What makes it so difficult for the people of this world to turn to God in faith? And, what makes it so difficult for those who claim the name of "Christian" to develop their faith to a measure of maturity and strength? Most people are so immersed in the things of this world that they see little or no need for God. For many, a dependence upon anything other them themselves is considered a sign of weakness or inadequacy. Some believe that matters of faith are an unnecessary dogma that is contrary to their self-proclaimed righteousness that is based on their personal goodness. Some think that faith requires only a one-hour commitment on a Sunday morning, one that had better not last longer than an hour. Some place their trust in the powerless practices of world religions. The reasons why people fail to turn to God in true faith number as broadly as the product of man's imagination and satan's deceiving schemes, both of which lead people away from faith and trust in God.
Most people in this world simply do not understand their need for salvation. When presented with the gospel message, many resist and reject that message because their firmly held world view has left them unteachable when it comes to matters of faith. As Jesus taught the disciples, He encountered all manner of rationalizations that people held in order to avoid any real commitment to God. As Jesus taught there were often several of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees in attendance. Jesus described these as those whose adament views have left them unteachable, and consequently forever ignorant of the nature of true faith.
In similar fashion, those who take the name of "Christian" can be likewise unteachable. Some may see Christianity as one more world religion that guarantees their place in heaven by their tacit membership. Others may think that their guarantee of heaven comes from their personal goodness. Some may think they already know all the answers and are not in a position to be told anything more by anyone else. Most may simply not consider matters of the faith to be enough of a priority to seek, preferring to place the kingdom of God in the background of a life that is full of this world's issues. This spirit of apathy serves to produce a church that is largely ineffective in reaching the lost people of this world with the message of saving faith.
In Chapter 18 the writer of the gospel according to Luke describes a sequence of events where Jesus addressed this issue. This sequence of events is also recorded in chapter 19 of the book of Matthew, and chapter 10 in the book of Mark.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
As Jesus was engaged in His ministry to those who came to Him, the presence of children made the disciples indignant. The disciples were scolding the parents for bringing their children to Jesus, presumably because they felt his message was for adults, and the children were a distraction, and a waste of everyone's time.
Have you ever noticed the activities of children during corporate worship services? What do children often do during these times? The order of Christian corporate worship is usually not geared towards the learning styles of this age group, leaving children bored and disinterested while they also have a lot of energy to try to control. Consequently, their antics can sometimes be distracting, and seem to disrupt what we may see are more important events taking place. It would not be unusual for those who are distracted by a disruptive child to become indignant, turn their attention away from the worship of the LORD and focus on thoughts or words of rebuke towards the child and its parents. Their own participation in worship is compromised as their shallow interest in that worship is exposed.
Do we relate to children's presence in the Family of God in the same way the disciples did? Do we turn and frown at parents of children who are making noise? Any number of indignant responses can probably come to mind as we consider this scenario, and none of them are consistent with how Jesus would respond in the same situation.
Jesus used this situation as an opportunity to teach the adults an important lesson concerning the nature of faith. Consider for a moment how children are taught. That is, how do you teach children? Consider the following approach:
1. Develop a genuine relationship with the child. With children this may mean playing their games, treating them with respect and dignity, and showing them that you sincerely care. Call the children by name. When the child comes to trust an adult, he/she will tend to believe without questioning that which they are taught by that adult.
2. Teach when those opportunities to do so present themselves. Every moment is not a teaching moment. Children are easily distracted. Their minds are always busy absorbing what they perceive of the events taking place in the world around them through a filter of youthful and immature ideas. Consequently, their interpretation of events is often amusing to an adult. However, there are times and situations that present themselves as opportunities to teach the child, taking that child to a higher level of understanding. That is, there are times when children are more teachable. Events can take place that focus the child's attention. Situations can arise that pique the child's curiosity. When a child is distracted he/she is very difficult to teach. A good teacher looks for opportunities to teach.
3. When teaching opportunities arise, lessons are taught that relate to the catalyst of opportunity, and teaching is done at a level the child can understand.
If this is the best method for teaching children, what is the best method for teaching adults?
1. Develop a relationship of trust.
2. Look for opportunities to teach.
3. Use those opportunities to teach the person at the level that they can understand.
Just as adults have wisdom and knowledge that is superior to a child's, God has a wisdom and knowledge which is infinitely superior to ours, and we find that in order for us to be immersed in the depths of the truths of the Kingdom, we must respond in a manner that exhibits a similar child-like faith that sets aside preconceived ideas, and can listen without prejudice to what God has for us.
Let's look closer at the situation in the scripture.
Note that the verse states that the people were ALSO bringing babies to Jesus to have them blessed. Who else was being brought? Many brought the sick to Jesus for healing. Many others who were in need of healing came on their own, hoping to find relief. When the babies and children came, what did they come for? They would have been brought by their parents or guardians, and as children, they were probably entertained by the events and were busy about their childlike play with little or no thought as to the significance of Jesus or His words.
As Jesus taught, many were healed, and many believed Jesus' message. Why did those who were healed find it easy to believe in Jesus? When they witnessed or experienced the miracle of healing, no faith was required: they saw Jesus for who He was. They saw the miracles with their own eyes. They may have arrived with doubts concerning Jesus, but they left the encounter filled with joy and praise for the Messiah who they had just met.
When a child comes to Jesus he comes without doubts. The child's is an inquisitive mind that is absorbing a tremendous amount of information every moment of every day. The child is very willing to believe that which a trusted adult teaches. As the child observes the events taking place around Jesus, he/she would fully and immediately believe a trusted parent's testimony concerning Jesus, and will quickly appropriate for themselves the faith of their parents, at least to the point of their ability to understand.
The teachability of a child stands in stark contrast to the lack of teachability of the Pharisees who already think that they firmly hold all of the important answers to all of the questions and issues concerning God. They see no need for anything more than their little world contains, as opposed to the child who seeks to fill his/her world with more and more.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
Here Jesus describes the nature of one who enters the kingdom of Heaven. What characteristics are displayed in the children which are required of people to accept the Lordship of God in faith?
- Humility. A child is well aware that he does not yet have the wisdom or knowledge of the adults around him/her.
- Openness to receive. A child's mind is like a sponge, soaking up every sight, sound, feeling and smell in his/her environment.
- Disposition to trust. Unfortunately, the experiences of life teach us to distrust people, and as a child grows he/she learns not to trust people too quickly. The young child has no reason to distrust, and is ready to establish a relationship with anyone who demonstrates love for them.
Look at the first phrase in verse 17, "I tell you the truth", or "Verily I say to you", or "Amen.". What does this phrase imply? Jesus is emphasizing the importance in what He is about to say. Jesus uses the phrase when He is about to state an imperative truth. And what is that truth? To enter the kingdom of God, an adult must do so in a manner the same as that which is demonstrated by the children. As Jesus is becoming surrounded by the children, He points to their importance as an illustration of the very context of His message. Instead of a distraction to be disdained with indignation, they become an illustration of the most important of Jesus' teachings. In addition, the children are exuberant in their openness to learn what Jesus can teach them, and that very characteristic of their nature is something that the disciples need to appropriate for themselves.
Let's reconsider those characteristics and how the response of the children to Jesus relates to an adult's acceptance of the salvation that God has provided.
The world teaches the power of pride in one's life. Quite the opposite of humility, pride tends to lift one up to a perceived level above that of need. The prideful sees no need for God. The prideful cannot easily put him/herself under the authority of another. The prideful cannot easily accept help from others, making it difficult for others, including the LORD, to minister to their needs. What does the scripture teach about pride?
There are at least 300 scriptural references and illustrations concerning the attitude of pride. Consider a couple of examples, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament.
Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; (Deu 8:12-14)
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14.)
The first passage illustrates how pride promotes an attitude of self-sufficiency that in-turn leads one to forget about the LORD. When one thinks that they are meeting all of their own needs, one may tend to forget that it is the LORD who is supplying all of it. The second passage illustrates how pride promotes an attitude of self-righteousness that blinds one to their own faults and leads one to despise the faults in others. These are only two of the ways that pride actively serves as a barrier to faith.
What is God's response to pride?
This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. (Zep 2:10-11.)
There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually? (Nahum 3:19)
Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD. (Obadiah 1:4.)
Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. (Ezek 28:17-18.)
God sees pride as a sin that stands firmly between man and his openness to the salvation message. God promises that He will bring down those who have inappropriately lifted themselves up. From an individual standpoint, the prophesy could be fulfilled in this lifetime, or ultimately at the final judgment. Note that this latter example refers to pride in the church. Even a church can become so prideful in its own self that it becomes an adversary of the Holy Spirit. The will of the church can easily overpower the will of the Holy Spirit for its members, resulting in a collective resistance to the Word of God and the challenges for change that it may bring.
The scriptures consistently describe the prideful as God's adversary. If this is true, how should we each deal with our own pride? We should recognize that pride rebels against God, name it as a personal sin, confess it, and turn away from it in repentance, recognizing our true humble state when we stand before God's glory.
What is left of us when we are stripped of that Pride? When we recognize the glory of God, we can clearly see that the "ground is level" at the foot of the Cross. All people are loved of God, are equal in His sight, and have an equal need of the Gospel. No person is "closer" to God than any other. No person is more deserving of God's love than any other. Humility must be experienced before we can attain the second characteristic of the child: openness to receive.
Note how much easier it is to receive God's word when pride has been abolished. However, pride alone does not inhibit our ability to learn. We have to be open to God. Jesus does not trample the door to enter our heart against our prideful will. He communicates with our spirit and knocks on the door gently. The gospel is a gentle gospel and its penetration into our hearts is entirely dependent upon our willingness and desire to receive it. The heart that has been hardened by any number of factors will simply not be open to learning more of matters of the faith.
How do we become open to receive God's word? Our natural bent is one of indifference or apathy. Overcoming this sin requires a decision on our parts. We have to take positive action to open the door of our hearts to God's word. We are showing such action by spending time with this Bible study. We see an example of this openness in the heart of the Gentile Cornelius as he stated, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" (Acts 10:33b).
The third characteristic of the child is the disposition to trust. What does the scripture say about trusting in God?
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Prov 3:5-6.)
Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust. (Isa 26:4-5.)
Trusting God can be difficult for one who has been or considers ones self to be self-sufficient. It can also be difficult for one who has been hurt and abused by the sinful actions of others as their willingness to trust anyone is compromised by their grief and confusion. God simply asks us to trust Him, and He has shown through His sovereignty that He is faithful, and is fully deserving of all of our trust. It is only when we allow the prejudices of this world to blind us do we not see God's trustworthiness.
What can we do to become more humble before God, more teachable by God, and more trusting in God? Certainly, we can pray for these three, specifically. If we can glean only this prayer from our study, our lives will never quite be the same.
Just as a child who attends the corporate worship service is so easily distracted, we as adults are also easily distracted. What are some of the things that distract us from our focus on God as we "press towards the mark of the High Calling" (Phil. 3:14)? We all have a network of priorities in our lives, with importance given to broad categories such as family, work, church, entertainment, possessions, etc. When the network of priorities we establish is disrupted, conflict results. When the network of priorities fails to maintain God at the highest level, one will either reject God, or will experience a crisis of faith that will require a decision for resolution, a resolution that will realign those priorities in accordance with God's will instead of our own.
The remainder of this chapter contains a couple of illustrations concerning the nature of true faith.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 19And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. 20Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. 21And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. 22Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
The man mentioned here was one of wealth and influence. The word for "ruler" refers to one of the lay leaders of the synagogue who cared for the building and chose the people who took part in the services. Matthew (19:20-22) adds that the individual was young.
Having heard Jesus' description of childlike-faith, this man's response was similar to what ours might be if we fully believed we have lived a virtuous life which sought to obey God's laws. Like so many, this person had built the stairs to heaven with his good works, and Jesus' description of faith tended to nullify all of his efforts.
The man referred to Jesus as "Good", or righteous under the law. By the man's use of the word "Good" it was evident that this man built his salvation on works of righteousness. When called, "Good", what was Jesus' response? He, by saying, "None is good except God alone", states that no one is able to fully keep the law. This is further evident by his next statements when he describes a few tenets of the Law.
How did the young man respond when Jesus described the law to him? This man fully believed that he had kept the law from his youth, that is from the point of accountability to the law. What was missing from this man's testimony? The man has no understanding of, nor a perceived need for faith in God. His is a system of religion that is supposed to make him good enough for God. Unfortunately for him and all who profess religion, without faith it is impossible to find acceptance by God. Is our hope for salvation based upon good works or upon faith?
Jesus could see how this young man's faith could be tested. What were Jesus' instructions to the young man? He told this rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Would this act of selflessness save him? No, salvation is not of works. For the man to obey Jesus command would have required a demonstration of faith that he lacked, since his true trust was in his worldly assets. The man would simply see Jesus' command as ridiculous and summarily reject it. Though Luke does not mention the man's response to Jesus' command, Matthew does:
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Mat 19:22.)
And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. 24And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 25For it is easier for a camel to go through a needleís eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? 27And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
Why is it so difficult for someone who is wealthy to be humble, teachable, and trust in God? His wealth serves to destroy all three of these. A rich man is more apt to be prideful, set in his ways, and self-sufficient. Jesus used Hebrew idiom when he said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle...". Tradition holds that the eastern wall contained a crawlspace through which people could escape, and yet because of its small size it is easy to defend. It was referred to as the "eye of the needle" because it was so small against the backdrop of the wall. Whether we see the verse as using a literal needle, or the crawlspace in the wall, it is still impossible for a camel to pass through.
Jesus was saying, therefore, when one is prideful, set in his ways and self-sufficient it is impossible for him to be saved. This astonished the people, because everyone could testify that they lacked humility, a teachable spirit, and trust in God.
What was Jesus' response to their concern? Jesus stated that with God, it is still possible for even the rich man to be humbled. God can melt the heart of the prideful. I think of Thomas of Becket, who became the prime minister of the Church of England in the 1600s. He was the image of this rich young ruler. In order to be canonized to his state as the head of the church he had to take the oath of poverty, giving all that he had to the poor. Though it started as a profoundly difficult task, he found a greater and greater joy in its execution as he found himself freed of its burden. After Thomas experienced this act of giving his life was never the same. He said that he never experienced such joy in all his life and was disappointed when his goods ran out. He learned the hard way how to trust in God, and found God to be faithful. With God all things are certainly possible.
Many of us would think that the loss of all of our worldly goods would be a catastrophe. Many who have experienced the brunt of natural and man-made disasters can identify with that. If we trust in God, the loss may be an inconvenience, but it would never serve to diminish God's love for us, and would only enhance our need for, or dependence on Him. When used by God, the experience would serve to bring us much closer to Him.
Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. 29And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of Godís sake, 30Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
As usual, when the going gets rough, Peter's mouth gets going. When weighing the poverty of the faithful child against the wealth of the prideful rich, Peter starts getting pretty smug. As usual, Peter has a rather shallow view of what is taking place around him. What does his statement in verse 28 say?, "Look at what I have done to follow you", ... "look at me".
Where do you see error in this statement? Jesus knew Peter's heart, a heart that was sincere but still not without a need for greater humility. As for leaving everything for Jesus, Peter only placed his life on "hold". We might note that after the crucifixion, Peter and the others simply went back to their pre-ministry lives. Jesus knew that Peter's commitment to Him was not yet full. It would take the experience of the resurrection to finally convince Peter of who Jesus truly is. Peter, the most vocal of the disciples himself would not be able to accept Jesus by faith, but would require sight. Consequently, Jesus responds by describing the blessing that comes upon those who do come to Him in faith.
When we come to the point where our spouse, our brothers, our parents, our children, our wealth, and those things of this world we love are all secondary to our love of God, something special happens. God will give back many times as much in this world and in the world to come. How does this happen? When we make God first, He gives us the love, joy and peace with which to really enjoy those people and things that God has given to us in a new way. We see them as a gift of God which now can be part of His glory rather than our own. All of the things of this world become fully His as we are His stewards of it. Everything in life takes on new meaning.
How do we put away our pride and desire for the things of this world and turn fully to God by faith? Where do we find the nature of true faith? Just look at the example of an inquisitive and precocious child.