2020 01 12 AM Children, Elevated Mark 10:13-16 by Rev. Andre Holtslag

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

A few minutes ago we read that beautiful and fascinating chapter of Genesis where Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  It’s a fascinating account because Jacob swapped the blessings, but the main reason for reading it was to see that Joseph wanted his aged and godly father to bless his children.  This was clearly something that was an important part of family and faith in that household.

And there are echoes of this in the celebrations of this weekend.  Yesterday, Annwyn’s grandparents, Albert and Inge Ruijne, from the Bucklands Beach congregation, celebrated 50 years of marriage.  And we praise the Lord for that milestone.  And the wider family has gathered for that milestone and today many of them are here to witness the baptism of Bertie.  And I think we can safely guess that Bertie was held by Albert and others and there was talk about God’s faithfulness and His blessings from generation to generation.  And many of us will have been a part of similar generational celebrations. 

So having witnessed Bertie’s baptism this morning, it seemed appropriate to look at a passage of the Bible that is about children.  And the passage before us today is this record of how the disciples and Jesus reacted to some children.  And we are going to see that what Jesus says here is a part of the reason why we baptize the children of believers, but we will also see that Jesus’ words challenge each one of us and the world we live in today in terms of our attitude toward children.  

As chapter 10 begins, Jesus was teaching a crowd of people.  And His first topic was marriage.  Marriage had fallen on hard times in those days, even among God’s people –divorce was easy and quite common.  Sound familiar?  So Jesus elevated marriage.  And the word elevate means ‘to lift up.’  And Jesus elevated marriage by reminding His listeners that God’s design for marriage is that it be a lifelong commitment. 

Well, as we come to our text, what Jesus’ disciples do to some children becomes the occasion for Jesus to elevate children.  And our passage divides up into three obvious sections – what the disciples did in v13, what Jesus said and did in vv14&16, and Jesus’ warning in v15.  So the wrong response to children, the right response to children, and the need to be child-like will be our three points.

  1. So first of all, the wrong response to children from v13. 
  1. Have a quick look at v36 of ch. 9 for a moment and you will see there that Jesus had recently taken a little child into His arms and urged the disciples to receive such children “in His name.”  But it seems that that very object lesson had already been forgotten as the disciples rebuked the people bringing their little children to Jesus to have Him touch or bless them.  And these were young children.  In Luke’s parallel account he calls them “infants.” 
    1. And this reaction of the disciples was likely a reflection of how the Roman world viewed children in that day.
      1. For example, I am sure you boys and girls remember the story of Jesus’ birth.  And King Herod felt threatened by the birth of Jesus so he asked the wise men to tell him where Jesus was so that he also could ‘go and worship Him.’  But this was a lie; Herod just didn’t want competition.  So the wise men were warned by an angel not to tell Herod.  And do you remember what Herod did when he found out that they had gone home without telling Him where Jesus was?  He ordered that all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two and under be killed.  And that is what happened.  How horrific!
      1. But it was not just Herod who easily disposed of children.  Infanticide is the practice of killing of new born babies who are not wanted.  And this was a common practice in Jesus’ day.  There is a letter from June 17, 1 BC, from a husband to his wife, in which he writes, “If it is a male child, let it live; if it is female, cast it out.”  In those days it was seen as a Father’s right to decide whether or not to allow a newborn to live.  And this practice was not made illegal until AD 375!
    1. But this was not how children were viewed among God’s OT people. 
      1. When God established His covenant relationship with Abraham, He was very specific that Abraham’s children were to be a part of this covenant relationship, which is why 8 day old boys were to be circumcised.
      1. We also read earlier about Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons.  This was a very common practice among the OT people of God.
      1. Psalm 127 says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  So to have many children was considered a great blessing from the Lord by God’s OT people.
    1. So it seems that the disciples were thinking and acting like the world around them rather than according to the teaching of God’s word.  To be fair, they were probably trying to protect Jesus from burnout.  So as they saw it, He could either debate the Pharisees or touch a few kids??  Duh!  So it was, Mums, put your sprogs back in the stroller and shove off, please!
  • But instead of being horrified by what they did, we really need to ask ourselves if we are all that different than Rome or the disciples?
    • First of all, in terms of infanticide:
      • Just this past week, some actress who received a Golden Globe award for her role in a movie said she would not have got the award if she had not had the right to get an abortion.  And this was because at a critical time in her career she was pregnant but because she was able to have an abortion she could carry on with her career and now she had her trophy!  So she called on the world to protect and promote a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.  Cue loud applause.  And I think most people know today that abortion ends the life of a human; they just don’t see that as a problem if the baby is not wanted.
      • And right now, here in NZ, our government is looking to make it much easier to get an abortion than it is today, with no limit on how far into a pregnancy it can happen. 
      • The rise in pre-natal screening tests has led to more babies with Down Syndrome being aborted around the world and especially in the west.  In Denmark, in 2015, 98% of all babies diagnosed with DS while in the womb were aborted. 
      • Congregation, I put it to you that in regards to infanticide, society today is no different, and in fact is worse than the Rome of Jesus’ day!
    • But I also quoted Psalm 127 earlier: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” 
      • The most recent statistic I could find on NZ’s birth rate is 1.81 per woman, which is the lowest recorded total.  And when you replace 1 man and 1 woman with 1.81 human beings, you are declining, not multiplying.
      • But how about us here in the church?  Do you see having many children as a blessing from the Lord? 
    • And closely related, late last year there was news that there will be a new childcare centre in Botany that will be open from 6am-8pm that will have an on-site doctor, nurse, pharmacy, physiotherapist and podiatrist, as well as takeaway meals for parents too busy to cook at home.  And the owner said that this is a response to “a changing landscape.”  So clearly, it suits more and more people to put their children in childcare for longer and longer periods of time, because they are at work.  But I also recently read an article by a woman I have quoted many times in sermons – Rosaria Butterfield Champagne.  It was called ‘How Psalm 113 Changed My Life.’  It’s why we sung Psalm 113 earlier.  Rosaria was living in a lesbian relationship and she was head of LGBT curricula at the University where she lectured.  But she had met a minister and his wife and she was at church with them on one of her first visits.  She says, “I had a butch haircut and extra piercings in my right ear [because that was a symbol of gayness at the time].”  The song that was announced was Psalm 113.  So she joined in with the opening verses, which as we just sung, are all about praising God for His majesty and how He rescues the poor.  And she loved that and it was all fine.  But the last verse of their Psalm version was similar to ours and it said, “He the childless woman takes and a joyful mother makes; Keeping house she finds reward.  Praise Jehovah; praise the Lord!”  She said, “I chocked mid-verse … Before I realized what was coming out of my mouth, I sang the last lines of the psalm and implicated myself into what I believed then was hateful patriarchy and institutionalized misogyny.”  How dare anyone believe or suggest that a woman should find raising children and keeping house rewarding!  But eventually she gave up her prestigious position at the University to adopt four children and raise them with the husband she married.  She chose the life of motherhood, which Psalm 113 calls rewarding, over the career life that our society says is rewarding. 
      • So I must ask you: What were your thoughts as you sung the last verse of Psalm 113?  I have been tempted to just sing vv1-4.  Do you find what has just been said about motherhood vs career life a bit old fashioned and embarrassing?  Let’s be honest, I think we all know what the reaction would be if this sermon was printed in tomorrow’s NZ Herald – ‘Local church hates women.’  But this issue has a lot to do with how we view children.  Sisters, and brothers, do you believe that children are so precious that to raise them and keep house is a rewarding ‘career’ for a woman? 
  1. Well, that brings us next to vv14 and 16 and the right response to children.  And we can see Jesus waving His finger at the disciples – uh-uh-uh!  No brothers!  “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” 
  1. And the first and most basic implication of what Jesus said and did is that He loves children
    1. In NZ, we have a children’s commissioner.  Does anyone know the name of the current CC?  Andrew Becroft.  He and his office advocate for the interests, rights and well-being of children and young people and monitor the crown services provided for children. 
    1. Well, the children in our passage were being denied access to Jesus and the opportunity to receive His blessing.  And I don’t say this as any reflection on Mr Becroft, because I have no idea about how effective he is in his role, but Jesus didn’t just write up legislation or give the disciples a handout with His policy on children.  No, He rebuked His disciples and He “took [the children] into His arms and He blessed them.” 
    1. He has crowds who constantly seek His attention, He has Pharisees to deal with, He has disciples who He has to train because He will not be with them for much longer, but He takes time to hold and bless children. 
    1. And you will remember that a number of Jesus’ healing miracles involved little children.  And one of the most tender examples of this was when He raised a little girl from death; we read that “He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’” 
    1. So Jesus loved children and He demonstrated this by being with them, receiving them, talking to them, caring for them, and blessing them.  Do you love children and can this be seen in how you interact with them? 
      1. I know there are many different aspects to this matter, but when you hear a child squirming or talking or crying during our worship services, before anything else are you glad that they are in the House of the Lord?   
      1. And I know this is a bit of a minefield area today, but do you make a point of speaking to or playing with children after church?  Do you take a turn to supervise them while they play in the Kindy playground?  When the call comes for a Sunday school teacher or a cadet counselor?  How does that rate on your premier league chart of ways to serve? 
      1. And I am not saying that everyone has to do all of these things to truly love children; I am simply asking us all to see if we do love children and how this can be seen in our words and thoughts and actions?
  • But a second implication of Jesus’ words and actions has to do with the spiritual worth of children.  He said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  
    • As one commentator puts it, with these words “Christ affirms and proclaims the spiritual capacity of children.”  There can be 22 year old believers and 77 year old believers but there can also be believers in the womb and 2 year old and 7 year old believers.  There is no minimum age limit on the saving activity of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, this is why Art. 1.17 of the Canons of Dort says that “God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.” And that beautifully comforting truth has to do with what Jesus said in this verse.
    • And it is also why, as a church, we baptize the children of believers
      • We don’t baptize them because we think they are saved and we don’t baptize them thinking that baptism saves
      • We baptize them because Jesus said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” 
      • We baptize them because just as God included the children of believers in the visible congregation of the OT, by circumcision, the children of believers are to be included in the church today by baptism. 
      • 1 Cor. 7:14b says that the children of even one believing parent are “holy” in God’s sight.  Because their parents are believers then, these children are to be ‘marked off’ from the children of the world with the sign and seal of God’s covenant. 
      • And then, as they grow, we hold their baptism before them pointing them to the blood of Jesus as the only hope of salvation.  And we teach them that as baptized ones they have been set apart unto God and they must live a life of faith and repentance. 
    • The evangelist, D.L. Moody, once came back from a meeting and reported to his host 2 ½ conversions.  “Ah!,” the host said, “Two adults and a child?”  “No,” said Moody, “two children and an adult.  The children can give their whole lives to the Lord, the adult has only half his life left to give.” 
    • Elijah and Annwyn, parents, read the Bible and pray with your children, bring them to Sunday school, bring them to worship, give them a Christian education, bring them to cadets and youth camps, etc, because “to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
    • And if you wonder why we put all that time and effort into the children’s Holiday Bible club every year?  Here is your answer: “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”
  1. And this brings us, thirdly and lastly, to the need to be child-like from v15, where Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
  1. And the first thing to note here is that this is a very strong warning.  If you don’t get this right, you shall not, ever, with no exceptions, enter the kingdom of God.  So clearly this is a very important teaching of Jesus that we must understand.
  • So what is it about how children receive the kingdom of God that we must imitate?
    • Well, let’s be clear from the get go that this is not about cuteness or child-like innocence.  Any parent here will know that children can be stubborn, cruel, selfish, and conniving from a very young age. 
      • When I was down in CHCH a Mum was telling me about her two year old son who was playing with lego with his four year old sister – he was building his thing and she was building hers.  Well, the girl misbehaved and she was sent to her room by Mum and she had to leave her lego building half done.  And soon it was dinner time and Dad came in and he told the boy to clean up the lego before dinner.  And the boy asked if he should clean up his sister’s lego as well?  And Dad was pleasantly surprised at how keen his son was to clean up all the lego because it was usually difficult to get him to clean up his own stuff, so he said, “yes.”  Now, why do you think the two year old boy was so keen to clear up all of the lego?  You guessed it, because he knew his sister would be furious that she could not finish what she was building.  And the mother who was telling me this story said you should have seen the look of evil satisfaction on his face when his sister came out of her room and saw that her tower was in pieces and put away!!!  And I can tell by the smiles on the faces of the boys and girls and parents that this is a been there, done that story J 
    • And neither is this about something subjective like trustfulness or simplicity or wonder, as beautiful as these things are; this is about something objective, which is that very young children are helplessly dependant
      • If you do not feed your six month old baby, he or she will not survive long.  They cannot feed themselves, they don’t plan their meals, they don’t try and earn their food; they just receive
      • And this helpless dependence of children is what Jesus was emphasizing.  You see, the Pharisees went to Jesus so they could debate Him to see if He could convince them.  And the crowds kept coming to Jesus because they were fascinated by His miracles and His teaching, but that is as far as it went.  Even the disciples were not yet 100% sure who Jesus was, but they kept coming back to Him every day.  But the little children were brought to Jesus by others; they didn’t ask to see Him; they didn’t ask for a blessing; they just received!
      • A few chapters on the disciples argue about who is the greatest in the kingdom of God.  So Jesus takes a child and puts the child in the middle o the disciples and says, “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.”
      • You see, to one degree or another, the Pharisees and the crowds and the disciples saw themselves as deserving the favour of God.  Because they were Jewish and they kept the law and sacrificed, God owed them.  But Jesus was saying, You can do nothing and you actually only do bad; what you must do is receive.
      • My friends, what you need to learn, in order to be saved, is that you are a miserable, guilty sinner who only deserves the judgment of God.  So like an infant, when God brings the ladle of ‘salvation custard’ to your lips; by which, I mean, when He offers you Jesus Christ and His perfect work on the cross, as he is doing right now, you just receive Him.
        • We actually sung this hymn last week so we won’t sing it again today but the hymn Rock of Ages puts it this way:

Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. 

Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace;

That is the right way to receive Jesus – recognizing that you are helpless and can contribute nothing.  It is all Him!  He is a gift that you just receive. 

Have you done that?  Is Jesus your Saviour and Lord?  May it be so!  And all God’s people said, Amen.