The more famous, powerful, and wealthy someone grows to be, the less approachable and available they become. For example, just as most citizens are unable to walk into the office of the Prime Minister to casually discuss public policy so most Roman Catholics can’t schedule a dinner with the Pope to chat theology. Why? Because in our world, one measure of importance is inaccessibility.
But that’s not the case with Jesus. Indeed, he who is far more famous, powerful, wealthy, and important than anyone else grants total access to all who want it (e.g., Matt 11:28; John 7:37). Yet, many people—including many Christians—don’t take advantage of the invitation to himself that Jesus offers. Instead, we put barriers between us and him. We hinder the access we have to Christ and, inso doing, trade the peace, joy, and security of being in his presence with the fear, fatigue, and insecurity that comes with being estranged. How can we remove those obstructions so as to enjoy the privilege of unhindered access to the King?
The more famous, powerful, and wealthy someone is, the less approachable and available they are. That’s the way our world works.
Not one of us can stroll into Justin Trudeau’s office and ask for a few moments of his time. We don’t get to send a text to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon: “Hey, I’m missing a package. Could you check on that?” Even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to schedule a dinner with the Pope or a round of golf with Elon Musk. We don’t get to do those things. Why? Because in our world, one measure of importance is inaccessibility.
That’s not the case with the Jesus. He who is far more famous, powerful, wealthy, and important than anyone else who has ever lived grants unhindered access to all who want it (see 11:28; John 7:37b). Jesus has an open-door-policy.
Yet, many people (including many Christians) don’t take advantage of the invitation to himself that Jesus offers. Instead, we put barriers between us and him. We hinder the access we have to Christ and, inso doing, exchange the peace, joy, and security of being in his presence with the fear, fatigue, and insecurity that comes with being estranged.
Today we’re going to be reminded of the unhindered access we have to Jesus—now and forever—as well as some of the ways that we ignore and obscure it.
A Picture of Unhindered Access to Jesus
In this passage, Matthew creates a contrast between a group of children and a man of wealth. And it’s not hard to see that it’s the kids who provide us with a picture of unhindered access to Jesus.
Notice that, in verse 13, children were brought to Jesus. This is a passive verb meaning they’re completely dependant. These minors don’t come on the basis of their abilities, worth, reputation, morality, or credentials. They’re brought to him so that he might lay his hands on them (again, passive) and be prayed for by him (passive). The children are just along for the ride. They’re brought to be blessed.
After the disciples try and play security for him, Jesus responds (v. 14). This will become clearer as we examine the other side of the contrast, but for now notice who’s given unhindered access to Jesus and the coming kingdom—children who’ve done nothing but rest in those who brought them and rest in him who blessed them. They are welcomed. They are prayed for. They are unhindered in his presence.
I don’t know about you, but when I read that I’m filled with what I hope is a righteous jealousy. I want what those children, by no fault of their own, got to experience. Don’t you?
Tomorrow I’ll open my calendar and try to process the week ahead. I may check the bank account to make sure the Boyd family is still on track. I’ll remind myself of the ever-growing to-do list at our home, my seemingly unobtainable responsibilities as a parent and spouse. Then I’ll look at the state of the world. Ugh. Then I’ll look at the state of my heart. Ugh. There’s still so much sin to deal with, confession to make, apologies to give, more Bible to study, prayers to offer. I’m tired!
I want what those children got to experience: carried to the loving embrace of Jesus to receive blessing, affirmation, and intercession. I want that tranquility, simplicity, and security. I want that unhindered proximity to Christ. I’m sure I’m not alone.
An Example of What Hinders Access to Jesus
So, why don’t we have it? I’m a Christian. You’re a Christian. Why don’t we experience what these passive little humans got to experience? Well, as we keep reading we get some answers as we find, in the rich man, an example of what hinders access to Jesus.
And immediately we feel the difference. While the children were brought to Jesus to receive from Jesus, the man came on his own to find out what he could do (v. 16). It’s a drastically different tone.
Now, I’m not saying he’s being disingenuous. In fact, I think we find that he’s very sincere. As a Jew, he knows there’s eternal life and he’s heard Jesus may have some insights. But he assumes there’s something to accomplish, to contribute, to check off the religious to-do list in order to obtain it. While the children were passive, this guy is active and is ready to get active. “What good thing shall I do?”
Jesus, knowing the man’s heart and seeing another teachable moment for his disciples, responds (v. 17a). The man had brought up goodness, so Jesus hints at the fact that he’s asking the right person since only one is good, God, and he’s him. And it’s with that divine authority Jesus’s going to expose that which hinders access to himself (vv. 17b–19).
The Lord quotes some of the laws from the Ten Commandments and one from Leviticus, signalling that the answer to the question, “Which ones?,” is “All of them” (v. 20a).
Apparently, this guy missed the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus had ratcheted-up the demands of the law (see 5:21–22, 27–28). Like many first-century Jews, this man believed salvation came through obedience and felt the law was obey-able.
But, even so, he felt something was missing (v. 20b). It’s the question that made him find Jesus in the first place. Like many people who are convinced that eternal life comes through doing good, there is always the nagging, terrifying question, how much good is good enough? How much kindness is kind enough. How much do I have to honour my parents? How many sins do I have to avoid and to what extent? In their honest and vulnerable moments, those who understand salvation this way have to ask: What am I still lacking?
Maybe that’s you. You’ve always thought—and maybe been taught—that access to Jesus and his coming kingdom are all contingent upon your performance, your level of contrition and commitment, your attendance and obedience. If that’s you then you may know the insecurity, fear, and desperation this man was feeling
Jesus puts his finger on the heart of the issue: the man’s heart (vv. 21–22). Jesus isn’t teaching that life comes through charity or vows of poverty. What he’s highlighting in this man is what we saw in verse 16: he’s coming to do something to gain eternal life. So, Jesus gives him something to do that the knows he won’t be able to do.
The man is trusting in his obedience, morality, and possessions. He wants eternal life and he knows he’s lacking something necessary but he’s also sure that it’s something he can contribute, something he can do, not something that needs to be given up or sacrificed. He believes, as many believe, you get out what you put in, you don’t get out what you give up.
Verse 23 makes sure we notice the contrast as it mirrors verse 14. In both, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about future access to the kingdom of heaven. Those like the children will have access (v. 14), those like the rich man will not (v. 23).
There’s something else that ties these two verses together. In verse 14 Jesus says, do not hinder the children. In verse 23, he says it is hard for a rich man. Those two statements come from the same Greek word meaning to hinder or to prevent. Feel the contrast. Access to the eternal kingdom of heaven is at stake. Those like children are unhindered, not prevented. Those like the rich man, however, they hinder themselves with their work. They prevent themselves with their obsession with doing and contributing.
Little has changed. Many today, like this rich man, never believe in Christ, never gain that precious saving access to the Saviour, because they have hindered themselves with a false view of goodness and righteousness. They’ve come to believe that eternal life comes through obedience and performance when, in reality, it’s built upon Jesus’s obedience and performance.
A pastor I once read told this story: “When I was a teenager, I became fascinated, appalled, and grieved by the literature of the Holocaust … One scene that haunts me is a picture from Auschwitz. Above the entryway to the concentration camp were the words, Arbeit macht frei. The same thing stood above the camp at Dachau. It means, ‘work makes free’—work will liberate you and give you freedom.
“It was a lie—a false hope. The Nazis made the people believe hard work would equal liberation, but the promised ‘liberation’ was horrifying suffering and even death.”
He concluded: “Arbeit macht frei. One reason that phrase haunts me is because it is the spiritual lie of this age. It is a satanic lie. It’s a religious lie. It is a false hope—an impossible dream for many people in the world. They believe their good works will be great enough to outweigh their bad works, allowing them to stand before God in eternity and say, ‘You owe me the right to enter into your heaven.’
“But it’s the love of God that liberates. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ that liberates. He died in my place, and I am free.”
The Power That Grants Access to Jesus
We’ve seen a picture of this liberated access to Jesus in the children as well as an example of someone believing the lie that “work makes free” and, thus, hindering his access to Jesus. As we close, let’s remind ourselves of the power that grants access to Jesus (v. 24).
In other words, it’s impossible. Men like this cannot enter the kingdom of God. He’ll never find what he’s seeking. Not surprising, this concerns the disciples who, perhaps, can relate a bit to the man who just left with his head hung low (v. 25).
Good question. Mercifully, Jesus responds (v. 26). It doesn’t make sense to the disciples, that the insignificant would have unhindered access to Jesus and his kingdom. That’s why the disciples rebuked the children (v. 13). It makes sense that God helps those who help themselves, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t that a biblical concept? No, it’s not at all.
That a wealthy, successful, sincere, obedient Jew is hopeless is counterintuitive and worrying. If that guy has no hope, who does? The disciples obviously saw themselves in him. So do I. Maybe you do also. I can feel the pull to work for salvation, do for access to Jesus. I feel the pressure to measure my Christian maturity by my religiosity and the blessings he’s bestowed upon me. All of a sudden, I’m riding that camel trying to squeeze through a sewing needle. Impossible.
Thank God that the power that grants access to Jesus is his and not mine nor yours. With God all things are possible.
Stop Striving, Start Resting!
As Matthew, inspired by God’s Spirit, sets up this contrast between the helpless, passive children and the wealthy, active man, you and I are being invited to, seeing ourselves, stop striving, start resting! Put down the religious to-do list, the expectations, and allow God to bring you to himself. Stop striving, start resting! That’s how we enjoy unhindered access to the King.
For those who have never trusted Christ: Stop striving after something that’s impossible. Start resting in him through whom all things are possible. Trust Christ today.
For those who have trusted Christ but are stuck in sin: Stop striving to release yourself from its grip. Start resting in him who paid for all sin and has the power to free you.
For those who have the tendency to be legalistic: Stop striving for God’s approval through your morality and finding pleasure in your worldly accomplishments. Start resting in the finished accomplishment of Christ’s cross and empty tomb.
For all of us, stop striving like the man, sure we can bring something of significance to Jesus to earn access. Instead, start resting like the powerless, status-less children we are, brought to the grace of God on the arms of faith, blessed with life abundant. Stop striving, start resting!
All religions require something that needs to be done or followed before one can be saved or enjoy an eternal reward in the afterlife.
Buddhism teaches that one must follow the Nobel Eight-fold Path. Islam teaches that one must keep the Five Pillars and lead a righteous life. Hinduism teaches that one must adhere to the Four Yogas. Sikhism teaches that one must follow his own path and lead a disciplined life. Judaism teaches that one must live a moral life according to Torah. Mormonism teaches that one must be baptized and obey laws and ordinances. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that one must serve and obey Jehovah. Roman Catholicism teaches that one must keep the Seven Sacraments. Legalistic Protestantism teaches that one must submit to God and obey the Bible. Liberal Protestantism teaches that one must do good to others.
While every other religion says “Do,” [biblical] Christianity says “Done!” Grace is God doing everything necessary for our salvation so that we don’t have to do anything to be saved. It has been DONE by Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection.Bing, Simply By Grace, 83
Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.