Called to be like children

Children gather after school in Peris, Haiti.


(Sermon delivered through translator June 10, 2018 — the National Day of the Haitian Child — at International Evangelical Baptist Church in Montrouis, Haiti. To listen to the sermon audio, click here.)

Good morning, church!

Thank you, pastor, for the opportunity to speak to you all this morning. And thank you all for making me a part of your church family during the past six months.

Today, I am a man torn between two homes. This one in Haiti has given me six of the most wonderful and fulfilling months of my life. But there is also one in America, where my dear wife and family eagerly await my return in 10 days. I will not be surprised to have tears of sadness on one end of that trip and tears of joy on the other.

When I told people I was coming to Haiti to serve with Supply and Multiply, some were surprised at the decisions I had made. I left a job and to come here, and my wife was staying in America to work and pay our bills. Many of the people who heard these plans shook my hand and said something like, “Brother, it’s just wonderful of you to make this sacrifice.”

It’s true that spending this time away from the family I love has been a sacrifice. But as I think of how little time I have left in Haiti, something unexpected occurs to me. I think the real sacrifice is leaving this place and these people that I have come to love so dearly. I will be back, but I do not know whether God has a plan for another long-term visit like this one. Either way, I will be leaving a piece of my heart here when my plane departs.

It is appropriate that I am speaking on the National Day of the Haitian Child. Haiti’s children have been a huge part of the beauty I have seen in this nation. I will not soon forget the joy it brought me to hear “Pastor Res! Pastor Res!” as I walked around Montrouis.

As many of you know, Supply and Multiply is geared toward helping the elderly. Nonetheless, I think I must have picked up every child in Calalan during the past six months. Sometimes two at a time. Here’s a lesson my aching back has taught me during that time: Even though the spirit of this old man might be willing, his flesh is weaker than it used to be.

And still the children have come every time I walked along the roads here in Montrouis, every time I have visited a beach, every time I have sat in one of our partner churches. They are fascinated by my hair (or by my bald spot). They try to see if they can rub color into my skin. And they love to tug on this beard that my wife cannot wait to cut off when I get back home.

They see that I am different, and they want to know more about me.

As I have so often been surrounded by children during these past six months, I have been reminded of an event in the life of Jesus. This scene was so important that it was shared in three of the four gospels.

Jesus and His disciples were in Capernaum, and He spoke these words, which many of us have come to know and love: “Unless you turn from your sins and become like children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are always trying to teach our children lessons. That’s a good thing; it is exactly what Scripture calls us to do. We all know the Proverb, “Train up a child in the way that he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Children who are not trained well have — and cause — many more problems as adults.

But how often do we recognize that children have some things to teach us? Maybe they can teach us to take joy in each moment. Maybe they can teach us to love quickly and simply. Maybe they can teach us to sing when the mood strikes us. Maybe they can teach us to dance like nobody is watching.

Those are some of the lessons Haiti’s children have taught me.

But the lessons a child had for Jesus’ disciples – and for us today – were even more important. Those lessons were about the Kingdom of God and about humility; those are the things I want to talk to you about today.

To get the full context of Jesus’ statement about becoming like children, we have to catch a piece of the action from each of the three Gospels where the story appears.

Let’s start with Mark, Chapter 9, verses 33 and 34.

They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

So Jesus and His disciples had arrived in Capernaum, and Jesus asked the disciples what they were discussing. Before we talk about what it was they were “discussing,” let’s make sure we understand the nature of that “discussion.”

Turn to Luke, Chapter 9, verse 46.

An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.

So Luke tells us this “discussion” was actually an argument.

Now picture this in your mind. The disciples are walking with Jesus to Capernaum, off to do ministry.

During the previous three years or so, they had seen Him heal the sick and raise the dead. They had seen Him feed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. They had seen Him cast out demons. They had heard Him challenge the world to a radical way of living humbly.

So what kind of argument might we expect after all that?

I’d like to think it went something like this:

“Peter, you’re the greatest, of course.”

“No, John. You are so much more worthy than I am.”

“Hey guys, haven’t you been paying attention? It’s pretty clear Jesus is the greatest. Let’s just follow Him.”

But I think we all know that’s not what was happening.

  • Somehow, these guys who been right there when Jesus did all these miracles –
  • Somehow, these men who had watched Him deliver the very Sermon on the Mount that still challenges us today –
  • Somehow these disciples were arguing about which one of them was worthy of the best seat in heaven.

To say that they had missed the point would be giving them too much credit. They were not even in the same city as the point. To put it in a Haitian context, the point was somewhere in Jeremie, and they were driving around looking for it in Cap-Haitien.

Let’s look at Matthew’s account of the exchange to see how it played out.

Turn to Matthew 18 and let’s read verses 1-5.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,

and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;

Who does Jesus say will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Whoever humbles himself like a child.

His disciples were successful businessmen, they were government functionaries, they were political activists and they were independent spirits. They had healed people themselves. They had cast out demons; they had taught scripture; they had gone on successful missionary trips. Along with Jesus, they were shaking things up in Judea and even Samaria.

Surely God would honor all that they had done for Him. Surely someone among them would have a special seat at the right hand of Jesus. The only real question for them was which one it would be.

I imagine they were arguing over who had done the most for Jesus. Who had brought Him the most disciples? Who had healed the most sick people? Who had cast out the most demons? Who had walked the farthest or climbed the highest or fasted the longest for Him?

And then Jesus picked up one of the children who were following along. Again, my mind goes back to my time here in Haiti. I imagine it might have been a 9-year-old boy with a handmade kite made of a scrap of parchment or of silk. Or maybe it was a shoeless 4-year-old whose face was smeared with pomegranate juice. They didn’t have mango trees, you know. If there were mango trees, the kids would be smeared with mango.

Based on my own experience in Haiti, I am certain there were children wherever Jesus went. I’m just a grumpy old blanc, and yet kids here still want to spend time with me. Jesus would surely have been much more popular with them than I am. The disciples had tried to limit children from coming to the Savior; they believed He had more important things to do. But Jesus made time for them.

And in this event, he would use one child to teach us some very important lessons about the Kingdom of Heaven.

First, there is a reminder that children are important to Jesus. He could have made His point by pointing to the children nearby and then saying what He had to say. Instead, he brought one of them right into the midst of the disciples.

Look back at Verse 5; we see that Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.”

Do you think children’s ministry important to the church? Jesus seems to think so. And, at least in America, the statistics seem to agree.

Studies have shown that children ages 5 to 13 are 6 to 8 times more likely to come to a saving faith than others. Fifty percent of Christians accept Christ before the age of 13. Eighty-five percent do so before the age of 18. That means that fewer than two in 10 people become Christians as adults.

If we do not encourage children to come to Christ, they may never meet Him. So, yes, children’s ministry in the church is extremely important. It’s one of the reasons that Supply and Multiply does so much with children, even though our focus is on the elderly.

Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus “set the child before” the disciples. Luke looks at the scene from another angle; he says Jesus “stood (the child) by His side.” His arrogant disciples had just been bickering about who should be honored with that position. By putting the child there, Jesus gave them an image of the lesson he was about to teach them.

Who will have the glory in Heaven? The Father. And the Lamb. As John puts it in the Book of Revelation: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

We can share the experience of that glory if we follow Jesus and make Him our Lord. But we can never do anything to earn that access. Just like the child in this conversation between Jesus and the disciples, we can only come into the presence of the King of Kings because he picks us up and sets us down by His side.

Not one of us deserves to be in that place of honor. Whether you are a businessman, a pastor, a mother, a missionary or a president, there is nothing you have done or can do to earn it. It is a place we can go only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the work of Christ that earns His followers a place in heaven, not any work of their hands.

And the disciples who had spent so much time with Jesus had completely missed this point. In their argument over who was the greatest, they demonstrated an important thing for followers of Christ. Even those who are closest to Jesus can fall prey to the same sin that caused the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Just as Adam and Eve were tempted by their pride – their desire to be “like gods” – so the disciples were arguing from a similar position. They pridefully believed they deserved to be honored in heaven.

Are we not the same sometimes?

People at home tell me they’re so proud of me for serving in Haiti; and then I have to intentionally push down the pride in myself. Do not be proud of me; be proud of the Christ whom I serve. Be proud of the Holy Spirit, who helps me to overcome the selfish old man who inhabits this flesh.

Do you want to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven? It starts with humility, the humility of a child.

What did this child standing before the disciples have to offer Jesus? Only himself. It is the very same thing that I have to offer Him. It is the very same thing that you have to offer Him. And it is exactly the thing that Jesus calls us to give Him.

What makes this child that different from most of us is that he recognized that he had nothing to offer. He didn’t try to puff himself up like the disciples had done. He simply wanted to be in the company of Jesus, so he was there and he was ready when the Savior called.

Are you ready? Is the Savior calling you? Are you willing to allow Him to pick you up from wherever you are and set you by His side?

He has called you from the cross, where He paid the penalty for our sins. He has called you from the empty tomb, where He overcame death itself. And now from heaven, where He has gone to prepare a place for His followers, He reaches out for you.

The King of Kings submitted to a humiliating death on the cross for sins He did not commit. He earned for Himself the right to be called the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Submit to Him in humble and repentant faith – like a child – and His Father will glorify you, too. What an incredible and amazing grace.

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