Posts tagged ‘Faith’

Grace. Period.

In Exodus 32, while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, one of which is a prohibition against idolatry, the Israelites are committing idolatry at the base of the mountain by worshiping a golden calf that mimics the gods they once saw while they were slaves in Egypt. When God sees what is happening with the Israelites while He is meeting with Moses, He is furious. He says to Moses:

I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. (Exodus 32:9-10)

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His ambassadors to a world broken by sin. Now He wants to start over with a new ambassador in Moses. But Moses argues for a different plan:

LORD, why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:11-13)

Moses intercedes for Israel, and God responds and relents:

The LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)

What is especially interesting is what Moses says to get God to relent. Moses argues two things: it will be bad for God’s international reputation to destroy Israel, and God will undo His prior promise to their forefathers about giving them many descendants. Moses does not, however, call on the grace of God, even though grace is what God ultimately shows. But what God shows in Exodus 32, He explicitly declares, two chapters later, in Exodus 34:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

There’s more to God than commands against sin. There is grace for sinners. And although commands are what we need for our own good, grace is how we can actually relate to God. Grace is when God says to us not, “I love you if…” “I love you if you keep My commandments.” “I love you if you keep yourselves from sin.” “I love you if you prove yourselves worthy of love.” Grace says none of these things. Instead, grace simply says, “I love you. Period.”

For those who have never heard that from anyone in your lives, this is the declaration of your Father in heaven. God may give commandments. But He lavishes grace. Strive to keep His commandments. But when you don’t, find your rest, remedy, and rescue in His grace.

September 20, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Perceiving and Understanding

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In Matthew 13, Jesus tells His disciples about a farmer who goes out one day to scatter seed. Some seed falls on a path, where it is eaten by birds. Other seed falls on some rocks, where it springs up, but then quickly dies. Other seed falls among the thorns, which proves also not to be fertile ground. Finally, some seed falls on good soil, where it springs up and yields a crop. In Jesus’ telling, the seed is His word and our hearts are different kinds of soil. We are to hear His word and let it take deep root in our hearts, like the good soil.

After He finishes His parable, Jesus’ disciples ask Him:

“Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

Jesus’ answer is insightful and unsettling all at the same time:

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:11, 13)

Jesus’ final line is an allusion to Isaiah 6:9. The disciples, Jesus says, unlike the crowds who listen to His parables, see Him and perceive who He actually is. They hear Him and understand what He is actually saying.

But not all the time.

In Luke 24, after Jesus has risen, He appears to two of His disciples while they are walking along a road, but they do not recognize Him. They see Jesus, but they do not perceive who He is. Jesus then asks them what they are talking about. Ironically, they are talking about Him – His death and reports of His resurrection. Jesus responds by explaining to them how the Scriptures forecast, foretell, and point toward Him. But they still don’t get it. They hear Jesus, but they do not understand what He is saying. They are those of whom Isaiah once spoke. The disciples in Luke 24 are behaving like the crowds in Matthew 13.

One of the struggles of the Christian faith is that no matter how much we study, learn, experience, or walk with Jesus, we still have blind spots. There are things we see, but don’t perceive – hear, but don’t understand. Even if we are disciples, we still have a bit of crowd in us.

Walking in faith, then, means “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). It means admitting that for all we may assume we see and know, there’s still plenty of room to grow. But this limitation also leaves blessedly endless room for maturation. This is one of the reasons Christians have been studying the Bible and meditating on the life of Jesus for millennia and are still learning. The treasures of God are inexhaustible.

After Jesus explains how the Scriptures point to Him, the disciples invite Him over for supper, still clueless to who He is. But then:

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. (Luke 24:30-31)

The disciples perceived and understood anew. This is an experience that can happen for us, too. So, keep seeking to perceive and understand. Jesus will open your eyes as you break bread with Him and He breaks bread for you.

September 6, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Meeting With God

Jacob's Ladder, Bible, Line Art, Landscape, Biblical
Credit: maxpixel.net

There is an interesting line in Galatians about how Moses received God’s law:

The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)

When God gave the law to Moses, He mediated it through angels.

Angels regularly serve as mediators between God and people. When God has a message to deliver to a young maiden named Mary about how she will bear God’s Son, He delivers it through an angel. When God wants to notify her husband-to-be that the son in his fiancé is miraculously conceived, He sends an angel to deliver the news. When God wants to take the apostle John on a tour of heaven, He does so using an angel.

In Genesis 28, Jacob is at a low point in his life. He has become a fugitive from his home and family because he stole the family inheritance that rightly belonged to his older brother, who, when he found out, vowed to make Jacob pay with his life.

One night, while Jacob is camping out in the middle of nowhere, he has a dream:

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

As theologian Richard Bauckham points out, the stairway Jacob sees is probably climbing the side of a ziggurat, which was a tower commonly built in ancient Mesopotamia that was meant to “touch heaven,” as it were, so that the peoples of that day could ascend it and meet with their gods.

But Jacob’s dream comes with a twist. As in so many other dreams and visions, there are these angels, who one assumes are there to mediate Jacob’s meeting with God as he climbs the stairway on the ziggurat. But this dream is different:

There beside him stood the LORD, and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13)

In Jacob’s dream, God is not at the top of the ziggurat, waiting for angels to mediate his meeting with Jacob. Instead, He has come to the bottom of the ziggurat – to where Jacob is – to stand “beside him” and to meet with him directly.

When Jacob realizes what has happened, he declares:

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)

It turns out that Jacob is only partially correct in his analysis of what has happened. Jacob believes the Lord was “in this place” – the place where Jacob happened to be sleeping that night. He perceives his meeting with God as a chance encounter. He just happened to stumble across the place where God was.

But this is not what God tells Jacob when He speaks to him in his dream. He does not tell him that He dwells in a place, but instead that He desires to dwell with His people:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15)

God has not bound Himself to a map, but to mortals. This is why when God wanted to demonstrate His presence most fully, He came to mortals in a mortal who brought immortality by His resurrection.

God is with us. We don’t need to climb a ziggurat or wait for an angel to meet with Him. For we have met God directly in His Son. What Jacob got a glimpse of, we have received the fullness of.

August 30, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Searching for Meaning in a Condo Collapse

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images via Newsweek

I first heard of the news about the collapse of Champlain Towers South, a condo complex on the beach in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday morning while staying in a condo complex on the beach in Port Aransas. The reports sounded ominous. The pictures that have emerged are dolorous. The number of people still missing is tortuous. And the reason for the building’s collapse remains mysterious.

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is natural for people to ask: Why? We have an intractable need to find meaning, even in the midst of what appears to be a desultory disaster. In our minds, a disaster is never just a disaster. There is always a reason behind it. There is always something we can learn from it.

This desire to find meaning in disaster is nothing new. The specific meanings we derive from disasters may change, but our search for some kind of meaning – any kind of meaning – remains. This search for meaning is what Jesus addresses when He references a tower collapse in His day and the meaning people had assigned to it:

Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

In Jesus’ day, there was an assumption that if a disaster befalls you, this indicates an especially grievous sinfulness had engulfed you. Jesus says that deriving this kind of a meaning from this kind of a disaster is wrongheaded. But just because this meaning cannot be derived from this disaster does not mean no meaning can be derived from any disaster.

So, what meaning can we rightly find in disaster?

Near the end of his life, Solomon, one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel, reflects on all he has done, experienced, and accomplished and compiles his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes. After much reflection, he arrives at this conclusion:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Though these words are quite famous, they also represent one of my least favorite translations in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the word translated as “meaningless” is hebel, which does not denote a lack of meaning, but instead describes transience. Hebel is a “vapor” or a “mist.” Solomon’s point, then, is this: just when we think we’ve taken a hold of something, it slips through our fingers. Solomon continues by offering a litany of things that slip through our fingers: wisdom, pleasure, hard work, and riches. And it is here with hebel that we find not meaninglessness, but some much-needed meaning in disaster. Disasters remind us that this life and everything in it is like a vapor or a mist. It slips through our fingers – sometimes when we least expect it, like when a tower shockingly crumbles. This life can be shorter than we care to admit.

So, what are we to do in light of life’s transience? On the one hand, Solomon says, this kind of transience should lead us to live joyfully in this day because we do not know whether another day awaits us:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

On the other hand, life’s transience should also lead us to search for something that is not transient – something that lasts. This is why Solomon says in the next verse:

I know that everything God does will endure forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

This life may not last. But what God does will. This means that when God sent His Son to bring life, He brought a life that lasts – a life that is eternal. Tragedy may remind us that this life doesn’t last. But God gives us hope for a life that does – a life that extends far beyond this one. And that’s not just meaning we can take from a tragedy like the Champlain Towers collapse; that’s hope we can have no matter what tragedy we may face.

June 28, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A “Giant” Exaggeration

Credit: Pikrepo

Yesterday, at the church where I serve, we kicked off a summer-long series on Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is situated at the end of the Israelites’ forty-year wandering in the wilderness and records Moses’ final instructions to them before his death.

As the book opens, Moses begins by reminding the Israelites that they have not always done so well honoring God. Indeed, the reason it has taken them forty years to arrive at the Promised Land from Egypt is because, when they first came to the Promised Land, they refused to go in. After sending a reconnaissance team of Israelite spies to check out their new home, the team issued a frightening report about the people living there, which Moses recounts:

The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there. (Deuteronomy 1:28)

The fact that the reconnaissance team saw Anakites there is interesting, to say the least. In their first-hand account, which we read in Numbers, the spies give us some more information about the lineage of the Anakites:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Numbers 13:33)

Hold on a second. They saw descendants of the Nephilim? That seems curious.

We first meet the Nephilim in Genesis 6:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days. (Genesis 6:4)

They are described as a wicked people and as part of the reason God sends a catastrophic flood to destroy humanity:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

This begs a question: if God sends a catastrophic flood to, in part, wipe out the Nephilim in their wickedness, what are they doing in the Promised Land during the time of Moses long after the flood?

It seems as though this reconnaissance team is engaging in a little exaggeration. This becomes apparent when the spies describe the size of the people they see in the Promised Land: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33). The average grasshopper is an inch tall. I’m five feet ten inches tall. This means, using my modest height as a standard sample, these men would have been 69 times my size, or nearly 397 feet tall.

Uh-huh.

So often, when there is something we don’t want to do – or, for that matter, when there is something we do want to do – we’ll exaggerate in an attempt to get our way. We’ll exaggerate and put the worst construction on what someone has said instead of a more plausible construction. We’ll exaggerate and only emphasize the positives of a purchase instead of taking a realistic look at the cost of what we want to purchase and soberly analyzing whether it is a smart financial move. We’ll exaggerate on social media and make our life or our vacation look better than it really is.

Let us learn from the Israelite spies and their very implausible description of the giants who were drowned in a flood. Exaggeration hurts us and those around us. We are called to be people of the truth. We do, after all, follow a Man who called Himself “the truth” (John 14:6). No exaggeration is needed with Him.

June 14, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Hard Way to Rest Easy

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According to Jesus, salvation is hard. A narrow way constricts entry into God’s kingdom:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

According to Jesus, salvation is easy. He invites us to lay down the hard and harrying burdens of this world and pick up His designedly light mantle:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Salvation is hard, Jesus says. And salvation is easy, Jesus says.

This, of course, begs a question: what is salvation, really – is it hard or is it easy? The answer is: both.

These two sayings of Jesus teach us that the hard road of salvation is the one that takes up Jesus’ easy yoke of rest. The human assumption is that, in order to be saved, we must not rest, but must instead work our way to salvation with our good works and noble character. In our day and age, we see this assumption play out in both the utopian delusions of progressive societies and in the repristination efforts of traditional ones. In both cases, we are the ones who can set our society and ourselves straight, or, to put it negatively, save our society and ourselves from those who are wrong. But, as the old apothegm goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Our good intentions and good works, when they are employed to save our society and ourselves, seem to have all sorts of unintended consequences that often do little more than further a cycle of decay and, ultimately, destruction.

The hard way of Matthew 7 is to lay down our fiercest fights and best efforts that constitute the common way – or, as Jesus calls it, the wide way – of our world’s attempts at salvation and instead walk in the narrow way of faith, trusting that Jesus has done the hard work of salvation for us on a cross and, in exchange, has provided us the easy yoke of rest in Matthew 11. This way of faith is humbling because it declares that we cannot save our society or ourselves. Instead, we are called to rest in the One who can.

Yes, we can still work on ourselves and for the good of our society. But salvation – that’s up to Jesus. And if we find ourselves tempted to try to save our society or ourselves because things seem so bad, let us never forget that the very moment when things looked the worst for Jesus – the very moment when it looked like He could not save anything or anyone, including Himself – was the very moment at which He was “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

All is not lost. We are not lost. May that promise help us rest easy.

May 10, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

God’s Presence in Pain

Gideon Gathering His Army” by Étienne Parrocel (1696–1776)

In Judges 6, the Midianites are warring with the Israelites. The Midianites are so successful in their campaign against Israel that the Israelites head for the hills – literally:

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. (Judges 6:2)

But God is preparing to rescue the Israelites from their oppressors. He appears to a man named Gideon and greets him with a flattering title and a promise of his presence:

The LORD is with you, mighty warrior. (Judges 6:12)

Gideon, however, is not dazzled, but dubious:

If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? (Judges 6:13)

Gideon’s question is a perennial one. When bad things happen to us, it is easy to assume that God has taken a leave of absence from us. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Gideon’s story opens with this setting:

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years He gave them into the hands of the Midianites. (Judges 6:1)

It turns out not that God was deserting the Israelites, but that the Israelites were rejecting Him. They were turning their backs on the Lord in sin. God sends suffering not because He has deserted Israel, but because He is appealing to Israel: “Repent and turn toward Me!” He wants the Israelites’ suffering to drive them into His arms.

Our suffering can be similar. People sometimes wonder if some suffering they are experiencing is a result of some sin they have committed, as is the case with the Israelites in Gideon’s time. Oftentimes, it is not. Commenting on a recent slaughter of Galileans by Pontius Pilate, Jesus asks:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! (Luke 13:2-3)

Jesus is clear that suffering need not be connected to a specific sin. But, in the final analysis, why suffering happens is far less important than what suffering can accomplish. It can drive us to God and strengthen our faith. As Peter writes:

Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Are you suffering? Are you troubled? God’s words to Gideon are also God’s words to you:

The Lord is with you.

God walks with you in suffering. You are not alone.

April 19, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why We Need Easter

Credit: Anna Shvets / Pexels.com

In an article for The Washington Post, Emma Pattee writes about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the reality of our mortality:

You probably remember where you were that day in March when you first realized that the novel coronavirus was something …

I remember where I was: driving to the gym for a Mommy & Me boot camp.

I pulled up to a red light and locked eyes with my 6-month-old baby in the rearview mirror. I felt unsettled and scared. I had an inexplicable urge to go home, and also to call everyone I knew and check on them. Yet nothing had happened. I was safe, healthy and employed. At that point, in mid-March, I was more likely to die of a car accident than of contracting covid-19 …

That eerie uncomfortable feeling has been described as grief. As fear. Or anxiety. But Sheldon Solomon, a social psychologist and professor at Skidmore College, has a more robust explanation: It is the existential anxiety caused by reminders of our own mortality.

Simply put, to function as a conscious being, it’s imperative that you be in denial about your impending death. How else would you go about the mundane aspects of your daily life – cleaning the gutters, paying the bills, sitting in traffic – if you were constantly aware of the inevitability of your own death?

Ms. Pattee goes on to cite studies that have found that we seem to be hardwired to fear death and to avoid thinking about it:

neurological study was published in 2019 about a mechanism in the brain that avoids awareness of a person’s own mortality and that categorizes death as something unfortunate that happens to other people. …

An Israeli study showed some participants a flier about death anxiety and others one about back pain. When subjects were then offered an alcoholic beverage, one-third of the death flier group bought alcohol vs. one-tenth of the back-pain group.

We don’t like death. And the day we celebrated yesterday – Easter – gives us an answer as to why.

Scripture’s story is that we were created not to die, but to live. But when our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into sin, they reaped the wage of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). But this wage disordered the way creation was designed to be. It was designed to be filled with life – not marred by death.

Our dislike and fear of death, then, can be rightly said to be a yearning for the way we know things “should be.” We should not have to mourn the loss of our loved ones. We should not have to struggle and suffer through a pandemic. We should not have to endure horrific acts of violence that lead to death like wars and mass shootings. We should not have to deal with death. We can sense that dealing with death is, in some way, profoundly unnatural.

This is why we need Easter. Easter is the beginning of a return to the way they were always supposed to be. As Timothy Keller puts it in his book Hope in Times of Fear:

The resurrection was indeed a miraculous display of God’s power, but we should not see it as a suspension of the natural order of the world. Rather it was the beginning of the restoration of the natural order of the world, the world as God intended it to be.

In other words, death is wrong. Resurrection is right. Life is what the world was designed for, which is why it’s what we yearn for. And our yearnings will be fulfilled.

Christ’s resurrection is not only a feat against death, but a forecast that death will not have the last word. Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul says, is a “firstfruits” of our own resurrections (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Christ is risen, we will rise. And death will die. This is the message and the promise of Easter.

I hope you celebrated Easter well yesterday. And I hope you’ll hold on to all that Easter is today – and every day.

April 5, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Jesus’ Love For Children Lost

Jesus Christ, Statue, Children, Catholic, Virginia
Credit: Pixabay

One of the most moving moments of being a pastor is sitting with a family who has just lost a child. Perhaps they had a miscarriage. Perhaps their baby never made it out of the NICU. Perhaps their child lost their life in a tragic accident. There are many questions that a family asks at a moment like this:

How could God allow this to happen?

Did this happen because we did something wrong?

But there is one question I want to focus on in this blog:

Is my child in heaven with Jesus?

This is a weighty question because it reaches beyond a parent’s present pain and cries out desperately for an eternal hope. It deserves our serious consideration.

There is a famous episode in Mark 10 that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

There is an interesting debate over Jesus’ words in verse 14 when He says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What is the referent of “such as these”? Some say the referent is found at the beginning of verse 14 in “the little children.” This means that Jesus is not only welcoming a particular group of little children into His arms at this moment, but making a broader declaration about how the kingdom of God belongs to many other little children who are like these but who are also beyond these. The phrase “such as these,” then, reminds us that “Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world.”

There are others, however, who argue that the phrase “such as these” is better informed by the word “anyone” in the next verse. In this interpretation, Jesus is not declaring that little children can enter His kingdom. Instead, He is only calling people in general to have a childlike faith. Though Jesus is certainly calling people to have a childlike faith in verse 15, syntactically, the specific referent of “such as these” is quite clear. In Greek, the word for the phrase “such as these” is tointoun, which is neuter. The word for the children who come to Jesus is paidia, which is also neuter. The word for “anyone” in verse 15 is hos, which is masculine. It is important to note that the genders of each of these words are incidental features of Greek syntax and not determinative of which genders of human beings can and cannot enter God’s kingdom. Syntactically, however, Greek pronouns and nouns do need to generally match in their genders. Thus, the first interpretation of which referent is the appropriate one for the phrase “such as these” is correct: it is children like the ones who are coming to Jesus in Mark 10 who can enter God’s kingdom. Age is no barrier to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Of course, I would not walk a grieving family who has just lost a child through the technicalities of the Greek syntax in Mark 10 like I did in this blog. But a careful consideration of the syntax is important for my pastoral ministry because it allows me to confidently proclaim:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

Just because a baby cannot intellectually assent to the great truths of the Christian faith does not mean they are barred from eternal life. Indeed, one of the reasons that adults can have a faith like a child is because there is such a thing as a faith of a child (cf. Matthew 18:6). Children – and even babies – can sing babbling praises to the Lord (Matthew 21:15-16). Babies – and even infants in the womb – can respond to God’s good news of a Messiah (Luke 1:41-42). A child lost to a parent does not mean a child lost to the Lord.

If you are reading this and you have lost a child, this I want you to know:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

You can have hope.

If you are reading this and you have a child or are expecting one, share with them God’s Word, even from the womb. Allow them to hear the voice of their Savior calling them. It’s never too early to teach the faith because it’s never too early for someone to have faith. And it is by faith that we live – and live eternally.

March 1, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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