Jesus’ disciples were often in competition with each other, arguing about who among them would hold the highest position once Jesus came into his kingdom. As Luke described, “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great’” (Luke 9:46-48).
Matthew portrayed the event this way, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4).
Jesus loves the sweet innocence of children so much that he taught his disciples that anyone who wishes to be great in his kingdom must learn to humble him or herself like a little child, approaching our heavenly Father with absolute trust and depending on him to meet our every need. Children are the least in the kingdoms of this world. They do not have the power to make their own decisions, they cannot earn their daily bread or the money to pay for clothes or toys, housing, or education. Children cannot decide where they live or where they go, and most of the time they cannot decide with whom they live and who cares for them. They do not have the power and the means to keep themselves fed, safe, and well. They are utterly dependent on the provision and good will of others. Jesus teaches us that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must recognize that we are as dependent on our heavenly Father as little children are dependent on their parents – and that God loves us with the unconditional, self-sacrificing agape love that far exceeds the capacity of any earthly mother or father.
And yet, we know that in this broken world, our sweet, innocent children suffer. God is very aware of this. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6).
Isaiah gives us a beautiful illustration of our Father’s love for his children, recording God’s promise that in times of trouble “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). This promise was not given only to the ancient Israelites living in Jerusalem. On this side of the cross, when we receive Christ as our Savior, we become God’s people and his Holy Spirit comes to dwell within each believer. We become his holy Jerusalem, the place of God’s Indwelling Presence, and therefore all of God’s promises for Jerusalem and for his people belong to the whole Body of Christ. Paul echoed this promise when he quoted Isaiah 52, reminding the church at Corinth that God said, “…I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (1 Corinthians 6:17b-18).
Jesus manifested this promise in person when mothers and fathers brought their little ones to him for a blessing, even though his own disciples did not understand what he was doing: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 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. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16).
Because this world has been invaded by the invisible enemy, Jesus warned us that we would experience pain and suffering during our earthly lifetimes. A heartrending truth about earthly suffering is that it is not limited only to adults who are experienced enough to understand how to weather the storms of life. This world is full of evil and because of it we suffer, and our children suffer. But God is faithful. He is with us and with our children, most especially during the times of our greatest afflictions. He never leaves us alone, and he will never turn a child away or allow them to be hindered from coming to him. In fact, when the disciples tried to prevent the children from coming to Jesus, he became very angry and rebuked them. If Jesus rebuked his disciples for hindering the children, how much more will he deal with those who seek to harm them? Jesus promised, “…it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Throughout history God’s people have suffered terrible persecutions, and many families are suffering now, all over the world. So that we should not lose heart, Jesus reminds us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33).
Jesus, knowing the torment that he would ultimately suffer at the hands of his accusers, offered words of comfort to his followers: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4,6-7). We and our precious children are of tremendous value to our Father in heaven. So much so that he sent his only begotten Son to redeem and rescue us. As it is with Jesus, so it is with all who belong to him. Our kingdom is not of this world of pain and sorrow. Ours is the kingdom of heaven, where thieves to not break in and steal, nor do vermin destroy the fruit of our labors (John 18:36; Matthew 6:20).
As Paul, who named himself a prisoner of Christ, recorded, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3). No matter what tribulations we may be called to endure, we must have faith that the invisible hand of Almighty God is with us, and with our children. Like the persecuted saints extolled in Hebrews 11, we seek a better, heavenly country where God will wipe away every tear, and we will dwell with him in peace, forever.
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.