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Unless You Become Like a Child

posted Aug 7, 2008, 7:59 PM by Web Master   [ updated Aug 13, 2008, 7:19 PM ]

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka, Japan


Luke 18:15-17

We grow by providing all sorts of things for the body.  Little children turn into grown adults by acquiring many things from their surroundings. But, the process of human growth, we could say, is at the same time "an acquiring process" and "a diminishing process."  Sometimes a small step accomplished by a child makes us take another look.  That's so because we see something important that we have lost in the process of becoming an adult.  It is certainly a fact that children grow by learning from adults, yet, it is also true I would think that adults are not too big to learn from children.  A great number of important things we have lost surely come back to us by our being taught by children.

Setting some children before him, Jesus would speak to the people. This passage is one of such scenes.  I think perhaps the Lord Jesus did such a thing on a frequent basis.  As he summoned the children the scripture passage which we are given for today contains the following text.

"Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God is people like this.  I say to you clearly.  Unless you are people who accept the kingdom of God as a child, you will never be able to enter in it," (verses sixteen and seventeen).

The words "to enter the kingdom of God," it goes without saying, means our salvation.  So, the Lord says, "the kingdom of God is people like this," that is, "it is people like children."  Therefore, we understand that what we ought to learn through children are not things which only enrich our life, but what concerns our eternal salvation, which is something very much more important.  So, what in the world did the words the Lord gave mean?

The Disciples Hindered The Children

In order to understand the words the Lord gave, first we have got to understand the scene itself in which these words were spoken.  We know this message of the Lord was spoken of one random event.  It was the event of when the disciples hindered the people from bringing small children to the Lord Jesus.  Please check verse fifteen.  "In order to get the touch of Jesus the people brought even their nursing babies.  The disciples saw this and rebuked them."  Why did the disciples act like this?

The people sought to receive a blessing and brought their suckling babes. This action was not in the least bit out of the ordinary.  For example, there was a traditional practice in Judea of bringing a child who finished his or her first full year to the rabbi and receiving a blessing, and there was a custom on the evening of the day called the Day of Atonement when they brought the child at last to the elders and the rabbis and had them pray for [the child].  So, when the disciples had seen and scolded the actions of the parents it was not because they lacked common sense or because they were rude.  Therefore, we understand the reprimand from these disciples must be explained in the special circumstances in which the Lord Jesus and the disciples are situated.  So, what are the special circumstances in which they are situated?

What helps in our understanding here is the fact that they were approaching Jerusalem.  Shortly after this passage the text says in chapter nineteen and verse eleven the following [words]:  "When the people heard this, Jesus went on to speak one of the parables.  He was nearing Jerusalem and because of that the people were thinking the kingdom of God was about to be revealed."

Luke, who wrote this gospel, cuts out some considerable pages in his depiction of the trip in which the Lord Jesus and the disciples head for Jerusalem.  Furthermore, what the text refers to in the passage which we read today is the event of the time when they drew closer and closer to Jerusalem.  In other words, their trip is going towards a climax of which they are clearly aware.  Their traveling was a trip of preaching in which they were proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, the disciples did not just merely proclaim the kingdom of God, they had certainly seen within the Lord with whom they were walking the power of God at work.  Wherever the Lord walked, sickness was healed and evil spirits were driven out.  We can easily imagine the kinds of expectations the disciples, who had seen first hand these kinds of miracles from God, were embracing in regards to their arrival at Jerusalem.  It was a climax during their work of proclamation.  So far the power of God revealed through the Lord Jesus was revealed in perfect form.  Beyond any doubt it was happening.  The forces of this world that oppose God were being turned over and the rule of God was being revealed.  That's how they must have been thinking and feeling. So it says, "The people were thinking the kingdom of God was about to be revealed."

The events at that time were ushering in a momentous situation.  The people participating in the work of God were the important ones there.  The person who was useful for God was significant.  The Lord Jesus did not have free time to deal with babies.  Since the disciples must have thought like that, at this momentous time they got mad at the unreasonable group impudently bringing their nursing babies [to him].  Similarly, there was the reprimanded man.  There was the begging of the blind man appearing in verses thirty-five and so on.  His was the same situation as the babes. Although he was seeking the Lord Jesus, he was scolded.  Why was that? It was because even though he might have been seeking the Lord, they were thinking that the Lord was not seeking for him.  This man, they thought, was only aggravating the Lord and on top of that he was only annoying God.

A contrastive event was recorded along with this.  It's in verses eighteen forward.  There a rich member of the court came on the scene.  This person was able to meet the Lord Jesus without encountering any hindrances.  Not only was he very wealthy and not only did he have worldly power, but he was an extremely pious person.  That is, he kept the law of God since his youngest days.  Then, when Jesus said, "How difficult it is for a person with property to enter into the kingdom of God?," the people were surprised and said, "Then, who will be saved?"  In their mentality, we understand clearly that, they had feelings that this rich ruler himself deserved the kingdom of God.


I suppose this is probably something that not only the people surrounding Jesus were thinking but also the people of any time period would think.  Of course, we will not be the exceptions to that either.  We think without realizing it people who achieve before God are valued by God.  We think God is looking for a person to be useful to him and such a person deserves the kingdom of God.  We end up thinking what humans honor God honors and what humans take lightly God also takes lightly.  We not only drop this kind of judgment call on other persons; we also do the same thing to ourselves. So, we make the claim with all our might how useful we are by lining up our achievements before God and before the public, and we show off a self pride.  We act like we are so deserving a person of the kingdom of God.  Or possibly, in reverse, it might be that we humble ourselves about our not having achievements and we become servile and lowly thinking about our not having power.  Whether being proud or servile, it is the front and back view of the same idea.  Thus, what the disciples of the Lord were thinking was frequently what we think about.


The Person Who Welcomes The Kingdom Of God As A Child


As the situation comes to light like this, what the Lord meant also comes to light.  The Lord was trying to overturn from the roots the thoughts of such disciples as this.  "Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God is people like this.  I say to you clearly. Unless you are people who accept the kingdom of God as a child, you will never be able to enter in it."


Many people when they hear the phrase "like a child" associate it with their "purity."  It is because they think they had a pure heart during childhood and then they became sullied according to the gradual process of becoming an adult.  But, is that really so?  I have seen a little kid picking on a new born baby.  She was jealous of her mother taking care of the baby and would pinch her younger brother in a way not noticeable by her parents.  Who on earth showed them how to be jealous of a person and to take up hurting someone?  Was it the parent?  No, it wasn't the parent. Since that's the case, isn't it that we can only say the things in their hearts had appeared there since the beginning?  Surprisingly, we see in a child more than an adult, human egoism appearing all too plainly.  Both adults and children are sinners alike.  Therefore, the special characteristic of a child is not necessarily "purity" as many people think.  The Lord was not saying that the kingdom of God was a kingdom of child-like pure persons.


So what was he saying then?  The special characteristic of small children was, in fact, their powerlessness.  They existed there as persons without any achievements to necessarily be proud of.  Based on the point of emphasis he has there, Luke was intentionally using the word "nursing babies."  They are individuals with nothing to offer.  Based on the fact nursing babies are powerless, they are completely passive recipients.  They know instinctively they cannot go on living without their parents. Therefore, they seek their parents as innocent beggars and entrust themselves to their parents' hands.  He or she is happy in just the love of their parents and they find rest and peace within in their love. Consequently, "the person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is about the person who can admit his or her own powerlessness and be submissive to God.  "The person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is one who earnestly seeks God the Father and entrusts himself or herself to God's hands.  "The person who accepts the kingdom of God as a child" is the person who is happy with God's love and discovers rest and peace in what is in Him. The Lord said the kingdom of God is a kingdom of such a type of person.


If we see it like this, we will notice it is no accident at all that this episode was placed after the story of the parable given by Jesus.  Please look at verses nine and on.  There the Lord told the following parable about persons conceited over their being righteous beings and who looked down on others.


"Two persons went up to the temple to pray.  One was a Pharisee and the other one was a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed like this in his heart.  'O God, I am not like other persons who rob, are unrighteous, and commit adultery, and I thank you that I am not like this tax collector either.  I fast twice each week and present one tenth of all my income.'  However, the tax collector stood up far away and without even lifting his eyes to heaven he spoke while beating his chest.  'O God, please have mercy on me a sinner.'  I say this, the one who went home justified was this person and not that Pharisee.  Whoever is a person who exalts himself will be made low, and the one who humbles himself will be elevated," (verses nine through fourteen).


The disciples, who were listening to this, must have thought, "He spoke this about the men of the Pharisees and they have no connection with him. They were probably thinking they were not conceited like that.  But, right after this they were doing the same thing after all as the Pharisees. According to the same thought pattern as the Pharisee men who believed they themselves were accepted by God, they were rejecting the children.  The disciples were not the same as the man who prayed, "O God, please show mercy to me a sinner."


The same thing could be said with us who have thus been reading the scriptures.  We are acting just like the Pharisee in this parable without noticing it.  Consequently, the Lord is turning our wrong thinking pattern over from its foundation.  "Clearly I say to you.  Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a child, you can never enter into it."  As it says in the previous parable, the one who goes home justified is not the one living proudly of his or her actions, but it will be the person who prays, "O God, please show mercy to me a sinner."


When you give it some thought, this matter is clearly shown in both the sacraments (namely, baptism and communion) which are given to the church. In the Japanese language we express participating in the sacraments as "receiving baptism" and "receiving communion."  In these a person is a completely passive recipient.  As far as salvation is concerned, a person is a completely passive recipient and the fact that he or she can only entrust himself or herself to the word of God's grace is made plain in the sacraments.  Living by receiving baptism and taking communion is surely and truly none other than living by accepting the kingdom of God as a child.  We should not forget this.


"Clearly I say to you.  Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a child, you cannot ever enter into it."  What we should learn from the imagery of the child is a major thing beyond measure.  It is not something just dealing with the enrichment of our every day life, but it is the important circumstances dealing with our salvation.  We must learn from the imagery of the suckling child and recover what we lost.