Luke 18:15-17 ~ People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
It is no secret that spiritual things are not easy to grasp or understand. I have a very good friend of mine who several years ago pointed out to me that the Bible is one of the most difficult books to read and comprehend. He reasoned that much of the difficulty people encounter in trying to understand the Bible stemmed from the fact that it is written in biblease. Only someone who knows the Bible can understand the Bible. In addition, individuals who irresponsibly take biblical passages out of context also further misunderstandings of the Bible. A case and point is the recent prediction of the end of the world. While the Bible does speak of end times and that at some point the earth and every one in it will have to stand before almighty God to face God’s judgment. In Mark 13:32, Jesus said, “No one knows that day or hour not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Therefore, no person can predict when “judgment day will occur.”
One of the mistakes those who struggle to understand scripture make, and this includes ordained clergy like myself, is the tendency to use a natural and intellectual approach to spiritual things. The major problem here is that the natural and the spiritual operate on two different planes and therefore must be approached differently. In other words we cannot use the same approach to spiritual things that we use to understand things that occur in the natural. The natural can be seen and the spiritual is unseen. On the basis of this principle alone we must employ different approaches as we attempt to understand each respectively.
Even Jesus’ disciples who lived, worked and were taught by Jesus himself struggled to understand spiritual things. They tried, like us, to understand Jesus and His teachings in the context of their environment and the times in which they lived. Jesus often chastised them and referred to them as “slow” to understand as a result. It is like trying to read Shakespeare without any knowledge of “Old English,” or watching a soccer match without an understanding of the game. It simply does not work!
One of the things that made Jesus an extraordinary teacher was His ability to communicate spiritual lessons through life situations. Jesus recognized that because people live in the natural every situation we encounter provides an opportunity to learn something about the spiritual. So, Jesus used real life situations to provide spiritual instruction. One such situation occurred in Luke 18 where people brought their babies to Jesus. This is one of the passages used to support the act of baby dedication. Parents and guardians of children who sought to have their children touched by Jesus believed that through His touch a special blessing would be conferred on the life of child.
The distinction between infant baptism and baby dedication is that infant baptism is a symbolic opening of the door into the community of Christ to a child. It is the first step in a process that culminates in the child becoming a member of the community of Christ. Baby dedication is the bringing of children to Christ as both an offering and a sacrifice. It is a statement made by parents and guardians declaring their acknowledgment that a child’s life comes from God and ultimately belongs to God. Therefore, in an act of sacrifice the parent or guardian sacrificially offers the child back to God placing the child under God’s care and protection for the reminder of the Child’s life.
The disciples stepped in tried to break it up, and they dismissed the people. The action of the disciples highlights for us the crux or root of the problem as it relates to gaining an understanding of spiritual things. They, like some, dismissed what they did not understand. Rather than making an effort to acquire additional information about something they obviously did not see any value in, they tried to stop it by running interference. On the evening news one night this past week was a story about a debate between a world -renowned scientist and a 12 year-old boy. The debate centered on the existence of heaven. The scientist unequivocally dismissed the notion of the existence of heaven and the afterlife. He said that the idea of heaven and the afterlife is a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark. The scientist pointed out that there is no physical or tangible evidence to support the idea that heaven and the afterlife are real and therefore, on the basis of a lack of evidence the idea must be dismissed. The 12 year-old boy stated that he accepts the reality of heaven based on a surreal experience he had at the age of four. He stated that when he was four years old and nearing death he had a surgery that saved his life, and it was during this surgery that he saw Jesus.
One of the things this debate points out is that there are natural obstacles that can hinder us from understanding spiritual things. The reality is that all people struggle with things they do not understand and the tendency is to dismiss what we do not understand in the absence of physical evidence. However, I would submit to you that perhaps we are looking for the wrong kind of evidence. Physical evidence proves physical things. If I fill a cup with water, it proves the cup can hold water. It will not prove that God created water. On the other hand spiritual evidence proves spiritual things. When we pray to God and God answers our prayers it proves that God answers prayer. Therefore, we should not attempt to use physical evidence to prove spiritual things, but rather we should look for spiritual evidence to prove spiritual things.
Jesus overrode the disciple’s veto and then went on to point out that the kingdom of God belonged to and would be inhabited by children. What exactly is the kingdom of God? Jesus uses the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” synonymously. Any reference to either of these terms by Jesus should be understood as the perfect order of things which Jesus was about to establish, in which all those from every nation who believe in the lordship of Jesus will be gathered together into one society, dedicated and intimately united to God, and made partakers of God’s eternal salvation offered only through Jesus Christ. Essentially, Christ has laid the foundation for the kingdom of God through His life, death, and resurrection. Christ is also the gate and the door through which those who desire to become members of God’s kingdom must pass through. There is no other door or port of entrance. The only way to enter is through Jesus Christ.
Jesus also shares that an additional requirement to enter the kingdom of God is that all who enter must do so as a child. A distinction must be made here as Jesus uses both the singular child and the plural children. The term child refers to those who are developmentally older than babies, infants, and toddlers, but younger than adolescents. They are older than two or three years old, but younger than twelve to fourteen. Jesus uses the term children to refer to infants and babies. With regard to entering the kingdom of God and understanding spiritual things as a whole, Jesus teaches us that we must approach both like a child. To be clear, we must not be childish in our approach, but we must possess child-like qualities. Kids who have passed infancy but have yet to reach pre-adolescence generally exhibit three characteristics:
a) They tend to believe what they hear
b) They tend to obey people they believe in
c) They tend to trust what they hear from people they believe
Kids do not necessarily need to know all the details or understand all the facts in order to believe. If they trust the source, they will believe what is said and obey. Kids keep it simple, while adults complicate things. Remember the rubix cube? I would watch Michael give it a few twists and turns and everything would be lined up, then I would try it and to this day I still cannot figure it out. That is one of the reasons adults will not enter the kingdom of heaven and we have such difficulty understanding spiritual things, because we need too much information. Everything needs to make sense for adults. We are too intelligent and too sophisticated for God. Jesus encourages us to lower our IQ and bring it down a couple of notches, stop complicating things and keep it simple – believe, obey, and trust.
When it comes to trying to understand spiritual things, we need to channel our inner child and let him or her take the lead. The approach Jesus offers to help us gain a better understanding of spiritual things is five-fold:
1. See ourselves as children of God and Christ as our older brother – we must embrace the idea that we belong to God’s family and God has given us Christ as our role model to look up to and model our lives after.
2. Dismiss nothing, but be open to every principle contained in the scriptures – openness is the key to understanding, our understanding will grow only if we are open to the information God offers. The more open we are, the more information God will offer. Not even God can penetrate a closed mind.
3. Do not add or take away from God’s word but accept it, as it is – take personal feelings out of the equation. A parent’s job is to protect their child from being harmed and sometimes that means saying things and doing things that the child does not like.
4. Wait on God to reveal more – understanding comes from God and it comes in God’s time. Parenting is not an exact science and so much of what parents do and say is based on perception. If a parent gives the child something they are not ready for it may prove to be detrimental to the child in the long run. Trust that God will give us what we need when we need it and God will reveal to us what we need to know when we are ready to receive it.
5. Give ourselves totally and completely over to God daily – God is our Father and we are His children. In terms of the kingdom, God is the ruler and we are His subjects. In any kingdom there can only be one ruler and everyone else is subject to the one ruler. While we do not understand the how’s and why’s of what the ruler does, we trust that everything the ruler does is in the best interest of his or her subjects.
Jesus said let them come to Him. Christ implores us to come to Him like a child and follow His blueprint and the guidelines He offers. When we do that we will see that our understanding of spiritual things will begin to grow and increase. We cannot attempt to understand spiritual things a part from Christ, because He is our teacher, instructor, and role model. Christ alone possesses the key that unlocks the understanding of our mind. Therefore, we must come to Him, Christ Jesus, in order for Him to use the key to open our mind and increase our understanding of all that He teaches.