You tell any child between 5 and 15 he's acting like a baby and he will take it as an insult. But I tell you today unless you have the faith of a baby you can't be saved. Isn't that what Jesus emphatically says in our text? "I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it." So let's talk about baby faith.
Baby faith doesn't tempt Jesus. I don't know why your insert and many other English translations would translate "tested" here. The word can mean either test or tempt. The context determines. Here the Pharisees aren't interested in testing what Jesus knows about divorce but tempting Him to contradict Moses or to show Himself easy on divorce. They came to Jesus with the same motive Satan did in the wilderness. The same word is used for what Satan did as what the Pharisees did.
And don't we do the same? Like Satan himself don't we sometimes dare Jesus to show us that He really is God? Do this or do that then we will believe on you. Or as the Pharisees in this text, don't we find things in the Scripture that we set against each other? Scripture says God is all powerful and all loving, so if He doesn't stop something we consider to be unloving disease, disaster, tragedy then He must either not be all powerful or He really isn't all loving. If things aren't explained to our satisfaction then we have reason to go on in our unbelief.
Baby faith doesn't tempt Jesus. Baby faith takes Jesus at His Word. It no more needs Jesus to prove Himself than a baby needs his mother too. A baby receives all that his mother gives him whether that is shots from a doctor or food for his belly. When we tell a child they're acting like a baby, we really don't mean a baby content on his mother's lap receiving all that she has to give, but a toddler who cries when his will is being frustrated. Baby faith is described in Psalm 131:"My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me."
Notice that Baby faith is described in Psalm 131 the same way as Job's faith was at the end. Job too said he didn't exercise himself in things too wonderful for him. Baby faith takes God at His Word and receives from His hand the good, the bad, the ugly, and the wonderful, and Baby faith doesn't dilute the law.
Our insert does a good job of showing how the Pharisees liked to dilute the law, blunt it's meaning, by playing word games. To their question, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus points them to Scripture, "What did Moses command you?" Note how they answer, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." The Pharisees tried to make a man writing a divorce a matter of permission. He may or may not. Jesus says, "No a man is commanded to do it if he's going to divorce his wife." This was to protect women who men would simply discard without any legal recognition that they were divorced.
The Pharisees were split over the issue of when a man could divorce his wife. You see this in Matthew's account where the full question they ask is given: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" Some held a man could divorce his wife for burning his supper or if he found a better looking woman. Others held there had to be unfaithfulness. Both acted like divorce was part of God's plan, and without question men were permitted to write a bill of divorce if they wanted to.
Jesus brings the full force of the law down on them. They were commanded to give bills of divorce. This wasn't a matter of permission but law. But divorce itself was not part of God's plan from the beginning. It was because of their hard hearts that He commanded bills of divorce be written. Otherwise men would discard women without legal recognition that the marriage was over. But divorce itself is never the will of God. How could it be when God Himself declares in Malachi 2:16? "'I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel."
Got you there, didn't I? It got the disciples too. Back in the house they asked about this and evidently they too were trying to dilute the law that exposed their sins, and Jesus lowers the boom. ""Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Mark doesn't record the disciples' reaction to this preaching of the law; Matthew does. "The disciples said to Jesus, If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.'"
We dilute the law of God when we accept divorce as a good thing, defend it saying, "The children are really better off." Because God does indeed work good out of what is evil it doesn't ever mean that evil is good. Because God has indeed brought something loving say a second marriage out of what He hates divorce it doesn't mean that God likes divorce and we shouldn't hate it. Whenever we dilute the law of God, when we make lust - girl watching, worry - being responsible, greed - good business practice, or divorce not sinful and hateful to God, we are driving ourselves away from the Gospel, away from salvation.
Baby faith doesn't dilute the Law. It hears the Law as if there is no Gospel. There is no such thing as God-pleasing divorce anymore than there is such a thing as God-pleasing murder or sexual encounter outside of marriage. There is no such thing as a God-pleasing divorce anymore than there is God-pleasing theft, misuse of His name, or neglect of His Word. If you think there is a way to please God by your behavior, by your keeping His laws, then you have no need of Jesus. What need did God the Son have to take on Flesh and Blood if your flesh and blood could keep God's laws? What need did God the Son have to be punished, sacrificed, and damned in your place unless your failures in marriage, life, and living deserved that?
Baby faith hears the Law and trembles. It doesn't say, "I will do better next time." It doesn't say, "I had a good reason to divorce." "I can't be blamed for my marriage falling a part." Baby faith doesn't offer the excuse of bad genes, poor upbringing, or tragedy in life to excuse sins. It receives what God says about sin and admits to being a poor miserable sinner who can't hope to be saved by doing their best or doing better.
But Baby faith doesn't stop here. It doesn't stop with correctly hearing the Law as if there is no Gospel, no excuses, no chance to do better. Baby faith moves on to the promises of God, the Gospel of God, and doesn't limit that either. Baby faith hears the Gospel, receives the Gospel as if there is no law. Baby faith doesn't limit the promises of God.
The disciples did this in the text. People were bringing their children to Jesus. The word children here is any child from infancy to age 12. We know from Luke they were bringing the smallest children. The disciples rebuked them. "Stop doing this. Leave Jesus alone. He has better things to do then to waste time blessing your children."
The disciples, not the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus limit the promises of God to adults or grown children and above. They limited the promises of the Gospel, so do all those today who deny Baptism to babies or forgiveness to divorcees or any other repentant sinner. If the Gospel were not for babies, Jesus would have come into the world as an older child, but He didn't. He came into the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus assumed the sins and sinfulness of even children in the womb. Thereby the salvation He won by His perfect life and His guilty death applies even to children whether moments old in the womb or days old outside of it.
Others limit the promises of God by the type of sin, frequency of sin, or willfulness of sin. John the Baptist says Jesus carried away the sins of the world without adding one exception. Paul says Jesus was made to be sin itself not qualifying or limiting that. John says Jesus was not just a wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of believers but the whole world. Therefore, Baby faith doesn't limit the promises of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is for all sinners who wish to be free of their sins, want no part of them, don't defend them, won't excuse them but only confess them.
Baby faith reacts to those who limit the promises of God the same way Jesus does. Our text says that when Jesus saw the disciples rebuking those bringing their children to be blessed He was indignant. This is the only time the New Testament describes Jesus as indignant. The word primarily meant to feel a violent irritation. We're not told Jesus was indignant when His disciples corrected Him, or when His enemies tempted Him, or when He was ridiculed, slapped, or spat upon. Limiting the Gospel is the only thing we know for sure that makes Jesus indignant.
And you know why? Jesus endured the difficult task of keeping the law perfectly in place of all mankind and He went through the shame, pain, and hell necessary to pay for the sins of all sinners. His Gospel, His promises are meant for all. No one need die with their sins on their account; no one need stand before the Almighty on Judgment Day with un-kept laws accusing them. Jesus is indignant with anyone who implies or says otherwise.
Baby faith doesn't do that. It receives the kingdom of God wherever He gives it and according to the terms He gives it under. So baby faith receives the kingdom where God gives it for Jesus sake: in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. And baby faith receives the kingdom according to the terms of entry: confessing not defending sins, not promising to do better but clinging to the promise that Jesus already did all.
You're acting like a baby! When it comes to the faith, may we all. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (20121014); Mark 10: 2-16