’s age or his past, but he won’t include anyone who refuses to leave his past and entrust his future to Jesus. Nobody is so bad that he can’t have Jesus. But nobody is so good he doesn’t need Jesus and his mercy and his kingdom. He is willing to meet a mother and her children where they are, but then they must be willing to follow wherever he leads. That is what Jesus would pray for these children when he blessed them.
It is fearful that these disciples after over two years of living with Christ – virtually every day – had not seen this, and that they could be so bossy and rude, frowning at women who only wanted to bring their children to Jesus. They still didn’t understand Christian basics about the Lord Jesus. Where were these twelve boys spiritually? They didn’t even understand the concept of receiving Jesus Christ, and receiving the kingdom of God into their lives. The basic ABC of the faith they still had failed to grasp, after two years of hearing such messages as the Sermon on the Mount and being involved in many conversations with him and hearing him answering their questions, and seeing the sick healed and the dead raised, they still hadn’t got it. But you must understand this, that this all was occurring before the resurrection and before the pouring out of the Spirit on them on the Day of Pentecost.
So Jesus speaks sternly to them to awaken their consciences, and clear away their barren, and maybe bored familiarity with his words, to show John and James and Peter and Andrew and all the rest how crucial these matters were. Their souls and eternities were in danger. “Listen, if anyone does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child then he will never, never, never enter the kingdom of God.” Getting into the kingdom of God is not the unavoidable and automatic end of Mr. Everyman. It is certainly appointed unto all men once to die. Death is the unmissable end to life, but there is nothing guaranteed that all men – all of you – are going to enter God’s kingdom. That kingdom has to be individually and personally received just like a child receives it.
Why does Jesus seize on a child? Because the most distinctive feature of a child is its helplessness and vulnerability and impotence. For years a child is totally dependent on its parents. You cannot say to a child, “Son I’ve looked after you for ten long years. It’s been a pleasure . . . most of the time, but now you’re on your own. Good bye.” You can hardly say that to a child of fourteen. Even at that age he is dependent on others for protection and care.
The Lord Jesus is looking at these men who’d been saying to mothers and children, “Go away! We . . . know . . . about . . . Christ. He’s on the move. He’s a man with big plans. He is going to Jerusalem! Our task is to protect Christ, and we know that kids get in the way.” They thought they knew everything, but in fact his disciples were in Year One of the school of Christ. “You thought you could teach these mothers and children,” he is saying. “But I say unto you that they are the ones that you need to learn from. You need to receive the kingdom of God like a vulnerable and helpless infant.” What are the distinctives of a child?
i] A child without Jesus can’t accept or understand the things of God. A child needs to be talked to and loved and to be taught what is right and wrong and what to live for, and how to care for other people. It will never pick those things up naturally. It has to be nurtured and admonished in the fear and love of God. Abandon a child and he will be dreadfully handicapped, as if he were raised by the wolves deep in the forest. So it is with all men and women, that in order for us to grasp what is man’s chief end, and who Jesus Christ is then we need to learn in fellowship, to be taught by God’s word. Most of all we need inward enlightenment and power. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor.2:14). So the very smartest of you has to go to God and say, “I cannot understand; I am like a child; so please make things clear to me; help me to mature!”
ii] A baby without God can’t even crawl to the Saviour. Mothers were needed that day to accompany their children to Jesus. They couldn’t say to their kids, “Off you go to Jesus,” and pat them on the bum and shut the door behind them. No. They had to be taken to him. It is just the same with every one of you. The only way you can come to Jesus Christ is being taken there by a heavenly Father. These fishermen and tax-collectors and zealots could only come to Christ if the heavenly Father led them to him. Here are these great words of Christ in John chapter six, “No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn.6:44). Jesus is not talking about the need of a Christian parent to lead you to Christ (which you do need), or a preacher to lead you to Christ. He is saying that that could help only if God also is working in your life through them, at that time, and is using the lives and prayers and words of those Christians to lead you. God alone is able to draw people to Christ or they will remain lost and in the kingdom of darkness. Remember how Charles Wesley expressed it:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon blazed with light.
My chains fell off; my heart was free.
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”
What happened? God looked in mercy on Wesley, this prisoner of sin, a man living in darkness. “Light – go forth!” said God, and Holy Spirit light and life filled Wesley’s space. That man was translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear son, and always that is a sovereign work of God. God has to do it. As Paul told the Ephesians, ‘God quickened you’ – he made you alive when you were dead in trespasses and sins. It was a sovereign work of God to draw you and enlighten you and give you life. A child is given its life by its parents, and on those parents that child is totally dependent for its very existence. So you have to go to God and say to him, “I cannot come to Jesus Christ your Son by myself. I am helpless to be delivered from the kingdom of darkness that I’ve been inhabiting. You must draw me to him. You alone must save me.”
iii] A baby left to itself cannot please its parents. Left to its own choices a child would sleep in the day and play all night. Left to itself a child would demand to be entertained constantly. Left to itself a child would always want its own way. A child would want to eat candy floss for breakfast, dinner and tea, and snack on more candy floss, ice-cream and chocolate in between. If a child were allowed to do so then it would want to turn the whole household around itself and get everyone to do what the child desired. The TV would be tuned to kids’ programmes in its every waking hour. If you gave into a child and let it have its every whim then that child will grow up to be a selfish brat, the most unpopular and uncooperative child in the whole school, all its maturing stunted, its social skills destroyed and its usefulness gone. A child needs sweetly and firmly to be taught to mature and become unselfish and pleasing to other people. The child has to learn to say from its heart, “Now it is your turn.”
So it is with all of us. Left to ourselves we wouldn’t and couldn’t please God. We have no desire to do the will of God, in fact we can’t please him. We find God’s will repugnant. Paul tells the Romans, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Roms. 8:7&8). I have said that just as a baby in Galilee couldn’t come to the Lord by itself but had to be brought there so we cannot come to Christ unless the heavenly Father bring us to him, and just as a child left to its own devices and choices will turn everything on itself and become an insufferable egotist. And so it is with us. If we are the flesh we cannot please God. We need God to come into our lives and change us from within so that we love our Father’s voice and love to do his will. For there to be progression there has first to be regression. We must see ourselves as helpless and dependent and vulnerable as an infant, in need of God to do for us what we cannot do ourselves. “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Have you regressed? Have you seen that before the infinite Ancient of Days that you are like a little child? If you are to receive the kingdom of God then you must do so aware than you are a helpless, self-centred and confused child. Helpless look to Thee for grace; Naked come to Thee for dress; Foul I to Thy fountain fly. Wash me Saviour or I die! Just as helplessly as a child being brought to Jesus so God must bring you to his Son. You pray that God will bring you, and never stop praying until you know that God has heard you and you have found him who is the Pearl of Great Price.
11th December 2011 GEOFF THOMAS