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The Touch of Blessing

On Valentine’s Day we all heard the news of an event that is becoming far too frequent in our nation—another school shooting—this time in Florida. I, perhaps like you, have become very frustrated with our politicians and their lack of action on gun control. But what I am even more concerned about is the thought that we, all of us, may be growing numb to these sorts of events.

One thing is certain—and that is that there is one person who is not numb to all of this. And that is our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe he is weeping right now over what is happening in our country. He is weeping because he loves us, all of us, but especially the children. We see that love displayed in our passage for today from Mark 10:13-16. Listen for God’s word to you….

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

When were the children brought to Jesus? The Teacher had just finished answering the Pharisee’s question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus has just made it unmistakably clear that what God has put together no man must break apart. He has said that, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Now, what has this got to do with the story of Jesus and the children?... A lot! Divorce is extremely harmful to children and Jesus certainly knew this. First, Jesus secures the importance of the family structure with father and mother. Then in this passage Jesus indicates the tremendous worth of children themselves by receiving them into his arms. Without proper structure and nurture, these children, who hold such a special place in the master’s heart, will be damaged.

Who brought the children to Jesus? It was perhaps common in Jesus’ day for parents to bring their children to the Rabbi of the synagogue that he might bestow a blessing upon them. So perhaps the children were brought to Jesus for this reason. The text says that “they were bringing the children that he might touch them.” Whoever brought them simply wanted the powerful touch of this wonder-working prophet to be upon their children. And as the account shows, Jesus gave the children more than what was asked for.

Where were the children brought to Jesus? They were brought to him while he was in the house, as we discover from the preceding verses. This is a living illustration of Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” When we teach our children the Scriptures, the whole goal should be to lead them to Jesus. This can be done at any available time. The secret is in finding the teachable moment.

The children were also brought to Jesus while he was in the way. He was, at this time in the way going to the cross. It was on the cross that he would shed his blood so that the sins of these children, of their parents, of all of us, would be washed whiter than snow. As you know, the word “dear” really means valuable or expensive. These children are dear to Jesus because he is about to pay the greatest price to buy them back from slavery to sin.

How were the children brought to Jesus? Obviously, they were brought physically. But secondly, we need to notice that they were brought continually. The verb in this sentence refers to a continuous action in the past: “They were bringing.”

How can we bring our children to Jesus today? We cannot bring them to Jesus physically, but we can do something far better. We can bring them to Jesus spiritually by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can do this by sharing Scripture with them. If the Bible is an important part of our lives, then our children will learn to love the Bible too.

We can also bring our children to Jesus by praying with them and for them. Henrietta Mears, who for many years led the Christian Education Department of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, was introduced to Jesus as a young child by her mother who prayed with her. One morning, Henrietta happened to get up very early and she peeked through her mother’s bedroom door, only to find her mother on her knees by her bedside and moving her lips silently. Henrietta wondered what in the world her mother was doing. Her mother invited her to come and pray with her and her mother allowed Henrietta to pray with her every morning from that time on, whenever she got up early enough to do so.

We also need to pray for our children; we need to pray more than we preach. My parents had one simple prayer for each of their six children: that we would come to know Jesus and accept him as Lord and Savior of our lives. As far as I know, God has honored that prayer in my life and in the lives of my siblings.

Do you pray for your children and for your grandchildren if you have them? If you don’t have children of your own, what about praying for someone else’s child? I had a friend in San Diego for whose children I prayed for many years and she told me that was a great comfort to her.

Bringing our children to Jesus involves putting them totally into his hands and trusting them completely to his care. It does not mean we give up our job as parents, but it does mean that we must not cling to our children. We must let them go spiritually into Jesus’ hands as we will one day have to let them go physically.

A poignant example of this is contained in the story of Hannah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Hannah was one of the wives of Elkanah, but she was disgraced in the culture of that time because she was barren. Hannah prayed that the Lord would give her a child and she promised that if the Lord would do that, then she would give that child to a lifetime of service in the Lord’s house.

Well, God did answer Hannah’s prayer and Hannah kept her end of the bargain. When she took her child to the tabernacle to give him to Eli the priest, she said these beautiful words: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore, I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” This child grew up to become the great prophet Samuel. Would that we too would get into the habit of “lending” our children to the Lord.
Now let’s take a look at the disciple’s response to the children. Those who are close to Jesus sometimes have huge blind spots in their lives, just like the rest of us. We all probably have a bit of a tendency to major in minors; we pay too much attention to things that don’t really matter, and so we fail to see what is essential to our master’s purpose. This was the problem of the disciples; they failed to see how the children could be anything but a nuisance to Jesus. They must have thought: “He doesn’t have time.” “The teacher has no energy to spend on children.” “What can it be worth to him to waste his time on them.”

Before we condemn these uncaring, preoccupied disciples, let us remember how much we are like them. We too hinder the children from coming to Jesus whenever we devalue children in thought, word or deed, whenever we do not prepare appropriate programs for them in our church. Some children are hindered from coming to Jesus because we make church a boring, dry, exclusively adult activity. In short, whenever we do not consider the worth and needs of the children around us, we may be hindering them from coming to Jesus and finding in him their Savior and Lord.

I believe Jesus is pained in the heart when he sees the callousness, the aloofness, with which we so often treat his little ones. It fills our Lord with nothing short of anger. Jesus is upset when we, like his first disciples, have spent such a long time with him, yet we still do not discern his desire to reach out and touch people of all ages.

Though we as disciples may fail, still Jesus sees the children’s need; he sees their worth; he proclaims it in action and in words. He opens his arms saying: “Let the children come to me. Stop holding them back! My kingdom is especially for them.”

The disciples must have thought, “What does he mean the kingdom of God is for such as these? These little children can’t even understand the simplest of the parables. How can they possibly receive something they can’t understand?”

Actually, it was the disciples who did not understand—that what the children could not comprehend with their minds, they could receive with their hearts.

In response to the disciples, Jesus makes one of the most wonderful statements in all of the Gospels. He says that a person cannot get into God’s kingdom unless that person receives the kingdom like a child.

Does that sound impossible? How can we become children again and have a child’s receptivity once we have become adults?

Well, if this sounds like an invitation to do the impossible, we should not be surprised. Jesus seemed to specialize in the impossible. He told a paralyzed man to pick up his bed and go home. (Matthew 9:6) He told his bewildered disciples, when he sent them out on their first mission, to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. (Matthew 10:8) He called to Peter across a stormy stretch of water: “Come to me!” (Matthew 14:29) He called to a dead man who had been in his tomb for four days: “Lazarus come out!” (John 11:43) Clearly, Jesus’ ministry was not normal, not run-of-the-mill. He settled for nothing less than extraordinary.

The most startling thing, however, is not Jesus’ expectation placed on normal human beings, but the fact that he gives those same ordinary human beings the power to do his will. Jesus of Nazareth, beyond the strength of any other religious leader who has ever lived, can soften hardened hearts and make them receptive as children to his love.

But what does Jesus mean by: “You must receive the kingdom of God like a child or you shall not enter it”? For the answer to that question, we must look at the way in which children receive.

First, children receive totally. The true child holds nothing back but rather ventures all. The child can do this because he or she has no concerns about who is watching; he or she does not care what onlookers think; there is no thought of being embarrassed.

Perhaps you have refused to give your whole life to Jesus because you are afraid that someone may think you are crazy. So what? What have you got to lose? As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Why not be a fool for Jesus?

Secondly, children receive thankfully. They are not afraid to express joy and gratitude. When children really like something, they let you know. It is questionable whether we have ever really received Jesus if we have never thanked him for his indescribable gift.

Tim Hansel used to tell the story of teaching students in a public high school many years ago. One day he got so frustrated with his students that he wrote on the blackboard in two-foot high block letters: A…P…A…T…H…Y. One student turned to the other and asked, “Apaaathy. What’s that mean?” And the other student replied, “Who cares?!”

If we are to receive the kingdom of God like children, apathy must be replaced with bubbling gratitude and joy. If we don’t have an expressive thankfulness toward Jesus, something is desperately wrong with our spirituality.

Thirdly, children receive the kingdom in a timely manner. Children live in the here and now. The action verbs of their daily living come only in the present tense. Many people refuse to come to Jesus and receive him because they want to put it off until “a more appropriate time” in the future.

There is no time but now as far as God is concerned.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist for a website called “Fatherly”. She wanted to interview me for a series they have entitled “My Father The________”. Others in the series have included the children of people like Muhammed Ali and John Wayne. I was happy to grant an interview.

The journalist, Lizzy Francis, said that she had no religious background whatsoever. And she was fascinated with my father’s seemingly spur-of-the-moment decision to follow Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham tent meeting.

After talking with Lizzy about some of the circumstances that contributed to my father’s decision, I said: “I am so glad he made that decision to follow Jesus that day, because if he had not, I might never have been born.”

As Paul says, “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

And as the writer to the Hebrews says, “today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.”

Respond to Jesus in this Kairos moment, this Now moment, just like a child.

Finally, children receive the kingdom of God tenderly. They are not afraid at all to express the love they feel for Jesus. I remember one little boy in a church I served who was never afraid to ask his friends or anyone he met: “Hey, do you love Jesus?”

That’s the kind of child God wants us to be—unafraid, unabashed, in our love for Jesus.

Picture the scene: Jesus holding out his arms, calling the children to himself. They run to him in playful, receptive, tender adoration. They are taken up in his arms and they can feel the power of Jesus’ strong yet gentle love. A moment later they are released from his tough but tender grip, though they long to linger in his presence for just one more moment. They return to their parents—to their simple, ordinary childhood ways—but somehow, they will never be the same, for they have just received the greatest gift of all: the touch of blessing.

Perhaps you are here today, and you have heard this story before, the story of Jesus receiving the children, but you still find it hard to believe that Jesus would receive you. “Sure, Jesus can love the children,” you say, “What is not to love about little children? They are so pure and innocent. But then there’s my life,” you say, “I’m messed up. I’ve blown it time and time again. It’s impossible for the tangled web of my life to be straightened out. Impossible for me to start fresh, like a child.”

Let me just remind you one more time: Jesus specializes in the impossible. Next week we are going to hear the disciples ask Jesus: “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus will look at them and say, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Jesus also says to you today, “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

Allow me to close today with a poem by Myra Brooks Welch that my father often recited from memory….

It was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
      But held it up with a smile.

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar.” Then two! Only two?
“Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice,
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought

By the touch of the master’s hand.


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