Last of all and servant of all ... and He took a little child
Bernard Osborne, Dinas Powys, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It is said of the Lord that, ‘he took a child,’ and that He also said, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’. Clearly, the Lord Jesus loved children and was especially interested in them. He refers to their playing at weddings and funerals in the market place in Luke 7. 32. Can you visualize Him watching them at play with a smile on His face as He saw them engrossed in their makebelieve? Again, He refused to order them to be silent when they sang ‘Hosanna’ in His honour in the temple, Matt. 21. 15, He cited the words of the psalmist in their defence, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise’, Matt. 21. 16; Ps. 8. 2.
He selected a child as an example to His apostles, Mark 9. 36, and it is an example that we as Christians should give heed to. The apostles had been arguing among themselves as they walked along the way. They must have thought that He was unaware of it. We still do and say things which we would not do or say if we saw Him close beside us and we fancy that these things escape Him. When we are with Him ‘in the house’, Mark 9. 33, however, we shall find that He knew all that was going on. They were speechless and ashamed. All deeds are done and all words are spoken in His presence. God keep us from the words and deeds which we would be ashamed that He should see and hear! Things change their aspect when we view them in the context of our worldly society, and then in the presence of the Lord Jesus. It would be good to bring our ambitions, desires and plans into His presence and test them there.
‘Who is the greatest?’ had been the subject of their disputing. He will teach them humility so He takes a little child. Children are quick at finding out who loves them, and there would always be some hovering near for a smile from the Lord. The unconsciousness of rank, the spontaneous acceptance of inferiority, the absence of claims to consideration and respect, these are the things that naturally belong to the state of childhood, as it ought to be. Give it a winsomeness and grace and these then become the marks of a true disciple, which are only brought about by self-abnegation.
What the child is, we have to become. What principle then had He laid down? Just one of the greatest, being that ‘if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’, Mark 9. 35 ESV. The child was an illustrative example of one half of this law – ‘last of all’ and perfectly content to be so. But a child’s hands could do but small service so we now have to learn that:
What the Lord became to the child we also have to become if we are to be ‘servant of all’.
So what, then, of the other requirement, ‘servant of all’? The child was not left there embarrassed until he cried, but was caught up in the Lord’s arms and folded to His heart. The child had been taken as an illustration of humility, and now he becomes the subject of tender ministry. The illustration was divided between the Lord and the child. It was as if the Lord had said, ‘Look, this is how you serve, for you cannot help the weak until you open your arms and heart to them’. The Teacher becomes the Example for the pupils and we are required to do as He did.
But the Lord Jesus also said ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not’.
How strange that in the very next chapter the disciples should tell the mothers who brought their children to Jesus not to bother Him, Mark 10. 13-16. Did they still feel a little sore at their Lord’s rebuke of them, and the manner in which He had illustrated it? Or did they mistakenly regard the mothers’ action as a waste of the Lord’s time and strength, and so felt justified in severely reprimanding them saying that they were not to come to Him with their children? Let us not make the same mistake, albeit even unconsciously. Many assemblies and churches today do not have a Sunday School. The reason given is that the competition of Sunday shopping, the family cars, the late night movie, and the indifference of parents have all conspired to the demise of the traditional Sunday School. Germane to the subject and remarkably prophetic are words written fifty years ago by a commentator who wrote from his experience, ‘Not-withstanding the unambiguous manner in which Jesus commands that the little children should be brought to Him and that no obstacles should be placed in their way of coming to Him, it still continues to be the great weakness of most Protestant churches that spiritual ministration to children is taken in hand far too superficially. Jesus said ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’, but in the life of the church too often, nearly ninety nine per cent of its time, money and strength is devoted to ministration to adults, whereas to the children is devoted only a fatally insignificant portion. Only those congregations which, by means of thorough training of Sunday school teachers, regular and effective services for children, Sunday school libraries, etc., take heed that the command of the Saviour is obeyed, can hope to be flourishing congregations in the future’, (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, pp 454, 455, by J. Norval Geldenhuys).
May the Lord enable us to graciously and responsively listen to His teaching again and to remember that , ‘he took a little child’!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Bernard Osborne is retired from a career in education and is in fellowship in the assembly at Dinas Powis, Wales. He is a gifted Bible teacher and travels extensively in ministry throughout the UK and N. America.