Luke 18:15-17
Who Is Going Into The Kingdom Of God?

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The topic of today's sermon will be "Who Is Going Into The Kingdom Of God?  What kind of person is it who will be entering into the kingdom of God?  This is an important question related to our salvation.  Everyone who seeks salvation ultimately comes to this question.  But, Jesus' answer to it was very simple.  "I say to you clearly.  Unless a person accepts the kingdom of God as a child, he cannot enter into it at all," (Luke 18:17), said the Lord.  This is the message we are given [from the Lord] for today.

The Disciples Hindered The Children

2.  Jesus and his disciples were on their way on a preaching trip heading to Jerusalem.  A great crowd had followed behind them.  Wherever the Lord was, he gave out the gospel of the kingdom of God to people, cast out demons, and healed diseases.  And this was upon one certain day when their journeying was coming to its end and they were drawing closer and closer to Jerusalem.  There were many people who had pushed their way into the crowd bringing along their nursing children with them.  They did it because they wanted them to be touched by Jesus.  According to The Gospel Of Matthew it says, "At that time, in order for them to have Jesus place his hand on them and pray, the people brought him their children," (Matthew 19:13).  The people brought their children asking for his blessing upon them.

3.  In seeing this, the disciples scolded [the parents].  Why did they do this?  The act itself of people bringing their nursing babies wasn't unusual or against common sense.  Among Jews there was a custom in which they would bring their child upon completion of his or her first year to a rabbi and receive a blessing from him.  On the evening of the day called the Day Of Atonement, it was customary that one would bring one's child to the elders and the rabbis to have them pray for one's child.  So, the reason the disciples scolded them was not because they were impolite or lacked common sense.  They did that simply because the nursing children got in the way of the sermon.  They were saying. "Won't you lay your hand on [my child] and pray for [him]?"  The crowd kept pushing in faster and faster.  The people who were wanting him to lay hands on their children and pray for them were great plus the crowd was greater still.  Jesus might have had some time, but not quite enough time for all of them.

4.  Besides that, the preaching trip was coming closer and closer to its climactic moment.  In other words, he was getting closer and closer to Jerusalem, the seat of the Jewish authorities unstoppable in their opposition to Jesus.  It would be his final battle.  All the more for that reason then, the disciples believed that it was plain that the work of God was being manifested and the words of Jesus were true.  The crowd, also then, must have been thinking that it was clear that Jesus was the messiah.  With these tense conditions, they didn't expect him to have any free time for nursing babies.  In preaching, adults are the priority.  It is important for the adults to hear the word of God and how they respond to it.  In the first place, wasn't their bringing the babies along, who could hear but not understand, not as important?  It wasn't only the disciples but others as well who must have thought like that.

5.  Well, we see things like that too most of the time.  The sanctuary of Osaka Nozomi Church has gotten smaller for us.  At times there isn't enough seats for just the adults.  Each week the children come in here and worship.  Nobody thinks, "Although there isn't enough seats for just the adults, why let the children in?," is there?  Of course not, most people will not think like that.  "Indeed, having the children there is important.  They carry the future of the church.  If children are here now, in time, they will be in junior high and then high school.  Then they will probably go out as members of the church.  Thus, we had better raise them up from here on."  Of course, that's important.  But, wait a second.  We speak with the understanding that "One day they will become adults," but we don't really accept what it means for children to be here "like the kids they are."  In thinking like that, the same mindset is at work that the disciples had when they so adamantly said the adults are important during the preaching.

The Kingdom Of God Belongs To Such As These

6.  What did the Lord do in regard to the reaction of these disciples?  Please look at verse sixteen.  "But, Jesus summoned the nursing babies.  'Please let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,'" (verse sixteen).

7.  In The Gospel Of Mark the text says, "Jesus saw this, became angry and spoke to his disciples," (Mark 10:14).  All that the disciples did was contrary to the will of Jesus.  The Lord had the nursing babies summoned to him.  The Lord had the suckling babies summoned to him as suckling babies.

8.  Herein truly lies the root to why we summon the little ones as little ones.  Whenever we call for the children to gather, it is not so that they will simply be nice adults in the future and become useful to the church or to society.  That's not why, but rather that the Lord wants them to and so we too want the little children to come to the Lord.  As the Lord says, "Please let the children come to me," we ought not to prevent them.

9.  Of course, what the disciples did did not stem from ill will.  I would say they were concerned with the work of preaching.  But, even a concern that stems from good will may at times be a hindrance to what the Lord wills.  Such "concern," in our cases, may be happening through our fathers, our mothers or our grandparents.  "If you bring this child, won't he be a nuisance to everybody?  Won't he be a hindrance to the work of the church?"  In saying this, we put a distance between the child and Jesus.  However, that kind of concern is a nuisance to Jesus.  The Lord says, "Please let the children come to me."  He says, "Do not hinder them."

10.  Taking it even further, the presence of children is far from being a hindrance to preaching as the disciples had been thinking, instead it has positive significance.  Because the very presence of children is really the sign of the kingdom of God.  What did Jesus say as he summoned the children?  Didn't he say, "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these?"

11.  Well, in what sense is it that "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these?"  Some might think of the purity in children.  But, parents that have had children know that children are not necessarily pure and sinless beings.  Children are selfish.  And even though no one has taught them, they can do some pretty unkind things.  Even though no one has shown them, they start to tell lies.  Or there are some who might think it is the simple obedience in children.  But, there are plenty of children who are not obedient.  The Bible speaks of humans as sinners from birth.  This is a very realistic perspective.  We should not idealize children.  Of course, Jesus was probably not speaking about children with that idea in mind.

12.  So, what is the special characteristic of children?  It is their powerlessness.  In The Gospel According To Luke, the text purposefully says, "he summoned the suckling babes and said."  When one is a baby, he calls all the more.  Babies can't do for themselves.  Babies can't live on their own strength.  Babies have nothing to offer.  This kind of baby is invited as the baby just as he or she is and this is the kingdom of God, though you would not expect it to be.  People who have nothing to offer are inivted by just God's grace, that's the kingdom of God.  Therefore, when babies in the church have a presence as babies, what a sign that is to point to the kingdom of God!

13.  Thus, this is not necessarily a tale just about nursing babies.  In another scene the Lord spoke as follows, "You who are poor, you are blessed.  The kingdom of God belongs to you," (Luke 6:20).  Here the phrase "you who are poor" is a word with the meaning of "beggar."  As beggars, they can only take.  They offer nothing.  Originally, this was not about anything economic.  Even when people are hard up economically, many of them still want to trust in their own power.  Such people are not the "poor people" of whom Jesus is speaking, though they might have had it very tough economically.  Therefore, in The Gospel According To Matthew, the text puts it like this, "You who are poor in heart (you who are beggars in spirit) are blessed," (Matthew 5:3).

14.  When a person begs, he is earnestly seeking for someone to make some kind of donation to him.  In the case of a nursing baby, since the baby can't live on its own strength, the baby instinctively seeks from its parents.  Doesn't it?  It cries tears and cries out loud always looking for something from its parents.  Then while in mom or dad's arms, it feels good.  Babies don't think I will offer something to my parents to win their love.  They just seek from them.  They just turn themselves over to mom and dad's love and complete control.

15.  When we look at it like this, the meaning of the Lord's words which I quoted at the beginning starts to become clear.  "I say to you clearly.  Unless a person accepts the kingdom of God as a child, he cannot enter into it at all," (verse seventeen).

16.  The kingdom of God is a world where God's love and grace have control.  The person who will enter into it will not try to acquire God's love by offering up anything.  He will be a person who just seeks for God himself.  He will be like a baby calling out to its parent.  Also, the person who will enter into the kingdom of God will be a thankful person who trusts himself or herself over to God's love and grace.  He will be a person who accepts the kingdom of God and his rule over him.  The truth is that a person in contrast to the figure of children appears after this speech.  A certain member of the Jewish Congress inquired of Jesus, asking him "my good teacher, can I inherit eternal life by doing something?," (eighteen).  That's how a man came to Jesus, upon truly understanding his own powerlesssness, but he just gave [himself] to his sadness [and not to Jesus], (verse twenty-three).

17.  The person entering into the kingdom of God will receive the kingdom of God like a child.  That is very clearly expressed in the two ordinances (baptism & communion) given to the church.  Just as the phrases we use to express these ordinances are passive (be baptized, receive communion), so then is the person a completely passive recipient.  In admitting that when it comes to salvation, he or she can only receive, a person receives baptism and communion.  In that sense, when a person lives by receiving baptism and receiving communion, then that is just like their living by accepting the kingdom of God as a child.

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