Mark 10:23-31 “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or children or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecution), and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'”
If it had ever been easy to enter the kingdom of God then it would have been just as easy to slip out of it again. It’s easy to enter the pub, and the nightclub, and the betting shop, and the red light area, but Christ says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (v.24). It is hard because you have to come just as you are. People put on their fancy clothes to go to dance halls in order to create the best impression, but to enter the kingdom of God there is no costume permitted to cover us.
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace’
Foul I to Thy fountain fly,
Wash me Saviour, or I die.” (Augustus Toplady).
We have to approach the entrance to the kingdom of God just as we are. God insists upon it; no mask, no covering for our wickedness; we are fearfully exposed, terrifyingly vulnerable, poor, wretched, blind, and that is particularly hard for a rich man to do. There we have to ask the Holy One to let us in and the reason we give is this, “for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.” That is so simple to understand. The youngest child can understand what I am saying. You don’t need a Ph.D. to enter the kingdom of God. God hasn’t made it difficult to understand how to enter. “Let me in for Jesus’ sake.” The simplest here can know this gospel: we deserve eternal death because we are sinners but Jesus because he loved us died for us. I have said that to you so often that you all can say it with me. You must plead the merit of the Son of God. That is not difficult to understand, but how hard on our pride to do it, to enter the kingdom of God in Jesus’ name!
Do we all realise what it means to go to God in the name of Jesus? It means that there’s no way that we can plead our own good record as the reason why the doors of heaven should open to let us in. In fact it is the very reverse, that we have to get a huge jug of contempt and pour it on all our pride. Our only plea for admission before God is Another Person! His life and his death. His righteousness and his blood. How hard on our egos to plead the life of another and not our own!
Imagine proposing to a girl and saying to her “Marry me for the sake of that perfect and wonderful man over there. See how great he is. Keep looking away from me to him, and so become my husband.” Think of it! Not for your own sake, because you know so well that you imagine and say and do many evil things every day. So you plead “Marry me for the sake of that perfect man! He is all that I am not!” What a humiliation! But that is the way all men and women have to enter the kingdom of God, by pleading the perfect life and atoning death for our sins of the Lord Jesus Christ! That is the exclusive way! The door to the kingdom of God will never open if we plead anything else. If we ask God to let us in for the sake of our own good works the door stays shut. Or even if we plead our faith – “Look at my belief. Let me in because I am a believer” – then the doors will never open. No way will God let anybody in because of that. Our faith is imperfect faith in the best of believers. We have to come to the Lord just as we are, and we have to plead the name and merit of the life and death of the blessed Son of God. How hard it is for people to do that. But for all who do it those heavenly doors will certainly open and when they close behind us they will never let us leave that place again!
Yet let me make this point as clear as I can because your heaven depends on it, it is not enough for you to plead that phrase “for Jesus’ sake” as some kind of formula for an opened door. The name of Jesus is not a password which automatically springs open the doors of heaven. The name ‘Jesus’ is not an ‘open sesame.’ Have we been following the Lord Christ since we confessed him as our God? I am stressing that it is not enough to key in the correct letters, J-E-S-U-S, at the pearly gates. Faith without works is dead. A rich young ruler came to Jesus on one occasion wanting to know what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life, and the Saviour told him where he had to go; it was so far; very, very far. He was told he had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, and then follow Christ. Men and women, I remind you again that if it were easy to enter the kingdom of God it would be just as easy to slip out.
Amy Carmichael, the Indian missionary, was once talking to a high caste Hindu lady about the gospel. This lady showed a hunger for spiritual things, and she asked Amy Carmichael one searching question after another. “What did Jesus Christ say? What is the cost of following him? Tell me! You must tell me!” But Amy Carmichael wanted to lead her on gently. She wanted to show her more of Jesus, to present his greatness and glory to this Hindu before she came to the cost of following him. She tried to deflect her, but the woman wouldn’t let her; “Tell me! I must know it now,” she said. So verse by verse Amy Carmichael spread out the gospel to her, the cost of pouring contempt on all your pride, forsaking every idol that is keeping you away from him, turning away and taking Jesus only, his cross and his righteousness as your single hope, even, Amy Carmichael said, selling all you have and giving it away when it becomes an idol to you. That is how far we must follow him. The lady listened gravely, “So far?” she soberly asked Amy Carmichael. “So far? I must follow him so far? I cannot follow so far.”
She was just like the rich young ruler. He loved his many possessions; they were a great barrier to his ever being able to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and so he made the great refusal. The only way into heaven is by a narrow gate, and it is enough for a man to squeeze through it with nothing at all in his hands. It is impossible for a man to enter with any possessions. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a man plus his riches to enter the kingdom of God. “Get rid of your idols,” said Jesus, “destroy Mammon, and just follow me!” How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Have you been following Jesus? Who would dare to plead his name as they breathe their last when they’ve never served him during their lives? Hypocrites! Who enters the kingdom of heaven? Those who have left their sin for the sake of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and have lived for him. He is their only hope in life and death. It is hard to enter the kingdom of God. It is especially hard for the rich.
1. WHY IT IS HARD FOR THE RICH TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
i] The first reason the Bible gives is arrogance:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (I Tim. 6:17). Young Timothy is confronted with the congregation in Ephesus and there are rich people listening to him on the Lord’s Days. “Warn them particularly Timothy about any feelings some of them may have brought into the service with them of self-importance,” Paul says. Do you think that God is impressed with our possessions? It is the most natural thing for wealthy people to attract a lot of special attention from the world, and to expect such interest. That is how the world acts because all it has is the world, but it is disastrous when that spirit comes into the church, and in the letter of James we are told that it even affected the early church at times of the greatest blessing and growth. When a rich man walked into the assembly then the deacons would snap to attention and compete in their obsequious behaviour towards the dude. What a wonderful welcome he had! The best seat was given to him. None of them noticed the slave woman slipping in to stand at the back. No one was finding her a place to sit – even on the floor. The rich are arrogant and we are foolish in our attitude towards them. That spirit of fascination with people of wealth still riddles the Christian church, because the arrogance of wealth is contagious.
I can give you two contrasting examples: David Kingdon was worshipping one Sunday in a large Baptist church in a city in Texas. They were receiving their thousandth member under their present pastor. There were a cluster of people standing in the front, waiting for the little ceremony. Who did member number one thousand turn out to be? It was the adulated millionaire quarter-back from the city’s victorious football team. The flashlight cameras were working overtime as he was given the right hand of fellowship by the minister. Then the other half a dozen people were brought into membership. Affluence and fame were separating this man from his fellow members at the very beginning of his life in the church. What a disaster! That would foster his arrogance – within the fellowship of the church itself! A acorn had been planted in his mind by all that Christian fuss suggesting that he was special in the sight of God because he had fame and money. What a pastoral disaster, I say. He would have to learn and relearn that nothing in his hand he could bring to God but his sin, and no name could he plead but the glorious name of Jesus Christ.
The other example comes from Africa today, whether it is in Nigeria and all the western countries, or in Kenya and all the eastern nations there is a plague which is destroying the Christian witness in the whole continent. This is it, that the chiefs and the leading men in every community automatically expect to be made elders in the churches they attend. Whatever their understanding of the gospel, whatever the credibility of their Christian faith or utter lack of it, however ethically or not they pursue their business, they become elders in the African Inland Church, or the Anglican Church, or the Presbyterian Church, or the Baptist Church, or the Roman Catholic Church. They run the church, and they see out of the church any preachers whom they dislike for preaching about their darling sins. That is the arrogance of riches, and that is one reason why it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
ii] The second reason the Bible gives is materialism.
“Command those who are rich . . . not to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God” (I Tim. 6:17). Materialism is putting one’s hope in money. What fascination there is in making money. You think of the whole economic quest, and how it can grab a man and woman and not let them go. They dedicate themselves to their work or their business; they are up early in the morning, off to the station, get the train to the city and then work until early evening; bringing work home with them for the evenings; work on Saturdays, and work on Sundays, putting such a strain on family life and their marriages. Millions live like that in the western world, living for the rewards of their industry. They are obsessed with ‘stuff.’ It is only a short step between wealth and putting your hope in wealth, from owning your own home and having money in the bank to putting your trust in those things.
Wealth is a handicap. Think of Jesus’ warnings about the pursuit of wealth: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). We recently had a visit from a missionary family who have lived most of their lives in Kenya. The fifteen year old son told me he was missing Nairobi very much. He’s left his heart there and just longs to get back. Now consider some depressed Christian who might be in the congregation today. He has a heart problem, and where is his heart? It is inside one of the banks in town. There it is, alongside the computers, and the desks, and the counter, and the racks of pamphlets, and the great wall safe, and the staff, most of whom never darken the doors of a place of worship, and this Christian’s heart is there always! “Christian, why are you sad?” “Because my heart is far away.” “Where is it?” “In Lloyd’s Bank,” he says. Money is his treasure, and so his heart is where is treasure is. So when he comes to the house of God to worship, to the Lord who says, “My son, give me your heart,” then he doesn’t have his heart to give to God. It’s in the bank with his treasure.
The Lord says that there is no security in that; in pension funds, in stocks and shares, in a secret safe hidden behind a mirror. Inflation and political action can wipe away overnight all the careful savings. There is no security in buying old masters or antiques because of burglars, and wood worm, and fires, and mildew, and decay. Paul speaks of ‘uncertain riches,’ and what are they in the light of certain death? There was a farmer whose lands produced more and more grain so that he had no place to store it all. “I must keep it until the winter when the price of grain has gone up. No point in selling it today; there’s a glut of the stuff. What will I do?” He thought of all the possibilities and then he decided that he would tear down all his outhouses and barns and build in their place far bigger barns where he could store all his grain and goods. ” ‘And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”‘ (Lk. 12:19). That was his life. That was his future. They were his self-made plans, for a future over which no man has any control whatsoever. All his atheist farming friends thought he was making a very wise decision, but the Lord Christ tells us that all this time the God who had blessed this farmer with sunshine and fruitful rain and a great harvest was watching and listening to all his plans, and “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Lk. 12:20). But Jesus doesn’t leave that powerful incident in the air for his hearers to draw their own application. He applies it to you personally, and to all of us, and to me too: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but it not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21). Riches are uncertain because death is coming nearer and nearer us, and we will be taken from everything we’ve lived for to meet the eternal God whom we’ve ignored. “You fool!” God says. “You have made a bad bargain.”
That is not the only place Christ came with such a warning for those who lived for money. There was a rich man, dressed in the most expensive clothes, living in luxury every day, and on the road outside his house lived a beggar called Lazarus. He would have happily eaten whatever fell from the rich man’s table. In the night the dogs came along and as he slept they licked this beggar’s sores. Both men died within just a short time of one another. The beggar was a believer in the grace of God in Christ and he went to heaven, but the rich man went to hell. There was a great chasm fixed between them. It was impossible for anyone to cross it on a mercy mission to the men of hell, Jesus said. Utterly impossible. No man could relieve the judgment of God which the men of hell were experiencing. The rich man had already received his good things in that brief lifetime of his. Henceforth in hell all his riches couldn’t buy him a cup of cold water. All anyone gets in hell is scrupulous fairness. The door to hell is the door of divine justice. He was in the place of torment, but the beggar was now vindicated by God, safe in Abraham’s bosom. This is the parable Jesus told. Was he a child of his time in telling it? Or are we children of our age when we reject it? If you live for money it will take you to hell. There is no way that such a rich man will enter the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus is making plain.
Men and women, isn’t there a proper Christian fear of being rich? Don’t riches suck in a man so that he becomes so deeply buried in them that he forgets what is infinitely more important? He knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. My assumption today is that material things corrupt. They make it hard for people to enter the kingdom of heaven. Do you believe this? Are you convinced about this so much so that you are determined that you are going to get to heaven in God’s way? This is the only way I will have succeeded today if I’ve got you to think like this: “I am in a dangerous place. Money has far too big a place in my life, and that is utterly foolish, because who knows that tomorrow I might have far less. I have been living my one unrepeatable life for mere baubles. From now on I am going to live for the eternal and blessed God. I am going to make my only plea that he show me his mercy because of the life and death of Jesus Christ.” Are you thinking like that? There is no hope for you unless you are. That materialistic spirit of yours has to be mortified. Kill it! Evacuate it from your life! It is making you forget God and despise people. What do you have to do? Abandon it for Christ and the gospel. That is what Jesus says in verse 29, leave everything “for me and the gospel.” Here is the choice; on this one hand there is home, and brothers and sisters, mother and father, children, and fields. On the other hand there is the Lord Jesus Christ. Eternal life is taking Christ. That is how the preacher David Patterson pressed home the claims of Christ to unbelieving Douglas MacMillan. “Here on this hand of mine imagine everything you’ve got. All your possessions and plans for the future. While here on this other hand is Jesus Christ. Which one are you going to take?” And David waited long minutes as Douglas agonised over the choice, and finally he said, “I’ll take Christ.”
2. WHAT CHRISTIANS MUST DO.
Let us look at this question negatively and positively, first negatively:
i] The Lord Jesus does not summon Christians to lives of poverty.
You might think that that is a cop-out, that I am being inconsistent, and that now I am going to get us all off the hook and say that it is all right for us to have money. No. What I’m saying is this, that the alternatives before us are not riches or poverty. The alternatives are this; living for riches or living for Christ. The question before us now is this, whether those who live for Christ must take a vow of poverty, and I am saying that the answer resoundingly is No.
Take the example of Christ. During his life he bought no home but he did have a place in Capernaum where he lived for a year or two. He shared in the common purse with the twelve and they all depended on gifts and a group of people who sometimes accompanied them. The Lord Jesus had some women who cooked and washed for him. But Jesus was a carpenter by trade; he belonged to the craftsman class. He was not a beggar with a bowl. He was not from the proletariat of day labourers and landless tenants hanging around waiting to be hired. He was a skilled worker from the middle classes of Galilee. He was an artisan and his disciples too came from that background. None of them was a beggar. Jesus was not destitute. The women cared for his needs well, as Christian women do.
Does Jesus expect all his followers to sell everything they have to follow him? The apostles had done that; Peter says, “We have left everything to follow you” (v.28). Is that a universal rule? Store your treasures in heaven; that is a universal rule. Seek first God’s kingdom is a universal command. Bewaring of covetousness is a universal warning. It is impossible to serve God and to serve money simultaneously; that is a universal observation. But there is no teaching of Jesus that every single Christian must rid himself of everything that he possesses, is there? Jesus said to one rich young ruler, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor” (v.21), but he didn’t say that to you, silly!
John Stott points out how Joseph of Aramathea is described in the gospels as both ‘a rich man’ and as ‘a disciple of Jesus’. So these two were evidently not incompatible. Zacchaeus the wealthy tax-collector promised both to pay back to people he had cheated four times what he had taken, and to give half of his possessions to the poor, which presumably means that he kept the other half, apart from what he paid back to his victims. Yet Jesus said that salvation had been given him. So then, when he said that no one could be his disciple unless he both ‘renounced’ all his possessions and ‘hated’ his parents and other relatives, we shall need to understand both these verbs as dramatic figures of speech. We are not to hate our parents literally, nor to renounce all our possessions literally. What we are summoned to is to put Jesus Christ first, above even our family and our goods.
What about the example of the early church in the first chapters of the book of Acts? Luke writes of the first Christian community in Jerusalem that they “had everything in common”, that “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own”, that “they shared everything they had” and “gave to anyone as he had need”, and that in consequence “there were no needy persons among them”. Is Luke setting their common life before us as an example for every church to copy? In the sense that the early Spirit-filled believers loved and cared for one another, and eliminated poverty within their fellowship, yes. But is he also advocating the common ownership of goods? Among the Essene groups, especially in their central community at Qumran, this was obligatory, and every novice entering the order had to hand over his property. But it is plain from Luke’s narrative that the Christians’ selling and sharing were neither universal nor compulsory. For some believers still had houses in which they met. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they were selfish to withhold some of their property, but that they were deceitful to pretend they had given it all. Peter said to them: “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (5.4). Thus the Christian’s right to property is affirmed, together with the voluntary nature of Christian giving. So the example of Jesus, and his teaching, and the example of the early church all challenge us to renounce covetousness, materialism and luxury, and to care sacrificially for the poor, but they don’t command each Christian to take up vows of poverty. (cp. John Stott, “Issues Facing Christians Today,” Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 1984, p.225).
ii] The Lord Jesus does summon Christians to lives of stewardship and generosity.
If Jesus told his disciples to behold the birds of the air and learn from them it is not too far stretched for us also at his unspoken command to behold the squirrels and witness how our Creator has taught them to hoard seeds and nuts for the winter. Then, more specifically, in the Old Testament (which Jesus affirmed to be the word of God to its jots and tittles), we read what Solomon wrote, that “the diligent man prizes his possessions” (Provs. 12:27), and that, “a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Provs 13:22). Certainly prudence is not evil, and prosperity is no more evil than prudence. But if you ask me how far you can go in making provision for the future, and in putting money in pension funds, and in investing in certain trusts or antiques, then the Bible will not give us answers, nor will the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is more concerned with the psychology of the issue than economics. He asks us if our concern is for treasures that last, and whether our hearts are set on those lasting treasures. If you are torn between heavenly treasure and earthly stuff your judgment is going to be clouded and you won’t be able to see things as God sees them. If you have a single eye to the glory of God then things will fall into place about what to do with your money. Our goal in life will determine our view of life and our way of life. Make sure that first things are indeed first, and the kingdom of God and his righteousness must come first.
It does seem to me that few things are more simple and crucial in this area than keeping the Lord’s Day. We labour for six days in our work and various tasks, but there is a day each week when we stop all that and we give that day to God. Soon we a re going to be in heaven, and all we have there is the living God, and if we are not fascinated enough in Almighty God in this world to give him even one day in seven, then do we worship and adore him at all? How deep and how strong is our piety? Is glorifying God really our chief end? Are we seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? The keeping of the Lord’s Day is a barometer as to our priorities about the kingdom of God.
But the Christian is also called to a life of generosity. See how the Lord Jesus is exhorting Christian women in our text to become sisters or mothers or daughters to other Christians. He is exhorting Christian men to become brothers or fathers or sons to other Christians. He is exhorting us to be liberal with our possessions so that other Christians share in our homes and lands and fields. Where does he say that? In verses 29 and 30 where he declares that no Christian “who has left his home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields . . .” Not all Christians have been driven out of their homes and families. Most have kept them but they are cheerfully obliged to become the new family of faith to those who have lost so much. It is like the parable of the good Samaritan who was a man who had some possessions, a donkey, and money in his bag, so that he could transport to an inn the victim he had unexpectedly come across lying in the road groaning and bleeding. The Samaritan had money and could pay for him to be cared for there. A Christian who comes from overseas to work or study in Aberystwyth should be able to find quickly in this congregation other homes from his own home, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children and possessions in abundance. I believe that this happens all the time.
Paul tells Timothy to exhort the rich in the Ephesian congregation “to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (I Tim. 6:18). So let me bring those exhortations today to you in this congregation who are rich. The Holy Spirit says to you to be, one, rich in good deeds – how many good deeds this past week, when you put yourself out for somebody else? two, be generous! Who has been the beneficiary of your generosity this past week? There is a third, to be willing to share! Are you? In such ways you will imitate God.
iii] The Lord Jesus promises every Christian abundant provision both in this life and in the life to come.
“‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (vv. 29&30). This is not hyperbole. Sinclair Ferguson’s comment is spot on, that “thousands, millions of Christians throughout the ages could testify how this promise has come true in their lives. Christ has never been their debtor. He has supplied all their needs. Even when becoming a Christian has meant leaving family, or being rejected by them, Christ has given back a hundred families to his servants. It is one of the most stubborn facts of history that his promise has been fulfilled. Christ, as the great explorer David Livingstone once said, was a gentleman, and has kept his word” (Sinclair Ferguson. “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, pp. 169&170).
Saul of Tarsus would have been disowned by his family when he confessed to them that their Messiah was the condemned and crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. They probably held a funeral service and when the subject of Saul happened to be raised in a conversation his mother would say, “You mean our dead son.” But wherever Paul went, city upon city, town upon town, village upon village, in Asia Minor and then into Europe Paul found homes waiting for him, and a family in Christ to welcome him. How often he speaks in terms of his ‘family’. He tells the Romans that the mother of Rufus was as good as a mother to him (Roms 16:13). In his little letter to Philemon he speaks of the runaway slave Onesimus as the son whose father he had become during his imprisonment (Philemon 10).
After Saul of Tarsus became a Christian his Hebrew testament would have come alive to him and provided such promises of the provision of God as he served Jehovah Jesus. God had spoken through Malachi and said to his people, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it'” (Mal. 3:10). That is the experience of every true Christian, poured out blessings and no room to receive them; God supplying all his or her needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. All our needs! How utterly wonderful that is! All you will need the Lord will supply. Not all your desires, especially the imagined ones, but our needs, and God himself being the judge of that.
Let me share a simple incident with you. A missionary failed to receive her monthly cheque. She was seriously ill, but because she had no money was forced to survive for a month on a diet of oatmeal and tins of condensed milk. The following month her cheque arrived on time. She returned to Britain in a few months for her furlough and she told her doctor what had happened. “What was wrong with you?” he asked. She described her intestinal syndrome, and he thought for a moment and said, “If you had gone on eating what you normally ate you wouldn’t be here today. The best treatment for that condition is a thirty-day oatmeal diet.” God himself is the best judge of what we need and he will supply those needs.
Augustine could look at this extraordinarily demand of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” and Augustine’s response was this, to pray, “Lord, please give me always what you command, and then you can command whatever you will.” We say to God, “You can send me around the world. You can ask me to bear any burden, climb any mountain, ford any river, face any trial, endure any pain, providing you give me the grace I’ll need to do your will.” How marvelous God’s provision. His grace will cover all our needs, and the way that grace comes, and the riches of the provision will reflect all the resources of God, even his glorious resources. In other words, God will meet our need according to the intrinsic glory of Christ and according to the incalculable nature of the price that Christ paid for the salvation of his people. So you will not fail to receive a hundred times as much as you have given up for Jesus Christ. That is the Lord’s promise (v.30). You lose a friend and you say to yourself, “I shall receive a 100.” A church loses a family for the sake of the gospel and the church says, “We will receive a 100.” You have forfeited riches for Christ’s sake and you remind yourself of this promise of a hundred-fold provision for every loss. Of course there is hyperbole in that figure, but not in the promise of abundance.
We operate by a different scale of values as Christians. Let me illustrate this by telling you of a missionary in South America who is very well qualified. He had earned two undergraduate degrees, a masters degree and a doctorate from the same university. Then he and his family went to Colombia to live in the forests for ten years among a forgotten, isolated group of people. His alma mater was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary and a group of businessmen who were his fellow graduates wanted to publish a book to let others know the work of the outstanding graduates of this university. One day a plane circled his little forest clearing and delivered his ”air mail” by throwing out a packet attached to a small parachute that floated down to him. He found in the packet a letter from his university with a series of questions.
The first was: “Do you own your own home?” He thought back to the days when he and his friends had built this two-room house out of the jungle for $100. So he checked “yes.” Question two: “Do you own two homes?” His first reaction was “No,” but then he recalled that Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also.” So he checked “Yes.” Question three was: “Do you own a boat?” He looked out to the river below his house and saw the forty-foot canoe he and friends had hollowed out of a log with the little outboard motor on it and answered again “Yes.” Question four asked: “Do you plan to travel abroad this year?” He called to his wife in the other room, “Margaret, are we going home on furlough this year?” She answered, “Yes.” So again he answered affirmatively, “Yes.” The final question was: “What is your annual salary?” He searched down the list of suggested salary figures which started at $250,000 and couldn’t find a figure to match his missionary quota. So he drew a line across the bottom of the list and under it he wrote the figure of the very small salary which he receives. He felt that he was a rich man by so many standards – by the villages of Colombia, and by God’s, though perhaps not by the standards of the graduates of his university
As today we look at our own problems, to the hills before us all, we often think to ourselves, how can we possibly climb those mountains? With man it is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God, and that almighty God shall supply all our needs according to his resources in glory. How has it been with us? We might have set off into uncharted territory and felt very alone, yet we cried to God for the impossible, and God heard us. Aren’t we far too pessimistic? We are expecting the worst; “there may be trouble ahead, dark clouds, sorrows and storms . . .” We are bracing ourselves for resignation. We forget the glory of God’s love, and the marvel of his provision. We forget that what we ought to expect in the years ahead is to be blessed according to the God with whom all things are possible.
3. HOW MEN AND WOMEN CAN BEHAVE IN THIS EXTRAORDINARY WAY.
How can we live our daily lives like this, always being prepared to give up everything for the sake of Christ? Who will do that? Millions have done it, men and women! The apostle Paul gave up all things that he might have Christ. William Borden of Yale did it when he left America and his great inheritance – he was a millionaire at the age of 21 – to become a missionary in China, but he died in Egypt en route to the far east at the age of 26. He left a million dollars to Christian causes. F.N. Charrington the heir of a brewery fortune did it a century ago in London, covering the cost of building the Great Assembly Hall on the Mile End Road that seated 5,000 people. It had a cafe and book shop; 2,000 children attended the Sunday School and often the sign was hung outside, ‘No room. Hall full.’ David Brainerd did it when he became a missionary to the Delaware Indians in eastern Pennsylvania dying when he was 29 but inspiring millions of Christians. Henry Martyn gave up everything to take the gospel to what today is called Iran but dying when he was 31. There is our brother from the USA in the forests of Colombia.
How can Christians give up everything, their fortunes and even their lives in that way? By faith, of course. As another young martyr, Jim Elliott, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” All these men saw with clear vision the glories of heaven. Life was sweet to them, but eternal life was sweeter. Do you understand that it was not self motivation that transformed them but the power of God? So when these twelve young apostles began to understand what Jesus was saying abut the cost of discipleship, and what it would mean to be saved, to follow Christ and get to heaven, they blurted out in amazement to one another, “Who then can be saved?” (v.26). The Lord Jesus Christ didn’t respond, “I’m sorry. I’ll make it easier. I don’t want to lose anyone.” He didn’t even say that as they matured they would become stronger, or that when the church spread there wouldn’t be so much opposition, or that one day Emperor Constantine would make Christianity the official state religion and that would take the heat off, and so on. No. He doesn’t say things like that today. In fact he warns us as he warned them of persecutions (v.30). You lose all you have, and on top of that receive persecutions. That is what he says, and he doesn’t promise any comfort from the actions of men. The Lord never directed his disciples to look to themselves nor to man. He pointed them to God, to remember who they were dealing with, that God’s power was at work in them and so these men, young, untried, mere fishermen and tax-collectors, would be able to live self-sacrificially, they would deny themselves and forsake all things for his sake, and they could enter the kingdom of God. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (v.27).
That must be the focus of our great hope too. The future looks threatening for those who hold to the historic Christian faith. A violence, surliness and moral anarchy has spread all over our beloved land. Our congregations shrink and churchmen suggest all the devices of human engineering for congregations to survive. “Let’s water down the message. Let’s make the weight of the cross lighter. What hope is there if we make the standards too high – ‘Sell all you have and give to the poor’? What sort of message is that to attract people in from the street?” If we make it easy to enter the kingdom of God then it will be easy for people to leave it too. Our Lord tells us that it is impossible for the kingdom of God to spread by the activities of man. It is impossible for men to change and become these heroic men except by the power of God. With man it is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. Look to God O church of Jesus Christ! What a message for a disillusioned and hopeless generation who need to swallow chemicals by the bucketful just to survive. There is true hope offered to all of them in the gospel of the almighty power of God.
Yet what a warning to our generation is also here, that all the role models of our decadent age, the media people and the film stars and sportsmen with their vast salaries and free spending life styles, fawned over by every newspaper and pursued by the paparazzi, they are all going to be eternal losers. “The first will be last, and the last first,” says the Lord Christ (v.31). The people now in the limelight will then be lost in eternal darkness. Those of whom men said, “He is the greatest” will be the very least in the day of the Lord. The insignificant ones who loved the Saviour, people who possessed little money and lacked both fame and power, will be the admired examples amongst the hosts of heaven. They will be just like that little child who desired to come to Jesus whom the Son of God held and blessed, whilst the rest will be the multitudes who followed the rich young ruler from the presence of Christ for ever. The sick beggar Lazarus will be in heaven; the rich man will be in hell. The condemned and crucified One will be in the midst of the throne while those who passed judgment upon him will be where the worm dies not and the fires are not quenched. The first will be last, and the last will be first. What place does envy for the have-it-alls of this world have in disciples of the crucified one? Listen you who are first, aspire to be the last! That is the message of repentance Christ brought from heaven for you. Will you hear it? Only the power of God can make you receive it. That will be life for you, whilst you who always have seemed to be at the tail-end of everything, the dispossessed for Jesus’ sake, that is the very place God puts his disciples in this topsy-turvy world. Be content with the will of God. It is enough for you to be where the Saviour was, outside the city, an outcast and an outlaw, crucified amidst the derision of the world. Grace alone can make you content with that calling whilst you are in the body.
Some of you possess that book of sermons recording Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ earliest sermons which he preached in South Wales in 1928. The very first sermon in that book is on this text, Mark 10:27, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” and I would urge you who possess that book to take it up later today and read that first sermon again. Let me quote you its final paragraphs.
As Christ preached “the drunkards and the fallen women began to see some hope for themselves. They knew that they had failed and had made shipwreck of their lives, and knew that neither they themselves nor any power of man could ever put them right, but when they heard Christ saying that God was concerned, and that He would change their natures and their lives for them, why, they saw hope after all. ‘I cannot change myself’, says the man. ‘I cannot go straight, I cannot fight my temptations’. ‘Of course you cannot’, says Jesus Christ, ‘no man ever can, but God can change you, God can give you power and give you strength. Submit yourselves to him’. No wonder that Peter said that ‘there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.’
“Cannot you see it every day round and about you? See the poor drunkard and watch men trying to save him. ‘In the name of decency’, they say, ‘change your mode of life’. No change! ‘In the name of manhood and for the sake of your street and town and neighbourhood pull yourself together’. No change! ‘In the name of your King and Country I appeal to you to be sober and to go straight’. They responded to that call a few years ago and were prepared to die for that name, but it is apparently easier to die for King and Country than to live for them. ‘In the name of and for the sake of your dear old parents and home, do try to go straight’. No change! ‘In the name of democracy’. No difference! ‘In the name of your political party do go straight and return to your wife.’ No change! He cannot do it. ‘In the name of and for the sake of your dear little children whom you love, do give it up and change your way of living.’ Still he is helpless. Well, is there no hope? Yes, my friends, eternal hope. Throughout the ages men and women as bad as, and worse than ourselves have failed to respond to all these appeals, but in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of God, their whole lives have been changed. The impossible has happened and God has done it. They have found themselves changed men.
“What is your weakness, your sin? In the name of God and Christ submit yourself to his power. It is active still, it operates now. Look at some of these men here. You know how they once were. See the change. What has done it? The power of God and nothing else. Ask them how it happened. They cannot tell you. They felt a power dealing with them and shaking them and changing them. You feel you are a desperate case. So were we all, but with God ‘all things are possible.’ He can change you and recreate you. There is no excuse. Submit yourselves. Think. Pray. For his Name’s sake. Amen. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Evangelistic Sermons,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1983, pp.10&11).
11th July 2004 GEOFF THOMAS