Summary: Nothing is easier than entering the kingdom of God; nothing is more difficult. Nothing is simpler than receiving eternal life; nothing has greater obstacles to overcome.
Nothing is easier than entering the kingdom of God; nothing is more difficult. Nothing is simpler than receiving eternal life; nothing has greater obstacles to overcome. Entering the kingdom, receiving eternal life – both mean salvation. It is a salvation that requires nothing of us, and yet, takes nothing less than all that we have to give. It only comes free, but one must count its cost before receiving it. It is so easy to receive that a child knows best how to take it, but it is so difficult to earn that the most righteous fail to come near to grabbing it. So Jesus teaches us in these two stories.
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
The parents seek Jesus’ blessing on their children. That is the purpose of the touch. The disciples, for some reason, are trying to keep the parents from getting to Jesus. They saw themselves – and this probably was needed – as crowd control aids. People are constantly trying to get to Jesus to do something for them or simply to see him, just like what happens to entertainment stars today. Blessing children certainly was one thing that could be scratched from Jesus’ to do list. After all, he is not a politician running for election. Come on, parents, just take your kids back home and give Jesus a break.
Wrong decision! 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. What are you doing! Who told you to send these children away? Jesus is upset. He is not smiling. He is not thanking his men for watching out for him. He gives a command: Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.
Jesus thinks that something important is at stake here. He tells why. He doesn’t rebuke the disciples by telling them they ought to be nice to kids. He is angry, not merely because the big adults are not being nice to the little children, but because the disciples miss “it” again. They miss what the kingdom of God is about.
For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” “Don’t you see what these kids represent?” Jesus explains. “They are the living signs of the kingdom. What must one be like to get into the kingdom, i.e. to receive eternal life? What must one do? Be like the Pharisees and work harder than anyone else to be righteous? No, be like a child. Be like a child who is led by his father to be blessed for no other reason than you want my blessing. Be like a child, not even fully aware of what is going on except that you are in the presence of someone from God; be like a child who doesn’t pretend he is bigger than he is or more important or more holy than he is. Be like a child who simply receives God’s blessing.”
16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Jesus likes children. He doesn’t merely say a blessing over them; he doesn’t merely stretch out his hands over them. He takes them into his arms and places his hands of blessing on them. This isn’t going through the motions; this is giving real blessing to those who receive it in the best possible spirit – unconscious faith and humility.
In our next story, someone else desires to enter into God’s kingdom.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man is young, which we know only through Matthew; Mark does not describe him. It is clear he is sincerely respectful of Jesus. He certainly acts with humility. He runs up to Jesus; he is excited to finally meet him. He falls on his knees before Jesus, a true reverent act acknowledging that Jesus is a man of God above him. We know through Luke that the man is some kind of official, which makes this reverent act all the more commendable. He addresses Jesus as “good teacher.” Again, he clearly has deep respect for Jesus.
He wants to know how to inherit eternal life. In our terminology, he is asking, “How can I be saved? What do I have to do?” Jesus replies: 18 “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone. But Jesus is God, isn’t he? Certainly Jesus is good. You know that and I know that, but not this man. What is already clear to Jesus is that as sincere as this young man might be about being right before God, he really doesn’t have a clue as to what real goodness, i.e. righteousness entails. He just has a surface knowledge, which he will clearly reveal in a moment.