We live in an upside down world that exists in contrast to how Jesus revealed his Kingdom to be and the world should be. When his disciples asked who was the greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom, Jesus gave them a surprising answer. He called a child to stand in their midst and declared that unless, they, the disciples, were converted or changed to become like children they would never enter his Kingdom. While Jesus’ words are shocking today, they would have been outright unbelievable in the first century. The ancient world had little or no value for children. Some religions even sacrificed them. The Romans often abandoned baby girls. Children were often seen as an economic drain on the family, not as blessings from God as Scripture declares. Only after, and because of Jesus, were children valued. Christians rescued baby girls abandoned by their Roman families and raised them as their own daughters. In subsequent centuries Christians and churches established orphanages to care for abandoned and unwanted children, who otherwise would have been left to fend for themselves. Years later, Christians like D. L. Moody established schools on Sunday to teach children to read and write. Just in declaring value for children Jesus transformed multiple cultures in ways we take for granted today.
However, what did Jesus mean by becoming like children? Jesus instructed his disciples that they were to humble themselves like a child. This is where Jesus’ kingdom instructs our upside down world. Children are actually the model for a citizen of his Kingdom. In what way? Children recognize their dependence upon their parents. They are valued and loved by their parents just for who they are, not for what they can produce. They are a picture of the model kingdom citizen, humble, joyful and confident that all their needs will be cared for. They stand in stark contrast with those who Jesus said will come to him on the day of judgment declaring they are part of his Kingdom because they prophesied, healed the sick and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, prompting Jesus to say that he never knew them. This does not mean that Jesus is indicating that we are to be idle. Observe young children, they are active and busy, learning and practicing new skills, soaking up what their parents show them and delighting in each new ability acquired.
Our journey with Jesus is revealed to be one of relationship and discovery as Jesus reveals to us how to live right side up and not upside down. Then, as we learn to live right side up, we become examples for others to follow Jesus themselves. As children we are to delight in our learning to be like him, refusing to assume that our “productivity” gives us any standing in Jesus’ Kingdom.