To Enter The Kingdom Of God
August 20, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today's sermon topic and title will be on "To Enter The Kingdom Of God." Who will be entering the kingdom of God? What kinds of people are saved? Pretty much everyone seeking for salvation will come to this question eventually. The answer to this question is clearly given in Jesus' words which we read today. The Lord made the following statement. "Let the children come to me. Do no hinder them. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you clearly. Unless a person receives the kingdom of God like a child, that person cannot ever enter into it," (verses fourteen and fifteen). This is the message from God given to us for today.
The Disciples Hindered The Children
2. Jesus and his disciples were along the way on a mission trip heading for Jerusalem. A great crowd also followed them from behind. Wherever he found himself, the Lord would speak forth the gospel of the kingdom of God to the people, cast out demons, and heal disease. His journey was also about to be over, and his days were getting closer and closer to Jerusalem. People were pushing through the crowd and bringing their children with them. They did that so they could have Jesus touch [their children]. In The Gospel Of Matthew the scripture says, "At that time, the people had brought their children in order to have Jesus lay hands on them and pray for them," (Matthew 19:13). They brought their children to have them blessed. But, in seeing them the disciples rebuked them. Why [did they do that]?
3. The very act of their having brought their children is not in the least bit strange. Among the Jews there was a custom of bringing one's child after 12 full months to the rabbi to receive his blessing upon the child. It was customary practice to bring the child to the elder or the rabbi to have him pray for the child on the evening on the day called The Day Of Atonement, [Yom Kippur]. Therefore, the reason the disciples scolded them was not that they had been discourteous and lacking in commonsense.
4. The disciples acted that way because they thought the children were simply an encumbrance to the mission. "Please pray and lay hands on [us]!?" The crowds were pushing their way through one after the other. There were other crowds of people as well wanting him to lay hands on them and pray for them. No matter how much time Jesus had, it wouldn't be enough [to lay hands on and pray for each person wanting him to]. Still worse, his mission trip was coming closer and closer to its climactic moment. They were ever so close to Jerusalem. The disciples believed that the final works of God would be revealed in the capital city of God, Jerusalem, and the fact that Jesus was the messiah would be made plain to all. In that tense situation they didn't suppose there to be time for [Jesus] to be concerned with children. "During the preaching mission, the adults have priority. It is important for the adults to hear the word of God and how the adults will live in response to God's word." The disciples were obviously thinking along those lines. Furthermore, most of the rest of the crowd must have also been of the same opinion as the disciples.
5. Don't we often times think the same way? We don't actually have children here now. [We have] a worship service in which mostly adults just assemble together. In many of the Protestant churches in Japan we observe what you might call "adult worship services" in this way. Of course, since church school is held at a separate time and in a separate place, the children are not necessarily being put off. But, perhaps many persons who are gathered here feel they spend every Sunday hardly aware of the children who are in this church. Many people definitely do not feel any kind of ill feeling in holding an adult service and spending their church lives seeing just the figures of adults. Even though it may never be said out right they feel deep down inside at all levels that preaching is for adults, church is for adults.
6. No, it's not that we never hear statements that "children are important." "It is important that there be children in church. They hold the future of the church. They may be children now, but in a few years they will be middle schoolers, then they will be high schoolers. Then after that they will turn out to be church members. Therefore, we must raise them from here on." Statements like those can be heard in many different assemblies of churches. But, wait a second. The statement that "children are important" is being made most of the time based on the premise that they will "soon turn into adults." In that case, in the sense they will become the adults who carry the next generation the presence of the children is considered important and that "a child exist in the church as a child" is not necessarily held up as a value. Therefore, while it looks like we do value children [with respect to the future], what we are really saying is not much different from saying, "During the preaching the adults only matter."
7. Everybody, what is Jesus saying? He is saying, "Let the children come to me," (verse fourteen). Upon saying "Let the children come to me," he calls for the children. Jesus did not summon the children to him "because they would soon turn into fine adults" or "because they would eventually be useful." Jesus called for the children as children. He said, "Let the children come to me." Therefore, even the reason we bring the children to Jesus is not for them to carry the next generation. We bring them because Jesus says "let them come to me" and because the Lord wills it. We must not hinder them.
8. Of course, what the disciples did did not come out of ill will. I think they gave careful consideration, thinking about the work of the preaching mission. But, careful consideration that comes out of good will becomes at times a hindrance to what the Lord wills. There are times when "careful concerns" such as this will be made by our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers. "I wonder if you bring your child, will it be an interruption for everybody? I wonder [if bringing your child] might be an obstacle to the work of the church? Talking like that, we will end up keeping the children away from Jesus. Still, concerns just like that will be an interruption and a hindrance to Jesus. The Lord says let the children come to me. "Do not hinder them."
The Kingdom Of God Belongs To Such As These
9. Hold it, to go even further with this, rather than being an interruption to the mission as the disciples were thinking them to be, the presence of the children has a rather positive meaning. For, the very presence of the children truly points to the kingdom of God. After Jesus called for the children, then what did he say? Didn't he say, "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these?" If you want to discover the kingdom of God you must learn the way children are.
10. So, in what sense does "the kingdom of God belong to such as these?" In regard to children some people think of their purity. But, parents with a child know; children are not necessarily sinless and pure beings. Children are selfish and disobedient. And though never taught by anybody, they will act ill-tempered and unkind. Though nobody ever taught them, they will tell lies. Or in regard to children some people think of their sweetness in listening. But, plenty of kids don't obey in a meek and tender way. The Bible declares a person as a sinner from birth. This is a very realistic viewpoint. We must not idealize children. Of course, Jesus did not speak about children with that intention.
11. So, what is this special feature in children? It is their powerlessness. In The Gospel According To Luke the text purposefully says, "he called for the suckling children and said..." It's even better that they're infants. Infants are powerless. A suckling babe cannot live on its own power. An infant has nothing to offer. This infant the way it is, just exactly as a suckling babe, is invited; that is the kingdom of God. That is the world of God's salvation. Those who cannot offer anything are invited through God's grace alone; that is the kingdom of God. Therefore, suckling babes being present in the church as suckling babes is a sign that points to something marvelous about the kingdom of God.
12. As I think along these lines, I recall another statement made by Jesus. In another setting the Lord gave the following statement. "The poor are blessed; the kingdom of God belongs to you," (Luke 6:20). In that case, "the poor" become a sign pointing to the kingdom of God. Here the words "the poor" is a phrase with the meaning of "the beggars." When you're a beggar, you can only receive. You have nothing to offer. You just seek from those who faithfully donate. Jesus says, "If you are a person who can only receive, and cannot offer anything, and can only seek steadfastly for mercy, the kingdom of God belongs to you."
13. Since, as infants, they cannot possibly live on their own power, they instinctively seek for their parents. They do. Crying and screaming they constantly seek for their parents. And they get content in the arms of their parents. Infants don't think up anything to offer in order to win over their parents' love. They only seek for it. And they entrust themselves over to their parents' love and their parents' complete rule over them. As we think along these lines, the meaning of the Lord's words quoted at the beginning starts to become clear. "I clearly say to you. Unless you receive the kingdom of God like a child, you will never be able to enter into it," (verse seventeen). The kingdom of God means the world where God's love and grace rule. Nobody will enter into it who is trying to offer something to acquire God's love. Nobody [will enter into it] who is trying to acquire God's love in exchange for something they have. [They will never get in] that way, it is only the person who just seeks steadfastly for God himself, like a baby calling out for his or her parents. And the person who will enter the kingdom of God will with thanksgiving entrust himself or herself over to God's love and grace. [That] is the person who will receive the kingdom of God, the rule of God.
14. Today we only read up to verse sixteen, but right after it the figure of a character is depicted in total contrast to the suckling babe. Some person runs up to Jesus and asks, "Good master, what should I do in order to inherit eternal life?," (verse seventeen). He has kept the commandments of God since his childhood. Thus he has turned out to become a fine adult. But still it doesn't look like it is enough to enter the kingdom of God and to inherit eternal life. It doesn't look like he is qualified to enter the kingdom of God. So, he asked, "What should I do?"
15. But, think about it. If he was told to "Do such and such," what would happen if he did it? Then, what would happen if he thought that he was promised God's salvation, if he thought he was qualified to enter the kingdom of God? Most likely, from that instant, he would start to look down on those not qualified to enter the kingdom of God. He would undoubtedly begin to condemn those who didn't do like he did. He would surely become disapproving of those not willingly to make the great efforts like he did, just as he had made the great efforts [to inherit the kingdom]. But, in getting like that the only place he was placing himself was at the farthest point from the kingdom of God.
16. Therefore, Jesus required of this affluent man to do something which he could not possibly do. "You are lacking in one thing. Go and sell what you have, and donate it to the poor," (verse twenty-one). He became disheartened. He departed sorrowfully. Jesus must have known he would become that way. This man must be crushed. He must go back to his infancy. He must go back to the days when he had nothing of which to be proud, to the days when he had nothing to offer, to the days when he could only seek and ask for things. -- Because the kingdom of God belongs to people like that.
17. It is in this way then that the people who receive the kingdom of God as a child will enter into the kingdom of God. It is most clearly expressed in the two ordinances which have been given to the church (Baptism and The Lord's Supper). We say "to receive baptism" and "to take the Lord's Supper." In them both the person becomes completely passive, a recipient. In regard to this matter of salvation, the person admits that he or she just "receives, takes" and he or she "receives baptism" and "takes communion." In that sense, this matter of living by receiving baptism and taking communion is but the same as to live by completely entrusting oneself over into the hands of God our true parent by receiving the kingdom of God like a child and receiving the rule of God.