Are you desperate for his presence? Here is the audio of the talk that I gave at the beginning of our family ministry training two weeks ago. The volume is a bit low. The main points are also below.
The Little Children and Jesus, Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
(1) The people longed for the presence of greatness. “Among Jews, as among other peoples, it was customary to bring children to great men to have them blessed” (Wessell, EBC 8:713). The people did not necessarily recognize Jesus for who he was (some thought he was a teacher, some a prophet, some Elijah, some John the Baptist back from the dead), but they knew he was great, and so they came to be in his presence. They brought their children to him for a blessing. And what could be better than seekers—those who need Jesus the most—coming to Him and bringing their kids?
(2) The disciples’ actions showed that they didn’t think Jesus’ presence was necessary. Sadly, those who kept children from Jesus’ touch were his disciples, not the Pharisees or Gentiles, but Jesus-followers like us. Their actions implied that they didn’t think Jesus’ presence was necessary. What often keeps us (and others) from Christ is our own self-absorption. We’re desperate to keep it all together and get it right so that we can come into Jesus’ presence. Even in children’s ministry, we are pre-occupied with making certain our classroom runs right and getting through the curriculum, and we make that more important than being desperate for Jesus presence.
Jesus’ disciples should have known better. In Mark 9:33-37 (just one page before in most Bibles), Jesus rebuked his disciples for their pre-occupation with themselves. He had told them that they must become like children in order to enter into his presence—into his kingdom. He also said, “When you welcome in one like these children, you welcome in me.” The person who welcomes Jesus’ presence and help has moved away from pre-occupation with self. That person is broken enough to also welcome others (including kids) with warm hospitality.
(3) Jesus’s wants his disciples to be desperate for his presence. Jesus got angry with his disciples. The Bible says, “He was indignant.” Why? Because they disobeyed his clear command. He told them to welcome children, and they did exactly the opposite. The self-absorption that kept them from obeying Jesus was SIN. And God hates sin. So, Jesus is indignant.
But Jesus is also gracious with his disciples. He speaks to them. He didn’t have to speak. He could have said, “Be gone,” but instead he spoke a word of loving correction. He spoke this word for the disciples to teach them. “Let the little children come to me.” This would have involved the disciples going back to the people and owning up to their sin.
Then he said, “For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” What did Jesus mean by that? Why are those who possess God’s kingdom like children? Because kids are innocent? We know better. Because kids are humble? Not my kids.
No, Jesus wants his disciples to be like children, because children are needy and desperate. When Luke tells us this same story, he uses a word that English versions translate “infants.” It doesn’t mean 12 year-olds or 5 year-olds. No, these are babies. Why is that important? Because babies have needs. They poop, and they cry, and they get into things, and they just need help.
And that’s how you and I must be to enter the kingdom of heaven. We are in desperate need of Jesus’ presence. We need him to come to us. So, we must empty our hands and cry out. Cry with that cry from Romans 8. Father, Abba, help! I need you! We are a desperate mess, and we need to learn to cry out to Jesus from our mess.
In children’s ministry particularly, we need to learn something from our kids’ neediness. We cannot do effective children’s ministry (or ministry of any kind) without Jesus’ help. Children need Jesus’ presence and touch and blessing. We do too.