Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad, but I think Jesus must have been sad too. For he commented on what had happened by saying to the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (vv. 23-24). It is hard for any sinner to enter heaven, of course; in fact, it is impossible without a radical change of heart and faith in Christ. But we are not talking about other sins here. We are talking about the love of money, and we cannot forget that this is a chief, if not the chief characteristic of our intensely commercial age.

Now we come to the rich young man (vv.16-22). Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell us about him. All three say that he was rich. Matthew adds that he was young (v.20), and Luke says he was a ruler, presumably of one of the local synagogues (Luke 18:18). He is the first (maybe the only) example of a person coming to Jesus and not becoming saved.

Whenever you study the Bible, if you study it thoughtfully, you will find things that are wonderfully reasonable and balanced. For example, we are studying Matthew 18 and 19, and there is nothing more reasonable than the balanced arrangement of material in these chapters. They are about the character of those who belong to Christ’s kingdom, and they are tied together by a series of relationships: 1) to other believers (Who shall be greatest?); 2) to those who sin against us (How often must I forgive?); 3) to a husband or wife (Can I divorce?); 4) to children (Should they be included?); and 5) to money (Who, then, can be saved?)

Where do we come in to this picture of marriage and divorce? We can acknowledge the Bible’s high standard and still struggle with how to do what is required. Or we can struggle over what to do when we fail to live up to Jesus’ teaching. Many people are being hurt by situations involving estrangement, divorce or remarriage. I want to close by saying a few things about the application of these standards.

There is one other interesting point to be considered. Mark also has a discussion of this issue (in Mark 10:1-12), but the exception clause that has been the cause of so much controversy does not appear in Mark. Matthew is the only gospel that has it. Why is that? Some liberal commentators (and even some conservative ones) argue that Mark’s version of this saying is the original one and that Matthew added the exception because of divorce problems in the church of his day. That is hardly satisfactory.