“Let the children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16).” These sweet words are like the fillings of a delicious sandwich, or like the cream of an Oreo. It is in fact a Gospel sandwich. Let me explain. On both sides of the little narrative in which Jesus speaks these words to his disciples concerning the children who were being brought to him, we have passages which serve as the bread for the sandwich and the crusts of the Oreo.
Slice One. Luke 18:9-14.
In the passage on the front end of this little narrative Jesus speaks to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. He says to them, “Two men went to the temple to pray. The first describes his goodness to God. The other does not even dare to lift his head but instead prays, ‘Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.’” The second man Jesus says, rather than the first, goes home justified. That is to say, the second receives mercy, forgiveness and life from God while the first remains in his sin.
Slice Two: Luke 18:18-31.
In the passage on the back end of this little narrative a man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points this man back to the law and the man’s inability to keep it (especially concerning the first commandment). Jesus then says concerning our ability to be saved, to keep God’s law, and be righteous in God’s sight, “With men this is impossible.” Then Jesus goes on to say, “But what is impossible with men is possible with God.” And almost as soon as he speaks these words, he speaks of what he will do for us through his suffering, death and resurrection.
The Sweet Center of the Gospel Sandwich: Luke 18:15-17
So, why does Jesus call out, “Let the children come to me?” He does not say them because children are naturally good, sweet, innocent, or humble. He says these words because none of us by our own power or goodness can save ourselves. We cannot earn or merit God’s gifts – we must simply receive them as gifts won for us by another- namely Jesus. We are all alike in need of Christ. We must, like little children, receive the gifts God graciously gives to us through his Son Jesus. This is why Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you; whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18:17).”
The Good News is that the gifts of God are for you. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation to us who receive it not based on our own righteousness but by faith in His name. In our baptisms God has joined us with the death and resurrection of his Son, poured out his Holy Spirit upon us, and clothed us with Christ. In Holy Communion God gives to us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sin. In the absolution spoken by the ministers sent to proclaim the Gospel we receive forgiveness of sin. All this we receive by the mercy of God who says, “Let the children come to me” so that He might give us his blessings. This Gospel sandwich is for you.