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2016-09-25 Luke 18:15-17 Getting "In" (4): Opening the Door to Heaven

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GETTING “IN” (4): OPENING THE DOOR TO HEAVEN (Luke 18:15-17) September 25, 2016 Intro – A British comedian, George Mikes, wrote a humorous book on psychoanalysis. In preparation, he underwent psychoanalysis himself. First question: “Mr. Mikes, did you have a happy childhood?” Mikes replied, “I am still having a happy childhood.” That’s probably not exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”, but I don’t think it’s that far off the mark either. Luke purposely inserted this incident about children between the stories of two imminently successful men -- the Pharisee of the arrogant prayer and the rich young ruler –religious high achievers – but neither of whom was going to heaven. Luke is illustrating the point that Jesus makes time after time – entrance to God’s kingdom is not determined by earthly standards but by God. And he does that one more time in an unforgettable way here. Luke sets the stage with a beautiful intro in v. 15: “15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” Luke’s wording indicates bringing infants to Jesus was a regular practice. Matt 19:13 notes they wanted him to “lay His hands on them and pray.” Barclay says it was custom for mothers to bring children on their 1st birthday to some distinguished rabbi to bless them. Jesus is now in high demand for that. It’s an example we follow in dedicating babies. Yet the disciples were rebuking parents. Why? Well, popular opinion held that kids were too insignificant to bother with. Perhaps they also felt Jesus was too busy or tired to be bothered. They were wrong! Jesus “was indignant” (Mk 10:14). Strong word – angry, aroused. He checked His disciples, had the children brought and Mark 10:16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Then Jesus seized upon this opportunity to teach 2 critical lessons about who will participate in God’s kingdom. I. Kingdom People Are Children First century Palestine was not the child-friendly society that we live in. Kids had a high mortality rate, and were viewed of little value – a perspective that persisted until they survived long enough to begin to contribute to the family business. Children were to be seen and not heard. Yet Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom 1 of God” (16). This is in perfect keeping with Jesus normal habit of elevating the status of the underprivileged and underappreciated – women, children, and others marginalized by society. He always valued people as people. But in this case, He sees much more. “For to such belongs the kingdom of God.” In other words, “These are kingdom people that you disciples are keeping from me.” That phrase is loaded. It tells us that young children are covered by God’s grace prior to being old enough to make decision for Christ. And it tells us that decision can come younger than we might imagine. Let’s take the first question first. “What happens to little children when they die?” The answer is they go to heaven. Does that mean they are not sinners? No it does not. Psa 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psa 58: 3) The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Gen 8:21, “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Sin reigns from the moment of birth. You don’t have to teach kids evil ways; you have to teach them right. But though they are sinners, they are in God’s gracious care until they are sufficiently mature to understand the work of the law in their conscience and the truth of the gospel. Til then, they’re innocent in God’s sight. In Deut 1:39, as a result of Israel’s sin in the wilderness God judged the older generation by refusing them entry into the Promised Land, but then promised, “And as for your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there.” Covered by God’s grace, though they had, no doubt, done their share of complaining. In Jer 19:4-5 God calls the Israeli infants sacrificed to Baal “innocents.” And in a telling example, David’s son by Bath Sheba, conceived in adultery, gets very sick David fasts and mourns. But when the baby dies, David’s servants are amazed that he calls food. He responds in II Sam 12:22, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David knew he’d never see his boy again in this life, but he fully expected to see him again later. He believed his baby was with the Lord. And so are all children who die without reaching a point of personal accountability. The follow-on question is, “At what age can children become saved?” The answer is, at quite a young age – an age which varies from child to child. But when they can grasp the concept of sin, and the truth that Christ died in their place they can choose to accept or reject Him. No doubt many youthful 2 decisions are not valid -- done to placate a persistent teacher or anxious parent. That’s why we should never push children into making a decision. But neither should we fail to invite them to or deny those who freely indicate a desire to accept the Savior and show a changed life afterward. I think it’s rare, but some children as young as 5 or 6 can make this decision. My brother was 5 and I was 6 when we prayed with Mom to accept Jesus. Jon would say it was not real at that time and probably not until he was about 18. I have examined my own heart many times, and while my life was anything but exemplary at times, I believe my decision that night was genuine. Saving faith can come at an early age. In fact, all who will inhabit the kingdom must come in childlike faith to enter the family. The question is what is childlike faith? II. Kingdom People Are Childlike 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” So how does a child receive the kingdom? Two things about them teach us how to enter God’s kingdom. A. The Kingdom Can’t Be Earned First, Luke’s positioning, contrasting children with the prominent men on either side, shows us the kingdom simply cannot be earned – not by power, position or performance. 1. By Power – The Pharisee and the ruler were men of authority. Yet they are not included while mere children are. That shows us earthly power is irrelevant to God. He’s not impressed. Children have no power. They are essentially helpless, dependent on someone else for their every need. That shows earthly power is powerless to save. We dare not fool ourselves that power here translates to power with God. On December 8, 2006, Yoko Ono, wife of slain Beatle, John Lennon, took out a full page ad in The New York Times to promote a global healing day. Her ad promised “One day we will be able to say that we healed ourselves, and by healing ourselves, we healed the world.” A nice setiment, but hopelessly wrong. There is healing, but only in Christ. Mal 4: 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” The paradox is, to be healed we must put aside designs on healing ourselves! 3 The power pole is greasy. Charlemagne knew that. He asked to be entombed sitting upright on his throne, crown on his head, scepter in one hand, royal cape around his shoulders and an open book in his lap. That was AD 814. Two hundred years later, Emperor Othello opened the tomb to check it out. Inside they found the body just as requested, gruesome with decay by now – crown tilted, mantle moth-eaten, body decayed. But on his lap was the book – a Bible with one bony finger pointing to Mt 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Charlemagne knew the answer – the abandonment of earthly position in favor of childlike faith. 2. By Position – 2nd characteristic: Children have no status. Our world is child-centric. The whole family schedule revolves around children. Advertisers, sell things thru children who have great market power. Not in Jesus’ day. They were nobodies, unimportant. That’s why the disciples were turning them away. But their lack of status did not keep them out of the kingdom and the possession of status will not guarantee the kingdom. The Pharisee had status, but he was out. Yet Nicodemus, another Pharisee was eventually in. What was the difference? You remember what Jesus told Nicodemus. John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth, not physical. No earthly status can effect that. Jn 1:13, God’s children are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus tells Nicodemus in Jn 3:6, “6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Rebirth which qualifies one for entrance into the kingdom is a Holy Spirit operation from beginning to end. Kings may be saved, but not because they are kings. Emperors may be saved, but not because they are emperors. Pharisees may be saved, but not because they are Pharisees. The saved ones put aside status, and come to the Savior like a child who has no position to offer. Even religious position means nothing. Kent Hughes illustrates: “If Billy Graham enters the kingdom, it will not be because he has personally preached to more people than any man in history. It will not be because he has remained impeccable in his finances when so many have failed. It will not be because he has been a faithful husband. It will not be because, despite his fame, he has remained a humble, self-effacing, kind man. When Billy Graham enters the kingdom, it will be because he came to Christ as a helpless child.” 3. By Performance -- I was 12 years old when I sat in a 7 grade Social Studies class and watched on b/w TV as President Kennedy th 4 was inaugurated in 1961. Even at that age, his classic line caught my attention: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” What a beautifully stated challenge that reflects in one sentence the characteristics of personal and corporate responsibility that made America great. Traits that are still relevant. But as right as they are for the kingdom of America, they are upside down for the kingdom of God. There the defining qualification for inclusion might be stated this way: “Ask not what you must do for Jesus; ask what He has already done for you.” Failure to get this right led to the condemnation of the men on either side of this little interlude. The Pharisee spent his life doing for God and then declaring himself righteous. Jesus declared otherwise. The young ruler to follow is going to ask Jesus, “What must I do?” Jesus tries to show him he is asking the wrong question, but he goes away empty except for his bags full of money. Neither ever got that their performance could never be good enough. Neither ever understood that without a Savior they had no hope. They never asked, “What is Jesus going to do for me?” They never got to the right question. That’s why right in the middle of those two Jesus illustrates, “You must come as a helpless child – stripped of all personal pretensions.” Only then will you get to the right question – “Since I can’t help myself; what can Jesus do for me?” The difference between these men and a child is obvious. They thought they could be helpful; the child knows it is helpless. Dan Connors was a fine middle linebacker for the Raiders years ago – but a lousy golfer. In a celebrity tournament he got the booby prize for highest score – 144 – double par. Coach John Madden told him, “You should have cheated, Dan!” Connors replied, “I did cheat. I still shot 144!” That’s like us declaring ourselves righteous. We give ourselves every benefit of the doubt. We cheat – shamelessly – and still shoot double par. But the problem is way worse than that. Why? Because a perfect score in golf isn’t par. Think about it. A perfect score in golf is 18 – a hole-in-one on every hole. You say, “That’s impossible.” Right? And so is meeting God’s standard of perfection. Even if we could cheat our way down to par, like the Pharisee was doing – we’d still be like him – hopelessly lost. A child gets that. Many adults never do. Our performance will never cut it. So what is the only answer? B. The Kingdom Can Only Be Received Jesus told Nicodemus in Jn 3 that you don’t earn your way into the kingdom, you are born into it – a spiritual re-birth. Question. How much does a child 5 help with its own birth? Ask mom! None, right? It’s not born of its own will, its own power, its own position or its own performance. It’s just along for the ride. It’s first contribution is the gasp for air when the doc hits its bottom. So, qualifying for heaven has nothing to do with how good you are here. It’s a gift that can only be received, never earned. When the Holy Spirit strikes us on the bottom and says, “Come, receive Jesus,” we either take the first gasp of faith in Christ, or we die. It’s that simple. Children are just trusting enough to accept a gift when it’s offered; only self-absorbed adults insist on earning it. Conc – So what is the difference between a child and the two men on either side of this little vignette? The men thought they could be helpful; the child knows it is helpless. That’s the key to getting in. It’s exactly how one of the most outwardly qualified men in history finally came to faith in Christ. Remember? Phil 3:4-6: “. . . If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Paul is making a fantastic claim here. “If ever anyone qualified for God’s kingdom by power, position and performance, it was me. I’d have topped that list.” So, if you didn’t get in that way, Paul, how did you get in? Phil 3:7-8: “7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (moved it from the asset to the debit side of the ledger. From helping to hindering). 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” “How did I get in? First, I stopped trusting in what I could do, and I started trusting in what He had already done. How did I get into the kingdom? I received it as a child.” A few years ago a sports clinic was held at Princeton HS in Cincinnati. Coach Dan Woodruff lent his office to guest Dave Redding, strength coach for the Browns. Redding wanted to shower before his appearance so Dan showed him the facilities and left. After showering, Dave went to leave the office but could not get the door open. An hour later Dan returned to find someone hollering for help. He opened the door, asked what the problem was and Dave explained he’d been lock inside for the past hour. Dan laughed and told him, “You weren’t locked in. Just push this button on the handle and it opens right up.” What all the effort of a 230 pound strength coach could not accomplish could be done by simply pushing the right button. Similarly all it takes is childlike faith to open the door to heaven that all the effort in the world will never crack. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”, but whoever does will find the door open wide. Let’s pray. 6 7
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