Toddling Toward the Kingdom

Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”


My colleague John Grimm, a LifeTalk contributor, wrote last Thursday about the importance of transmitting the gospel from generation to generation. And it’s clear from today’s text that Jesus sees little children as having a special ability to hear the gospel.

Over the years, I have had parents tell me of their children declaring at age 5 or 6 that they believe in Jesus. Often, the parents want to know if I think the belief is somehow “real.”

Yes, it’s real. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to grow to adulthood, make a comparative study of religions and take philosophy classes before we are qualified to believe. We need to grow as disciples throughout our lives, but faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise.

It was difficult for Jesus to go to the cross, but that’s because out of love for humanity he was doing all the work, bearing the burden of every sin committed. Salvation is simple for us because all we have to do is believe in the work’s effectiveness. Jesus loves me, this I know, and for a child, salvation is a straightforward proposition.

Theologically, we do have much to work through as we get older. Concepts like soteriology (how salvation works) and theodicy (the answer to why evil continues to persist) are enough to keep our minds busy for a lifetime. But even the complicated questions require simple, childlike faith as a starting point in the search for answers.

Blessed are the children. Blessed are all who come to Christ with childlike wonder.

Lord, help us to recover and maintain the faith of a child, even as we make our way through the complicated world of adulthood. Amen.

From Glory to Horror to Hope

Matthew 2:13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

So strange—at this point in the Christmas story, we’ve heard of angelic announcements and a virgin birth, events so miraculous they’re highlighted in the night sky, drawing wise men from distant lands. And then this horror happens.

As terrible as the slaughter of these innocent children is to contemplate, perhaps the account does help us process the horrors we have seen. It’s not unusual for people to ask, “How can God let such things happen?”

Well … evil remains in the world, doesn’t it? Satan and all beings who follow Satan’s lead see their impending destruction in Christ’s arrival. Their ongoing response is one of fury, an unleashing of the irrational anger at the core of their being.

Like Herod, any self-centered human can experience how frustration leads to anger, and anger can turn violent. There’s also a general brokenness to the world, the result of uncountable generations of sinful decision-making going back to the original break between humanity and God.

So even at the time of the birth of Christ, horrors persisted. And horrors will persist, for a time.

God has provided the solution, though. Somehow, the solution even will be mysteriously retroactive, wiping away every tear, to quote Revelation 21:4. We also can look to the concluding verses in Jeremiah 31:15-17, to which Matthew alluded after telling the tale of the Bethlehem children:

“There is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.”

The work of Christ does not yet relieve us of the horrors we have witnessed or experienced, but it will. That great truth, mysterious as it is, should give us hope in all circumstances.

Lord, as we confront the dark realities of our world, give us a deeper understanding of how very temporary you will prove them to be. Amen.

The Well-Guarded Path

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 1 (NRSV)

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.

They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Understand God’s will and live according to it, and you will find joy, prospering in all you do. Ignore God’s will, and life will be misery and loss. It is a classic theme of wisdom literature from the Near East.

On the surface, these are beautiful ideas, concepts that fit our desire for justice. Without further development, though, they can at times seem quite empty.

If Psalm 1 represented the only theme of Scripture, I would have long ago discarded my study of the Bible. The idea being expressed does not consistently match the reality of what we observe.

Too often, seemingly good people suffer. Too often, the wicked flourish. Fortunately, Psalm 1 is just one part of an elaborate picture.

The Book of Job is an equally ancient piece of wisdom literature, and it takes us in a whole different direction. You may remember the story of Job. As it begins, he fits the pattern described in Psalm 1. He is a righteous man, walking with God and prospering mightily in terms of family and wealth.

The problem arises when Satan goes to God and speculates that Job is righteous simply because life is so good for him. Let me strike at him, Satan says, and Job will curse you, God. First, Satan is allowed to strike Job’s possessions and family. Later he’s allowed to strike at Job himself, afflicting him with terrible diseases.

In all of this, Job does not curse God, and he does not relent in his assertion to friends that he has done nothing wrong. He does complain mightily at times, though, and once he begins, he moves beyond his own problems and complains about how the wicked flourish and abuse the righteous, including orphans and widows, and God seems to do nothing.

You reach a story like Job’s in Scripture, and you realize the Bible deals with some very deep subjects. We may not find satisfying answers in Job to these deep questions about evil’s persistence, but at least the questions are asked. (There is a hint in Job 19 regarding the answer to come centuries later.)

This is why it is so important for us to engage with the Bible continually throughout our lives. If we hear what seem like simple stories and lessons as children, but never return to the Bible as we experience more complex lives, we will think Scripture is irrelevant. And in the process, we will miss so much that is useful as we grow older.

When Jesus arrives in the Bible story, his teachings help us wrestle with the deeper questions while simultaneously emphasizing the early truths we have learned.

Parables are a good example. Jesus uses them to perplex us until we ponder for a while, and in pondering we discover powerful new truths. Through Jesus, we learn that God loves us in ways the Jews had scarcely imagined. God pours out on the world what seems, from our perspective, to be a most illogical love, a love unearned and undeserved.

At the same time, Jesus teaches us to never let go of what we learned from the start. We are to come to God with the faith of a child.

Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, it is possible for us to be placed on God’s holy path simply by believing. That alone is enough to align us with God. We are made righteous and good even though we don’t deserve these labels, and all we have to do is remain firmly planted in the grace God offers. And by the way, in the end, right and wrong will be sorted out.

Psalm 1 is true. It simply needs to be read in the context of the whole Bible story.

Lord, may we rest in a secure understanding that you are the source of righteousness, and then live accordingly. Amen.