The Lord Jesus Christ uses examples of little children in order to give the disciples important teaching. This passage of scripture was so important it is also recorded in Matthew 19 and Luke 18. There is also a separate incident in Matthew 18, where the disciples asked Jesus. “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1) to which Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” (Matthew 18:3-5).
While we have examples of our Lord teaching us the importance of being childlike, we also have examples of not to be childish – without self-control, without understanding, ‘Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature’ (1 Corinthians 14:20). Believers are encouraged to be mature, to behave with self-control and put our knowledge and understanding into practice. ‘We should no longer be children, tossed about with every wind of doctrine.’ (Ephesians 4:14).
Little children are mentioned more than once, so clearly something important is being taught which we need to take notice of. The disciples were displeased that children were being brought to Jesus and tried to stop them coming to Him. During the time of His ministry on earth our Lord healed men and women in body and mind. There were times when people flocked to Him to be healed and to hear His teaching. Here, He taught large crowds then was tested by the Pharisees on His teaching, He then had to teach His disciples at home, after this small children were brought to Him. The disciples went into action, thinking it was probably a waste of time of a precious resource; the children were too young and could not benefit from Jesus’ wisdom, so they rebuked the parents. However, the Lord rebuked the disciples and blessed the children.
The text gives explicit teaching, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15). There is something for everyone here. For Christians, “For of such is the kingdom of God,” for those who are not Christians, they need to “receive the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom of God is not made up of little children but of those who are childlike. What does it mean to be childlike? Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:17). There are a number of characteristics children have:
Humility. In Matthew 18 our Lord used a little child to teach His disciples about humility, “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” A child’s position in society was humble. He was brought up under the rule of his parents and teachers, not deciding on any family issues. He was brought up being instructed on what was right and wrong. He occupied a humble position in families and society. The Lord Jesus says we need to be like this little child. For an adult to take a low position is an act of humility – not only on the outside but also on the inside. Don’t be blown up with our own importance. We learn in Mark 10 and Matthew 18 that being brought into the kingdom of God requires humility. Nothing we have ever done is good enough to please God, nothing can qualify us to become members of the kingdom of heaven. We have to be completely reliant on God’s mercy, entirely dependent on Him. Anything we do in our own strength is worthless. We need to learn and obey.
Little children receive freely. They are not troubled that they cannot pay back. They receive freely the good that is given to them. We should be happy to work for God, not confusing this with working for our salvation. Pride is always a temptation. We’re encouraged by God to consider everyone else who is in the kingdom of God to be more important than ourselves, ‘Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself’ (Philippians 2:3). Christ is the great example of humility.
Another lesson, closely related to being humble, is trust. The children here in this passage were probably babies – Jesus took them in His arms to bless them. Small children and babies completely trust in those who care for them. Our Lord was impressing on His disciples to have complete dependence and trust in Him. We too need to completely trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Babies don’t know where their next meal comes from, but they are content, knowing they will be fed. Our heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are caring for us. We increasingly gain confidence in Christ and as we do so we become more mature, we become more child-like. When we are born-again we become new children, trusting our Father completely. He is our refuge and underneath are His everlasting arms. Be humble and trusting.
Children are learners, they are inquisitive. We shouldn’t stay at children’s level of understanding, ‘As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.’ (1 Peter 2:2). Always want to know more. Learn from preaching and the Scriptures.
Be humble, show humility in church. Do not be proud. We haven’t contributed to anything to our salvation. Be humbled but not humiliated. Rely completely on our Lord Jesus Christ. We should increase in Christ and decrease in ourselves. Have trust and confidence – our Father knows all our needs. This is summed up in 1 Peter 5:6-7, ‘Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.’
Trust is natural for a child. Before becoming a new Christian we may have been self-reliant, but now we have to trust completely in the Lord Jesus Christ. This will improve with time and repetition and should become the most natural thing in the world.