“Receive the Kingdom of God like a Child” (Sermon on Mark 10:2-16 and Hebrews 2:1-18, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Receive the Kingdom of God like a Child” (Mark 10:2-16; Hebrews 2:1-18)

How would you like to enter the kingdom of God? I know I would. After all–literally, after all–the kingdom of God will be the only thing going. It is an everlasting kingdom, filled with peace and joy and life and blessing, and it will last forever. So who would not want to enter it? You’d have to be a fool not to. No, the kingdom of God–it’s the best thing going, and there’s nothing else like it.

So the question arises: How do you get in? How do you enter the kingdom of God? Today Jesus tells us. Basically it comes down to this. To enter, you need to “Receive the Kingdom of God like a Child.”

Jesus says this in the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark 10, verses 13-16, as follows: “And they were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

Jesus says here that we need to “receive the kingdom of God like a child” in order to enter it. And he says about children, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” So we need to ask ourselves: What does he mean, to receive the kingdom like a child? What is it about children that Jesus should say the kingdom of God belongs to such as these?

Is it that children are inherently good? That they are born pure and sinless and only later, years later, perhaps then they become sinful? Are they innocent and thus automatically eligible to enter the kingdom of God, until they reach some later “age of accountability”?

These ideas, as attractive as they may sound to the world, are not true. Children are not inherently good and innocent and free of sin until some later date. That’s not what the Bible teaches–quite the opposite. No, the Bible says, in the words of the psalmist, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” And Jesus says: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Likewise, St. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” And again, in Ephesians, Paul describes our natural sinful condition, saying that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” and that we were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

In other words, we all are born sinners. This is a condition we inherited from our parents, Adam and Eve, who rebelled against God, and this sinful state has been passed down from one generation to the next ever since. The fancy term for this is “original sin,” and we’ve all got it. “Original sin” means the sin of our origin, passed down from Adam and residing in each one of us. Original sin is the loss and the lack of our original righteousness, before the fall into sin. And little children are born with it, this fallen sinful nature. You don’t have to teach a little baby to sin. He or she will grow into it quite naturally.

You and I and little children–we all are natural-born sinners. The proof of this lies in the fact that babies die. If babies were pure and innocent and right with God “just because,” then babies wouldn’t die. But they do. This shows that they are afflicted with this fallen sinful nature of ours, even from birth.

So it is not the case that babies are born pure and innocent and that up until a certain age they automatically qualify for entrance to the kingdom of God. That is not what Jesus is saying when he says, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” or “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

So why does Jesus say this? What is it about children that he is calling attention to that makes for entrance into the kingdom of God? I think it is this: Children need to be given to. Children need to receive, in order to live. Little children cannot make it on their own; they must be given to. And that’s the way it is for us to enter the kingdom of God. We must be given to. We receive the kingdom of God as a gift, a free gift, not on the basis of merit or achievement or accomplishment.

You see, we don’t come before God waving our spiritual merit badges in front of his face. That doesn’t impress him. Quite the contrary. If we come before God on the basis of scorekeeping and the brownie points we think we have accumulated, we will always come out on the short end of the stick. Our sins would always be counted against us, and that is a loser’s proposition. As the Bible says, “There is none that is righteous, no, not one.”

Instead, there is a better way–in fact, the only way that works. And that is to receive the kingdom of God as a gift. To be given to. Like a child. That is what Jesus is saying when he says you must receive the kingdom of God like a child and “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” It is a matter of being taken into Jesus’ arms and being blessed by him, like those little children who were being brought to him.

How is it with you? How do you see your standing with God? How do you come before him? Like a proud “adult,” waving your accomplishments before him? That ain’t gonna cut it. Rather, come as a little child, empty-handed, simply to be given to. This is what faith does, it receives God’s gifts and says “Thank you.” And so in this way, yours is the kingdom of heaven.

OK, so if God doesn’t wink at sin and pretend it doesn’t exist and he doesn’t just sweep it under the rug–and he does not do those things, for he is a righteous judge–then how do we get in, since we are indeed sinners? What is the nature of this gift we are receiving that gets us into the kingdom of God?

Well, this is why we need to be brought to Jesus, for he is the one who gets us in. It’s only by being embraced by him. Those arms with which he takes us in, those arms with which he embraced the little children–those are the same arms that were extended on the arms of the cross. This is how our sins are wiped away and we gain entrance to the kingdom of God.

The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this: “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Yes, Jesus took the death that we deserve. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. You see, Christ came as our brother, in our flesh, the Son of God did, and lived the perfect life we do not live. He fulfilled all righteousness. Then this sinless one, the very Son of God, suffered and died in our place, shedding his holy blood for us as the one atoning sacrifice for sin, covering the sins of the whole world. This is how we are forgiven and our sins are not held against us, because of him.

And now this same Jesus is crowned with glory and honor. He is risen from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and now he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ever living to make intercession for us as our own high priest. Friends, this is how you get in! This is how you are in! This is how you have access to God’s throne of grace now, and how you will be welcomed in on the last day when Christ comes again and raises us up to live forever!

This is why Jesus can take us in his arms today and say of us, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” No matter what our age, you and I come to Jesus and are embraced by him simply as children. It’s all a gift. It’s all a matter of being given to, receiving the kingdom of God, as Jesus says, “like a child.”

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Comments

“Receive the Kingdom of God like a Child” (Sermon on Mark 10:2-16 and Hebrews 2:1-18, by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 5 Comments

  1. You begin with, “How would you like to enter the kingdom of God? I know I would.” I am confused; why would someone who is already in the Kingdom of God want to enter it? And the fact that you would, confuses me even more. I know we do not ordain women and presumable we do not ordain anyone who is not a Christian; that is, is not a member of the Kingdom of God. So what is going on here?
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. No takers, eh? Probably wondering what I am raving about. Well, I’ll tell you. Do we agree that it is an unassailable principle of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, that in a sermon to a Christian congregation the Gospel should predominate? I have taken it upon myself to see how much of the present sermon is Gospel and how much Law. Modern word processing makes that fairly easy. Here are the percentages I come up with:
    Narrative: 18.7%
    Law: 41.5%
    Gospel: 39.8%
    You may disagree with me on the respective amounts, so check yourselves. I would be interested about anybody’s opinion.
    But the worst part is that, outside of the last sentence in the sermon, we never hear about the fact that as baptized Christians, we are already in the Kingdom of God. Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” And nobody cares. The fact is that no Lutheran pastor has ever been criticized for preaching too much Law, but as soon as you preach the pure Gospel, he has epithets like “antinomian” and “Gospel reductionism” thrown at him. It is a disgrace of apocalyptic proportions.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  3. Gospel predominating doesn’t mean that there must be a certain percentage point more Gospel than Law. It means that the Gospel wins in the end. Hypothetically you could have a sermon that’s 99% law, and 1% gospel that completely predominates the Law. On the other hand, you could have a sermon that’s 99% Gospel and 1% Law in which the the Gospel doesn’t predominate. So it’s not really about the percentages, but the content of the sermon.

  4. From this 4 year old Lutheran that happens to be 54 years old and just finishing the 17th Evening Lecture of Pastor Walther’s “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel”…Should the churches of Galatia received Gospel only preaching? or Did not King David need the Law fully before the Gospel was delivered to him? Please correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t the responsibility of knowing how much Law and how much Gospel a flock receives rests fully on the Pastor? For he should know the needs of the flock more than any other human. Therefore, the sermons should adjust accordingly. I see this as a learning opportunity for me.

    Respectfully,
    Jeff Wag

  5. @Jeff Wagenknecht #4

    Dear Jeff: Thank you for your comment. I happen to be a 79 year old Lutheran, baptized as a Lutheran at the age of 6 months. But neither your time or mine as a Lutheran matters. You may recall the workers hired at different times. The wages are the same.
    Walther’s Law and Gospel was a tremendous source of encouragement to me many years ago, when I doubted whether I was really a Christian. Soon you will get to Thesis XXV: “In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.”
    Many Lutheran preachers will give you the impression that you have to start over with conversion every day. In spite of Walther’s admonition (Thesis XII, One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith,”) we do not distinguish between the repentance at conversion and the contrition every Christian experiences over their sins. We do not teach what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom in which only the Gospel rules. The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance by Kurt E. Marquart, p 186, “Given that the Church is the realm of the Gospel, she can and must be governed by the same power by which she is created, extended, and preserved: the Gospel.”
    No, the pastor should not make the decision about how much Law and how much Gospel the congregation receives. He may be able to do that with a few individuals if he is intimately familiar with whatever sins are haunting them. But the congregation as a whole, should have the Gospel preached to them “predominantly”, with the Law used only in its Third Use, without threats and without creating fear. Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
    Peace and Joy!
    George
    (George A. Marquart)

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