Theme: Riches and Blessing
This week’s lesson teaches us how sacrifice brings blessing.
And Jesus said to his 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See,we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
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.
The people of Christ’s day regarded wealth as evident proof of God’s blessing. They were not right, of course. But they were closer to being right than we are, because we think wealth is a proof of how successful we have been at blessing ourselves, and they at least recognized that money, as well as every other good gift, is from God (James 1:17). But what Jesus is saying here is that, far from being a true blessing, wealth is actually a hinderance to gaining the greatest blessing of all which is salvation. In fact, a great deal of money makes receiving salvation almost impossible.
The disciples seem to have understood this. After all, speaking about money was speaking on their level, and they were probably aware of how much they too coveted it. So they asked the obvious question: If people who love money can’t be saved, “who then can be saved?” (v.25). Jesus’ answer was direct: No one, not the rich young man, nor you, nor anyone else, since everyone loves something or someone else more than God. Speaking only from a human point of view, the situation is hopeless. But fortunately this is not all that can be said, since “with God all things are possible.” (v.26).
Do you see where this is moving? If you can’t earn heaven by wealth or good works, which the young man hoped he could do, and if every desire of our hearts, even for good things, is actually a fatal desire because it keeps us from trusting Christ completely, the only way anyone will ever be saved is if God operates entirely apart from us and for his own good pleasure. In other words, our only hope is God’s grace! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Since this is so, it will not surprise us to find Jesus going on to teach about God’s grace in the parable of the owner of the vineyard in the next chapter.
Above I said that Jesus probably seemed to be sad when he saw the earnest young man leave. Let me say here that I think Peter probably noticed it since, as I read the story, he tried to cheer the Lord up. The young man had gone away, but Jesus still had his disciples, Peter thought. So he said, “We have left everything to follow you!” (v.27). That was nice. There was a sense in which they really had. But the spirit of coveting was still in Peter, and probably in the others too, for Peter just couldn’t keep from adding, “What then will there be for us?”, showing by his question that he still had much of the spirit of the rich young man and not much of the humble trusting spirit of the children Jesus had used as an illustration of what was needed for salvation.
Jesus’ answer was that no one who has followed him will ever be cheated out of anything. Instead, there will be rewards not only in the age to come (“at the renewal of all things”), but in the present age too. There is just nothing to be compared to God’s blessings.
What is a chief characteristic of our intensely commercial age?
Who can save himself then, only the poor? How can he be saved?
What did Peter demonstrate in his question, “What will there be for us?”
No one who has followed him [Jesus] will ever be cheated out of anything.
Do you respond to God with a heart like Peter’s?