Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
– Mark 10:15
A few days ago I was reading this very familiar passage in the gospel of Mark and was struck with the thought, “How exactly would a child receive a kingdom?” To my memory, every time I’ve heard this passage preached or mentioned, the point of the message always seems to be that we need to have faith like a child would in order to enter God’s kingdom. Certainly, that is true. All throughout scripture it is made clear that without the simple faith that children seem to have far more easily than adults, we will not find salvation. However, it seems to me that we have short-changed the words of Christ by limiting them to a popular, first-glance interpretation.
How would a child respond to the declaration and realization that they had just received a nation over which they were to rule? What would go through that young mind? What action would they take? I am by no means an expert on children or an accredited biblical scholar, but I’ve spent the last several years of my life growing in the knowledge of God’s word and nearly 8 hours a day every day this summer with children from the ages of 6-12. As I sat and thought about how a child would receive a kingdom, four things came to my mind which I believe will help us better understand our calling as Christians and how we ought to respond to the fact that we have indeed been given the Kingdom of Heaven in Christ.
We receive without fully understanding
No kid is going to grasp the full extent of what it means to be given a nation. If they did they would probably be terrified. Similarly, we come to faith in Christ with only a bare understanding of what it means to be a sinner, to have Christ’s blood cover our sins, to become a child of God, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to become missionaries in a dying world. If the full weight of those truths landed upon us at the outset we would be crushed.
There is a danger in inundating a new believer with knowledge in order to better understand what exactly it means to be a Christian and to be “on level” with those around them. It is a danger because, as the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8, “’knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”
Instead of telling his children to read up, take classes, discuss philosophies of government, and survey the land our heavenly Father slowly and gently introduces to the truths of his kingdom inch by inch. He prepares us for each forward step and never moves us beyond what he knows is for our good. There are lands in the far reaches of his kingdom, gloriously high mountain ranges and deep shadowed valleys that we are now unable to grasp until we have been thoroughly grounded in the basic, plain lands truths of the gospel. We would never make a six-year-old scale a mountain by themselves. Neither does God expect his children to be able to achieve the heights of his kingdom until he has adequately prepared them. And prepare them he will, but we begin as children.
We receive with eagerness
However, a child is by no means satisfied with sticking to several square feet when he or she knows that there is an entire world to explore. I never cease to be amazed at the escapades of young boys and the eagerness with which they will throw themselves into some new game or adventure. I remember years ago on a camping trip with my family and some friends we decided to hike alongside one of the numerous rivers that flow into Lake Superior along the north shore. At one point, the path we were hiking on went right next to the river, and Peter and I led the charge to actually hike in the riverbed despite the fact that it was made up of rocks and neither of us had sandals. With energy fitting for a couple of teenage boys we hiked the fourmiles up the river in freezing water, scaling water falls, swimming swirling pools, and pausing at several points to attempt to climb the increasingly tall cliffs that bordered the river. I remember several times where I thought that we weren’t going to be able to make it up a waterfall or through a particularly deep and swift part of the river, but we laughed at our failures and kept trying until we made it to the rendezvous point.
We are to receive the kingdom of God with that kind of eagerness; not sticking to the known path but throwing ourselves into every opportunity that presents itself, overcoming obstacles, and refusing to sit down and complain about the difficulty. Like healthy children we aught to be the kind of people who laugh at and learn from failures and are able to find joy even when the going is slow and we have no idea when they end will come.
We receive in dependence
Children have no trouble acknowledging their need for help, sometimes to the point of annoying adults. Having fifteen kids ask you to help them cut out the ship they’ve been coloring is not an exciting thing. However, unlike we humans, our heavenly Father is infinite and takes great pleasure in his children seeking his help. So much so that he has given us the Holy Spirit, who pleads with the Father for us.
Far too often we Christians think that we just need to work harder in order to be the kind of people that God wants in his kingdom. In reality we are commanded to rest, trust, and abide in him. He will do the work. In fact, he has done the work. It was for good reason that Christ declared, “It is finished” when he died. All is complete. We are to depend upon our king to provide for us, just like a child would depend upon his parents.
We joyfully declare what we have received
Lastly, though there are certainly more points that could be drawn out from this passage, no child is going to keep their new gift a secret. What kid have you ever seen get something amazing for Christmas and then go to their room and never show it to anyone? Far from it! Where I work kids are allowed to bring a toy from home to play with on Wednesdays, and without fail the kids who have recently been given something new race around the room showing off all that their new How To Train your Dragon toy or Pokemon cards or stuffed animal has to offer, generally inspiring a wave of jealousy and offers for trades and choruses of, “Can I have a turn playing with that?!”
We’ve received something far better than a new toy. Let’s stop with the silly, “would you like to receive Jesus into your heart?” Go out and try to get your head around the fact that every spiritual blessing is ours. That nothing in the world or beyond it can stand against us because God himself is for us. That everything, from birth to death, is crafted to do good to us. That we are no longer slaves condemned to death, we are now sons and daughters of the living God. That God, who has begun working in us, will complete his work and present us before himself in all glory and with much joy. That all creation watches eagerly to see the glory of us, the children of God. Get your head around that, and then go tell people about Christ and the kingdom of God. Understand that and maybe we’ll be a little closer to receiving it like we’re supposed to.