January 11, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
When parents were bringing children to Jesus so he could bless them, the disciples ordered the parents to go away. They thought they were helping Jesus out. In fact, however, they missed Jesus by a mile. Their assumption that children were unimportant to the kingdom of God was wildly off base. When we acknowledge that we might also miss Jesus by a mile sometimes, this reminds us to be humble and to rely on God for spiritual guidance in all things.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
This is the first of four devotions on a fascinating passage from Luke 18. It’s fascinating for a variety of reasons. Mostly though, I’m fascinated by what Jesus says and does in relationship to children and the kingdom of God, and by how this is relevant for those of us think we’re all grown up.
The setup for Jesus’s words and deeds is straightforward. Luke begins by saying, “People were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them” (18:15). These “people” were mainly the parents of the infants, though they might have included grandparents or other relatives. Luke doesn’t tell us why they wanted Jesus to touch their children, but we rightly infer that this was a gesture of blessing, perhaps also of healing in certain cases. Given Jesus’s stature as a holy man, the actions of those bringing children to Jesus make perfect sense.
I can’t say the same thing for the actions of the disciples, however. Luke writes that “they sternly ordered them not to do it” (18:15). In no uncertain terms, the disciples told the parents and others to stop bothering Jesus with their children. Now, apart from any theological point to be made here, I find this behavior curious. The disciples must have thought they were doing the right thing. But why? There’s no way Jesus gave his disciples a look that said, “Get these kids out of here!” And surely, if he had been unhappy, Jesus was fully capable of stating his needs clearly. He didn’t tend to be shy about such things. The disciples knew this. So, even though Jesus didn’t cue the disciples, and even though he seemed quite willing to touch the children who were brought to him, the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them nonetheless. They did so, I must conclude because, in their view, children had no relevance to the work of Jesus. Children were so inconsequential, in their opinion, that the disciples assumed they were doing the right thing by clearing the children from Jesus’s busy schedule. They imagined they were doing Jesus a big favor.
Now, from the way the story progresses, we know they missed Jesus by a mile. They missed what he was thinking and feeling (see Mark 10:14). They did something with confidence, believing they were serving Jesus when, in fact, they were acting contrary to his will and mission.
I can sit back and smirk over the foolishness of the disciples. The fact that they were messing up is nothing exceptional, after all. It happened often in the Gospels. I can find myself thinking smugly, “Well, there they go again!” But as I pause to reflect, I’m struck by another thought, one far less self-satisfied. I wonder, “What if I also do this sometimes? What if I miss Jesus by a mile?” For example, as you know, I spend a lot of my life trying to help folks understand Jesus. But what if I’m wrong at times? I say “What if?” but I realize that the odds of my misunderstanding Jesus every now and then are astronomically high. I believe the Bible is always true and without error in its teaching. But I know for a fact that I’m not always true and without error in my teaching. I’m quite sure that there are times I think I’m serving Jesus well when in fact I’m missing him by a mile, or at least a half-mile.
I don’t know how this admission makes you feel, especially if you’re a regular reader of Life for Leaders. I promise you I do my best in study and prayer to rightly understand and apply biblical truth. But given the likelihood that I’m not always on target, you have a couple of choices. On the one hand, you could go looking for a perfect, infallible daily devotional. But apart from reading Scripture devotionally, good luck with that. On the other hand, you could continue to read Life for Leaders, but always with a discerning posture, open but evaluative. If you think I’m not quite right about something, pay attention to that thought. Study the biblical passage for yourself. Talk with God and with wise believers about it. Plus, you can always write me. Over the past six-and-a-half years I have sometimes received notes from folks who thought I’d missed something in a devotion. When I wrote back to explain what I meant, sometimes that would satisfy the other person. But, in some cases, I was persuaded that I had not stated things in the best way or had even misunderstood something in the text. In such cases, I rewrote the archived version of a devotion on our website to make it more truthful.
For me, acknowledging that there are times when I’m like the disciples in Luke 18:15-17, confidently speaking or acting on behalf of Jesus while missing him by a mile, leads me to recognize just how much I need God’s help in my life and work. Without the guidance and teaching of the Spirit of God, I’d be “sending children away from Jesus” all the time. Often the Spirit’s guidance for me comes by way of Scripture or other Christians. It also comes as in the form of spiritual gifts of wisdom or knowledge.
Remembering my potential for getting things wrong won’t keep me acting in service to the Lord, including writing Life for Leaders. But it will help me to be humble, to recognize my limits, and to reaffirm just how much I must depend on the Lord each moment of each day, in all I do and say.
Why do you think the disciples of Jesus acted as they did?
Have you ever experienced anything like this in your family? In your church?
Do you think it’s possible that sometimes you “miss Jesus by a mile,” even when you’re trying to serve him?
How does the possibility that you might be wrong about things make a difference in your life?
Take some time to talk with the Lord about whether there are ways in which you are missing Jesus by a mile.
Lord Jesus, as I watch your disciples miss you by a mile, at first, I’m critically amused. But then it occurs to me that I do this too. I’m sure I do, even if I’m not at all sure about when. So I ask for your forgiveness, both for getting you wrong and for my smugness in thinking that I don’t do this.
Lord, as I seek to honor you in all I do and say, may I be humble, realizing that sometimes I get it wrong. Nevertheless, may I step out in faith, trusting that you will take whatever I do and work it out for your good purposes. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Priority of Children
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.