You walk into the front of the train carriage. It’s ¾ full. A number of people are sitting on their own. Some of them look up at you as you come in. Other keep their eyes glued to their books. There are no free benches. You’ll have to sit next to someone. You groan.
How to decide who to sit next to!
Male or female? Young or old? Noisy iPod or noisy mobile phone? Suit or stubbies? Newspaper or novel? Sleeper or non-sleeper? Armrest hogger, or not?
Oh, the decisions!
There are people who SMELL. And those who don’t.
There are people who TALK. And people who DON’T.
People who LOOK at you. And people who DON’T.
All sorts of criteria we use to decide who’s ACCEPTABLE. And who’s NOT.
And so, within a few seconds, you’ve weighed up all the evidence. And you make your choice. Sometimes you choose WELL. And other times, NOT so well.
And in that moment. As you weigh up all the options. You reflect, on a small-scale, the sorts of decisions people make each day. Dividing people up into two groups. ACCEPTABLE AND UNACCEPTABLE.
It might be on the basis of looks. Or weight. Or education. Or dress. Or income. Or where they live. What sort of music they like. Are they sporty?
It’s only for us to hang around people we feel COMFORTABLE with. Who we RELATE to. ACCEPTABLE people.
And, right or wrong, there are people we put in the UNACCEPTABLE group. People we choose NOT to get to know. To walk past. People we decide NOT to invite into OUR lives.
Sometimes we LIMIT the areas of acceptability. We’re happy to have accept people in ONE AREA of life. But not to include them in OTHER areas. Like WORK.
Or SPORT. I’ve played sport with people all my life. And MOSTLY, sport is the only thing I share in common with them. It’s rare that I’ve ever SOCIALIZED much with them. A love of the game is about the only thing that makes us ACCEPTABLE to each other.
In a of months, Dean Beringer’s going to be a house-husband. And so he’ll be heading off to play group with Lara. It’ll be interesting to see what sorts of things he finds in common with the other mums. Will he be INCLUDED in conversations? Or will he always be on the OUTER? Will he be ACCEPTABLE?
My guess is, once they find out he’s a BUILDER, with TIME on his hands, he’ll be the CENTRE of conversation. Women will just FLOCK to him.
Acceptable and unacceptable.
But what about when it comes to the Kingdom of God? What sort of people are ACCEPTABLE or UNACCEPTALE in God’s upside-down kingdom? Who does GOD find acceptable?
And it’s not an insignificant question. Because your ETERNITY hangs on it. It should be a question that EVERYONE’S interested in. People have been searching for an answer to this one since time began. And come up with a whole range of different answers. Who does GOD find acceptable?
In God’s upside-down kingdom, it’s perhaps not surprising to find out that his expectations are ALSO upside-down.
The amazing thing is/ being acceptable or unacceptable to God ISN’T about wealth, or social standing, or maturity, or beauty, or success, or popularity, or even about being GOOD. The sorts of things that makes you acceptable in THIS world.
In today’s verses we see what entering the kingdom is NOT about.
1. It’s NOT about being GOOD (18:9-14)
The first NEGATIVE is there from v9. Perhaps the most surprising of the three. Entering the kingdom is NOT about being GOOD.
If you ask most Aussies how you get to heaven. Or what makes someone a Christian, here’s what they answer. “Be nice to people. Do good things”
But it’s not about that at all. Have a look at the story Jesus told. V9.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “TWO MEN went up to the temple to pray, one A PHARISEE and the other A TAX COLLECTOR.
Two guys. For one of them, the temple’s his second home. He knows it inside out. Feels completely comfortable. Nods to all the other regulars on his way in. That’s the Pharisee.
For the OTHER ONE, he’s scared the roof’s going to cave in when he darkens the doors.
Both go to the temple to pray. But that’s where the similarity ends. Look at v11.
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
This guy’s certainly not lacking in self-confidence!
The verse could also be translated “The Pharisee stood up BY HIMSELF and prayed. I think that’s preferable. Because that’s just what the Pharisee is DOING. Separating himself from EVERYONE ELSE – I AM NOT LIKE OTHER MEN!
That’s a HUGE CALL. “They make mistakes – not me. They SIN – not me. They have WEAKNESSES – not me. They’re do SOME good things – not me – I go OVERBOARD”.
This guy can tick all the boxes. He’s decided the way to pleasing God is to follow the rules. Or at least the ones HE chooses. Notice the rules he quotes? Fasts twice a week, and gives a tenth of all he gets. Perhaps not the GREATEST good deeds you’ve ever heard of.
You can imagine a life doing all sorts of OTHER horrible things, but still fasting, and giving a tenth of your money.
But that’s what THIS guy’s decided will make him acceptable to God. DOING GOOD THINGS makes you acceptable to God.
And notice that he THANKS GOD for how well he’s DOING at keeping those rules? That’s the extent of his praise for God. “God, I thank you…. That I’m not like other men. The sum total of the things he’s grateful to God for is how SPECIAL/ HE is. How lucky God is to HAVE him.
And as he looks around to see who’s WATCHING his little performance, he notices the TAX COLLECTOR. “And ESPECIALLY – thanks that I’m not like THAT TAX COLLECTOR!
And so our gaze shifts to the tax collector. V13.
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
There he is. Off in a dark corner. He’s standing on his own as well. But for a completely different reason. The Pharisee thought he was BETTER than everyone else. The tax collector doesn’t think he DESERVES to be near anyone else. Too ashamed to even look up to God. But he pleads. “God have mercy on me a sinner”.
And it’s here that Jesus makes the surprising conclusion. At least for his HEARERS.
14 “I tell you that THIS man, rather than the other, WENT HOME JUSTIFIED BEFORE GOD. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It flies in the face of common sense. The respectable, moral, good Pharisee misses out. But it’s the dirty rotten, swindling thief of a tax collector who’s justified. Who’s right with God. Who’s ACCEPTABLE.
But we get a hint of what Jesus means from his conclusion.
For everyone who EXALTS himself will be HUMBLED (that’s the Pharisee), and he who HUMBLES himself will be EXALTED (that’s the tax collector).”
See, it’s all about ATTITUDES. An attitude of HUMILITY is what God’s interested in. Of REPENTANCE.
The Pharisee thinks he’s got nothing to repent OF. Nothing to be humble ABOUT. And he’s in for a big shock. Remember who Jesus was telling this story to? Back in v9. Have a look at it
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else,
That’s people just like the Pharisee in the parable.
It’s the Pharisee’s ATTITUDE Jesus is criticizing. Not his ACTIONS. He’s Not saying behaviour is UNIMPORTANT. OF COURSE Jesus is concerned about our behaviour.
But that’s a lesson for another day. In THIS story, it’s ATTITUDE that’s important.
Entering the kingdom is NOT about being GOOD. God wants an attitude of humility and repentance.
2. It’s NOT about being (18:15-17)
The second lesson about entering the kingdom flows straight on from the first. See it there in v15? “People were ALSO…
And what we see is more about ATTITUDES. Entering the kingdom – it’s NOT about being mature. V15.
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
There’s plenty of OTHER organizations where AGE is important. 14 to leave school. Or start to work. 16 to drive. 18 to vote. Or go into a pub. OR join the Army.
But in God’s upside-down kingdom it’s THE OPPOSITE. “The Kingdom of God belongs to SUCH AS THESE”.
We tend to have a rosy, romantic view of children. Cute and innocent. But in THAT culture, it was more that kids were UNIMPORTANT. Insignificant. Irrelevant. Useless. NOT ADULTS.
Which is JUST the way the DISCIPLES were TREATING them. They were telling the parents to PUSH OFF. That Jesus had more important things to be doing. More important PEOPLE to be with.
But Jesus does THE OPPOSITE. The UPSIDE-DOWN thing.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to SUCH AS THESE.
Not just children. But people LIKE children. Unimportant People. People everyone else dismisses. The weak, or sick, or poor, or smelly, or uneducated. Disempowered. One Luke scholar calls them “the least, the lost and the last.”
The church has ALWAYS looked after people like that. We do it because that’s what Jesus did. No-one else seems to be interested. Because there’s no PROFIT or BENEFIT in it.
Allowah Children’s Hospital, Dundas. It’s a ministry of Presbyterian Church in NSW.
Allowah cares for children and young people up to the age of 16 with physical and intellectual disabilities such as genetic or chromosomal disorders, birth trauma, cerebral palsy, head injuries, and diseases acquired after birth. It supports over 80 families.
One of the part-time students at PTC is a chaplain there. Rhonda Daley. She has some amazing stories to tell about the love that the Christian staff are able to provide to kids and families. And the window they can give into God’s kingdom.
The least, the lost and the last.
Then there’s the Ezekiel ministry of Central Sydney Presbyterian Church. It’s a ministry to people with mental illnesses around Darlinghurst. Many of them are homeless or living in cheap boarding houses. They meet weekly, talk, have a short Bible study, pray, and have a meal. I helped there while I was a student. There were some interesting times. It was hard work, and challenging. But it was rewarding, and rich, and wonderful. Because THESE PEOPLE were what the Kingdom of God was all about.
If the kingdom is about these sorts of people/ how well is THIS CHURCH reflecting that?
Are you welcoming, and accepting, and paying attention to, those that OTHERS REJECT?
How well are you looking after children? Are they an afterthought? Or are they INCLUDED?
How well does this attitude impact on the sorts of people you reach out to?
How well do you reflect the community around you?
How accepting are you of those who are DIFFERENT from us?
How are you at making visitors comfortable. Someone new comes in. And you stand back and WATCH. Wait for someone else to talk to them. Especially if they’re a bit different from you.
But it shouldn’t BE like that. You’re small enough to NOTICE when new people come. There’s no excuse. The way you welcome LITTLE ONES like THAT is a measure of how well you reflect the kingdom of God.
Entering the kingdom ISN’T about being or important.
3. It’s NOT about being SUCCESSFUL (18:18-30)
The third negative Jesus provides about entering the kingdom is there from v18. Entering the kingdom is NOT about being SUCCESSFUL.
A rich ruler comes up to Jesus. He’s got everything going for him. Power and money. Nothing’s beyond his ability to control. If he WANTS something, he GETS it. He either BUYS it, or COMMANDS it. And it’s HIS.
And this guy thinks the same thing applies to eternal life. Look at his question there in v18.
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I DO to INHERIT eternal life?”
What a FOOL! He wants to know what he can DO to INHERIT.
An inheritance comes because of a RELATIONSHIP. Not because of a PERFORMANCE. You’re someone’s HEIR because your FAMILY. Not because you’ve DONE something.
If Caron and I die, then THE KIDS inherit our things.
And it’s the same with ETERNAL LIFE. God will GIVE it/ on the basis of his RELATIONSHIP with someone. Not because of what THEY DO.
We probably could have thought of LOTS of ways to answer this guy. But perhaps not the way Jesus does. He DOESN’T focus on DOING – which this guy doesn’t understand. Or INHERITING – which he ALSO gets wrong. But ANOTHER word. Good. He called Jesus GOOD teacher. Look at how Jesus replies. There in v19.
19 “Why do you call me GOOD?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not , do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”
No one can DO ANYTHING to work off eternal life. Since only God is PERFECT, no one is PERFECT enough to measure up.
And then he lists FIVE of the ten commandments. They’re the five that are perhaps EASIEST to keep – at least on the OUTSIDE. The EXTERNAL commandments to do with treating your fellow man. Adultery, , stealing, lying, honouring parents.
But he leaves out the four commandments to do WITH GOD.
- Have no other Gods
- No idols
- No blasphemy
- Keep the Sabbath.
And he leaves out COVETING. Which is all about ATTITUDES. And INTERNALS.
I think he’s leading the rich ruler along. He EXPECTS him to tick those ones off. Which he DOES.
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
But it’s not enough. He’s forgotten THE REST. Money is his GOD. POWER is his IDOL. And COVETOUSNESS is an attitude he’s so comfortable with, he doesn’t even NOTICE it.
So Jesus says to him (v22)
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
And we can tell by the rich ruler’s response that Jesus has hit the nail on the head. He’s broken the very commandments he SAYS he’s kept. His idols mean more to him than God. V23.
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The rich and successful don’t have a head-start on the kingdom. In fact, Jesus says it’s a HANDICAP. Earthly success – riches and power – are actually OBSTACLES to entering God’s kingdom.
Not because there’s anything wrong with them, on their own, but because of the ATTITUDE that goes with them.
And it’s here that we come back to Jesus’ comment to the disciples. Back up in v17.
17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God LIKE A LITTLE CHILD will never enter it.”
And it’s all to do with THE ATTITUDE of a child. Anyone who wants to receive the kingdom. Who wants the inheritance of eternal life. Who wants to live with Jesus as his King. Needs to have the attitude of a little child.
But what’s THAT?
There’s plenty of suggestions. Dependence, or expectation, or child-like faith. But I think the trick is to take our cue from the context. I think we can see what it’s NOT. We just have to look at the stories around it.
The Pharisee was CONFIDENT IN YOUR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS. Receiving the kingdom like a little child is NOT about being confident in your own righteousness. It’s about recognizing your own unworthiness and sin. Just like the tax-collector.
And what about the rich ruler? He thought his SUCCESS was his ticket in. His money and power. His ability to keep the rules. At least the ones HE thought were important.
He wanted to DO, rather than RECEIVE.
And, in the end, he showed his TRUE attitude. Because his WEALTH meant more to him than the TRUE wealth of God’s kingdom.
To enter the kingdom like a little child is to RECEIVE God’s gift as a GIFT, and without trying to EARN it.
And to receive it gratefully and sincerely. It’s a wonderful gift – there is NO GREATER TREASURE. Have you DONE that? If not, today’s a GREAT day to do it.
But receiving the kingdom is not just something we do ONCE. The day we become a Christian. Receiving the kingdom as a little child is something we must do EVERY DAY.
We must CHOOSE to WALK under God everyday as a little child.
– without SELF-RELIANCE,
– without AMBITION,
– without PRIDE,
– without HYPOCRISY
You can see it in the way you PRAY.
Is your prayer liberally sprinkled with THANKSGIVING. Because you understand you’ve received A GIFT YOU DON’T DESERVE. Is there more of the tax-collector than the Pharisee in what you pray?
You can see it in the way you treat YOUR SIN.
Do you REST in the grace of God? By that I mean, when you sin, stumble, and make a mistake. Do you repent of it, hop back and keep trying? Or do you WORRY about it, and wonder about whether you’re GOOD ENOUGH.
Don’t! That’s the rich ruler’s attitude. OR the Pharisee. And God doesn’t accept that sort of attitude.
And you can see it in the way you treat OTHERS.
DO you JUDGE them? Or give them a second-chance? After all, God’s given YOU a second chance!
Do you put others FIRST. Because it’s not all about YOU!
Do you include the LITTLE ONES? Do you make a BEELINE for the isolated ones? The lonely. Is Christmas going to be all about YOU and YOURS. OR are there OTHERS you can include?
John West has a slogan, “It’s the fish John West REJECT that make John West the BEST”. They get rid of pretty GOOD fish, and only keep THE BEST.
Ours should be the OPPOSITE. “It’s the fish the church INCLUDES that make our church the BEST”. We INCLUDE EVERYONE, because that’s what God’s upside-down kingdom is all about.