And they were bringing children to him 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.
Mark 10:13-16 ESV
For any who live by the “your best life now” motto, children are a waste, a waste to time, energy, and resources. The often-lamented wage gap between men and women is almost entirely centered upon childbearing. “Studies show that childless women earn about the same as men. It’s having children that generates the pay gap.” Thus, since comfort, ease, and wealth are very often the supreme goals for living, children are rightly seen as a hinderance. Ask any parents with children still in the home if their children have contributed comfort, ease, and wealth, and the answer is most assuredly negative (except, of course, for that small margin of parents who prostitute their children into the Molech-like arms of Hollywood).
Fertility rates tell the truth even if we do not have the boldness to say it out loud. Children are not worth the investment; they are not worth the sacrifice, for indeed proper childrearing is inherently sacrificial of the parents, an investment of time, energy, and finances that will most likely not be returned. Therefore, the world collectively has decided against having children, or at least against having more than one or two. Education is more important. Establishing a career is more important. Getting settled is more important. Children are an afterthought to most in the modern world.
But the burden of children is not limited to the modern world. The ancients certainly had many children, but we should not take that fact to mean that they had a higher view of children. Indeed, they only had so many children because children were a necessity. They were the only retirement plans and nursing homes available throughout all of history, and having more children meant a greater chance of being provided for during the twilight years. No, the view of children has not changed; only their usefulness has.
This is why Molech’s demand for child blood is no less present, only not as blatant. Instead of sacrificing an infant into the idol’s arms for favorable crops, we dismember them in clinics under the supervision of medical professionals because “having a baby right now would really limit my advancement in the company.” How superstitious the ancients were! Or should we look at our culture’s push to “gender transition” children, where Molech has conspired with Mammon? Is this not the mutilation and sacrificing of the child in order to be seen as enlightened, as wise in the eyes of the world?
We have dwelt in a Christianized society for so long that we have taken for granted the valuing of children. No culture and no religion have ever valued children apart from their usefulness. Thus, in our passage today, we see Jesus at His most radical and most counter cultural. For He does not simply tell us to tolerate children. Rather, He says that His eternal and unshakeable kingdom belongs to them and that if anyone would belong to His kingdom he must become like a child.
BROUGHT & REBUKED // VERSE 13
The account in our text is probably quite familiar to anyone who grew up in church, for this passage is often used to tell children that they are valued by Jesus. Indeed, it is the grounds upon which we are rightly able to sing, “Jesus loves the little children.” This verse establishes the scene: And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
As with so many things today, we should first begin with defining our terms. Parents in the crowd were bringing their children to Jesus, so we must begin by understanding what constitutes a child. You may think that a child is self-evident and needs no definition, but we thought the same about women and look how that turned out.
Here is how I believe we should define a child: a prepubescent human. This definition pushes back against two strong modern erroneous views of what is a child. First, we presently tend to assume that children and minors are synonymous terms, but they are not. Puberty should be the biological marking of adulthood, aka the end of childhood. Here is my reasoning: if you are able to be pregnant or impregnate (aka produce a child), then you are no longer a child yourself.
Of course, nearly every culture has agreed that there should be training period in adulthood before forming one’s own household, and I would agree. We should not set young adults on their own after going through puberty; instead, legally becoming an adult at age eighteen gives a good number of years for learning to be an adult while still under the security of the parent’s household. Yet too many parents consider the legal status with adulthood itself and, therefore, expect their child to have a miraculous conversion to being a responsible adult at 18. Let us not fall into the same trap as the gender idealogues of ignoring biology to fit our desires. Puberty is the biological transition from childhood to adulthood.
Also, this definition excludes pets from being numbered as children. Surely, you have heard of dog moms, furry babies, or similar terms. Let me be frank: equating animals to humans is an abomination, a mockery of the image of God that has been placed upon every man, woman, boy, and girl. Pets are not children. Of course, this does not mean that pets cannot be valued and loved. I am sure that few dogs are as well-loved as our dog is, yet she is a dog, an animal over which we have dominion as humans. In fact, it is not loving to animals to treat them as if they were human, as the miserable faces of babied dogs attest to.
Now that we have established what children are and are not, let us proceed to the setting of the scene. The parents were bringing their children to be touched by Jesus, likely to receive a blessing by Him. But the disciples rebuked them. Many have speculated about the disciples’ reasoning for this rebuke, and most assume that it probably had something to do with guarding Jesus’ time. Indeed, there is no indication that these children were sick or deformed. Presumably, they were healthy children whose parents simply wanted to be blessed under Jesus’ hand. Therefore, they were taking Jesus’ very limited time away from those who most needed Him.
Does this remind you of 1:35-39, where the disciples expected Jesus to keep healing people of a particular village, but Jesus said that He came primarily to preach the good news of the kingdom of God? Like the disciples, we are so quick to assume what is best and most needed. How many of us would have been as pragmatic as Judas was whenever Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with $30,000 perfume, saying, “But it could have been given to the poor!”
Let us remember that the wisdom of God is often seen as foolishness to the world. How many churches today have abandoned the primacy of preaching the gospel in order to focus on ministering to the poor and needy? Yet without the gospel, the church has abandoned the very hope that the poor and needy need far more than simple handouts.
In the same way, the disciples assumed that Jesus’ time spent blessing children was wasted time that could have been put to better ministerial uses. Are we not capable of the same mentality? Of course, it is quite easy to give lip service to the importance of children, but do our actions back it up? Do we truly believe that children, like preaching, have a preeminent place in ministry, or are we more worried about making sure that they do not interrupt the real work?
I would rather sing and preach through a screaming child whose parent is teaching how to worship with the congregation any day than have a quiet child whose is pacified with a phone or tablet and becomes an adult having never learned to worship.
Likewise, we can easily elevate evangelism and outreach while overlooking entirely the little elephants in the room. If we have children in our home who have not yet confessed Christ as their Lord and proclaimed that profession via baptism, is that not where the very best of our time and attention should go?
FOR TO SUCH BELONGS THE KINGDOM // VERSE 14
Jesus left no room for differences in interpretation about how He reacted to the disciples’ rebuking of the children and their parents. He became indignant at the sight. This indignation is the same kind of righteous anger that would lead Him to drive the moneychangers from the temple. It is the holy anger that sets itself against an injustice being committed. Therefore, while we normally read Jesus’ words as being filled with love and tenderness for little children, we must also hear Jesus’ passionate anger at those who would hinder them. Let that similarly be the marker of Christ-like parents, full of tender compassion to their children but hot indignation to the children of the serpent at enmity with them.
Let the children come to me; do not hinder them... Here Jesus affirmed the desire of the parents to bring their children to Jesus, and He affirmed His great willingness to receive them. Yet notice His reasoning: for to such belongs the kingdom of God. That is a staggering declaration! God’s kingdom, the great message that Christ came to proclaim and inaugurate, the object of which’s coming Jesus taught to us pray between the great petitions for the hallowing of God’s name and the accomplishing of God’s will, this kingdom belongs to children like the ones that encircled Him. Of course, we do not know how many children were there nor what were the demographics, and I think that is the point. These were children from the crowd, ordinary, everyday children. There was nothing special about them. Indeed, they were lower in value than even slaves until they reached adulthood. They were the least of these. Yet as God is so prone to do, He takes the weakest, the least, the insignificant, the foolish, the unlearned, and He makes them into instruments for His glory. Here He did this by tying the kingdom to these children. Of course, He already did this in 9:37 whenever He said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
If this is true, and Jesus is the truth so it is, then a church cannot “seek first the kingdom” (Matthew 6:33) while at the same time neglecting its children. J. C. Ryle issues a powerful word:
It is the bounden duty of every Christian congregation to make provision for the spiritual training of its children. The boys and girls of every family should be taught as soon as they can learn, should be brought to public worship as soon as they can behave with propriety, should be regarded with affectionate interest as the future congregation, which will fill our places when we are dead. We may confidently expect Christ’s blessing on all attempts to do good to children. No church can be regarded as being in a healthy state which neglects its younger members, and lazily excuses itself on the plea, that ‘young people will be young,’ and that it is useless to try to do them good. Such a church shows plainly that it has not the mind of Christ. A congregation which consists of none but grown up people, whose children are idling at home or running wild in the streets or fields, is a most deplorable and unsatisfactory sight. The members of such a congregation may pride themselves on their numbers, and on the soundness of their own views. They may content themselves with loud assertions that they cannot change their children’s hearts, and that God will convert them some day if he thinks fit. But they have yet to learn that Christ regards them as neglecting a solemn duty, and that Christians who do not use every means to bring children to Christ are committing a great sin.
Yet how do we now bring our children to Christ? I believe Spurgeon is right to say that we must bring them to Christ in prayer and bring them to Christ through disciplining and instructing them God’s Word.
The very best of parental efforts will amount to nothing without the Lord’s blessing. Remember the Parable of the Growing Seed. We must sow the seed and water the ground, but only God can make the seed sprout and produce a harvest. Therefore, we should pray to the Lord of the harvest to save our children. We bring them with all perseverance to Christ for blessing until He blesses them with every spiritual blessing in Him.
Yet must also be diligent to discipline and instruct them in God’s path. Parents that cannot bring themselves to discipline their children do not love their children too much; they hate them. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Of course, discipline is far more than a spanking; we discipline our children by helping them conform their lives to the instruction of Scripture. Anything less is training them for death.
Since Ephesians 6:4 specifically places this task upon fathers, let me speak to them directly: teach and discipline your children in the Bible. Take time each day to read a portion of Scripture and to explain it. Pray together and sing a hymn together. If you say that you have no time, then you must make time. What are you doing that is more important than this?
Wives and mothers are not let off the hook, for much of a child’s education will come directly from his or her mom. Yet make a special effort of helping and supporting your husband in leading family worship. It is true that children often catch more than they are taught. Being catechized by sitcoms, it is sorrowful to see a wife usurp her husband as the head of the household throughout their children’s early years only to call him back into the picture whenever teenage rebellion sets in. Unfortunately, by that time, she has already taught her children by example against honoring their father; therefore, he has no credit in his account with which to deal with them.
Speaking of cultural catechisms, last year I wrote an article called Is Scripture or Disney Catechizing Your Child’s Imagination? The overall point was to remind parents that our children will be catechized one way or another. They will learn and grow; the only question is: into what? Will they be catechized by the Scriptures or by the stories of the world, such as Disney? A portion of that article fits well with our call to bring our children to Christ via His Word:
First, are we, as parents, familiar and enraptured enough with Scripture to display its glorious treasures to our children? After all, if we find it a boring but necessary task to read the Bible, why would our children ever desire it themselves? Before we can ever hope for our children to delight in the God’s Word, we must first foster a love for it within ourselves.
Or perhaps more deeply, it may be that Disney-esque stories are more foundational to our own imagination than Scripture. Ask yourself this question and answer it with the utmost honesty: Do you have a more visceral response to the thought of not showing your children Disney programs or of not reading the Bible to them? If they already watch something Disney often than you read Scripture with them or to them, then the stark reality is that Disney is catechizing your children more than Scripture is.
Second, do we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture to capture our children’s imaginations, or do we think we need the world’s supplements? …We serve the LORD, the true and living God, the Maker of heaven and earth. He demands and marvelously deserves our love and total affection of heart, soul, might, and (as Jesus added) mind. Let us, therefore, be diligent to pass these truths down to our children. Let us not indoctrinate them in the mindset of the world but in the truth of God’s Word.
LIKE A CHILD // VERSE 15
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. This teaching is prefaced by Jesus’ common refrain of ‘truly, I say to you…’, which He used in many ways as the Old Testament prophets used “Thus says the LORD.” This emphasizes the Jesus’ divine authority in making this pronouncement.
What is that pronouncement? It is not enough to simply tolerate children, to love children, or even to receive children; rather, to enter God’s kingdom we must become like children ourselves! Again, this would have more audacious to their hears than saying that they had to become a slave. Of course, in saying this, we should distinguish between being child-like and childish.
The Bible certainly does not advocate perpetual adolescence; instead, it consistently teaches that it is better to be mature than to be immature. Indeed, Proverbs 22:15 tells us why fathers must raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” The childish ways of children must be driven out. They must learn that tantrums do not accomplish anything, that instant gratification is a dead end, that shouldering responsibility is the path to freedom and joy, and many other lessons of maturity. Therefore, we should agree with Paul as he said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). That is the proper pattern. We should stive to leave childishness behind us. Sadly, our society is extremely childish. For example, look at the culture’s obsession with the grotesque, the darkness, and the shocking. It all reeks of children trying desperately to prove how grownup they are even when they have no clue what maturity actually looks like.
Being child-like, however, is altogether different. There is much pondering over what characteristics of children Jesus is referring to exactly. Most commentators will suggest that it is the simplicity of children’s faith. They believe precisely what is told to them. I think that is certainly part of what Jesus intends, but I would also add that we are also supposed to imitate the humble dependence of children.
I do not necessarily say trust because I think that children are generally much better at reading motives and intensions than we give them credit for. Parents will often lecture their children about the importance of keeping their trust but very rarely think about keeping their children’s trust. You see, we very easily mistake our children’s utter dependence on us for trust, when the two are not necessarily entwined. Nevertheless, children are dependent and, therefore, have the humility to receive aid. And it is indeed a beautiful thing whenever a child has the utmost confidence in their parents. They are willing to venture out even into fearful experiences knowing that their father and mother are ever with them. That is the childlikeness that I believe Jesus is referring to here: the humility to be reliant and dependent upon God as our Father.
Now this, of course, must be received by faith, even a child-like faith. Faith enough to believe in the saving work of Another, to believe that Christ Jesus has paid the debt of our sins and purchased our adoption to the Father as co-heirs with Him. I think that Packer is right in speaking of our adoption being “the highest privilege that the gospel offers: even higher than justification.” He goes on to explain:
Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship–he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.
I think this is the heart of entering the kingdom like a child. We must have the humility to run to our Father, not away from Him. We must place our dependent faith in His steadfast love and faithfulness as displayed through the giving of His Son for us.
AND BLESSED THEM // VERSE 16
Our passage concludes by saying, And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. He was glad to have the children come to Him, to make time for them, and to bless them. We ought to do likewise, for we have been similarly received and blessed in Christ.
Jesus may have given them some version of the Aaron’s blessing:
The LORD bless you and keep you;Numbers 6:24-26
the LORD make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.
The prayer for blessing, grace, and peace from Yahweh should sound familiar to us, for Paul opens virtually all of his letters with some various of this blessing: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 3). Christ has blessed us with a greater blessing than even Moses received. We do not simply worship the Creator by His revealed name, Yahweh; we worship Him by His revealed trinitarian nature. We worship Yahweh our Father, Yahweh our Savior, and Yahweh our Comforter. And as His adopted children, we have the blessing of being securely kept in His loving arms.
Do you ever doubt the Father’s love for you? Children, again, must be taught to trust their father. As they grow, they will often begin to hide their sins unless they are fully assured of the security of their father’s love. How then can we know the security of our Father’s love for us? We need to only look at His giving of His Son. Watson said, “To give us Christ, is more than if God had given us all the world. He can make more worlds, but he has no more Christs to bestow.”
Brothers and sisters, as we come to the Table to remember the supreme gift of Christ for us and which we receive by humble, dependent faith, let me say to all children and to any that have not yet professed faith in Christ as Lord and Savior that He has here commanded you to come to Him. If you have not been baptized, do not yet come to the Table, but go to Jesus in prayer, perhaps asking one of your parents to pray with you. Tell Jesus that you know you are sinner and that He is a Savior. Tell Him that you will follow Him as your Lord and King for the rest of your life, doing and saying whatever He commands you to do and say. Go to Jesus in prayer, for He still delights to bless little children.
 Darrell Bricker & John Ibbitson, Empty Planet, 97.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 160.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 206.
 Ibid, 207.
 Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 206.