Precious little potential adults. Tiny packages of compressed energy. Imagination factories. Tricycle motors. Curtin Climbers. What ever you call them they are the main reason we have balloons and Happy Meals and birthday parties and lawn sprinklers on hot summer days and Easter Egg Hunts.
They turn mothers into mommies and fathers into daddies. They can turn a tear into a smile in twelve seconds flat. Or an immaculately clean house to a dump in less time than that. Truth tellers, and chaos creators. Heart breakers. Memory makers.
In the space of about nine months they can accomplish what their grandparents couldn’t in two decades; turn twenty-something-year-old party animals into responsible, church-going, bill-paying adults. They turn spenders into savers. Leavers into stay-ers. Pagans into pray-ers.
They leave fingerprints on our windows and our hearts. They are a gift of the Lord. And of all the things He created, the Lord was most impressed with children. Our text today comes from Matthew 18:1 – 4 Lets listen to this beautiful text together. (Read text, pray).
What is it about children that makes them models of the kingdom?
Surely Jesus doesn’t want us all to become terrible two-year-olds defiantly shouting "No!", ignoring boundaries, and generally making pests of ourselves. You know I have discovered that there are children, then there are kids. Children are sweet. Kids can be mean, as when they tease and bully others. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t intend to sanctify these characteristics.
So what does he mean when he says, "Unless you change and become like little children?" When I read that I always think of my own childhood. I was, to be modest about it, an angel.
Like the time my mother let us stay overnight with some friends from church. And I thought, "My friends little sister needs my example, my teaching. What can I teach her that will help her be a better person?"
Well it was around December and the next big holiday was Christmas, so I thought she needed to know everything about Christmas. Well I began to tell about the big man in the red suit and how he lived in a cold land and really had trouble when he came to the hotter areas of the world. And he really didn’t know the culture and customs of places like Rome so the year before he really messed up and Romans crucified him.
I feel like I have always been a great teacher and she picked up on the point of the story very quickly. At least I think she was quoting me correctly as she ran down the hall crying. Boy sometimes it is hard to talk to a four year old.
Then there was the time that…
Well I could spend days telling you about pouring boxes of Jell-o into the neighbors pool so that we could walk across it, or about the time I stuck finishing nails into a B.B. gun and shot at passing cars but who has the time for that.
Anyway, not all children are like me when I was growing up, so we need to think about what Jesus means when he says, "Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven."
So what is it about a child that makes them models of the kingdom?
It could be that children delight in helping others.
Whenever I set out to tackle a project, what is Trafton’s first question? "Can I help?" Not what are you doing, Not how do you do it, but can I help?
Remember the old Shake-n-Bake commercials? This little girl appears on the screen holding a dish from the oven. Her dad is beaming down at her. In the thickest Southern drawl you’ve ever heard she says, "It’s Shake-n-Bake, daddy, and I helped." Children love to help. But I don’t really think that’s what Jesus was talking about.
Maybe it’s because Children believe that anything is possible.
With kids it is always possible. Their imagination always asks why not. They don’t get all hung up on the quality of the service they provide or whether it’s practical or not. Who cares if the lemonade is warm and the cookies are stale. As far as they are concerned, there lemonade stand is the finest in the country and people will line up for miles to buy their wares. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind either.
It could be because in a Childs mind we are all equal.
Children don’t ask why someone needs to be served or if they deserve to be served. We adults want to explore the reasons for a person’s current plight. What created this situation? Who’s fault was it? What bad decisions did you make?
If we determine that the person is to blame for the situation he or she is in, we still might help, but we won’t help with a good heart. All children see is a person in need and an opportunity to do something big. But I still don’t think that this what Jesus had in mind.
All Children possess the same 4 qualities.
I realize there are those who don’t believe in the purity of young children. They believe and teach that a person is born in sin, opposed to everything that’s good, and completely inclined to evil. That when a baby is born into this world it is born a sinner.
They say, "A baby inherits sin just like it inherits the color of its eyes or the color of its hair." They claim that sin is has been handed down all the way from Adam. But listen to what Ezekiel had to say to the Israelites, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son." (Ezekiel 18:20).
What he’s saying is that if a father commits murder, God doesn’t consider the son guilty; he considers the father guilty. So, what sin has a baby committed?
Obviously none at all. He can’t be held guilty for his own sin because he hasn’t committed any yet. And God says that he won’t hold him guilty for anything his parents have done. So the only alternative is that that child is pure and innocent.
Trafton is not concerned about being great as we often define greatness. He doesn’t care if you have more money than he does. He doesn’t care if you are more athletic than he is. He doesn’t care if you’re better looking than he is. He has no concern at all for prominence. HE just wants to get in the game.
It’s not a conscious effort to be humble, kids just are. They make no pretense to be somebody important. And it’s not important to be somebody important.
I believe this is a trait that Jesus is trying to get across to the apostles in our text this morning. The apostles had another of their many arguments about which one of them was the greatest. You can just picture them in your minds. Peter, James and John especially all arguing, "I’m the greatest. When the kingdom comes, I’m going to sit in the throne on the right hand of Jesus." Maybe Nathaniel saying, "But I’ve got royal blood." Maybe Judas piping in, "I’ve got the moneybag; that gives me some special privileges." Finally, somebody says, "Let’s let Jesus decide this once and for all."
"And Jesus said, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
If we want to please God, we have to duplicate that childlike attribute of humility in our own lives.
Trafton doesn’t mind admitting that he doesn’t know something. In fact, his favorite question is “Why?” If there’s one thing a child knows how to do, it’s ask questions.
If you have ever spent time with a young child you have heard that irritating repetitive question, "Why?" "Why is the grass green? Why is the sky blue? Why does a car need gas to run? Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west? Why this? Why that?"
That inquisitive nature in children is something that we often lose as we grow older. Our attitude toward questions as adults is often to say, "I don’t know and I don’t care." We’ve learned enough and our minds are closed.
Rylan is totally dependent. He takes comfort in holding my hand. He’s perfectly content to be utterly dependent on Trista.
As Christians, where is our trust? God has promised to take care of us. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
"For he himself has said, ’I will never leave you nor forsake you.’" Hebrews 13:5. We need a childlike faith!
In your Bible there are four instances where Jesus encounters children. Here in Matthew 18. Mark 9. Luke 9. Luke 18. Each time, the disciples are present. Each time, the disciples are either arguing about who among them is the greatest or they are exercising authority in a destructive way.
Each time Jesus points to the child and explains that access to and success in the Kingdom of God is in becoming like a child.
So what is it about children? I believe that we have got to delight in helping others, believe that anything is possible, and that we are all equal. I think that we have got to seek to have the qualities of Purity, Humility, Teachability, and Trusting.
But I want to leave you today with one more possibility of what I really believe Jesus is desiring in His followers. It is found is right there in vs. 2; convert or change. Unless you change.
The older we get, the less we like change. We get stuck in our ways. Comfortable with our lives. We find something that works, a lifestyle we can live with, and we just keep on doing the same thing over and over and over and over. Life might not be very happy for us, in fact we might be miserable, but at least it’s predictable. At least we know how to do it. So whether it’s a good way to live or a healthy lifestyle or successful or not, we just keep on doing it. Maybe you’re there this morning. Stuck. Rutting yourself to death.
Children aren’t like that. A child can happen upon another group of kids doing something he’s never done before and you know what he’ll do? He’ll stand there at the edge of the action for a little while, surveying the scene, then he’ll muster his courage and ask, "Can I play?"
A child will watch someone doing something that requires a particular level of skill-- like baking bread or fixing a carburetor. She’ll watch the hands as the kneed the dough or pick up a tool and inquire about it, then she’ll ask, "Can I try that?"
How many of you know children who know more about computers than you do? You know why they are good at that? They aren’t afraid.
And if we are going to be totally honest lots of kids are better at church than their parents, too. They like meeting different people and learning new songs and hearing new stories and imagining new possibilities. Adults get stuck. Kids get going.
I believe that there’s something here for New Hope. Churches can act old. Churches are notorious for living in ruts. The word "change" is about as welcome in some churches as an Alabama Fan at a Tigers Booster meeting. It’s as out of place as a bunch of nuns at a Brittany Spears concert. Old churches don’t like new things.
But Jesus said, "Unless you change… you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven." Unless you change, you will never experience his surprising power.
Unless you change, you will miss out on the work he is eager to perform.
Unless you change, you will never be a part of what God is doing in the world.
Unless you change you will never leave the fingerprints of your faith in this community. Because in order to leave fingerprints, you’ve got to become a child. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
So a part of what Jesus is commending is the willingness to change. But that isn’t all He says, "Unless you change and become like children."
One last thought about becoming like little children. Adults are Consumers and Children are participators.
Most of us adults in the church live a very consumer like Christianity. I wonder how many of us will leave here today and rate the way Jimmy lead us in song? How many people will go home and rate the sermon. “It was pretty good but he did drag some points out too long. But that one time I was getting a little sleepy he did tell that joke and got me back on track. So today I think he got 3 out of 5 stars.”
That is consumer Christianity. We have forgotten that we have been called to make disciples and not feed the hunger of people who want more and more of the religious imported goods and services. We have become all to eager to consume and we are not willing to engage in the work to implement it, so people have learned to leave when you no longer support their consumption or need.
Children are not like that. They want to be involved, they want to lead, they want to participate. When I was in Youth Ministry I would have more teenagers than I could take offer to go into the Inner City and knock doors, and hold Bible studies. One Summer we had 146 Teens pay money their own money to come to Nashville and scrape and paint houses for the less fortunate.
If we were to offer to go to Childhaven for one week this summer and clean out ditches, paint houses, scrub toilets, and offer Bible Classes to the residents there, the kids would out number the Adults 4 to 1.
When a man has an obligation to fulfill, he will do it regardless of whether he likes to or not. For example we all pay taxes, But is there anyone here today that likes to pay taxes? But, we pay them because we have an obligation to fulfill so every time we receive a check we pay taxes. Every time we buy groceries we pay taxes. Participating out of obligation is not participating from the heart.
However, when you give a man a choice whether to go to church on Sunday or go to the Superbowl, you see what is in his heart
Our life’s mission comes to us straight from the Bible. But we will never accomplish that mission if we don’t embrace change and live in total dependence on our God. But more than the mission is at stake. We will never know what it means to be a part of the magical, miraculous kingdom of God if we don’t change and become like children.
What is it in you that needs to change this morning?
Of all the things God created, he is most impressed with children. He was so impressed with them, in fact, that Jesus said in John 3, unless a man or woman is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
In order to even get into the kingdom, you have to become like a child again. You have to be born again -- of water and the spirit.
He’s saying the same thing now. It’s time for change. It’s time to depend on him. It’s time to start over.