14th April 2023
Read - Mark 9:36-37
Message Alan Burke
Let’s think where we are, the disciples had been arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest (33-34), Jesus had in response to their silence at his question of what they were arguing about had taught them “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Remember the scene though, they are gathered together in the house and the disciples are sitting at the feet of Jesus as he teaches them and Jesus takes a child and puts it in the midst of them. The word child literally means infant, so this is a child under the age of two and so Jesus gets up, takes this child and uses this child as an object lesson to teach these arguing disciples who had been more interested in their own honour and glory, these disciples who had missed the point.
This is a wonderfully intimate picture of our saviour Jesus Christ, who was sitting, getting up, taking a child he sets this child before them, say a year an a half old, who stands there, as there as Jesus looks on, as the disciples and he teaches them, “37 “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.”
We miss the true gravity of just what Jesus was saying here to his disciples, the point that he was making, times have changed even in my life time, our understanding, perception of children. Jesus here is not giving us a romanticised notion that some seem to have today about the innocence of children, rather we need to understand the context because things were not like they are today.
In 1st century Israel, the mortality rate for children was horrific. One in four didn’t make it to their first birthday, and around half of all children died before the age of ten. Until a child was at an age where it was assumed that they would survive to maturity they were not deemed significant, generally they were seen as unformed adults, insignificant, of little value, I can give you things to read on Children in Late Antiquity and it’s not for the faint hearted, it’s grim and much of it I’d rather not know myself. Then a child had no power, status, very few rights, they were dependant on those who cared for them and vulnerable, they were not considered of great dignity or worth, and infanticide was ignored.
Children were insignificant but it is a child nonetheless less that Jesus brings to his disciples, a child whom he makes stand among them, then taking the child into his arms says; 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Jesus is reinforcing what he had just taught, he’s not saying we need to imitate children or our childhood, there is a time we need to leave the childish things behind. He is making the point of something that we can easily miss, the God given dignity that every human being has no matter how young or old, how even the weakest and most insignificant human being must be served in the same way as the greatest is served.
Jesus didn’t pick on of the disciples among them to make the point but a child, he makes this child an example of his emissary, an example of his ambassador to the world. He’s saying, here he is, this one will go out in my name and how ever receives them receives me and whoever receives me receives the Father who sent me. This world looks at the outside, the status of an individual, if Michael D. Higgins, King Charles or President Biden arrived in Crossgar next Sunday morning the place would be heaving, but they are men no different than you or I in our status and worth, men, women, children, created in the image of God, male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27). Greatness is not according to what the world sees as greatness but comes from servanthood.
The disciples were all too willing to argue and debate among themselves of who is the greatest, they were asked what are you arguing about on the road and they were silenced with the embarrassment, shame. Let us be those who know greatness comes from servanthood, we should be those who look to the example of our saviour, selflessly giving of ourselves for the Glory of God, living out that example, the example of our saviour Christ Jesus.
Q20 Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.