If the disciples thought children too small or unimportant for the serious work of the kingdom, they were wrong. Jesus welcomes children, takes them in His arms and declares that of such is the kingdom of heaven. The force of His words is clear. He does not say merely that the kingdom of heaven is for the childlike. He says that the kingdom belongs to them; it is made up of children and of those who come as children.
Although a Christian should believe simply, he should not “simply believe.”
For Jesus, there is no better way to illustrate God’s free unmerited grace than pointing to a child. For unlike many adults, children are generally entirely unpretentious about receiving a gift. Moreover, “little ones,” that is, the least, regardless of age, are a repeated focus in Jesus’ teaching on discipleship (Mt. 18:5; Lk. 9:48). Indeed, God’s kingdom must be entered in a childlike spirit, a lesson that was yet to be learned by Jesus’ followers.
As the flower in the garden stretches toward the light of the sun, so there is in the child a mysterious inclination toward the eternal light. Have you ever noticed this mysterious thing that when you tell the smallest child about God, [he or she] never asks with strangeness and wonder, “What or who is God – I have never seen Him,” but listens with shining face to the words as though they soft loving sounds from the land of home. Or when you teach a child to fold [his or her] little hands in prayer that [he or she] does this as though it were a matter of course, as though [it was] opening for [the child] that world of which [he or she] had been dreaming with longing and anticipation. Or tell them, these little ones, the stories of the Savior, show them the pictures with scenes and personages of the Bible – how their pure eyes shine, how their little hearts beat.
[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.
But someone will say, “Didn’t Jesus say that, to be saved, you have to be as a little child?” Of course he did. But did you ever see a little child who didn’t ask questions? People who use this argument must never have listened to a little child or been one. My four children gave me a harder time with their endless flow of questions than university people ever have… What Jesus was talking about is that the little child, when he has an adequate answer, accepts the answer. He has the simplicity of not having a built-in grid whereby, regardless of the validity of the answer, he rejects it.
There is a vast difference, however, between childlike faith and childish faith, though the two are often confused. [Childlike faith calls the believer] to remain forever in a state of awe and trust of their heavenly Father, while a childish faith balks at learning the things of God in depth. It refuses the meat of the gospel while clinging to a diet of milk…The call of the New Testament is to maturity.
The Bible calls us to be like children in two specific ways: First, Jesus says that unless we approach the kingdom of God as little children, we will never enter it (Matthew 18:3). That is, we are to approach the kingdom of God with a simple, childlike trust in God. The second way in which the Scripture directs us to be children is, “In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (I Corinthians 14:20).
If this child is born to you, you are a child, and the question arises, are you so? Man grows from childhood up to manhood naturally; in grace men grow from manhood down to childhood; and the nearer we come to true childhood, the nearer welcome to the image of Christ. For was not Christ called “a child,” even after he had ascended up to heaven? “Thy holy child Jesus.” Brethren and sisters, can you say that you have been made into children? Do you take God’s Word just as it stands, simply because your heavenly Father says so? Are you content to believe mysteries without demanding to have them explained? Are you ready to sit in the infant class, and be a little one? Are you willing to hang upon the breast of the church, and suck in the unadulterated milk of the Word – never questioning for a moment what your divine Lord reveals, but believing it on his own authority, whether it seemed to be above reason, or beneath reason, or even contrary to reason? Now, “except ye be converted and become as little children,” this child is not born to you; except like a child you are humble, teachable, obedient, pleased with your Father’s will and willing to assign all to Him, there is grave matter of question whether this child is born to you.
Now, as always, God discloses Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.
Our religion is one which challenges the ordinary human standards by holding that the ideal of life is the spirit of a little child. We tend to glorify adulthood and wisdom and worldly prudence, but the gospel reverses all this. The gospel says that the inescapable condition of entrance into the divine fellowship is that we turn and become as a little child. As against our natural judgment we must become tender and full of wonder and unspoiled by the hard skepticism on which we so often pride ourselves. But when we really look into the heart of a child, willful as he may be, we are often ashamed. God has sent children into the world, not only to replenish it, but to serve as sacred reminders of something ineffably precious which we are always in danger of losing. The sacrament of childhood is thus a continuing revelation.