Mark 9:30–10:16 Jesus Loves the Little Children.

Key Notes: Cause a child to sin? Accepting a child is accepting Jesus? Divorce and other hazards of childhood. High hopes for today's children.

This text contains a number of topics that appear disconnected but the recurring and unusual theme is the word “child” which is repeated five times. The disciples hear for the second time that Jesus will be killed, and this set them off in a crass direction.

9:30–34 On their way back from the Mount of Transfiguration toward Capernaum, He told them a second time of His coming death. They could not believe it but understood that their Master would be gone and someone must take over the leadership. Who might that be? When they got to the house, Jesus asked them what they were talking about and they were reluctant to say. He did not press.

9:35–37 He said, to be first, you must be last and servant of the rest.
Then He cradled a small child in the crook of His arm and said something apparently unrelated.
            To receive a child is to receive Me and to receive Me is to receive Him who sent Me.

We understand another statement Jesus made about a child more clearly. “Truly I say you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mk.10:15). That statement put us in the position of being child-like in faith. This statement puts Christ Himself in the position of being child-like, a strange idea.

The context is the pursuit of leadership by the disciples. Leadership embodies power, status, authority, greatness. Jesus says they must learn to think in directly opposite terms. Leadership is humble service. How do we receive a child? Welcome the child as a guest, acknowledge its value, accept the child as it is. We can understand that. Elsewhere Jesus described Himself as “meek, and lowly in heart” (Matt.11:29),  and they must accept Him on these child-like  terms. He is completely dependent on and obedient to His Father. (Jn.5:19-- and there are ten more such references in that chapter.)  He was not proud, but meek, not power-hungry but gentle, and unpretentious. The prophet Isaiah described Him: “He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear His voice in the streets; He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.” (Isa .42:1–4; Matt. 12:19–20). He was not a hero conquering the Romans but “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. “ (Isa.53:7). We must accept Him in that status.

Oswald Chambers understood that:

“Our Lord’s childhood was not immature manhood; our Lord’s childhood is an eternal fact. Am I a holy innocent child of God by identification with my Lord and Saviour? Do I look upon life as being in my Father’s house? Is the Son of God living in His Father’s house in me?
--are you so identified with the Lord’s life that you are simply a child of God, continually talking to Him and realizing that all things  come from His hands? Is the Eternal Child in you living in the Father’s house?"
         (My Utmost for His Highest. O. Chambers. Dodd and Mead,’35, p.210)

 9:38–41 Meantime, John worried about some unauthorized exorcists. Who can blame John for his annoyance?
            You can’t build a house  without being a member of the carpenter’s union!
            Who would recruit a church pastor without a seminary degree?
            People who practice medicine without a license are fakes and frauds.

Maybe these spiritual frauds will soil the disciples’ reputation for success. (but see Mk.9:28–29). Jesus’ response was low-key and He shrugged off the question of licensing and authorization. Loyalty is the issue. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Matthew records the opposite expression:  “He who is not with Me is against Me….” (Matt.12:30) which  is equally true. There is no truly neutral ground. As little as a cup of water given to someone in remembrance of Him is an expression of loyalty that will be rewarded.

Moses had a similar conflict with unauthorized spiritual workers in the wilderness. God had put some of Moses’ spirit on 70 elders and they prophesied. But a young man reported to Moses that there were two unauthorized men somewhere in the camp on whom the Spirit came, also prophesying. Moses not only refused to stop them, but wished that the Spirit of God would come on all the Lord’s people. Num.11:25–30

9:42 Jesus gave a serious warning to those who lead a child into sin, like child-molesters. Sexual intercourse with a child is wicked and ruinous to the child’s development, crippling it for life emotionally, if not physically. It is a despicable crime. Better to be dead than abuse a child, but “to cause to sin” covers much more territory than active child abuse. We can think of many ways that children can be tempted, but we need also to be reminded of failure to bring the child to faith in Christ and allowing it to grow up without hope of redemption. We think of children as little angels, but they are born as lost souls and need a Savior. Letting the child make up its own mind about religious issues is abandonment and the child goes in its natural direction, into sin.

9:43–48 It is better to mutilate yourself than to allow the child to be ruined by wicked adult behaviors. Hell will be terrible suffering for the child-abuser. “Everyone (in Hell) will be salted with fire.”

9:49 “Everyone will be salted with fire” relates most directly to salt used in all altar sacrifices of animals. (Lev.2:13). It may also relate to Paul’s teaching on final judgment:

“…each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (ICor.3:11–15).

Its attachment to Jesus' next statement is hard to understand because it speaks of salt (?salty wisdom) as a valuable contribution to society. The next statement “Have salt in yourselves and be a peace with one another.” shifts the context again. We are not to demand priority over the others in the group, reflecting back on 9:33–37. Paul also said “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. “ (Col.4:6)

10:1–12 Jesus’ teaching on divorce causes much heart-burn and discussion about exceptions. He answered the question of the Pharisees by taking us back before the law of Moses, to the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2, joined together by God. Here Jesus offers no excuse for divorce.

In Matt.19:9 Jesus offers adultery as the single exception.
“Pauline privilege” adds abandonment by the unbelieving spouse. I Cor.7:15
Another exception is offered by some pastors. “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away, the new has come.” (IICor.5:17). This is sometimes interpreted to offer second--or third—marriages when the previous commitments were made before coming to faith in Christ.

In practice, most churches look away from these texts and bless any commitment as better than no commitment and any ceremony done in the church as better than in the legal setting. O tempore! O mores!

However hard we view Jesus’ words against divorce to be, marriage cannot really be undone. Psychologically, no one is truly free of a living divorced partner. Legal papers do not negate the physical and emotional bond that was formed. Marriage is unforgettable, and irrevocable.

10:13–16  Jesus thought children were not a nuisance—at best simply more hands for keeping the sheep--but souls for the Kingdom, to be hugged and prayed over and blessed.

In Mark 9–10 Jesus teaches
            *His coming death and resurrection.
            *Receiving children and thus receiving Him.
            *Not rejecting distant followers.
            *The danger of sin against children.
            *On fidelity in marriage.
            *Receiving children and blessing them.

The disciples were interested in credentials and priority, when Jesus’ departure loomed up.

Jesus told them to focus on His own humble and gentle nature.
Credentials are of no importance but loyalty is.
Do not dare to sin against a child (who has no credentials) and lose your soul.
Do not divorce your spouse: think of the children!
Be like a child to enter the kingdom.
Matt.18:1–14 concentrates the subject of children even more than Mark and adds this beautiful note
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.18:10)

Jesus is unique in His teaching on children. Moses exhorts parents to teach their children the law with diligence. (Deut.6:4–9). Paul teaches parents to discipline their children wisely. (Eph.6:4; Col.3:21). Jesus also exhorts, but warns us passionately not to lead children astray .

Divorce devastates children and leads them into sin. About 25% will drop academically,  misbehave,  abuse drugs or engage in promiscuity. They are guilt-ridden, thinking somehow that they are the cause of the parents’ separation. Parents often play off the children against the other spouse and try to buy the children with clothes and toys. Children of divorce are also prone to divorce their own spouses later in life. (See many entries on the Internet under “Children of Divorce”.)

Although poverty continues all over the world, and child slavery-- child soldiering-- and sexual anarchy runs rampant, good things are also happening. Although the bad get worse, the good get better. In homes where the parents are devout believers in Christ, and poverty is not an issue, opportunities for children are greater than ever. Christian homes are wiser in their training than ever before, and the love exhibited by parents for their children has become more articulate and meaningful over the past two or three generations. Children are literate at younger ages when their parents read to them and teach actively. Home-schooled children can win spelling bees! Their health is bettered by immunizations and good diet. Their futures are full of hope. We must only take care not to flatter or try to create princesses and princes out of little children, leading them to be narcissistic and proud.

On the other end of the scale, where children are raised by one parent in a broken home, with poverty and no spiritual  or intellectual direction, truancy, drug abuse, early pregnancy and homicide of young males is crushing the life out of a large segment of the upcoming generation. We have a lot of work to do.

It is the church’s task to

*Receive children of all ethnic and social groups and abilities, the poor, Down’s syndrome, autistics, and those with other behavior problems. "Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me...." Make them a priority. Churches grow when babies are a priority.
*Follow Jesus’ model of lowliness and simplicity .Become like a child yourself so as to enter the Kingdom of God.
*Bring the children to Jesus for salvation and blessing
*Keep children from stumbling. Be good role models and point out the pitfalls.
*Preach monogamous, life-long marriage. Counsel dysfunctional couples. Stay together as families. God hates divorce! Mal.2:16

PS “Too Small to Ignore.” by W. Stafford. Waterbrook Press, 2007. is by a child of missionaries and is a plea for the love and care of children. It recounts his own suffering of abuse in an African mission school as a child.

PPS. Jesus said we must receive Him and the Kingdom of God as little children.

My Sunday class, a group of about forty,  had a lot of grad students. One Sunday a young mother brought her child because there was no Sunday School for kids that day.
I was teaching I Tim. 1:10  “…contrary to sound doctrine.” I said that the word “sound” is the Greek word from which we get “hygiene”, or health, so the text could be read as “contrary to healthy doctrine.” Could anyone think of a healthy doctrine? There was a thoughtful silence.
The seven-year-old girl put up her hand: “Healthy doctrine is when you stay home on Sunday and rest.”  The room exploded.

Later I asked her mother how a seven-year-old could clearly see what no adult in the room could think of. She said her children's minds are uncluttered with details, arguments and contradictions. They see things simply--and in their case, spiritually as well.
That is how we must come to the Kingdom. Put aside doubts, politics, evolution, guilt, poor role models,  bad preaching, church hypocrisy, and accept Jesus as Lord.