Suffer the Little Children
Sunday, October 29th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
Father, we thank You for sending Your Son into this world to save us. We thank you Lord Christ for lowering yourself and assuming a human nature, being conceived of the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary, and making yourself small and weak, even as baby in the womb and a nursing infant. We praise You O Holy Trinity for Your condescension so that we might be elevated to sit and reign with You in heavenly places. Make us to become as little children now, for we sit at your feet. Amen.
After two hard sermons on adultery, divorce, and remarriage, we pick back up in Mark’s gospel. And although our text this morning is only four verses, there is much instruction that God gives us here.
We remember the context is Jesus teaching his disciples the cost of following him. Every man must pick up his cross and follow Jesus, and if you would enter the kingdom of heaven, you must first be willing to cut off hand, foot, eye, or anything else that might prevent you from hearing the words, “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
Now because God loves us and wants to give us that commendation, Jesus has been rebuking us so that we can be made worthy of those words.
So far, Jesus has rebuked us for wanting to be great in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. He has rebuked us for our lusts and for our low view of the marriage covenant. And now he rebukes his disciples again for their low view of children.
Already he has told them that anyone who stumbles a child in the faith, or who “gives offense to these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
And so in our passage here, the disciples, as is their custom in Mark’s gospel, continue to make fools of themselves. They continue to act as cautionary tales teaching us what not to do. They are close to Jesus, they are taught by Jesus, but they are still not fully perceiving that He is God in the flesh. And because they are walking by sight, and not by faith, they continue to stumble in the way.
We should also note that it is no accident that immediately following Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce, he takes children up into his arms and blesses them. For who else suffers from adultery and divorce like children do? Children are the innocent bystanders; they are the collateral damage of our lusts and unfaithfulness. Children are what many parents sacrifice on the altar of infidelity and selfishness.
When a husband or a wife commits adultery, they are not only sinning against their own body, and sinning against God, and sinning against their spouse, they are also sinning against their children.
And this undermines one of the chief purposes of marriage, which is the raising of godly offspring.
Malachi 2:15 says, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.”
Few things undermine and stumble children like having parents who profess faith, and yet contradict that faith by their actions. And when children grow up in hypocritical homes, it should not surprise us when they grow up and want nothing to do with the church or Christianity, or the so-called faith you profess.
It is a grave sin to stumble the children, and so Jesus teaches us in this passage what loving the children ought to look like. So let us now to our exposition.
13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
Q. How old were these “young children” who were brought to Jesus?
The Greek word for “young children” here is παιδία which could refer to a child that is as old as twelve (like Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:41-42) or as young as a newborn baby (like Isaac in Gen. 17:12 LXX).
However, we are told explicitly in the parallel passage of Luke 18:16, that these παιδία are infants (βρέφος). Moreover, the fact that they need to be brought/carried to Jesus suggests that these are little ones who cannot walk or do much on their own. They are infants/newborns, perhaps toddlers at the very oldest.
And this is important for us to know because Jesus is going to use them as an analogy for what we must become like if we would enter the kingdom of heaven. And there is a difference between becoming like a twelve-year-old and becoming like an infant. We’ll explore this idea more later on.
Q. Who is bringing these infants to Jesus and why?
We are not told exactly whether it was mothers or fathers or grandparents, but it was likely a mixture of these groups. But we are told the purpose for them bringing their children to Jesus, and that is, “so that he should touch them.”
Matthew says in his parallel, “that he might lay his hands on them and pray” (Matt. 19:13).
And so what these parents or grandparents or caretakers are seeking is a blessing from the Lord Jesus upon their children. They want their children to receive the grace of God and they believe their children can indeed receive that grace from Him even as infants.
Many people today think that children must reach some arbitrary age accountability before they can receive God’s grace and be considered “real Christians.”
Against this error stands numerous passages of Holy Scripture wherein children are called and regarded as saints, as sanctified, as holy, as clean (1 Cor. 7:14), and as inheritors of God’s covenant promises (Acts 2:39). The entire premise of God’s covenant with Abraham is that He will not only be Abraham’s God, He will be God to his children.
God says in Genesis 17:7 says, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” And because of that promise, Isaac is circumcised on the 8th day.
The children might walk away from the faith, they might break or reject God’s covenant (like Esau), but God promises that He will always keep His side of the covenant towards the children of believers and even through their unfaithfulness will show Himself faithful.
This is the promise in the Old Testament and it continues in the New.
One of the clearest examples of this in the New Testament is Timothy who had a believing Jewish mother but a Greek father (Acts 16:1). Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:15 that “from infancy (βρέφος) thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
So while newborn Timothy was still nursing, and before he could ever read or write or form whole sentences, God says he was being taught the Holy Scriptures from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5), “from infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures.”
Likewise, we read in Psalm 22:9, David says, “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.”
From infancy, while still nursing, children can be taught to trust God and even become acquainted with the holy scriptures. This is one of the reasons why we want our children to be with us in the worship service. They belong here.
This is why Psalm 8 can declare, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength.” Because God is the giver of grace and He can call, and sanctify, and bless even before children exit the womb.
God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee…” (Jer. 1:5).
This is also why Elizabeth could say to Mary, “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” John the Baptist, before he was born, is said to rejoice at the Lord’s coming.
When parents desire God’s grace for their children, they do not seek in vain. For as the Apostle Peter says at Pentecost, “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). The arms of Jesus are open to all who seek His blessing. It does not matter how old, or how young, or how far off you might feel from Abraham’s lineage. The promise of God’s covenant is offered to you.
Now despite these many examples of God’s sanctifying and blessing children,Mark tells us that the “disciples rebuked those that brought them.”
Q. Why did they do this?
Perhaps they thought that Jesus was too busy, or too tired, or too important to deal with all these children coming to him. The disciples probably think that they are doing Jesus a favor. “We’ve got more important things to do than minister to children who can’t even understand the sermon. They cry, they fuss, they are a distraction from the real work.” And so the disciples rebuke the parents (or whoever) was bringing these children to Jesus.
How does Jesus respond?
14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased (he was indignant), and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
If you want to make Jesus angry, prevent children from coming to Him. Keep them away from Christian worship. Keep them away from hearing God’s Word. Keep them away by portraying God to them as some wrathful and distant deity who is too holy or too busy to touch them. Do this and Jesus will be made indignant.
Jesus is God in the flesh, and He shows us by His words and physical actions what the eternal and infinite God feels towards children. He is indignant at those who make him less loving than He actually is. He is much displeased with those who think Him unable or indisposed or too busy to give His grace and blessing to infants and toddlers.
Jesus says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” And the reason why is because “of such is the kingdom of God.”
What does this mean? In verse 15 he explains.
15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
Now there are diverse ways in which Scripture tells us to be like and unlike little children.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul says, “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”
So here Paul says, we are not to be like children in that they are ignorant and without understanding, but to be as babies in our malice. That is, just like a newborn baby is not envious of his neighbor or jealous of someone else’s spiritual gifts (like the Corinthians were), so also we should be babies in malice, but mature/grown up in understanding.
Likewise in Hebrews 5:12-14 it says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
So there is a real sense in which we must not remain as nursing infants, drinking only milk, and unskilled in the word of righteousness. Indeed, we must give ourselves wholly to meditating upon God’s Word day and night (as the Psalmist says), and that will grow us into mature men and women.
At the same time, there is another sense in which we must become like infants if we would enter the kingdom. And the quality that Jesus commends for us here is the childlike quality of receiving. “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
Q. What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child?
It means you receive God like an infant receives everything. Babies are almost entirely consumers and what they do produce is tears, snot, and dirty diapers. Yes, they are cute (they can produce smiles), but they are utterly helpless and need someone else to do just about everything for them. Babies receive all that is essential to them from outside of them. And Jesus says, that is how every single one of us must become in our relationship to the kingdom.
This quality of receiving is a quality of absolute reliance upon God (elsewhere the Bible calls it faith). Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
When an infant nurses at his mother’s breast, he is receiving by faith in his mother, the substance (the milk) that he hopes and hungers for. And while that faith must be active in that the child must suck/nurse, he does so as one who is absolutely dependent on that milk to live. The infant receives by faith the nourishment he needs.
This is the picture Jesus gives us if we would enter the kingdom. “Of such” as these who nurse upon God like a baby nurses upon his mother, so we must receive by faith the kingdom of heaven.
Q. What exactly is faith?
Faith (properly speaking) is an act of our intellect assenting to Divine truth, at the command of our will, moved by the grace of God. That’s your scholastic definition. And what Jesus presents to us in this scene is an accessible analogy for how faith must operate in us if we would enter heaven. We could break this down into three stages:
1. We start by recognizing that like a little child, we are helpless and will die without God.
2. We feel a certain emptiness in our soul, kind of like a newborn feels hunger, and we cry out to God to feed us.
3. And then, like a parent carries a newborn, and like a mother nurses her child, God carries us and brings us to Himself, and He gives us the milk of His Word.
That is what becoming a Christian is like. Not wanting to have a hungry soul anymore. Not liking that feeling of being empty and hallow inside. And so like a baby you cry out to God in faith, and what happens next?
16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
When you receive the kingdom of God like a little child, God embraces you with a love that cannot be broken. And when you are placed by grace into the arms of Christ, he dotes on you, he draws you close to his bosom, he puts his hand upon your head and speaks blessing over you.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Likewise in Deuteronomy 33:27 it says, “The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms.”
This is what it means to be a child of the covenant. It means that God’s arms are forever embracing you, and faith is you embracing Him. God is always hugging his creation, and faith is us freely choosing to hug him back. That is the only way you can enter the kingdom. Jesus says, you must receive it like a little child.
The same arms that embraced these little children would eventually be stretched out on a Roman cross. And the same hands that blessed these little children, would eventually have nails hammered through them. How much does God love the little children? Enough to die for them. Enough to take them up in his arms and bless them on his way Jerusalem to be crucified for them.
Because as cute as they are, children are not inherently good. They are born sinners in Adam, like you and me. And the only way any man, woman, or child can enter the kingdom of God, is if Christ makes satisfaction for our sins. And this he has done, and in proof of that forgiveness, he has risen victorious and ascended to heaven, where He reigns and shall reign forever, making intercession for us as the mediator between God and man.
So become as a child and receive Him, and then you may enter into His joy.