Sometimes the words of Jesus are very difficult to accept. When they are we need to have the courage not to run away and pretend we never heard or read them but to face them head on and WITH HIS HELP seek ways that we can let Him transform us into the person He made us to be. Hopefully this will become clearer in a few minutes.
At the Prep school I attended there were a number of boys who had very wealthy parents. On a Sunday evening when we were brought back to school by our parents after a weekend at home, there was an expectation on the parents to come to the evening chapel service, which most did. We had a very godly School Chaplain and I remember one evening he spoke on the passage of scripture that we have for our Gospel reading for this morning, about the rich young man and the bit about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Thereafter, there were a few parents who no longer came to chapel when dropping their sons off on a Sunday evening. I happened to be there when the chaplain quietly asked some of the boys why their parents no longer came. One of them replied that it was because of his teaching that rich people can’t go to heaven!
Of course there will be many rich people in heaven! What Jesus is teaching is something more subtle than simply how wealthy we are, He is warning us to have a correct attitude to wealth and possessions. Money should not be more important to us than God and money should not be more important to us than helping our fellow human beings in need.
The rich young man in our Bible reading falls on his knees before Jesus and says:
“Good teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In response the Lord gives him a summary of the Commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your Father and Mother.’
To be honest, I find it hard to believe the man when he responds to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus though looks at the man and loves him, “One thing you lack,” he said, “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me”.
God can ask us to do some very uncomfortable and very difficult things but when He does so, we can be sure that we will get infinitely more back from Him then we could ever give up.
I think we can have a lot of sympathy for the man at this point. In response to what Jesus asks of him, his face falls and he goes away sad because he had great wealth.
J.C. Ryle describes Jesus’ attitude towards this rich young man wonderfully. He writes:
“Just as we look with sorrow at some noble ruin, roofless and shattered, and unfit for man’s use, yet showing many a mark of the skill with which it was designed and reared at first, so we may suppose that Jesus looked with tender concern at this man’s soul.”(1)
I suppose it’s not hard for us to imagine Jesus looking at us like that too. He looks at us with a great deal of love, mercy and compassion, yet like a ruined house he sees that we are far from a completed work and there is so much that needs to be changed and transformed in our life, so much renovation is required. We are indeed ‘human becomings’(2) and it is up to us whether we let the Great Builder work away at our hearts and lives or whether we resist Him at every turn. Sometimes it might be painful, maybe He needs to demolish an area of our lives before He can build it back up again but let us always be confident that God knows what He is doing, even if at times it is a struggle for us to understand.
You can just imagine the expressions on the faces of the dumbstruck disciples as Jesus turns to them and says:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
“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.”
A Sunday school teacher was telling about a little girl who had gone to the zoo with her Sunday school class. There, she had spent an inordinate amount of time at the camels' enclosure. Her teacher finally made sense of her fascination when the girl asked, "Where do they keep the ones who can go through the eye of a needle?"(3)
Perhaps one of the most misquoted verse in the whole Bible is the first part of 1 Timothy 6:10 which is often quoted as:
Money is the root of all evil. (Including by the band Pink Floyd in their song “Money”)(4)
But in actual fact is:
For the love of money is the root of all evil.
Having money is not the problem; it’s what we do with it that matters. It might well be that we don’t have a problem with money, our master well be something or somebody else. For this young man, it was his wealth that was getting in the way of him becoming a disciple.
It is said that in Jerusalem at the time there was a narrow gateway and because of its shape it was called the “eye of the needle”. If you tried to get a fully laden camel through the gate it would have got stuck. You first had to unload the camel before it could pass through the gate. So it was with this young man, he could not pass through the door to God’s kingdom, because he was fully laden with the love of his money. He first had to take off this load before he could pass through the doorway to a new life in Christ. And of course the same is true of us. If we are to pass through the narrow gate to eternal life, we first have to shed our load of all that hinders us. We all carry baggage, and that baggage is no doubt different for each of us, it might well be money, but it could just as easily be something else, but before we can be truly born again we have to shed our load, lay it at the foot of the cross, and then, only then can we pass through the gateway.
As usual, Peter is the spokesman for the disciples, and he says to the Lord:
“We have left everything to follow you.”
There seems to be an element of doubt in what Peter says, yet where the rich young man had failed the disciples had not. Each one of them had given up a lot to follow Jesus and as we know, many of them would later even give up their lives for Him. Peter himself (according to tradition), was crucified upside down because he insisted he wasn’t good enough to die the same way that his Master had.(5)
Jesus’ reply to Peter and the other disciples must have been a very comforting one to them:
“Yes,” Jesus said to them, “and I tell you that anyone who leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel, will receive much more in this present age. He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and persecutions as well; and in the age to come he will receive eternal life.
It is clear that this is a promise for all believers, not just the original disciples. For all who have put Christ first, over their possessions and even over their relatives, for all who have made a sacrifice to follow Christ motivated by love for Him and for the Gospel, they will be reimbursed many times over for what they gave up. In these uncertain times, where financial investments are so fragile and once great banking institutions are being artificially propped up by tax payers money, it is good to remember that one investment is sure and certain and guaranteed – investment in our relationship with God through Christ.
A very sobering thought indeed is that one day we will have to stand before Christ (Heb.4:12)
What will we be able to say that we gave up for Christ? Will we be like the Rich young man and walk away in sadness, or will we be able to stand up like Peter and say “Lord I left everything to follow you.”
(1) J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Mark, Banner of Truth, 1985, p.209
(2) Phrase attributed to John Macquarrie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Macquarrie