Context is everything. Consider for a moment the text that gives this column its name. My job here is to take whatever theme the editors have come up with for a given issue, and tie it into the call of Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God. Over the past several years, I have been encouraging us to set aside our petty amusements, to put behind us the distractions of vanity fair, to throw off the sloth that luxuriates in the status quo. Like some spiritual drill sergeant I have been trying to get us to wake up and smell the war and to get to the front lines. We have a battle to win, a great enemy to destroy. We are called to an epic struggle that spans the epochs, from the garden of Eden to the Garden City of the New Jerusalem. We have a kingdom to build.
All of which means that I have missed the context. When Jesus told His students to seek first the kingdom of God, He wasn’t dealing with the problem of complacency. He was not seeking to rouse a bunch of couch potatoes into action. Instead, Jesus was calling on those who were caught up in worry and fear, to set such things aside. Instead, Jesus is seeking to calm anxious hearts and minds, to remind those who are His that they are the children of their Father in heaven. It is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Jesus makes much the same point in the gospel of Mark. We are all too familiar with the story. Jesus was in Judea, and the multitudes gathered around Him as He taught them. Many among the crowd brought their little children to Jesus, but the disciples rebuked them. Jesus, seeing this, we are told, was greatly displeased. Then He uttered these potent words: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). We’ve all seen pictures of this glorious event. We see the children gazing up at the Lord with trust in their eyes. We see the joy and delight in the shining face of Jesus. We walk away, our hearts warmed by the tender love of Jesus toward the little children, and once again, completely miss the point. As touching as this scene is, as moved as we might be by the love of Jesus for the children that were there that day, and toward our own children, what we miss is the reason for all this. We miss the wisdom of Jesus who says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (v. 15).
Jesus’ words present both a stern warning and a delightful invitation. The warning is clear enough. If we will not come as children, we will not come at all. There will be those in the end with their dignity intact, their maturity assured, and their eternity spent on weeping and teeth gnashing. Jesus does not say that if we do not come as children we will be least in the kingdom. He does not say that if we do not come as children we will miss out on joy. He does not say that if we do not come as children then we will lose some degree of fellowship with our Father. He says we will not come at all. We will, by no means, enter into the kingdom.
But there is invitation here as well. We enter into the kingdom as helpless as babies. We enter into the kingdom as needy as babies. We enter into the kingdom as ignorant as babies. We enter into the kingdom as worthless as babies. We enter into the kingdom with nothing in our hands, not even a pacifier. We have no contribution to make and no agenda to follow. We come trusting like a baby, resting like a baby, and laughing like a baby. We enter into the kingdom with eyes wide with wonder.
We were taught to pray by Jesus, to our heavenly Father, that His kingdom would come as His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We will enter into heaven as children. We bring heaven down to earth as we live our lives as children. We bring heaven down by living now as we will then. In the upside-down economy of the kingdom of God, the call to Christian maturity is the call to immaturity. As we age, as we acquire wisdom, we learn more and more that we know less and less. When we are born, we begin the process of aging, growing closer to death. When we are born again, we begin the process of getting younger, growing closer to life.
God, our Father, has called on us to teach our children well. We are to raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are to instruct them in the way that they should go. We are to speak with them of the things of God when they lie down and when they rise up. We do this, we serve them, the children, because they are our spiritual betters. We teach them, because they are our teachers. May God grant us the grace not merely to suffer the children to come, but suffer ourselves to come as children. For of such is the kingdom of God. The King, remember, entered into His kingdom as a babe. And no servant is greater than his master.