How to get to heaven is a piece of information that from the beginning of time, humanity has wanted to know. The rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16 – 29 (Mark 10: 17 – 30, Luke 18: 18 – 30) asked Jesus,
“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Nicodemus, a religious leader, visited Jesus secretly at night and circumspectly touched upon the topic, something that should comfort the rest of us ordinary, non-leadership type people, because as Jesus observed,
“You are Israel’s teacher . . . and do you not understand these things?” (John 3: 10)
(Remember this the next time an assertive, confident bastion of the Christian faith tells you how to live your life and where to send your money.)
Are There Instructions?
Why didn’t Jesus just flat out tell us what to do? we quite sensibly ask.
Well, He did flat out tell us a number of things, many of which we avoid doing (“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” — Luke 6: 46), and one of the many issues Christ addressed was the kingdom of heaven, and what it takes to get there:
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 2)
Ah, something concrete we can do — become like a little child. Only, like any major change in our life, it’s not a task we accomplish on our own without God’s hand in ours: we don’t awake in the morning and say,
“I’m going to be like a little child! I’ll start by staying in bed until mom calls me down for breakfast.”
What is it about children that differentiates them from adults? Let’s look at three things, real quick:
The Least of These
1) They’re vulnerable. Children need to be protected, and they know this. They look to someone stronger, wiser, and bigger than they are. (Before we mention the word “authority,” please note that there is a huge difference between a parent and a policeman, between God and the government. Make sure you put your trust in the right power.) We need our Father to guide us, teach us, hold us, and fight for us.
There’s nothing wrong with being weak — we all are. It’s only tragic when we think we’re alone, on our own, and fully dependent upon me, myself, and I, something that is not so:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God tells the Apostle Paul, and us, in 2 Corinthians 12: 9). Yes, you’re weak. But thank God, He is strong.
It’s the Best Policy
2) They’re honest. The most disconcerting thing about children is that they speak their minds, and a critical aspect of “educating” them is to conform those minds to think and say what the adult — corporate, political, financial, controlling — world wants to hear. By that time, they have moved into and accepted our language of deceit, where we call the Ministry of War the Department of Defense, mandatory taxation a “contribution to society,” or the taking of life the freedom of choice.
When we are constantly guarding our words so that we won’t be attacked, is it any wonder we have trouble coming before God, and honestly pouring out our hearts?
Jeremiah, often disparagingly called the “weeping prophet,” was remarkably outspoken before God —
“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice . . .” (Jeremiah 12: 1)
“Shockingly candid,” is one description I have read of Jeremiah. Isn’t he just putting into words what many of us already think? Sort of like what a child would do?
Pride Bloats Our Souls
3) They’re humble. Children are small, physically weak in comparison to adults, and powerless. God designed children to be under the protection of loving parents (not the state), and secure in the safety of the home where they can grow. Look at a kitten, a puppy, a baby goat, a fawn — we accept that these animals were born into and need the protection of their parent, and that they learn from that parent.
We all know how hard it is to teach someone who is convinced that they know the lesson already, and their mistaken confidence in themselves and their abilities keeps them from actually learning. While this swaggering attitude is highly prized in modern society (we call it self-assurance, and that’s not such a bad appellation), God calls us to a different confidence:
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5: 14). God isn’t interested in how much we think of ourselves, but in how much we trust in Him. He wants us to ask.
Children are smarter than what we give them credit for — if the young child in your life is averse to spending time around your new business partner, you might think twice about the business relationship. The very innocence of young children enables them to identify, and recoil from, well camouflaged evil in others. They also gravitate toward goodness. As we become more like children ourselves, we will do this as well.
And then we are on our way to the kingdom of heaven.
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