Receiving from God is what happens when we hear the word preached, when we worship him as the gathered church, when we eat bread and drink wine. Our pride, and our never-ending avaricious taking, has to die if we want to receive from God. It’s like hacking weeds so a tree can grow. But we must receive, because that’s the path of life.
Jesus told us to enter the kingdom like children. In fact, he was stronger than that, saying that if we did not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we would not enter it (Luke 18). We’re familiar enough with it, and it conjures up doe-eyed sentiments of pudgy-cheeked children.
Except, should it? What was Jesus actually getting at?
We could make some “be childlike, but not childish” statements and say some helpful and true things while missing what he was saying.
Jesus was surrounded by a crowd pressing in on him and the disciples are starting to get concerned for his time and perhaps his welfare. Parents are bringing young children to him to bless, and quite likely sick children in the hope that he would heal them. The disciples rebuke them, and Jesus utters the famous remark.
This is not sentiment, because these aren’t cute kids gathering around his knees and the disciples acting like absolute killjoys. This is scared and noisy parents, all concerned that their child needs Jesus’ help, creating a racket. It’s not hard to speculate that it was starting to escalate into something entirely unmanageable. I would probably have made a similar ministry decision to the disciples.
So, what is Jesus trying to teach us? First notice that Jesus is surrounded by babes-in-arms, that’s what the Greek word translated ‘infants’ at the start of the passage means. They’re helpless. They’re needy. They have nothing to offer.
Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams points out that babies are fundamentally recipients, they don’t give anyone anything, nor can they take it for themselves. I’m sure they would take if they could—we come out of the womb selfish. They’re like this not simply because they’re selfish but because they’re helpless. To approach Jesus like little children is to approach him as one who is helpless and needs to receive. Crabb suggests that Jesus was recommending what we generally avoid: brokenness.
By brokenness he means an acceptance of the reality of our position, a desperate need to receive help, and a desire to ask for it. It often takes being broken by circumstances for these things to arise in us—that’s what Crabb’s book is about. The Bible talks about it a lot, though not using this language. I’d suggest a good, Biblical word for it (if we need one) would be thirst.
Which doesn’t sound like I’m saying anything beyond the usual run-of-the-mill Christian proposition: you cannot save yourself.