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“Come Unto Me”

Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 11:28-30
Bob DeGray
July 9, 2006

Key Sentence

When the burdens of life are heavy, come to Jesus as a child.


I. Let the Children Come (Mark 10:13-14)
II. Come as a Child (Mark 10:15-16)
III. Come with your Burdens (Matthew 11:28-30)


        Amy Carmichael has been one of the most admired of Christian missionaries for more than a century. Many accounts of her work in India are available, some for children, some for adults, including the outstanding biography “A Chance to Die” by Elizabeth Elliot. Lois Dick wrote another, “Let the Little Children Come” that caught my attention, because one of today’s texts in our ‘Neon Moments’ series is the one where Jesus says ‘Let the little children come to me’. And it’s not a bad way to describe Amy Carmichael’s ministry. She went to India in 1895, expecting to work with adults, primarily women. But within a few years reports began to reach her of the awful things done to little girls in many of the Hindu temples. These girls, orphans or children of families too poor to raise them, were ‘married to the gods’ as young as five or six, and were victims of shameful abuse by the temple’s so called worshipers. When Amy learned of this horror she began to take children into her home. Like her Lord, she began to say ‘let these little children, burdened with burdens too terrible to bear, come to me for help and safety’. The girls didn’t understand all that was going on, but they felt the horror of the temples, and fled to the one place where they could find rest and safety. By the end of her life Amy’s ministry was caring for more than a thousand children at a time.

I. Let the Children Come (Mark 10:13-14)
        “Let the little children come”. It’s a familiar, wonderful teaching of Jesus. This morning I want to tie it to another familiar and comforting word Jesus spoke: ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened’. These words weren’t just spoken to children, they were spoken to all of us. They invite us to come to him, not in our adult armor of competence and confidence, but as children. Bottom line: when the burdens of life are heavy, come to Jesus as a child. Let’s begin with Mark’s version of ‘let the little children come’. Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

        This episode is reported in three of the four Gospels. At this time Jesus was popular and revered, so held in awe that mothers would bring their little children to him simply to have him touch and bless them. And the evidence of the Gospels is that Jesus loved children. In an episode similar to this one Matthew reports Jesus saying “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Can’t you just feel his love and the protective fervor of his heart?

        But the disciples didn’t have the same attitude. Mark says “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.” We don’t know what the disciples said, but it must have been something like ‘Don’t bother the Teacher. Can’t you see he’s busy. He’s got better things to do than stumble over your brats.’ The underlying attitude was pride and selfishness. Even today it’s typical for adults to think their concerns and agendas are more important than the needs of children, who get ignored or brushed off so adults can pursue adult concerns. And there are things it’s appropriate for adults to discuss away from the tender ears of children. But the disciples don’t sound like they’re expressing mature adult needs here: they sound childish: “We’ve got the teacher and you can’t have him. His time is ours, not yours. Get out of our way.”

        Verse 14: But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ The word indignant is strong - often used of the disciples being indignant at each other’s selfishness. In it’s root it means grieved or aching. Jesus’ heart ached for the children and because of the selfishness of the disciples. And it still does. When Jesus sees children hindered or hurt by adults, he grieves. I think the disciples’ sins would still grieve him today. When in pride or selfishness we push children to the edge of our lives, or act childish in preferring ourselves to them, we hinder and hurt them. Children many not be the center of life or ministry for all of us: they actually weren’t for Jesus. But they always need to be important, cared for and loved. And for parents being the adult means sacrificing some adult desires for the sake of caring for, protecting and blessing your children.

        Second, Jesus would grieve over the sins of unbelief and political correctness. Unbelieving parents in our culture use every excuse to keep their kids from exposure to the Gospel. The courts and the culture of political correctness reinforce that: “You can’t impose religious views on children.” And now in our culture only political correctness and moral relativism can be taught in the schools. And even foster parents and church care organizations are beoing told ‘no religious content allowed’ in serving kids. But Jesus still says that bringing children to him is a priority; those who hinder it are under his judgment.

        Finally, perhaps the saddest stumbling block placed in the path of children today is abuse. So many ‘Christian’ homes are places where children are verbally, physically or even sexually abused. Nothing in life more quickly destroys a child’s potential for faith than a parent who says ‘I believe in Jesus’ and who sins against that child. I promise you this doesn’t just grieve your Lord: it angers him. If you’re giving in to the temptations of anger or abuse, or even badly struggling with them, you need to do something. You need to be honest with yourself and God about your sin; then be honest with your spouse and others so that you get help and accountability; then be honest with your children as you confess your sin and ask their forgiveness.

        So the first point is ‘let the children come’. Let your children come - don’t be a stumbling block; let other children come - make kids a priority. Jesus says, ‘the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ The kingdom of God - the reign of Christ in the lives of individuals - is freely given to children. It’s been shown over and over that most people with an active faith in Christ as adults came to it as children. That’s why programs such as Awana and Sunday School are so important. Child-like faith comes easiest to children. It’s a little like measles - for a child measles is easy: a few spots, a fever, a few days of bed rest, and recovery. For an adult those same spots and fever often lead to pneumonia, diarrhea and other nasty, and even life threatening complications. Faith in Christ is often easy for a child and complicated for an adult. So let the little children come - of such is the kingdom of heaven.

II. Come as a Child (Mark 10:15-16)
        But that truth is also the bridge to our own lives. Jesus goes on in verse 15 to say I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Jesus isn’t just talking about kids here - he’s talking about all of us. All of us are to come to Jesus as children. He uses the Greek word ‘paideia’ which Strong’s concordance identifies as the diminutive of the normal Greek word for child, properly applied to infants or to half grown boys or girls, young children. So I am to come to Jesus not just as a child but as a little child. In my mind I picture a three or four year-old - someone pretty capable compared to an infant, but certainly far from an adult. At that age trusting in a parent is absolutely essential.

        So I’d argue that each of us must come to Jesus as little children, as four year olds. We must come to him that way for salvation, and in the Christian life. There isn’t time to fully explore it here, but one of the truths about Jesus’ phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’ is that it encompasses both salvation and Christian living. When he talks aoubt entering the Kingdom, he’s talking about those who have come to God by faith. We’ve already seen this in Matthew 18 where Jesus refers to these children as ‘those who believe in me’. Believe is the word we translate ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ - those who believe in me, are those who have faith in me, who put their trust in me.

        This is a key thought - we receive the kingdom, we become Christians, we are saved, by coming to Christ as little, dependent, trusting children. We cannot come as adults bringing him our righteousness or competence or strength or goodness: we have to be adult enough to recognize we don’t have those things and child-like enough to recognize that it doesn’t matter. We have to be adult enough to recognize that our right to come to him was eradicated by our sin and rebellion and child-like enough to trust he’ll forgive us. We have to be adult enough to recognize that we can’t pay the price of our sin and child-like enough to trust that he did, on the cross. We have to come in faith and dependence. As one older commentary said: “The demand that a man become as a little child calls for the realization that he is utterly helpless, that God gives and man receives . . . the Kingdom may only be entered by one who knows that he is helpless and small, without claim or merit.”

        How do you picture yourself in Christ, and in relationship to God? For me, of late, one of the key pictures is that I am a four year old coming to his loving father. Think of the gap in capabilities between a four year old and an adult. Think of the gap in experience, in knowledge, in understanding. Is that gap greater than or less than the gap between me and God, between us and our heavenly Father? The human gap is by far the lesser; the divine gap is much the greater. And it’s in the nature of a four year old to sense that the human gap exists, and to trust his parents, thoughtlessly, as the solution to any problem he faces in his world.

        Think too of how we deal with four year olds. As adults we celebrate their victories - the picture they color, the tricycle they ride. We’re genuinely delighted by these small steps toward adulthood. And we correct their errors - the tantrum they throw, the disobedience they pursue, the sibling they hit - but we do so with compassion and gentleness, seeing their mis- behavior as an opportunity to train them in the way they should go. Don’t you think our heavenly Father sees us in much the same way? Our greatest achievements and competencies can’t hold a candle to his smallest ones - and yet they are celebrated. And our greatest failures, while they sadden him, do not threaten him - he knows that he will use them to train us and help us grow. It’s that image, of myself as a little child in my relationship to a heavenly Father that has challenged and comforted me much in recent months.

III. Come with your Burdens (Matthew 11:28-30)
        Which leads us to the other text. The game show ‘Wheel of Fortune’ has a category called ‘Before & After’ in which they combine two unrelated phrases. Today’s whole message seems to be the combination of two related phrases ‘Let the little children come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden’. One part of our big idea is to come as children. The other part is found in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

This is an invitation given to us as children. Just three verses earlier Jesus had said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” His invitation is to those who come as children, with child-like dependence and faith. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.” The word ‘weary’ is the common word for toil or labor. The NAS has a footnote that says ‘those who have worked to exhaustion’. The other word, burdened or ‘heavy-laden’ was used of the loads placed on an animal or of a ship’s cargo. Now in one sense Jesus was probably talking about the burden placed on the Jewish people by the law and by those who added to the law. He says in Luke “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you weigh people down with burdens they can hardly carry.” The law’s demands were a burden, a stumbling block and a yoke to the people of Israel. Jesus’ invitation was to put down that burden and come to righteousness by faith.

        But in a larger sense the invitation is to those with any kind of burden, any kind of work-to-exhaustion weariness. This room is filled with burdens. You can’t see them, but they occupy the backs and necks and shoulders of many. This room is filled with weariness - it’s a symptom of our culture and of our Christian sub-culture. And it seems to be getting worse: for so many people the basic condition of life is ‘I’m weary’. The causes of these burdens are as many and varied as the families here. Some of you are carrying heavy financial burdens - the income hasn’t matched the expenses in a long time, and you stay up nights worrying. Others are under crushing relational burdens - your marriage, which should be a blessing, is instead a heavy weight on your heart. Your children, who once brought only joy, are now your heart’s ache. Maybe you’re worn down by the daily care of ailing, aging parents, or loved ones stricken with disease. Or maybe you are wearied by your blessings: beautiful healthy babies who nonetheless need care 24/7. Bright active children who hardly pause for a moment. Busy growing young people who need to be four places at once. Jobs that provide for all this but come with their own responsibilities and commitments. And that doesn’t even count involvement with church and ministry, which brings it’s own burdens and frustrations. So you’re stretched, squeezed and fatigued. You feel like you’re doing most of what you are doing badly. You’re staggering under the burden and you could sleep for a week.

        And into that weariness Jesus speaks, and under that burden you hear him say “Come to me.” There could not be a greater invitation than that. “Come to me”. Come to the one who bore your sins and carried your sorrows. Come to the one who can “sympathize with our weaknesses”, who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet without sin.” Come to the Good Shepherd who laid down his life, to the one who longed to gather his people under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks. Come to the one whose heart burned with compassion, the one who healed and comforted and encouraged. “Come to me,” he says “as a child”. Did you notice that most of the burdens you are carrying are adult burdens? You didn’t worry about these things as a child. Your four year old doesn’t carry the burden of these finances or relationships. And you as a parent don’t want the child to have to carry more than he is ready for. So, when you come to Jesus as a child, you come trusting him. You come putting your hand in his to steady you. You come laying your burden before him, knowing to the depths of your soul that he can carry it.

        “Come to me,”, he says “and I will give you rest.” “Rest” is the opposite of burdens and weariness. Rest comes from two Greek words that mean ‘to pause again’. Sometimes this word is translated ‘refreshed’. ‘Come to me and pause again and be refreshed’. What’s your mental picture for that? A fresh made bed on a spring morning? A tall icy glass of water? The hug of a loved one? When I was hiking in Boy Scouts it was exactly the picture here: taking off the backpack and feeling the cold air on your sweat, and splashing your face. Whatever rest or refreshment means to you, what Jesus offers fulfills that and more.

        If this verse stood alone, you’d be convinced that rest meant always putting your burdens down and relieving your weariness. And I’m sure there is some of that here, because I’ve read Psalm 23. But in fact Jesus goes on to say “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It appears that what’s going on here isn’t the complete laying down of burdens, but an exchange of yokes. On one level, again, there is a reference here to the law. The Jewish teachers of that time often referred to ‘the yoke of the law’ and Jesus is probably saying ‘the yoke of my teaching is much easier to bear’.

        But this exchange of yokes has a larger meaning. Jesus teaches that the burdens we carry to him are heavy, but that our burdens when we walk with him are light. Again, the four year old metaphor - when a four year old carries something together with an adult, the adult is careful to put only as much weight on the four year old as is appropriate. That’s the way Jesus walks with us. The picture he uses is of you and he yoked together so that your burden is light and your weariness is less. That’s a picture you ought to have in your mind as you personally and spiritually and daily come to Jesus. Here’s how he describes himself: “I am gentle and humble in heart” There is no threatening here, only invitation: no matter how we come to him, or how heavy our burden we won’t be met with hostility or pride, but with gentleness, humility and compassion. The Savior loves you - he is kinder than your closest friend, safer than your spouse, more gentle than a mother. He cares for you and in him is rest for your soul. Verse 30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

        So what have we said? When the burdens of life are heavy, come to Jesus as a child. I love the combination of those two thoughts. I love the Twila Paris song we did earlier - ‘deep inside this armor the warrior is a child’. We consciously come to him, we shed our burdens, we rest from our weariness and walk with him. Like many things in the Christian life, this is a mental discipline, an awareness thing: when you are burdened and weary you simply have to say to God: you’re the father. I’m the child. I want to trust you in this situation; it’s more than I can handle alone, and with this burden; it’s more than I can bear alone. I rejoice that you walk with me in gentleness and compassion, and I rejoice that you promise me rest in my soul.” Do you want to try that? I’ll read it as a prayer, and I’ll give you a moment after each phrase to pray it back to God, while you think of the real wearinesses and burdens of your life. Here we go: God: you are the father. I am the child. I want to trust you in this situation which is more than I can handle alone, and with this burden which is more than I can bear alone. I rejoice that you walk with me in gentleness and compassion, and I rejoice that you promise me rest in my soul.

        If I had to choose only a few books to take with me to a desert island, near the top of my list would be two World War II novels by Hermann Wouk, ‘The Winds of War’ and ‘War and Remembrance’. The characters in these historical accurate novels have become like family to me through many re-readings.
        Two of them are Byron and Natalie Henry. Byron is a submariner in the U.S. Navy, and Natalie a Jewish American, the niece of a famous author. The winds of war bring them together for a time in Europe, and they marry. Then circumstances drive them apart, and Natalie is trapped in Nazi Europe with their child, Louis. She ends up in Auchwitz, but survives, barely. Before going there she smuggles the child out to the Polish resistance movement and he is placed with a sympathetic couple on a Polish farm. Byron, through persistence and luck finds him and brings him to the estate where his wife is convalescing. Also present is Avram Rabinovitz, a Jewish resistance organizer. OK, that’s all background. What I want you to listen for is the burden on the child and the release that comes when he can be the a child again.

        Byron and Rabinovitz are driving up to the hospital. “Isn’t he very quiet?”. “He doesn’t talk.” “What do you mean?” “Just that. He doesn’t smile and he doesn’t talk. He hasn’t said a word to me yet. I had a time getting him released. They had him classified as psychologically disabled, som such fancy category. He’s fine. He eats, he dresses and cleans himself, in fact he’s very neat, and he understands anything you say. He obeys. He doesn’t talk.” Rabinovitz said in Yiddish, “Louis, look at me.” The boy turned and faced him. “Smile, little fellow.” Louis’s large eyes conveyed faint dislike and contempt, and he looked out the window again.

        “Let him be, “ Byron said. “What’s the story on him?” “Very sparse. I can’t read Czech, and the translation of the card was pretty poor. I gather he was picked up in a woods near Prague where the Germans took a lot of Jews and Czechs and shot them. The bodies were just lying around. Somebody found him, among the bodies.”

        As they walked into the sunny garden of the convalescent home, Byron said “Look, Louis, there’s Mama.” Natilie stood near the same bench in a new white frock. Louis let go of his father’s hand, walked toward Natalie, then broke into a run and leaped at her. “Oh my God! How big you are! How heavy you are! Oh Louis!” She sat down, embracing him. The child clung, his face buried on her shoulder and she rocked him, saying through her tears “Louis, you came back. You came back.” She looked up at Byron. “He’s glad to see me.” His face still hidden, the boy was gripping his mother hard. Rocking him back and forth, she began to sing slowly in Yiddish. “Under Louis’s cradle, lives a little white goat, The little goat went into business” Louis let go of her, sat up smiling on her lap, and tried to sing along in Yiddish, in a faltering hoarse voice, a word here and there: “Dos vet zein dein baruf, Rozhinkes mit mandlen”

        When the burdens of life are heavy, come to Jesus as a child, and find rest for your soul.