I’ve been thinking a lot lately about children. My daughter is due on Sunday, and Lord willing we will welcome her into the world, and into our lives within the next week. At our new church campus there are dozens of small children, and as we’re approaching parenthood I’ve been noticing them more, trying to learn from the parents as they take care of their kids. As we have been talking through parenthood and the coming season, I’ve been struck by the utter dependency of the child we are about to bring in our home – and how the goal is that at some point she will grow into an adult and (Lord willing) not be dependent upon us anymore.
I mention adulthood because part of the basic nature of growing up is losing our need for dependence upon our parents – upon those who, as children, we were utterly dependent, trusted explicitly, and looked to for provision. We grow up and depend on ourselves, making our way in the world –in this we trade the key distinction of our childhood (the ability to trust without reserve, to depend wholly on another) for the more socially respectable trait of self-reliance (the ability to trust ourselves, and the learned distrust of others through living in a fallen world).
And it’s this lost child-like state that Christ calls us to, telling us that only those who can believe, act, and trust like a child will be given the gift of God: eternal life.
Mark 10 holds two short stories. The first gives us the image we need to center on, (the childlike faith we need to live in); the second gives us the warning of what happens when we trade that faith for something else.
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 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. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. 17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
In these two short stories we can see that those who receive eternal life trust like a child, and treasure the Giver.
In looking at what it means to trust like a child, we must look at the difference between the children and the rich man in our two stories.
The children come to the Lord because of who he is. The text says that the Lord took them in his arms, blessed them, hugged them. These kids were looking to be near to Jesus because of who he is. They came with wonder as only children can. They had heard the stories about him, believed wholeheartedly the news of the miracles. They came to him simply and without pretense, as children do. You’ve seen this in kids – there is a sweetness in the way which they love, in the way which we once loved. There is a trust that they exude towards Christ out of who they are – and who they know him to be.
Contrast that with the rich man, who came to the Lord for himself, looking to hear what he had to do in order to get what he wanted. He came showing great respect, so he wasn’t trying to work Jesus. He was a devout man who wanted earnestly to know how to inherit eternal life – because everything he was doing wasn’t working. But he missed it. He missed Jesus because he was looking at how he could please God, while he was looking at God.
Between these two, what do you lean towards more often? Are you trusting in who God is, or in how you can do what He wants? Are you enjoying Him – or missing him in trying to please him?
Hear the Lord’s words in v. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
We mentioned the difference between the children and the rich man, and here you see the Lord clearly outline – unless you receive it like a child, you won’t enter the kingdom. Receiving something should be easy, especially something so great as this.
But the thing about receiving is that it is a hard task. So let’s talk about the difficult nature of receiving.
About three weeks ago I was at our office in Flower Mound for an early meeting. It finished before 9, so I opted for breakfast. I popped into a friend’s office and he went with me to chik-fil-a. He went ahead and ordered, and then we did the awkward thing of “and whatever he wants, it’s together.” He bought my breakfast, and I had asked him to run with me – just thinking we’d each pay our own. He blessed me with a great biscuit sandwich and a bad coffee – but I got stuck on how I needed to buy the next meal, or what I ordered was too expensive. I felt a weird sense of shame or inadequacy because I wanted to provide for myself, and didn’t like being beholden to someone else. I had a hard time receiving the blessing from my brother. I didn’t have a hard time eating it – but reconciling the action in my heart was a different matter.
Receiving is difficult. Being given something stirs us differently than giving. Being given something is harder than earning it, especially for really driven people. It’s an insult to our pride, our learned desire to be self-reliant. It throws off this identity of being self-sovereign and self-sustaining, so we have to reconcile it by repaying the debt or promising to give an equal (or better) gift, rather than trusting the goodness of the gift and the giver. You see receiving is difficult for the Christian because it is continuous, it takes humility, and it requires imagination.
In saying it is continuous, what I mean is that for the Christian to receive the kingdom of God, there is a lifelong receiving of God’s gift and the implied realities of the need for the gift. It’s not a momentary acceptance and then eternal joy, but daily temptations to trade one kingdom for another, to devalue, distrust, or disbelieve the goodness of Christ. The call to receive the kingdom is the call to trust his provision over your own, and our daily temptations, struggles and sin mean that this is a continuous process.
In saying that receiving takes humility, it means that only if we see ourselves rightly can we depend rightly upon God as the giver. Andrew Murray’s classic work, Humility, was an eye opener for me here. Christian humility is not merely self-deprecating or self-effacing – it is actually embracing the true nature of the self (depraved, limited, and in need) and living in light of our need (and acceptance of his provision to us). If we don’t see ourselves as needy, the gift of the Gospel won’t be a treasure to us.
And in saying that receiving takes imagination – I mean that to receive rightly takes the God-given, Spirit-driven, Christ-exalting gift of the imagination not to create a reality, but to discover the reality of the Gospel that apart from the work of the Spirit in our hearts, we would never know on our own. It’s this work of the Spirit that Calvin, Edwards, and many others have called the ‘sense of the heart,’ – this taste of God’s goodness, of his beauty. It’s here were the childlike sense of wonder is regained. Where we see the beauty of Christ and when he stands in front of us we run to him instead of asking how to please him.
But without this grace of God in our lives, the act of receiving remains too difficult. We are unable to be humble. We can’t taste God’s goodness; we are bound to earning, self-generating purpose and identity, striving in our pride. In this we are just like the rich man: offered life at the expense of our identity, and would rather protect what we’ve built than trust what we’re offered – even when we know that its not working out for us. It’s impossible for us to receive, to enter the kingdom because we’re treasuring our gifts, when it’s the Giver that calls us to himself.
And like the disciples, you and I ask – then who can be saved? And the Lord says: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. It’s impossible for man to see things rightly, to receive things rightly – even to treasure things rightly – but with God, all things are possible.
As those who receive eternal life trust like a child, they also treasure the Giver.
This is Christ’s call to the rich man – sell all you have and get treasure in Heaven. The Lord speaks elsewhere about treasure, saying that what you value is what your heart will chase. He also says that the kingdom of God is the real treasure. That if you see it you’ll sell all you have just to buy the field its in. You’ll go for broke for the chance to buy the pearl because you see that in getting the Kingdom, you get the Giver. You get God.
So what are you treasuring over the Giver? The gifts? What he’s blessed you with – your talent, intellect, ability? What He’s given you to steward – your spouse, children, finances, ministry? What you get from what you have – comfort, power, respect, a sense of self?
Or are you treasuring who he is? There’s something to that child-like state of dependence – the love we have towards a parent. We love them because of who they are and what they mean to us. It’s them we want when we fall, it’s them we want when we’re hurting. And that’s how the Lord tells us to come into the kingdom. Trust like a child, and treasure the Giver.