Childlike Faith.

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. –  Matthew 19:13-22 ESV

The disciples weren’t always the brightest bulbs in the box. Their inability to grasp the teachings of Jesus was always on display, which simply underscores their humanity. These men were dealing with all kinds of baggage, in the form of personal prejudices, social mores, religious doctrines and man-made traditions. In many ways, they were having to un-learn more than they were needing to learn. A big part of the idea behind repentance is a change in mind. These men were being forced by Jesus to rethink everything – their concepts of faith, salvation, God, the kingdom, merit, and the Messiah. And they struggled letting go of their preconceived notions about these things.

So, when we read verses 13-15, the reaction of the disciples should not surprise us. This scene simply reveals how difficult it was for the disciples to embrace the teachings of Jesus. Back in chapter 18, Matthew recorded Jesus’ response when He heard the disciples bickering over which of them was greatest. Using a small boy as a visual lesson, Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). Then, He had proceeded to give them a lesson on the need for humility and child-like faith.

Now, just a short-time later, we see the disciples displaying their somewhat pig-headed and hard-hearted natures. Matthew records that people were bringing their small children to Jesus so that He might bless them. This was a common occurrence in the Jewish culture, as people frequently brought their young children to rabbis in order to have them pronounce a blessing on them. But for whatever reason, the disciples took exception to what the people were doing and rebuked them. The gospel writers don’t provide us with a reason for the disciples’ somewhat surprising response, but they each indicate that the reaction of these men was strong and unapologetic.

But Jesus quickly intervened, countering their rebuke with a statement of compassion.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:14 ESV

This was a not-so-subtle reminder to the disciples of His earlier teaching. It was intended to help them recall all that He had taught them earlier concerning humility and child-like faith. The disciples were still struggling with pride and prejudice. They saw themselves, and Jesus, as too busy to deal with all these parents and their children. From their perspective, Jesus had better things to do than bless children. But Jesus wanted them to know that He was never too busy to reach out to those who came to Him in humility. As Jesus would later teach them, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). Each of the disciples were dominated by a self-serving attitude. They were in it for themselves. They had chosen to follow Jesus because they expected to get something out of it. And blessing children was not high on their list of personal priorities. But Jesus was teaching them that life in His kingdom was going to be different. Leaders would be servants. The first would be last. The meek would inherit the earth. The humble would be recognized. The hopeless would find hope.

And Matthew records that immediately after this encounter with the children, a young man approached Jesus, asking Him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:15 ESV). Matthew opens this scene with the word, “behold.” In essence, he is telling the read to look carefully at what is about to happen. These two scenarios are closely linked together for a reason.

Notice the wording of the young man’s question. He asks, “What good deed must I do…?” The emphasis is on himself and his own self-effort. He exhibits the antithesis of childlike, humble faith. His goal was eternal life, but he was wanting to know what steps he needed to take to earn it. He was looking for a to-do list to follow, a set of rules to keep.

With His response, Jesus exposed the young man’s misunderstanding of goodness. Only God is good. And if the young man wanted to have eternal life, he would have to be like God and keep each and every commandment given by God. But the young man, looking for specifics, asked, “Which ones?” This man’s question reflects a common notion held by many in that day, including the religious leaders. There was constant debate among them over which of the commandments of God was the most important and, there, more binding. The Pharisees would later come to Jesus and ask Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV).

For the young man, it was a matter of priority. He wanted to know which commandment he needed to work on in order to earn eternal life. And, accommodating the young man’s request, Jesus provided him with a short list of commandments. Notice that the list Jesus provided is made up of laws concerning human relationships. They are horizontal in nature, dealing with how we are to relate to those around us. Jesus lists the prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness. But He also lists the laws requiring the honoring of parents and love for others. And without batting an eye, the young man boldly and pridefully declared that he had kept them all. So, he wanted to know what was missing. What other law did he need to keep in order to guarantee himself eternal life?

Then, Jesus dropped a bombshell that the man was not expecting. He simply stated, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 ESV). The Greek word translated, “perfect” is teleios and it refers to completeness or wholeness. The man was asking Jesus what it was that he lacked. He felt incomplete. He knew that something was missing from his life and wrestled with a fear of not measuring up. He had no assurance that his efforts were going to earn him the eternal life for which he longed. And Jesus informed him that he would need to give up all that he owned in this life and follow Him. Jesus was not telling this man that his salvation could be earned through some kind of philanthropic act of selfless sacrifice. He was revealing that this man’s heart was focused on the things of this world. As Matthew reveals, the young man was very wealthy. The idea of selling all that he had and giving it all away, led him to walk away. That was a sacrifice he was unwilling to make.

The act of selling all his possessions and following Jesus would have required great faith. It would have demanded humility and would have been a blow to this young man’s pride. He was what he owned. His reputation was tied up in his possessions. He was respected because of wealth. He enjoyed the comfort and conveniences that money can buy. And the thought of leaving all that behind was more than he could bear.

What a marked difference between this self-made man and the little children whom Jesus had blessed. Helpless and unable to care for themselves, they were brought to Jesus by their parents. They brought nothing to the equation other than their innocence. They could not brag about their good deeds. They had kept no laws. They had not honored their parents, because they were too young to do so. And yet, Jesus had blessed them.

This whole exchange was not about what we need to do to earn eternal life. It was about who we need to come to. The children were brought to Jesus and were blessed. And Jesus told the young man, that in order to have eternal life, he would need to follow Him. It wasn’t about doing, it was about faith in Jesus.

This is all reminiscent of another exchange that Jesus had with a crowd who had followed him after He had miraculously fed them. They were looking for another free meal. So, He told them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27 ESV). And they responded, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28 ESV). Then, look closely at what Jesus said to them.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

Faith in Jesus. That was the point. Total dependence upon Him and a turning away from all the things in which we traditionally place our hope. Childlike, humble faith in Jesus – that is the key to eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Day 93 – Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

Child-Like Faith.

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:17 NLT

Innocence. Vulnerability. Need. Dependence. Honesty. Helplessness. Trust. Those are just a few of the characteristics of most little children. They are inherently trustworthy. They take us at our word. Some would call them gullible and naive, but there is an innocence about them that is refreshing. They are honest, sometimes painfully so. I remember the time I was standing in yet another long grocery store line. I had one of my kids with me. He was sitting contentedly in the seat in the grocery cart, when all of the sudden he blurted out, “Daddy, that lady is really fat!” I was suddenly shocked out of my fascination with the assortment of candy bars in the nearby rack, to see my son pointing at the rather large woman standing right in front of is the line. She was staring angrily back at me. While I didn’t fully appreciate my son’s timing, I had to agree with his assessment. I just wish he would have kept it to himself or shared it with me in the car later. Kids are honest. They say what they think. My son meant no harm and didn’t know he was saying something hurtful. He simply saw, assessed and spoke what was on his mind.

Children are naturally dependent. From the moment they are born, they are reliant on others for their care, feeding, support and protection. They cannot fend for themselves. Unlike most other mammals, whose offspring are up and running in a matter of days, human newborn are totally defenseless for years. They can’t walk, talk, feed themselves, or do anything to meet their own needs. They must depend on others for everything. Even as they grow older, they recognize that mom and dad are there to provide for them. They understand that, when in trouble, they are to run to their parents for help. When they’re scared, they seek out someone bigger and stronger to protect them. They seem to sense their own limitations and are not afraid to turn to others for help.

And children are trusting. At least when they are young. That’s why we have to warn them about strangers. Left to themselves, they would follow anyone just about anywhere. Those who choose to harm children know this fact and use it to their advantage. Children are susceptible to being deceived because they are prone to trust others. The sad fact is that it doesn’t take long for them to lose this attribute. Before we know it, they begin to question everything and everyone. They quickly become distrustful. Their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness can easily turn into doubt and distrust. Some of that is necessary for them to survive in the world, but it is still sad to watch children lose their innocence and trust.

In these three Gospel accounts, we are given a glimpse of Jesus as He interfaces with some little children. Their parents had brought them to Jesus to be blessed by Him. The disciples, illustrating the value that their society put on children, tried to quickly usher them away. They saw no value in them. They even scolded the parents for daring to bother Jesus with such trivial matters. After all, He was the Messiah. He didn’t have time to waste blessing children. But Jesus shocked the disciples by demanding that they let the children come to Him. He placed them on His lap and said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Luke 18:16 NLT). There was something about those children that resonated with Jesus and represented what He was looking for in His followers. Unlike the religious leaders, the children didn’t doubt and cast dispersions on Jesus’ identity. They simply ran to Him and jumped into His lap. They embraced Him. They viewed Him as someone they could trust. Their parents brought them to Jesus, so they saw no reason NOT to trust Him. These children did not come expecting or demanding anything from Jesus. Their needs were simple. They didn’t come to be blessed, but simply enjoyed being noticed, loved, and cared for. In a society that shunned children and placed little to no value in them, to have Jesus show them love and attention was more than enough for them.

Jesus saw in these children the attitude of dependence He longed for in all His disciples. He wanted those who follow Him to truly recognize their need for Him. He wanted them to trust Him, rely on Him, turn to Him, listen to Him, and rest in Him. While the adults were busy evaluating what they might get out of a relationship with Jesus, these children simply enjoyed the attention and love He showed them. That is what Jesus is looking for in all of us. Do we enjoy spending time with Him? Do we look forward to the attention He wants to show us? The Kingdom of God will not be made up of arrogant, egotistical, self-centered, self-reliant individuals. The self-made man need not apply. But the helpless, hopeless, innocent, defenseless, weak, and willing will always be welcome. A big part of coming to faith in Christ is giving up all faith in yourself. It is recognizing your own insufficiencies and trusting in His all-sufficiency instead. I can’t help but think about the words of Paul when I read these passages. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT). The unwise, the powerless, the poor, the foolish, the despised – these are the ones that God calls and Christ redeems. These are the citizens of God’s Kingdom. Totally dependent. Completely satisfied to rely on God to meet all their needs. Trusting in Jesus to provide for them what they could have never provided for themselves. Willing to rest in the arms of God, benefiting from His grace and His goodness.

Father, thank You for including me in Your Kingdom. And thank You that it wasn’t based on my ability to impress You or accomplish great things for You. But when I was ready to stop trusting in me and start trusting in You, that’s when You included me in Your family. And I am grateful.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org