The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2021
Make It Your Goal to
Have the Faith of a Child!
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Children and grandchildren are some of the most wonderful, amazing gifts the good Lord has given to us. While there are days when we might need to remind ourselves of that truth, on most days— we might even say on the vast majority of days— our children and our grandchildren bring more joy and more happiness into our lives than perhaps anything else on the face of this earth. Cradling our child in our arms, holding the hand of our grandchild as we walk through a store or as we walk along the shore— these are things we cherish! Helping our grandchild learn something new, discussing with our child something that is on their heart or mind— these are the things you can’t put a price on. Now add to all of that the things that we learn from our children and our grandchildren. Whether it is their ability to find great joy in the simple things in life like blowing bubbles and popping them, or their genuine heartfelt care and concern for their family and their friends— these are things that tend to get lost in our busy grown-up world.
But the most beautiful quality that our children and our grandchildren possess, the most beautiful quality that they display in a number of ways is their faith. We can see their faith in the way that they trust their parents and their grandparents. We can see their faith in the way that they turn to their parents and their grandparents when they need help. And, even more importantly we can see their faith when they are saying their prayers, when they are singing in church and when they are talking about Jesus in Sunday school.
Since the portion of Scripture that we have before us today is so familiar we are going to focus on the truth that is brought out in the closing verses of this text and see how it serves as a powerful encouragement to us— especially those of us who are adults. With that focus in mind let’s study our text under the theme: Make It Your Goal to Have the Faith of a Child!
On more than one occasion I have heard that the three most important things to remember whenever you are studying a certain portion of Scripture are: context, context, context! Therefore let’s look at how Mark gives us the context of these inspired words. In the opening portion of our text he writes, “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’”
The public proclamation of the Truth to huge crowds of people was now moved into the background of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew that it was time for Him to take His disciples away from the crowds so that He could concentrate on “teaching (His) disciples.” This was not just a quick overview of what was about to happen. This was an intensive ongoing instruction into the heart of the Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world. Jesus was giving His disciples a detailed insight into the ancient prophecies concerning the betrayal, the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Lord’s Christ.
Incredibly, Mark goes on to tell us, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” A more literal translation of this would be, “But they were failing to understand what was said and they were afraid to ask Him (about it).” The disciples were trapped in a continuous loop of ignorance and fear. What Jesus was explaining to them was so incredibly horrible to them that they not only failed to understand what Jesus was teaching them, they not only were afraid to ask Jesus about what He was teaching them, but what Jesus was teaching His disciples was so contrary to the vision that the disciples had for Jesus that it seems as though they completely rejected what Jesus was teaching them! In fact, the disciples so missed the point of what Jesus was teaching them that they began to “argue” with each other. What were they “arguing” about? Mark tells us, “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”
Was Judas arguing that since he was the one who was appointed to be in charge of the money bag, that this meant he was the “greatest”? Did Peter argue that since it was his confession of faith that Jesus said would be the “rock” upon which the Lord would build His Church, that this meant that he was the greatest? Did Peter, James and John quietly tussle over the fact that since they were the only ones who were allowed to see Jesus’ Transfiguration that one of them had to be the greatest? No matter how adamantly they each made their case for being the “greatest” when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about they instantly became “quiet.” Why? Because they did not want their pride and their ego to be exposed.
How did Jesus handle this delicate situation? He called His disciples together so that He could now teach them the meaning of true “greatness.” He said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” And then to show His disciples exactly what this means Jesus gave them an object lesson. Mark tells us, “He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’” In Matthew’s account of this teaching moment, he includes these words of our Savior, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, 4).
Jesus’ disciples certainly had a goal for themselves, didn’t they! Their goal was to be the “greatest” in Jesus’ Kingdom! Is this a goal to which you and I can relate, my friends? It absolutely is! Like Jesus’ disciples of old, we also have an old sinful nature which desperately wants to be the “greatest.” Not surprisingly our old sinful nature’s definition of being the ”greatest” is the polar opposite of Jesus’ definition. “Greatness” in the eyes of our old sinful nature is having other people serve us. “Greatness” in the eyes of our old sinful nature includes having a “status” that is higher than others and/or having the financial resources that enable us to do whatever we want and to buy whatever we want. “Greatness” in the eyes of our old sinful nature includes the desire to get ahead of others— whether it is at school or at work or as we are trying to make our way through the Novato Narrows during rush hour! “Greatness” in the eyes of our old sinful nature leads us to adopt the philosophies of this world such as: Believe in yourself! Always look out for Number One! Remember that in the end it comes down to: Survival of the Fittest!
It’s certainly not difficult for us to see and to understand that our old sinful nature’s goal to be the “greatest” is indeed the polar opposite of the goal that our Savior encourages us to have. But— what’s easy to see and what’s easy to understand is not necessarily easy to implement! Why? Because the goal that Jesus wants us to have leads us to “be the very last, and the servant of all.” The goal that Jesus wants us to have is to humble ourselves. The goal that Jesus wants us to continually foster in our hearts and in our lives is to have the simple, humble faith of a child.
The faith of a child enables us to believe and trust what our God reveals to us here in His holy Word— even if it makes absolutely no sense to our limited logical minds. The faith of a child enables us to believe and trust that Jesus loves us, Jesus loves me— this much! (Pointing to the cross) The faith of a child enables us to understand that the “greatest” form of service in the Kingdom of our God is to “welcome” others— especially children— “in the name of Jesus.” This means so much more than just giving a child the tender-loving care that they need and deserve. It also soars above and beyond their physical needs to embrace their spiritual needs as well. To have the faith of a child means recognizing our total dependence on God and trusting Him completely. To have the faith of a child means recognizing our spiritual poverty and rejoicing in the gift of God’s amazing grace.
As I was preparing our sermon for today, I came across an illustration that I want to share with you this morning. It goes like this, “One day a mother was going through her six-year-old daughter’s school backpack and became worried when she saw one of the papers. On it were all the desks for the students in her daughter’s classroom. Each place was marked with a circle or an X. Quickly she asked her daughter what it meant. The child replied, ‘Those are the children in my class. Those who go to church I marked with a cross, and those who don’t I circled.’ Relieved but curious, the mother asked why she did that. She answered, ‘It’s so I can tell those who don’t know about Jesus.’ Still curious, the mother asked how her daughter knew that. The daughter replied, ‘I asked them.’”
This is the kind of faith we all need to strive to have! It is a faith that doesn’t feel embarrassed to talk to others about Jesus. It is a faith that doesn’t become quiet and meek merely because other people ask us about what we believe. It is a simple yet a strong faith, a humble yet a confident faith. May God grant that each and every one of us will make it our goal to have this kind of faith— the faith of a child!
To God be the glory!