DUNCAN/‘Entering the kingdom of heaven like a child’
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:00 PM
As we continue our way through the gospel of Luke, turn in your Bible to Luke 18:15-17. I encourage you to look at the story that immediately precedes this week’s passage and then the story that immediately follows it. In both stories Jesus speaks about men who think their moral uprightness commends them to God, and He tells His disciples, “It's impossible for that kind of man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
In between those stories is this one of parents bringing children to Jesus for blessing. The background of this is probably the practice of pious Jewish people in Jesus’s day of bringing their children to the rabbi or to the priest around the Day of Atonement and asking him to bless their children. Luke records this story where he does because he is showing you the attitude you have to have in order to become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and to enter into the kingdom of God. This passage also tells us a lot about what Jesus thought of children, and it teaches us about the Gospel of grace. I want to look with you especially at two things: what we learn from Jesus’s ministry to children in this passage about how to bring children to Jesus and then what we learn in this passage about how to enter into the kingdom of God.
I. Jesus Cares about Children
One thing that is very clear from this passage is that Jesus cared about children. He even cared about infants, and He gave attention to them as a regular part of His ministry. That comes out in several ways in this passage. First, look at verse 15 and notice that Luke tells you “they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them.” The very phrase, “they were bringing,” is an indication from Luke that this was a common occurrence in Jesus’s ministry. We've already spoken about what the context of this might have been. What's so important is that Jesus seems to be interested in this. He does not rebuke them for simply following the traditions of the elders, although He does in other matters. Jesus seems to be anxious to minister to these children and their parents.
Not only are we told by Luke that the parents were bringing their children to Him, but the disciples actually try and stop this from happening. Jesus says, “No, allow those children to come to Me. To such belongs the kingdom of God.” We're going to see that Jesus is teaching a lesson about discipleship to His own disciples and to all who were listening, but there are also some things that we learn about bringing our children to Jesus from His interest in ministry to children in this passage.
If you were going to answer the question, “How do you bring your children to Jesus?” because Jesus seems to be so interested in the souls of your children, how would you answer that question? Some years ago at the church I was then pastoring, one of our associate children’s directors offered an excellent answer. She wrote down thirteen things that she thinks Christian parents need to know about bringing their children to Jesus that were so rich. This is what she said:
One, make sure that you are nourishing your own spiritual condition. Two, realize that the example you set as parents is crucial to rearing Christian disciples. Three, demonstrate to your children that your relationship with your spouse is the most important human relationship that you have. Four, show and tell your child that you love them every day, and communicate with them early about deep and important things. Five, read the Word of God with your child and pray with and for your child every day. Six, give your child responsibilities to create within him or her a godly work ethic. Seven, do not bail your children out of the consequences that arise because of their choices.
Eight, teach by example that Christ expects us to present our bodies to Him as living sacrifices, and give them opportunities from their earliest years to serve others. Nine, teach them respect for others, including aspects like modest dress, inclusion, encouragement, forgiveness, and praise. Ten, impress upon children the brevity of this earthly life, showing by your priorities that material things will never satisfy us. Eleven, demand and command respect from your children. Twelve, teach your children that pleasing God is their ultimate goal. To do this means sometimes being alienated from the crowd, so pray with your child for one friend who is godly and true. Thirteen, make sure your discipline is consistent and abounding in mercy.
These principles must be put into place from a child's earliest days. It's easier to build children than to repair men. All of those things are ways for us to bring our children to Jesus. Jesus cares about the souls of our children. That's the first thing I want you to see in this passage.
II. You Can’t Merit the Kingdom
Jesus’s main point in this passage is that He only invites those to Himself who cannot merit anything to gain the kingdom. Look at what He says. “Let the children come to Me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Now, you should be scratching your head. What does that mean? Commentators sometimes give different answers, but I think what Jesus is getting at is actually evident from the context. Note two things in the context that help you here.
First of all, when the parents start bringing their children to Jesus, the disciples are telling the people to stop bothering Jesus with unimportant things. In doing that, the disciples are showing a common attitude in the first century. Children had little or no social status; they weren't important. Luke records this in between the stories of two men who thought they were very important. Furthermore, children, because they are children, could not even begin to claim by their deeds the right to enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus puts this story right between the two stories of men who claimed, by their deeds, the right of entry into God's kingdom.
So what is Jesus saying? “Those little children have neither the status nor the deeds whereby they have the right to enter into My kingdom. Only those who know that they do not have the status or deeds to enter into My kingdom can enter into My kingdom.” It's the sheer receptivity of these children that Jesus is pointing to. Jesus is saying in this passage, “You don't enter My kingdom by who you are and what you do. You enter My kingdom by who I am and what I do. Only those who enter that way ever enter My kingdom at all.” That's why He's depicting the children as a model for the way that you enter into the kingdom. Thus it beautifully illustrates that the way you enter into the kingdom is by who He is and what He has done, not by who you are and what you have done. In other words, it's a message of grace. It is by grace that we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.