“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:17
“It is not only more blessed to give than to receive”, says Frederick Buechner, “it is also a lot easier.” It is easier to give because then you work from the position of strength and capability. You have value to confer on others. You enjoy the freedom to decide how to give, to whom, and when. You have capital to invest.
A giver has power; a giver has options; and a giver has independence. The alternative that scares us to death is being on the receiving end. Receiving help and being dependent upon other people can be a sorrowful thing. We do not like our circumstances when the balance of trade is out of whack and neediness lingers.
Jesus calls us to receive the kingdom as children. And that is humbling, maybe even humiliating. Yet he calls us to be on the receiving end of the gospel not just for survival, not just for sanity, but for joy and longevity in the Christian life. This passage calls us to receive the kingdom on Jesus’ terms and not on the basis of who we are and what we are doing or have done.
Notice that in rebuking to the disciples and instructing the crowds, Jesus is not holding these infants as object lessons because there is something inherently good in children. He is not singling out some sappy, sentimental truism about kids. He is showcasing the most realistic and instructive feature of children: their dependence and neediness.
When Jesus takes the infant into his arms in full view of and for the benefit of the disciples, he is showcasing a most vivid picture of dependency. He is carrying in his arms an empty-handed, open mouthed bundle of need, that is waiting for, longing for the reception of attention, care, and sustenance.
Receiving the kingdom as a child requires coming to Jesus empty-handed:
Augustus Toplady wrote a hymn he entitled, ‘The Living and Dying Prayer of the Holiest Believer On Earth”. It is more familiar to us as “Rock of Ages”. The third stanza pictures beautifully what receiving the kingdom like a child looks like:
“Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling, Naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace, foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I die.”
Today Jesus is offering the kingdom to you on his terms. All he is asking is for you to receive his grace like a child. Will you be needy enough, empty-handed enough to welcome such a gift with the joy of a child?