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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Saviour of the whole family
Text:Mark 10:13-16 (View)
Occasion:Reformation Day

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  songs are from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 19:1-2
Psalm 19:6 (after the law)
Psalm 46:1,2,5
Psalm 8
Hymn 53

Reading: Genesis 17
Text: Mark 10:13-16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Today/tomorrow [or whatever the case may be] we celebrate the birthday of the Reformation.  Though we don’t know for sure that Martin Luther actually posted the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on this day, believers have traditionally commemorated this day nonetheless.  Moreover, there were many other events that could be considered the beginning of the Reformation – in fact, Luther himself said that he was still a “right roaring papist” when he wrote the 95 theses.  However, the 95 theses did cause a significant uproar in sixteenth-century Europe – they were an important event in the process we call the Reformation -- and so October 31st has traditionally been considered the birthday of the Reformation. 

The Reformation was about recovering the true gospel of Jesus Christ and reorienting the worship and practice of the Church to the Word of God.  Over the centuries of the Middle Ages, the Church had been departing from the Scriptures, often adding and subtracting.  That’s the history of deformation in a nut-shell:  taking a selective approach to the Bible, adding to the Bible where you want, and taking away the things that you don’t like.  That’s what has happened in deformations in every age and the Reformation of the church always involves a return to the principle of sola Scriptura – the Bible alone. 

In Jesus’ day too, there were the Jewish religious leaders who had added layer upon layer of man-made interpretations and additions to God’s Word.  Meanwhile, they had forgotten and ignored some of the key teachings of Scripture.  Adding and subtracting from the Bible.  And, as you might expect that had an effect on the entire Jewish culture, including the twelve disciples.  In Mark there are numerous instances where our Lord Jesus is bringing people back to God’s revelation, back to his purposes.  Our Lord Jesus was the original Reformer. 

In our passage, it’s children who are again the focus of his attention.  There were those then who had a poor, unbiblical attitude towards children.  Similar attitudes are still around today.  Baptism signifies the reception of our infant children into the church.  However, baptism is not where and when they become members of the church.  In fact, they have been members of the church since their conception.  Even when they were tiny zygotes, invisible to the human eye, they were members of the church of Christ.  That becomes public and visible in baptism – that’s what we mean when we say that baptism signifies their reception into the church.  And, sadly, such a perspective on the children of believers is rare among Christians today. 

So, it’s good that we listen to the teaching of our Lord Jesus here in Mark and that we’re confirmed and strengthened in our convictions regarding the place and status of our children.  Here in Mark 10:13-16, our Lord Jesus teaches us that he is the Saviour, not just of adults, but also of covenant children.  In fact, He is the Saviour of the whole family.  We’ll see that he reveals a re-formed:

  1. Attitude towards children
  2. Imitation of children

Our Lord Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, travelling through the region of Judea and across the Jordan.  He’s on his way to the cross that’s waiting for him.  But nobody was thinking about that, even though Jesus had mentioned it several times to his disciples.  In their minds, the disciples had more important and pressing concerns.     

There were these people bringing their little children to Jesus.  Given the context, it’s reasonable to say that these people were Jewish parents.  These were men and women with whom God had covenanted.  They were descendants of Abraham, included in the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 17.  Moreover, their children were also part of the covenant of grace.  These little boys and girls were not pagan “vipers in diapers,” but children of a holy nation.  The boys among them had been circumcised on the eighth day, recipients of the sign and seal of God’s promises.  So, neither these parents nor their children were just plain vanilla people out there in the world.  They were Jewish and they were part of God’s people. 

So, these were the people bringing their children to Jesus.  They brought them so that he would touch them.  What’s that about, you ask?  To answer that we could skip ahead to verse 16 and see what Jesus did there in response to this:  he blessed the children.  That’s what the parents wanted.  They wanted Jesus to put his hands on them and speak words of grace and encouragement to and about these little ones.  In making this request, the parents seem to recognize that Christ was not an ordinary rabbi or teacher.  He was someone special – someone who could bless their children in a special way.  That’s not to say that they recognized him as the Son of God, or as the second person of the Trinity, or something along those lines.  But they knew that having Jesus bless your children was something desirable, something that could be of benefit for these little ones.

And what do the disciples do when they see these parents coming with their kids?  They follow Jesus and gently welcome them.  They warmly point them to Jesus, knowing that he will embrace them.  No, of course, you know that’s NOT how it goes.  Instead, the disciples rebuke them.  Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been doing most of the rebuking.  He rebukes the wind and he rebukes evil spirits.  However, in chapter 8, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke about suffering and dying.  That didn’t work out so well.  Jesus sent a rebuke right back at Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Now this time around, the disciples are not rebuking Jesus directly, but they’re still failing to get key points in his teaching.  This is not a direct rebuke to Jesus, but an indirect one. 

The key point they’re missing is what Jesus did back in Mark 9:36:  he took a little boy in his arms and hugged him.  With that action, Jesus revealed how he regards covenant children:  with affection and love.  Didn’t the disciples see him do that?  Didn’t they get the message? 

Their culture still had too much of a grip on their hearts, minds, and wills.  Their culture said that a respectable rabbi doesn’t bother himself with little kids.  Jesus had already gone out of his way to show that he wasn’t a normal rabbi, he wasn’t like the Pharisees.  That surely made the disciples squeamish.  But now these little kids are really threatening to blow whatever little respectability he has left.  In modern terms, imagine a mega-church pastor, a celebrity pastor with his own TV show and radio ministry.  This man’s a big name.  And one Sunday he goes to the mega-nursery [or creche] at the mega-church and tells all the babysitters to take the day off because he wants to minister to the two year olds and the three year olds.  The man’s administrative assistants would tell him that he’s nuts.  They’d tell him that he needs to be up in front of the crowd, up on the stage and not with the toddlers.  Important religious teachers need to be front and center with the adults, not spending time with snotty-nosed, stinky-diapered kids who can barely walk or talk. That’s the way the disciples were thinking.  That’s why they rebuked the parents and tried to send them away.

Loved ones, this was a sinful attitude.  This sinful attitude resulted in sinful actions.  What the disciples did here was displeasing to God.  Already in the Old Testament, God had revealed that the little ones among his people were valued by him.  Again, think of Genesis 17 – God includes the children in the covenant of grace.  Think of Psalm 8 (which we’re going to sing after the sermon) where God ordains praise out of the mouths of infants.  Think of Psalms 127 and 128, where children are portrayed as a blessing to be treasured.  In Mark 9 and in our text, Jesus wasn’t teaching anything dramatically new about how God views our children and how we should view our children.  Rather, like the Reformers of the sixteenth century, he was bringing his disciples and us back to the Word of God and reasserting what God had already taught.

But before he speaks, Mark tells us that the sight of this got Jesus angry.  He was indignant.  Why?  Because this was so wrong, so sinful!  Keeping little children from him was not just unacceptable, but wicked.  And it was his own disciples, his closest followers, who were doing this.  How could they? 

Brothers and sisters, could something like this happen today?  Yes, we live in a different time.  Jesus is not on his way to Jerusalem.  We are not the twelve disciples.  No one can stand before Jesus’ physical human body to be blessed by him in this age.  But there are some commonalities.  After all, we are still Jesus’ disciples, his followers.  He has not changed with regards to his attitude towards our children.  The Word of God still stands.  We can be truly blessed by him spiritually in various ways.   Most importantly, still today the children of believers have a place in the covenant of grace.  Would it be possible for us to keep our children from coming to Jesus, not in a physical, but in a spiritual sense?  You know the answer.  Of course.  There are many ways you could do that.  Humanly speaking, there are many ways you could keep your kids from Christ.  For instance, you could make going to church optional for your kids, keeping them from the gospel.  “They should only go if they want to go.”  You could never read the Bible with your children or talk about spiritual things with them.  “Oh, you know they hear so much about it at school already.  What do I need to read the Bible with them for?”  When they learn how to read, you could not bother to buy them a Bible so that they can read about Jesus and have the Spirit lead them to know him for themselves.  Or you could do some of those things and then add hypocrisy into the mix.  When the elders come, you tell them what they want to hear.  But your kids see that it’s all a mask, just a game of pretend.  And we could all add to this list.  There are many ways that we could keep our children from Jesus.  And they are all equally sinful and wicked.  With Jesus’ anger, our text reveals God’s judgment on such evil.              

Then comes the rebuke of the Son of God.  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them…”  He tells the disciples to get out of the way and let the kids through.  Jesus has the time and the energy to minister to them too.  He’s not just a teacher for the adults or for the respectable and mature crowd, he’s also there for the children.  He came to minister to all the covenant people of God. 

So, he says, “do not hinder them” and then he gives the reason:  “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  This is not a statement about little children.  Jesus is not saying here that the little children belong to the covenant of grace.  They do and there are plenty of other places in the Bible that teach that (like Genesis 17).  What Jesus does at the end of this passage implies that.  But these words mean something different.  They are meant to get the disciples thinking again about the nature of the kingdom of God.  In broad general terms, the kingdom belongs to those who are like little children.  The kingdom belongs to those who are helpless and who need a Saviour to stand up for them and defend them against attacks.  The kingdom belongs to those who need to be brought, who are of themselves weak and unable.  These little children, you see, are again a living illustration for Jesus. 

And again he builds on that illustration with what he says in verse 15, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  The disciples tried to prevent Jesus from receiving the children.  Now he says that there are certain people who will not receive the kingdom of God.  By the kingdom again he’s referring to life under the reign of God.  Receiving the kingdom of God is the same thing as receiving eternal life, as receiving salvation.  The message is clear:  instead of standing in the way of little children, you need to become like them.  And if you don’t you will not enter the kingdom, you will not be saved.  In fact, when Jesus says that you will never enter it, he says it in the strongest possible way in the original language.  You could say, “You will definitely, never, ever enter it.” 

But what does he mean exactly that the disciples (and all of us) have to receive the kingdom of God like little children?  Well, it means basically to accept it in humility.  A little child is powerless and helpless, entirely dependent on others.  So this is another way of speaking about faith.  Faith is something receptive, you are receiving something with Christian faith.  You are receiving all the benefits of Christ.  You don’t bring anything to the table, except your sin.  God takes away your sin and he gives to you perfect righteousness – all through Christ.  Receiving the kingdom of God like little children means that we are humble before God, looking to him as our Father, and trusting our Father’s love and accepting the gift that he gives us in his Son.  Unless we take that posture, we will certainly not ever enter the kingdom, we will not obtain eternal life.  On the flip side, when we do take the posture of little children, we can be confident that we will indeed enter the kingdom, that in fact, we are already in the kingdom.  We are already partakers of eternal life, living under the gracious reign of our King.

So, there must be a rethink of how children are regarded, but there must also be a rethink of how one enters the kingdom of heaven.  This is about re-formation.  When it comes to entering the kingdom of heaven, it’s not about activity and how much you do, but about receiving.  It’s about being like helpless little children.  We receive what God offers in Christ and we trust him. 

Our Saviour then turns to the children themselves once again.  Look what he does in verse 15.  He takes them in his arms.  The same word is used there as what we find in Mark 9:36.  There Jesus took that little boy in his arms and gave him a hug.  The same thing happens here.  A moment ago, Jesus was irate at his disciples for their obstructing his ministry.  But now he turns in love to these little ones and hugs them affectionately.  He is the Divine Warrior who rides the white horse in Revelation 19.  He has eyes like blazing fire and out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.  But he is also revealed in Scripture as the loving Saviour and nowhere is this more apparent than when he deals with covenant children.  He receives them in love, puts his hands on them and blesses them.  How beautiful!    

Let me remind the younger brothers and sisters, you kids:  if Jesus were here in person, he would do the same for you.  He would give you a hug and bless you too, just like he did with those kids in our text.  Because you’re special to him.  In fact, there was even a special time when he did bless you.  When your mom and dad brought you to church for the first time, Jesus was there to welcome you.  He blessed you with your baptism.  He said that you belong to him.  And you do.  You’ve got to believe that every day of your life.  You belong to God because of what Jesus did.  Your baptism is the proof of it.  You don’t remember it happening, but it happened.  Then if you believe that, then you also live like that.  You live as a person who belongs to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And for all of us, look at our Saviour here.  For those of us who are parents, we’ve failed in so many ways.  Even the best parents do and say things that stand in the way of our children’s spiritual growth.  As I said before, we have to call this what it is:  it’s sin.  But we have a Saviour who covers this sin too.  He paid for this sin with his suffering and death.  He also gives us his perfect righteousness.  What he does here in this text is a good work pleasing to our heavenly Father, and this good work is imputed to us.  It’s credited to our accounts too.  Now be assured that when God looks at us as parents, he doesn’t see our failings, but he sees Christ his perfect Son, the one to whom we’re united through faith and the Spirit. 

But you know that we don’t stop there.  Because from there, we also live out of our union with that Saviour.  He loved those children in our text, he loves our children too.  He loves them dearly and treasures them.  What do those united to Christ then do?  The same thing, right?  The children that God has given us are to be embraced dearly, looked upon as Christ views them.  We are to make sure that they always know the love of their parents, but more importantly the love of their Father in heaven and the love of their Saviour.  That of course means that we teach our children and we disciple them.  One of the parts of a plan to disciple and shepherd our children is family worship.  This has to be one of the highest priorities for Christian parents, and especially for fathers.  This is one of the key means by which we can bring up our children in the ways of our Saviour.  The Reformation of the sixteenth century also realized that fact and promoted family worship heavily. 

Loved ones, in God’s scheme of things, the first are last and the last first.  In God’s kingdom you just don’t find the high and mighty.  You find the little children and those like them.  May we all receive the kingdom like little children, and as citizens of that kingdom, receive the children too, just as our Saviour does.  AMEN.


O Lord Jesus,

We thank you for your comprehensive work of salvation.  We thank you that you care for not only adults who trust in you, but also for their children – for our children.  We thank you for receiving us and our children in your grace.  Saviour, please teach us with your Word and Spirit.  Please teach us more so that we would be like little children, looking to you in humility.  Please lead us to live out of union with you, so that we would also love our children and shepherd and disciple them in your ways.  Help us to be your instruments so that all our children would rest and trust in you, and in you alone.  And please give them all the gift of your Holy Spirit.    

O God, we thank you today especially for the work of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.  Thank you for Martin Luther, thank you for John Calvin, for Guido de Bres, for Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus and so many others.  Thank you for using these men to bring your people back to the Bible and back to the gospel of free grace.  Help us Father to appreciate this heritage and not to take it for granted.  Help us in our day to be constantly reforming our lives and our church according to your Word alone.  We pray for the help of your Spirit in that work.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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