Week of March 6

Make Your Life and Church a Retreat for Others

Read: Numbers 32-33; Mark 10
“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.’”
Mark 10:14, ESV


Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “The soul is healed by being with children.” The disciples ironically sought to prevent Jesus from walking the road of suffering and death and now they want to keep Him from trouble and fatigue. They were insensitive to many things that the Spirit would later correct (cf. Acts 2). Jesus wanted children to come to Him because “children in their receptivity and dependence exemplify the characteristics of those who possess God’s Kingdom” (Wessel, EBC). Jesus gathers the little ones into His arms and models what He wishes for us to practice—respect for human dignity. Each person contributes to the larger social context and each one is here for a God-given purpose. Children contribute to community. Let’s see how God challenges our entitlement in this passage today.

Understanding the Bible Context

The path to discipleship
Some described the wider section that includes 8:22-10:52 as a journey to Jerusalem, meaning the material lays the groundwork for the road to the crucifixion. This approach to the context bears some significance; however, we also need to see that Mark is concerned with discipleship, especially with reference to relationships (NAC). The gospel writer focuses on marriage (10:1-12), children (10:13-16), rich people (10:17-27), and church leaders (10:28-31, 35-45). The entire chapter helps us to live out our discipleship in relationship with others. We certainly may benefit from this instruction, don’t you think?
The kind of people who may enter God’s kingdom
Sometimes the disciples appear to stretch Jesus’ patience to the limit. We see this tension here because He responds to them in this circumstance with upset (10:14, “indignant”). We may translate this as “he grew indignant,” or “he got angry” (cf. 1:41; 3:5). Mark already has thrown back the curtain to show us the disciples’ lack of understanding (cf. Mark 8-9). I believe in this case that we must not overlook their lack of sensitivity. Follow with me carefully. Jesus makes “whole disciples,” and He knew that the Twelve not only lacked “understanding” but also were not showing the right “heart.” Both head and heart would be required to live as Kingdom citizens and to take the love of God to the world. Truly, this sensitivity begins at home with our little ones, doesn’t it?
A laboratory in Kingdom readiness
It was customary among Jews to bring children to great men to have them blessed (10:13; EBC). The young ones who had been brought to Jesus were likely children between infancy and the age of twelve. On one level, this was a somewhat similar response to Peter that we see in 8:32, though not as serious. Peter wanted previously to shield Jesus from suffering and death, but here the disciples sought to protect Him from hassle and fatigue. Either way they missed the Kingdom significance in the moment.
Practical theology at work
On a deeper level, Jesus’ attention given to these children reminds us that there are no outcasts and unimportant people in the Kingdom of God (10:13; cf. HNTC). We often tell people that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross” when, in fact, we are looking for a ladder to step above others who are there. Children in their “receptivity and dependence” demonstrate, however, the nature of persons who possess the Kingdom of God (cf. EBC). It’s fair to doubt me, but not Jesus. Let’s see what He says next. Jesus’ solemn “I tell you the truth” provides us with a clear picture of what God requires. We receive the Kingdom like children receive. Yes, we do receive it as a gift, but we fail miserably when we do not “enter into this realm” as a way of life.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

The theology of the entire passage provides us with what we often “sense” to be lacking in our churches. We determine that a church is “cold” or “unfriendly,” so we add extra fellowships to the calendar! I like punch and cookies (Girl Scout, Thin Mints!), but this misses the point. The church is not like a club where you are “sworn in,” then are considered a member in good standing if you remain current on your dues (tithes) and volunteer on workdays. Christ opposes such a spirit of entitlement in Kingdom citizens. Our standing with Him is simply experienced by His standing in our place. In other words, our receptivity by God is not ever deserved.

Let me illustrate my thought. There was a person in one of the churches that I served who handed me a set of keys to a retreat place where my family could go whenever we had free time to slip away. He and his wife never asked me to return those keys. I still have them in fact to this day, and I pray for that family each time I see those keys. I have been forever grateful for the gift, even though I only used it one time when I was writing my dissertation. That was a blessing that I had neither earned nor deserved.

I bet that you are thinking, “Wow, I wish I had that kind of friend.” True! And we do. Our Savior has opened the door that leads to eternal life and has given it as a gift to those who will receive it as such. You are probably saying, “Sweet story, but yawner of a devotional, if this is the point.” I agree, so read on.

So many of you who know me well will know that I have not finished yet. Seriously, the devotional really begins just beyond the Thin Mints (re-read above). The Kingdom point is not only to share the attitude that I shared above—thankful for an unearned and undeserved gift. The point is to practice the same spirit as the giver of the gift! I do not own a rural retreat home, but I do have ways to provide people with refuge in my home and church. That makes all the difference in how you and I understand the Kingdom and who we see as being worthy of entering it. It also makes all the difference in how you and I turn God’s “frozen chosen” churches into true sanctuaries for the broken and needy.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. This passage hopefully catapults us beyond only the “I’ve received Jesus into my heart” stage in our growth. It should challenge us to make evident in our attitudes and actions that He controls our heart in all ways. You receive in order to live in the same realm throughout your life.

Write down some areas of your Christian life to which you claim entitlements. It may be as simple as “your seat” in the auditorium or as complex as using your money or political pressure to exert your will on the church. Put off the entitlement in your thinking and actions. It hinders the access others need to come to Christ.

2. For Families: As parents, we can imagine how infinitely precious it would have been had one of our children been the little one Jesus swooped up and held upon His lap to teach His disciples a lesson. How He loved children! I can imagine His strong arms and gentle ways and deep love that saw not only the child in His embrace then, but also who the child was to become. Such incredible affirmation of worth and dignity!

We have been encouraging our children to be “Gospel Kids,” and incorporating this identity into their individual developing sense of self. Something else we can do is to help our children dream of, or visualize, what they might like to do and be for Christ as they grow older. We as parents could make a diverse list of ten or twelve inspiring people who have excelled both in their Christian lives and in their careers. Make an appointment at their workplace or home and take your child to meet these splendid role models. Invite strong and vibrant Christians into your home and dinner tables, showing your children by their examples how they can fulfill their own callings. Christ placed our children on the earth for a specific Kingdom purpose. He saw children as persons full of potential. We can do the same.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock