Luke 18:24-30 “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.’”
A young, rich, healthy man of power and influence hurried up to Jesus and publicly asked him how he could get eternal life, and Jesus told him what the man himself already knew that there existed in this man’s life another powerful love of mammon and while that was there in his heart there was no way that he could have the life of heaven also. It was the one or the other; he had to choose; he could not serve two masters, and his first love, and the chief satisfaction he gained in life, was now coming from all the stuff he had. So Jeus told him, “Sell the lot, and give the proceeds to poor folks. Give them their chance in life to move up the ladder.” If he did that three things would happen.
I] He would be getting rid of a terrible idol which would destroy him, money.
II] He would be helping those around him to get out of the poverty trap they were in.
III] He would be storing up eternal riches in heaven. Those riches could never be lost, stolen or ruined; they were safe in that place.
When he had done that then the man was invited to come and follow Jesus. Then he could become a disciple, that is, after he had sold everything and given to the poor. Repent and follow Jesus now! Not later on, when youth was over, and he had bought and tried everything he wanted in life. Not some time to come. It was not acceptable to God for him to plan one day to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor after he had spent his youth and health and power money all on himself. It had to be him doing this now if he really wanted to inherit eternal life. There was no question of two-tier Christianity, in other words, there’s no way he could hang on to all his idolized possessions, and enjoy everything that the world has for sale, while having forgiveness of his sins and Jesus as his Saviour, but then, one day, he would sell everything he had and then have Jesus also as his Lord. No. There could be no salvation without present submission to the Lord Jesus. Christ wouldn’t allow that. The gospel command is to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no possibility of taking the benefits of eternal life without paying the price of receiving eternal life, and that is by repenting and trusting only in the Lord Christ. Jesus made the choice utterly clear. There could be no following of Jesus, not a single step, until this idol Mammon, had been demolished. Jesus was not impressed by this man’s youth, or health, or power, or riches. He saw the young man for what he really was, a slave to stuff. He saw him as a poor, lost sinner who needed salvation. Jesus, because he loved him, explained how he could get everlasting life and offered it to him, but the man rejected it. The price was too high. He loved his possessions more than Jesus.
1. IT IS HARD FOR ANYONE TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Jesus has not finished with this young man yet. He says one last thing to him before he leaves. This man who has run up to Jesus and shown his enthusiasm for Christ to everyone, hasn’t realized how hard it is to be really saved. It is not hard to talk about following Christ. It is not hard to make decisions. It is not hard to think you are saved, but for a man who loved his many possessions to become a saved man was indeed very hard. We are told: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’” (v.18). Now it was Dr. Andy Christofides of St Mellons, Cardiff, a former scientist, whom I heard suggesting how you could get a whole camel through the eye of a needle. You would liquidize the camel and then fire a thread from the liquid on a lazar beam through the eye of a needle and after a few days, depending on the size of the camel and the speed of the thread going through the little opening, you could in theory pass the whole dead camel through the needle’s eye. But Jesus did not say this in order for us to make up such fancy answers, or to speak about an alleged gate in the city wall of Jerusalem called the Camel’s Eye which was too low for a loaded camel and rider to pass through. No such gate has ever existed. The illustration is a myth, 200 years old, loved by Religious Instruction teachers. Jesus was in fact saying this, that it was as impossible for a camel (the largest animal in Israel) to go through the eye of a needle as it is for any man who puts his trust in riches and wasn’t prepared to let go of them, to enter the kingdom of God. It can’t be done. You can have your love of riches, or you can have eternal life; you cannot have them both. Jesus wasn’t at all suggesting that with a very small camel and a very large needle’s eye it might just be done. It is absolutely impossible to getting a camel through a needle’s eye, and let me add that it is just as impossible for a man to take a vow of poverty and trust in his lack of possessions for such a person to enter the kingdom of God. If Mother Teresa were resting in her vow of poverty then she was a lost woman.
Why did Jesus speak so frankly and so brutally to this man here? Why did he set the bar of redemption so high for him? I will tell you a number of reasons.
I] To humble the man. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and this man was proud of his health, and his possessions, and his youth, and his power. That pride was keeping him from God, and the first thing Jesus had to do was to humble him. In fact this man had nothing because he didn’t have God.
II] Jesus was teaching his disciples a key lesson in evangelism and pastoring. These boys were going to be pastors of souls one day, and Jesus wanted them to learn very important things from watching this incident and listening to the conversation between the man and Jesus. You know that this conversation between Jesus and the young man is recorded three times in the New Testament. It is that important. Jesus wanted his disciples and ourselves to learn the difference between being in the kingdom of God and being very near to the kingdom of God. It’s like the difference between having a job interview and having the job itself. Or let me illustrate it like this, that from the cliffs of Calais England – over the narrow Channel – can seem very near, but an asylum seeker needs a visa and passport to enter and live in the UK. He is near it, but he is certainly not in it. A boat in a storm can be very near the harbour, but it can still sink in sight of the refuge. Bunyan tells us that there is a way to hell from the gates of heaven as well as from the City of Destruction. Many are very close; we look at them and talk to them and we say, “Just a little push and they would be in the kingdom,” but they are not in the kingdom of God yet, and Jesus is teaching his disciples to very careful not to quickly assure inquirers who are on the borders of the kingdom of God that because they are close and interested all is well. We disciples, whether we are ministers dealing with a congregation, or parents dealing with out children, or friends dealing with friends, we do not have the power to bring people into the kingdom of God. Let the disciples see how Jesus dealt with this man, how he humbled him, how he didn’t assure him that all was well.
III] All the people listening to this conversation, to the public question of the man and to the public answer of Jesus, would have been astonished at how the conversation ended, that the rich man turned away and Jesus showed his sadness at this. This audience lived in a culture that saw financial prosperity and power and health to be signs of the blessing of God on a man’s life. Weren’t Abraham and David and Solomon and Job their heroes, and weren’t they all wealthy men? It’s no wonder that they were amazed. Surely, people were reasoning, anything less than plenty of money and perfect health means you can’t claim you are experiencing the fulness of the blessing of God. This man was surely a big wheel in the kingdom of God already? He was the future of the kingdom of God in that place. Yet he ended up going back from Jesus, and Jesus ended in being resolute not to draw him in by lowering the standards of discipleship.
IV] Jesus was showing his disciples a bigger principle, that the ultimate barrier to glory is not the vast amount of money you have in the bank; there are certainly millionaire Christians. What we have in this young man is the problem of the human heart trusting in the wrong convictions, trusting in . . . riches, or trusting in . . . poverty, or trusting in . . . Dawkins, or trusting in . . . science, or trusting in anything except the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Unless God intervenes and changes our hearts to trust in Christ alone then it’s impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is moving on, and he is taking the question of terms of entry into the kingdom of God onto a different plane. You need a personal, mighty act of God to come to Christ.
This is what he was talking about when he said in John 6:65, “No man can come to me unless it has been given to him by the Father.” God first has to draw you inwardly to Jesus or you can’t come. It’s impossible to come all by yourself. Again, it’s what Paul says in Romans 8:7, “The mind of the flesh . . . does not submit to the law of God, for indeed it cannot.” The law of God says, “Repent of your sins, turn from all of them and do my will,” but the law is feeble because I love my sins so much, and so I don’t and can’t submit to the law of God unless I get superior power from God to enable me to do that. God must work in me and then I get cracking and I work! Again, in I Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The gospel says, “Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour,” but men don’t because it seems foolish to them, God being three and one, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement and the resurrection from the dead! It is all folly to him. He can’t understand all this religious talk. He must first have the Spirit of God to be able to discern them. Without the Spirit working in his life, left all to himself, he cannot make head or tail of the message of the Bible. Or again, in Ephesians 2:5,”We were dead in our trespasses and sins,” and so we couldn’t see or hear or sense anything true and lovely and good about Jesus Christ because our spirits were dead to all of that. God has to work first. Left to ourselves we have no ability, no life. The Spirit has to enter our understanding, and awaken our conscience, and warm our cold heart, and give us inward life and then, only then, are we drawn to Christ, and then we submit to the command of God, and then we are able to accept the things of God, they are no longer foolishness to us. When the Spirit of illumination comes into our minds we are able to understand them. Then we will make the necessary sacrifices, and sell all we have – that great mountain of stuff that’s now coming between us and becoming real disciples of Jesus Christ. Without the work of God in our hearts it is impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God. It is as impossible as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. You say, “If conversion is impossible to men, and if the gospel is foolishness to them then I am not going to speak to them because my mind tells me, ‘What’s the point?’” Then I reply to you “The point is that all things are possible with God, and what we cannot do either to the most spiritually callous person or to the one who is very near the kingdom, God is able to do, and he has told us to talk to him about them, and he has told us to speak to them about him. So we pray to our powerful God for conversions, and with great expectation that our speaking and praying and living will be the means God will use to go beyond our limitations.
So Jesus was not picking on money, wagging his finger and telling us that money is the universal problem. Love of money was the symptom of this man’s inner problem. Riches becoming his idol was a symptom indicating that materialism reigned in his soul. The temptation to hoard up all he had was a symptom of his lost condition. The false peace and trust which having a lot of money brings was just an emotional symptom of his inward problem. Riches binding him to this earth was a symptom of his sinful state. The destruction of simplicity and childlikeness and teachability was another symptom of his true internal problem that this man and all such men who love money possess. They know that they will have to give up many things if they are going to follow Jesus – working on Sundays, keeping all their money to themselves, living luxuriously. But all of those fears and greed are only yet more symptoms of our inner condition. Measles’ spots are not the cause of measles they are the symptoms that the measles’ virus is in your life. The refusal of this man to follow Christ on his terms and to hang on to his money was the symptom that this man’s heart was at enmity against Christ, that this man was determined to live his life without Jesus Christ. He was hostile to following our Lord on his terms.
2. WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH MEN IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD.
When the disciples heard our Lord saying those things to this rich young ruler, that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for him to be saved as he was then, they were astonished, Mark tells us. It took their breath away. “Is this the message that we are going to be preaching?” they thought, and they asked, “Who then can be saved?” (v.26). “The rich can’t be saved? It is . . . impossible for . . . a rich man . . . to be saved?” They had never heard anything like it. The rich can have anything, buy anything, go anywhere. There is nothing that a rich man lacks. “But we are being told that it’s impossible for him to be saved? What is all this about? Who then can be saved?”
The Lord Jesus does not back down; they were right; it is impossible for the richest man in the world to be saved. If salvation is through being rich the Son of God would not have laid aside all his glory and come to the womb of the virgin and the birth in the stable, and the contradiction of sinners, and the temptations of the devil and the scourging and crucifixion, and tasting death lying in the tomb, if money could have done it then it would have done without the coming of Christ. A rich man could have all the money of the Bank of England, and all the money of Swiss banks, and all the gold of Fort Knox. All that vast sum could not buy the ticket to enter the kingdom of God. The price is far higher than that. If we added all the money that has flooded into China in the last forty years, and all the oil revenues of the last fifty years then still there would not be enough money in all that vast amount to buy one man’s entrance into the kingdom.
God is not interested in money! He has the whole universe. God loves holiness, and goodness, and purity, and truth, and integrity, and gentleness, and modesty, and righteousness, and mercy, and peace, and joy, and meekness. He doesn’t love the pound and the Euro and the dollar and the yen and the ruble. The righteous God loves righteousness, and that is what you must have to enter heaven. You cannot compensate for your lack of righteousness with money. A rich man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, nor can a poor man. It is impossible with men to do so. “Who then can be saved?” Can I be saved? Can you be saved? Nobody at all. Not one person. It is simply impossible with man. Please see your impotence. You are helpless to save yourself. Not the labours of your hands can do it. Not your money, not your poverty, not your tears and sighs, not your prayers, not your religion, not your good works can get you into heaven. They are all tinged by unrighteousness. They are all filthy rags in the sight of God. Who then can be saved?
Jesus comes with his wonderful words; “saving yourself is impossible for man; read my lips; it cannot be done, but it is possible with God, because all things are possible with God.” There is not one person who is too rich, or too poor, too evil, or too good to be saved by the mighty power of God. God never looks at one person and says, “He’s too lost, too far gone, he’s the chief of sinners, and I cannot save him.” With God it is possible to save an innumerable company of people. All kinds of people saved, all this is possible with our God for the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ. These words of Jesus in our text are pure grace. Salvation is a sovereign gracious gift from God, that anyone who is saved is saved by God’s powerful mercy alone and not by any money we have built up in our lives, or by anything that we have done.
It’s by his grace that we, “Climb every mountain and ford every stream.” With the man from La Mancha, we “can dream the impossible dream and fight the unbeatable foe and bear the unbearable sorrow to run where the grave dare not go.” Jesus is clearly telling us that the poorest man and the richest man, the best man and the worst man alike inherit eternal life by God’s grace. We cannot save ourselves; that is impossible even for the richest man in the world, but God does what we are unable to do. God can save rich people and poor people, good people and bad people. God is able to save anybody, fisherman or farmer, priest or prostitute, soldier or rebel, cop or criminal, ruler or slave, educated or illiterate, healthy or disabled, religious or rotten, sensible or demon-possessed – God has the power to save anyone who turns from their sin and entrusts themselves to him. Our Lord is willing to meet people on their terms, but they can follow him as his disciples only on his terms. He won’t exclude anyone because of their past, but he won’t include anyone who refuses to leave their past and entrust their future to him. Nobody is so bad they cannot have him, but nobody is so good that they don’t need him and his mercy. He is willing to meet anyone here just where you are, but then you must be willing to follow him wherever he leads. God can enable you to do that. He can give you the courage to make a decision that will mean sorrow, suffering or even death from following him, and you make that lonely brave decision, but you do so because he gives you the strength to do so. All things are possible with God; he can give an unbeliever faith; he can give a stony-hearted man a new heart; he can give a defiant, proud person repentance. God can save the person you imagine would be the last person in the world to become a Christian. The early church thought that Saul of Tarsus would be the last person in the world to become a Christian. How amazed they were when he fell before Christ and called him his Lord.
Rich people can be saved if they run to Jesus and trust in him, in his shed blood and righteousness and that is all their plea, and they will do whatever he asks of them, then they can have wealth in this life and inherit eternal life too. In the gospels Zacchaeus was rich and he was saved. Joseph of Arimathea, who prepared Jesus’ body for burial, was a rich man and he was saved. Nicodemus, Joseph’s friend, was a member of the wealthy establishment and he was saved. God can save rich people too.
3. WE WILL NOT BE IN NEED; GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR HIS OWN.
Peter has been watching and hearing all of this and he speaks up. He reminds Jesus that they had walked away from everything to follow him. These men had done what the rich young ruler had not done, they had abandoned all their earthly responsibilities to follow Jesus. They had given up money, homes, families, businesses, etc, all because Jesus had invited and commanded them to follow him. In Matthew’s account of these events, he tells us that Peter says, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Matt. 19:27) In other words, Peter is saying, “Lord, you are saying that if a man gives up his money and follows you he can have everlasting life. We have given up everything to follow you. Is there any reward for us in doing that?” What’s in this for us?
The Lord Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for asking that question. It was a proper concern. He could see the perplexity written on the disciples’ faces, and he had a wonderful word of encouragement for them. He assured them that in this world they wouldn’t be losers from following him. The true religion has benefits now as well as blessings in the world to come. “God sees you Peter. He records and rewards every sacrifice that you and Andrew and James and John and all the others have made for him. Jesus tells them that what they’ve walked away from might seem like a lot to them, but God has far more in their future in this world than they’ve left behind in their past.
They left one house; God knows how to open a hundred doors. They left one family; God has made them a part of a family that encompasses the world. They may have become separated from an earthly brother, but God has given them more brothers in Christ than they can imagine. Those who willingly forsake the glittering prizes of this world to follow Jesus will soon discover that God has far more in store for them than the sum total of everything they’ve left behind.
When Jesus speaks of “many times as much” (v.30), he means more than you could imagine. He’s not saying that if you give a pound, he’ll give you one hundred in return. He might, but he might give you a thousand! He is simply telling us that he has far more for us than anything we could ever give up to follow Him. To put it simply, you will never out-give God! Now, we have to be prepared to serve God for nothing at all. It is a privilege to serve God. We have to be prepared to have our application for a job or for promotion turned down because of our Christian stand. That is part of the cost of following Jesus Christ. We have to remember that God doesn’t always pay out every Friday, but he always pays, and he always pays well. If you serve Jesus, he will see to it that you are blessed beyond your wildest dreams, many times as much as you have lost.
Then Jesus ices the cake! He adds, “and in the age to come, eternal life” (v.30). You have lost a lot from following him. Well you will get much in this life from following him, but you will also receive eternal life in the age to come. “Don’t worry Peter about what this world has to offer. It simply can’t compare to what I have for those who trust him.”
Money, money, money! What terrible things are done for money. It can buy a lot of things, but there are some things it cannot buy. Money can buy a bed, but not sleep. Money can buy books, but not brains. Money can buy food, but not an appetite. Money can buy a house, but not a home. Money can buy medicine, but not health. Money can buy amusement, but not happiness. Money can buy finery, but not beauty. Money can buy a crucifix, but not a Saviour. Do you have what matters most? Following Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Universe and the interpreter of life, the Saviour from guilt and shame. Walking with him day by day – that is life in its abundance. In the end, it won’t matter how much money you accumulated. All that will matter is Jesus Christ. If you have Him, you are saved and you get to go to Heaven. If you do not have him, you are lost and you will go to Hell.
So, what can we take away from this message? There are several things to think about:
i] Are we truly following Jesus Christ? Have we said good-bye to our idols, turned our backs on them to follow him? What are you relying on to take you to Heaven? Anything but Jesus will ultimately fail. On Christ the solid rock you stand. All other ground is sinking sand. If you are following him then begin to follow him today and cry mightily to Jesus to help you follow him.
ii] What is your attitude toward your money? Do you love it? Do you want to hang onto it? Are you doing all you can to increase what you have and to add more to it? Or, do you see money as a tool to be used in your service of the Lord? That’s what money’s for. The Lord gives us what he does so that we might use everything he gives us for his glory. And so to some Christians he entrusts a lot of money because they will use it for the kingdom of God. They say from their hearts, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.” Forget for a moment about giving 10% to the Lord. Ask God what he would have you to do with the 100%. God’s plan is divest and invest. Divest – Let go of what you have; and Invest – sow into God’s Kingdom.
iii] Is there anything at all that you have given up to follow Jesus? It seems to me that it’s a very poor kind of discipleship that has cost a person nothing at all. Does God have any reason to reward you for serving him?
22nd January 2012 GEOFF THOMAS