Let the Children Come to Me (Mark 10:13-16)
I. A Picture at the Playground
Picture yourself sitting at a park watching a young family navigating the playground. As you watch, a child around 3-4 years of age is enjoying herself on all the equipment. As she tries to reach the monkey bars, she looks to dad for the lift she needs. As she hesitates to come off an elevated platform, she looks to mom for help coming down. And when she's sufficiently worn herself out, she looks to her big brother to help her reach the just-out-of-reach drinking fountain. As her small, spent body is carried to the car by her dad, you try to hold on to the scene.
II. The Passage: “And He Took Them in His Arms” (10:13-16)
Now, keeping that mental picture in mind, please turn over to Mark 10. We're looking together this morning at verses 13-16. Listen as Mark paints the scene for us, beginning in verse 13...
And they [i.e., people in the crowd] 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.
So first of all, let's make sure we understand what was happening here. As Jesus was doing the same things he's been doing since chapter 1 (things like preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons... as Jesus was continuing his public ministry), we read in verse 13 that parents were bringing their children to him... “that he might touch them”. Now wait. Were these sick children in need of healing? No. I believe what these parents were seeking is the very thing Jesus gives them at the end of the account, in verse 16: they simply wanted Jesus Christ to bless their children. Parents, that's a good and right desire, isn't it? That Christ would bless our children!
Now in contrast to these parents who want to get their kids close to Jesus, surprisingly, we read how Jesus' own disciples wanted to do exactly the opposite. They wanted to keep these kids away from Jesus. Why? In all likelihood, they thought Jesus had better things to do than kiss babies and indulge needy parents. I don't think the issue here is rooted in their disdain for children. In general, children were treasured in First Century Jewish life. What is far more likely is that these disciples were, at this point, focused intently on the ideas of power and influence. If Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, was going to rule as king, spending time with children, powerless, insignificant children, must have seemed like a complete waste of time.
But as we just saw in the passage, Jesus definitely does not share their perspective, does he? In fact, this story is yet another story (one of many) in Mark's Gospel in which Jesus is trying to break them of this perspective. So it's important we focus on the response of Jesus, recorded in vs. 14 & 15. As we do that, I think you'll see that though this passage is wonderfully encouraging for both parents and children, the main focus here is really on those who are children of God, by his grace, through faith in Christ. I say that based on the emphasis we find in verses 14 and 15. Ask yourself this simple question: “What does Mark reveal about why Jesus was 'indignant', why he was angry with his disciples as they tried to shoo away these little ones?”
Given what we read in this passage, I think we can say that Jesus is not upset simply because children are precious and valuable and equally image-bearers of God (although I'm sure that's part of the equation here). Notice as well that Jesus is not rebuking his disciples for their lack of hospitality, or for being mean-spirited. Moreover, he's also not upset because they're ruining his image with a key demographic like parents. No. What the text is emphasizing here is crystal clear from the key phrase Jesus uses in both verse 14 and verse 15... “the kingdom of God”. Do you see that? In both verses Jesus makes a direct connection between children and the kingdom of God. In verse 14, Jesus reveals to his disciples (and everyone listening) that the very kingdom of God he's been proclaiming throughout his ministry, this kingdom... belongs to people like these children... “to such [i.e., to this kind] belongs the kingdom of God”. And in verse 15 Jesus turns that affirmation into a kind of prescription (really a prescriptive warning): “...whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
So both of those verses, both of those kids and kingdom connections, both should drive us to ask, “What exactly is Jesus wanting to highlight or commend in these children?” You see, if someone can't answer that question, than they won't know how to “receive the kingdom like a child”. Now, over the years I have routinely heard a number of suggestions about what it means to have a childlike attitude in terms of receiving the kingdom. Some believe Jesus is talking here about childlike innocence, or childlike wonder, or childlike simplicity, or childlike faith. But none of those ideas are explicitly stated in the teachings of Jesus. That's simply speculation.
To discover what Jesus meant here, we can actually turn back just one chapter to Mark 9:33-37. Look there. What makes the disciples' attitude toward these children in chapter 10 especially frustrating is that Jesus already talked to them about this very issue. Listen to 9:33-37...
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,  “Who-ever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Do you see how Jesus' response to their arguments about greatness (what Jesus calls being “first”, how that...) leads to him placing a child in front of them as an object lesson? When Matthew records this episode (or one like it), the point of this object lesson is even clearer:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them  and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1–4)
There it is. When the Gospels speak about Jesus connecting the reality of kids to the reality of the kingdom, what is always being highlighted, ultimately, is childlike... humility. Again, Mark 9:35... “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all...”. You see, it's evident from the context (especially from their actions and conversations in chapters 8-10) that the disciples routinely held onto this popular notion that the kingdom of God was about strength and glory and independence. But in connecting the kingdom to children, Jesus was connecting it to just the opposite: to weakness and insignificance and dependence (2x). According to the king himself, that is the pathway into a genuine experience of God's kingdom; of God's reign over their lives.
III. Children and Change
So having done our best to establish what the text means (based on the writer's intention), we now have to ask, what does this text mean for us. Not what does it mean to me, but what does it mean for me; that is, how does God want it to change me; or change you? Before I share two key applications, let me simply remind you parents of what we noted earlier: it is good and right, it is loving and beautiful, it is absolutely critical, that we bring our children to Jesus Christ, that they might be blessed by him. Amen? We know we can't do that today in the same way they did that back then, but we should have the same heart. In the present, we bring our kids to Jesus through prayer and presentation. On our knees... we ask him to take our kids into his arms and bless them with his healing touch, and with our lips and lives... we present Jesus to them, day by day by day. Parent(s), don't stop bringing your children to Jesus. You cannot, and you should not, pressure them to believe. You cannot force genuine faith. But you can be genuinely faithful in loving your Lord every day, before their watching eyes; speaking and living out gospel truth.
And now, children... children of God, brothers and sisters, don't miss the first, key application from our main text this morning. It's this: If you've received God's kingdom with childlike humility, then also live in that kingdom with childlike humility. No person can be a genuine Christian, a true disciple, unless he or she has extended their arms like that little girl on the playground; that is, unless he or she, in repentance, has extended arms of faith with a sense of real helplessness. A child is not ashamed of their neediness. Unlike the ambitions of those first disciples, kids don't posture in order to project strength, to gain glory, or to claim victory. They simply accept that they are weak; that they need help. But they do so (and should do so) knowing there is someone bigger and stronger there to help them. Through Jesus, we can have that same reassurance. Because of the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, we can be accepted and rest secure in our Father's presence and power to help needy sinners like us.
But it's very easy to drift from that childlike humility, isn't it? Over time, it's very easy to believe we've got everything under control, that we finally have things figured out, that our wisdom and our plans and our resources are more than sufficient. And so, sometimes without knowing it, we stop depending on God, we stop praying, we stop feeding (maybe not reading, but feeding) on God's word. Then we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we should, and we stop serving others; then we start looking down on others, seeing them as a burden rather than a blessing. But to walk in that saving, childlike humility means embracing your weakness, being okay with insignificance in the world's eyes, and cultivating a daily posture of dependence on God. I'm guessing that even now God is working in your heart to show you those area where he wants you to simply extend your arms and say “Help me, Abba, Father.... Help me.” Brothers and sisters, friends, allow God to humble you this morning through the words of Jesus.
And as we do that, I think a second, key application from this text will make even more sense: As you teach your kids about Jesus (or seek to point kids to Jesus), regularly consider how Jesus is using them to teach you. What angered Jesus about the disciples behavior with these parents and kids was what it revealed about their hearts. They simply did not value the kingdom instruction that children are always providing for us, by God's grace. Remember, the weakness and (worldly) insignificance and dependence we see in children, those are the very things we should treasure most as followers of Christ. And we need every reminder and every lesson we can get to deepen our appreciation of those kingdom qualities. So look around. Learn from the little ones in your life. Give thanks for them. And in light of all this, may we as a church be renewed in and persevere in and grow in our ministry to these precious young lives. Even today the voice of Jesus continues to ring out, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them...”. May we obey his voice, both for their sake and for our own. Amen? Amen!