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Receiving the Kingdom as a Child

January 17, 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.”

Focus

When we come before God in our neediness, when we lean back into God’s sturdiness, when we admit our utter dependence on God and then choose to depend on God completely, we receive the gift of God’s reign in and over our lives.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

This is the third and final devotion focusing on a short story in Luke 18. It begins with people bringing babies to Jesus so that he might touch them and bless them. When Jesus’s disciples rebuked those bringing the babies, Jesus corrected them. He welcomed the “little children,” explaining that “it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (18:16). Then Jesus added, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (18:17).

What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God as a little child? Commentators and preachers often wax eloquent about the positive attributes of children that make them fit for the kingdom, including their unworldliness, openness, trusting nature, freedom from hypocrisy, and so forth. Though it’s possible Jesus had some of these character traits in mind, I’d rather focus on what we can know with confidence from the passage itself.

First, we can know that the kingdom of God is something we “receive” (18:17). We don’t achieve the kingdom, make the kingdom, or build the kingdom. You’ll sometimes hear well-meaning Christians talk as is the kingdom is something we create through our own effort. This doesn’t fit, however, with the teaching of Jesus. Though we are to live under the kingdom of God, and though we are to uphold its priorities, it’s not something we produce. Rather, the kingdom of God, or we might say the reign of God, is something we receive from God. God chooses to reign over our lives and over our world as an expression of God’s own grace. The kingdom of God is something we receive as a gift.

Second, we receive the kingdom of God “as a little child” (Luke 18:17). The Greek word translated here as “a little child” means, well, “a little child.” It was used for infant boys and girls as well as toddlers and other young children. In context, Jesus was referring to those identified as “infants” in verse 15. We don’t know much about them, other than the fact that they were being brought to Jesus. These little children were dependent on others, on the parents who carried them to Jesus and on Jesus who blessed them with his touch. The trait of children that Jesus emphasized here was their dependence, you might even say their helplessness.

Thus, the phrase “as a little child” strengthens the implications of “receive” the kingdom of God. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. We don’t build it. Rather, we receive God’s reign in our lives from a posture of utter dependence and need.

What we learn from the story of Jesus and the children reinforces, therefore, what Jesus taught in the previous passage of Luke. There, as you may recall, the Pharisees who boasted before God of his spiritual accomplishments was not justified before God—whereas the tax collector who cried out for mercy was justified, according to Jesus. Humility before and dependence upon God are essential if we’re going to live under God’s gracious reign.

As one who was raised to value self-reliance and independence, I find Jesus’s teaching in Luke 18 to be challenging. It reminds me of just how much I must rely on God’s grace if I want to live under God’s reign. It confronts my pride in my own spiritual accomplishments and calls me to be, not an earner, but a receiver of the kingdom of God.

When we come before God in our neediness, when we lean back into God’s sturdiness, when we admit our utter dependence on God and then choose to depend on God completely, we receive the gift of God’s reign in and over our lives.

Reflect

When you think about receiving God’s kingdom as a little child, what comes to mind for you? How do you feel about this?

Can you think of a time in your life when you were particularly aware of your dependence on God? What was this like for you?

To what extent are you tempted to think of God’s kingdom as something you can build through your own efforts, rather than something to be received as a gift?

Act

Talk with God today about your dependence on him. Be honest about what you’re thinking and feeling. Ask God to help you be open to receiving the kingdom as a child.

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you, once again, for welcoming little children and for touching them with your blessing. Thank you for what this shows us about how we might come to you and how we might receive the kingdom of God.

Forgive me, Lord, when I give in to thinking that the kingdom of God is something I do, make, or build. Yes, I am called to embody the kingdom of God, to live out its reality in every part of life. But even this I do by your grace at work in me. So, forgive me when my pride overcomes my humility and sense of dependence on you.

By your grace, may I live under your reign today, Lord. May I seek you and your justice in everything I do, not in order to enter your kingdom, but because you have already welcomed me in. 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 Brave and Radical Kingdom of God


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2 thoughts on “Receiving the Kingdom as a Child

  1. Jonathan Russell says:

    Thanks for this series, Mark. One thing it causes me to think about is how pastors handle “disruptive” children during a service. I remember how well my pastor handled young children during the funeral of their sister. Her siblings were restless. The parents and extended family were looking for comfort, not judgment on their parental skills or on their kids’ inability to stay in their seats. The pastor wisely just let them play in the space between the front row and the platform, as he continued on. Something in that moment reminded me of Jesus and this passage in Luke.

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Thanks, Jonathan, for your comment. Yes, I’ve seen pastors do really well with this, too. And sometimes not so well. There was a news story some years back about a pastor who had an unruly child in a children’s sermon. The pastor got so angry that he spanked the child in church. Not so good . . . . Then there was the priest in England who, in a Christmas Eve service, announced to the children present that there was no Santa Claus. Oops. Mostly, we pastors do better.

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