In Luke 18, we read the story of little children coming to Jesus to be blessed. The disciples, who thought the children had little social significance, felt they weren’t important enough for Jesus and tried to push them away. But Jesus said they were worthy of his time. In fact, Jesus said that he desires everyone to come into his kingdom like children.
Many people pass over this story without diving into the implications, yet this is an incredibly important statement by Jesus to help us understand the kingdom and our response to it. I have heard some teachers conclude that we need child-like faith, but the text never says, “child-like faith.” There are two other problems with that conclusion. First, it is incomplete. Faith may be a notable attribute of children, but I think the analogy of becoming like children is more robust. Second, the idea of child-like faith often leads to inaccurate conclusions that we are to be immature and uneducated about our faith.
So what does it mean to enter the kingdom like a child? While the immediate story doesn’t elaborate, there are plenty of other texts, including those surrounding the story, which can help us understand this deeper. Based on these, I believe that God wants us to come into his kingdom:
- Joyfully. Children have a uniquely joyful spirit. You may argue that it’s based on their ignorance. But it’s not their ignorance that makes them joyful. They are joyful because of what they focus on; they are not yet distracted by the cares of the world. We may be less ignorant than children, but we too can have the same joy if our faith is unhindered by fearful distraction. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is being produced in us and will manifest if we don’t quench the Spirit’s work. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells the story of a man who joyfully sells everything to buy land that has hidden treasure. There was risk involved and the man could have been fearful, but his focus was on the reward. The kingdom is of priceless value, so our inheritance (namely Christ) should bring us great joy. When I come home, my son is (usually) overjoyed with my presence. In our lives, the level of our joy indicates the level of value that we put on God’s presence. Those who joyfully enter the kingdom know that Jesus is the main attraction. Do you find Him more valuable than everything else?
- Expectantly. The children came boldly to Jesus because they knew his heart. The obvious analogy is that God is our Father. We, as His children, should know He rewards. Hebrews 11:6 says that faith requires knowing that God rewards those who seek him. Luke 11:10-12 says that those who ask will receive and those who seek will find, so God gives us the Holy Spirit when we ask. The presence of God is the reward of those who seek him (Matthew 5:6). Before the story of the children is the parable of the persistent widow who expected results. I believe that expectancy manifests itself in the form of persistence. Do you expect to receive more of God?
- Trustingly. It’s amazing how much my son trusts me to catch him when he jumps off the couch (or stairs, bed, or whatever he can climb). Let me first clarify that there is big difference between testing and trusting (every parent knows this well). Testing has a heart of disobedience and defiance. Trust in God assumes his character is good and depends on him for our needs. While we may see ourselves as independent people, we must recognize we can do nothing a part from Christ. This is exemplified in Jesus’ parable, told immediately before the children coming, about the two men praying. It says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous…” (Luke 18:9). The first and foremost matter of trust is that we cannot enter the kingdom without him. Trust leads to boldness, like the blind beggar who cries out to Jesus for healing as he passed by (Luke 18:38). Trust is much more than just intellectual knowledge; it is functional. As our knowledge grows, so can our trust. Like the blind man, even limited knowledge can create solid trust if our (spiritual) eyes are firmly fixed on the correct object of our trust.
- Innocently. Children are not perfect, but they have a level of innocence. They are not tainted by the ways of the world. I believe the children came to Jesus with pure intentions. This is related to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6-8 that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled and the pure in heart will see God. Purity is the image of a glass of water not mixed with anything else. Those who seek the pure living water of God will be rewarded. We will never be perfect on earth, but we can solely desire God above anything else in the world.
- Humbly. Children are instinctually humble because of their awareness of their limitations. Right before the children come to Jesus, Luke records Jesus saying, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it is the meek who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and the poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Then, right after the story of the children (in both Luke’s account and Mark’s) is the story of a man with great wealth and power who missed the way of the kingdom. God’s kingdom is not like the world’s. Entering is not about power, money or influence. The prideful rich young ruler wanted to follow his way rather than Christ’s. A humble person, meek and poor in spirit, see’s the power of their affection, not their own worth and merit. We become like children when we submit to the authority of Christ’s work for us.
History is headed towards Jesus’ return when He will fully established His kingdom. Therefore, as leaders in the church now, we would be wise to become like children as we enter and help others to do the same.