“What must I do to be saved?” This is the million dollar question! From the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts eight, the jailer in Acts sixteen, and myriads of people ever since, that particular question has been asked time and time again. But that is not the issue in question in these scriptures. In this study, we will read about two different kinds of people. Those who are (like) the little children who came to Jesus in innocent trust; and those who are (like) the wealthy young man who trusted in his wealth and his righteousness.
Packed inside, the apparent contrast between the children and the rich young man is this question: How can I enter the kingdom of God? What does Mark want us to learn by sharing this account with us?
13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He would touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was (indignant) and said to them, “Allow the children to come to Me; do not [a]forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.
FOCUS ONE: The little children (13-16)
So, what is going on in these scriptures? It appears that the parents, most likely, are bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. Perhaps some aunts and uncles are included in that group; we are not sure. The word “they” is not very specific in this case. We know from verse one that the crowds had gathered around Him as He entered the region and began to teach them.
These children’s ages most likely ranged from being infants to others in their pre-teen years (paidia used in Marks account, Brephe used in Luke 18:15). They brought the children to Jesus because they wanted Him to lay His hands on them and place a blessing upon them. The disciples “rebuke” (forbid, censure) the parents for doing so. Perhaps they only desired to protect Jesus from potential trouble or more fatigue since they had just arrived in town. Still, Jesus was “indignant” (very displeased, angry)) that anyone would think that children are unimportant. Jesus tells them not to hinder the children from coming to Him. At this point, the story becomes fascinating!
There are two statements in these verses that define the main point:
- The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these (v. 14)
- Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter at all (v. 15).
What characteristics is Jesus talking about? Is He saying only children will be in the kingdom of God? How does a person receive the kingdom of God as a child?
The answer to those questions becomes more apparent when we think about children! After all, they are the objects of the lesson that Jesus seeks to communicate. And what characteristic is at the heart of childhood that Jesus emphasizes? Innocent, simple trust In Him! “God’s present spiritual rule in people’s lives belongs as a possession to such as these.”
“It is not so much the innocence and humility of children (for children are not invariably either innocent or humble): it is rather the fact that children are unselfconscious, receptive, and content to be dependent on other’s care and bounty; it is in such a spirit that the kingdom must be received.”
Coming to Jesus as a person that recognizes and humbly acknowledges that you have nothing to give but simple trust in Him is the heart-work of God that makes people “kingdom ready!”
These words are instructive as well as soothing to our souls when we think about the innocence of children. BUT, I say again stronger, BUT, do not miss the next statement of Jesus. His warning must be heeded: “whoever DOES NOT receive the kingdom of God like these children shall not enter it at all.”
Our manner of approach to Christ MATTERS A LOT!
17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But he [a]was deeply dismayed by [b]these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
FOCUS TWO: The encounter with the rich young man (17-22)
He was self-righteous and selfish—he thought he could earn his way into Heaven. He trusted in himself while the children with simple faith trusted in Jesus! In this, we observe the obvious and rather instructive lesson of complete surrender!
The rich young man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him, an expression of respect for the “good teacher.” Jesus’ response seems abrupt. Calvin understands this to be “it’s as if He had said, ‘thou falsely calleth me a good master (teacher), unless thou acknowledges that I have come from God.” “In other words, Jesus is saying, before you address me with such a title, you had better think soberly about what the implications are, and especially what they are for you.”
He wants to know how to enter eternal life- Jesus knows he is referring to works, so He lays out the second table of the law before the man (Relating to others).
The man states that he kept it all from his youth (self-righteousness). Sometimes wealth and our own achievements can blind us to our needs. But to keep things in their proper order, and this mans thinking in line with the belief of his day, we need to realize that “it was a firm Jewish belief, based on Old Testament teaching, that the man who kept the law would live (Deuteronomy 30:15-16). So, that is why Jesus begins there.
The man’s answer is a confident one. From youth “probably refers to the age of thirteen, when every Jewish boy became bar miswah (son of the commandment). At that point in a Jewish boy’s life, he became responsible to live by God’s commands.”
This is why he spoke sincerely. The problem was that he believed his obedience to the law was only an external matter, whereas the law also required inner obedience, which no person could comply with. He needed to understand his need before he could be helped
He needed to become like a little child and exercise simple innocent trust in Christ. He needed to acknowledge his pride and self-righteousness, cast it off, and turn to Jesus!
Jesus, with great love for him, pointed out the issue with his heart and told him what he needed to do (v. 21). He needed to humble himself and forsake the security that he clung to with his wealth, and the critical part here is “come follow me.”
At first, we wonder why Jesus would take such an approach to this man’s question about gaining eternal life. Many professing Christians would probably have started talking with him about God’s love and How he wants to bless everybody. They probably would have told him to “ask Jesus into his heart” and that he would be made right by doing so.
But Jesus used the law to help the young man realize his need (Galatians 3:24). The one thing that prevented this man from gaining eternal life was the security he had in his wealth. He didn’t want to surrender that and take hold of Christ by faith. By using the law Jesus sought to help the man realize and repent of his covetousness (Genesis 20:17).
“The only way to life is through the narrow gate of full surrender, and through that gate we may take, not what we want, but only what God allows.” Repentance and faith are what he needs, just like the rest of us! Sadly, he went away grieved, unwilling to part with his property.
This does not mean that everybody who comes to Jesus must give up everything they have. But it does mean that we need to be willing to!
23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 And they were even more astonished, and said to Him, “[a]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
FOCUS THREE: Jesus teaches the disciples (23-27)
As the disciples witness the sad exit of the young man unwilling to come to Christ and inherit eternal life, Jesus profoundly executes another teaching moment! “How hard it will be” for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. At this statement, the disciples exhibit amazement. Why? Honestly, it reflects their Jewish background, “which placed emphasis on the privileged position of the rich. To be wealthy was sure evidence of having the blessing of God.”
But Jesus, as always, and with incredible insight, seeks to penetrate through this false ideology by showing how such wealth and privilege could keep someone from putting their faith in the only means of salvation, namely the person of Christ!
There is some encouragement in what Jesus is saying. Take notice that He says, “it is hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (v. 23) and again in verse twenty-four. He also states that “it is easier to go through the eye of a needle (v.25) than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. So where is the encouragement? It is found in the simple fact that Jesus does not say it is impossible!
So, what is the point Jesus is making? That salvation is a work of God, not man. Apart from His grace, it is impossible for anyone, especially a rich man, to enter God’s kingdom. Our efforts cannot save us. All our wealth cannot purchase salvation for us. What we cannot do for ourselves, God did for us in the person of Jesus Christ (v. 27; John 3:16)!
28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and have followed You.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms [lands], for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 [a]but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in [b]the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”
FOCUS FOUR: Peter speaks up; “But we did all that” (v.28).
I can relate to Peter! I can picture myself at first shocked at Jesus’ statement and then utterly confounded at the reality that I did all that. The logical and very emotional response would be: “So what does that man do for me? I did all that you said.” But, Peter is most likely thinking in the material realm rather than the spiritual realm. A problem plagues them throughout their time with Christ pre-cross and through the resurrection.
Again, with great love and patience, Jesus responds to Peter’s statement without rebuke. Honestly, the response of Jesus is a bit hard to understand, at least in part. What does it mean that in this life, such people would receive those things forsaken for Christ a hundredfold? I don’t know anyone in church history who has had that happen except possibly Job.
The best answer may be “understood in the context of the new community into which the believer in Jesus comes. There [they] find multiplication of relationships, often closer and more spiritually meaningful than blood ties.” In other words, God takes nothing away that He does not restore in new and unique ways!
BUT, along with great blessings comes “persecutions” (v. 30). Wouldn’t we rather avoid this part? Ever hear the song with these words: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden?” That’s what we have going on in our text. No believer in Christ was ever promised a pain-free, persecution-free, problem-free life. He told us that as they persecuted Him, they will persecute those who follow Him (John 15:18). BUT, it will be worth it when we see Jesus, our savior!
He laid aside temporarily more than we will ever be called to. He suffered more than we can fathom, and He did all that for “the joy set before Him.” Obedient unto the Father even unto death on a cross; a death that was for the “propitiation” for sinners like us, and through it reconciling us with Him so we can enjoy Him forever! It will be worth whatever we must leave behind in this life.
The Expositors Bible. Commentary, pg. 713