Children in the Arms of the Loving God Michael A. Milton March 1, 2007 Mark 10:13-16 I came across some other wonderful prayers of children, which reveal their authentic way of coming to God. Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. – Larry I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool. – Eugene Are you really invisible or is that just a trick? – Lucy Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? – Norma Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you got now? – Jane I don’t ever feel alone since I found out about you. – Nora As Art Linkletter used to say, “Kids say the darndest things.” But in the passage today, it is Jesus who says the most amazing things. And what He says is not only about children but about each of us. And they 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 (Mark 10:13-16). Suffer the Little Children We have all heard about the infamous novel where a mystery was supposedly encrypted in the paintings of Leonardo di Vinci. Well, today, we come to a Scripture that has inspired many works of art. In fact, the “Suffer the Little Children” stained glass window in our balcony depicts Mark 10:13-16 and its parallels in Matthew 19 and Luke 18, the story of Jesus welcoming little children. I once preached in Whitefield Chapel at Bethesda Home for Boys in Savannah, Georgia. That same scene was memorialized in a stained glass window in that chapel. Each Sunday, as I do here, I would look at it, but today, I want to say that there is a message embedded in that painting. I would call the painting “Children in the Arms of a Loving God.” If God helps us today, we will be able to see with eyes of faith the truth behind the scene. In this scene of children in the arms of a loving God, God has placed a story to be told, lessons to be learned, a key to unlatch eternal life, and a promise to bring you ultimate happiness. Whoever learns these lessons and latches on to this key and leaves with this promise will never be the same. The Picture Tells a Story That Meets the Needs of Human Beings. • The needs of parents We are told that parents brought their little ones to Jesus. Luke tells us that they were even bringing infants for Jesus for to touch. In all of this we see a beautiful picture of our Lord ministering not only to the children but also to the parents, for they were lined up to get this blessing from Jesus. It was common for parents to bring children to a rabbi for the touch, and we might suppose that this is what was happening, but there is also something deeper. Every one knows that parents want the best for their children. There is also a parental instinct that recognizes that so much of life is out of our control and we need God to protect and bless our children. A number of years ago in another church, I was seeking to share Christ with a family and to show them the importance of being in church and sitting under the teaching of the Word of God. I was altogether unsuccessful. Then they had a child, and almost immediately they recognized the need that I had put before them. My words could not persuade them, but that baby did. My beloved, Jesus is the one who will meet the need you have inside of you for your children. A college-age young lady from our congregation told me about how her parents allowed her to go on several missions trips, one being for an extended stay in a tough environment. She told me that she was actually amazed at her parents’ faith. They told her that they would miss her, but that they had given her to Christ and serving Him was where they wanted her to be. She was in the will of the Lord-in the arms of Jesus, as it were-and so they were not worried. Have you brought your children to Christ? Are you trusting your little ones to Christ? How do you do that? By prayer, and as we learn in Deuteronomy 6, by living your faith before them in genuine lifestyle ways. We all know it is a dangerous world in so many ways-morally and even physically. There is so much that is out of our control as parents. So let us bring our children to the One who is in control, the Lord Jesus Christ. • The needs of infants and children This is truly amazing. In this passage we come to see that God welcomes little ones who cannot make decisions, cannot debate or enter into arguments about religion or even express faith. Yet, Christ touches these children as if they were to be included in His family, because they are. Everywhere in the Word of God, the children of believers are to be included until they can see for themselves their sin and need of Christ and can turn to Him. Thus, Paul will say that the children of believers are even to be seen as holy: For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy (1 Corinthians 7:14). This is not a holiness as a result of salvation, but a holiness as a result of being under the direct influence of the covenant of grace, under the influence and oversight of Christ-believing parents. Thus, they enjoy the benefits of the promises of God until they become covenant keepers or covenant breakers. This is one of the reasons, though not the only reason, that we baptize infants. While baptism does not save anyone, bringing our little ones to Jesus Christ does have spiritual blessings from God to the child through the faithfulness of the parents. I believe that one of the ways God brought me back to Himself after a long prodigal journey away from Him was the faith and prayers of my alcoholic father. I was born into a very broken family, but my father, a prodigal himself at the time of my entrance into this world, knew enough of Jesus to take me to a little Methodist church in New Orleans and present me for baptism. He then knew that his own life was too shattered to raise me, and I was given to his sister. Through her prayers and her touch on my life from infancy, I received the touch of Jesus Christ. That early touch of Jesus led me home even though I wandered far away from God. Not long ago I was watching a program in which university researchers tagged a baby whale in Monterey, California. For years they watched as that baby grew. She went all over the world, but at the right time in her life she returned home. The touch of God on a child’s life early on is like a divine tag in which Jesus says, This child is mine. She may wander all over the world, but she has the tag, the early impression of Jesus in her life, the touch of Christ on her life. This is the power of the passage that says, Train up a child in the way he should go;even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). This is not hocus pocus religion as if an incantation or a touch by a holy man can bring salvation. It is the faith of a parent or a loved one that says, I will bring this child to Jesus in baptism, in prayer, as I hold him, as I rear him. The Picture Holds Lessons for Disciples. The disciples did not have a theology of childhood to sustain them in this time. Once again, Jesus is going to use this time to teach them a lesson. The issue is about the value of a child in relationship to God. If God is only ascertained through reading, through debating, through studying, through decision making, through self-evaluation, and in using all of the innate faculties of a man, then children are of no use to the Lord. This may have been the thinking of these disciples, so they become ecclesiastical bouncers keeping parents and infants out of the presence of Jesus. They remind me of the giant, frightening image in the Wizard of Oz that tried to frighten Dorothy and her fantastical friends away. “Dare you to ask to see the great Wizard!” I can almost hear them, “ . . . and take that screaming, wiggling little kid with you-and don’t forget that baby buggy when you go!” It is not the most complimentary scene. Here are the lessons they had to learn: • We do not make the rules about who comes to Jesus; Jesus does. We do not discriminate in who hears the gospel. We must reach all with it. Moreover, we must not place barriers in the lives of people who desire to come to Christ. I once talked to a couple visiting my church back in Kansas. They said that they felt they were being fed on the Word, they enjoyed much about the church, but they said, “We are not lawyers or doctors, and there seems to be a rule here that you must be a professional to join this church.” I assured them that the first ones who would want them to know that they were welcomed were the young professionals in our church. But I also had to ask myself, Do we do anything in the culture of our church that would suggest that there are unwritten rules about who is in and who is not? That is a check I need to put in my own heart always. Is there a subtle unspoken suggestion in my mind that the salesman can understand the gospel, but surely this street person cannot? God forbid. This is a lesson embedded in this text. We do not make the rules about who comes to Jesus. We are here to facilitate any and all who will join the ancient line of broken people who want the touch of Jesus Christ in their lives. • We must remove all hindrances to children knowing the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus was touching the babies, maybe talking with the parents about the life of their child. When we lived in Overland Park, Kansas, we had a pediatrician who kept in his office a massive oversized frame containing snapshots all of the children he doctored. He was personally invested in the lives of babies and children. We can imagine that Jesus, who knew these babies and had ordained their lives before time ever began, had a similar sort of frame containing snapshots of all of these little ones. He was enjoying His ministry with these babies when suddenly the line stopped. He looked and saw his disciples rebuking parents for doing this. And Jesus, we are told, became indignant. This is the only time this word is used about Jesus in the New Testament. But it is this deep offense to the heart of Jesus that causes Him to say, . . . “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14). Jesus loves the little children and counts them among His disciples. Big disciples can create obstacles that keep little ones away. How do we do that? We can hinder children by our attitudes, inconsistencies, hypocritical living, selling them a brand of religion that does not show God’s grace and His free offer of eternal life. There was once an ambassador who was recalled after he insulted his host country. He had acted poorly, and it was seen as reflecting the attitude of the president of the United States. It was a difficult day for that ambassador when he stood in front of the president of the United States to hear him say, “You represented me to those people. You had the responsibility of letting them know of my good will to that country. But now you have hindered their relationship with me and my nation!” What kind of ambassador are you to children? We are ambassadors of Jesus, and Jesus intends that children know His love, be brought to Him, and that nothing hinder their relationship with Him. • Children and childhood is a distinctively Christian concept that must be protected and cherished. In this passage, like the one before, Jesus is taking a stand for the least in society. The divorce and remarriage passage that precedes this is connected to this one as a single teaching of Jesus overturning laws and culture norms that hurt women and children. One of my favorite authors, who died recently, was Neil Postman. Some of you are perhaps familiar with this New York University professor through his work Technopoly or the classic Amusing Ourselves to Death. But my favorite work of his is The Disappearance of Childhood. In that book, Postman, not a believer himself but a non-practicing Jew, showed that childhood, as we know it – the enchanted, protected 1950s Walt Disney-like innocence – was something that did not exist before Jesus. Moreover, Postman’s thesis was that childhood is a Christian concept that took over the West when Martin Luther’s Bible was published. Postman said that children in the world, apart from Jesus and the teaching of the Bible, are second-class beings, if not worse. History and anthropology bears him out. Postman believed that the true mark of childhood is the protection of children from images and ideas that are adult secrets, as he calls them. But the Word-centered world that was created in the Reformation is being replaced by an image-centered world that is telling secrets too soon. Therefore, our children grow up too soon, thus his title, The Disappearance of Childhood. The lesson today is that we are here, all of us as a church, to guard our children, assist our parents in the Christian nurture of their little ones in the Name of Jesus. The Picture Holds a Key to Eternal Life. The key is that the presence of children is a constant reminder of how a person is saved. It is not their innocence, for anyone who has ever been with a two-year-old can see the sin nature at work. Nor is it just the subjective aspects of childhood like trust or naiveté. It is one singular aspect of children that Jesus is pointing to as necessary to come into His kingdom. The key must be called helpless dependency. There is no other way to get into the kingdom of God. Jesus said that you must be born again and in order to get into the kingdom, you cannot come with what you offer God. You must come helpless and dependant like a little baby and say, “It in only through you, Lord Jesus, through your righteousness and blood. Will you forgive me?” Some of you need to come to Jesus like a child. It is the key to eternal life. The Picture Offers a Promise for Eternal Fulfillment. Jesus sealed His teaching by returning to what He was doing when the controversy started. He took the children in His arms and He blessed them. He imparted something divine, something beautiful, into their lives. Those little ones became living, beautiful object lessons for all. The act of holding those children became the promise for all who would come to Him as a child. The promise is that if you come to God as a little child, as helpless and totally dependent upon Him, you, too, will be lifted out of your helplessness and be blessed, be held in the arms of a loving God. . . . “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Rembrandt, the great Dutch artist, would paint himself into his great paintings of biblical themes in order to show that he, too, needed Christ. In a similar way, we must paint ourselves into the biblical painting of “Children in the Arms of a Loving God.” This passage does not only teach that we must bring our children to Jesus, support our church to fulfill baptismal vows to support families in the Christian nurture of their children, evangelize children through our children and youth ministries, it also says something to every person here. This passage says that until we see ourselves as children being brought to Jesus for His touch by the Holy Spirit, we will not be ready to bring others to Him.” Today, God invites you to paint yourself into the scene. You know this is what you long for – to be held in the arms of Jesus Christ forever. He will as you come to Him like a child. That is what I was thinking of years ago, when I wrote this song for my wife’s Bible school class to children. In the world of grown-ups, I know there is OneWho will always listen to me.For the Lord of lords and the King of kings Once held a child on His knee. And He said,“Let the children come, don’t hinder them,For such is the kingdom of God;Let the children come, don’t hinder themFor such is the kingdom of God.” But the grown-ups said, “Child be gone,He’s must too important for you.”But the Master replied, “If you’d see heaven,your faith must be child-like too.” And He said“Let the children come, don’t hinder them,For such is the kingdom of God;Let the children come, don’t hinder themFor such is the kingdom of God.” Helpless like a childDependant like a childTrusting like a childBelieve like a child And He said“Let the children come, don’t hinder them,For such is the kingdom of God;Let the children come, don’t hinder themFor such is the kingdom of God.” 1 _________________ Notes.1. Michael A. Milton, “Let the Children Come,” 2005. 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