Introduction: Kent Hughes refers to a letter dated June 17, 1 BC, that is written from a man named Hilaron to his wife, Alis, concerning the birth of a child. The letter says, “If it was a male child, let it live; if it was a female, cast it out” (Mark, Vol. 2, p. 55). This refers to the practice of leaving infants to die of exposure if unwanted for any reason, a practice that was not outlawed in Roman law until A.D. 375 (Ibid., p. 55).
David Garland says of the perspective on children in the ancient world that, “The ancient world did not have a romantic notion of children. Children added nothing to the family’s economy or honor and did not count. In the Greco-Roman world one could literally throw children away by exposing unwanted infants at birth. The unscrupulous would collect exposed children and raise them to be gladiators or prostitutes and even disfigure them to enhance their value as beggars” (NIV Application Commentary on Mark, p. 385).
In our own culture, we can see an atmosphere developing that is becoming more like the ancient Greco-Roman world all the time. Although the exposure of infants is not very often practiced, the equally repugnant practice of abortion is rampant. The exploitation of children is becoming more and more common as well. And this doesn’t even take into account the way that children – if desired in the first place – are being harmed by the break up of about half of the marriages in this country.
In today’s passage, however, we will see that Jesus had a very different view of children than so many people had either in the first century world or in our own twenty-first century world. Not only did He accept children with love, but He also heightened their status by using them as an example for all to follow if they wish to enter into the Kingdom of God. As we examine His treatment of children in this passage, we will see that: 1) We should accept children the way Jesus does, and 2) We should accept Jesus the way children do.
I. We Should Accept Children the Way Jesus Does
We will pick up this theme beginning in verse 13.
NKJ Mark 10:13 Then they brought little children [παιδίον, paidíon] to Him, that He might touch [ἅπτω] them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
The Greek word translated “little children” in the New King James Version is paidíon, a word that may refer not only to a small child but also occasionally to an infant (Friberg #20312, BibleWorks). In this instance we know that many of these small children being brought to Jesus were indeed infants, because Luke indicates this in his parallel account:
NKJ Luke 18:15a Then they also brought infants [βρέφος, bréphos] to Him that He might touch [ἅπτω] them ….
We are told in both accounts that the children were brought to Jesus so that He might “touch” them. This expression refers to the practice among the Jews of the blessing of children accompanied by the laying on of hands, a tradition that dated all the way back to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 27:18-29; 48:14). That this is what is being sought from our Lord Jesus is brought out even more clearly in Matthew’s parallel account, which says that, “little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray …. ” (Matt. 19:13a). It is also made explicit later in Mark’s account, when we see that Jesus does, in fact, respond to the parents’ bringing their children to Him by placing His hands on them and blessing them (vs. 16).
We are not told why the disciples rebuked those who were bringing their children to Jesus. Perhaps they were just trying to give Him a chance to rest. Whatever their motivations may have been, however, Jesus’ response to them will show that they were definitely not concerned for the children as they should have been. For they obviously didn’t feel that they were important enough to trouble Jesus with them. We see Jesus’ reaction in first part of the next verse.
NKJ Mark 10:14a But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased [ἀγανακτέω, aganaktéō] and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
The Greek word translated “greatly displeased” in the New King James Version means to “be indignant against what is assumed to be wrong, [to] be aroused, indignant, [or] angry” (BAGD3). Thus, Jesus’ response is righteous anger toward what He sees as a grievous wrong done to these children, who are being kept from the blessing their parents desire for them and that He Himself obviously desires for them as well. Jesus’ strong reaction is also evidenced by His emphatic statement (without the connective and in the Greek text): “Let the children come to me; do not forbid them!”
It is interesting that Jesus describes the children who are being “brought” (vs. 13) as coming to Him. This is no doubt due to the children’s simple acceptance of Jesus, especially as examples of the proper approach to Christ. This will be the focus of our attention later. For now we will direct our attention to Jesus’ acceptance of the children. As I have already pointed out, this acceptance may be further seen in verse 16, so let’s jump down to that verse for a moment.
NKJ Mark 10:16 And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed [Impf. Act. Ind. > κατευλογέω, kateulogéō; Byz = Impf. Act. Ind. > εὐλογέω, eulogéō] them.
Jesus shows His love for children not only through words and the granting of a blessing to them through the laying on of His hands, but by tenderly and affectionately taking them up in His own arms. What a strong a contrast to the disciples’ attitude!
The Greek text translated “blessed” here is quite informative in two respects.
First, the usual word meaning to bless is eulogéō, but the word used by Mark here is kateulogéō, which adds the preposition katá to the verb eulogéō with an intensifying effect. Thus the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says that Jesus “blessed them fervently, in no perfunctory way, but with emphasis” (p. 116).
Second, the tense of the verb (imperfect) indicates in this context that Jesus was taking each child into His arms and blessing them one by one. William Hendriksen suggests that the verse would best be translated, “And having taken them in his arms He tenderly blessed them one by one, laying His hands upon them” (BNTC, e-Sword). In other words, Jesus didn’t just quickly touch each child as they were carried by Him. Rather He made time to spend with each of these children in order show His grace and love toward them individually.
Application: In a culture that is becoming increasingly apathetic in its attitude toward children, it is especially important for us to learn from the example Jesus set for His disciples in this passage. Perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions like: Do I find myself becoming grieved or filled with righteous anger when I see children abused or ignored? If so, is it a genuine fruit of the Holy Spirit that leads to action? Do I try to make time for the children God puts in my path, in order to demonstrate the grace of God toward them and to be a blessing to them? Do I take time to listen to children when they try to speak to me, or do I have the attitude of so many that “children are to be seen and not heard”? Do I seek ways to show genuine affection to my own children and to the children of others?
David Garland also has some helpful insights for the application of this text to our lives when he writes:
Jesus commends children to his disciples. They are to extend loving care for them and not to block them off as insignificant. Our attitude toward the value of children surfaces in how we care for the facilities for children in the church, in how much of the budget is designated for their care and training, in how we integrate them into our worship. Do they appear in worship only as cute performers who sing their song and then are shuttled off out of sight and earshot so that they cannot disturb what we regard as more important – our own quiet worship? (NIV Application Commentary on Mark, p. 392)
I am proud of Immanuel Baptist Church in this area, since we welcome our children into our time of worship. I am also glad that there is the yearly trip taken by some in our church to witness to poor and under-privileged children in rural Mississippi. I am also especially glad that God has given us so many children to help through our Children Desiring God and youth ministries. Jesus’ example makes me want to pray more for them and to renew my resolve and determination that our church shall continue such ministry, ministry which can be demanding and stressful at times. I want to encourage you all to join with me today in such a renewal of purpose, whether God has led you to be directly involved in these ministries or not. For even if you are not one of the workers, you can still make it a point to pray more consistently for these children and for our ministry to them. You can also join me in praying that the children who are with us in our worship services will grow thereby in their knowledge of God and their faith in Him. Whatever role God has given each of us with the children He brings into our lives, let us not forget Jesus’ example recorded for us in this passage. And with that, having thus seen how we should accept children the way Jesus did, let’s turn our attention to our next major point.
II. We Should Accept Jesus the Way Children Do
We will pick up this theme in the last part of verse 14.
NKJ Mark 10:14b Let the little children [παιδίον, paidíon] come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.
When our Lord says, “of such is the kingdom of God,” He teaches that children exemplify qualities that are inherent in those who are a part of the Kingdom of God. It should not surprise us, then, when we find that children are often more receptive to the Gospel message than are adults. As Charles Spurgeon put it:
I will say broadly that I have more confidence in the spiritual life of the children that I have received into this church than I have in the spiritual condition of the adults thus received. I will go even further than that, and say that I have usually found a clearer knowledge of the Gospel and a warmer love to Christ in the child-converts than in the man-converts. I will even astonish you still more by saying that I have sometimes met with a deeper spiritual experience in children of ten or twelve than I have in certain persons of fifty or sixty. (As cited by Kent Hughes, Mark, Vol. 2, p. 58)
I don’t think Jesus would have been at all surprised to hear such things, especially in light of what He went on to say.
NKJ Mark 10:15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means [οὐ μὴ] enter it.
We have seen in verse 14 that Jesus taught that little children exemplify the kind of persons who make up the Kingdom of God, and now in verse 15 we find His very strong statement that unless one is in some way “as a little child,” he will “by no means” enter the Kingdom. But what does He mean by this? In what way(s) must we be like little children in order to enter the kingdom? I would suggest that there are a couple of things that stand out in the context.
First, we have read in verse 13 about children who were brought to Jesus. They were thus dependent upon those who brought them. This is especially true of the smaller children and infants who were completely helpless without their parents. These children serve as examples of those who cannot do anything in their own effort to receive a blessing from Jesus. It isn’t through anything that they have done that they are blessed. This means that we, too, must recognize our dependence upon Jesus for His gracious blessing. We must see that we are powerless to help ourselves and simply rely on Jesus as the one who can bless us with salvation through His loving work on our behalf.
Second, in verse 15 Jesus has specifically asserted that we are to be like little children in the way that we receive the Kingdom. Isn’t it true that little children are usually much more open to the reception of a gift than adults are? William Hendriksen offers the following illustration of this point:
The gold pieces were piled up on the outside windowsill. ‘Take one,’ said the sign. All day long people passed by thinking, ‘this fellow can’t fool me.’ Evening fell, and the owner was about to remove the pile. But just before he did, a child came by, read the sign, and calmly, without the least hesitancy, took one! (BNTC, e-Sword)
Application: We all always need to be like little children as we approach God, coming to Him as those who are helpless without Him and who are completely open to the reception of the gift of salvation and His continued grace in our lives.
Conclusion: I would like to conclude with a final word first for those who have trusted in Christ and then for those who haven’t.
For those of us who already know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, let us repent today of any of the ways in which we have failed to accept and love children as Jesus did. And let us pray also for a renewal of childlike faith in our own hearts.
For those who have not yet bowed the knee to Jesus as Lord and Savior, I encourage you to acknowledge your spiritual helplessness before God and to simply receive the free gift of eternal life that He offers you through His Son Jesus Christ. For unless you receive His Kingdom – His sovereign rule – as a little child, there is no way you will ever enter the Kingdom!
Let us never forget that Jesus is able to save persons of any age, and His incarnation and growth as one who is fully human, while maintaining His divine nature, demonstrates this clearly as well. In fact, Irenaeus, in his second century work entitled Against Heresies, taught well on this subject and is deserving of lengthy quotation:
Being thirty years old when He came to be baptized, and then possessing the full age of a Master, He came to Jerusalem, so that He might be properly acknowledged by all as a Master. For He did not seem one thing while He was another, as those affirm who describe Him as being a man only in appearance; but what He was, that He also appeared to be. Being a Master, therefore, He also possessed the age of a Master, not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord …. ” (II, XXII, 4)
I implore you today, no matter what age you are, to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as a little child. Will you trust that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead so that you might have the free gift of forgiveness and everlasting life?