Saturday, September 20, 2014

Entrance like a Little Child

Image credit: Glo Bible.

Entering the Kingdom

While I would love to say I've spent my Christian life walking closely with the Lord, I've instead spent it gripping the steering wheel of my life, unwilling to follow His lead, feeling cut-off from blessing and trapped in irritability. But happily, on this very need for personal rescue, Jesus invokes the idea of the "little child" as the acid test of Kingdom entrance.

But what is Kingdom entrance? Jesus tends to teach "entering the Kingdom" not as future entrance or even the "now and not yet" idea (which suggests entering in two senses), but as the crisp reality of following Jesus, being sufficiently Christ-ruled and Spirit-filled in the present. At least this reading would seem to clarify many passages. This is how the "Kingdom come[s]... on earth" per the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:10) because it is how we ourselves "enter" the Kingdom "in this present age." (Mark 10:30) Jesus teaches that we must enter the Kingdom in the present as "little children" -- for such is the kingdom.

To prove the difficulty of his little child standard of Kingdom entrance, Jesus welcomes a little child into his arms. His welcome demonstrates what the twelve disciples so lacked. The little one in his arms manifested the acid test of the kingdom. The test is either positive or negative, without nuance. Either we enter the kingdom and enjoy God's peace or we don't. We either become the servant of all, per Christ's example, or, because of sin, are wary of one another as competitors, unsafe threats and obstacles.

John the Son of Zebedee

While the floundering sins of Peter are obvious in the Gospels, the sins of John are evident also. Although it would be John who would learn the most from the Lord's little child teaching (as 1 John indicates), in Mark Chapters 9 and 10 (where we find Mark's record of the Lord's little child teaching), John was more status-obsessed than teachable.

When Jesus had asked the apostles, "Who do you say that I am?," neither of the sons of Zebedee replied. When He walked on water neither followed Him out on the water. It is plausible these lost opportunities loomed over the brothers, if not the entire Zebedee family. So that as Jesus was preparing to become the ransom for many, the Zebedee brothers and their mother delivered a brazen appeal. They essentially requested that the father's former hired hand, Simon Peter, would not be honored in the Kingdom, at least above the two grown sons. John seized still another initiative: rebuking some who were casting out demons in Jesus name. Finally, John asked Jesus if he (John) could call fire down from Heaven on a town of Samaria that wouldn't welcome Jesus.  At this Jesus rebuked John, telling him, "You don't know of what spirit you speak." So the Zebedees maneuvered for first-place status, dreaded coming in second-place, and this prompted an argument among the disciples about who was the greatest.

Little Child

Jesus asked them what they had argued about on the way. No response. So He put a little child in their midst to test their love reflexes. No response. Finally, He showed them - receiving the child into his arms. His welcoming arms demonstrated the need to serve little children, those without any haughty claim to first-place status. Instead of taking advantage of others, they were to become servants of all.

Then He sharply revealed that it was their sin that prevented them from serving all. They would have to far more aggressively judge sin in their lives and needed to embrace radical changes to remove it. Just as the ones who caused the little ones to stumble would plunge into the depths of the sea in the tangent of the falling millstone, the apostles themselves needed to commit to radicalized tactics toward the sin that menaced their own entrance into the Kingdom in this present life. They needed to gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands if need be. Anything to exterminate encroaching sin.

Next Jesus reminds them of Gahena. He contends that in the ongoing burning of the city's refuse in Gahena (with its ugly maggots and perpetual fires) lies a picture of Hell. But Jesus ups the ante. Gahena - with its maggots and flames - is also a picture of God's fiery chastisement in the lives of the disciples.

It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell [Gahena], where
Their worm does not die,and the fire is not quenched.
Mark 9:47, 48

Salt is Good

Finally, Jesus intensifies his admonition, but in a way that is hard to decipher on first hearing. He warns that each one must chastise himself - Jesus calls this "salt" and said that "salt is good." Salt - judging one's own sin - with the help of the Holy Spirit, was the way to alleviate God's more weighty chastisement, which He taught would singe every true disciple, if not every single person - and which He calls "fire."

For EVERYONE will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another.
Mark 9:47-50

This meant that the sons of Zebedee would have to make their peace with all, including Peter. It also means something for me. Jesus warned of something which my experience has painfully demonstrated, that supernatural peace is elusive. Peace is given by the Spirit by grace, but it can only be hoped for if we recall that salt is good and are willing to gouge sins from our hearts. Perhaps this teaching is how John the Apostle discovered true peace. However gained, the gentle wisdom of the Apostle John (so obvious in his writings) gives us hope. A good example of John's meekness is when John raced to the empty tomb. He ran ahead, but then hesitated and "calmed and quieted" himself per Psalm 131:2 "like a little weaned child." Like a low-prestige person, he rejected first-place status. He hung back and entered last.

© Jodie Sawyer, 2014

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