At one point during His ministry, Jesus said something rather startling. Well, He said many things that were startling and designed to break through the chains of religion, ego, and pride. Choosing a Samaritan to be the hero of a story was startling to His Israeli hearers. Declaring that it is harder for the rich to enter His kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle surely got folk’s attention. And His cry from the cross for forgiveness instead of cursing those that nailed His hands and feet to the cross surely gave folks pause. While those are all excellent examples, and there are many more, what I have in mind is something else.
One day, almost out of the blue, Jesus declared, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:17, NASB95) Not startled? Think about it, really ponder on it for a moment. What did Jesus mean by “like a child?” Why does receiving the kingdom of God like an adult and not a child disqualify someone from entering? How exactly does this work anyway?
Now, Jesus didn’t explain it. He simply said it and let it lay there. Context gives us some clues. In Luke, the context is the pride of religion which is on display in both the preceding and following verses.
In the preceding verses, Jesus tells a parable about the prayers of a proud judgmental Pharisee and a humble sinner. The point of Jesus’ parable is shown in their prayers. One is filled with righteous pride, place, and self-significance. The other does not even dare to look up, but humbly admits his sin. Jesus declaration was that the humble sinner went home justified and cleansed before God instead of the Pharisee.
In the verses following, Jesus is questioned by another righteous person regarding the qualifications of the law and if he had done enough to inherit eternal life. The rich young ruler calmly declared that he had kept the law without fault. Instead of laying out all the times the young man didn’t really follow the law Jesus pointed out a glaring error in his religious law-keeping.
I think that Jesus’ point about receiving God’s Kingdom like a child is about putting aside our list-keeping and base-covering that becomes our righteousness instead of totally relying on Christ the same way a child relies on his or her parents.
We all do list-keeping and base-covering to some extent. We feel that we’re ok because we haven’t done X, Y, and Z and/or because we have done A, B, and C. Both the righteous Pharisee and the rich young ruler had lists that they had successfully maintained. In their own estimation anyway.
Sometimes we make receiving and living in God’s kingdom way to complex. Almost like a maze that only counts towards heaven and glory if successfully completed. But Jesus couldn’t make it any clearer. In the end, it’s not what we did and didn’t do that counts but receiving and living in what Jesus did for us. Kingdom life is constantly relying on Him like a child does a parent. It’s just that simple. So simple that we often forget about it. The kingdom of God is about being His child. All the rest, our worship, our prayers, our obedience, and our flight from sin follows in the wake of that simple yet startling child-like truth.
The Kingdom of God belongs to those that come to Jesus like a child.