When it comes to repentance, God is straightforward.
God makes it abundantly clear that people cannot enter the kingdom of God through their own efforts, regardless of how good these efforts may seem to you, or to the people around you.
The world is full of religions and ideologies that teach that you can gain God’s favor, that you can get to heaven, through your good works. Through your labors and your sacrifices.
But, if your primary confidence to be accepted by God is your history of good works, the Bible makes it very clear that your self-sufficiency will become your deficiency. That your measure for your own goodness will end up becoming a measure for your own guilt.
There will come a day in your life when you will stand in front of God, and your actions will be measured according to God’s commandments. And the Bible says, no person will be justified, no person will be seen as righteous.
And so what is a person to do? How should we then live? What, or Who, can we put our confidence in? How can we be accepted by God? How can we enter the kingdom of heaven? The Bible fully answers these questions. In fact, the Bible answers these questions in detail. And in answering these questions, the Bible again makes it clear, that man can contribute no physical effort to gain God’s acceptance.
God does require us to make a choice. God does require us that we position our hearts humbly towards him. But in regards to physical efforts, there is no labor that we can work that will cancel out our sins. There is nothing we can do to justify ourselves in the eyes of God.
So let’s read what Jesus taught on how a person can approach God. On how a person can be accepted by God, and enter the kingdom of heaven.
We are going to start by reading Mark, 10:13-16:
Now we read in Mark chapter 10, that Jesus was by the coasts of Judea near the Jordan River in Israel. And as usual, crowds were gathering around him. And as he was accustomed to doing, he was teaching the people. And the Pharisees were there also, challenging him and testing him with hard questions.
Now it’s one thing for the Pharisees to ask Jesus a question, when they come to him with humility and meekness and a genuine desire to gain insight and understanding on a difficult question they have. But the Pharisees were tempting Jesus. They were trying to trap Jesus in His words, and make Him appear as something less than a prophet.
You can imagine an unruly and rebellious teenager living under their parents house. And every command, every instruction, every teaching from the parents is met with resistance and skepticism. The child is living in opposition to the parents.
This of course would make it very difficult for a child to be built up and properly trained. It would also be difficult for that child to contribute positively to the family. The child, instead of being helpful and a blessing for the parents, would become a point of concern and distress for the parents.
And so this was the picture here between Jesus and the Israelites. Jesus is their Messiah, yet the Israelites were resistant and skeptical to all that Jesus was trying to teach them and show them. This opposing relationship between God’s Son and his people is most clearly seen by how the Pharisees interacted with Jesus.
And so after this scene in Mark 10, with the Pharisees tempting Jesus with their questions, we see Jesus changing the topic, and providing two very important teaching moments.
So from here we can begin with our reading, and see what Jesus wanted them to learn.
Let’s begin with verse 13:
13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them.
14 But when Jesus saw this, He was much displeased and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder 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.
What we just read, is that some children were brought to Jesus so that Jesus could lay hands on them and pray for them. The disciples tried to turn the children away, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. He then blessed the children.
There are two questions that come up in this story.
First, why did the disciples try to keep the children away from Jesus? And second, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”?
It is important to remember that children in Jesus’ time were not necessarily regarded as special or particularly endearing, except to their own parents. Many cultures today look on children as especially sweet, innocent, and even wise. Jewish culture in that day probably did not see children in such optimistic terms.
The disciples most likely rebuked those bringing the children to Jesus because they felt bringing children to Jesus was socially improper or because they thought the children would bother Jesus. It is likely that their move to hinder the parents from bringing their children to Jesus was motivated not by unkindness but by a desire to respect Jesus’ position as a teacher. But Jesus wanted the children to come to Him. He said, “Let the children come,” because He wanted to bless them.
You know, it is nice to think that Jesus was willing to interact with a child. Children are needy and dependent, and they know very little about life. They function mostly on emotion rather than reason. Yet Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”.
We see in Scripture that believers are often compared to children. In fact, Jesus told those following Him in the book of Matthew, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues saying, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself (that is, takes a lowly position like a child), is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.
When you think of great men in the Bible, the name Moses often comes up as being one of the greats. And it is interesting to note that in the book of Numbers, it is said of Moses, “that Moses was a very humble man, more humble than all the men who were on the face of the earth”.
And look how mightily God used Moses! Delivering Israel from the powerful nation of Egypt. Performing ten miraculous judgements. Leading the Israelites and sustaining them during their wilderness journey. There must be something about humility, having a child like humility, that is very important in our relationship with God. Even important when God wants to use us to accomplish His own purposes.
And Jesus in our text here is trying to teach us something important about humility. And just to be clear, Jesus never told us to have a “childlike” faith. But Jesus did say that we must “become as little children”. Jesus often presented children as an example of the type of faith adults are to have.
I was a rebellious child growing up, and my mom would tell you that I was a very hard child for her to work with. I was consistently disobedient, and I would refuse to listen to her. I mostly did what I wanted to do. And if I did something that was in accordance with her instructions, it was because I was forced to. I often heard the phrase from my mom, “It’s like pulling teeth getting you to do anything”.
And so take that same type of difficult relationship, and apply it to our relationship with God. Look at Jonah for example. God told Jonah, go preach repentance to Nineveh. But Jonah didn’t think that was a good idea. So Jonah disobeyed.
And what did Jonah do? Jonah got on a ship and went the complete opposite direction as to where he was supposed to go. But God, being the Good Father, disciplined Jonah, and for three days Jonah was in the belly of a great fish. And it was not comfortable for Jonah.
But we see God compelling Jonah through chastisement to fulfill the instructions God had given him. And despite Jonah’s rebellion, Jonah did preach repentance in Nineveh. And Nineveh did indeed repent. From the king himself all the way down even to the servants.
And even after such an amazing evangelistic crusade led by Jonah, with the whole city repenting, a revival that would have impressed even Billy Graham, Jonah was still upset. Jonah was still having a bad attitude.
That’s like the quintessential parent-teenage relationship right there. Parents politely give instructions to teenager. Teenager refuses and rebels. Parents then force teenager to obey. And teenager does end up obeying, but continues to have a bad attitude.
So we are seeing here how difficult it is for God to work with people who do not have a humble and meek spirit. A teachable spirit. People who have not, in a sense, become like a child in their faith and trust in God and his words.
Compare that with Moses, who was more humble than all the people of the earth. When God gave Moses a seemingly impossible command, Moses was ultimately willing to be obedient, and to trust God. He had questions on how God might go about doing something that seemed so impossible. But Moses had faith that what God said, God would also be able to perform. And if God gave a command that didn’t make sense to Moses, Moses was still willing to trust God and carry out the command.
And because of this humble spirit that Moses had, God was able to work through Moses in a mighty way. So mighty, that we still talk about what Moses did even to this day.
This should cause you to ask, what kind of spirit do you have? Have you become like a child in your faith and trust in God? Do you have a humble and meek spirit like Moses. A teachable and obedient spirit? Or are you more like Jonah, reluctantly obedient? Or even worse, are you more like the Pharisees, in full scale rebellion? Opposing God’s influence in your life.
Children who implicitly trust their parents, that is how believers are to trust God. Faith is not about knowing everything or doing everything right. It is about knowing that no matter what happens, God our Father will take care of us.
And we can trust Him. We can trust God that what He says He also can do. It is a trust in God, that even when life is terrifying, or sad, or makes no sense, or is difficult, that you are still obedient to God. Faithful to God. That you still trust God. This is the kind of faith that makes a believer “like a child.”
Those who willingly take the lowest position, the Bible says, are the greatest in God’s eyes. A young child doesn’t have ambition, or pride, haughtiness and arrogance, for they are just a child. And therefore they are a good example of humility for us adults to emulate. Children are characteristically humble and teachable. They are not prone to pride or hypocrisy. At least not yet.
So for believers, not having child-like humility can result in a contentious relationship with God, and being one of those who are considered least in the kingdom of heaven.
And for non-believers, not having humility can result in not even entering the kingdom of heaven. Those characteristics opposite of humility, mainly pride, will keep a person from repenting, and obtaining a saving faith in God’s Son.
And this is what Jesus is mainly concerned with here. He is trying to warn people who might not otherwise enter the kingdom of heaven. These same people, the Bible says, will be cast out into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a painful place. A place of suffering and judgement for sin.
And this is important to Jesus. Jesus loves us so much. And He doesn’t want you or I or any person to go to such a place. And so Jesus proceeds to give us a second teaching about what might keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.
Let’s read verses Mark 10:17-23 now.
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 to inherit eternal life?”
18 And 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 bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”
20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for 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 at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
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!”
To understand Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler’s question, “What must I do to be saved?”, we must consider three things. First, the background of the rich young ruler. Second, the purpose of his question. And third, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The young man had asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” This is a questions that we should all be concerned with. Jesus responded, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments”.
At first glance, it appears that Jesus is saying that the young man, and by extension, all people must obey the commandments in order to be saved. But is that really what Jesus is saying? Since the essence of the salvation message is that we are saved by grace through faith, why would Jesus offer the rich young ruler an “alternative plan”?
The story of the rich young ruler is found in all three of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The rich young man is described as a “ruler”, which means he was a prince or magistrate of some sort. Since no Roman ruler would address Jesus as “teacher” or “master,” it is assumed that this man was a Jewish ruler in the local synagogue. This man also had “great wealth” and Jesus later used His conversation with this man to teach of the detrimental effect money can have on one’s desire for eternal life. The lesson Jesus draws from this conversation concerns the pitfalls of money.
The first thing Jesus responds to is the man’s greeting. The rich young ruler said, “Good teacher”. Jesus responded with a question, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus does this to remind him that no one is good except God alone. Jesus was not denying His own divinity. Rather, Jesus was immediately getting the man to think about what “good” really means.
Since only God is good, what we humans normally call good is some other lower standard of goodness. This truth comes into play later in the conversation.
When the man asked Jesus to specify which commandments he should keep, Jesus recited six of the Ten Commandments, including “love your neighbor as yourself”. The man replies, “All these I have kept from my youth. . . . What do I still lack?”.
And that is the key statement from the rich young ruler! The young man was obviously religious and sincere in his pursuit of righteousness. His problem was that he considered himself to be faultless concerning the Law. And this is the point that Jesus challenges.
Jesus tells the man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”. The young man decided that Jesus was asking too much. “He went away sad, because he had great wealth”. Rather than obey Jesus’ instructions, he turned his back on the Lord and walked away. The man’s choice undoubtedly saddened Jesus as well, because it says in our text, that Jesus loved him.
In telling the young man to keep the commandments, Jesus was not saying that he could be saved by obeying the commandments; rather, Jesus was emphasizing the Law as God’s perfect standard.
If you can keep the Law perfectly, then you can escape sin’s penalty. But that is a very big “if”. When the man responded that he met the Law’s standard, Jesus simply touched on one issue that proved the man did not measure up to God’s holiness.
The man was not willing to follow the Lord, if that meant he must give up his wealth. Thus, the man was breaking the two greatest commands; he did not love the Lord God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. And also, he did not love his neighbor as himself. He loved himself (and his money) more. The rich young ruler was far from keeping “all” the commandments, as he had claimed. The man was a sinner just like everyone else. And the Law proved it.
If the man had loved God and other people more than he did his property, he would have been willing to give up his wealth to the service of God and his neighbors. But that was not the case. He had made an idol of his wealth, and he loved his wealth and his money more than God.
As usual, with surgical precision, Jesus was able to expose the greed in the rich young rulers heart. It was greed that the man did not even suspect he had. Jesus’ statement that only God is good is proved in the young man’s response to Jesus’ command. The rich young ruler had proven himself not to be good.
In Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler, Christ did not teach that we are saved by the works of the Law. The Bible’s message is clear that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and not of works. Instead, Jesus used the man’s love of money to show how the man fell short of God’s holy standard. The rich young ruler needed the Savior, as do we all.
And what was the final warning message Jesus gave to the disciples? “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Again, Jesus, a second time, is warning us about things that can keep us from entering the Kingdom of God.
24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6)
Pride and wealth are two things that can keep a non-believer from entering into eternal life. And by extension, for believers, pride and wealth are two things that can hinder your walk with God. And so Jesus teaches us, “become like a child”. Exercise humility. Trust in Jesus. And Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.
Again Jesus teaches us, “be content with your wages”. Godliness with contentment is great gain, the Bible says. The Bible again says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The love of money can keep you from entering the Kingdom of God.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
By saying the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul is stating that the wicked are not children of God, nor are they heirs of eternal life. This does not mean that anybody who has ever committed one of these sins will be denied entrance to heaven.
What differentiates a Christian’s life from that of a non-Christian is the struggle against sin and the ability to overcome it. And we know what sin is because we have the perfect law of God. All you have to do is to compare your life with God’s standard in the law.
A true Christian will always repent, will always eventually return to God, and will always resume the struggles against sin. But the Bible gives no support for the idea that a person who perpetually and unrepentantly engages in sin can indeed be a Christian. This 1 Corinthians passage lists sins that, if indulged in continuously, identify a person as not being redeemed by Christ.
The Christian’s response to sin is to hate it, repent of it, and forsake it. We still struggle with sin, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us, which you get by confessing Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit living inside of you will give you the power to resist and overcome sin.
The hallmark of a true Christian is the decreasing presence of sin in his or her life. And as Christians grow and mature in their faith, sin has less and less of a hold on them.
Now, sinless perfection is impossible in this life, but our hatred for sin becomes greater as we mature. Like Paul, we are distressed that sin still reigns in our body, causing us at times to do what we don’t want to do. And we continually hope and wait for Christ to come back and to restore all things, saving us from this “body of sin and death”.
If you are a non-believer, and you are at this moment willing to exercise humility, considering even for a moment that Jesus’ words are true, Jesus invites you to let Him in into your heart. All you have to do is to acknowledge your sin, repent of it, and ask Jesus to forgive you. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. In doing so, you will become a child of God and will inherit eternal life. And God will give you the most precious gift possible. The gift of the Holy Spirit. God himself, living inside of you, and beginning a right relationship with your Creator and Savior.