And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
This warm teaching moment came after an embarrassing argument among the disciples. They had been fighting amongst themselves over who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34). They had yet to learn humble service. While Jesus was transfigured, nine of the disciples had been in a power struggle with a young man possessed by a demon. (Mark 9:14-29) All they physical symptoms of epilepsy marked this young man except for the weird spiritual feature of having seizures at dangerous moments (thrown into fire or water according to his father’s report to Jesus). The demon was destroying this young man. The disciples were powerless to deal with this spiritual issue, even though they had been commissioned by Jesus to do His work, including dealing with demons, and had seen success in the past (Mark 6:13). They were not as strong as they thought they were.
Jesus settles there “greatness” argument with two lines of careful thought. First, he appeals to servanthood. They must be the servants of all, including each other. They had failed to cast out the demon earlier because they had failed to humbly pray. They had missed His message, which led to His second personal lesson for them. They must see no person as too small, ignoring no one. He took up a small child to illustrate this point, and I smile as I read it. Seeing Jesus hug a child to Him tells me the kind of man He was. Children respond to warm and loving people. And Jesus was this and more. He embraced people and loved them because God loves all people that He has made. The disciples were going to learn that lesson.
The other part of the object lesson had to do with the consequences of loving people. When we really do so, we are like Jesus and we receive Him, because His love is right there with that person that we have chosen to see and treat as loved by God. And to receive that person is to receive Jesus. To receive Jesus is to receive the Father. We grow closer to God by serving others. That is the point. When I take a person into my arms, I am taken into the arms of Jesus.