“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
The disciples weren’t happy that Jesus was spending time with children. Didn’t He have more important things to do, more important people to meet, more important places to go?
Jesus rebuked them for wanting to dismiss the children. He then used the occasion to teach them how to receive His kingdom.
How does a child receive a gift? The same way we should receive the kingdom: with excitement, anticipation, joy, and gratitude!
The kingdom of God is the greatest gift we will ever receive because it means we have citizenship, with all the rights and privileges, in the realm of King Jesus. As King, He rules where there is no death, sin, night, pain, disease, separation, war, broken promises, hatred, disappointment, sorrow, dashed hopes, depression, bankruptcy, aging, disasters, famine, crime, natural disasters, weariness, or false hopes. His kingdom isn’t for a number of days, weeks, months, or years. It lasts forever!
How do we receive this kingdom? As a child would!
Years ago I was driving my then three-year-old daughter to preschool. She began writhing in pain in the backseat of the car.
I said, “Evangeline, what’s wrong?”
She replied, “Daddy, Jesus is kicking me in the tummy.”
For a few moments I couldn’t figure out what she meant, and then it dawned on me. She had invited Jesus into her heart several days earlier. She now had a stomachache, and she assumed that if Jesus was in her heart then He must be kicking her.
I smiled and kept on driving while my thoughts rambled one to another. First, I thought of the phrase from Jesus. Except you become as a child you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Up to that time I had never understood what He was saying. I next thought of Martin Luther’s ruminations on that text. Luther had six kids who could make quite a racket, and one day he muttered of Jesus’ comment, “Dear God, do we have to become such idiots?”
Next I thought, What, really, did Jesus mean that we must receive the kingdom as a child?
A bolt of clarity hit me, a lesson from my philosophy class in college. There are two kinds of knowledge: cognitive and affective. Cognitive is knowledge of facts: things like what, where, when, who, and why? Affective is relational knowledge as in “Adam knew his wife, Eve.”
At three years of age, my daughter didn’t have much cognitive knowledge about me. However, she knew me better than a lot of people who had more facts. Why? Affective knowledge—she knew me based on relationship.
“So that’s it!” I said to myself as I drove. Jesus was talking about affective knowledge. Children don’t know a lot of facts; Jesus was saying that the doorway to the kingdom is through relationship.
“You must be born again” (John 3:7). Cognitive knowledge is worthless in the Christian realm without affective knowledge. It’s one thing to know about God, quite another thing to know Him.
Just as Jesus laid His hands on the children, He seeks to bless us as well if we will approach Him with the open heart and unrestrained love of a child.
A Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to be a citizen of Your kingdom. I’m grateful that I know You, and more importantly, that You know me.
Excerpted from Dr. Wood’s book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available from Vital Resources.