Summary: As we mature in Christ, we will necessarily become more like little children.
Several mornings this week, I stationed myself on the sidewalk in front of the church to welcome the children as they arrived for Vacation Bible School. I loved seeing them troop up the front steps, clutching their dimes and quarters for the offering. Sometimes, I would sneak up in the balcony and watch the beginning of the program – the announcements, the skits, the songs. And then throughout the morning, when I had occasion to leave my office, I would see all the other activities in progress – the games, and the crafts, and the Bible stories. Those things reminded me of how much I enjoyed VBS when I was a boy. And they reminded me of several other things. First, of just how much fun children are; what a blessing it is to have them around. I love their energy and exuberance, their joy and excitement. Especially when I’m not the one trying to corral them all into the pews. It was so good this week to hear the house of God being filled with the songs and the laughter of children.
This week also reminded me of how thankful I am for the creativity and commitment of our VBS staff. An event like this requires a huge amount of planning and preparation, and hours of hard work behind the scenes. Certainly, the quality of our program this year was a testimony to these folks’ love for children and love for the Lord. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thanks also to the parents who got their kids out of bed, and dressed, and fed, and into the car, early in the morning, so that they could come and hear the word of God.
And I was reminded this week of how our Lord responded to children – how he invited them to come to him; how he welcomed them, and took them in his arms, and prayed for them. Jesus didn’t view children as merely an annoyance or an interruption; he didn’t consider them unworthy of his time and attention. On the contrary, he held them up as examples of faith; as illustrations of how we must approach God if we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven. Isn’t that interesting? Although we as adults are responsible for teaching our children, and passing on to them the Christian faith, what we discover in the gospels is that we are to learn from them as well. And that’s what I’d like to talk about this morning. What we’re going to see is that, as we grow, and develop, and deepen in our faith, we will find ourselves becoming more like little children. That’s right. In some important ways, becoming mature in Christ means becoming more childlike. In fact, unless we are willing to become like children we cannot know God. Christ said that, and it’s essential that we understand what he meant by it. Let’s begin by looking at these two passages from Matthew and Mark:
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ’I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’" – Matthew 18:1-4
"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ’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.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." – Mark 10:14-16
Here Jesus rebukes the disciples and contradicts their assumptions. The disciples thought that power, and authority, and influence would be the things that mattered most in God’s kingdom. After all, that’s what everyone is striving for in this world. But Christ tells them that just the opposite is true; that those who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven – in fact, those who can even enter the kingdom – won’t be the folks who are self-assured, and self-reliant, and self-serving. They won’t be the people who like having others under their thumb; whose goal in life is to be served and obeyed by others. They won’t be the type to push themselves forward or claim special privileges. Instead, they will be like children – humble, unpretentious, and unassuming.
Let’s examine this in a little more depth. Why do you suppose that children are held up as examples of humility? Is it because of their moral purity; the fact that they haven’t lived long enough to be polluted by this sinful world? I don’t think so. Because if that were the case, they couldn’t serve as examples, either to the disciples, or to us. We can’t return to childhood; we can’t regain that kind of innocence. No, I think Jesus views them as models of humility for a different reason. Unlike adults, children have no illusions of being in control. They don’t think of themselves as exercising much power and authority. How could they? They’re surrounded by adults; people who are taller, and bigger, and stronger than they are. Someone else tells them when to get up for school; someone else decides what they’re going to eat for dinner; someone else decides whether they can watch the new Harry Potter movie. Even though it can seem at times that our children are running the show, they really are not in control of things, and they know it.