We took a hiatus in our Summer Teaching Series this past weekend, but we’ll return to studying through 1 John this Sunday. If you’ve missed a week, go to the SCC Sermon Archive or our YouTube Channel and you can listen to one of the first five sermons. Also, take the time to read through the book as we are studying it. You will benefit from studying on your own as well as listening to sermons through the text.
This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend and it’s the unofficial beginning of the Summer Season. After Memorial Day, school will soon be out, vacations will be taken; we’ll hit the beach, the pool, and the park. We’ll squeeze what we can out of the outdoors while its warm! As our schedules have a way of changing frequently and becoming very busy in the summer, it’s crucial that we continue to abide in Jesus throughout this season. We want to get to September and be able to look back upon the Summer and see how God has worked in our hearts and lives. We want to see our relationships, our beliefs, and our way of living more closely resemble God’s will for us.
With this in mind, our 2013 Summer Teaching Series here at SCC will be entitled: Simple Relationships, Deep Belief, and Authentic Living: a study through The First Epistle of John. This study begins this Sunday, so invite a friend and bring your Bible and we’ll see how God is going to shape us this Summer as we seek to know him and obey him.
When you think of the Classic Christmas, what comes to mind? Thinking about the Classic Christmas, for each of us includes some different elements. Some of these elements include trees, decorations, sending cards, parties, gift-giving, large meals, family fights, and lots of different things. All over the world people celebrate Christmas, and there are differences in our celebrations. But, there are a few things we hold in common. The Classic Christmas for all of us is about traditions, expectation, songs, food, worship, and most of all, Christmas is about baby Jesus lying in his manger.
In a sense, our celebration of Christmas reflects the simplest and most enjoyable aspects of life. We pay special attention to family, traditions, singing, food, and worship this time of year, but if we think about it, these things are what makes our lives worthwhile all year long, there is just a cultural emphasis on it this time of year.
This Christmas, at SCC, we are going to spend some time looking at the “Classic” Christmas bible passages and enjoy this season of celebration with our church, our families, and our friends. In the midst of all the activity, our thoughts will be directed heavenward as we consider all that Jesus’ coming means for us.
First of all, I think it’s helpful to consider the origin of the celebration of the Christmas season. There is nothing about Christmas in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it? There are a lot of mixed reports on how the church worldwide has celebrated Jesus’ birth throughout history. There are records as early as the mid 300’s that talk of Jesus’ birth being in December during the winter solstice. This isn’t to coincide with the pagan holiday observance either. There is an early church theologian that identified Jesus’s birth with the solstice, not because of pagan worship, but because Malachi 4:2 is a prophecy of Jesus saying that the “Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings”. The winter solstice is the turning point when the days begin to get longer. One might say this is when the sun rises to heal the earth of winter and bring springtime. So for this guy, there was a connection between Malachi’s prophecy of Jesus and the changing of the seasons. God designed creation in such a way as to point to his son, and Malachi 4:2 joins the winter solstice in pointing to Jesus.
There is evidence that suggests that at some points the church began to adopt pagan celebrations during the winter solstice and substitute Christian worship for the pagan worship. In other words, they used culturally appropriate methods to communicate the unchanging message. So, for much of the early church, there was no need to “keep Christ in Christmas” because Christianity was infiltrating the various cultural celebrations from the Middle East to Northern Europe. They weren’t trying to “Keep Christ in Christmas”; they were trying to “Put Christ into all Celebrations”. But sometime between 1000-1500, Christmas celebration was widely established in the western world within the church. Many of the traditions that grew out of the Protestant Reformation opposed celebrating Christmas, and in some places it was even outlawed. The Puritans intensely opposed Christmas celebrations. Between 1659 and 1681, Christmas celebrations were outlawed in Massachusetts. In 1855, the New York Times published an article talking about how Baptists and Methodists didn’t regard Christmas as a holy day, so their churches were closed. As late as 1869, public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day. For some believers in America history, the concern wasn’t putting Christ back into Christmas, but removing Christmas from Christianity altogether. The background of Christmas celebrations in the church is varied and sporadic.
But, as the saying goes, “That was then and this is now”. All of us grew up in a place where virtually everyone celebrated Christmas. Even today, the overwhelming majority of people in our country still celebrate Christmas. We know there will always be people who don’t believe like us and celebrate different things than us. It seems though, that our society has more and more people who don’t believe like we do. It seems that understanding Christmas with reference to Jesus is being lost in our culture and many people have no idea about the Christian influence in the holiday.
The celebration that overtook pagan celebrations centuries ago is now being over taken by pagan celebrations. So how do we get it back? What exactly is it that we are trying to get back? Should we put a bumper sticker on our cars that says “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Jesus is the reason for the season”? I somehow doubt that’ll change much, but go ahead if you want. As Christmastime seems to slowly be sinking back into paganism, talking about the way we celebrate will help very little. What I would like for us to consider is not necessarily the way we celebrate, but the reason we celebrate.
For many people, the reason to celebrate is tradition, gift-giving, or family time. All of these things are fine, but why is that what Christmas is all about? But what does this mean for us today? Why is it that you celebrate Christmas? As we approach Christmas, there are some important ideas that should guide us. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why should we celebrate it?
First, we celebrate because all celebration points to Jesus. In Colossians 2:16-17, there are instructions to these early Christians about the nature of cultural celebrations. It says these festivals and celebrations are “the Shadow” but the substance is Christ. This passage is written in response to people in the early church who were giving other believers a hard time because some didn’t observe customs in the way others thought they should. It’s talking about how believers participate in the celebrations existing within a culture. How does this apply to Christmas? Christmas is a religious custom in our culture. Religious customs and observances are pointing to Christ. They are not the substance, Jesus is. When we celebrate anything, whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, or Christmas, we should be reminded of the celebration that awaits us when Jesus returns. It’s fine to celebrate, but all of our celebrating pales in comparison to what the Bible refers to as The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Anything worth celebrating is the result of the blessing of God and points us to the time when we live in his blessing and presence forever. So why do we celebrate? All celebration reminds us of how God has blessed us. And if there is anything to celebrate in our lives, it is because of God’s blessing, as it says in James 1:17, The Father is the source of every good and perfect gift. If we have anything worth celebrating, it’s because our heavenly Father cares for us and gives us good things. So when we celebrate, it should be in a way that honors the Lord because all of our celebrating points to him.
Another reason we celebrate Christmas is to display the Gospel. Philippians 2:14-18 says:
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
The most enduring Christmas tradition is complaining about Christmas. We complain about being so busy, we complain about our family, we complain about the traffic, and the commercialization, and on and on. Christians are awfully good and griping especially when it comes to Christmas. Philippians 2 warns us about this attitude. We have the opportunity to hold out the word of life at Christmastime. People are more open to God this time of year. People who never go to church, will go to Christmas Eve service. People who never think about Jesus will all of a sudden think about him because the holiday is called “Christmas”. Don’t let your Christmas be filled with judgment and complaining, let it be filled with gratitude and worship. Don’t get angry because people don’t say Merry Christmas. Treat them with love and patience. The Christian way of celebrating Christmas isn’t to point people away from Santa, or materialism or saying happy holidays; the Christian way to celebrate Christmas is to point people to Jesus so they find something they can truly celebrate in all of life, not just this time of year. The Christian way to celebrate Christmas is to hold out the word of life, the Gospel, and be lights in the darkness.
We shouldn’t complain about those who aren’t “Keeping Christ in Christmas”. People who don’t know Christ can’t keep him in Christmas. They are doing at Christmas time what they do in all of their lives. They are worshiping other things besides God. Materialism and selfishness are destructive personally and to our society, but the call of the church isn’t to oppose a secularization of what at some points has and has not been a Christian holiday. We proclaim Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. We have the message of the one true God who is worthy of worship. While people all around us are looking everywhere else for fulfillment and meaning this time of year, it is only the church who can say “Look to Jesus”. As people are searching for depth and something real this Christmas, be bold in your faith. Invite someone to church. Ask someone why they celebrate Christmas. Talk about the Lord and how you have found forgiveness, life, and purpose in the Gospel.
Lastly, we celebrate Christmas because there are glimpses of the Kingdom of God everywhere. People decorate. We create beauty. Everyone has a song of worship on their lips as they sing carols. We make plans so we can spend time with friends and family. There are signs of the Kingdom of God everywhere. Radio stations that play the trashiest music all of a sudden burst forth in praise to the Son of God. In the stores where people worship the gods of materialism, there are songs about the Lord being played as if to call people out of their pursuit of lesser things to find what truly matters. And people who never worship God, for no particular reason are moved to go to church on Christmas eve, even if they don’t know why. The excitement and expectation, the songs and stories, the gatherings and gifts are all points of contact where God’s Kingdom of heaven is coming to earth. What we celebrate and enjoy at Christmas points us to the day when God will finally restore his creation and establish his Kingdom. There will be peace on earth and goodwill among men one day.
So this Christmas, celebrate! Celebrate all of the festivities of the Classic Christmas. Give gifts because God has given his Son for us. Gather with family and remember that Christ is our brother and our Father watches over us. Eat and drink and remember that Jesus is the Bread that brings life. Christmas is about baby Jesus, so let’s sing the songs and put up the decorations of the divine baby and proclaim that baby Jesus grew up and he died for us, rose again, and reconciles us to God as Messiah, Prophet, Priest, and King. There was a time when we were far from God, but he has brought us near. This is worth celebrating!
Contrasting the story of the religious leaders who exploit poor widows, in Mark 12:41-44, Jesus points out a poor widow. The important and wealthy people are throwing large sums of money into the temple offering and they are making sure everyone sees them do it. In the middle of this, along comes a poor widow and she drops two small coins into the offering. The value of these two coins was about 1/64th of what a laborer might earn in a day. Let’s say a person in our day makes $100 in a day, this offering would be $1.56. She had only two coins, she could have kept one for food or something, but she gave both.
There were others in the Temple whose spirituality was noticed. The wealthy threw lots of money in the offering and it made them look and feel spiritual. Yet, their spirituality cost them very little. It didn’t require them to sacrifice. Everyone recognized they must be very spiritual because of their show they put on. But truly and deeply, their spirituality was anemic and had no substance. Yet this woman’s genuine spiritually goes unnoticed because she only tossed in two coins. She has done what Jesus said his followers must do – deny themselves and take up the cross. She has loved God truly and authentically, unlike the others, yet no one even knows about it.
What Jesus points out here is that her worship and love for God was true and genuine. Even the person of humble circumstances can come before God in worship. God doesn’t consider one’s wealth or social status when we come in genuine worship. She had no means and no influence yet she worshipped God properly.
Jesus talks about money enough to make it uncomfortable for us. But, really this passage is about a person’s heart. This poor widow’s heart belonged to God. The wealthy people worshipped themselves, not God. Where we place our money is a great indicator of whether or not our hearts belong to God. The way we give tells us a lot about the condition of our hearts. The way we see others give tells us little about the condition of their hearts. Whether you see someone give or not, whether you see the amount they give or not, only God knows their situation and motives.
In discussing this passage, it isn’t necessarily vital to apply it in the context of giving money to the church, although that is important. What is most important though, is that you understand money in terms of worship. Let it be a means of worship rather than an object of worship. Be generous and honor God with your money whether you place it in a basket at church, or give it randomly to those in need, or contribute to alleviating poverty in 3rd world countries through microfinancing. There are lots of ways to worship through giving. Be like this widow. Have no concern for what others see, but use your money as a physical and tangible way of worshipping God. We can worship God by giving in a way that only he knows. Do it publicly, do it secretly, but worship him in this way.
If Jesus is not Lord over your life, you will find yourself worshipping yourself, or your money, or your desires, or any number of other things. Life is disjointed, it’s out of sync when we worship ourselves or other things. Worship Jesus, not your money.
In the final days of Jesus’ ministry, he stands in the temple arguing with the leaders of Jerusalem and teaching his disciples along with the crowds of people. One can imagine how much he would have taught so this string of passages in Mark 12 might be considered selections from his teaching over the course of the Passover week.
In Mark 12:38-40, Jesus teaches against the other teachers who were undoubtedly walking around the Temple as he was teaching. Some were likely listening to him teach. Although Jesus isn’t necessarily referring to every teacher of the law here, there were certainly enough of them like this to warrant him teaching on the matter. He’s telling the crowd of normal people to watch out for religious teachers who use their position for personal gain rather than for genuine religious purposes. Jesus says to beware of those who look pious but really worship themselves.
It was part of the job of these teachers to dress a certain way, and be greeted a certain way in public, and this wasn’t the issue. Jesus says in verse 38, they “like” to walk around this way and be respected this way. They enjoy what their position affords them as a matter of personal pleasure rather than recognizing that the respect they received is a borrowed respect because of who they represent. hey were teachers of God’s word, not their own, so the respect they were given was for that reason. But they took the respect and honor for themselves. As a result, it was corrupted and used corruptly.
Verse 40 points out that men like these take advantage of the weak and defenseless and they practice their false piety as a show, not as worship. It doesn’t say how, but verse 40 concludes by saying their punishment will be severe. Those who parade their piety are guilty of pride but those who oppress the weak and defenseless are guilty of exploitation as well. Those who manipulate the things of God for personal gain will receive great condemnation. The crazy part about their behavior is that these actions may take place in such a way so that they violate no laws in particular. It’s perfectly legal for them to act this way. However, they are in violation of the sum of the law – loving God and people.
Jesus has just spoken about this in Mark 12:28-34. All the laws flow from the supreme law requiring everyone to love God and our neighbor Religious leaders like this only love themselves, and this isn’t only wrong, it’s destructive, it’s deadly.
Now, this passage is a warning to pastors for sure. Pastors need to regularly check their hearts and motives and make sure they are genuinely leading the church in worship and in love for God and others, and not doing this for show, pride, or personal benefit. But,Jesus is addressing the crowd in verse 38. He tells the people to stay away from these types of religious leaders.
So,there is a two-fold application. First, be careful who you allow to speak into your life spiritually. Make sure their religion is true and they aren’t practicing for personal honor or personal gain. Secondly, make sure your own religion is true and it isn’t merely a cover to look respectable or to appease your conscience, or to gain influence.
We need to love God and others from our hearts so that our outward actions are authentic. Jesus warns against following anyone who isn’t like this. The religious observances of the godly are not for show.
Over the last chapter, Jesus has displayed his wisdom and authority over nearly every group among the influential leaders of Jerusalem. The Scribes, Pharisees, Elders, Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all have tried to catch Jesus in his words and trap him, yet he eludes them. Their attempts to discredit him or have him arrested for something he says have failed. After seeing and hearing all of this, there is one from among these groups who comes to Jesus privately. He is struck by Jesus’ wisdom, and wants to talk to him further in Mark 12:28-34.
There was somewhere around 600 or more specific laws found in the Law that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day worked to follow. It was also commonly known that completely adhering to all of the law was nearly impossible, so in several places outside of the Scriptures there are discussions ranking the laws. A common way to debate this was to consider which laws were heavier and which were lighter. So, when Jesus is approached with this question, it wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary. Most translations will translate verse 28 with the word “important” because that makes it easy to understand. But the phrase is more nuanced than this. A better way to understand it would be which command is “primary” or “foremost”. All the laws were important. The question is, “is there a law from which the whole law can be derived?” Which law must we be sure to uphold most of all? Which law is the weightiest? Which law sums up the others? This is what Jesus is being asked.
Jesus answers with a dual response. He says in verses 30 and 31 that Loving God and loving people is the sum of the Law. All of the laws or rules in the Law were given so that Israel would properly love God and properly love people. He gives his answer in such a way that we can’t view these as two separate laws, but as one law together. Like faith and works, like belief and practice, loving God and loving people cannot be separated biblically. This is why the message of the Gospel must be responded to with belief and repentance. It affects mind and body, thoughts and actions. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor and you won’t love your neighbor without loving God.
He begins with a passage from Deuteronomy 6. This passage is a foundational passage for understanding who God is, and Jesus points to this passage in response to the question about the greatest commandment. Jesus gives four ways in which we are to love God – with our heart, soul or life, mind or will, and strength. In other words, with everything we have, do, and are, we’re to love God. There is nothing that we possess or nothing that makes us who we are that we are not to love God with. If it’s connected or related to us in any manner, we are to love God with it.
Secondly, in verse 31 Jesus says we are to love our neighbor. This is from Leviticus 19:18 (but you all knew that already because of your familiarity with Leviticus). The context of that chapter includes paying employees in a timely manner, leaving parts of your field unharvested so the poor could come and glean, and avoiding slandering people. We understand these as ways to show love to other people. Leviticus 19:18 sums these up by saying, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve heard of “do to others as you would have them do to you” as the Golden Rule and that is certainly an expression of loving others, but there is more to it. It’s not just doing things for people and treating them right, we are supposed to love them. This means, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and all sorts of things.
In verse 31, he says “there is no commandment greater than these”. All of the other 600 or more laws flow out of these two. The remainder of the Law describes the ways to love God and others. The remainder of the laws describes how the people of Israel were to love, but this dual law that Jesus gives describes who we are to love. Jesus takes something that was very complex and simplifies it. In many ways Jesus simplifies the 10 commandments of Exodus 20. The first 4 related to God and the final 6 related to people and Jesus summarizes them both under the singular command to love.
An author named Tom Wright illustrates the nature of God’s commands by describing a road with guard rails and I have adapted his illustration here. Life with Christ is a life of love. Love is the name of the highway we are travelling. It has two lanes since we love God and love people, but it is one road. The Scriptures give us commands to shape that love and to direct it properly. These are the guard rails on the road. If we follow the guard rails we will go the right directions, but it’s a lot more fun to drive without hitting the rails all the time. Breaking the commands are like driving through the guard rail and you get banged up and damaged. They are there for our good, to teach us how to love God and others. But we aren’t meant to drive down the road bouncing off of the guard rails, we are meant to love God and others. As Jesus continues to renew us until eternity, we will be able to stay in the middle of the road all the more and enjoy our journey. The commands of Scripture aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because they shape us and make us into the people God designed us to be.
At Shore Community Church, our mission statement is Loving God and Loving people simply, deeply, and authentically. This statement was formed largely as a result of what Jesus teaches here. Loving God and others cannot be separated. This is the goal and completion of our religion and our relationships. Whatever it is that we do as a church or as individual followers of Jesus must be related to this love for God and others.
At SCC, we are striving to love God and other people. There are three values that guide the way we do this – simplicity, depth, and authenticity. Christianity is difficult. It’s not easy. But it is simple. The Gospel is simple enough to explain to a child, yet deep enough to keep theologians busy for centuries. Jesus died for you and rose again to give you eternal life. It’s Simple. But this simple truth is so deep it will change everything about you. The more we know and obey God, the more we grow to love him. It’s Deep. However, none of us live perfectly before God, so there is no sense in pretending. Rather than being hypocrites, we are going to be authentic. Authenticity means humility. It means we know we need one another and we need God’s grace if we are to walk rightly before God.
Jesus sums all that God requires of us up in a few simple words: Love God and love people. In verse 32, the man Jesus was talking with responds to his answer and he says “well said”; “right on!” In verse 33, he says to love is better than offering sacrifice, which is significant since they are standing in the Temple where sacrifices are happening while they are talking. This is another way that Jesus is showing that everything God promises and commands is fulfilled in him. We love God by following Jesus, not by offering sacrifice. We love God and others, not by keeping a strict law code, but by living out the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives every day. In verse 34, Jesus tells this other teacher, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” This man understood that loving God and others was the sum of the Law. He even understood that love was the reason sacrifices had to be made for sin. What he didn’t understand was that Jesus was making that possible by living to fulfill the Law and bringing God’s Kingdom through his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. He was close to the Kingdom, he only needed to take one more step and follow Jesus.
There are a lot of people who understand eternal life is only possible through what God has done in Jesus. They are not far from the Kingdom. What remains is that step of obedience in following Jesus. If you are following Jesus, this means that you love God and others. Any refusal to do so in our hearts or in our actions is rebellion and we need to repent of that. If you believe in Jesus, but you haven’t yet begun to follow him, you may not be far from the Kingdom. Decide today to follow him by not only believing, but responding to him by aligning your life with him, living for him.
The story of this wealthy man in Mark 10:17-31 is a contrast to the previous few verses about those who enter the Kingdom like children. This story describes again the intensity and seriousness of following Jesus: he tells this man to sell everything he has! Although God may not call me or you to do that, we have to be careful not to temper this message. Jesus does and will call people to forsake everything in a physical and tangible manner. Some have given away wealth, others fame, and still others their physical lives. So, when we approach a passage like this we need to make sure we feel the tension and the weight of what it would mean for us to sell all that we have and give the money to a homeless shelter. For some of us it is inconceivable that we would do this. For others of us, we know that if we had to do it, we would immediately get to work rebuilding what we had. God gives us everything we have to leverage for his Kingdom and his glory. Our temptation is to leverage it for our own comfort and pleasure. God gives us the time we have, the talents we have, and the treasure we have to bring people to him, to build the church body, and to honor him.
You might call these things “The 3 T’s” – Time, Talent, and Treasure. We are all given the same amount of time in our days and weeks, and it’s up to us to make the most of that time for the Kingdom of God and not squander it. Everyone is busy, the question is, are you busy in a way that honors Jesus? Also, we all have some type of talent or gifting that God has given us. People are naturally good at certain things or are naturally inclined to doing other things, and we have opportunities to use those talents for the glory of God. The Bible also talks about spiritual gifts like mercy, giving, leadership, teaching, hospitality, and many others. God equips each of us with gifts to serve the whole body. Although some gifts are in plain view, others are behind the scenes, but if any of us neglects to practice our gifts, the whole body suffers. In the church, our lives in Christ are intertwined; we are not completely separate and autonomous. There needs to be those who teach, those who listen, those who perform acts of service, those who encourage, and those who practice lots of other gifts. Many times, each of us have a combination of talents of differing degrees and it practicing them, we find how we can best serve the body. Practicing our gifts is to build up the church: to build in numerical growth, and to build the body spiritually. We all are given time, we all are given at least one talent or gifting, and then we all have Treasure. Some of us don’t have much and some of us just think we don’t have much. Whatever we have, we have an opportunity to leverage for the Kingdom of God and to see it as a tool rather than a goal, as a means of worshipping God rather than an object of worship itself. In the Gospel of Luke we see this element of our treasure discussed in several places especially in Luke 16:10-13 where Jesus says we cannot love both God and money.
This was the source of the internal struggle of this man in Mark’s Gospel. He had lived his entire life properly and uprightly, but there was a void, a problem in his soul. He followed all the rules and lived morally. But, he was trying to serve both God and money and Jesus knows it. So, this man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and Jesus responds with theology, with love, and with application. Jesus’ response is deep, authentic, and simple.
First, in verse 18 Jesus responds to this man with theological depth. He responds to the man’s greeting “Good Teacher” by saying “There is none good but God.” Jesus recognizes this man has come to him with sincerity looking for answers, but out of the gate, Jesus reminds him that even with his moral achievement that doesn’t make him good. Only God is good. There are aspects of goodness reflected in humanity because we are made in God’s image, but the only one who is good in essence, who defines goodness, and who is the embodiment of goodness is God himself and God alone. Jesus responds this way because if we properly understand goodness, this man is correct. Jesus is good because he is God. So when Jesus responds to this man’s search for filling that eternal void in his spirit, this isn’t simply moral advice dispensed by some guru. Jesus speaks the word of God. He speaks from authority and he speaks not just advice, but truth. This man has undoubtedly heard of Jesus’ reputation and authority and this is why he comes to this teacher and healer. But Jesus lets this man know a little more about him than most do, although he does it in a cloaked manner. Jesus hints to this man at his divinity. He’s not just a healer and teacher, but God in human flesh. This is a deep theological truth, but it is also immensely important for people who follow Jesus to understand. Jesus is a man, he is a teacher, he is a healer, and he is also God. He is God and man together in one person. So when we speak of God we speak of Jesus and when we speak of Jesus we speak of God. Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is also our King and God. This should give us comfort when we are lonely or discouraged and it should cause us to fear when we are tempted by our sin.
Another theological point of this passage is found in the interaction Jesus has with his disciples about this discussion with the rich man. In verse 17 the man asks about eternal life and in verse 23 Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus mentions eternal life in verse 30 in speaking of the age to come. Our understanding of eternal life should be more shaped by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God than by popular conceptions of clouds, harps, golden halos, and angels. Living in God’s Kingdom is eternal life and there is not eternal life outside of God’s Kingdom. There are quite a few more references to the Kingdom of God than to eternal life in the New Testament. Eternal life is much bigger than we can conceive it to be. Eternal life exists in the context of God’s Kingdom. He is infinite and so is his rule, so life in and with him will surely be much greater than the popular conceptions of the afterlife. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom that has come and has begun, but it continues eternally and we are invited into eternal life in his Kingdom if we believe and repent. Jesus calls this rich man, and his disciples to a greater depth in understanding who he is.
Secondly, Jesus responds to this man in Verse 21 with authentic love. Before Jesus gave instruction to him, he loved him. He felt compassion for him. Remember that Jesus is the true King who has compassion and love for his people. This man is often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler because Matthew notes his youth and Luke refers to him as a ruler. In Tim Keller’s book “King’s Cross“, he notes that one of the reasons Jesus loves him is because of his status. Like this man, Jesus is young, around 30-33 years old. Like this man, Jesus is a ruler, his Kingdom knows no end. Like this man, Jesus possesses great wealth, he owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. The rich man recognizes Jesus as a good teacher, but has no clue with whom he is speaking. Jesus has authority and wealth in an infinitely greater way than him. And yet, at the prime of his life Jesus in his early 30’s Jesus will forsake it all and go to a cross. He tells this man to give away his wealth because of its stranglehold on his heart. But Jesus can tell him to do so with integrity because he is doing the same thing, but to an infinitely greater degree. Jesus gives up a heavenly throne to rescue people like this man, and when he says, give your wealth to the poor, he knows exactly what that means because he has done no less.
The third ways Jesus responds to this man is with simple application. Jesus says, all you have to do is sell everything and follow me. All you have to do is deny yourself and pursue the cross for your life. The man understands this command because it is simple, but it is so difficult for him that he leaves full of sorrow. It says he’s “disheartened”. Other translations say he is “grieved”. Why? Because he knew he wouldn’t do it. Jesus requires him to forsake what is most dear to him, his wealth. And he loves God, but not quite as much as he loves his money. More than this Jesus doesn’t require him only to give up what he has, but to set a new course for the future as well. Jesus says “follow me”, no longer is he to pursue God and money, but only God. Jesus is calling this man, to give up what he can gain in this life, to gain the next life. He has said this before in other places. He says it in chapter 8 when he says “deny yourself” and he has just said it in verses 13-16 saying that we must receive the Kingdom like a child. For some people, God will remove obstacles that prohibit us from coming to him, but in this case, he asks this man to remove the obstacle himself and give away his wealth. Sometimes we need to pray for God to remove what is holding us back, and other times we need to pray that God would change our hearts to help us love him more than our stuff and ourselves. Jesus’ Disciples sensed the magnitude of this simple command as well. We see Jesus interact with them in verse 23-31. In verses 23 and 24 Jesus tells his disciples twice “How difficult is it for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God”. He says it twice so we should make sure to hear it. In verse 25 Jesus says his famous saying that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” than for the rich to enter the Kingdom. It’s impossible Jesus says. There’s not a chance it’ll happen.
Verse 24 says the disciples were amazed at this and in verse 26 it says they were exceedingly astonished. They say in verse 26, “Who can then be saved?!?!” Jesus says that God will make a way in verse 27. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. It is impossible for us to squeak by and obtain eternal life in God’s Kingdom. But, what is impossible for us is possible with God. He would make a way for people who continually turn away from him to pursue ourselves and our own desires and pleasures to enter his Kingdom.
Then in verse 28, ol’ Peter chimes in. He calls to attention that these disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. “But we have given up everything, does that mean at least we will get eternal life.” “Look at us” he says. “Look at me!” – I left everything, I give 10%, I go to church every week, I sacrificed something for God, I, I, I….If you are still looking at what you have done, then you aren’t looking to Jesus for your salvation, but to what you have done. Jesus’ response to the question “Who can be saved?!?!” is crucial. Though we would attempt to gain the Kingdom through wealth, influence, power, or even our own righteousness, it’s insufficient and sub-standard. This is not how eternal life in the Kingdom is gained. Jesus changes everything. This is why he says in verse 31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Whatever you forsake or lose in this life will be gained in the next.
But the difference between what you can gain in this life and what you can gain in the next is infinite. The more we realize this, the less we will live for the things of this world and live for the one to come. What are you living for? Can you sincerely and truly say you love Jesus more than your financial portfolio? Jesus loved this man and he saw that the greatest obstacle to life with God for this man was his wealth. Jesus loves you and if there are things in your life before him it is dangerous and destructive whether they are matters of wealth, relationships, hidden addictions, or anything else. When we read this story, it should cause us to repent of anything we are pursuing or loving more than Jesus. Do you love God more? More than your wealth? More than your hobby? More than your job? More than yourself? Don’t forget that he loves you so much he went to a cross for you, so anything that hinders us from loving him, is not good for us. Open your heart and life to him today and give him everything.