The Setting for Grace

Mark 10:13-16

September 26, 1999 | Brian Bill

It’s so easy for us to think that kids just get in trouble, that they’re a bother, or that they just frankly don’t matter much.  

Jesus took the time to minister to children.  On the two occasions when he fed large groups of people — 5,000 men one time and 4,000 on another day — he also fed children.  And, it was a young boy who gave Him the fish and bread which launched one of the miracles in the first place.

In Matthew 18, Jesus called a little child to Him and had him stand among the disciples.  It strikes me that Jesus didn’t have to go looking for a child — there was obviously one right nearby.  I think there were children with Jesus all the time.  

When Jesus made his last entry into Jerusalem, it was the children who shouted out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” (Matthew 21:15)

Later, when Jesus is looking out over the city of Jerusalem, he says, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

In our text for today, we see that Jesus extended grace to kids in a rather unique way.  Please turn to Mark 10:13-16.  

1 — Let Children Come

Since kids matter to Jesus and should therefore matter to us, this passage challenges us with 3 action steps.

The first thing we need to do in relation to children, is to let them come.  I want you to notice in verse13 that people were bringing little children to Jesus.  The tense of the words indicate that this was something that was customary — it happened all the time.  These parents knew that kids matter to Jesus.  They knew that their kids would be welcome.  They knew that their kids would be prayed for and blessed by Jesus.  

They didn’t even think twice about it.  They weren’t worried about Jesus turning his back on them — or their kids.  I’m sure they had noticed how Jesus had treated children on many different occasions.  They no doubt wanted their kids to be ministered to as well.  

But the disciples didn’t like the interruption.  Acting as bodyguards and protectors, they scolded the parents.  Why couldn’t these children just go and play?  How dare they bother Jesus?  He has more important things to do.  After all, they were more important than a bunch of kids — they were his chosen disciples.  The disciples then turn to these adults and rebuke them — they tell them off.  

The word “rebuke” is strong.  It’s the same word that is used by Jesus when he rebuked the wind and the sea in Mark 4.  It means to “be muzzled.”  It has the idea of strictly forbidding something with the threat of punishment if the command is not obeyed.  They probably said something like this:

Can’t you control your kids?  What kind of parents are you?  Can’t you see that this is Jesus?  He doesn’t have time for little brats like yours.  He’s busy with us — would you quit bothering Him?  Why don’t you take your kids to the Burger King Playland?  They’re not welcome here! Go find someone who really cares…

What they didn’t realize was that Jesus was that someone who really cares — He cared much more than they did!  You see, they didn’t value children.  They weren’t important to them.  To them, real ministry is the kind that reaches adults — kids are just a nuisance.

Friends, before we get too hard on the disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts.  

We have to be careful with our own attitudes.  Some of us may be more like the disciples than we care to admit.  

Verse 14 says that Jesus was indignant with the disciples.  The word indignant comes from a compound word meaning, “to grieve much.”   This is the only time it was used in the entire New Testament.  This made Jesus both angry and extremely sad — no one should ever think of children as unimportant.  He would not tolerate this attitude among his disciples — and He doesn’t tolerate it among Christ-followers today.  Kids Matter to Jesus and should therefore matter to us! 

the children needed protection from bumbling adults

The disciples thought that Jesus needed protection from bothersome children.  But what Jesus points out is that the children needed protection from bumbling adults

This is highly significant, because it indicates that children were made for God.  This is what Jesus is saying — that He and children were made for each other.  You cannot read this without seeing how attractive Jesus must have been to children.  They loved him immediately, and wanted to come to him — we need to let them by making sure we don’t put any obstacles in their path.  

To say it more positively, we need to lead our children to receive Christ as their Savior when they are young – if we don’t we may be hindering them from becoming all that Christ has in mind for them.

Since we have a limited window of opportunity, we need to give our best efforts – as parents, as grandparents, and as a church.  Here’s a startling statistic that I heard just this week: 83% of those who come to Christ, do so before the age of 18.  The older a person gets without becoming a Christian the less likely they are to do so.  James Dobson has said, “We must make the salvation of our children our #1 priority.  Nothing else is more important.” 

Jesus tells Christ-followers today in verse 14 to “not hinder children.” This verse helps me to see that kids by nature want to come to Jesus – it’s us adults who often stand in the way.  Let’s let them do what they want to do anyway – to come to Christ when they are young.

Because of the high value Jesus places on kids, He gives a strong warning to anyone who becomes a hindrance to children.  Listen to what He says in Matthew 18:5-6:  

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it

would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck

and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I’m personally challenged as a father to make sure that I don’t become a stumbling block to my children.  Ephesians 6:4 provides a sobering reminder that how I treat my daughters will have a direct impact on their spiritual development.  Fellow fathers, listen to this verse: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Brothers and sisters, and fellow parents — The BEST thing we can do to express our love to our children, and to the children of our church, is to lead them to a conscious commitment to Jesus Christ in their early years.  

D.L. Moody once returned from a meeting and reported that there were two and a half conversions.  Someone asked, “Two adults and one child?”  “No,” said Moody, “Two children and one adult.  The children gave their whole lives.  The adult only had half to give.”

2 — Learn From Children

First, we’re to let children come.  Second, Jesus challenges us to learn from children.  Notice the last part of verse 14 and verse 15: “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

These are some strong words — in order to grow up, we need to become like a child.  

Why should we let children come to Jesus?  Why are we told to not hinder them?  There are at least two answers:  #1 — it’s for their sake; and #2 – it’s for our sake.  Children are valued for who they are – and they also serve as living pictures of a deeply spiritual truth.

Jesus did not say, “Don’t hinder them because to these belong the kingdom.”  He said, “Don’t hinder them because to such as these belong the kingdom.”  Instead of blocking their path, help them come to me for salvation because they represent the kind of people who will inherit the kingdom.

Let’s stop and think about something.  Why did God decide that there should be children?  Have you asked why God designed the world so that the human race multiplies by having babies who take years to become adults?  Why didn’t God design people so that we multiply like earthworms – one adult splits to become another adult?  He could have done it that way or any number of ways.  Why did God decide that there should be children and not just adults?

children are precious in their own right and they stand for something bigger than themselves

At the heart of the answer is this: children are precious in their own right and they stand for something bigger than themselves.  They model the kind of dependence and helplessness and insufficiency and faith that is required of adults to enter the kingdom of God.  Verse 14 says, “to such as these” belongs the kingdom.  That’s the meaning of their unique existence – they point us to grace, to God’s undeserved favor that is poured out on the Cross for sinners.

As we launch this series called, “Grace Encounters,” I wanted to start with this passage because it demonstrates clearly that God’s acceptance has nothing to do with what we’ve accomplished with our lives – His grace is given to those who really have done nothing – children.  Grace is God giving to me something that I cannot obtain on my own.  Grace is being accepted by God even though I do not deserve it, even though I am not worthy of it.

Jesus is saying that if you want to grow up spiritually, you first need to become like a child.  Ephesians 5:1 states that we are to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.

The word children appears 482 times in the Bible – and the vast majority of the references do not refer to persons under the age of 12 but to individuals who are in a relationship with God.  Spiritual maturity is described as childlikeness.  In order to grow up, we need to become younger.  If we want to become a spiritual adult, we must first become a spiritual child – we’re going to focus more on how to do that next week.

God sees us as His children.  And, for those of us adults, if we want to become all that God wants for us, we must learn from children.  That means we must watch them, listen to them, and even become like them.

This is really a side benefit of spending time with children — they can help us see God, they can teach us about kingdom living – and they can make us laugh – if we decide to learn from them.

3 –Love Children Intentionally

Since kids matter to Jesus and matter to us, we need to let them come, we need to learn from them, and finally, we need to love them intentionally. 

Look at verse 16: And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.  Verse 13 says that children were brought to Jesus so that He could touch them.  As He so often does, Jesus went beyond what was asked of Him – he bent down, picked them up, put them in his arms, put his hands on them and gave them a verbal blessing.  Talk about hands-on ministry!  He took the time to demonstrate His love and grace.

As you may know, the “blessing” in Jewish homes was very common.  It was also common for parents to take their children to a rabbi to receive a special blessing.  Usually, however, this blessing was reserved for the boys in the family.  Isn’t it great how Jesus once again breaks our human categories – His grace is freely given to all children, without regard for gender, race, or family background.

In their book called, The Blessing, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent describe the typical family blessing during the time of Jesus.  It contained 5 basic parts:

  • Meaningful touch
  • A spoken message
  • Attaching “high value” to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Each of these elements is present in what Jesus did here in this passage.  First, He provided a meaningful touch by taking the children in His arms and putting his hands on them.  The act of touch is a key to communicating warmth, personal acceptance and affirmation.  Mobbed by onlookers and protected by His disciples, Jesus could have easily waved to the children from a distance or just ignored them altogether.

Let me just make a point about the importance of touch.  If we as parents do not meaningfully and appropriately touch our children, we will starve them of their need for genuine acceptance – so much so that it can drive our kids into the arms of someone else who is all too willing to touch them.

Second, when Jesus blessed them, He did it with a spoken message.  In many homes today, words of love and acceptance are seldom heard.  A blessing becomes so only when it is spoken.  Jesus not only touched children, He spoke to them.

Third, Jesus attached high value to children.  The meaning of the verb, “to bless” literally means, “to bow the knee.”  When the text tells us that Jesus blessed the children, it means that He thought so much of them that He showed reverence, and even awe for them.  Continuing with the theme of grace that we’re going to explore in this series, this blessing was based on who they were, not simply on their performance.

The fourth element of the blessing is the way it pictures a special future for the person being blessed.  Wouldn’t it be great to know what Jesus said to these children?   I wouldn’t be surprised if He told them about the ocean full of blessings in store for them as they commit themselves to becoming fully committed followers.

The last element of the blessing pictures the responsibility that goes with giving the blessing.  Words alone cannot communicate the blessing; they need to be backed up with a commitment to be there.  I’m sure Jesus said, “No matter what happens, remember that I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.”

This is how Jesus demonstrated His love for children – and we can do the same by touching, talking, valuing, giving a special future, and committing ourselves to being there for them.


  • Let’s let children come
  • Let’s learn from them
  • Let’s love them intentionally

Important Conclusions

In closing, I want to make 4 concluding remarks:

1. It takes a family to give grace to a child

We need to recapture the high value of the family, of monogamous marriage, of abstinence before marriage, and a happy life together after marriage. We must teach our children that true love waits, that marriage is desirable, that motherhood is a noble calling, that being a godly father is more important than making a lot of money, that sexual promiscuity leads only to sorrow and heartache, and that our children are worth all the love, all the effort, and all the investment of our time and resources.  We must also support our single parents, step parents, foster parents, adopted children, and those in blended families.  We must also be gracious and supportive of those who are single and of those who for various reasons cannot have children.

2. It takes a church to give grace to a child

Our job as a church is to supplement what happens in the home, and in some cases, to step in when spiritual training is absent in the home.  That’s a high calling, isn’t it?  I applaud those of you who are working with kids – thank you!  On a personal note, thanks for the impact you’re making in the lives of my daughters!

Interestingly, verse 13 doesn’t say that it was the parents who brought children to Jesus, though I’m sure many did.  For some reason it says that “people” brought children to Jesus.  That’s our job, folks.  We’re all involved in raising each other’s children.  I am responsible to help you teach your kids about Christ, and you’re responsible to help me.  We’re in this together.

Let children come

Learn from them

Love them

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?