Entrance Exam
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Mark

Entrance Exam

Mark 10:13 -- 52

As I write this, my daughter is a senior in High School. As she wishes to get into college, she has taken a variety of entrance examinations which are supposed to enable the colleges to sort the good from the bad.

The kingdom of God, it appears, has its own form of entrance exam. Like all other things of God, it is not the same as the world’s way. In the world’s view, you must have the right answers to the questions. In the kingdom, you must have the right questions.

Ready for the exam? We begin with a warm-up answer.

Little Children

And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

(Mark 10:13-16 NASB)

To understand the passage better, listen to a story from the great Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Holmes had fought at the battle of Gettysburg. One day a man approached him and asked to shake his hand. He told Holmes, “You have no idea how it feels to shake the hand of man who fought at Gettysburg.” As this was in the 1930s you might understand the feeling. But Holmes corrected him: “Yes I do. When I was your age I had the privilege of shaking the hand of a man who had been with Washington at Valley Forge.”

Something of a similar nature was happening here. It was the custom of the time for a great rabbi to put his hands on small children and bless them. The disciples, however, saw this as an intrusion. It’s interesting that they cared more for Christ’s dignity than he himself did. So he corrects them, and gives us our first entrance test: like a little child. What does that mean?

“Simple, with understanding.”

The phrase comes from Chrysostom. It means that we have no “hidden agenda” with God. We are not coming to him in prayer, for example, so that we can feel good enough that we don’t need to repent.

Christ told us to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves. The point is the same one here. If you’ve ever had a two year old, you realize that nothing is hidden. They simply don’t have the ability. They do, of course, have the “Gimme pig”
syndrome. But it is a naïve, honest grasping – not one where the purpose is hidden. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

A wise child knows its own mother

Think of it this way: if you took a baby (that’s what the disciples were objecting to) and offered the child a choice between its mother in rags and a queen in royal clothing and crown, the child will unhesitatingly choose its mother. A wise child knows its own mother, and our mother is the church. Those of the Middle Ages often used the phrase, “Our mother, the church.” We need to prefer our family – however poor it appears – to the world.

More than that, the child comes to its mother not on the basis of accomplishment but on the basis of love. It is not our greatness that causes the family of God to take us in – rather it is the greatness of God’s love for the church, and the church loving us in turn. The kingdom is not earned; it is received.

Nature and intent

Little children behave this way naturally – which means that as adults we don’t. Our natural behavior is quite opposite. Therefore we must train ourselves to imitate the children – coming to God with no guile, preferring the church to the world. It’s a skill; we must practice it.

No One is Good

Christ now meets the man who wants to join up. He’s a good man – which means it’s very difficult for him to pass the entrance exam. He knows the answers. The questions, on the other hand, are much more difficult for him.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees
before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except
God alone.
19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit
adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your
father and mother.’
£

20“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell
everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”

22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to
enter the kingdom of God!”

24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children,
how hard it is
£ to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then
can be saved?”

27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with
God; all things are possible with God.”

28Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers
or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel
30will fail
to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters,
mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to
come, eternal life.
31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

For us to understand this passage correctly, we must remember a few things.

  • To the Jew of this time, wealth was a sign of God’s favor. If you live in an agricultural society – and crops depend on weather – this is a natural belief. The disciples concluded that this man was indeed favored by God.
  • We must also know that wealth is a tyrant. Some people own their money; others are owned by it.
Who is this Jesus?

The man has approached this Jesus as he would a wise rabbi. He has not been disrespectful; indeed, he has shown all the propriety required – or so he thinks. The only difficulty is that he hasn’t asked the right question: who is this Jesus?

  • Jesus does not challenge his claim to having kept the commandments. The man is, by our standards, a righteous man. This makes it more difficult to get into the kingdom. Those who have little goodness have little trouble in throwing it away and taking on the righteousness of Christ.
  • How can this be? Simply this: the good is the enemy of the best. Were his righteous acts good? Yes. Are they sufficient? No. Did he ask these questions? No.
  • This is Jesus, the Christ – God in the flesh. If you are going to follow him, you must (as he told you) count the cost.
Wrong Questions

The man has a gift for asking the wrong questions.

  • He asks “what must I do” instead of “what must I receive?”
  • He asks “what do I lack” instead of “what must I give up?”

Interestingly, he asks about eternal life. But did you notice that Jesus did not answer that question? He tells him instead how to lay up treasure in heaven. This man is given the priceless opportunity of sacrificing all. The kingdom of God, you see, costs you all you have and are – and gives you all you need and can be.

For the disciples

The disciples, naturally, are stunned by all this. The kid is, after all, one of the good guys. But Christ opens their eyes: It’s extremely difficult to get into the kingdom of God. It’s so difficult that even a good man, richly blessed by God, can’t do it – on his own. So God must provide a way for him.

Influence with the King

I don’t think it’s an accident that James and John now ask what they do. If you can’t get in by doing good, by merit clearly recognized by God, it means that the door is not open – unless, of course, you have inside influence.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

32They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and
the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he
took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.
33“We are
going up to Jerusalem,”
he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the
chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will
hand him over to the Gentiles,
34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him
and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they
said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in
your glory.”

38“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup
I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the
baptism I am baptized with,
40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.
These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as
rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority
over them.
43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among
you must be your servant,
44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his
life as a ransom for many.”

This would be funny if it weren’t tragic. Look at the first three verses: Jesus is clearly telling them of his Crucifixion. If your Lord and Master receives this treatment, what should you expect?

The kingdom of God is a kingdom of servants. Christ came to serve. If you are not willing to do that, then the kingdom door will remain shut for you. Here are two more exam questions:

  • Can you drink the cup?
  • Can you be baptized with the baptism?

In short, can you handle the suffering and the persecution? It is no accident that the world decries “those weirdo right wing fundamentalists.” This is normal. Adjust.

Me too!

What makes this passage really light up human behavior is the behavior of the other ten disciples. Jesus has just explained to them the nature of the kingdom – received as a child, in which you give up everything (surrender yourself) and serve as he served, being persecuted as he was – and the disciples are mad because they didn’t in line fast enough!

Here is the glory of the kingdom. It is who you know – Jesus Christ. It is what you do – service and sacrifice. It is the opposite of the world’s way. Christ’s invitation is “take up your cross and follow me.” How foolish, then, we are when we check on how elegant our position is going to be.

Begging

It may appear to be an afterthought on the days lessons, but I think not. If we are to enter the kingdom of God, we must say we are blind and beg to see.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

46Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large
crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of
Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.
47When he heard that it was Jesus
of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more,
“Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
50Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his
sight and followed Jesus along the road.

It’s almost a picture of how we enter the kingdom of God. We are sitting by the road, begging. Begging? Yes, for all the truly important things in life. Jesus walks by – and the world tells you to stop shouting, ignore all that racket and get back to your begging.

You don’t understand all things. In fact, the only thing you have a real grasp on is that you are blind – and that somewhere out there in the blackness is someone who can lift that blindness. When that Someone answers you – read the passage again – you throw aside the things of comfort (the cloak) and come to him.

There it is, the entrance exam for the kingdom of heaven.

  • Like a little child, in faith, throw aside your hidden agenda and come. Prefer him to all else, and he will bless you.
  • Be prepared not only to throw away the evils of your life – but also the good things too. There is no halfway on the road to the kingdom.
  • Count the cost. The kingdom is not about pomp and pride, but sacrifice, service and suffering.
  • Are you blind? Then beg – and he will restore you.

It is a curious thing. Blind Bartimaeus calls for his sight, and gets it. He gets it just in time to see the Triumphal Entry – and then the Cross, the tomb, the Resurrection. Let Christ open your eyes; you will see great things.

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