To whom does the kingdom of God belong?
“To whom does the kingdom of God belong?”
Dr. Jim Slack, the head of demographics for the Southern Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, reported a Gallup Survey:
“Nineteen out of twenty people who become Christians did so before the age of twenty-five. At age twenty-five, one in 10,000 will become believers; at thirty-five, one in 50,000, at age forty-five, one in 200,000; at fifty-five, one in 300,000; at seventy-five, on in 700,000.”
“What do these statistics really mean?”
- God’s Word repeatedly teaches that God is sovereign over salvation.
- God casts the widest possible net over the whole earth, saving people of all ages.
- Still, the Bible speaks to the special responsibility to win our children to the faith!
- Then to train them up in the Lord.
- Simply put, children are deeply impressionable and designed this way!
A brief bible study reveals this.
ESV Deuteronomy 6:6-7 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
ESV Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
ESV Matthew 21:15-16 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant,
16 and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, "'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?"
ESV 1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
ESV Ephesians 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Every parent is under a divine mandate to pursue, win, and train their children while they are still children.
- The Bible marks this window of time as primetime.
- With age comes spiritual callous born from maturing sin.
- Worldly constructs grow over time building strength which when left alone become more difficult to deconstruct.
“How urgent is this responsibility?”
- Our answer should be measured by Christ’s urgency.
- “What kind of attitude did Christ have toward children?” “How did He, their Creator, engage and care for them?”
- Jesus, causes every life, invents, designs, fashions, and breathes life into, every child.
- In addition, Jesus fits each little life with an eternal soul.
Mark 10:13-16 is one of the clearest windows conveying all of Christ’s love, care, and affirmation for children! 13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Why the Kingdom of God belongs to children
Jesus has a special love for children
Jesus’ rebuke brings us right to the nexus of conflict in this account.
- Here everything comes to a grinding halt.
It is important to understand that Jesus, on the road to Jerusalem, is in a stage of ministry, where He is fully accessible.
- Masses, pouring themselves onto Jesus for His blessing!
- What they know only He could confer!
In some cases, parents thrusting their children toward Jesus for a unique blessing.
Jewish tradition established this dating back to the times of Noah.
- Remember Noah’s Curse came on Ham, the father or Canaan, for immorality committed against his father, Noah.
- Consequently, blessing was conferred on Shem and Japheth and a curse conferred onto Ham.
Genesis 9:26-27 He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”
This continues through the Old Testament.
- Isaac blessed his son Jacob, not Esau.
- Joseph reunited with his father Jacob lays his hands on Joseph’s sons.
- Jacob’s right hand on the head of Ephraim and left hand on the head of Manasseh.
- Gestures determining blessing and cursing playing out through their lineage.
The early church continued this practice selecting Apostles and per the Pastoral Epistles setting men apart as elders through the “laying on of hands.”
Jesus’ ministry is at the center of all this. His blessings through touch brought immediate physical and spiritual Kingdom manifestations.
- Jesus raising the “little girl” from death is one example.
- Jairus the father implored Jesus to “Come and lay your hands on her” (Mark 5:23).
- Jesus rescued the demonized boy in Mark 9:20.
- The crowds brought this little boy to Jesus.
- He convulsed and seized while foaming at the mouth.
- While under demonic control, was throwing himself into fire and/or water.
There is no greater concern parents have than their children’s safety. Physically and more importantly, Spiritually. Jesus, addressing both matters, delivered this child and in this sense his father!
Mark 8:27 says, “Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”
Back to the scene in Mark 10.
- Not every child brought to Jesus was demonized as the “little boy” (cf. Mk. 9), but we should assume some were.
- Jesus’ physical presence created a sort of Kingdom in Conflict Dynamic.
- Demons were regularly manifesting, opposing Christ directly!
- Sicknesses and diseases were equally rampant!
- There being no antibiotics or medical cures to diseases, making parents desperate for help and healing.
- This is akin to parents getting their child with a terminal condition an appointment with a specialists.
The sense of urgency in terms of parents getting their children to Jesus was high and the level of push back from Jesus’ disciples marks this sharp contradiction!
- The disciples could not be more “not on the same page” with Jesus and these parents.
“…the disciples rebuked them” (v. 13).
- Same word used in Jude 9 describing Michael archangel’s confrontation with the devil.
- “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9).
- The same as when the Pharisees “rebuked” Jesus healing on the Sabbath.
While Jesus’ disciples attempt to control these parents and to control Jesus, Jesus calls this to a screeching halt.
- Jesus was “indignant” with sanctified anger.
- Jesus was angry at the disciple’s sin of pride.
- Jesus was “indignant” at their controlling spirit.
- Cutting through it, Jesus commands to be made accessible!
Understand, Jesus is making two points at the same time.
- First, Jesus’ clear priority is these children saying, “They are the ones for whom the kingdom belongs.”
- Second, Jesus is saying, “If you want this same kingdom, you have to become like these to whom this kingdom belongs.”
This scene becomes a key clarification between the true and false Gospel.
- The disciples exert themselves to control Jesus’ ministry, in terms of access “rebuking” everybody in the name of the Kingdom! “We are the gatekeepers!”
- By contrast, Jesus says, “No! The exact opposite is true.”
- Children presented by parents, completely helpless, and fully dependent upon their caregivers for survival.
This is precisely why Jesus receives them.
Helplessness and dependence mark the only path for enter into the kingdom of God.
This is why Jesus says to the Adults:
ESV Mark 10:15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
Understanding you have to come as a child to enter the Kingdom begs a second question:
“Do infants or children who die before making a profession of faith, go to heaven or hell?”
Verse 14 Jesus clearly states, “…for to such belongs the kingdom of God” and in verse 16 Jesus “…took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
- Jesus touching and blessing is not superficial affirmation to say children are precious.
- Nor, that children are potentially part of God’s kingdom!
- David’s testimony that children are conceived in sin is undeniable!
ESV Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
ESV 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. ESV Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
- Sin is the barrier between human beings and heaven.
- Mankind is under the curse of Adam.
Though this is true, Scripture repeatedly offers hope that babies dying in infancy go to heaven.
- David’s response to his baby’s death (born out of his adulterous affair) is a clear reference to this.
- The story from 2 Samuel 12 puts this in perspective.
- David was deeply grieved over his sick child.
- Described as weeping, fasting, and praying all night.
- Would not be moved by “elders” from his positon on the ground.
- Servants who found his child had died, assumed based on David’s emotional state, that David would hurt himself.
- When David saw his servants whispering, he gathers his child had died; confirming this, he got up, washed his face, changed his cloths, and worshipped God, and then ate.
- His servants amazed by this behavior, asked, “When your child was alive you wept and fasted and now that he is dead your up and eating?”
- David was not calloused, and his heart was actually soft.
David had closure in terms of God’s plan!
ESV 2 Samuel 12:23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."
David’s response, after hearing of Absalom’s death is dramatically different.
ESV 2 Samuel 18:33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
- Absalom had committed insurrection against his father but finality here meant separation and inconsolable grief.
This is strictly anecdotal, regarding John the Baptist (admittedly a one of a kind), still records him leaping in his mother’s womb.
Luke 1:40-44 and she [Mary] entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
- John the Baptist “lept” in the womb from hearing Mary’s voice – because she was carrying Christ in her womb.
Another reference is Paul stating how he was “set apart” to be an Apostle “before…[he] was born.”
ESV Galatians 1:15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace
God has a providential plan for infants before they are born, so it is not a stretch to believe God makes a way for infants who die before making a profession enter the Kingdom of God.
- In keeping with Jonah 4:11.
- God relented on judgement of Nineveh leaving Jonah exasperated.
- The Ninevites were Jonah’s sworn enemies.
- The Lord’s answer.
ESV Jonah 4:11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
- The 120,000 children in Nineveh at an age before they were able to accept or reject God. Not knowing their right from left hand.
- In Ezekiel 16 he refers to children sacrificed by Israelites in Jerusalem to their false god Molech, as “my children” (v. 21).
20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?
“How do you reconcile, all of Adam’s race (including infants) are born under Adam’s curse, and that infants who die without yet expressing faith are members of God’s kingdom?”
“While the Bible teaches that man is dead under Adam’s curse; the Bible also teaches that man is judged according to his deeds.”
ESV Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
- “How can Infants (to include young children and mentally handicapped) who die before who expressing faith cannot be accountable for willful rejection.
Al Mohler speaking in light of Israelites wilderness rebellion sheds light on this Deuteronomy 1:35 and 39.
After the children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, God sentenced that generation to die in the wilderness after forty years of wandering. “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers.” However, this was not all. God specifically exempted young children and infants from this sentence, and…explained why he did so: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become prey, and you sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.”
- The Promised Land foreshadows Heaven and this same principle of accountability
I remember attending a funeral of a little girl, found drowned as the bottom of a pool. The parents who were friends, ironically with the last name Sorrows (mother hyphenated last name Payne-Sorrows).
The parents both spoke over their daughter’s casket.
They told the story of how their little girl had awakened early from her nap (during vacation) and wandered out to the pool in the backyard.
As they spoke in hope as they and everyone else sitting together believed she was in heaven. There was a time to walk by and gaze upon her lifeless body, extremely sad while mingled with hope.
This same Dad, later suffering a near death on a job site, pinned down under heavy machinery, has since gone to seminary and now serves in full time ministry as a pastor.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon saw the reality of an infant of child’s death as a powerful witness toward remaining family left on earth. Here heaven is the ultimate comfort.
Now, let every mother and father here present know…it is with the child, if God has taken it away from you in its infant days. Many of you are parents who have children in heaven. Is it not a desirable thing that you should go there too? Mother, unconverted mother, from the battlements of heaven your child beckons you to Paradise.
Father, ungodly, impenitent father, the little eyes that once looked joyously on you, look down upon you now, and the lips which scarcely learned to call you father…sealed by the silence of death, may be heard as with a still small voice... “Father, must we be forever divided…does not nature itself put a…longing…that you may be bound in the bundle of life with your own children?”
This promise regarding infants who die in miscarriage, infancy, and childhood is important but here in our text, Jesus answers a deeper one that is more important.
Children model how Adults enter the Kingdom
Picking back up on verse 15 Jesus makes his point.
ESV Mark 10:15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
Jesus’ point is that there is one real requirement for entering the kingdom. What is it?
- You have to be like a child.
- What does that mean? In a word, “Helplessness.”
- A child or baby is the picture of absolute dependence.
Remember in this scene, children are being lifted by their parents into the arms of Jesus.
- Not even crawling up into Jesus’ lap.
- We know from experience what a baby does when hungry?
- It screams as a means for survival.
- When a baby soils itself he or she screams about it.
When Judy was home with three in diapers her Facebook account for occupation was “Waste Management!”
- When a baby is hungry, it can’t order pizza.
- It’s future is entirely dependent upon what the parent does for the child!
- The child’s dependence is a picture of faith.
- Our cries for Christ do not in and of themselves save us but they DO tell the Caregiver we now know we Need to be Saved!
- By God’s intervening GRACE we cry for help!
- Help saves you from eternal!
ESV Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
Understanding grace makes children pictures of grace! Even when they scream!
John Newton the former slave trader, author of Amazing Grace, long time pastor, had children flock around outside of his parsonage.
“If children are around the front door of the house of the preacher this is a sign of his love for Christ, and vice versa.”
This is why we have children’s ministry. Why we have youth group. Why we have Christian School. Children matter to God and should matter to us.
This passage makes one more point.
Children picture heaven
Look at verse 16.
ESV Mark 10:16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
- Children who cannot express faith are welcomed into the arms of Jesus.
- Their death though tragic, means instant heaven.
- This pictures entering heaven and heaven’s comfort!
- When you die, you are his child, lifted into Christ’s arms for blessing.
Here is a question as written from a mom from our congregation submitted during one of our summer Q and A series. It expresses a deep concern shared by many parents and by others.
My greatest fear when each of my children were born was that they would die before they were believers. I think many agree that “newborns” which die, go to heaven. Is there an age in which a newborn is no longer considered a newborn, and if they were to die, they would not be received into heaven? For instance, what if a two-year-old, born to a Christian family that did devotions and prayed with her, but she may have not fully understood accepting Jesus as her Savior, died tragically in a car accident? Where would she go? My own son…at the age of thirteen, stood up fully accepting Jesus as his Savior, in tears, fully asking for forgiveness. If at an earlier age he had tragically died before fully, mentally, wholeheartedly accepting Christ, how do we feel confident we will see them in Heaven?
The answer for what we as parents are supposed to do is found in our text? The only thing we can do is to entrust our children (whatever age) to Jesus! Lift your children to Jesus and leave them in His hands!
Our efforts, praying, teaching, and leading them is all done with the understanding that salvation comes only grace! Grace only found in Jesus’ embrace.