Investigating The Bible: Following the child’s example


Jesus gave an urgent message involving children, which is recorded in three of the gospels. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17, New International Version; used throughout). What did Jesus mean when he said children must be role models for anyone who would enter the kingdom of God? The answer may surprise us.

Is it innocent, pure love? Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia, told of a 4-year-old boy whose elderly neighbor had just lost his wife and was in his yard crying. The little boy went over, climbed onto his lap and sat there. When his mother asked what he said to the neighbor, the child said, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.”

Is it unfiltered honesty? In the days of only land line telephones, a little girl answered the house phone and yelled into the next room while holding the phone close to her mouth, “Daddy, it’s the man who talks too long.”

Are children role models of belief that anything is possible? Charley, age 4, had watched the summer Olympics. He made his own high jump, a foot and a half high, with couch cushions for his Port-a-Pit and an ottoman in front for a springboard. He showed his mother his new skill several times. She applauded and turned to leave. Charley said, “Wait, Mom. Now watch me do it in slow motion!”

The answer to the meaning of the verse is in the details. Luke was a trained physician, a scientist. In his account of Jesus’ blessing of children, he is the only gospel writer who introduces the story explaining that “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them.” (Luke 18:15). This is the same word used to describe baby Jesus lying in the manger. So, likely, most of the children were very young and babies.

Context also helps. Luke nestles Jesus’ command on being childlike between a parable of a Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) and a story of a rich ruler seeking the promise of eternal life (Luke 18:18-30). In the parable, the Pharisee is content with his religious behavior. The tax collector recognizes his emptiness and need. He is the one who cries out, “God have mercy on me as a sinner.” (Luke 18:13). He alone was hungry for God. In the story of the rich ruler, Jesus offers him the chance to become a disciple with one condition: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22). The rich man was sad, and likely did not take Jesus’ offer.

One consistent trait of healthy newborns is hunger, extreme and urgent. Watch newborn puppies, who frantically and blindly search for their mother’s milk. So, when Jesus tells his followers they will only enter the kingdom of heaven if they do so as a child, he is explaining that only those who are hungry, really hungry for God will find Him. How does a person develop hunger? Don’t fill up with other things. When the apostle Peter told early believers to abandon “the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (I Peter 1:14), he is meant don’t fill up your lives with these. Instead, he wrote, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (I Peter 2:2).

An expanded translation of Luke 18:17, could be, ‘Anyone who wants to enter into the kingdom of God must seek it with the urgency of a hungry and thirsty newborn child, like people desperate to find food and water, because if they do not, they fear they will die.’

David Carlson Pastor (yes, that is his last name but not his profession) is a Polk County, Oregon resident and graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in Minnesota (M.Div., M.Th.)


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