Click here to listen to this sermon.“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” (Mark 10:14-15).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Dear friends in Christ, in the last few weeks, you have heard what a place of honor Jesus affords to little children. You have heard that one who receives a little one in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. You have also heard the warning against leading a little one astray, both through false teaching and failure to teach. And our Lord takes it one step further in our text this morning/evening. Jesus declares in that little ones can believe in Him, and are, in fact, models of faith.
People are bringing their children to Jesus. They have heard of Jesus’ miracles, and may have witnessed some of them personally. They desire the spiritual blessing associated with Jesus laying His hands upon them, to receive His benediction. And these are not just little ones who can already tell you that Jesus loves them. St. Luke’s account of this story indicates specifically that the people were bringing infants—their newborn babies—to receive Jesus’ blessing.
And when the disciples, for some unknown reason, rebuke the people, Jesus grows indignant against them and says, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom of God belongs to little children, including infants. Put this knowledge together with other teachings of the New Testament, such as “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved,” and “by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God; not by works, lest any man should boast,” and you get a powerful proclamation of God’s kingdom that goes against the conventional wisdom of man.
The conventional wisdom of man goes according to the Law that is written on his heart. From that, man concludes that salvation is contingent upon one’s works and deeds in this life. “If you want to go to heaven,” the sinful heart says, “you do these certain things. You jump through all the hoops. You decide to follow Jesus. You get yourself baptized. You do good works to get a reward.”
But while Jesus does speak of the necessity of good works and bearing good fruit, nowhere does He ascribe one’s salvation to one’s own works. His blessing of the infants here in Mark 10 is undeniable proof of this. What works are infants performing toward their salvation? What good deeds are they doing in order to gain God’s favor? None, absolutely none! Why, these little ones could not even come into Jesus arms, if someone else did not bring them!
And lest anyone here respond with the notion that little children are exempt from God’s Law and they are not responsible for sin until reaching an age of discretion or accountability, the Scriptures clearly declare otherwise. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). King David laments in the 51st Psalm “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And St. Paul also says without question that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So, while an infant may appear innocent and pure to us, the child still has the original sin that infects us all. And this original sin is a terminal illness, as is evidenced by the tragic fact that even babies can die.
Knowing, therefore, that little children need the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of God’s grace, we understand the gravity of Jesus’ command not to hinder the children. But we also learn an important lesson about our own Christian lives as those who have grown up and confessed our faith. If a little child receives the forgiveness of sins and the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit—that is, receives saving faith and the promise of eternal life—it is fitting and right for us to recognize how God works to save all of His people.
If a little child is promised heaven through God’s work in the washing of the water and the Word, it doesn’t speak well for our man-made opinions regarding faith and good works. For we brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing with us. But our sinful nature seeks to glory in our own works and behavior, as if it were scoring points with God and earning a seat at the eternal feast in heaven. Our sinful heart says to us, “I’m a good person, or at least better than many. I give to my church. I love my children. I do my best to love my neighbor, and when I sin, it’s not really a big deal because it’s nothing really bad or serious. I’m a good Christian, and that is why God will save me.”
But dear friends, if God looked at your own works and deeds, as you do in this instance, and considered you righteous because of them, then Christ Jesus died in vain. Repent of all of the self-righteousness that continually creeps into your heart from your Old Adam. For although your Old Adam has been drowned in your Baptism, he’s still a good swimmer. The depravity of the human race manifests itself not just in the awful things people do to one another—in their sins against another, but, even more so, in the hardness of our hearts toward God Himself, in our unwillingness to receive everything from His grace.
The sinful heart does not want to believe that the work of salvation is complete already, and that all are in need of it. This is the sin the disciples committed when they hindered the children from being brought to Jesus. And the children had to be brought into God’s kingdom. They could not bring themselves.
In the same way, you must be brought into the kingdom of God—you cannot bring yourself. You cannot trust in your works to bring you there because your works in and of themselves are nothing but filthy rags. They might look good to you and your fellow man, but they earn nothing with God. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
The faith of a little child is faith that trusts in Jesus. It is the purest and strongest of all. If you ask a little one who believes in Jesus why they get to go to heaven, they’ll tell you it’s because Jesus died on the cross to take away their sins. That’s as good an answer as you can give. “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”
But the child will grow up, and as an adult becomes dissatisfied with the Sunday School answer, and looks for a more “educated” answer to the question. And eventually the concept of being a good person sneaks in. Even one who answers with “I am going to heaven because I believe in Jesus” already has taken the merit of Christ and replaced it with his own believing. He’s turned the gift of faith into his own work. And Jesus warns against this when He says: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Children receive the kingdom of God because God gives them faith in their Savior Jesus and He regenerates them in their Baptism. Adults receive God’s kingdom only when they despair of their own works and righteousness, and they possess a childlike faith.
A little child does not add to the Word of the Lord and supplement God’s work with his own. A little child does not tell others that he is going to heaven because he’s a good kid. A little child receives God’s blessing and the promise of eternal life before he can even speak, because God attaches this powerful promise to His chosen means of Baptism. It is God’s work, not the child’s.
Dear baptized, the promise of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life is yours as well, only because of God’s continued work in your earthly pilgrimage. For you have been justified by the faith which God Himself has given you, and which He feeds and sustains. He has declared you righteous in His sight, and draws you continually to His house. Here, He strengthens you and equips you to continually drown your Old Adam through repentance of sin, and trust in Christ Jesus to forgive you. Here, He comes to you with His mercy and grace.
When the people were bringing their children to Jesus, they didn’t just want Him to speak a blessing. They wanted their little ones to receive Jesus’ touch. For He was no mere priest of the temple or eccentric preacher. He was God in the flesh, who Himself had become a little child. Listen to how the Epistle to the Hebrews explains it in this morning’s reading:
“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given Me’” (Hebrews 2:8-13).
The Savior had to become like His people in every respect, and indeed He was even tempted as we are, yet without sin. The eternal Son of God became flesh to suffer and die in order to atone for the sins of the whole world. Thus, He, too, had to be an infant. The one, for whom and by whom all things exist, was made for a little while lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb and was born a child so that He might redeem all children from sin and the power of death. His whole life—from conception to death—was lived out in perfect obedience and holiness so that it might be credited to us by faith.
Christ death and resurrection conquered the devil, hell, and all their power, opening the gates of heaven to all who would believe in Him. This includes little children, and, in fact, places them at the front of the line. Theirs is a simple, trusting faith that receives God’s grace and doesn’t try to replace it with something else. Theirs is a faith that is in the Incarnate Lord Jesus, who promised to be with His people unto the end of the age.
Therefore, do not hinder the little children. Bring them to the Lord Jesus and encourage others to do the same. Teach your children about their Savior, and instruct them in the Christian faith, that they may examine themselves to be admitted to their Lord’s altar, when the same Jesus who touched the children to bless them now touches the lips and mouths of the faithful with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Furthermore, approach the altar of your Lord this day in repentance and childlike faith, despairing of your own works of righteousness, and trusting in the love and mercy of Christ alone, trusting that you, His servant, may truly depart in peace, “For to such belongs the kingdom of God”—children and those of all ages who hear and believe these marvelous words: “You are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.