Mark 9:33–37, 42, Matthew 18:1–5, and Luke 9:46–48 give parallel accounts of Jesus’ use of a child to illustrate His teaching to the disciples. These passages differ, however, in which teaching they choose to report. We see at least four teachings from these passages.
Have the faith and humility of a child (Matt 18:3–4).
Speaking of how to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says that we must “turn and become like children,” which means that one “humbles himself like this child,” that is, a child that Jesus had called to stand in their midst (Matt 18:3–4; cf. 18:1–2). We must humbly trust in Christ and not ourselves if we hope to enter His kingdom.
Welcome all believers alike with no thought to their social standing (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:36–37).
Jesus speaks of one who “receives one such child in my name” as the one who “receives me” (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:37). The phrase “one such” implies that it was not only children that Jesus admonished His disciples to receive, but all who are like children in some sense. In context, this sense is along the lines of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:1). Even if one is like a child (one without social standing and recognition), if such a one bears the name of Jesus (“receives…in my name”), then we as believers should seek to welcome and serve such a one, not figure out whether we are ranked higher than such a person in the coming kingdom of God. And, by serving all believers, and especially those who are little in the eyes of men, we are thereby evaluated by God to be the greatest in His kingdom (Matt 18:4; cf. also James 2:1–10).
To welcome all believers without discrimination is to welcome Jesus and, therefore, His Father (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:36–37; Luke 9:48).
One of the primary ways we show our love for God is to show our love for His people. By welcoming those who bear His name, it is as if we were welcoming Jesus Himself (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:37a; Luke 9:48a), and to welcome Jesus is to welcome His Father, the One who sent Him on our behalf (Mark 9:37b; Luke 9:48b). How we treat others is a reflection of how we treat God Himself (cf. also Matt 25:31–46).
Causing a believing child to sin is great sin (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42).
If we allow our pride to dismiss other believers and provoke them to sin, we commit great sin ourselves (Matt 18:8; Mark 9:42; cf. 9:38–41). Rather, we should support one another and strive for unity instead of thinking that we alone our righteous in our ways (cf. also John 13:34–35 and Rom 15:7).
The Meaning of the Word Church and What It Means for Us Today
Our word church is comes from the older kirk (Scottish) or kirche (German), which in turn derives from the Greek adjective kuriakos, meaning “belonging to the Lord.” The Greek term directly behind our word church, however, is ekklesia, a combination of the preposition ek (“out of”) and the verb kaleō (“to call”). Ekklesia could refer to those who have been called out of something, and, as applied to believers in the present age, it refers to people who have been called out of this dying world to be part of the church, the body of Christ.
Ekklesia is used four ways in the NT. Ekklesia can be used generally to refer to a gathering of people. For example, Israel was the ekklessia in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), and Ephesus had a pagan ekklesia that protested the preaching of Paul (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). Of the 114 times the NT uses ekklesia, these four uses are the only ones that do not refer to the church. The remaining 110 uses can be divided into three categories and refer somehow to the church.
First, ekklesia can refer to the universal church, that is, all of the saints in this present age, whether in heaven or on earth. We see the concept of the universal ekklesia the title “the church, which is His body” (Eph 1:22–32), composed of “all the members of the body… baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:12–13). It is not just those in one local church or the other but all those in the ekklesia for which Christ died (Eph 5:25).
Second, ekklesia can refer to a local church, such as “the church at Antioch” (Acts 13:1) or “the church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2).
Third, ekklesia can refer to the entire church on earth at a given point in time. Paul once “persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13), obviously more than a single, local congregation. Similarly, when ekklesia is used in the plural, it can likewise refer all the churches on earth at once. Certain commands apply to “all the churches” (1 Cor 7:17; 14:33) on earth at any given point in time.
Theoretically, if all the true, local churches indeed belong together as the one church and body of Christ, we should be able to perfectly get along. Unfortunately, there is great divide in understanding many important passages in Scripture, which has led to scores of denominations today. The choice one is left with is to limit one’s message and increase their connections or to decrease their connections but have a high level of commonality with others by means of a confession. For the sake of practicality in relating to others and in accord with my own doctrinal convictions, I encourage opting for the latter of the two.
For those who are truly our fellow Christians, we should strive to have what level of fellowship we can. And for those who are sister churches in both cardinal doctrines and distinctives, we should strive for fellowship all the more.
 For the discussion below, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 1041–44, and especially Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3: The Doctrines of Salvation, the Church, and Last Things (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), 199–200.
Among other things we do in prayer (praise God, confess sin, etc.), prayer involves bringing certain requests before God, and if so granted, they become part of the means whereby He carries out His decreed will.
Consider a variety of amazing answers to prayer. First, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and the women in his royal house to be healed: “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children” (Gen 20:17; cf. 20:7, 18). Second, God answered the prayers of Hannah and Zechariah in giving children to their families when they previously had none (1 Sam 1:10, 20; Luke 1:13). The answer to Zechariah’s prayer was particularly amazing because Elizabeth was “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7, 18), a phrase used of Sarah who likewise bore a son in her old age, ninety years old (Gen 18:11; cf. 17:17)! Third, perhaps more well-known is the prayer of Elijah who prayed for the rain to stop and start again during the days of wicked King Ahab (James 5:17–18; cf. 1 Kgs 17:1; 18:42). Fourth, the early church prayed for Peter’s rescue from jail and did not believe it at first when their prayers were answered (Acts 12:5, 12, 14–15)! Fifth, despite his immorality and vengeance, Samson prayed for water and was miraculously granted a spring from a rock just after killing 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:18–19). He showed his pride after the prayer’s answer by naming the place of water En-hakkore, “the spring of him who called” (Judges 15:19). He named it after himself who prayed and did not even acknowledge God as the One to answer to prayer!
While we are not told to expect miracles today, it is not to say that they cannot happen. Jesus once stated, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23) and later clarified that such things come about by prayer (Mark 9:29). God is the one who makes impossible possible as He chooses to answer our prayers.
So how do we pray for the impossible to become possible? First, any request we make before God should be guided by Scripture. Second, we should realize that sometimes God chooses not to answer our prayer because He has something better in mind for our future, even if it is simply to teach us to go to Him in prayer. Third, when we pray, we should not doubt how He can answer our prayers (Mark 11:23–24). Fourth, if we do doubt, we should ask God to give us the faith we need to pray for an amazing answer to prayer. The father of a demon-possessed boy did just this and saw Jesus heal his son (Mark 9:24–25).
Hymn 23 - Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Hymn 141 - Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed
Booklet 20 - His Robes for Mine
Hymn 267 - There Is a Fountain
Booklet 1 - Give Praise to God
Hymn 70 - O for a Heart to Praise My God
Hymn 335 - And Can It Be?
Booklet 41 - Why Do the Nations Rage? (Psalm 2)
Hymn 42 - Praise Ye the Lord!
Hymn 220 - Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Hymn 451 - O Thou in Whose Presence
Booklet 42 - How Awesome Is Your Name (Psalm 8)
Hymn 36 - All Hail the Power of Jesus Name
Hymn 243 - Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Hymn 267 - There Is a Fountain
Hymn 19 - I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Booklet 46 - Come, Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs
Booklet 14 - Hymn of Hope
Pastor regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our staff page.