Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 7, 2012
“Let the Children Come to Jesus” (Mark 10:2-16)
A portion of the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark 10, reading as follows: “And they were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” This is our text.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. And he’s still saying that today. What does it mean for us, with our children, and in our spheres of influence, that Jesus is fairly adamant and insistent about this? “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them.” What are ways that we might be hindering children from coming to Jesus? What are ways we can help bring them to him? And what in the world is Jesus talking about when he says “for to such belong the kingdom of God”? Is there something special about children that makes them especially qualified for the kingdom? These are questions we’ll explore this morning as we consider the theme, “Let the Children Come to Jesus.”
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them.” Now to whom was Jesus saying this in the first place? And why would they be trying to hinder the children from coming to him? Jesus is saying this to his disciples, of all people. You would think they would want everybody to come to Jesus. But no. Not in this case. At least not all the children that were being brought to Jesus. I suppose the disciples were thinking they were doing a service for Jesus. Protecting his busy schedule. Guarding his time. Not wanting him to be bothered with seeing a bunch of little kids. Save his time for the important people. So they were shooing the moms and dads away when they were bringing the little ones to him. “Sorry, the master’s too busy to see all these little children.”
Well, no, he’s not! And Jesus tells the disciples this in no uncertain terms. It seems that Jesus thinks his time is well spent in blessing little children. He does not see them as unimportant or of no worth. On the contrary, we see Jesus over and over again in the gospels spending time and attention on people that the world–or even the respectable people in the church–might see as marginal or valueless: little children, lepers, a poor widow, a Gentile woman, a disreputable tax collector. These are people Jesus cares about, and thus God cares about–and thus we should care about them, too.
But surely we do not hinder the children from coming to Jesus, do we? We wouldn’t do something like that! Well, maybe not intentionally. But then the disciples had good intentions, and yet they were rebuked by Jesus about this.
How do we hinder children from coming to Jesus? We’re not shooing the moms and dads away when they bring their kids here, are we? No, in fact, we’d love it if more parents would bring their children to church. But when they do, let’s make sure we welcome them. Little kids sometimes make a little noise during the service. But I’d much rather have that than to have no noise and no kids. That’s a small point. I think we do pretty good on that.
But by far the biggest problem is when parents do not take their children to church. I’m talking about Christian parents, people who should know better. They are literally hindering the children from coming to Jesus. They are being derelict in their office as parents. Moms and dads–especially you dads in your position as the spiritual head of the household–your number one responsibility as parents is to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And that means, first of all, getting them baptized and bringing them to church. Every Sunday. I don’t care if it’s baseball, basketball, ballet, sleepovers, or just sleeping in, nothing is more important–nothing–than being in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. To keep that day holy, to hold it sacred, means to not let anything else interfere with it. It means being in church, with your children, so you all together can hear God’s Word and gladly hear and learn it. When you don’t do that, you are failing in your responsibility. You are hindering the children from coming to Jesus their Savior, who wants to bless them.
And then there’s what happens in the home. Are the children being taught in the home? Are you teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer? These are basics. The children need to learn the catechism, from infancy on up, and the parents are the primary catechists. Are you seeing that when the children get older, they take catechism instruction and get confirmed? You need to do that.
One other thing that hinders children from coming to Jesus, something that’s mentioned in the first part of the Gospel reading today: It’s when father and mother divorce. Divorce is not only a sin against God’s institution of marriage, it also hurts children. It damages them. And the resulting break-up of the home, the switching around of visitation from place to place–that does no favors as far as getting the children to church on Sunday morning.
What a mess we make of God’s good design for the family! Failing in our responsibility of faithfully, regularly, bringing our children to Jesus, both in the church and in the home–this is to our shame. I must tell you, I must confess, I too have failed in many ways and at many times in my responsibilities as husband and father. Lord, have mercy upon us!
And now–now that I’ve heaped all this guilt on you, and justly so, for we are all guilty of sin in this regard–now that you’ve heard the bad news, let me tell you the good news: The Lord does have mercy on us! God is in the business of forgiving sinners like you and me. He declares into our ears that his own Son, Christ Jesus, died for sinners just like us. Christ shed his holy blood to cover, to atone for, all our sins, including our failures in raising our children according to God’s will. The slate is wiped clean.
More than that, God now picks us up and gets us going again in the right direction. There is hope for you and your family, no matter how badly you have messed things up. God is in the restoration business. He’s even in the resurrection business. He brings life out of death.
So with that new life from God, what are some ways we can let the children come to Jesus? How can we practically help? Of course, if you are parents of little children, the obvious thing is to flip around those failures: Start taking the children to church every Sunday. Start doing devotions in the home. Do table prayers together–which means having family meals together, by the way. Teach your children the Commandments and the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. When they’re a little older, get them catechized and confirmed, so they can receive the Lord’s Supper. Maybe it won’t all come together at once–there will be fits and starts–but the main thing is to get going in the right direction. And when you stumble, ask the Lord for his forgiveness and help, and he will help you get back on your feet. He’s also given you a church and a pastor, and we’re here to encourage you and help you along the way.
But you know, most of the folks here today may not have little ones in the home anymore. They’ve grown up and moved on. They have children of their own by now. So, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, what can you do in your spheres of influence, to help bring the children to Jesus? Many things. Pray for those children, and pray for their parents. And if you’re watching the kids for the weekend, say, and you have the parents’ permission, bring the children with you to church. When you’re babysitting, read them some Bible stories. Or, as some of you have done, get a Bible story book and give it to the parents for their home. Lots of ways to help.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus says; “do not hinder them.” OK, we’ve covered that. But then Jesus adds this mysterious explanation: “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” What does Jesus mean by that? Are children inherently qualified for the kingdom of God, as though they were somehow more innocent or sinless than the rest of us? No, the Bible certainly does not teach that. All of us are conceived in sin, born as sinners. We all have inherited that sinful nature from our fathers, going back to Adam. So what is it about children, that Jesus should say “for to such belongs the kingdom of God”? I think the simplest way to explain this is to say that children can only be given to. If little children are to live, they need to receive everything from outside themselves. They must be given to. They cannot fend for themselves, in terms of food, clothing, shelter, protection. They need to receive those things. And children inherently trust the ones who are caring for them.
The analogy is clear. All those who come into the kingdom of God get there by being given to. You and I cannot produce the righteousness we need to enter the kingdom of God. It’s not by our works we gain heaven. It’s by being given to, by God. “Truly, I say to you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus, God our Father supplies us with everything we need to enter, and live in, the kingdom of God: the forgiveness, the righteousness, even the gift of faith itself, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace. And so we trust, like little children trusting their parents to give them what they need. In like manner, God gives us all the gifts of his grace, as pure gift, and we receive them in childlike faith.
Yes, you see, you and I are also the children who are coming to Jesus. And he will bless us. Whatever your age, whether young or old, we enter the kingdom of God only as little children, being given to, trusting in and receiving from our gracious Lord.