I got an unpleasant surprise when I came to my blog today, the Word Press company changed the editor completely. I’m still trying to figure things out. In their attempt to make things easy, everything’s become more complicated. Sounds like life these days, doesn’t it. Anyway, today we learn how worldly wealth can lead us away from God. There is a peril there. True wealth comes from our relationship with God and that begins with the Resurrection.
17. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
As Jesus continued walking, a man, whom we later discover to be wealthy, ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and after calling Him “Good Master” (or good teacher) asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus made a point of noting that this one had attributed to Him a quality that belongs only to God. Jesus didn’t deny that He deserved that mention, I think He was pointing out to those around that this man had recognized this quality of God in Him. We recognize this truth as taught in Psalms 14:1 and later expanded upon by Paul in Romans 3:12. Goodness, in it’s full understanding, applies only to God. Jesus pointed this out in His question to this man. While this man receives a lot of negative comments because of the conclusion of this conversation, note that this was a wealthy man, who realized that money wasn’t enough for fulfillment in life, and was willing to humble himself enough to kneel before a country rabbi, who admittedly had done some amazing things, and ask Him how to obtain eternal life.
19. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
Jesus then gave him a shortened list of the ten commandments. It’s interesting to note that these six commands are the six that involve dealing with other people. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, the last six deal with our relationships with others. This is my speculation, but perhaps Jesus did this because we really can’t talk about those first four if we don’t have the last six down. I should note that I’m equating Jesus command “Do not defraud” with the last commandment that says don’t covet, because if you covet something, you might be willing to defraud someone to get it. That, of course is speculation, but all the other things Jesus mentioned fit in with the list of the Ten Commandments. This rich guy, without much thought apparently, looked at his checklist and said, “Yep, I’m good there.” He claimed to have kept them from the time he was young. I don’t know how true this man’s answer was, but I have no doubt that he believed he had been doing right.
21. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
More important than following a written list of rules and regulations, is the attitude of the heart. Jesus recognized that this man had a heart problem related to his wealth. He trusted in his wealth instead of trusting in God, and so Jesus gave him an outlandish suggestion: sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor to gain treasure in heaven, and then, take up his cross and follow Jesus. In other cases, Jesus told people why they shouldn’t follow Him, or He told them not to follow Him. Here though, He recognizes that this man’s heart issue was that he trusted in his possessions instead of trusting in God. Taking up his cross, being willing to follow Jesus to the death, would test his faith in ways that he would never have imagined. He wasn’t willing to do that. He left sadly, because he didn’t like the answer Jesus gave him. His possessions were more important to him than trusting God and developing a relationship with Him. This young man isn’t much different than many of us, me especially. Too often I find myself seeking to know the will of God so that I can consider it rather than follow Him no matter where following Him may lead.
23. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Jesus pointed out a fact that goes contrary to what most people believed at the time, and that many still believe: entering the kingdom of God is almost impossible for people who are wealthy. The issue, of course, isn’t the amount of money they have. The issue is where they place their trust. I’ve known some wealthy people who recognized that their wealth was a gift from God that involved the responsibility to use that wealth to further God’s kingdom. I’ve also known people both wealthy and not so wealthy who worried so much about money: how to get it and how to keep it, that it was obvious that what wealth they had was more important than their relationship with God. Jesus recognized that attitude in this rich young man, which is why He gave him that command. It’s not a command for all people, it’s a command for those who have placed money and things above God. Notice that when Jesus talked about the difficulty in entering the kingdom of God He said that it was hard for people who trust in their riches to enter the kingdom of God. I’ve heard many people seek ways to take verse 25 literally and explain what Jesus meant by the phrase “eye of a needle.” While it’s possible that Jesus was referring to a literal situation, I believe that He was using hyperbole to make His point. The obvious take from what Jesus was teaching is that we shouldn’t let anything interrupt our relationship with God.
26. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27. And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
While we see what Jesus said and nod, this was an astonishing teaching back in those days. According to beliefs at the time, wealth was obviously a sign of God’s favor so that if a person was wealthy, not only had God blessed them, there was no doubt that they were bound for an eternity with God. So when the disciples responded to the teaching that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, their astonishment was real because Jesus had just turned what they believed upside down. It’s said that the teaching of Lazarus and the rich man was a flip of a contemporary teaching where the traditional story had the rich man enjoying the luxuries of heaven and Lazarus served him. Entry into the Kingdom of God, salvation, is not a function of wealth, or lack thereof. Those are signs that men impose and Jesus said that doing things man’s way make it impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The only way anyone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through God. He provides that entry by His grace through Jesus Christ. That’s what makes it possible to enter into God’s Kingdom.
28. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. 29. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30. But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
I think the disciples were flustered. I think their beliefs were shattered. Peter tried to pick up the pieces. He asked, in effect, since they had done what Jesus had asked the rich young man to do, were they OK? Jesus let him know that it would be worth it in the end. They may have left land, houses, fishing gear, and family to follow Him, but they would be blessed. They would endure persecution, but they would receive far greater than they gave up, including eternal life. Many people have made great sacrifices for their faith. Some have given up their lives to follow Jesus. The one question every single one of these people had was “Is the sacrifice worth it?” I have no doubt that anyone who has made those sacrifices would say that they gave up nothing to gain everything. As to the last sentence in that passage, I think it refers to those who would seek to show themselves better than others, those who think they have special privileges, those who would sacrifice others to gain preeminence in this life. They may be first here, but they will be last in the Kingdom of Heaven – if they even make it. I believe this statement is a call for humility in the church and a teaching to focus on serving others instead of seeking to be served.
32. And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, 33. Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34. And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
I’m going to be honest here. There are parts of this passage that I have difficulty understanding. What do we know? Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and was leading the way for the disciples and a number of other followers. What I don’t know, is why the disciples were amazed and I don’t know why the people following were scared. Were rumors flying around about what might happen to Jesus? Were the disciples amazed because they saw Jesus advancing to Jerusalem in spite of the threat of arrest? Were they amazed because of the resolve they saw as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem? Were the people worried because of the rumors or because they were sure that what they saw in Jesus was bound to lead Him into conflict with the Pharisees and other religious leaders or even with Rome? Whatever the situation, there was a lot of tension and uncertainty among the disciples and the others who followed Jesus. Jesus told them exactly what would happen, but that didn’t make them feel any better. He explained that He would be delivered to the religious leaders in Jerusalem who would then deliver Him to the Gentiles after condemning Him to death. He foretold the mocking and the scourging He would endure and noted that they would ultimately kill Him. He added that He would rise again, which the disciples never did fully comprehend would happen until after it happened. All of us are like that when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, or when they tell us things that seem too unbelievable. After the resurrection, it all made sense, but at this point in time, the disciples just didn’t get it.
As we read these verses, we’re reminded that the resurrection wasn’t an afterthought of the disciples used to explain why they still followed Jesus after He was crucified; it was a pivotal teaching of Jesus. He taught them about it again and again. If the disciples were trying to sugar coat things, or make themselves look good, they would have written gospels that showed their faith in the resurrection and not the doubt and confusion at the cross. Vignettes like this that are seen in different places in the New Testament show the credibility of the gospels in telling the story of Jesus. Sometimes, it’s not the pure faith of the disciples that convinces me of the truth of the gospel, it’s the expression of their doubts and fears and the continuing love of Jesus in the face of that doubt and those fears. How often do we act as if we need everything to be going right around us so that people will believe our message. Maybe, others are just as messed up as I am and when I’m honest about my fears and failures, they can relate to the good news of Jesus because they’ve seen the real me when I’ve gone through the bad times.