Yesterday we saw Jesus’ encounter with the “rich young ruler,” as he’s called, so today’s the sequel to that story. Jesus ended up turning away a most promising recruit for one simple reason: The man wasn’t ready.
As the man walked away, Jesus expressed sadness and made a most remarkable general statement. If you read the last story carefully, it’s not that difficult to see why. It’s not as if the size of your bank account in and of itself is some hindrance to getting into his Kingdom. But rich people have more to lose in this world, so they might be a little more reluctant to surrender it all to the Savior. Also they tend to be self-reliant, trusting in their own wisdom and resources to “make it” through any problem they encounter, which is of course the exact opposite of coming to Jesus “like a little child.”
Why did the disciples react the way they did? Based on the modern view that a lot of people hold towards “the rich,” you’d expect the wealthy to have a harder time getting right with God. But to his first followers, their perspective was the exact opposite. They were raised and trained to think of material wealth as an indication of the Lord’s blessing. The wealthier you were, the more likely that God was smiling upon you and was pleased with you. So Jesus’ statement was very counterintuitive for them.
And then he reiterates and expands his statement. By the way, if you ever hear a Bible teacher tell you something about the “eye of the needle” being a gate and a camel just having to kneel down in order to enter, disregard it. That’s a myth. When the Master was talking about a camel entering the eye of a needle, he’s denoting utter impossibility.
To the disciples, this is an incredible and disheartening statement. If the rich can’t get in, then who else can? And Christ responds with a word of both despair and hope. We need to indulge in complete despair concerning the abilities of man, and have complete confidence in the ability of God.
Now we come to a very important point. The disciples had been overhearing Jesus’ conversation with the young ruler, and Peter had a comment concerning that. You can almost hear the pride in his statement: “You asked that man to give up everything and follow you? Well, we’ve done that.” And in the back of that statement is an unspoken question—“And is it worth it?”
Please notice the Master’s response. He doesn’t rebuke Peter in the slightest for his query or the subtext behind it. No, he reaffirms their desires and then promises to fulfill them and then “over-fulfill” them. No matter what you give up for God’s service, it’s not really a loss. God will be the debtor of no man.
Just look at the lavish promises he makes. Now, does this mean that if we follow Christ we’re going to be rich? Of course it does! But in this life, true riches aren’t measured by your bank account. Why would you be so concerned about “riches” that are going to be dust and ashes someday? And notice the little phrase Jesus just throws in there—“Oh by the way, you’re going to have persecutions as well,” which would contradict the idea that following Christ is a sure ticket to material wealth in this life. But there’s something even more important, a true blessing that we can experience here and now. If you’re a believer and have given up family members, you’ve gained a whole lot more family than you ever lost. All over the world you have family from all types of cultures, societies, and economic background. You’ve got a ready-made family made up of millions of people who readily call you a sibling with a common Father.
And of course in the next life is where the true riches come in. And whatever you get on the other side of the Great Divide, you get to keep. So yes, it’s worth it. Whatever he calls you to give up, you’re not really giving up anything.
As usual, Lewis put it perfectly: “Take the promises of Jesus himself.. . .If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Lord Jesus, I hold on to my material blessings so tightly some times. Why do I do that? Why am I so scared of letting go of them? Why should I be?