That provoked a second question, which immediately followed Jesus’ comments about riches and how many rich people actually inherit salvation. Verse 25 tells us that the disciples “were greatly astonished and they asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’” Now what did they have in mind? Well, one thing they had in mind was that according to most Jewish theology, including in the teaching of the Old Testament, riches were an evidence of God’s blessing. It’s the righteous man who prospers, according to some of the great texts in the Psalms and other places. If one were rich, it’s quite obvious that God has been gracious with that person and blessed them with so many possessions. If a person like that, a person who is evidently blessed by God, can’t be saved, well then who can be?
But there’s a flaw in logic at that point. To say that God has blessed somebody with riches doesn’t mean that God has blessed them with salvation. Some of the richest people in the world are not at all religious, not to mention Christian. So if riches in themselves are a proof of salvation, well, the very observance of the world ought to disabuse us of that idea. It’s not that at all, you see.
I think also, perhaps, that they were thinking about that rich young man. Certainly I would be if I were standing there. After all, the Lord had commissioned us to go out and talk to people. We’re to be his missionaries, and here comes a good example. So I’m watching to see the Lord lead him to faith, and instead of that the Lord answers in a way that drives him away. I’d be discouraged by that. If what I would consider a good candidate for salvation leaves Jesus without it, then who can be saved?
What would we expect Jesus to say at that point? I would expect Jesus to say something like this: “Well, you have to understand that riches really are a very difficult thing. But just because we failed with this one man, let’s not get discouraged. There are a lot of other fish in the lake, and there are a lot of people out there who aren’t hung up on their riches. Let’s go talk to them. As a matter of fact, right here in this village I’m sure we can find some poor people who will not have a problem.”
However, Jesus always operates on a much more profound level than ourselves. And when we find ourselves thinking on one level, we find as he teaches us that he always carries us to something far deeper. What Jesus does say really is a surprising thing. He answers, “With man this is impossible.” In other words, salvation is humanly impossible for that young man with his love of riches to be saved. Why? Because it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get saved. But it is not just that young man. It’s also the person who is hung up on their own image and doesn’t want to change, who wants to be who they want to be and not what someone else wants to make them into. It’s the person who wanted to be famous, and puts their own career and notoriety first in order to achieve that fame. No matter what it is, in their own human power and ability they cannot be saved because they are functioning only on some human level. Their thoughts are not God’s thoughts and their ways are not his ways. In other words, things are even worse than you imagined. If it were left to the power of human nature and the power of human persuasion, no one is ever going to come to Christ for salvation.
“But,” Jesus goes on to add, “with God all things are possible.” Aren’t you glad for that? Because that “but” includes your particular preoccupation whatever it may be. You see, you can’t do it. You can’t change your heart. In your own power you can’t put Jesus Christ ahead of things or fame or self or any other way you may express it. But God himself can, because what he does is give us a new heart and a new mind which begin to think and feel differently. “With God all things are possible.” If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t preach the gospel, because I know perfectly well it’s not possible because of anything I say. I wouldn’t teach a class because I know it’s not possible by anything I can teach. I wouldn’t write a book, because I know it’s not possible by any book I can write. “But,” you see, “with God all things are possible,” And because that is the case, then he can use even the most inadequate tools, which we are, and the most inadequate means.