Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 18:15-17 – Receiving The Kingdom As A Child

Grace For The Journey

If you are new to my blog, we are studying our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke.  One of the results of a life of studying and preaching God’s precious Word is to develop a deep cherishing of the Bible.  The best way to cherish the Word is to study it verse-by-verse.  We are in chapter 18, today, we pick up with verse 15.

Context is always important as we read a passage of Scripture.  In fact, context is the key principle to accurate biblical interpretation.  Context is more important than knowing the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Context is king!  It has been said . . .

“A text without a context

Becomes a pretext

For a proof text.”

That means if I just take a passage or a verse out of the place in which is positioned for my proper understanding, if I just lift that verse out of its context without regard for its meaning, then I may use that text for my own purposes to prove whatever I wish.  Politicians are good at doing that.  I am not sure they mean to do that or even that they know they are doing that, but they do that all the time.  Frequently, you will hear some political candidate work some verse of Scripture into a political speech and, more often than not, he has taken a text out of context to make it “fit in” to his speech. 

Context is king.  What is the context of this small passage of Scripture–verses 15-17?  Maybe you read the verses earlier and you thought, “This is that wonderful passage where Jesus loves on the little children!  This is a sweet passage of Scripture.”  It is a sweet passage that highlights, among other things, our Lord’s love for children.  That is very evident.  I nearly always think of a childhood song I heard many, many years ago . . .

When parents brought children for Jesus to bless,

His followers noticed his need for rest.

And, knowing children, noisy at play,

They said to the parents, “Please take them away.”

But Jesus said, ‘Bring the children to me.

The kingdom of Heaven is theirs, you see.”

And holding them close, He blessed them and smiled.

“Whoever would enter must come as a child.”

The children I know are noisy, it’s true;

Inquisitive, open and loving too.

So maybe God’s kingdom is meant to be

A circle of love, filled with people like me.

That is not a bad song and it stresses the love of Jesus Christ and the openness of children to that love.  At the same time, however, it does not really get into the contextual issues of exactly why Luke places this account of Jesus in the exact position he does between two powerful teachings of Christ.

Remember that Jesus has just told the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. The pharisee you will remember was all about himself: “Lord, look at me, how self-righteous I am; I fast twice a week and give not just the expected tithe, 10% of my earnings, but I give a tithe on everything I possess.”  The tax collector on the other hand would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me – the sinner.”  That is the story that precedes our text that we are going to look at this morning . . . What follows this short is a story that is introduced by this small passage of verses 15-17.  The passage that follows, verses 18 and following, is the popular passage of the “rich young ruler” who asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  A lesson about a guy who needs to totally divest himself of everything to depend totally on Jesus Christ.

There are these two stories, one preceding our passage and one following this passage . . .

Both teaching about what a true disciple looks like,

Both teaching about the posture and position

Of one who enters the kingdom of God,

Both teaching about what true disciples look like.

It is important that we remember this as we study the passage together.  Otherwise . .

We may just think this is

A nice little story about

Jesus loving on babies.

I heard about the story of a wise sage who was meditating by a river.  He was approached by a young man who interrupted his meditations.  The young man says, “Master, I wish to become your disciple.”  The wise sage says, “Why?”  He says, “Because I want to find God.”  The wise master jumps up and grabs him by the scruff of the neck, drags him to the river and plunges him under water.  He holds him under the water for a minute, all the while the guy is kicking and struggling to free himself.  Finally, the wise master pulls the guy up out of the river.  He is coughing up water and grasping to get his breath.  Finally, he settles down and the wise master says, “Tell me what you wanted most when you were under water.”  The guy says, “Air!”  The master says, “Very well.  Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

I do not know whether that actually happened, but I do know that the story is . . .

A fairly accurate portrayal

Of the kind of dependence upon God

Necessary for followers of Christ. 

We are utterly and totally

Dependent upon God for everything

And therefore should desire Him

As much as we desire the very air we breathe.

Is that what this passage is all about?  I think it is.  Let’s go back through these three verses and we will talk about a number of things here, but I want you to remember this matter of our dependence upon God and let’s see if that is not what Luke is stressing for us. 

Verse 15 says, “Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.”  Jesus has just taught the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector.  He has just finished talking about the problem of self-righteousness and then these parents approach him, holding little babies in their arms.  These are small children, many of them infants as verse 15 says.  These parents are approaching Jesus.  Verse 15 says, “they also brought infants to Him,” but it’s in the imperfect tense so the sense is, “They were bringing.”  That is, they were doing this often.  It happened a lot.  People were bringing to Jesus these infants that He might bless them.  This was not unusual.  It was customary for Jewish parents to bring infants and small children to Jewish rabbis for the purpose of their laying hands on them and saying a blessing over them.  It is a custom at least as old as the Book of Genesis.  You will remember when Jacob placed his hands upon Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:14) and pronounced a blessing upon his two boys.

There is just something about the physical touch and the word of blessing that affirms a child or a person at any age.  That is what was going on here in this passage.  These parents were bringing children to Jesus for the purpose of His placing His hands upon their head, and pronouncing a blessing upon them.  This is a good thing going on here in verse 15.

Unfortunately, the second part of the verse says, “but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.”  They rebuked the parents for bringing the children to Him.  I do not know why.  Luke does not tell us why.  Maybe they thought Jesus was too busy to be bothered by these little children.  Maybe they thought He was “above” these children and it was beneath His dignity to spend any time with them, at all.  After all, children were regarded by many in Jesus’ day as little things that just got in the way of more important things.  Children were viewed often in the same way people in the Ancient Near East viewed lepers, tax collectors, and even women.  They were part of the “outcasts” of society.  That may seem odd to us.  We live in such a child-centered world here in the West.  We have gone to the other extreme.  We have got children ruling their parents and ruling their homes, telling mom what they “must have” as they stand in the checkout line at Walmart.  They will pitch a fit until mom gives in and buys the silly thing that was just on a hook a moment ago.  Yet their names are proudly displayed on the bumpers of many automobiles: “My Child is a Genius.”  Well, I’m not so sure.  When I drive past these minivans I see the little genius inside, finger up his nose, and I am not so sure!

Children in Jesus’ day were considered a nuisance.  The disciples are like, “Hey, get those kiddos outta here!”  But notice Jesus’ response in verse 16, “But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’”  Jesus says, “Hey, wait a minute!  Do not forbid this! Let these parents bring these kiddos.  After all, the kingdom of God is for those who are ‘of such.’”  That is, “The kingdom of God belongs to ‘such as these.’”  Or put another way still, “One gets into the kingdom – one gets into heaven – by being as a child.”  This is not being “childish,” but being “childlike.”

That in itself was probably not enough for the disciples to understand what Jesus was getting at, so He says in verse 17, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”  Some commentators say, “Well, here is what Jesus means in verse 17.  He has just said in verse 14, ‘Whoever humbles himself will be exalted,’ so Jesus is saying we must humble ourselves like a child.”  I think I know what they mean by that, but I have got a small problem with it.  Do you know any small children or better yet any infants who just naturally “humble themselves?”  Is an infant naturally disposed to humility?  Not too long after it is born that infant is all about himself or herself.  It cries and wails, demanding food, attention, or sleep.  “Give me, give me, give me!”  What mother does not wish her newborn would say one evening, “You know, I realize you haven’t been able to sleep in days now and so I thought I would just sort of humble myself and take care of myself, you know, and you go ahead and sleep through the night.  Do not worry about me.  No need to “make it all about me.  I will take care of myself.  You go get your sleep now!”  Infants and small children know nothing or very little about humbling themselves. 

On the other hand, if by humility we mean that one can do nothing to help himself or herself, now I think we are getting at what Jesus is teaching here.  An infant can do nothing to help himself, isn’t that right?  Nothing.  In light of the context here: the preceding passage about a guy who thinks he can do for himself, the self-righteous pharisee, “Look at me, God, what I have done” and then the following passage, a passage about a rich young ruler, a man of prominence and position, a man who asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” between these two passages we find a statement where Jesus says . . .

“If you really want to be My disciple,

Here is the deal: You can do

Nothing at all, but totally depend upon Me.”

I have an unusual Bible study outline this morning.  I cannot remember the last time I had an outline like this.  I have only one main point.  In preaching, the joke is that every sermon has three points – “three points and a poem,” the saying goes.  Actually, a sermon ought to have as many points as the text being preached has.  If the text makes three points, the sermon should have three points.  If the text has four, then four in the sermon.  If the text has two points, there should be two points in the sermon.  Every sermon ought to have “a” point.  So . . .  here is the point . . . Here is the main point that I believe we must get from this short passage that will be helpful to us again next week when we study the following passage . . .:

I Must Totally Depend on God for Absolutely Everything.

If that is all you remember from our study this morning, that is okay.  If someone asks you later, “What did you learn in the study this morning.”  I pray you answer, “I must totally depend on God for absolutely everything.”  As an infant or a very small child depends totally on its parent for absolutely everything, so must we depend upon God for absolutely everything. 

The kingdom of God “belongs to such as these,”

People who depend on God for absolutely everything. 

That is the one main point in this passage.

You want into the kingdom of God?  You are going to have to depend upon God for absolutely everything.  Jesus says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”  Put positively this means, “Whoever does receive the kingdom of God as a little child – NOT COUNTING ON ANYTHING WITHIN THEMSELVES – but totally depending on God for absolutely everything, these will enter the kingdom of God.”

Remember the great hymn, ‘Rock of Ages,” by Augustus Toplady?  That hymn includes these words . . .  

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to the cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

You want into the kingdom of God?  You are going to have to receive it as a little child, hopelessly, helplessly, wholly and totally dependent upon God for every bit of salvation.

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And in Titus 3:5-6, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved s, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.  Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Self-righteousness is the kind of thing that is impossible for a baby.  A baby does not crawl around talking to God like the self-righteous pharisee or like the rich young ruler.  A baby is wholly and utterly dependent upon the provision of another.

Trust God for your salvation and trust God for your provision.  Trust Him to meet your every need.

Some of you would protest, “But pastor, you don’t know what I’m going through!  You don’t know what I’m facing!”

I don’t know HOW I’m going to make it.

I don’t know WHERE it’s going to come from.

I don’t know IF I’m going get through it.

Listen to me: As a little baby is unable to clothe itself, feed itself, take care of itself, and as this baby totally depends upon someone else to meet its needs, SO YOU ARE TOTALLY DEPEND ON GOD FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!

Trust God to meet your every need.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,

God will take care of you!

Beneath His wings of love abide,

God will take care of you!

God will take care of you,

Through every day o’er all the way;

He will take care of you;

God will take care of you!

 Someone said, “We must not think a child cannot come to God until he is like a man, but a man cannot come until he is like a child.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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