************ Sermon on Luke 18:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 30, 2001
"Receive the Kingdom Like a Little Child"
[This sermon is heavily dependent upon a "Christianity Today" article by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in the Jan 10, 2000 issue.]
I Giving and Receiving
A "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child."
Do you know what I think of when I hear these words. I think of Christmas.
Christmas is the time of the year when children are at the receiving end. "Christmas is for children." Parents bring them to the Santa Claus parade and to look at lights and decorations. Parents take them to grandma's place and to the movie theater or the bowling alley. Parents and grandparents praise them for their Sunday School program. Who can forget the sight of children on Christmas eve or Christmas morning gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off their presents and wholeheartedly giving hugs of thanks to the giver?
At Christmas time children are receivers and parents and other adults generally are givers. We love to give and children love to receive. Everyone is happy with this arrangement, right?
B The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus once said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). This is not found in any of the gospels, so we are not sure when and where Jesus said this. But, in this holiday season, most people would agree with our Lord: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." That is why the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and Home Missions and World Missions and CRWRC and many other causes make appeals for money during this time of the year. There is something about Christmas that makes people want to be givers.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Our Lord, of course, wants to encourage generosity. He wants us to keep the poor and hungry and widow and orphan and homeless and refugee and lonely in mind.
Do you know what happens when we are givers? We are like God. We give out of our abundance and shower it upon those who can only receive. When we give a gift of money or offer someone a willing hand or an encouraging word, we are standing on holy ground.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." In our society, at least, it is also easier. It is easier to be a giver than a receiver. If you are a giver, think of what it says about you. It says you have something that others want and need. It says you have value to confer on others. It says you've got freedom and power because you decide what to give, when to give, and to whom to give.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Often, though, our giving is all messed up. Sometimes, for instance, when we give we become patronizing. We talk down to the recipient. We attach some strings to our gift. Other times, we give to the wrong people or the wrong cause. And, sometimes we give the wrong thing. We give someone a gift of money or a gift certificate when what they really need is a visit or an encouraging word.
C "It is more blessed to give than to receive." In our society, at least, it generally is not good for you to be a receiver. If you have nothing to give, if you are always on the receiving end – it tends to make you passive and dependent. If you are always a receiver, think of what it says about you. You are labeled a welfare-bum, or a street person, or a bag-lady, or a pan-handler. Very few Christians relish a chance to get help from the deacons and to need help from the benevolence fund.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." I've noticed over the years that we are not good receivers. We don't like to be dependent. We don't like to be obliged. Not only that, but we don't know how to receive. Somebody gives us a gift and we rebuke them with, "Oh, you shouldn't have." Or, somebody gives us a compliment for the way we played the organ or piano or horn and we put ourselves down with, "Did you hear all the mistakes I made?" In effect, we are blocking the gift of praise.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." I've also noticed over the years that we are cynical receivers. Someone rich makes a big donation for an addition at school, or for a new wing of the church building, and the first thing some people do is criticize the donor for being a publicity hog or a news hound; or, they criticize them for not giving the money to other causes; or, they criticize them for being rich.
II Receiving Like a Child
A Within this context of flawed giving and equally flawed receiving it is surprising, to say the least, that Jesus calls us to receive the kingdom of God like a little child.
Now, Jesus is not becoming sentimental and teary-eyed about little children and infants. He is not going on about all of their virtues – wether real or imaginary. Jesus, don't forget, can look within the heart. And He knows that even little children and infants are perverse and selfish and self-centered. He knows that they are just as fallen, just as sinful, and just as corrupt as their parents and grandparents.
So in Luke 18 Jesus doesn't say how sweet little children and infants are. He doesn't tell us how special they are. He doesn't say a word about their innocence or purity.
B "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." What is it about little children and infants that Jesus is holding before us?
When Jesus touches a child to bless the child do you know what He sees? He sees a bundle of needs. Little children and infants are needy people.
Don't forget, Jesus was talking to first-century people. Nobody had designer children in those days – with the baby's sex and date of birth pre-determined. Nobody had or wanted a child-centered family like you see so often today. A child was another mouth to feed, another body to bathe, another set of clothes to wash, another person to watch over. And, in that general time and place, if you were not able to do all this, you put the baby outside to die.
Jesus looks at a little child and sees someone you need to feed and clothe for a long time before they are old enough to milk a goat or prune a vine. Jesus looks at an infant and sees someone who has nothing to give. They don't produce anything except work. They can't build a barn or dig a well or find a sheep or stop a wolf.
There is just one thing that little children and infants are good at, one thing they can do better than the rest of us, one lesson they can teach us all. Jesus points to little children and infants as perfectly wonderful receivers. They don't produce very much – in fact, they don't produce anything – but are they ever great at receiving!
Nudge an infant with a nipple and her mouth automatically opens to receive. Hold out a Christmas or birthday present to a little child and he can't wait to rip off the wrapping.
C "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." Do you realize what this means? It means we are to receive the kingdom of God like a little child receives a Christmas present. It means we are to receive it wholeheartedly. It means we are to receive it joyfully. It means we are to receive it with enthusiasm. It means we are to receive it uncritically. It means we are to receive it with open hands and mouth and mind and spirit and heart so we can absorb 100% of what God wants to gives us.
III Receive as a Gift of Grace
A "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." Little children and infants are receivers, not givers. In other words, they cannot do anything and they cannot give anything which contributes to their welfare.
Little children and infants are receivers, not givers. They are totally dependent upon others. For everything. For food and drink. To be changed and clothed. To be bathed and burped. They are at the mercy of others. If they need something they need to cry for it or wait for it – they cannot do it for themselves. They are helpless.
Little children and infants are receivers, not givers. And, they do nothing to deserve what they get. They don't earn their food and drink, their clothing and shelter. They don't earn nor do they deserve the presents they get at Christmas – otherwise they would not be gifts.
B "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." You need to realize you are a receiver, not a giver. In other words, you need to realize you cannot do anything and you cannot give anything which gains you entrance into the kingdom of God. You need to realize your total dependence upon Another. You need to realize you cannot enter the kingdom of God by your own merits.
The One we are totally dependent upon, of course, is God in Christ. We depend upon Him for everything. When it comes to entrance into the kingdom of God, there is not one thing we can do for ourselves. Not calling, not regeneration, not conversion, not repentance, not faith, not justification, not sanctification, not perseverance. It is all of grace. It is all of mercy. It is all undeserved, unmerited, and unearned. You are a receiver, not a giver. You are helpless.
IV Receive Apart from Status
A "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." You need to realize the status of children in the Ancient World. Though they were loved, they were powerless. They were lowly people. They counted for nothing. They were at the bottom rung of society, even below slaves.
They had no economic value. No social standing. No physical strength. No political power. No military might. They were no-bodies in the great scheme of things.
Most nations or kingdoms recognize those with any kind of status or power. For instance, in spite of quotas, you can always enter the United States under an economic visa if you are starting or buying a business. In Israel, those who were related to Herod or the High Priest were treated with honor and respect. In the Roman Empire, those who were generals or senators or citizens had far more status than those who weren't.
B "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." Contrary to the kingdoms of His day, Jesus made room in His kingdom for those without status and power. In fact, your status or lack of status makes no difference in His kingdom.
This matter of lowly status starts already with the King of the kingdom. He was born of a woman pregnant before marriage. At birth He was laid in a manger in the city of Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth of Galilee. He was trained as a carpenter. He was a nobody according to the standards of the world.
This matter of lowly status continues with those Jesus associated with. He seemed to go out of His way to reach out to the lowest of the low, to reach out to the outcasts of society: prostitutes, tax-collectors, Galilean fishermen, lepers, drunkards, and the like. He welcomed their presence. He ate and drank with them. He talked with them and was interested in them. He touched them and healed them.
"Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." You enter the kingdom of God not because of who you are, not because of who your parents are, not because of your wealth or standing or power or position or status. You come as nothing and you enter with nothing. You come in humility. You come as a nobody. You come only because Jesus accepts you.
V Receive and Grow
A "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." What happens to little children and infants as receivers? What happens as they take in the food, drink, clothing, shelter, and love their parents give to them? They grow, of course. They mature. They develop. They don't remain children forever. They receive until they reach the point they can also give.
B "Receive the kingdom of God like a little child." You need to realize you are expected to grow and develop in your faith, in your commitment, in your love for God. Jesus may want our faith to be child-like but He does not want our faith to be childish. He doesn't want us to remain immature. He doesn't want us to keep our faith simple. He wants us to be active and involved in the life and ministry of the church and kingdom. He wants us to grow in His grace and knowledge. This means we need to take in all the nourishment Christ offers to us: worship, Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, sacraments, Church School, personal devotions, good Christian reading material, retreats and conventions, and the like.
VI A Warning
A Finally, I want you to notice that our Scripture reading ends with a warning: "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Luke puts this story right after the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee, of course, is the prime example of someone who did not receive the kingdom of God like a little child. So proud of his status as a Pharisee, so stubborn, so self-reliant, so self-righteous. He did not need outside help. He was not helpless. He was not totally dependent upon Another. Listen to what the Pharisee says about himself:
(Lk 18:11-12) 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'Imagine praying this kind of prayer about yourself.
In contrast was the Tax Collector. He was everything the Pharisee was not. Humble, needy, helpless, dependent. No status. No standing. No power. He came as He was with nothing to offer. He came as He was, able only to receive.
The Tax Collector, we would have to say, was like a little child. He "went home justified before God" (Lk 18:14). The Pharisee, on the other hand, was not "justified before God."
B If you, my brothers and sisters, will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child you will never enter it.
If you will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child receives a present, then you will remain outside of the kingdom.
If you think that you have earned entrance into the kingdom of God, if you think that you have something to offer to God, if you think that you are not 100% dependent upon God to get into the kingdom, then Jesus has no place for you.
If you think that your status on earth gives you status in heaven then the door to heaven will be closed to you.
If you think you can remain forever childish and immature in your faith then the King of Heaven Himself will turn His back on you.
"Christmas is for children." Because at Christmas children are at the receiving end.
The kingdom of God is for those who are like children. Because the kingdom of God is for those who are at the receiving end.
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