Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries


The Key to Gaining the Kingdom  

Matt 19:13-30 

    You may have seen the newspaper report this week about a group of people in Mt Martha complaining about plans to build a children’s playground in a local park. Apparently they were worried the children would make too much noise and disturb their quiet neighbourhood. A similar thing has happened at the church where I used to be vicar. They’re having a problem at the moment with a neighbour who’s complaining that the children at the church playgroup are too noisy.

And of course it’s true, isn’t it? Children these days are far too noisy! And undisciplined! And disrespectful of their elders! It wasn’t like that in my day! When I was a child we were perfectly behaved!  

I mean, everyone knows that children should be seen and not heard? Don’t they?

Well, Jesus has something to say about that in today’s reading. The disciples clearly thought that children should be banned. These children were a complete distraction. Jesus had more important things to do than talk to them. Why waste his time when he had adults to talk to about the Kingdom of God?

But they actually had it all wrong, didn’t they? As Jesus goes on to explain in both this interaction and the next, God’s kingdom turns all our earthly values upside down.

Just think about it: Who are the people who get on in our world? Well, they’re the ones with the best qualifications, the best thinkers, the decision makers, the wielders of power. That’s why there’s so much pressure on VCE students – to make sure that they get into the best courses at uni, so they’ll end up in a position to exercise influence in the world, or to earn a sufficient income to give them enough buying power to do whatever they want to.

But Jesus stops his disciples in their tracks with these words: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Notice the double instruction: Let them come and don’t stop them. Why? Because the kingdom belongs to these insignificant children.

What is it about children that makes them the prime recipients of the kingdom? Is it their total dependence on their parents? A child is the exact opposite of the sort of person I’ve just described. No power. No qualifications. No influence (apart from their cuteness!). No ability to make important decisions. All they can do is to trust their parents to look after them; to make good decisions on their behalf. In fact if you think about it, total trust and dependence are the centre of a child’s existence. Notice the way Matthew phrases their entry: “little children were being brought to him.” These weren’t older children just running up to him to butt in. They were being brought by their parents, or carers.

And might it also be the fact that a child can’t do anything to earn their parents’ love? All they can do is receive it as a gift.

It’s true isn’t it? The Kingdom of God can’t be bought; it can’t be earned; it certainly can’t be won by exercise of power. All we can do is to receive it as a gift, unearned, undeserved.

So the first key to gaining the kingdom is to approach it like a little child – with total trust in God, with total dependence on Jesus for salvation; and with the realisation that we can do nothing to earn it.

Notice too that the reason people were bringing these children to Jesus was to lay hands on them, to bless them. They know that Jesus is the source of blessing and they want it for their children as well as themselves. But did they understand that the way a child receives God’s blessing is exactly the same way we do?

Do you see what he goes on to say? He says “15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” You know, I’ve met people on occasion who’ve told me how they’ve studied theology and it hasn’t made any difference to them. They know all the Bible stories; they’ve read the Old Testament and the New Testament, the letters of Paul but they’re still not sure if it’s all true. They certainly haven’t become followers of Christ. And I wonder why? How can someone study the Bible for years and not be convinced by it? But I wonder whether what Jesus is saying here is the answer? Is it that they’ve come to the gospel, not like a little child with a sense of dependence and trust, not with a sense of wonder, but with a sense of their own intelligence and wisdom; with a set of presuppositions that preclude faith in Christ? Or have they perhaps set out to put God to the test? Have they decided that their own judgement is the deciding factor? That’s not how a little child thinks, is it? No, a child takes things at face value. So approach the kingdom like a little child.

Well no sooner as Jesus said all this than a man comes up to Jesus who’s something of a contrast to a little child. Luke tells us that he’s a ruler, presumably a ruler of the synagogue. So he’s a man of power and influence, as well as being very wealthy, as we discover later.

Yet despite his status he approaches Jesus with an eagerness that indicates he hopes to learn something important about gaining the kingdom. Mark tells us he ran up to Jesus. Now no-one of importance would have run in public unless there was something urgent they needed. But he comes up to Jesus and kneels before him, a sign that he recognises that Jesus is a teacher of note. So he comes to Jesus to find the secret of eternal life. That is, to find the way into God’s kingdom, though, notice how he phrases it: “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” He’s someone who focussed on what he has, not where he’s going. Not that his question isn’t genuine. Jesus treats him with respect in the way he answers him, though his answer is nevertheless confronting.

The man wants to know what good thing he can do. It’s like he’s just heard the legend of Hercules and the 12 tasks Hercules had to complete to atone for murdering his wife and children while under a spell. If eternal life comes only to those who are good enough he wants to know how he might prove it.

But Jesus stops him right there. He asks: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He’s pointing out how silly his question is: the man already knows how to gain eternal life – just keep the commandments. In fact the man says that’s exactly what he’s done since his youth. Mind you, the fact that he’s here asking Jesus for assurance of eternal life perhaps indicates that he’s not as sure of his success as he claims, but in any case Jesus goes straight for the jugular. There’s one area of weakness that Jesus can see. He says “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

It’s funny how we all seem to have certain blind spots. And maybe those of us who think they’re more righteous than the rest have more blind spots than the rest?

Well this was certainly his blind spot. He had many possessions. So many, in fact, that they stopped him from becoming a follower of Jesus.

But before we start thinking badly of this young man let’s be careful that this isn’t really a story about us? How many of us are willing to sell all our possessions and give them to the poor? How many of us are willing to wait for heaven to receive the treasure that God promises us? When you come to your Annual Parish Meeting later this year and the treasurer presents the next budget how many of you will be working out how much more you could give to keep God’s kingdom growing though your ministry here?

Jesus was right when he said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That’s why he says here, “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because those who are rich come to depend on their wealth to solve their problems, to bring them happiness, to give them satisfaction in life. And too often we think we can’t live without it.

When the disciples ask “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” I hope that’s a relief to those of you who are rich. All is not lost just because you happen to be rich.

But still, Jesus’ challenge is for all of us to give up our dependence on riches in order to follow Jesus. But he adds the assurance that those who give up their house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for his sake will receive them all back a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

We mustn’t forget that we have a new family, here and now, provided for us by God: brothers and sisters, mothers and children, grandchildren or grandparents even. Let’s not undervalue that great gift that God has given us.

But let’s also remember that the real treasure is that which God has stored up for us in heaven where rust and moths don’t destroy and thieves don’t break in and steal.

Finally listen to the great kingdom principle at the end of the passage: “The first will be last and the last will be first”

Jesus speaks with authority here because he perfectly exemplifies that principle in his own life. He has the name that’s above every name, yet he comes to us as one who’s a servant, to give his life a ransom for many.

This is an important principle when you’re making decisions as a congregation. It’s a principle that I hope those who are your wardens and Parish Council members understand. When we make decisions as a church we should be putting our own needs and desires last; we should be thinking about what will best advance the kingdom of God; what will best allow us to grow disciples, to glorify God. And it may be that in the end those who put themselves last will be elevated by God to be the first in his kingdom.

So here are four keys to gaining God’s Kingdom.

First come to it in trust and dependence like a little child relying on Christ’s righteousness alone.

Secondly realise that there’s nothing that we can bring that will earn it in God’s sight.

Thirdly be willing to give up everything in order to receive it.

Finally be willing to put yourself last.

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Phone: 0422187127