Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. In our text we find them in a home in Perea east of the Jordan river across from Judea. As the Lord finished his comments about marriage, some of the local people began to approach the home with their children seeking the Lord to bless these little ones.
I don't believe it is coincidental that a story about children follows a teaching on marriage. In both Matthew and Mark's accounts, the immediately preceding context is that of our Lord's teaching on divorce. Can it be that when Jesus held to a very high view of the sanctity of marriage, the people concluded that He also highly esteemed the family, and that they were thus encouraged by His words to bring their children to Him to be blessed?
Our text in Mark 10:13-31 contains two major paragraphs, describing two separate but related incidents. The first paragraph, verses 13-16, contains Mark's description of our Lord's response to the disciples' attempt to hinder parents bringing their children to Jesus, for Him to touch, to pray for, and thus, to bless. The second paragraph contains the incident of the "rich young ruler" who came to Jesus to learn what he must do in order to obtain eternal life, along with the response of Jesus and His disciples (verses 17-31).
There is, I believe, a clear thread of continuity which ties these two paragraphs together. In the first place, all three gospels include both incidents, both of which are found together in each gospel, and in the same order. Second, both paragraphs deal with how men enter into the kingdom of God. In the first paragraph, child-likeness is an essential element. In the second paragraph, being rich is a hindrance.
Mark 10:13-14 (NASB) And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
They who? Who was bringing these children to Jesus? The pronoun "they" is part of the verb, "bringing," but at the end of the verse when "they" are rebuked by the disciples, the masculine pronoun autois is used. The significance of this is that while we so automatically presume a picture of mothers bringing their children to the Lord, it was the fathers who brought them.
Now, this was part of Jewish tradition in Jesus' day - to bring a child to a rabbi that he might bless them. The tradition is said to date to Genesis 48:14-16 when Jacob blessed his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, by laying his hands upon their heads.
The word "bringing" is prosphero, which is much stronger than the simple words "to bring." This intense form was commonly used for bringing sacrifices and here suggests the idea of dedication.
When we put these elements together, the fathers bringing the child to be blessed, and the dedication on the part of the fathers, we see a very important principle. It was the fathers who were the spiritual leaders over their children. They, the fathers, were the ones who took responsibility to see to the spiritual well being and spiritual growth of the children:
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NASB) "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
The biblical ideal always has been the father as the spiritual leader in the home:
Ephesians 6:4 (NASB) And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Paul gives this command to the father, because he is the head of the home, and so he should provide leadership in the parenting of the children. This does not eliminate the responsibility of the mother.
Mark 10:13 (NASB) And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them.
The word for "children" is significant, paidion, and is used throughout these verses. There are nine words in the Greek Text translated "child"; this one refers to anyone from an infant up to twelve years old. But Luke uses a different word:
Luke 18:15 (NASB) And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them.
Luke uses the word brephos, which more correctly means "infants" or "small children." This word is normally used in the New Testament to speak of a child who is in the earlier years of his/he development. It is used in Luke 1:41,44 to speak of an unborn child, and in Luke 2:12,16 and in 1 Peter 2:2 of a new-born child. In Acts 7:19 it speaks of very young children. 2 Timothy 3:15 uses it of children who are young, but who are able to learn.
Luke, then, isn't thinking of the upper age limits on children who, in our own western definitions, may be somewhere between thirteen and sixteen years of age, but of the very young children who may have been no more than three or four. Mark tells us in 10:16 that "He took them in His arms," which leads us to conclude that these children couldn't have been much older than five or six years of age. What is in view with this word is a child who is dependant upon another for its care and well being.
Why did these fathers bring their children to Christ? It was common in this era for Jewish families to bring their children to the Rabbis in their community for blessing. They would literally pass the children around to each rabbi, and they would lay hands on them and bless them in the name of the Lord.
"And the disciples rebuked them" The fathers wanted the blessing of the Great Rabbi on them. His very touch would be seen as bringing blessing. But the disciples knew how tired Jesus was and how little opportunity of rest He had and rebuked them. Or maybe the disciples saw the coming of children into the picture as an infringement on their own time with Jesus. They had just begun to talk with Him privately about the subject of marriage, divorce, and singleness when the interruption occurred.
The verb tenses indicate the fathers kept bringing, and the disciples kept rebuking. This was an ongoing thing. Would they have rebuked Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin for coming to Jesus? Probably not! Which means they had not yet learned the true meaning of greatness. They forgot a prior lesson:
Mark 9:35-37 (NASB) And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all." 36 And taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."
Children are among the "all" of verse 35. To embrace a child publicly was to embrace that which was insignificant. Jesus was again showing them what true greatness was. The disciples failed to understand what Jesus' kingdom is really about caring for the weakest, rather than engaging in political or military triumph.
Mark 10:14 (NASB) But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
The word "indignant" is from the Greek word aganakteo, and is used only eleven times in the scriptures; it is used where the religious leaders were angry with Christ, but here with Christ angry at the disciples. It means to be greatly grieved resulting in an expression of irritation. He became angry with them because they were misrepresenting His value system.
Jesus gives two quick commands with no connective that have a staccato like effect. Short, terse, to the point; one positive and one negative: "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them." Jesus uses the opportunity to proclaim once more to the disciples that He's willing to accept the nothings in society, the ones who have no social status and standing.
Jesus said, "For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." So Jesus is saying that the blessings that God has for you in life belong to those who are like children.
Jesus cares about children. All through the Tanakh we see God's heart for children; especially children who had no one to care for them orphans:
Exodus 22:22-24 (NASB) "You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 "If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 (NASB) "For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. 18 "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
Deuteronomy 24:19 (NASB) "When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
When Eliphaz was trying to explain to Job why he was being judged he said:
Job 22:9 (NASB) "You have sent widows away empty, And the strength of the orphans has been crushed.
Isaiah 1:17 (NASB) Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
James 1:27 (NASB) This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
The word religion here is threskeia, and it has to do with the performance of the outward aspect of worship. Pure and undefiled outward worship boils down to two things:
1. Love to visit orphans and widows.
2. Holiness to keep yourself unspotted from the world.
The word "visit" denotes more than a friendly social call. In Jewish usage, it commonly denoted to visit with the aim of caring for and supplying the needs of those visited. "Orphans and widows" represented the two most needy classes in ancient society. They had lost their protector and provider and were subject to much affliction. And James tells us the "pure religion" is caring for the needy orphans and widows.
God cares for children, especially those who have no one to care for them. If the Lord Jesus Christ cares for children, shouldn't we? Aren't we to be like Him?
Since we, as God's children, should care for children, especially those who have no one else to care for them, let me take just a moment to give you some troubling statistics on children. If you leave out the miscarriages and the genocide of abortion, the statistics are painful. Fourteen million children who reach the age of birth die each year before the age of five. Of these fourteen million, about ten million die from five conditions: about five million from diarrhea; about three million from measles, tetanus, and whooping cough; and about two million from respiratory infections, mainly pneumonia. Most of these could be saved by simple oral rehydration therapies for the diarrhea; a five dollar injection for the measles, tetanus, and whooping cough; and a $.50 antibiotic for the respiratory problems. But of course the vast majority of these children are among the desperately poor, far from the medical blessings we take for granted.
Would you believe that America is one of the most violent countries in the world against its children? Not only do we kill a million and a half pre-born children a year, but 22% of the children in America live in poverty; one out of every four girls under eighteen has probably been sexually abused by someone close to her; possibly as high as 30% of all mental retardation may be owing to fetal alcohol syndrome; one study of 36 hospitals showed that in 10% of the pregnancies mothers used illegal drugs during pregnancy; and 89% of school teachers surveyed report that abuse and neglect of children are a problem in their education. The American home is increasingly an unsafe place for children to be. And there is no better place. Think of this in light of what Jesus said:
Mark 9:37 (NASB) "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."
Do you show kindness to the children you encounter in your neighborhood, home, and church? What can you do to help the children who are sick and needy?
Mark 10:15 (NASB) "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all."
What is the characteristic of a child that models what we need to be in order to enter the kingdom of God? He is welcoming the children, but it is also metaphoric in that He is saying there are characteristics of a child that model how we should come, even as adults.
Jesus did not say that men had to become children, but rather that they must become child-like, in some way, in order to enter the kingdom of God. The question that we must answer, then, is: In what sense must we become child-like in order to enter the kingdom of God?
There are two answers which are most frequently proposed, both of which, in my opinion, fall short of biblical teaching. The first child-like characteristic is that of humility. Are children humble? We must understand that children, all children, are born sinners. This is clearly taught in the Bible:
Romans 5:12 (NASB) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
This corruption of man's nature is what is called in theology "Original Sin." This sin is called "original sin," (1) because it is derived from the original root of the human race; (2) because it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth, and therefore, cannot be regarded as the result of imitation.
It's not that you sin, and that's what makes you a sinner. You're a sinner, you were born that way, and that is why you sin. Every human being born is born with original sin:
Psalms 51:5 (NASB) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
That confession of David was very personal, indeed. He spoke of himself. But he spoke of himself as a member of the human race. There was nothing in David that made him any worse than you or I. His confession must be ours "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."
Through Adam's personal sin, original sin came to all mankind, and all humanity was corrupted. We are all born sinners.
Proverbs speaks often of the foolish, wayward way of the child which necessitates correction and warning (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13-14). A child is not naturally humble. In fact, children, from the very beginning, are very demanding; they expect our attention, now!, and if we fail to give it to them, they let us know. Children often interrupt conversations, because they fail to have a sense of humility.
The second "virtue" of a child, according to many, is that of faith. We are told that children are naturally trusting by nature. I believe that the book of Proverbs tells us that children are naturally gullible, and this is not the same as faith.
So I don't see receiving the kingdom of God as a child to be referring to humility or faith. The characteristics of children that I believe Jesus is referring to are helplessness and dependence. We must come to Christ with a realization of our helplessness. Have you ever seen the frustration of a child when they try to do something, and they just are not big enough or strong enough? They may try and try but to no avail. In the same way man tries and tries to receive the blessings of God, but only when we realize our helplessness and stop trying are the gates of grace opened wide.
The blessings of salvation, which God promised, were to come through the Abrahamic Covenant, and ultimately through what the prophets spoke of as a "New Covenant" (cf. Jeremiah 31:31). I believe that Jesus was using the coming of the children to Him to be blessed as an illustration of the way in which all men must come to Him for a blessing. That is, if we would come to Jesus for a blessing, we must not come in our own strength; we must not come through our own understanding, our own wisdom, our own good works. We can only come to Christ in our helpless state, looking to Him and to His grace alone. We must come in weakness and helplessness, not in self-righteousness. The thing which commends children to Christ is their helplessness, not their goodness. And this is precisely what must characterize every person who comes into the kingdom--they come as those who are helpless and undeserving, entering into His blessings because of God's goodness and grace, not due to their own merits. Here is the child-like that quality that must characterize all who would enter into His kingdom.
What is the characteristic of a child that models what we need to be in order to enter the kingdom of God? We must come to Christ with a realization of our helplessness. We must also come with a realization of dependence. From helplessness comes the need to depend upon one who is able. This dependence is what Jesus referred to in the "Sermon on the Mount: when He said:
Matthew 5:3 (NASB) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The word that Jesus used for "poor" is the Greek word ptochos. The verb form in the Greek text means: "to cower and cringe like a beggar." In classical Greek, that word referred to someone who was reduced to begging in a dark corner for alms. It doesn't just refer to someone who is poor, but to someone who is reduced to begging. The Greek word penes was used when talking about normal poverty; It referred to a person who was so poor that he could barely maintain a living from his wages. Ptokos means that a person was totally dependent on the gifts of other people. Beggars were usually crippled, blind, or deaf. They couldn't function in society and had to plead for grace and mercy from others. They had no resource in themselves.
The person who is blessed is the person who is ptokos. He understands that he is absolutely incapable of improving his spiritual condition, and that he is totally dependant on others. A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency. He recognizes that he is spiritually bankrupt.
Now, you may have never thought of it this way, but you are spiritually bankrupt. You and I and every person in the world are spiritually bankrupt. Paul teaches this in:
Romans 3:10-12 (NASB) as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."
This is spiritual bankruptcy. We have no assets, nothing we can turn over as partial payment for our debts
Man owes God a debt that he has no means whatsoever to pay. Man, every man, is spiritually bankrupt. Salvation is a declaration of bankruptcy. But what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? In the business world there are two options, popularly known as Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Chapter 11 deals with what we could call a temporary bankruptcy. This option gives you time to work through your financial problems. It gives you time to pay your debts, to work yourself back into a position of good standing.
Chapter 7 is for the person or company that has reached the end of their financial rope. You are forced to liquidate your assets and pay your creditors what you can. This is the, "I'm broke and can never pay off my debts" type of bankruptcy.
So, what kind of bankruptcy did we declare when we came to God in faith? Was it Chapter 7 or Chapter 11? Was it permanent or temporary? It was permanent! We have nothing that we can give to God to pay off or reduce our debt.
As devastating as permanent bankruptcy is in the business world, it at least means that you are free from your past financial debts. Your debts weren't fully paid, but at least they were canceled. You are free from your past debts but not any that you incur in the future.
But the good news of the Bible is that, in the spiritual realm, there really is total, permanent bankruptcy. Our debts were paid in full by Jesus Christ. And not only has the Christian's debt been paid in full, there is no possibility of going into debt again. Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future. This is GRACE!
Colossians 2:13 (NASB) And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
No one can enter the Kingdom of God on the basis of what they have done. Poverty of spirit is the only way in. As long as you are not poor in spirit, you can't receive grace. You can't become a Christian unless you realize your bankruptcy and are totally dependant upon Christ.
God designed His creation to have a dependency upon Him, not just for salvation but even in the ordinary decisions of a day we need to depend on God for wisdom and direction. The Fall was precipitated when man sought to live independently of God, and this human independence continues at the heart of sinful rebellion today.
God wants us, as His children, to always be aware of our need of Him in our lives. God often takes us through difficult situations in order that we might realize how much we need Him. We see an illustration of this in the desert wanderings of the children of Israel. After living forty years in the desert, Moses recounted their experiences:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NASB) "And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 "And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
God caused the people to hunger before He fed them. He deliberately brought them to the end of themselves:
Psalms 107:4-6 (NASB) They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; They did not find a way to an inhabited city. 5 They were hungry and thirsty; Their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.
God wanted them to be aware of the fact that He was the one feeding them; they were dependent on His provision. Folks, if Israel needed to be reminded of their absolute dependence upon God, how much more do we, twenty first century Americans? God has provided everything we need. Our refrigerators and cupboards are full, we have huge supermarkets just down the street from us. In the prosperous circumstances in which we live, it is very easy to forget our dependence on God. But the fact is, we are just as dependent on God for food and water as were the children of Israel in the desert.
God wanted the Israelites to realize and remember their utter dependence on Him, so He used an extremity of need and a miraculous provision to capture their attention and teach them a lesson that is difficult to learn. Still, they forgot. For forty years God met their every need, and once they got in the land, they forgot. How much easier is it, then, for us to forget when God is supplying our needs through ordinary ways? My dependence may not be as obvious, but it is just as real and just as acute as if I had to wait daily for God to rain down manna from heaven. Before we can learn the sufficiency of God's grace, we must learn the insufficiency of ourselves.
God continually brings circumstances into our lives that keep us aware of our dependence on Him. Knowing man's sinful tendency toward self-sufficiency, He gave the Israelites this warning:
Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (NASB) "Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' 18 "But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
A self-sufficient attitude is detrimental to our relationship with God. So, to keep us from self-sufficiency, He brings trials and problems that remind us how much we need Him.
When king Jehoshaphat was attacked by Moab and Ammon he turned to God:
2 Chronicles 20:12 (NASB) "O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee."
What is Jehoshaphat saying here? In his desire to show his complete dependence on the Lord, the king uses hyperbole in describing his army, which is well equipped and of good size (cf. 17:14-19), compared with that of the enemy. The heart of this prayer is, "God, I have no strength or ability of my own, I am utterly and completely dependant on you." Please notice carefully his attitude. This is the attitude that brings glory to God complete dependence.
Paul explains to us why he has such difficult trials:
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NASB) For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
Trials have the same purpose in our lives; they keep us from trusting in ourselves. They show us how weak we are and how much we need to be dependant upon God and the sufficiency of His grace.
John Calvin said, "For men have no taste for it (God's power) till they are convinced of their need of it, and they immediately forget its value unless they are continually reminded by awareness of their own weakness."
Paul's attitude toward his weakness was quite different from what our usual response is to weakness. Paul said:
2 Corinthians 12:10 (NASB) Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
We hate our weaknesses, but Paul took pleasure in his. Why? Paul took pleasure in his weaknesses, because they were opportunities for him to trust the all sufficiency of God's grace.
Philip Hughes said, "Every believer must learn that human weakness and divine grace go hand in hand together." Paul learned this, have you?
Think about your own life. When things are going well, and you are having no problems in your life, how much are you dependant upon God? Let me put it this way: When do you pray more, when things are going well, or when you are in the midst of a difficult situation? If you are anything like me, it is the difficult times of life that cause you to depend upon the Lord, to trust in His strength, to lean on His grace.
The characteristic that Jesus wants the disciples--and us--to learn from these children is that of helplessness and dependence. The issue is one of dependence over self-reliance. Children must depend upon others. In contrast to these dependent children, the rich man, in the following text, was relying solely on himself. The kingdom of God belongs to those who depend on God rather than the self-reliant.
We close this morning with a beautiful picture of Jesus with the children:
Mark 10:16 (NASB) And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands upon them.
The phrase "took them in His arms" is one word in the Greek text, and it means to fold them in His arms. More than just sitting on the Lord's lap, but to be folded, held tight, secure, in His arms.
Remember, a disciple is someone who, more than anything else in the world, wants to be like Jesus.
Mark 9:37 (NASB) "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."
Children are examples of individuals who cannot do very much for you. When you receive children, they do not help your social status, your prestige, your power, or your ego. As a matter of fact, children require something from you. Children represent the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, the ordinary just plain human beings. Believers, we must always remember that how we receive and treat others is how we treat Christ. So how are you treating Christ these days?
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