Written by Dr. Daniel Bush
Delivered by Jim McCausland
Receive Like a Child
The comedian and actor, Bob Hope, once said: “I’d hate to get to heaven and be refused entry on a technicality.” That’s probably a true statement for all of us. Most people have had the thought: If there’s a God, I want him to accept me.
Well, how does God accept us? This is the important question we’re tackling today.
So… let me ask you a question as we begin this morning:
• How can we be accepted by God?
Enslaved by Self
Have you heard the story about Brother John? Brother John was a very pious monk who spent many hours each day in prayer and meditation. He was old and had a beautiful long, white beard. None of the other monks in his monastery had such a beautiful beard.
Periodically, between his Bible reading and praying, he would take out a small mirror and examine his beard closer. While he looked at it he’d stroke it, and sometimes go over it with a fine comb to remove some tangles. Brother John was proud of his long white beard.
One day when he was at his prayers, his mind drifted. He thought of his beard, and decided to look at it again in his mirror when he finished praying. But just then he heard God speak: “Dear John, You’re a faithful son, and your many prayers please me. The only thing that saddens me, however, is that you sometimes think more of your beard than of me.”
John felt terribly guilty about hurting God with his beard. He was ashamed because it was true. So he immediately decided to remove it. He got a bowl of water, some soap, a sharp knife, and cut off the beard. When he looked at himself in the mirror his face had changed, and he was pleased that he even had knife wounds to show for his trouble. “Now God will be pleased with me,” he thought.
In the weeks that followed, Brother John prayed more intensely and passionately than ever before. He repeatedly praised God, “Oh Father, Thank you for showing me how my beard hindered my connection with you. Please accept me now, with my beard shaved off. Anyway, it was not such a nice beard in the end, so I am glad I took it off.”
After a while, in the silence of his meditation, he heard God’s voice again: “It was useless to cut it off. I see you’re still thinking of it all the time.”
That Brother John wanted God is noble. Yet his heart was desperately turned in on itself, enslaved in pride, enslaved in a way of life more concerned that God should love him, than he should love God. Even John’s attempt to change and become more acceptable, fell short of God’s standard.
What’s the standard? Loving God with ALL of your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength (Mark 12:30-31). We don’t really do that, do we? We can’t. Why not? Because of self-focus. Self-focus hiders us from being acceptable to God.
Now, that’s the bad new. But don’t fear there’s good news to come … eventually.
Ripped Off by Religion
Most folks think we can make ourselves acceptable to God. They think that that’s what religion is all about. But the problem with such thinking is that it actually has a very LOW view of God’s standard.
ALL of your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength is really really really HIGH. Being a reasonably good citizen and a reasonably decent person doesn’t reach the standard.
The surprising thing is that so much of religion says, “Yup, that’s exactly what God is looking for. He wants good citizens and some decent people on his team.” Yet the Bible never ever said that! The Christian gospel has never ever been that!
When I say: “I must do, I can do, and when I do, then God will and must accept me,” it places the entire venture of a relationship with God on my shoulders. It leaves me gazing at my belly button, at my works and my achievements. Which means, like Brother John, it leaves me addicted to myself: “I must, I can, I will… Gee, God, don’t you see that I did?!” It robs me of a relationship with God, leaving me dependent upon me. That’s how religion rips us off.
Lowered to A Little Child
And we could say, “Well, for crying out loud, nothing is good enough. What in the world does God want?”
As Dan has been teaching us through this Christianity Explored sermon series we can’t make ourselves acceptable to God. Christianity isn’t about doing enough. It’s not about making adequate payment. It’s about realizing you can’t do enough. It’s about realizing all you can do is receive.
How can you be accepted? What in the world does God want? He simply wants you to realize that you can’t do or provide anything. All you can do is receive his grace. For it’s only in receiving his grace that you enter into a relationship of dependence with him.
This point is brought home to us in this morning’s passage about the children who visited Jesus.
Mark 10:13-16, ESV
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
• Why do you think the disciples stopped the children?
One day a helicopter was flying toward Seattle when it had an electrical malfunction. The navigation and communication equipment failed. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was an extremely hazing day. The pilot had no way of finding the airport. All he could see was a large building. So, he flew closer to the building and quickly wrote out a large sign that read: “Where am I?” and held it out the window.
The folks in the building quickly responded with a sign of their own, which read: “You’re in a helicopter.” The pilot smiled and within a few minutes landed safely at the airport.
Once on the ground his co-pilot asked, “How did the sign help you determine our location?”
“I knew it had to be the Microsoft building,” said the pilot, “because like any computer company, they gave me technically correct but completely useless information.”
The disciples bared the children from Jesus because they were completely useless. Little children were unimportant in the ancient world. Little children couldn’t do anything. Little children couldn’t get Jesus to where he wanted to go. Little children couldn’t advance the mission. Little children didn’t have any leverage.
So, the disciples shooed them away, but Jesus said, “Let them come to me.” Why did he say that? Well, because Jesus seizes onto something he can use as a teaching point. Like the helicopter pilot, Jesus understood: Sometimes what’s useless is very useful in getting where you’re going.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God LIKE A CHILD shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). In other words, to be accepted by God, to be welcomed by God, you’ve got to be LIKE a child; that is, you’ve got to come to the place where you know you can’t impress God enough with your own merit to qualify for admission to his kingdom.
What do children come with? Nothing but their need. They can neither buy a blessing or pay one back. And so it is little children who show us how to be accepted by God: All we can do is receive his grace.
Adults sometimes get bent out of shape over that thought. “What me, receive grace? I don’t need a handout.” There we are focused on our self and what we can do. But children don’t feel bad about receiving something; little children are “without pretense, people-pleasing, playacting, pomposity, self-protection, and phony, pharisaical righteousness” (Daniel Bush, Undefended). Little children are undefended before God, tickled pink to receive.
No Place For Pride
Our acceptance isn’t found in what we do for God, for we can never do enough, well enough, and often enough. Our acceptance is found in what Jesus did for us. If I trust myself—if it could even be enough, which it can’t—then I remained fixed to myself, alone. But if I trust what Jesus has done, then I grab hold of him in relationship. And an intimate relationship with God himself is the entire point of Christianity!
Think about all of this in the context of, say, applying for a job. Say you’re looking for a job and so you’ve updated your resume. The job you’re applying for is great; lots of responsibility; lots of money. Frankly, it requires a resume fashioned out of gold. You look at your resume and think, “Ummph… this isn’t likely to cut it.”
If we take the Bible seriously, then my resume isn’t good enough to get into God’s kingdom and neither is yours, and I’ve got news for you … Dan’s resume certainly isn’t good enough. In fact, here’s what the Apostle Paul said about his resume:
We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Phil 3:3–9, NLT)
Have you ever seen the movie Titanic? There is a scene in that movie where, Rose, one of the main characters, is an old lady and is standing along the railing of the research vessel that was exploring the Titanic and searching for a great, big, blue diamond, called the Heart of the Ocean. They are all searching for the diamond, but Rose has it in her hand and all of a sudden she tosses it into the sea.
That’s what Paul has essentially done. He’s tossed his moral and religious resume into the sea; he’s called it garbage. Because the only thing that counts is leaning on Jesus by faith. Why? Because that’s a relationship of trust, or reliance, or dependence. Pride has no place in that. Leaning on Jesus only works with humility.
We can’t come to God and try to buy acceptance. We can only come to God like a little child: humble, little, and happy to receive …
• To receive forgiveness
• To receive acceptance
• To receive love
• To receive a new home
• To receive a new family
• To receive a new purity
• To receive a new passion
• To receive a new power
• To receive a new freedom
• To receive a new life
We can’t buy it. We can’t negotiate for it. We can’t leverage for it. We can’t even earn it.
What Jesus said in the passage about the little children gets illustrated in the very next passage in Mark 10.
There a very successful young man comes to Jesus. He’s a clean guy, a religious guy, a wealthy guy, a guy with a future, a guy on the rise. And he pops a question to Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
Jesus is almost rude in his response. He just bluntly nails the guy, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good” (Mark 10:18). Blam!
Jesus is telling the guy, “Hey, don’t be fooled. You don’t get to decide the difference between good and bad—you aren’t the judge.” Jesus sees right through the guy. He knows his problem. The problem is right there in the guy’s question: “What must I DO…” The guy would have been happy to go away with a manageable list, something he could accomplish, something that would leave eternal life under his control, something he could trust himself for.
So, Jesus says, “Okay… I’ll play your game,” and he tells the guy something he can’t do … “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21, NLT).
Do you see what’s going on? Here’s Jesus… “Okay, so you think you can jump high, eh? Jump over this.” The guy hears it and walks away sad.
But what Jesus is doing is bringing home the point that there is nothing he can do to get into the kingdom, except to say, “There is nothing I can do. I’m nothing more than an unimpressive, little child. I need you, Lord!”
Receive Like a Child
How can we be accepted by God? Simply by knowing deep within our soul that we need the grace that Jesus’ perfect love provides.
As I [Jim] close I want to tell you how this became real for me. It’s kind of ironic, but the passage just before the one about the little children in Mark 10 is about divorce.
Well, 17 years ago my second wife left me. The night before she had told me how much she loved me and how I was the best thing that had ever happened to her. Then the next day, my oldest son found a note she left.
I drove to a cul-de-sac, parked my car and cried. I was broken. My second marriage was ending just like my first had—abandoned for another man. Here I was, rejected again, alone with 2 young boys, for the most part friendless, and my own family 7 hours away.
Until that point I’d dabbled in church, but didn’t really trust. I had had Christian roommates that stole from me in college, both of my wives had claimed to be Christians, and here I was divorced again. I didn’t trust Christians. I didn’t trust God.
As I sat in my car in that cul-de-sac I was lost. I’d come to the end of myself financially and emotionally. I was in need. And… for the very first time I was humbled. I had nothing. Nothing to commend myself to anyone—let alone God—and nothing to give. I was just a man with open hands; a man in need. “I need your grace, God,” I prayed. I prayed a lot.
God cornered me in that cul-de-sac; he showed up. He didn’t tell me how things would be okay. He didn’t fix it. He simply touched my soul with his presence, and I knew it was sufficient. I leaned into the Father, and he held me—a real relationship.
My doubts about God didn’t dissolve until I received his grace like a child. That’s how God accepts us. … and then, and only then, I could see his kingdom (John 3:5).
Think about what I’ve taught you today.