“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” –Matthew 11:25
“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” –Mark 10:14
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:3-4
When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially? Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .
At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.
Children occupy a low position in society.
Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).
When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?
Children are guileless.
Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:
But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” -Matthew 21:15-16
Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)
Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.
Children act like those they admire.
They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.
Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.
Children trust absolutely.
A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).
And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion. This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”