And when they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Receiving Children in Jesus’ Name—Receiving God
Now comes the second thing Jesus said (v. 37), and it is utterly unexpected. We might have expected him to pick up on his point in verse 35 and apply it to children. Something like: “Now here’s a child. The person in our society that men don’t serve. The person men don’t take the time for. The person you don’t think is worth your time. Well I am showing you that children are worth your time. They are significant. When you receive one of them and serve one of them, you are serving a person just as valuable as the emperor of Rome.”
But that is not what Jesus says. Jesus turns the whole discussion away from the value of the child to the value of God. This is what is so different about Jesus and about the Bible—even from many of our Christian child-advocates writing today. Jesus says: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Two Utterly Crucial Elements to Caring for Children
Two things are utterly crucial in caring for children. One: is it done in Jesus’ name? “Whoever receives one such child in my name . . . ” Ministering to children in any way but in the name of Jesus, does not fulfill the will of Jesus. And the second crucial thing in caring for children is that we do it with a longing to experience more of Jesus and more of the One who sent him, God the Father. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Why does he say this? Why does he bring everything to a focus on God and the value of receiving more of God? Do you ever want to say to Jesus, “Lighten up! Does everything always have to be theological?” The answer is yes, it does. For Jesus everything has to do with God, or it is fundamentally distorted.
How to Serve Children Best and Why
And if someone asks, What about the children? Aren’t you supposed to serve the children because of the children? Surely the answer of Jesus here is this: you serve a child best when you receive a child and care for a child and spend time with a child and hold a child NOT in the name of the child, or in the name of mankind or in the name of mercy or in the name of America’s future, but in the name of Jesus, the Son of the living God. And you serve children best when you receive a child not merely because your joy is first in the child, but first and finally in God.
Why is this the best way to serve? Because the most important blessing you can give to a child is the all-satisfying centrality of God in life. And, believe me, this is caught more than taught. And that’s why you must serve them in this way; you would lead them in this way.