Jesus Blesses the Children
The Gospel of Mark emphasises “being disciples of Jesus”. The story of Jesus blessing the children is related to the story of the rich man’s inquiry on eternal life. The two stories ought to be read together.
Some parents brought their children to Jesus so that he could touch and bless them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus was upset with his disciples 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. So He took them into His arms, laid hands upon them, and blessed them (vv. 13-16).”
Mark does not emphasise the simplicity or adorableness of these children. Rather, the emphasis is on their lack of ability, helplessness, and marginalisation. In ancient societies, children had no rights, no status, and made no contribution to society. Nowadays, children are greatly loved and valued. Actually, this was inconceivable in ancient times.
Here, the text highlights that these children were the passive recipients of others’ actions. They were brought to Jesus by others so that they may be touched by Jesus (v. 13). Jesus said, “Let the children come... do not hinder them” (v. 14). Jesus embraced and laid hands on them (v. 16).
Those who enter into God’s kingdom must be like children, who depend on God’s grace alone. Children lack ability. They are fragile and often easily dismissed. But it is precisely their humble circumstance that, when they see God’s gracious hand, they immediately receive God’s reign without reservation. They put God in the first place by believing and obeying God’s word.
By rebuking or hindering the children from coming to Jesus, the disciples signified that humble and helpless people do not belong to the community of faith. Jesus was angry at them because the people they rejected were exactly those that are embraced in God’s kingdom.
The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children – humble, without status, powerless, yet desire after God. Such people have no networks or connections to depend upon nor any merits to talk about. They can only believe in God’s mercy and depend on God to have life. They don’t calculate nor make careful plans but are willing to lose everything to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and meditate upon God’s will and values.
So Jesus embraced the children, laid hands upon them, and blessed them.
Those who were once “outside seekers” had now become “children in the bosom of Jesus.” Those who are weak, lacking in ability, and helpless like children have now become members of the kingdom of God. This foreshadows verse 27, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
The Rich Man Seeking Eternal Life
After Jesus blessed the children, as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17)
“Jesus was setting out on His journey”; this “journey” refers to the road of suffering leading up to Jerusalem. It signifies the suffering and service that characterise the life of the disciples of the Lord.
The man ran up and knelt before Jesus. This shows that he was a man of reverence and humility. He called Jesus, “Good Teacher,” which reveals an attitude of respectfulness. Here was a man who truly desired after Jesus.
He asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Inherit eternal life”, means enter into “the age”, where God will accomplish His salvation and rule in His kingdom. This idea was familiar to the Jews because the prophets had been prophesying for centuries about the coming of the kingdom of God, where God’s people would receive the inheritance of a blessed life.
Jesus’ reply was staggering, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (v. 18)
Jesus’ answer does not imply that He was sinful and therefore not equal to God in goodness. Rather, these words served rhetorically as a challenge to this man to mean what he said, that is, placing Jesus equal to God, and obey His words just as he obeys God’s Laws. Would this man obey the words of Jesus?
Jesus answered the man by citing the Ten Commandments, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother’” (v. 19).
The man replied, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (v. 20).
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him. This proves that the man’s reply was sincere. This man’s good background is in sharp contrast with the children who came to Jesus.
Then Jesus said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (v. 21).
It is a good thing to keep the commandments – loving one’s neighbours and not mistreating them. However, gaining eternal life or entering into God’s kingdom is not something that good works can earn. Rather, Jesus wanted the man to reprioritise his life, that is, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Jesus was not saying that having property was wrong, so becoming impoverished was right. Jesus’ emphasis was on “come, follow Me.”, because he is the one who is able to give eternal life to people.
However, “those who follow me” or “those who are disciples of the Lord” must lay down everything that they depended upon, especially material possessions, and leave it all at the throne of the Lord.
Jesus challenges each one of us by issuing different demands and callings according to our specific situation and weaknesses. The reason He challenged this man to “sell all that you have and give it to the poor” was that material possessions were what this man needed to give up.
The concept of “selling all that you have and giving it to the poor” also reflects the ethics of the kingdom of God. It is not sufficient to just avoid mistreating others but one should go one step further to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others. But Jesus promised us that we will have treasures in heaven. Thus, we do not actually lose anything.
Will this man let go of all the things that he relied upon and be open to the Lord Jesus, obeying His words and following Him, like the children who were fragile and had nothing to rely upon?
The Bible tells us that this man was “disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v. 22).
A person who ran up, knelt, inquired of the way to eternal life, understood and observed the commandments, and even loved by Jesus, seem to be the perfect candidate for the kingdom of God. Yet it was the children, the ones who were passively led to Jesus and were rejected by the disciples, whose end result were to be in the bosom of Jesus. By contrast, the end result for the man was, undoubtedly, one of sad reversal.
The man had many possessions and these entangled him so much so that he could not summon up the courage to break free from them. For to him, selling everything was a price too high to pay. People normally see visible treasures, but take lightly the invisible treasures of heaven. Possessions became his idol which replaced God. He broke the first and greatest commandment!
The hindrance to this man’s entrance into God’s kingdom stemmed from his unwillingness to let go of the possessions that he depended upon. For those who are without material possessions, the things that you may be unwilling to let go of could be your talent, power, knowledge, position, pride, hatred, past hurt, certain relationships, addictions and etc. Those who are determined to embrace these things will find it hard to follow Jesus and thereby lose out on eternal life.
After the man left, Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (10:22).
The disciples were amazed by Jesus’ words because the Jews, in those days, believed that wealth was the evidence of God’s favour and the sign of His acceptance. How then can it be that the wealthy are the ones who have difficulty entering God’s kingdom? Also, isn’t it always easier for the rich to do anything compared to ordinary people?
But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (vv. 24-25)
Jesus wants us to see that the difficulty of entering into God’s kingdom is not limited to the rich but also extends to everyone. Anything that we see as equally precious as possessions were to the rich man is sufficient to hinder us from entering the kingdom of God.
When the disciples heard this, they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).
It is not possible for human beings to save themselves. We can only be saved by relying upon God’s doing. For all things are possible with God.
Entrance into God’s kingdom is initiated by God and human beings need to be like children who believe, accept, and consent to God’s rule. To the degree that a person is more conditional, or having their own plans, or finding it hard to let go of themselves; to that degree this person can only sorrowfully leave the kingdom of God.
Today, what is this “one thing you lack” that the Spirit is speaking to your heart?
Friends, your weaknesses, shortcomings, anything that you holding on to, anything that hinders you to follow Jesus on the way; come, lay them down before the Lord. You need to let go of your obsessions, ie: talent, power, knowledge, position, pride, hatred, past hurt, past failure, certain relationships, addictions ; and committing all to the Lord.
All things are possible with God! Don’t depend on yourself, depend on God! Be like the children who solely depend upon God’s grace by coming to Jesus for help and blessing. As you come before Christ, He will immediately embrace you, lay His hands upon you, bless you, and make you a more than conqueror in His kingdom here and now!
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen