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Enter the Kingdom like a Child

Date: 2 Oct 2022

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Luke 18:9–19:27

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Grow up! Don’t be a baby. Learn to be an adult. We’ve all heard this growing up. Women still say it to their middle-aged husbands from time to time. We spend our entire lives trying to do just that – to be independent, to stand on our own two feet, to be self-reliant, and self-sufficient. To be the opposite of a hapless, nursing, infant.

So what are we to make of Jesus’ words in Luke 18:17?

17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

He says it more pointedly in Matthew 18:3

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In our text today, Jesus is not referring to a child as in a toddler. He’s referring to an infant. That’s the reference point for the disciples.

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them

What are we to make of Jesus’ call for us to become infants in order to enter the kingdom of God?

The way to move forward in the world, we are told, the way to advance and become great in the world is to be as resourceful, as powerful, as independent as you can be. And so we try our lives to be that way. That’s why there still exists, even in 2022, a stigma against going to therapy. “Wah that guy needs professional help to function in life, must be something wrong.” Needing help is seen as a weakness. We don’t need help, we’re not babies, you see.

And that’s also partly why even though a buzzword for the church today is “authenticity”, Christians in church still don’t want to be vulnerable and confess our sins to one another. Nope, nothing to share, don’t need your prayers, I’m good. Nothing I can’t handle. I got it under control. I can stop whenever I want to. I can deal with it. I don’t need your help. Thank you very much.

We don’t want to be weak, we don’t want to be a wimpy kid.

So what are we to make of Jesus’ words that if we do not enter the kingdom like a child, we shall not enter it, period?

We have to consider the reality that the kingdom of God is upside-down to the kingdom of the world. It belongs not to kings and conquerors, but to the weak and helpless.

And that the way to advance and be great in the kingdom is to be the opposite of being all held-together and independent and self-sufficient. And so, my adult friends, the way into the kingdom will require you to go against the grain of your instincts; it will require you to be like a child, needy and helpless and weak.

Do you want that, are you ready for it? Because this is the call of our text today.

Let us pray.

So it’s Sunday School, and the lesson for the day is on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And the teacher reads the story.

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Do you see, children, just how proud and self-righteous this Pharisee is? He thinks that he is so much better than others. He doesn’t even realise he’s sinful like everyone else. Terrible, just terrible.

Come let us pray. “God, we thank you that we are not like this Pharisee…”

Do you see just how easily we fall into the mindset of the Pharisee? And what is his problem exactly? It’s stated in v9. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” Here’s the problem: He trusted in himself. He trusted in his own ability, in his own morality. In his mind, he could enter the kingdom by himself, on his own. He needed nothing from God. He thanked God, but it’s pretentious masquerading as piety, because naturally speaking, you thank God for the things God has done for you, don’t you? Here, the Pharisee is thanking God, but spelling out the things he has done for God!

In his mind, the Pharisee is the good guy. He can make it into heaven on his personal merit. If anything, he deserves it. After all, he is not like other men.

He relies on his own goodness, he needs no assistance, he trusts in himself.

And as a result, the Pharisee is not justified. He is not saved. He does not enter the kingdom of God. Why? Because he did not receive the kingdom as a child.

An infant is the opposite of self-reliant, an infant is utterly dependent on others for help, and guidance, and even survival.

To enter the kingdom, we must acknowledge our utterly inability to save ourselves by our good works and moral decency. We must come to terms with the reality of our depravity and our desperate need for Jesus Christ to justify us.

Now, as I mentioned in the beginning, it’s so easy for us to assume that we are not like the Pharisee. But here’s the thing, Jesus uses the Pharisee in this parable, not because the Pharisee is a degenerate, but because he is morally competent. He lives within the confines of social morality. He is a very respectable and respected member of society.

And it precisely because he is “good”, that he believes he can trust in himself.

Let me ask you this. If all of humanity is graded on a moral bell curve, which side of the median will you be, do you see yourself as better than the average person or worse? In other words, relatively speaking, are you a good or a bad person.

This parable is a warning to good people. To people who think they’re good. Because they so easily come to trust in themselves for their place in the kingdom.

Beware my friends, of your goodness. Don’t trust in yourself to justify yourself. Don’t be like the pharisee. Instead, like a child, trust in your heavenly father to save you through his Son.

The next person we do not want to be is the rich ruler. Unlike the pharisee, he is not a fictional character. He is a real person who came up to Jesus to find out how to enter the kingdom of God.

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

What is Jesus doing? You are almost tempted to sign Jesus up for a course on evangelism. He is making a hash of it. Here, you have a fine, upstanding man in the community. He is clearly a moral person, he has kept the commandments his entire life, and he is rich and he is powerful. And what is more, he is interested in becoming a Christian! He took the initiative to approach Jesus to ask how to gain eternal life.

This guy is an evangelists’ dream. He checks all the boxes. He has come to ask how to be saved. From this point, it’s as simple as ABC. You say to him, 1. “Do you acknowledge you are a sinner?” 2. “Do you believe that Jesus died to save you from your sins?” 3. “Let us confess by saying the Sinner’s prayer. Repeat after me…”

And voila, you got yourself a disciple! That’s how evangelism is done! Did no one teach Jesus?

Because what does he do?

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And you know what happened? He walked away sad.

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Jesus, if you had just said, “tithe your income”, he would have done it! If you had said, “here’s a list of charity organisations I would like you to contribute something towards, you would have gained a disciple. But Jesus said, “Sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, and then come, follow me”.

He has set the bar for discipleship too high! He has made the requirement for following him too difficult! Or has he?

Or is it us, that has made it too easy? Could it be us that has set the bar too low?

Because this is not a new teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus had already said the same thing:

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

An infant cares nothing for money. You try going to the cry-room now and handing over cash to the infant there, see if he cares. He won’t take it. And if he does, he’ll eat it. Or he’ll throw it to the floor.

But you try taking an infant away from his father and mother. And see what happens.

An infant’s trust and security is not found in material possessions, it is found in the arms of his father. Do you dare to become and infant and entrust yourself entirely to the God who has promised to provide?

Yes? The proof of your willingness is to let go of your financial security. It is to give up so much of what you have, you are vulnerable and dependent and poor.

Do you still remember the opening Beatitude in Luke 6?

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

The rich man walked away sad, because having acquired all he had, he did not want to be reduced to a child, small and weak and utterly dependent on the Father.

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

The rich man was sad to hear what it takes to enter the kingdom. What about you?

I have found that this passage has the incredible ability to turn anyone into bible scholar. People usually play fast and loose with the scriptures,

One of the most favourited verses in the bible “11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Favourite verse, and I say “Yea, but it’s not really a promise given to you. It was spoken to Jeremiah in the time of exile because of national sin, and the people are wondering if there is any hope left for the covenant promises to be fulfilled. It’s in that context that this declaration was given.”

And they will say, “Please lah Luwin, gotta complicate it so much or not? It’s a promise in the bible right? Bible written for us right?”

But this verse, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” I say, “Hey, I think it’s meant for us man.”

“No lah, siao, cannot like that read lah! Must see the context. It’s said to this rich young ruler. See the context. The problem is not the money, it’s the heart. Jesus wants to test his heart.”

This verse turns everyone into a serious student of the bible. We’ll do anything, we’ll read between the lines, we’ll read the Greek, we’ll dig up the context, just to avoid facing up to a verse that makes us sad.

But if you’re serious about the bible, we’ll find that it is about the money.

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

And yet friends, we all want to be rich and to stay rich and even become more rich.

We come into the world empty handed. There is no infant who is rich. There is no infant who trusts in money to meet their needs. Infants trust in their parents to provide for them. Our heavenly Father calls us to receive the kingdom like such a child.

It is a difficult thing to hear.

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

To really help us understand what it means to receive the kingdom like a child, in relation to our wealth, Jesus gives us the example of a rich man who entered the kingdom.

His name is Zacchaeus.

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Do you see what has happened? In contrast to the rich ruler, this rich tax collector entered the kingdom of God. “Salvation has come to this house”.

What made the difference? The difference is Zacchaeus’ willingness to give up his wealth in order to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t even ask him to do anything. He volunteered to part with his wealth. To give half away, and the other half to use for restitution to the people he defrauded. There was little chance of Zacchaeus staying rich after this.

He has abandoned his wealth and like a child, entrusted his future into the hands of God.

A second example of what means to receive the kingdom like a child is found in the blind beggar.

38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”

I was on the plane back to Singapore from Melbourne, an 8 hour flight, trying to finish up the sermon which I have to preach the day after I land. And midway through, a kid just started crying and screaming. It disturbed the entire plane, but we know how it is with kids on a plane, so everyone just politely ignored the noise. But there was a another young child on board, who started yelling, “Stop, keep quiet! Keep quiet!” So now there’s two of them.

Have you ever tried to silence a crying infant? By asking him to keep quite? It’s futile. Because infants will cry until their needs are met. They cry because they cannot do things by themselves. They have to cry for help, and they will not be silenced.

So it is with this blind beggar.

38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Like an infant, he will not be silenced. And like an infant he couldn’t do anything by himself, so Jesus had to command others to bring the blind beggar to him.

And what is it that the beggar begged for? He begged for mercy.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! “Son of David, have mercy on me!” It harkens back to parable, where the tax collector beat his breast saying, “God be merciful to me.”

This then is the mark of an infant. A great desperation for God to help you out of his mercy, because you cannot help yourself, and you do not trust yourself to deserve such help. It’s an attitude that reflects an utter dependence on God. It is an attitude of a child.

17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

But our passage today concludes with a strange parable. It is a parable of a cruel and hated and vengeful king.

14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us… 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow… 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

What connection does this have to the big idea of receiving a kingdom like a child?

The connection is this. Unlike the king in the parable, Jesus does not receive his kingdom with a show of power and strength. He receives his kingdom in meekness and weakness, like a child.

Unlike the king in the parable, who had his enemies brought to him to be slaughtered before him, Jesus handed himself over to his enemies to be killed painful and shamefully before them.

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

They did not grasp what this saying meant because it is inconceivable for the Son of David, the Messiah King, to be anything other than a powerful conquering king. But this is not the way of Jesus, and it is not the way a child receives a kingdom.

Do you remember the story of how David was anointed King by the prophet Samuel?

Samuel went to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons. And the eldest Eliab was presented to him, and Samuel went, tall, strong, handsome. This must be him! The new king! But God said, nope. And then Abinadab came, followed by Shammah, and seven sons in total came and God kept saying no. And Samuel had to ask, “Jesse are these all of your sons?” And presumably Jesse went, “Yea, David, but he’s the youngest and smallest and he’s with the sheep. It’s not worth getting him, he’s not the guy you’re looking for.”

But he is! David was exactly the son of Jesse whom God has chosen to be king. The nature of the kingdom is upside-down to the world’s, what we look for in a king is not what God looks for. And the way the world expects a king to receive his kingdom is similarly not the same as God’s way.

11As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.

When Jesus neared Jerusalem, the royal city, they expected him to enter heroically, powerfully, and vengefully, slaughtering his enemies on the way to the throne. The parable sets up their expectation, but the reality turns it upside-down, because he will soon ride into Jerusalem not on a mighty war horse, but on a humble donkey, to die for the sake of his enemies.

And in so doing, he sets his disciples an example of what it means to receive the kingdom as a child. It is scary to give away your money to the poor, because where’s your security, you’ll have to have faith in God to provide. But it is all the scarier to be arrested and to die on a cross, because when you’re dead, you literally cannot do anything about the situation. Jesus had to commit his spirit to His Father, and depend on his Father to raise him.

But the precisely the way God the Son became King. He received the kingdom as a meek and humble, weak and helpless child of God.

Jesus shows the way. He walks his talk, and he has received the eternal throne of the kingdom of God. Our king Jesus has walked the path before us, and as his disciples, we are simply called to follow. To enter the kingdom like a child.

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