An exposition of Luke 18:15-17. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, December 21, 2008.
Christmas is a wonderful time. I love the sights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas. I love the music, the laughter and the joy – but most of all I love to watch the faces of the children at Christmas. My most vivid memories are those of my children opening presents. The wide-eyed wonder, the thrill and surprise of discovery and the joy of exceeded expectations. Nothing compares with a child’s fascination or sense of wonder. Everything is new and wonderful. In that sense it is true…Christmas is for children. Something was lost when our kids got older. Instead of racing in on Christmas morning eager to open presents they drug themselves out of bed, after the second or third urging, and made their way into the living room. They were still grateful and appreciative but it was just not the same. I can’t wait for grandchildren (no pressure, I’m just saying). But it is also true to say in a more profound way – “Christmas is for children.” That is if we understand what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is about God’s wild and extravagant love for rebels. It is about God’s reconciling love. About how God in grace and mercy sought out a people for His own glory. Christmas is about the gospel. The birth of Jesus was no ordinary birth. I’m not just talking about his being born of a virgin but the reason for his coming. He came on a mission. He came for a specific purpose. He came to redeem His people. Christmas is about the kingdom of God. What does the Kingdom of God have to do with children? That’s what we discover in the 18th chapter of Luke’s gospel.
Just prior to our text the Lord Jesus dealt with the question “How is a man made right with God?” In dramatic fashion Jesus told the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. One a Pharisee the other a tax collector. Both prayed. One left “justified” the other left under the judgment of God. The surprising thing was which was which! It was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who went home justified. From their example we learn that God rejects the pious claims of the self-righteous but graciously responds to the humble cry of the repentant sinner. That theme is picked up again and amplified in our text.
18:15 – Here we find that great crowds of people are bringing their small children to Jesus in order for them to be blessed. This was a common thing in Jewish culture. The disciples are a little miffed at the crowd for their intrusion. It is easy to rag on the disciples at this point but remember the circumstance. They are on their way to Jerusalem. They don’t want Jesus to go. He keeps saying he has to go. They are sure that the end result will be disastrous. He keeps talking about death and going away.
They don’t know what is going to happen but they are certain he doesn’t need to be bothered by a bunch of nagging parents and screaming children. So they rebuke these parents for their actions. “Leave the rabbi alone.” “Get that snotty-nosed kid out of here.” “The rabbi has important things to take care off he doesn’t have time for this now.” They were trying to protect him. They know that crowds regularly take advantage of his kindness.
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘ let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Now Luke leaves out something that Mark says about Jesus’ response. In Mark 10:14 we learn that Jesus was “indignant” with his disciples. He was furious with them because of their actions. It is interesting to note when Jesus gets angry and what sets him off! “How dare you hinder their coming to me” – that was our Lord’s response.
Then he seized upon the opportunity to instruct them about life in the Kingdom. “Do not hinder their coming to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
These are strong words. Let the closing words of verse 17 sink in. “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” It is this way or no way. Could it be any clearer? Is there a simpler, more direct way to state it?
Thesis: “Entrance into the Kingdom of God demands simple, childlike faith.”
Now be careful we are talking about childlike faith not childish faith and there is a vast difference. Childish is a simplistic, silly immature believing. Childlike suggests attractive and admirable qualities of childhood such as innocence and trust.
In fact I think there are two characteristics of childlike faith reflected in our text.
I. Childlike faith is a helpless, dependent faith. (18:16)
Jesus did not say the kingdom of God belongs to these children or to children but those who are “like children.”
The kingdom of God belongs to those who are “childlike.” What is the quality of being as a child, especially those described in our text? The word used for the children is the word for infant. The parallel passages in Matthew and Mark talk of Jesus taking them in his arms. These are young children – babes, infants. What is the distinctiveness of an infant? They are helpless!
This is the objective state of every child ever born. Regardless of race, culture or background they are helpless. Even if it is your grandchild and he or she is brilliant – every infant is helpless and dependent! That is the nature of infancy.
That tiny beautiful naked little newborn with its arms flailing and feet kicking is doomed if someone doesn’t do something! I know he has your eyes and no doubt he is brilliant but the fact is he will not survive on his own. And unlike other creatures that helplessness extends for years. Just when you think they are growing out of that helpless stage they become teenagers and they are helpless again!
Jesus said if you desire to enter the Kingdom of God you must becomes as a little child. Every child born into the world is absolutely, completely, totally, actually helpless and the same is true of every child born into the Kingdom of God. Children of the Kingdom enter it helpless or they do not enter it at all!
If you enter the Kingdom of God it will not be because of your faithfulness to this or any other church. It will not be because of sacrificial giving to the work of the Kingdom through your tithes and offerings. It will not be because you’ve been a faithful husband or wife. Not because of the example you set for your children. It will not be because of your testimony among your co-workers or within your community. If you enter the Kingdom of God it will be because you came to Christ as a helpless child. It will be because of God’s undeserved kindness toward your helplessness.
II. Childlike faith is an unpretentious, accepting faith. (18:17)
Jesus moves from becoming “as a child” to “receiving like a child.” What are the elements of childlike receiving?
Pastor Kent Hughes suggests four characteristics of childlike receiving.
- Such receiving is one of unbelievable trust. Children trust others for everything – food, shelter, and clothing. Children are extremely trusting.
- Second there is genuine humility. Children don’t engage in the various forms of pride that we adults indulge. Unlike the Pharisee Jesus described in 18:11, little children are not proud of their virtues. A child does not battle self-righteousness in coming to Christ.
- Then there is a ready receptivity. Children know how to receive a gift – they take it! A child doesn’t bother to wonder whether he has deserved the gift. “Do I really deserve all this attention?” They take it because it is there!
- Finally there is unabashed love. Children easily return love for loving gifts. Enthusiastic hugs and kisses and multiple thanks are showered on the giver.
What does it require to enter the Kingdom of God?
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).