Having told the disciples that the path to greatness is servanthood and humility (Mark 9:33–35), Jesus next provides an illustration of His point. Our Lord puts a child before the disciples and tells them that whoever receives a child in His name receives Christ and that the one who receives Christ receives the One who sent Him (vv. 36–37).
In the first century, children were among the lowest members of society in both Gentile and Jewish culture. Children—and women for that matter—were not viewed as having much worth. Like servants, any value they had was in connection to the head of the household. They were seen as having little intrinsic worth. Jesus calls His servants to such a humble estate. It is not that we are to view ourselves as having no worth whatsoever; after all, we are made in God’s image and by virtue of that have been granted great dignity (Gen. 1:26–27). Our Lord’s point is that we should not view ourselves more highly than we ought, that though we are servants with dignity, ultimately we are still mere servants. That is as true of the Christian who occupies the highest social rank as it is of the believer who occupies the lowest rung on the social ladder. Honor comes through service to others, through not asserting our “rights” every time we are wronged, through seeking the welfare of others before we seek our own. John Calvin comments, “Christ enjoins that the more a man abases himself, the more highly shall he be honored.”
That Jesus enjoins us to receive a child—one of the lowest members of society—in His name also demonstrates that Christians are not to seek influence the way the world does—by going after those whom the wider culture greatly esteems. The gospel is to go forth to everyone, even those who would qualify as the “movers and the shakers” in our society, but we do not transform culture or achieve kingdom objectives by focusing on the powerful. We receive into our churches those whom no one else wants—the powerless, the humble, the rejected—with the same honor with which we receive the powerful.
Finally, that receiving a child in Jesus’ name means receiving Him points us to an important truth about the Apostles. We cannot have Jesus unless we will have those whom He has sent, and receiving Christ is impossible unless we receive the Apostles and their teachings, which are found in the Scriptures.