(A) Introduction. Read: Luke18v15to17

Luke deals in a couple of verses with one of the loveliest incidents in the life and ministry of Jesus. The disciples obviously didn't think there was much advantage to Jesus in blessing babies! It didn't fit their conception of the kingdom of God. But Jesus was pleased to lay his hands upon little children for two reasons. He wants parents to seek his blessing upon their children. The sooner they are offered to him in prayer the better. It is good for little ones to learn of Christ on their mother's knee.

The second reason Jesus welcomed the small children to him was because childlike qualities were essential for both entry into, and usefulness in, God's kingdom. It is this second point that I am going to concentrate on in this very simple exposition.

(B) The childlike qualities of which God approves.

(1) Dependence.

Children are prepared to depend upon others. They are happy to ask for help and expect to be helped.

I was plodding back to my car after umpiring a hockey match on Saturday. In the car park a pretty little girl pulled a bag out of the boot of her mother's BMW. The bag was almost as big as the little girl and by the shape of it probably contained a violin. As the sweet, small thing swung the bag over her diminutive shoulder her pony tail got caught in the buckle on the strap. "Mummy, mummy - help me," she cried. The girl didn't think twice about it. Her automatic response in time of trouble was to call her mother for help - and a quite charming woman hastened to her daughter's aid.

Many years ago I took a group of 11-year-olds on a Geography field trip to Walton on the Naze. During a break for lunch young Billy Seal struggled to unscrew the cap on his lemonade bottle. He trotted across to me and asked, "Can you get the top off the bottle for me Mr Reed?" I was happy to oblige. After a couple of minutes Billy came back with his lemonade and said, "Would you like a drink, Mr Reed?" He was a dear little chap!

Most of us are pleased to help children in these simple ways. We respond positively to their trust.

If we are to enter God's kingdom we have to depend on Jesus to do what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot in any way whatsoever atone for our own sins. It is impossible to save ourselves. We have to depend upon the saving work of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.

In the words of Augustus Toplady:

          It's not the works which we have done,
          Or shall hereafter do,
          But He of His abounding love
          Salvation does bestow.

We must not overlook the enormous joy Jesus' experiences whenever a sinner turns to him for the help only he can give. If I took pleasure in unscrewing Billy Seal's lemonade bottle think of Christ's pleasure in saving a lost soul.

(2) Receptivity.

Children love Christmas because it is a time of receiving presents. I think all children are delighted to be given presents. Even the boys and girls in my form at school were more than happy to receive a chocolate bar each from me at Christmas. Nobody seemed to be embarrassed. Indeed, they even suggested I buy them all an Easter egg as well. None of my form looked to earn their present and nor did they try and pay me back.

We should be glad to receive what only Jesus can offer - forgiveness, reconciliation with God, adoption into God's family, a new life and the hope of glory.

The Christian is the very opposite of a self-made man. The self-made man can take justifiable pride in his achievements. We are not self-made but born again of God's Spirit. In the words of the great apostle Paul: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph2v10.

(3) The desire to help.

Many children do - for a time - desire to help mum or dad. James Herriott in one of his books about the adventures of a country vet writes movingly about his pre-school aged daughter. She loved to accompany her father on his rounds and took particularly delight in opening the numerous gates along farm tracks and handing out his instruments when treating a sick animal. It was a precious time for James Herriott and one that passed all too quickly.

The tragedy is that by the time children become teenagers they often grow out of their desire to help. The jobs parents expect their offspring to do become chores to be undertaken reluctantly and with bad grace.

Christians should be glad to help Jesus in any capacity. We should be delighted to be of some use to him. One of my habitual prayers is that I might accomplish something for the Master.

          My gracious Lord, I own Thy right
          To every service I can pay;
          And call it my supreme delight
          To hear Thy dictates and obey.

(4) Easily satisfied.

Little children don't require very sophisticated entertainment. They will play all day on a beach with water, sand, spade and pail. When I was a young boy my friends and I spent hours messing around in a little river - making dams, racing "boats", catching minnows, looking for fossils in the gravel deposits and climbing trees. Even older children sometimes revert to infancy. When I passed trays of soil around a Geography class someone invariably used the clay to model a shape - the precise nature of which I cannot divulge on a website of this nature!

Paul wrote: Godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Tim6v6. Christians need to be childlike in the sense that they are readily satisfied with church life. Too many Christian adolescents exist; believers who crave excitement and entertainment; discontented worshippers who are easily bored and quickly fed up; spiritual gypsies who wander from church to church.

(5) Openness.

Little children are frank. They are not given to dissimulation and say what they really mean. I can remember little Harriet saying to me, "Mr Reed, you're like a Charlie Chaplin film - old and funny!"

Adults are inclined to hide their emotions and often don't say what they think. People working in a great variety of organisations keep quiet when they should speak out. Senior management does not approve of employees who rock the boat. Whistleblowers get the sack! I always spoke out in staff meetings against any new initiative that I considered detrimental to teaching. Sometimes a colleague would come up to me afterwards and say, "I agree with what you said about ..... ." But that colleague didn't support me when it mattered.

Christians should be open with God and open with one another. Plenty of people keep silent in the church business meetings simply because they do not want to be ill thought of. Those same folk have plenty to say in the car on their way home.

(6) Accept Authority.

Young children are much more obedient than older ones. As a little boy I went to bed when I was told. As it happens my mother sent me upstairs far too early. I would lay in bed, wide awake, on a lovely, sunlit evening listening to the laughter and cries of other children still at play. But I did not think to question my mother's decision at the time. I was obedient.

The older we get the less we like being told what to do. Teenagers are notoriously rebellious. A time comes when that sweet, docile, tractable, little daughter becomes a difficult, argumentative and wilful madam. In old age, of course, our children start telling us how to behave. My friend Ivy's two sons were very inclined to boss their old mother about. I can remember her saying of one of them, "I know I shan't be told what to do by he."

Christians need to be childlike in their unquestioned obedience to Jesus. Put simply: we should do precisely what he tells us. For example, Jesus instructs us to 'go the other mile.' This expression refers to the practice of the Roman army to press a man into carrying a load for a mile. It was often very inconvenient to do as Roman law dictated. So Jesus was teaching his followers not to be the sort of people who try to wriggle out of complying with disagreeable rules and regulations. I was often tempted to do this as a teacher! Christ's teaching on the 'other mile' did from time to time constrain me.

Not so long ago I received a directive from our trustees telling the church at Brockley to make all the headstones of graves in our cemetery secure so that children couldn't pull them down upon themselves. This involved a lot of work and expense. The members of the church were not happy about doing the work. If children vandalised graves and ended up hurt that was their lookout! Well I got the work done because I knew what Jesus said about 'going the other mile.' The members of my church never thanked me! But because I obeyed Jesus it turned out a lot simpler than I expected.

Christians cannot pick and choose from the commands of Jesus. We are expected to be childlike and obey them all!

(7) Trust.

Little children trust their parents. I can remember our last pastor, Simon Ladd, telling us how his small son Adam would jump from half way up the stairs into his arms. Simon said, "Adam jumps because he trusts his dad." I thought I would put this theory to the test. One day when Adam was on a chair in the pulpit of our chapel, I stood well beneath him and said, "Jump." He jumped! My fellow elder Brian said, "That Adam would trust anyone!" I doubt he would now - something like 18 years later.

It is possible to be ambivalent about trust. The child who trusts its teacher will learn to swim or to be a gymnast much more quickly than the pupil lacking trust. But if the teacher is grossly incompetent the trusting child may drown or break its back.

Maybe children are too trusting! When my brother Paul was about five he had a bicycle for his birthday. Our neighbour's son, Arka, told Paul he would teach him to ride. He put my brother on his new bike and gave him a tremendous push. I can see him now - careering down the road. He wobbled twice and then pedalled like mad. He had learned how to ride his bike!

Trust does involve an element of risk. As I was driving to church one Sunday morning I encountered two small children running down the middle of the road towards me. I applied the brakes! I picked up the little boy aged about two and took the four-year-old girl by the hand. I asked the girl, "Where do you live?" She pointed to a house about 50 yards away. So I took brother and sister home to mum. I was able to rescue them from danger because they trusted me. I enjoyed being their saviour! But - I might not have been the sort of adult these children should trust!

No-one can be saved by Jesus without trusting in him. Trust does have that element of risk - and this deters many from submitting to him. There are cautious souls who do not like having to make a leap in the dark. However, in Jesus' case there are many who would vouch for him! He is not without testimonials to his saving and restoring power. And, yet, in the final analysis it is a case of taste and see that the Lord is good.

(8) Forgiving and forgetting.

One day I was invited into the headmaster's study because an irate mother had called to complain about something I had written in her daughter's log book about missing homework. Mrs I was very vehement. She told the headmaster, "I know that Mr Reed. He used to teach ME. There's nothing you can tell me about him. He's always been a crabby old teacher ...... ." So I looked at the head and said, "Well, what does the daughter say?"

"Oh," he replied, "Mrs I says her children always stand up for you."

I have to say my pupils forgave me a lot. They forgave the bad temper, the impatience, the blunt home truths, the teasing and the risqué language. Children are a lot more forgiving than adults. It almost seems as if the capacity to forgive is lost as people grow older.

Christians need to display the childlike trait of forgiveness. It should be a distinguishing feature of the believer. Sadly it is a quality that is often lacking in church life.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest men of my lifetime is Nelson Mandela. He has something of the child about him. The forgiveness he extended to his opponents of the apartheid era was a rare and beautiful grace. It is a grace that should adorn the life of every Christian - a glowing acknowledgement of the forgiveness granted to all who put their faith in Jesus.