Upside Down Kingdom
If you have your Bibles or a Bible app with you, go ahead and turn to Mark 10:13-16 if you would. For those of you who might be new with us, we’re in the middle of a series called “[Re]Discovering Jesus,” where we’ve been asking two question: 1) Who is Jesus? Not some Americanized version of Jesus, but who is Jesus of Nazareth as described in the Gospels? And 2) What does He want with us? Let’s make it real practical. What difference does it make in our day-to-day if we choose, or claim, to follow Him? Now this is extremely important with today being Orphan Sunday, because many of us have a disconnect with our role and responsibility for orphans in our community and around the world. This doesn’t mean we’re “anti-orphans” or “anti-children.” It just means that for many of us, and I’ll be honest, for me to, we don’t often think about our role—what Jesus calls us to—in caring for orphans.
About six months ago, our daughter, who’s now 15, read a book her mother gave her for Christmas about a young woman who moved to Africa and started an orphanage. And ever since then, my daughter has been pressuring me—almost daily—on what we’re going to do as a family to help care for orphans! Are we going to adopt? Are we going to get into Foster Care? And I’ve been reeling over the past few months at trying to figure this whole thing out! So, our family took a baby step recently where we went through Safe Families, one of the ministries you can find out in our resource area, to become a respite family where we can provide short-term care for children in need or in transition—like a weekend or a few weeks. I’m just being honest with you! We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to figure this thing out. And we’ve been blessed to provide care for a little 6-year old girl for a few weeks, and it’s been great. So what does Jesus call us to in caring for children and, more specifically, caring for orphans. Because, here’s a pretty convicting scripture that some of you are probably familiar with from James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
The way I read that is that being “religious” in the eyes of God is far more about how we care for the neglected and the hurting and our commitment to purity than other forms of religion that are normally associated with being a religious person—going to mass or church services, taking communion or the Eucharist, and so forth. It doesn’t mean those elements are unimportant, but we can’t neglect that a significant part of religion in God’s eyes is how we care for orphans and widows.
Now, James, the one who wrote those words in James 1:27 was the half-brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. And I wonder if James picked up this concept of how God views religion from his brother, Jesus. I tend to think he did. He probably saw how Jesus treated children, how Jesus welcomed children, and how Jesus cut totally against the cultural grain and taught that those who are most powerless in society are the ones to whom belongs the kingdom of God. At least that’s what Jesus says in Mark 10. Let’s take a look at it. And if you would, stand with me out of respect for the reading of God’s Word.
You may be seated. So picture the scene here. Parents are bringing their children to Jesus “that He might touch them.” The touch was for a blessing, but the disciples rebuked them. Now, before we get too upset with the disciples, remember that they were men of their culture, just like we’re people of our culture. We all filter our faith through our cultural lens. We can’t help it—but we can overcome it. We can judge our culture from the calling of Christ, but that takes time and discipline. And oftentimes it takes a little rebuke from someone else to point out something we’re not seeing.
And that’s exactly what Jesus did. The disciples thought they were doing a good thing. Rabbis in their culture weren’t to be bothered by children. Leave the children for the women to teach and raise. Jesus is too important for these little ones! But Jesus rises above the culture, and Mark records that He is INDIGNANT.
This is the only time in the gospels where Jesus is said to be indignant. The only time! This is great emotion of extreme displeasure over how the disciples totally missed what His purpose was all about and what the nature of the Kingdom of God is all about.
And here’s the key: No one is unimportant in the eyes of God. To put this in the positive: All people are important in the eyes of God. And children, in case some might tend to forget, are people!
Let’s do a little logic here for just a moment. This is called Conditional Proof: “If A, then B. If B, then C.” Here’s A: Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, `Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). OK—so we are created in God’s image, after His likeness. If A, then B—all human life is unique over all creation (because we’re the only part of creation that is made in the image of God). If A—we’re created in the image of God; then B—we are unique over all creation; then C—we are to treat all human life with great value, honor and respect. This is why we are a Pro-Life Church, because we are Pro—for human life from conception on. Why? Because of “A”—all human life is created in the image of God. If so, then “B”—human life is unique and then “C”—all human life should be valued, honored, and respected. That includes the pre-born, the born, and even those lives that are often kicked to the curb—those children whose parents die, those children whose parents are unable to provide for either due to poor choices on their part, or health issues, or financial issues. You see, Jesus teaches and models right here in Mark 10 a fundamental principle of the Kingdom that involves accepting children.
Whew! Alright, logic lesson over. Big idea: All people, including children, are important in the eyes of God.
Back in Mark 10, then, we see this broken down into two parts:
1. Jesus values children (Mark 10:14)
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This ties in with the Big Idea that all people, including children, are important in the eyes of God. When we brought this little six-year old girl into our home for respite care, I thought I wouldn’t get involved. Laura and the kids will help take care of her. This is their deal, not mine. But over the course of just a few days, I began to see this little girl as a precious child loved by God. I can’t explain the emotion that began to well up in me of genuine love for this little girl. Imagine what it must be like for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when He sees this little girl? When He sees orphans in the slums of Nairobi? When He sees your child? When He sees you? Jesus values children.
2. We can be a blessing to children (Mark 10:15-16)
And how so? I mean, I don’t know about you, but sometimes my children don’t act very “kingdom-like” (just like I don’t always act very “kingdom-like”). Jesus said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” What does that look like? Jesus isn’t referring to those times when a child is selfish, because we as adults can be selfish. Jesus isn’t referring to those times when a child throws a temper-tantrum, because we as adults do that, too, in different ways. What is it about how a child receives the gift of the kingdom that is a model for what we are to become? Maybe it’s something like this. Let’s watch together.
We are to become like that. Somewhere along the way from childhood to becoming an adult, we’ve lost the wonder. We’ve lost the sense of awe. We’ve lost a sense of total dependence on the Provider. You see, in Jewish law, children were seen as inferiors. A child had no claim, no rights. A child was totally dependent. And yet, as adults, we become very independent.
And did you notice what Jesus did in v. 16? “He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them” (Mark 10:16). Jesus shows us that His Kingdom is an “upside-down kingdom.” It’s not about the mighty and powerful, but being humble and gracious. It’s about being in awe of how much our King Jesus loves us and welcomes us to Him that He might take us in His arms and bless us. But this blessing is not just for us, it’s so that we might be a blessing to others.
And now we are called to follow His lead. We are called to be the hands of Jesus; to reach out to those who are neglected by society and to take them in our arms and bless them.
Right out those doors, you can find ways to do just that. It might be to adopt, or to become foster care parents, or to provide respite care, or to join a prayer ministry where you pray that more will be raised up to provide care for orphans. There are many ways to help, but the point is that we are all called to help. We are all called as a community of Christ followers to live out this value of the Upside Down Kingdom and show that all people, including children, matter to God, and they should matter to us as well. Let’s pray.