Returning to our study of Mark’s gospel today, we pick up our study in Mark 10:13–16. Since coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration (9:2–13), Jesus and His disciples have been on their way to Jerusalem for the final week of His life, and He has been teaching on various subjects on the way. In 10:13–16, Jesus explains how it is that we receive the kingdom of God.
The first thing we notice is that Jesus talks about our receiving the kingdom of God—not our achieving the kingdom, our making the kingdom happen on earth, or our exercising any kind of strenuous effort to enter the kingdom of God. Now, it is true that God is pleased to use His people to grow and advance His kingdom. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matt. 24:14). The church makes disciples—kingdom citizens—by preaching the gospel, baptizing believers, and teaching them all that Christ has commanded (28:18–20). Nevertheless, the kingdom of God is not something that we make happen. It is fundamentally a gift, something that our Creator gives to His people because of His great love for the world (John 3:16). We do not walk into the kingdom; rather, the kingdom embraces us. Our faith is not something we work up in ourselves, and though we must actively trust in Christ, this active trust by which we become kingdom citizens is best pictured as our coming to the Savior with empty hands. We come admitting that we have nothing to give to God but that we depend fully and completely on His unmerited favor. We open the empty hand of faith to receive God’s promised blessing; we do not merit our heavenly citizenship.
Jesus uses the example of a child to illustrate this point. We must receive the kingdom “like a child” (Mark 10:15). Here, the Greek word translated as “child” refers to the youngest and most helpless of children. Christ is calling us to utter dependence on Him as the way into His kingdom. We take great joy in our young children, and the arrival of a baby is one of the happiest times in our lives. But the youngest children cannot do anything for themselves. They cannot make any tangible contribution to the functioning of the household. In fact, they are desperately needy. That is how we are in relation to our Father in heaven. We rely completely on His mercy for our salvation and, indeed, for our every need. Only by admitting this can we be part of the kingdom of God.