In Mark 10:13-16, we find the familiar story of Jesus inviting the children to come to him. This has long been a favorite scene and one that has often encouraged me in my work with children. In my previous post, I shared my testimony of the events that developed my passion for reaching the hearts of children. While Mark’s passage is often examined to remind us that Jesus loves kids, I think we can also learn much by looking at the disciple’s initial reaction to the young distractions and Christ’s reprimand of His followers’ poor attitudes.
Why were children coming to Jesus in the first place? Shouldn’t they have been off running, jumping, and causing general havoc? Mark 10:13 (ESV) reveals that parents were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” Let’s take a short detour to first notice the important role parents play in pointing their children to Jesus. Without some direction from the adults in their lives, these children quite possibly would have missed an opportunity to encounter Jesus personally. When parents are not present in the child’s spiritual life, the responsibility falls to the adults of the church to see to the student’s spiritual development. What a great responsibility and privilege!
Children were not just brought to Jesus to have a short chat or hear a charming story. They were brought in order to be touched. Throughout the Old Testament, blessings were bestowed on children through physical touch. Think back to Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27 and the blessings given to Ephraim and Manasseh by a dying Jacob in Genesis 48. In the life and ministry of Jesus, we have witnessed that many of Christ’s miracles involved the touch of the Master’s hands, bringing healing and deliverance. Children desperately need to be touched by Jesus! They face problems that are just as debilitating and stressful as those faced by adults. The challenges in a child’s life require the same supernatural touch. Thankfully in this scene, Jesus clearly communicates to us that children matter to him and are worthy of his time and attention.
The remainder of verse 13 has always confused me: “the disciples rebuked them [the children].” My question has always been “Why?” We don’t really know. Perhaps the disciples knew what was on the day’s agenda and thought that taking the time to bless the children would hamper the day’s activities. Perhaps they were worried that the children’s rumpled clothing, skinned knees, and runny noses would offend the Master. What we can ascertain from Mark’s statement is that the disciples were discouraging the children from coming and detouring them away from Jesus.
I love the Savior’s response to the disciples in verse 14: “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (ESV) Before we explore Jesus’ statement, let’s notice his immediate response. Without words, Jesus gives the disciples a look of indignation. Indignant….what a great word! The KJV uses the phrase “much displeased” while the NLT says “angry,” but “indignant” is used in the majority of the translations that I have reviewed in this study. Since so many of the translators seemed to prefer this word, I thought it important to make sure that I have a clear understanding of the term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines indignant as “feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.” It further states that the English word’s origin comes from the Latin verb indignari that means “regarding as unworthy.” With this definition in mind, we begin to see just how upset Jesus was with the disciples’ response. But there is something nagging in my spirit to look at the word “indignant” deeper.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is a valuable tool when searching for deeper meaning about specific words. The word translated “indignant” in Mark 10:14 is the Greek word aganakteo and it is defined as meaning “to be greatly afflicted; (figuratively) indignant; to be much (sorely) displeased; to have (be moved with ) indignation.” In the earlier version of the Concordance, Strong simplifies the meaning of aganakteo as “angry; incensed.” The Greek term is only used 7 times in the New Testament. All 7 occurrences are in the Gospels, but this is the only time when aganakteo is used in conjunction with Jesus’ response. The 7 uses of the word are actually accounts of only 4 separate episodes.
- Occurrences #1 (Matthew 20:24) and #2 (Mark 10:41) describe the disciples’ response to James and John’s request for preference in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The disciples are indignant.
- Occurrence #3 (Matthew 21:15) tells that the priests and scribes were indignant because Jesus dared to perform a healing miracle in the temple. Similarly, Occurrence #4 (Luke 13:14) records that the synagogue officials were indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.
- Occurrences #5 (Matthew 26:8) and #6 (Mark 14:4) once again point to the disciples’ indignation. This time, they are upset because of the cost of the perfume that a woman used to anoint the feet of Jesus.
- Lastly, aganakteo is used in the passage we are currently exploring in the 7th Occurrence (Mark 10:14).
Now that we have a much more complete understanding of the meaning of aganakteo – defined by Bible translators as indignant – we begin to fully understand the level of Jesus’ anger and displeasure with the disciples over their unfair treatment of the children when they dared to treat them as unworthy of the Savior’s attention. OUCH! Does that trample our toes a little bit? I wonder if Jesus ever gives the same indignant stare at the Church today when she relegates students to needing nothing more than a little entertainment and a cute story? God, forgive us!
In light of Jesus’ indignant look and accompanying feelings, reconsider his statement in the second half of Mark 10:14 – “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them….” That’s pretty crystal clear in my mind! Notice it is not couched as a request…..”If it’s not too inconvenient, let the children come…..” No way! That is a clearly formed command from the Master. Obedience to the command to provide a pathway for children to come to the Savior to be touched and blessed is not optional!
After Jesus has rebuked the disciples for their response to those they perceived as unworthy, Jesus then commends the children’s faith in verse 15. What is most beautiful to me, however, is found in the commonly overlooked words of verse 16: “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Jesus did not simply teach the disciples — the adults — a lesson and ask them to repent. Jesus’ focus remained on the youngest that had gathered that day and he ministered to them by giving them his undivided attention.