Heaven: Why The Divine Nursery Matters

heaven-1We have a ton of images about heaven in our head, but few of them include a divine playground. Jesus says that the kingdom of belongs to little children. Think about this. Christ does not compare the kingdom of God and acceptance into the kingdom upon to our great choirs. He does not compare entrance into the kingdom of God to the great preachers. No, Jesus says that we get the best feel for heaven when we go to the nursery. When we spend time loving and caring for little children, then we begin to see what heaven will look like.

How strange. Today, children are not viewed to be blessing by our culture. They are viewed to be a burden and a cost. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average parent will spend $233,610 to raise a child. Children are viewed in terms of costs. Being expensive, children quickly become a threat to their future parents’ financial, career, and life goals. Consequently, parents delay having children. According to the New York Post, the number of live births per 1,000 women in the U.S. has dropped 9 percent, while the number of small dogs has ballooned to over 40.8 million. As one pet mom said, “Dogs are better!” She is not alone. On the other side of the spectrum, the new slogan goes, “Cats not Brats.”

So why go back and focus on children? Why go back and focus on these helpless little burdens who do nothing but demand time and attention that should be devoted to our goals, hopes and dreams? Why in the world would Jesus make such a comparison?

Jesus makes such a comparison because we are prideful human being who forget our place in the universe. We forget that we are helpless before God.  We need to focus on children because Jesus saves. If we miss the beauty and the value of Children, we will miss the beauty of heaven and of Christ. According to Mark 10:13-16, we need to approach Jesus as a child because Jesus saves.

To come to Jesus as a child, we must abandon the disciples and our propensity for self-worth because Jesus saves. When the mothers with young children (padawans) approach Jesus, the disciples rebuke them. The word rebuke is the same word Jesus uses when he encounters and cast out demons in Mark 1:25 and 9:25. This is a harsh command of separation. They are clearly demarking who Jesus has time for and who Jesus does not have time for. The blessings of Jesus’ touch were to be reserved for those who deserved his blessing and the privilege of being with God. Children were not worth of such an invitation. Thus, the disciples rebuked them.

To understand why the disciples arrived at this conclusion, we need to reflect some on Jewish culture. The Jews and the disciples saw children as a disruption to the advancement of the kingdom. They had the idea that Jesus wanted to only spend time and devote time to people who could help him in his mission. They held to a mantra that Jesus helps those who can help him. 

Consequently, Peter offers to build Jesus a tabernacle on the mount of transfiguration, they are stunned when the rich young walks away, and James and John want to sit on Jesus right and left hand. The disciples were all about networking with people who could help God do God’s plan.

In the process, they became prideful and missed the whole point of the gospel. They essential are acting on the idea that God needs them. They are part of the twelve because they have something to offer to God. They are special.

michael-mims-130838We often tend to view life the same way. We will tell people that they are so special that God died on the cross for them. We say that God died so that you could be happy, have a good marriage, and find a great job. We say things like: “God needs you. Without you, God cannot reach the nations. Without us, God cannot accomplish his goal to seek and safe the lost. Brother, sister, friend, I am so glad God saved you because together we can do so much.”

With this mindset, we charge after the talented. We want every Championship coach to be saved so that they can speak at our banquets. We want our Presidents to pray so that we can finally have a Christian nation. We want the wealthy man or woman to come to our church so that we can finally build a new worship center. We want to devote all our energies to ministering to and to reaching those who can greatly help us, our churches and our families.

We like the disciples do not have time for the children and for the helpless. They are a burden a distraction from our vision statements and our growth. We don’t have time for ‘brats’ because we are focused on the good people of this world.  Like society, we can be tempted to devalue children, because we fashion ourselves as being self-sufficient.  We see ourselves as co-pilots with Christ. And so we rebuke the little children who want to be with the creator. We think we have done God a great service.

But we have not. Jesus gets angry with the disciples. He becomes enraged. The disciples strong reaction is meet by an equally strong reaction from our savior.  The text says, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant” (Mark 10:14a). Jesus was angry with the disciples because he never came to seek and save the self-righteous. Jesus never sought out people because he needed them. No man, woman or child can offer anything to God. Jesus did not come to collect his A team. He came to save the sick. As he said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is mad at the disciples because they have missed represented the gospel. They have given the impression that heaven is comprised of self-righteous men and women who can boast of all they have down for God. In reality those people are not in heaven. They are in hell.

Because the gospel has been misrepresented, Christ cannot remain silent. Truth hangs in the balance, people’s souls hang in the balance. And so, he speaks.

Starting in verse 14, we read: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Jesus cannot tolerate the view of the disciples. We must not tolerate it because their view is a distortion of reality because Jesus saves. And because salvation is not based on our works and on our abilities to contribute to the kingdom of God, Jesus saves all the little children who die.

Those who die before they can grasp the gospel are in heaven because Jesus saves. Yes, their bodies are tainted by sin. If they were free of sin, they would not die since death is a byproduct of sin. And, yes in some cases, those little souls did willfully sin before death. We have all seen a little one cry selfishly or hit their mom in anger. But salvation is a free gift of God. Jesus saves not because these kids are worth it, but because he loves them and covers their sin with the righteousness of Christ. God pays for their sins on the cross and they are in heaven because they have trusted Christ.

Writing to a family who recently lost a little baby, John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, said, “I hope you are both well reconciled to the death of your child. I cannot be sorry for the death of infants. How many storms they escape! Nor can I doubt, in my private judgement, that they are included in the election of grace.”

I agree. God saves children and can freely do so because the disciples got salvation wrong. Salvation is not based on us. It is based on Christ.  Because of God’s grace, heaven is in large part the nursery for infants. As John MacArthur notes,

“If children are not readily and fully received into the kingdom of heaven, the analogy to spiritual conversions would be a very poor one. As it is, the analogy is a great one! Children are readily accepted into the kingdom.”

Friends, we cannot cling to our pride, we cannot assume that we have something to offer to God, and we cannot pretend to be self-sufficient if we hope to get into heaven. The kingdom of God is not a senior adult home for weary saints who worked hard nor is it a home for the brave fighters of old like Valhalla who strove valiantly against the world. It is a home for humble infants. Do not be like the disciples here and cherish your works because Jesus saves.

If we are not to boast in our accomplishments, what are we to do?

We are to be like children because Jesus saves. In verse 15, we read: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” To be right with God, we have to view our works and our ideas correctly. We Jesus tells us to be like children, he is not calling us to be innocent. Rather such a call would point to self-works to purging’s, to great feats of human strength. But as we just looked at this is not Jesus mission. As James Edwards said,

“If we assume that Jesus commends children because of their innocence, purity, acceptability, or even spontaneity, then we must conclude that the disciples acceptability in God’s kingdom depends on similar virtues. But, as Mark’s depiction of the disciples makes repeatedly clear, that I exactly what they are not, nor are we.” 

As the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If Infants be saved it is not because of any natural innocence. They enter heaven by the same way we do: they are received in the name of Christ.” 

Rather, the call to be a child is a call to helplessness. The disciples are right to assume that the children have nothing to offer Jesus. What they get wrong is their ability. Like the children they have nothing to offer the heavenly father. They are just as worthless as the tiny little children. But, they do not realize it. This is the difference between the children and the disciples, between the children and the Rich Young Ruler, and between the inhabitants of heaven and the residents of hell. The first understand that they bring nothing to God. The second still think they can save themselves.

To embrace Jesus as our savior, we must embrace Jesus and Jesus alone as a child. We must humbly admit that we are sinners. We must agree with Isaiah and declare, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like polluted garments. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (64:6). When we get to this point and only when we get to the point of humbly depending on God to save us like a child can we enter the kingdom of heaven. They are no prideful, self-righteous people in heaven. There are only children and men and women who are like children. We have to trust Christ and Christ alone to save us. Our boast is the cross. We become nothing and Christ becomes everything. We submit our thoughts, our words, and our actions are all to his divine authority.

The world finds this message offensive. It finds children offensive because they remind us of this truth: We are not God. Children call us to repent. They call us to realize that our good deeds will not save us. The message calls us to admit that our cars, our trips, and our crazy experiences will not satisfy. It is a call to submit to the God of the universe, crying out, “God save me. I am a sinner.” But it is a call, we hate. It is a call we cannot embrace without the aid of the Holy Spirit. But it is the call we have to embrace if we want to enter heaven.

It is good for us to have children, to work with children and to welcome them into our church services. Because as they struggle with eating, with sitting still, and with obeying commands, we grasp a sense of our own condition. We see our frailty, our propensity for foolishness, and our need for our heavenly father to shepherd us through life. I fear that we often want children out of sight and out of mind, because we want to think ourselves sufficient for our spiritual lives. We want to focus on the flashy ministries that are praised in Christian media. We do not want to be reminded of our weakness and need for divine help. Don’t flee from your condition. Embrace it, embrace children, and humbly follow after Christ, proclaiming yourself to be nothing and Christ to be everything.

And the great truth of this passage and of the gospel is that all who go to Jesus as a child will be saved. Notice verse 16, “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying hands on them.” If we humble ourselves, we will not be rejected. All kinds of prideful pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons will be rejected by God. But all those even the most insignificant of us who humbly embrace Christ while no one is watching will be welcomed into the arms of Christ. He will embrace the children as his sons. He will bless them with the blessing of Christ. And he can do this and do it fairly because he has paid for every single sin we have committed.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Christ has made a way for the humble to enter the kingdom of God. He offers salvation and entrance into heaven. But to get there, we must do the unthinkable. We stop trusting in our good works and humbly embrace Christ as a child. Are we ready to enter heaven as little children?

Pilgrim’s Progress: The Original Religious Journey

piglrims-progess-journey“We are on a journey” is a phrase tossed about frequently in today’s religiously minded world. We are on a search for meaning and significance. Many think their journey is an uncertain trip whose destinations rapidly changes according to the times and events of the universe.

I too enjoy employing the journey language when talking about spiritual things. Despite our best efforts this journey is not one of our making. As John Bunyan shows in his beautiful allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, God ordained that all of humanity would set forth from the City of Destruction, Vanity Fair, or some other worldly place. And God decreed that we all will arrive at one of two places: Hell or the Celestial City. As Good Will once told Christian, “Yes, there are many ways Butt down upon this: and they are Crooked and Wide; But thus thou may’st distinguish the right from wrong, That only being the straight and narrow.”

Admittedly, we can arrive at both Hell and Heaven through a variety of circumstances. As Bunyan wrote,

I saw that there was to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.

Many choose the broad way and are crushed into Hell as they search for silver in Demas’ cave. Others are ushered into Beelzebub’s kingdom as they chase after the worldly glory sold at Vanity Fair. And still others venture barely outside of the City of Destruction, like Pliable, and are consumed when the Lord returns in judgement.

But some stay on the narrow path. They get to Heaven by being burned at the stake like Faithful. Others struggle poorly through life as Little Faith did. And others walk faithfully through the waters of death like Christian and Hopeful.

Regardless of their religion, philosophy, or hopes, no man, woman, or child found another ending to their journey. Mr. Legality, Mr. Atheist, and Mr. Talkative cannot will another destination into existence. All arrived at either Hell or Heaven. All must decide if they will love this world or the one true God.

And now we must face the questions that Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress seeks to answer. How do we get to the Celestial city? How do we escape the wrath to come?

The Story Begins

First, we must recognize that we are sinners. We must recognize like Christian, the Hero of the story, did that he stands in judgment. We must understand that because our sin, we deserve death and God’s wrath.  As Romans 6:23 makes clear: “The wages of sin is death.”

dangerous-jouney-6We must ask with Christian, “What shall I do to be saved?”

And we must realize that we do have a large burden of sin on our back that weighs us down composed of all our lies, hateful words, evil thoughts and actions. And we must recognize that we can do nothing to remove it. We cannot say enough good things to get rid of our sin. We cannot go to church enough to make God overlook our sin. Mr. Legality and World Wiseman cannot save us. We must appeal to God for salvation.   And then we must flee our place of origin, our sinful nature, and put our fingers in our ears and run, crying “Life, Life, Eternal Life.”

We must embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior. To do so, we must believe as did Hopeful, one of Christian’s friends on the journey, that:

Christ Jesus came into the World to save sinners. He is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believers. He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification: He loved us, and washed us from our sin in his own blood: He is the Mediator between God and us.

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).

We must realize that we are under the law, and then we must trust Christ to redeem us from the law through his death. We must believe that Jesus saves. And, we must kneel before the cross like Christian did.

And when we do, we will experience great relief. Our burden like Christian’s will fall away. Our worldly ragged clothes stained by sin will be replaced with heavenly garments.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Corinthians 5:21

The moment we believe, we are fully redeemed, saved, and children of God. Nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love.

The Story Continues

Although we are citizens of the heavenly city, our journey does not end at salvation.

When Christian was at Interpreter’s house, he watched many dramas unfold. One such drama takes place outside of a castle guarded by strong soldiers. Many people wanted to go into the castle. But no one dared challenge the guards standing by the door. Finally, “a man of a very stout countenance” came up and told the man at the gate write down his name in the book of life (p.33). And then the stout man began to fight his way through the guards who attacked him, “with deadly force” (p.33). But the man was not discouraged by the wounds he received. And he fought on into the palace and was clothed with eternal glory.

In short, Bunyan understood that the Christian life was a battle. The pilgrim’s journey was difficult one that would require divine resolve. As Bunyan wrote, all those who follow Christ will can expect to experience,

Wearisomness, Painfulness, Hunger, Perils, Nakedness, Sword, Lions, Dragons, Darkness; and in a word death

And the concerns that Mr. World-Wiseman’s mentioned to Christian become very real. As the story unfolded, Christian ran into many of these things. But what lay ahead of him was more than worthy of all of these sufferings.  And Christian knew that all those who persevered would enter the Celestial City.

As Christian traveled through this life he encountered many hardships. First, he met with Apollyon, the Prince of darkness. The Devil assailed Christian with accusations of his unworthiness for the Celestial City. Apollyon brought up many of Christian’s failings and encouraged him to once again submit. But by the power of God’s grace, the pilgrim refused to bow to the Devil, knowing he had already received the  “Pardon of my Prince.” And resting in God’s forgiveness, Christian fought with Apollyon for an whole afternoon.  Just as the Devil was about to kill Christian, Christian regained his sword and stabbed Apollyon in the liver, mortally wounding the devil.

The pilgrim then walked into the value of the shadow of death. Bunyan said it was a land for dry souls filled with “Hobgoblins, Satyrs, and Dragons of the pit…a continual howling and yelling, as of People under unutterable misery…. and Clouds of confusion.” It was a narrow, dangerous and dark way with pits and swamps on both sides that would swallow travelers. But as Christian cried out in prayer, he found hope and was able to survive this powerful trial and stay on the path.

Then Christian and his newly met friend, Faithful, walked into Vanity Fair, which the devil had placed in the way of the narrow path. And when the pilgrims refused to exchange Jesus for the love of the world, the people of the Fair put Christian and Faithful in prison. They pilgrims were tried as criminals. Faithful was condemned to death and was burned on the stake on the testimony of many false witness. But some towns people reported seeing a chariot take him to the Celestial city. A little while later, Christian escaped by God’s mercy and continued on the joinery.

Shortly thereafter, Christian met a new friend, Hopeful. Once, they wandered off the narrow path and dangerous-journey-doubting-castlewere captured by Giant Despair. The massive man of darkness threw the pilgrims into prison, starved them, and beat them repeatedly. Christian began to lose all hope and thought about committing suicide. But Hopeful reminded Christian of all that they had done by God’s grace. And then, Christian remembered that he had a key called promise. As they tried the key on the castle doors, the castle doors swung open. They escaped the depression and despair of this world by clinging to the hope that all Christians have in Christ and returned to the narrow way.

The two pilgrims encountered many other trials, blessing, and wayward souls. And Christian and Faithful fought through them all like the “stout man” in Interpreters House clinging to Lord of Heaven. They received many wounds along the way from both friends and foes. But at the end of the day, Hopeful and Christian were welcomed into the Celestial City after they crossed through the river death.

As Christian’s journey comes to an end, we cannot help and begin to think of our journey and where our destination lies. Are we traveling towards the pit of Hell or the heavenly hill? As we ponder the condition of our souls, I think we should all take time to consider Bunyan’s winsome words. We should as Bunyan said,

Put by the Curtains, look within my Vail:

Turn up my Metaphors and do not fail:

There is thou sleekest them, such things to find,

As will be helpful to an honest

What helpful things can Bunyan’s book yet teach us?

PS:

If you are interested I encourage you to read Pilgrim’s Progress. And if you live in the Eastman, GA area, I want to invite you to come experience the book first hand at our Reformation Festival on October 16, from 6:30-8PM. We will have a skit featuring John Bunyan and games that will help bring Apollyon, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle to life! I hope to see you there in your best Pilgrim’s Progress clothes!

reformation-festival-16