By J.R. Miller
Jesus' interest in children appears throughout all the Gospels.
It was a strange question which the disciples brought to Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" These men, although occupying so sacred a place in their Lord's family, were still very human, and had their natural human ambitions. They even seem not to have been free from the passion for official or political positions which afflicts so many people, sometimes even very good people. They had only the earthly idea of the kingdom which Christ was to set up. They probably had been discussing the question as to which of them would occupy the highest place in this kingdom.
One remarkable feature of biography writing in the Bible, is that it takes no pains to hide the faults of the saints. There is encouragement in this for us; it shows that even the holiest people have their faults and often do foolish things. Of course, this makes no excuse for us, however, for we ought to be very much better than even the apostles were, since we have more light, greater privileges, and better opportunities than they had; and so we should understand better the teachings of Christ.
There is one proper way, however, of wishing to be great in Christ's kingdom. It is right that we should long to be great Christians. It was said of a certain Christian man, that his daily prayer was, "Lord, make me an uncommon Christian." That was a good prayer. There are plenty of common Christians. It is right to pray always, and to strive to meet the level of our praying, "Nearer, my God, to You."
The answer of Jesus to the disciples' question, was beautiful and very suggestive. "He called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them." He answered their question by an illustration. "This is greatness," His act said to them. A little child in the midst is often used to teach great lessons to older people. When a new baby comes into a home, God sets it in the midst of a family as a teacher. Parents suppose they are training their child, and so they are, if they are faithful; but the child also teaches and trains them. Thoughtful and reverent parents learn more of the meaning of fatherhood of God, and the way God feels toward His children, in one week after their first baby comes--than they had learned from teachers and books, perhaps even from the Bible, in all the preceding years of their lives.
Every child's life is a book, a new page of which is turned every day. Children are not angels, and yet they bring from heaven to earth, many fragments of loveliness. Their influence in a home is a constant blessing. They change the center of life in their parents--it is no more self; they begin now to live for their child. They train their parents in patience, in gentleness, in thoughtfulness, in love. While a young child is in a home--a school of heaven is set up there.
After Jesus had set the child in the midst, He spoke to the disciples, putting His lesson into words, rebuking their ambition and startling them with most serious words. He said to them, "Except you be converted, and become as little children--you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." His words implied that they were not now as little children, that their grasping after high places was anything but beautiful. They must be changed in spirit--before they could even enter into the kingdom of heaven.
But the lesson was not for the first disciples only--it is for us also. What do these words say to us? What is it to become a little child?
There is a legend of a man whom the angels loved and wished to have honored. They asked God that some remarkable gift might be bestowed upon him. But he would make no choice. Urged to name something which should be given to him, he said he would like to do a great deal of good in the world--without even knowing it. So it came about that whenever his shadow fell behind him, where he could not see it, it had healing power; but when it fell before his face it had not this power.
That is childlikeness--goodness, humility, power to do good, helpfulness; without being conscious of the possession of these qualities. Ambition to win distinction, craving for human praise, consciousness of being good or smart or useful or great--all are marks of a worldly spirit which is neither childlike nor Christlike. Moses knew not, that his face shone.
Jesus went on to speak other words about the children, while the little child still stood in the midst. He said, "Whoever shall receive one such little child in My name, receives Me." Many wrongs are done to children. Very grave, therefore, is our Lord's word to those who hurt a little one. "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!" There are many ways of causing little ones to sin. He does it who sets a child a wrong example, thus influencing him to go in the wrong way. He does it who tempts a child to do anything that is not right. It is a fearful thing to offer a boy the first glass of alcohol; or to whisper in a child's ear a doubt or a sneer at sacred things; or to put a bad book or paper in the hands of a young person.