In this week’s lessons we look at one who when faced with the need to make a sacrifice for Christ, went away without salvation because he did not want to give up something he valued higher.
I said earlier there were three questions, and I’ve treated two of them. The first was “What good thing must I do?” asked by the rich young man. The second was “Who then can be saved?” posed by the disciples in reaction to the man’s departure. After this, Peter butts in and he asks the third question, which is what wraps up the chapter. Peter’s question is this: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Peter seems to say, “Well, Lord, maybe that rich man went away sorrowful. But you still have us. It may be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven but even we had something we were willing to part with. I had that fishing business in Galilee.” And then he says, “So what are we going to get back?”
You know he didn’t give it up if he was trying to get it back. He may have given up his fishing business, but he appears to want some kind of return for what he left behind. Later on they would even argue about who was going to sit on Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom of God. This shows that Peter hadn’t really given it up at all. He was thinking exactly as the rich young man. Peter didn’t have his riches and he didn’t have much to start with. That’s one reason why he was able to give them up. But at heart Peter was really still very much the same.
Peter was still concerned about what he was going to get out of it. The only difference was that Christ was already at work in the life of Peter. Peter really was born again. His sanctification still needed work. He certainly didn’t know much, and he had a lot of ignorance he had to get over and foolish ideas as well. But the life of Christ at least was there. The Holy Spirit was working. And so Jesus didn’t reply to Peter as he replied to the rich young man. He answered his question more or less on Peter’s terms. Jesus said to him that those who have given up whatever it is for Jesus will be amply rewarded both in this life and in eternity.
Matthew’s version does not explicitly mention things in this life, though I think it’s implied with verse 29 when he talks about houses, fields, and family members. But in Mark’s version of the story the words “in this life” do occur. How is that? Isn’t it true that people have sometimes left a great deal? And how is it that they get a hundred times back in this life? Well I don’t think that’s very hard to answer. When you come to Jesus Christ you come not merely to Christ, but also to his people. If you’ve had to leave mother or father or brothers or sisters, you find hundreds more within the fellowship of the Christian church. And if you’ve left riches you find in the church a different kind of riches beyond compare.
Mark says one other thing, too, and we shouldn’t overlook that. He says “a hundredfold in this life,” and then there’s a comma and Mark adds something else that Jesus said that Matthew doesn’t report. Jesus also said, “with persecutions.” Because, you see, the world is not going to understand and it will certainly hate those who march to a different standard and rebuke the world by giving up all things for the sake of following after Christ.
When Jesus finishes this at the very end of our chapter he gives a saying which occurs in many other places and which should be paid attention to. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” You know this is the theme of the section. If you go back to chapter 18, you find in the very first verse that the disciples came to him and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus said, in effect, it’s those who are last and not first. Those who appear to be greatest here are actually those who will be last in my kingdom. If you want to be wealthy in heaven, use your riches here for other people. If you want to be famous in heaven, take a servant’s role. If you want an example of this, you find it in that short little section that follows immediately before this where people were bringing children to Jesus and the disciples were rebuking them. Why were the disciples acting this way? Because children are not thought to be very important. The disciples were thinking that other people, including themselves, were important, and Jesus should not be wasting his valuable time with mere children. But Jesus said, “Let the children come, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
You see, those without stature, those without wealth, those without wisdom, or those without prestige, but who simply came to Jesus in faith were received by him. He loved them and he was going to die for their salvation. There’s the secret to life. And if you’re one who thinks as so many do in our day that the secret to happiness is things, you will be sadly disillusioned. You will die of old age, wretched and miserable, clutching to your possessions and without any knowledge of what life was all about. But if you turn from these things, including riches, whatever it may be that keeps you from wholehearted allegiance to Christ, then you’ll find that he is everything; and your life will go on getting richer and fuller and more joyous as the days go by.