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Contrasts, Children, and the Church

As I studied Mark 9:30–37, I was struck by the sharp contrast between Jesus and His disciples—between Jesus and us.

Contrasting Jesus and Us

Jesus is foretelling His death for the sake of the disciples and all people in the world, and His disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. The mighty Son of God is humbling Himself to suffer and die a criminal’s death for the world, while lowly fishermen lift themselves up arguing about which of them will go down in history because He called them to follow after Him.

The context of the chapter reflects this contrast even more. It begins with Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain in front of His three leading disciples: Peter, James, and John. Jesus’ face is shining brighter than the sun—theirs are not. Jesus’ clothes shine brighter than any launderer could bleach them—their clothes are not. Moses and Elijah are shining in the reflected glory of heaven—while the three disciples are not.

Then, after the transfiguration, at the foot of the mountain, a large crowd is gathered around the other nine disciples and a man with his demon-possessed son. The nine are not able to drive out the demon because of their lack of faith—but in another shining contrast, Jesus drives out the evil spirit with a word.

This is the context for Jesus predicting His suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the second of three times Mark records Jesus’ prediction. This is much like the first, except in this case Jesus adds one detail: He will be handed over. Judas will hand Him over or betray Him to the Jewish leaders, and those Jewish leaders will hand Him over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

But the disciples are not tracking. Their minds are occupied with the opposite of such tragedy: glory and exaltation. Which of them will be most famous? Which will the world consider the most important?

When they reach their destination, Jesus asks what they were speaking about along the way, probably noticing that their discussion was pretty heated. They are too ashamed to tell Him, but He already knows what they discussed. He sits down, calls the twelve, and gives them another great contrast. He tells them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35).

Jesus and the Children

He takes a child, puts him in the middle of their circle, takes him in His arms, and says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (v. 37).

What a contrast—between the way Jesus thinks and the way His disciples think. In the next chapter of Mark, we see these same disciples try to deter mothers who bring their young children to Jesus for His blessing. The Lord will confront them with yet another great contrast: “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14–15).

Yes, the greatest contrast between Jesus and His disciples, between Jesus and us, is His willingness to take our place—to carry our sins to the cross, to suffer and die, to take on shame, agony, and the judgment of God that we might be free.

The Holy Spirit and Us

Now, through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit works that contrast in us: that contrast between who we once were—lost sinners without Christ, seeking our own glory and pleasure—and who we are now through faith—children of God who humble ourselves to love and serve our neighbor.

I’m proud to work at Concordia Publishing House, which has faithfully followed this teaching of Jesus Christ regarding children. We invest heavily in books, Sunday School, Day School, and Vacation Bible School curriculum for children. We even made the huge investment to develop a new Bible particularly for children in grades 1–4: The Growing in Faith Bible. And, when we see a need, we send these Jesus-centered books to schools and children.

Children matter. Children matter not just because they’re the future of the Church, but because they, too, belong to God—right now, in this present moment. They are a part of the Church today, and it’s our responsibility to teach them about the Savior who died for them.

If we limit this teaching to Sunday School, religion class, and Vacation Bible School—which are all good things—we run the risk of isolating children’s faith to blocks of time.

But when Jesus becomes part of every aspect of their life (carpool, dinner, family devotions, vacation, bedtime routine), children learn that Christianity isn’t an activity: it’s a relationship.

Helping Children Learn about Jesus

As parents, mentors, youth leaders, pastors, friends, and fellow church members, you can positively impact the faith of children in your life. It doesn’t require a theology degree or a complete set of Bible commentaries.

  • With The Everyday Faith Calendar, posted monthly on the CPH blog, your family can spend a few minutes in the Word each day and have a built-in discussion question or activity.
  • The Growing in Faith Bible, designed for children ages 6–10, is a great first Bible for children. Children will be encouraged to read on their own, since the full ESV biblical text is supplemented with engaging illustrations and Bible narratives.
  • The What Child Is This? Advent series fully embraces connecting the teachings between church and home—each component relates to the others, so everything relates, including the children’s book and children’s Christmas service.

May God continue to bless the pastors, congregations, church leaders, and families who use these materials to the glory of God and the salvation of sinners both near and far.

Written by

Wayne Palmer

Rev. Wayne Palmer received his master of divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1992. During the next fifteen years, he served two parishes in southeast Missouri. From 2007 to 2016, he was theological editor/writer at Lutheran Hour Ministries in St. Louis. In June 2016, he became Editor, Bibles and Bible resources at Concordia Publishing House. Wayne lives in St. Louis with his wife, Pam.


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