Summary: Of such is the kingdom of God.
THE TRUST OF A LITTLE CHILD
In one of our previous readings, Jesus set a little child in the midst of His disciples (Mark 9:36). Now such children, in the ancient world, had no rights: yet Jesus was happy to scoop such a one up into His holy arms and teach. We noticed then that a little child represents the least of the least; yet has a special place in the heart of Jesus: and to receive ‘one such’, as He taught, is to receive Jesus Himself; and to receive Jesus is to receive God Himself (Mark 9:37).
Yet, in today’s passage, we have the same disciples forbidding those who would bring little children to Jesus (Mark 10:13)! Sometimes people do have this strange notion that ‘Church’ is not for children. However, the Scriptures NEVER exclude children: indeed, the contrary is true.
When Israel left Egypt, they took their children with them (cf. Exodus 10:9). When they gathered for worship, it was not an ‘adults only’ preserve, but an opportunity for ALL to learn (cf. Deuteronomy 31:12-13). After all, says Peter, ‘the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:39).
There are two strands in today’s short lesson, both arising out of Jesus’ indignant retort to His disciples.
1. The first strand is, that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
Paul has kind things to say about the Christian upbringing of Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15); and notes the positive influence of a mother’s and a grandmother’s faith upon Timothy’s own ‘sincere faith’ (2 Timothy 1:5). Asaph speaks of sharing his words (the Word!) with children, ‘showing to the generation to come’ the wonderful works of the LORD (Psalm 78:4). Isaiah sees Jesus, tending His flock as a shepherd: ‘He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young’ (Isaiah 40:11).
As we saw before, Jesus seems to identify ‘these little ones who believe’ (Matthew 18:6) with His disciples (Matthew 10:40-42). And things done/ not done ‘unto one of the LEAST of these My brethren’ shall be judged accordingly (Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45-46). The child is the model for Christian greatness: ‘for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great’ (Luke 9:48).
2. The second strand is, that if we do not receive the kingdom of God “like as” a little child we will “in no way” enter it (Mark 10:15)!
Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Unless any man will be born again, he will never see God’s kingdom’ (John 3:3). Peter suggests that ‘like new born infants’ we ‘long for the sincere milk of the word’, that by it we ‘may grow’ (1 Peter 2:2).
The child is the very personification of the disciple. The child is held as of little account - but is highly valued by our Lord. The child is vulnerable, but at the same time totally trusting.
The key word in Mark 10:15 is “receive”. The kingdom of God is received by otherwise powerless persons. People who are ready and eager to be received up into the arms of Jesus.
And so, we see - despite all the misgivings of the disciples, and some church folk even now - Jesus takes the young children up in His holy arms, puts His hands on them, and blesses them (Mark 10:16). And all their parents had hoped for them was but a ‘touch’ from Him (Mark 10:13)!
In Psalm 34:11, David addresses his hearers as “children” - like disciples receiving instruction at the feet of their Rabbi. The Scottish metrical version reads:
‘O children hither do ye come,
And unto me give ear;
I will you teach to understand
how ye the Lord should fear.’
So, “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not,” says Jesus; “for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).