Jesus, Children and the Kingdom of God

Jesus, Children and the Kingdom of God

Jesus turns our world’s ways on their head. For those of us with nothing to boast in, it is wonderful news. But for those who have spent our lives scrambling to be near the front of the queue, it is a sharp rebuke and challenge. The question Jesus presses upon me is, ‘Have I come like a child, empty handed, laying aside everything that gives me status?’ And if I have, does that continue to be the way I live in the kingdom, resolutely refusing to play the status game?

One of the enduring images of Jesus in the minds of many is of Jesus surrounded by children, some sitting on his knees with his arms around them. It may raise eyebrows in our ‘safe space’ world, but it captures an attractive aspect of the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. But if Jesus’ disciples had had their way, it would not have happened.

The incident is reported Mark 10:13–16. People are bringing young children to Jesus. The parents (I presume) recognise that Jesus is much more than another travelling preacher. They think his touch and blessing carry weight. But the disciples attempt to stop it. I have some sympathy for the disciples. They finally recognised that Jesus is important. He is the Messiah (Mk 8:29), the long-promised king God was going to send to crush their enemies and bring all the benefits of his victory and rule. He has arrived: the most important person in the world! And they are the inner circle. So they take it upon themselves to shape his itinerary.

Imagine that Jesus was going to be in your town or city for a weekend, and you were in charge of his itinerary. Who would make the cut? The Prime Minister? The business tycoons? The bishops and moderators? The University professors? They would be on my list. Would you include children? Certainly not! Grubby, noisy, unpredictable kids—keep them away from Jesus. They are not important, they are not the influencers, it would not be a good use of Jesus’ time and attention.

The disciples think Jesus will be pleased with their discernment. But Jesus is furious with them.

We Can Be So Wrong

They got Jesus and his kingdom totally wrong. The kingdom he is bringing belongs to people like these children. Jesus is more than willing to give his time and attention to children. Don’t stop them. Don’t even hinder them.

In our sentimentality, it would be easy to stop here. Let’s value the children in our families, in our communities, and in our churches. Grubby they may be, but they are precious and they are the future. Give me a child and I will shape the adult. But Jesus has something sharper and more significant to say to us adults: ‘Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it’ (verse 15). These are strong words. They encompass everyone regardless of race or sex or age or education or religion. They encompass all time (‘never enter’), and so speak about every person’s eternal destiny in the kingdom of God.

Becoming Like a Child

What does Jesus mean by, ‘receive the kingdom of God like a child’? What aspect of childlikeness does Jesus have in mind? There have been many suggestions.

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