Blessings for the children
For many people, Mark 10:13-16 is often overlooked because it doesn’t seem to be that important.
It is a passage in which Jesus is blessing the children. As you read the passage you will discover two principles: Children have a special place in the kingdom and the only way anyone can enter the kingdom is to come with childlike faith. What does the passage teach us about children and childlike faith?
Notice the request by the parents in verse 13a. They were bringing children to Him. Who are they? They are parents. This is not some isolated event but a common event. Parents often brought children to Jesus because of his great affection for them. In Mark 9:36 Jesus took a child and took him in his arms. In Matthew 21:15-16 children were crying out Hosanna to the Son of David as He entered Jerusalem. So our Lord loved children but it was not some sentimentalism.
He understood how children could behave. In Matthew 11:16 he told a story about how children could act like brats. He understood they could be sinful and he knew that sin could manifest itself even in activities where children played together.
But he always welcomed children and here parents were bringing their children to him. The word children used here is a general word for children but Luke, In the parallel passage, uses a word meaning babies, infants, suckling’s, little children of about the age of 3-4. We also know they were babies because he was enfolding them in his arms according to v.16 So these parents brought their babies to Jesus because they saw his love, saw his power, and heard his preaching about the kingdom of God. These are parents who care about the future of their children. They wanted their children to know God. They want their children to be part of the kingdom of God. They want their children to have eternal life. Historically, O.T. fathers blessed their children. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth. Isaac blessed his sons, Jacob blessed his sons. It was a typical fatherly benediction pronounced on the heads of children. Why did they do that? It was symbolic of the desire the parents for a spiritual blessing. It was like a prayer that God would show favor to them. The elders use to say that when you pray for your child and you pray blessing on your child you pray this; that the child would be famous in the Law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. Sometime the father would lay their hands on the child’s head; sometime the elders of the synagogue would come together and do the same. The Talmud tells us it was a customary thing for parents to bring children to the synagogue to be blessed. In fact, in Judaism there was a special day set aside for that very purpose, the day before the Day of Atonement. Mark says they brought the children so Jesus might touch them. Matthew adds also to pray for them. That was consistent with this kind of blessing. Jesus did a lot by touching. He touched people all the time which was something the Pharisees and scribes would never do because they thought touching people would defile them. Now notice the response of the disciples in verse 13b. They were rebuking the parents for bringing children to Jesus. The word rebuke is a very strong word in the Greek. It is a compound word intensified by a preposition. Literally it means they censured them, reprimanded them. In the noun form it means punishment. They turned on these parents. The disciple’s world view was that children had no place in their system of religion until they arrived at the point that they could do something to gain God’s favor. Apparently, our Lord had not addressed the principle of children so this was going to be a teaching moment. What was the reply of Jesus in verse 14? When Jesus saw the attitude of the disciples, when he saw them chasing back the parents he replied in a severe manner. He was indignant meaning to be angry, to be irate. This was not some insignificant issue and He was not going to pass over it lightly. He was angry that his disciples would treat children this way. He did not rebuke the parents. He rebuked the disciples for their wrong assumptions and their lack of understanding the scriptures. Luke says he called for the parents who had already been turned away. He called them to come and bring their babies. He gives no indication of the spiritual condition of the parents, no indication of the possibility of faith in these parents, or the unbelief of these parents, or even the child’s faith. Those were non-issues. A baby is neither a conscience non-believer nor a conscious believer. A baby is neither a compliant child nor a rebellious child by choice. So Jesus says to His disciples, “Permit the children to come to me. Do not hinder them. Let them come. That brings us to the required meaning of the text in verse 14b. Why were they required to let them come? For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. There are no qualifiers here? He doesn’t say the kingdom of God belongs to these. He says it belongs to those such as these. He means the whole category, the whole class to which babies belong. It belongs to this kind. What kind? Babies, infants, little children. Matthew uses the phrase kingdom of heaven instead of the kingdom of God because they are one and the same. It belongs to such as these, not just the babies before him but to all of them. What is the kingdom? The sphere of salvation, the sphere in which God rules over those who belong to Him. So he is saying babies as a category belong to the kingdom and it belongs to them. Nothing is said about the parent’s faith, nothing is said about any covenant, nothing is said about some infant baptism, nothing is said about circumcision, and nothing is said about any rite or any ritual. This isn’t about personal faith either. He just says babies as a category belong to the kingdom. How can we qualify babies? It includes any child before they reach a point in time when before God they become accountable for believing or not believing. And notice he doesn’t say until the age of 12. It may vary with each particular child. Does this mean that babies are not sinners? No it doesn’t. In Psalm 51:5 David says, “In sin did my mother conceive me; I was brought forth as a sinner form the beginning.” Gen.5:3 says we’re all made in Adam’s likeness and in Adam we will all die, we’re all corrupt. Babies are little sinners balled up in that little precious bundle, full of the corruption of the human race. Their defilement is on the inside, it is embedded in the fabric of their lives. Children are not born morally neutral but are morally corrupt and irresistibly bent toward sin. It just takes awhile for them to reach the place where they can make choices that demonstrate that corruption. It is not when we sin that we fall. How do I know infants are corrupt? What is the evidence of corruption? The wages of sin is death. Death is the evidence of corruption. If they were morally innocent they would not die until they reached the point where they made an immoral choice. Yet, some babies die in the womb, some of them die minutes, or days, or months after conception. Little children have not chosen to consciously sin. They did not choose to enter Adam and Eve’s rebellion. But they still die because the wages of sin, the sin of corruption, is death. Psalm 58:3 is right when it said, “They are estranged from the womb, they go astray from birth.” Proverbs 20:9 says Who can say I have cleansed my heart? I am pure form sin? No one. Romans 3, “There is none righteous, no not one.” Sinfulness is not a condition that comes on people once they choose to sin, it is the condition they’re born in that leads them to choose to sin. Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child. Gen. 8:21 The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth and there the Hebrew word encompasses infancy. Isa. 48:8 you were a transgressor from the womb. So all of us were conceived infected with sin. So if these children were granted a place in the kingdom, they didn’t earn it, they were given that place by grace. That is the required meaning of the text.
Does that mean they are saved and then when they reach the age where they make a sinful choice they lose it? Does God give them salvation and then take it away? No, because eternal life can’t be taken away. Once you got it, you got it. What this text teaches is that God holds children in some state of grace prior to their reaching the age of accountability. That state of grace is conditional. What is the condition? It becomes eternal life if they die. If an infant dies, that state of grace allows that infant to be gathered safe in the arms of God. In Jeremiah 19:4 infants are being offered to Molech as burnt offerings, babies were being burned at a place called Topeth and they would beat drums to drown out the screams of those babies and Jeremiah calls them ‘the blood of the innocents.’ David in II Sam. 12 sinned with Bathsheba. Remember that story? He had her husband killed by placing him on the front line of a battle. Well God gave David and Bathsheba a child and then the child became very ill and then died in infancy. While the baby was ill David pleaded with God because of his overwhelming guilt having to do with murder and adultery. The baby dies and the folks who worked with David discussed whether they ought to tell David because he was already overwrought. They didn’t want to tell him the baby died because it would make it even worse. Finally they told him and immediately David stopped his mourning, got up and washed his face, got dressed, came out and said, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” David knew he was going to heaven and he knew where that child was because God had given him the confidence that the child had entered into the presence of God. There is a special place in God’s care for those who are children and not responsible for spiritual choices. John Calvin wrote, “Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire His blessing but when they are presented to Him, He gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. God does not shut the door on them as if they are strangers.” This is not salvation but it is God’s special care. A child who dies receives salvation at the point of death because of Go’s sovereign grace. Charles Hodge, a 19th century Presbyterian theologian writes, “Such is the kingdom of heaven, it is in great measure composed of the souls of redeemed infants.” Warfield, who graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1876 writes, “If all that are in infancy are saved, it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit who rules and through the ineffable grace of the Father who gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them.” Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice by an unconditional decree of God. Their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ.” R.A. Webb in a book called “The theology of Infant salvation” writes, “If a dead infant were sent to hell on no other account then their original sin the child’s mind would be blank as to the reason for their suffering. The very essence of the penalty would be absent and justice would be disappointed, cheated of its validation.” He is saying that if babies go to hell they would forever not know why they are there. That makes no sense, does it? That leads us the repeated application in v.15. Now Jesus has moved away from saying children are in the kingdom to saying anybody else who comes in the kingdom has to come as a child. You have to come as children come, simple, open, trusting, unpretentious, dependent, weak, lacking achievement, humbly. If you don’t come like that, you’ll never enter the kingdom. Our Lord is saying that these babies go into the kingdom purely by sovereign grace. They have nothing to commend themselves. That is how everyone gets into the kingdom. It is based on sovereign grace, not your achievements, not your good works, not your morality. We can’t achieve any more than a child can. It is a gift of grace. Grace is the only way people get to heaven. In closing, our Lord punctuates the special place these children have in the kingdom. (V.16). Mark is the only one that records this part. Jesus didn’t view them as little heathens. He took them in his arms. He began to bless them. One by one by one he pronounced an intense blessing on them. He prayed for each one of them, one at a time, with his hands on them. He seals the truth that salvation is by grace alone. Allow me to leave you with this thought. The greatest blessing you can confer on your children is to lovingly evangelize them. You are the steward of their life. That should be your priority. Salvation is the work of God but you are the agent by which that work is done. You are the primary missionary in the life of your child.
The Rev. Dr. James Barnes is currently the pastor of White Memorial Church in Milroy.