Let the Children Come
Children have an interesting role in society. They do not bring much value (financial) to the community. They can be seen as a burden. They need full-time care; they need to be instructed and trained. They do not pay taxes. They cannot vote or run for office. Yet, we all see the need for children because they become society at some point. Children are sometimes seen as a blessing but often seen more as a burden. This passage shows this truth. The disciples turn children away from Jesus. We are not explicitly told why his disciples turn them away. Possibly, they didn’t see the value in the coming, or that Jesus didn’t have enough time, or that Jesus had to deal with the real people, the grown-ups. However, Jesus utters words that should ring true in all our ears, Let the children come.
I. Seeking a Blessing
Mark has previously told us that people would seek to come to Jesus to touch him or even his garment to be healed (Mark 5:21-34). However, when the parents bring their children to Jesus to touch them, they do so to have Jesus bless them. Jesus was similar to a Rabbi (Teacher). A rabbi would have disciples that would learn from him, Jesus would teach the crowds, and it was prevalent for people to bring their children to a rabbi to have the Rabbi bless them. However, Jesus’ disciples rebuked them. His disciples turned into a security team seeking who could come and be blessed. Previously Peter rebuked Jesus. Now the disciples rebuke the crowd for bringing children to Jesus. However, Jesus’ response is quite strong. Jesus became ‘indignant’; this word shows the level of Christ’s anger towards the disciples turning the children away. The word is used of the men who see the woman anoint Jesus’ feet at Simon the lepers’ house (Mark 14:4). It is also used of the ruler of the synagogue thought Jesus broke the sabbath by healing someone (Luke 13:14). Jesus did not merely suggest to the disciples, “if you don’t mind, could you please not hinder the children.” James Edwards, a commentator, explains, “The object of a person’s indignation reveals a great deal about that person. Jesus’ displeasure here reveals his compassion and defense of the helpless, vulnerable, and powerless.”
II. Jesus’ words
Jesus utters this glorious statement, let the children come to me. You have the disciples turning the children away on one side, but then Christ publicly and firmly corrects them.
a. Let the Children come
Jesus instructs his disciple to let them come. An open invitation. Here we see the simple message of the gospel. So easy that a child can come. We often think that all we have done to deserve God’s grace, but then it is not grace but payment. A child can come to Christ then this shows the simplicity of the gospel’s truth. There is no probation when it comes to heaven. We do not need to prove ourselves before Christ accepts us. There should be no obstacle that is placed in our way. A simple measure of the true Gospel message does I need to be better to receive it if there are any steps required before the cross, then there is no good news to be found because we would not be able to step up one without the grace of God given to us. The Gospel is Christ crucified for us, not the other way around. John Murray wrote, “it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel.” A child knows how to receive gifts; therefore, even a little child is invited to receive God’s grace offered to them through Christ. John writes of Jesus words in John 6:35-37,
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:35–37)
The simple reality of this passage is “whoever,” there are no qualifications, no probations, no restrictions, not based on association or no discrimination; “whoever comes.” Jesus says, Let the little children come. But also John highlights another glorious truth of “whoever comes” to Jesus, that he will never cast out. If your salvation is from grace, it will never turn to works. Paul writes in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” This is the reason no one can be cast out because they are given to Christ by the Father. If our salvation were left up to our works to be accepted, we would lose it as soon as we would gain it. Jesus’s words are not to the children but to everyone around him, quite possible we need to be reminded that a child will naturally want to turn to Christ and let them come.
We need to make a clarification of this passage. We need to know that Jesus was not baptizing these children because we are told that Jesus didn’t baptize anyone. Only his disciples baptized people (John 4:2). However, the principle is that Christ and his Church is not only for adults. If we are looking for a singular verse to prove or disprove infant baptism, you will not find it; that is why there is a discussion between Bible-believing Baptists or Presbyterians. We have a challenging verse that should ask about the relationship between children and Christ and his Church. John Calvin argued that the children are brought and receive the kingdom of God, which is the sum of the seal and blessing of baptism, so why then would deny them baptism? This is a very good thought to unpack. He is not saying Jesus baptized them, but what does it mean to have children receive the kingdom of God? Then more practically, how does that apply to the Church today? A good topic of conversation over the lunch table.
b. Do not hinder them
Not only does Christ invite them, but there is also a strong warning about not hindering them from coming. Jesus previously warned his disciples not to cause a little child to stumble (Mark 9:42). Christ’s response is fueled by the disciple’s rejection of the children. What a great warning found here not only that Christ has said that “Let the little children come,” but also, we can have the tendency to stop them from coming. Another way you could translate the passage is not only do not hinder them but presently Jesus telling his disciples to stop hindering them. His disciples, for whatever reason, thought that children should not go to Jesus. Even at this point, we realize the failure in the disciples to see that Christ came for them and others. The disciples thought to add a qualification to who could come to Jesus. The disciples said that whoever is not a child or an adult can come to Jesus. They placed a sign at the church door explaining that you must be of a certain age to come. Jesus not only explains to the disciples that children should come to him but also the strong rebuke is given to his disciples that they should not seek to hinder them in any way.
c. Such belongs the Kingdom of God
Jesus goes even further to explain not only that they should come but to such as them belongs the kingdom of God. Previously the disciples were arguing over who is the greatest (Mark 9:33-37), but their world was flipped upside down when he placed a child in the middle of them and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). The disciples were considering who is the greatest amongst themselves, but Jesus says they must be the servant of all. Jesus explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to the children. In the gospel account of Matthew, we are told Jesus explained, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4). The disciples were arguing over who is the greatest, and Jesus says that the one who is humble like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul writes in Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
d. Receive such as them
The irony of all of this is not only that Jesus says, let the children come to me, but you have to come to me like a child. Throughout Mark, we have seen this Greek word used several times, but almost every time, the word is used of a child who is sick or has died (Mark 5:39-41, 7:28-30, 9:24). A parent brings a child to Jesus for Jesus to help them. The children are unable to approach Jesus by themselves. The truth is Jesus is their only hope of being made well, but they are unable to go to meet Jesus. The great gives a strong double “no,” as most translations don’t express this strongly enough. If you do not receive the Kingdom of God, you will certainly not enter it. There is no sense that one can find another way to seek to enter; one must enter the kingdom of God like a child. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, but here we see that we must come to Jesus like a child.
What a beautiful image of the gospel. A child is dependent upon their parents or guardians. Jesus says we come to Jesus like a child. This is the only way to come to Jesus. Jesus does not say that you can receive the kingdom of God in different ways, but you must come like a child. They have the sign you must be this high at theme parks to ride this ride. However, the kingdom of God is backward from the world. You must be like a child to enter. We cannot come to Christ thinking we are mature enough to enter and wise enough to receive the kingdom. The disciples rebuke the crowd for bringing the children and try to send them away, but Jesus points out to his disciples they need to come like a child. The disciples argued over who was the greatest, and Jesus explains that it is not about being great but being weak, helpless, dependent, and humble. We often know of the famous children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” The hymn was written as a poem by Susan Warner in her book “Say and Seal.” The chapters prior and the chapter this song is found brings tears to your eyes. Susan’s sister, Anna Bartlett Warner, would later write the famous hymn, inserting the chorus. However, it is not a hymn of a child. It is a hymn of a Christian.
“Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so:
Little ones to him belong,—
They are weak, but he is strong.
Jesus loves me—he who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let his little child come in.
Jesus loves me—loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high,
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Jesus loves me—he will stay
Close beside me all the way.
Then his little child will take
Up to heaven for his dear sake.”