Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity for Eternal Blessing

Some who read this post will be familiar with the game show Let’s Make a Deal. The premise of the game is that you have something – and you know the value. And you have the choice to keep what you have or trade it for what is unknown. What is unknown may be of great value or it may be worthy virtually nothing. That is the point of the game. But one important aspect is that what you trade was never really yours. It is given to you by the host, and you may keep the original gift or trade it for more. Ultimately, you win either way – it is just a matter of perspective.

In our message today, we see the same thing. In fact, we see the same thing this week that we have been reviewing for the last couple of months, and in some ways, since we started this series in April. The key to understanding Jesus is to change our perspective – from what the world thinks and believes to what God has revealed to us.

In this passage the focus is on eternal life. Jesus teaching reflects a different understanding to those who were listening that day. I hope at the end of this message, His teaching will make a difference to those here on this day.

Eternal life requires a distinct sacrifice.  vv. 17-22. My sacrifice not be the same as yours.

The first part of today’s passage is headlined in your Bible by the words The Rich Young Man or something like that. Verse 17 reveals that this is a man. Verse 22 indicates he had great wealth. It is from Matthew’s account that we learn he was young (Matthew 19.22). From Luke we learn this man is a ruler (Luke 18.18).

As Jesus resumes His journey toward Jerusalem, this man runs up and kneels before Jesus, calling Him a good teacher. A great deal of debate exists if the man was trying to flatter Jesus (which would require a return of flattery) or truly respected Jesus. This story seems to indicate that this was true respect because Jesus did not rebuke the man (as He often did the Pharisees or others who were hypocrites). Instead of rebuke, notice what Jesus does do.

1) He focuses on the man’s understanding of “good.” In Judaism, it is believed that one could be good in relation to another, but no one would call a man of God good (like a rabbi) because that could be considered heresy – Only God is good. So Jesus’ question in verse 18 is basically this: “You believe God is good, and you call me good, therefore do you believe that I am God – or, at least, that I have been sent by Him?”

2) Jesus listed the commandments from Tablet 2. These commandments are how we are to relate to others, but in essence wealth was this man’s idol, so Jesus covers all but the Sabbath in this list. And these commandments are not just any commandments, but they are given by the God who is “good.”

A close look reveals one commandment that is not in the Decalogue – “do not defraud.” Why would Jesus say this? Well, this man is wealthy, so he may not covet as we consider coveting, and Matthew’s mention that he is young means he may never have had to covet. However, and this is where Luke’s mention of being a ruler is important, a ruler might defraud people. And committing fraud is, in essence, coveting.

We should also note that the man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus answers by giving the man a list of dos and do nots. This is not because we must earn our faith. Rather, these commands are because we have faith. In God’s Kingdom, such behavior is expected. Those who have God as King will live by these laws; those that follow the enemy will not.

One further point to make this clear. What must you do to inherit something from someone? Nothing, right? You simply must be included as an heir which means you know the person, and are likely related. The same is true for eternal life. Children of God inherit this life, not by what we do, but by Who we know!

3) Jesus said this man lacked one thing. The man had great wealth, but what He lacked was the willingness to trust in God. This man’s trust – his idol – was his wealth. The only way this man could find the eternal life he sought, was to abandon the temporal security he thought he had.

This man did not just have wealth, he had great wealth (v. 22). The wording here relates to property (real estate). So Jesus said to sell it, give to the poor, and follow Me.” By doing this, the man would have treasure in heaven.

Before we look at the man’s reaction, let us make sure we understand that God does not ask everyone to give up everything. He does ask that we be willing to do so. Like the birds of the air and flowers in the field in Matthew 6, we need to trust in God’s provision. From some people, God may require everything. For instance, in Acts 4, Barnabas sold a field and gave the money to the disciples (though we do not know if he owned other property). In the following verses of Acts 5 a married couple sell their property and withhold some of the money for themselves. Both the husband and wife are killed by the Holy Spirit – not because they didn’t give all of the money, but because they lied saying they had (which is clear in the story).

The point is that Jesus will ask us to sacrifice anything that we will put between us and Him. The request is distinctive to each person. But what He offers is not hidden from us like on Let’s Make a Deal. It is only not fully revealed. The difference is that if we can trust God in this life and know He is good, what stops us from thinking that His promises in the age to come will not be just as good, or better (moth will not destroy and thief will not steal).

The sad reality is that this man would not make the deal. He called Jesus a good teacher, but did not trust Him enough to believe that the offer before Him was better than what he currently had. He believed God’s commandments were good enough to keep, but not that God was good enough to fulfill even better promises. This verse has been called the saddest verse in the Bible. Many people may not follow Jesus, but this man desired what God offered – just not enough to make the necessary changes.

Eternal life requires a divine solution.  vv. 23-27. But God. Only God can make the impossible possible.

Reggie covered the majority of this section. So, let me just clarify a couple of thoughts.

Again, Jesus does not say that a rich person cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Nor does Jesus say that all poor people will enter the Kingdom of God. He is simply talking about the contrast between trusting in riches for Kingdom entry to what is truly needed.

The people of Israel at that time understood that God provided material blessings to those who are faithful. Thus, if someone had wealth, they were faithful to God, and thus were a part of God’s Kingdom. But Jesus says that isn’t so – and uses a metaphor of the largest animal in Palestine (the camel) with the small opening of a needle. (Click here for more thoughts about this metaphor.) All attempts to reduce the magnitude of the difference in sizes completely misses the point. The point is that a camel cannot go through a needle. Nor can a rich person enter the Kingdom because they are rich.

Now we begin to justify ourselves by saying well, I am not rich. But that misses the point too. For we are rich. Compared to others around the world? Yes. How about compared to those who lived in Jesus’ day? Yes. But again, arguing over the definition of rich is distracting to the issue at hand. What Jesus is saying – truly about anyone, but especially those who trust in their money – is that eternal life is only possible from God. This is a true “But God” thought. It is God who makes the impossible possible. God is the one who truly works miracles. Jesus is essentially telling the disciples, “You have seen God work miracles to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the people, etc. Well, the greatest miracle is providing eternal life to those who cannot bring it about themselves.” Eternal life is not achieved by humanity, it is received from Divinity.

And, in this moment, we see Peter jump up to make sure that Jesus knows they (he and his comrades) gave up everything to follow Jesus. But did they (or he)?
  • Peter’s mother-in-law’s house may have been Peter’s primary residence in Capernaum.
  • It is likely that Peter (or another disciple) still had a boat. (Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee on someone’s boat.)
  • Peter returned to fishing after Jesus’ death (John 21).

My point here is not what Peter didn’t give up, other than to note that we all tend to think we give up more for Jesus than we really do!

However, we must admit that Peter and the others did give up some, if not a lot, if not everything. But again, Jesus shows that giving up things on earth leads to something better if we have a Kingdom-perspective.

Eternal life requires a different structure.  vv. 28-31. Specifically, family structure.

Our world revolves around certain systems and structures. One structure that has been evident since almost the very beginning of time is that of family. God revealed His design for family in Genesis 2, which I referenced last week. But Jesus brought about a different understanding of family, and we saw evidence of this in Mark 3.35.  In the last verses for this message today, He unpacks His understanding a little more. I want to focus on three main ideas here. The relationships, the purpose, and the timing. I will begin with purpose, then timing, before concluding with the relational aspect.

The Purpose. Notice the context of Jesus explanation contains a few key words at the end of verse 29. Those words are “for my sake and for the gospel.” The implication is straight forward. Many people give up many things for many reasons. In the context of Kingdom-living and eternal life, none of it matters, and this promise does not hold, unless the sacrifices made are for Jesus and the good news of the Kingdom of God made available by God through Christ! Remember the rich man from verses 17-22 wanted this, but was not willing to make the necessary sacrifice. Peter indicates they have made the sacrifice and wants to make sure Jesus has not forgotten. We might ask – Was Peter reminding Jesus to make sure he (Peter) didn’t miss out on God’s promise? If so, then was Peter’s sacrifice of “everything” really about Jesus or about Peter?

The Timing. In verse 30, Jesus says “in this time…and in the age to come…” The certainty of our blessings is not in this life, they are in the age to come. But Jesus says we will receive 100-fold blessings in this life as well. This is not Let’s Make a Deal where we don’t know if the gift will be worth it, this is Jesus promising that the trade you make is certain to be better!

But “better” will be measured by perspective. Too many people in our culture (including Christians) consider blessings in the form of money. First-century Jews may not have considered wealth exclusively as God’s blessing; however, as we saw in the second portion of this week’s passage, the thought that the wealthy already had God’s approval for the Kingdom was the prevalent understanding of the day.

So, Jesus promised blessing in this life – and in the age to come. This is the truth of God’s Kingdom. It is not about this life, it is not about the next life. It is about life with God eternally – now and through the future. But let’s take a moment to focus on what Jesus did promise as a blessing – a different understanding of relationships.

The Relationships. I have just mentioned the timing of the blessings, and that the primary blessings are relational. The key is understanding the relationships in both spheres. So give me a moment to try to clarify this for you.

In verse 29, Jesus lists relationships that may be sacrificed – again for Jesus and the gospel. In verse 30, Jesus shares what will be gained. I know houses and lands are mentioned in both, and that is important, but I want to focus on the relational here. Here is the list:

Obviously, “Fathers” is missing in verse 30. Why? Well, because God is not only the King of the Kingdom, but He is our Father – singular. We call fellow Christians brothers and sisters, and depending upon our ages, we have those who mother us as children, but we all belong to the same Father. We do not get new fathers, we are now children of the one true Father.

One other observation should be noted, the husband nor wife are not listed in either verse. Recall last week, the message was partly on divorce. We have but one husband and wife before God, and according to Jesus teaching, we are not to give that up. (If you missed the message, website or blog). Furthermore, we do not get new husbands or wives in the Kingdom. Just as God is our Father, Jesus is our groom and we, the Church, are the Bride.

Again, a new structure is in place. All believers are children of God. All believers make up the Bride of Christ. And those believers who have been outcasts are now princes and princesses of the King in His Kingdom. Yet, many who think they have everything now, will be left with nothing. Thus, as verse 31 concludes this portion – “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Hopefully, by now, over the course of this study, we all understand how much different Jesus’ mindset is from those in His day. In the last two weeks, we have seen how God views marriage and children and now possessions and family. But notice the prevailing theme in this passage is eternal life and the Kingdom of God.

We must understand that we often have a faulty understanding as well. For instance, most Christians in our day discuss the idea of going to heaven. But, and I have mentioned this before, the Bible talks of the Kingdom coming to us and our entering the Kingdom, not heaven. Notice the question of the young man – it was about eternal life. When he walked away, he was not walking away from eternal life later, he gave it up now. As for Jesus’ focus, He mentions the Kingdom of God three times in verses 23-25. Jesus does meantion heaven in verse 21, but this is the first time He has spoken the word in Mark.(He will use the term many more times, including the statement that heaven will pass away in Mark 13.31).

For Jesus, the idea is never about heaven, it is about God’s Kingdom. In fact, that was the message He preached from the very beginning (Mark 1.15). (I know that Matthew uses “Kingdom of heaven” instead of “of God” but that is because a Jew would not say the word God – see Mark 8.11 for an example in Mark.) The understanding of going to heaven came about in the Middle Ages, it was not Jesus primary thought. So like the people of Jesus time, we need to determine if we are going to follow the devices of man or follow the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus teaches about the Kingdom because wherever God is King, there is His Kingdom – on earth, as it is in heaven. All of those who are waiting to go to heaven are missing what Jesus is offering – in this life, and in the age to come. That is the term Jesus uses – in the age to come. Notice that term in verse 30 – in the age to come – not the place to go (or come). Eternal life is about receiving the blessings of God from this time forth. To wait until later means two things:

1) You miss on what God has for you now.
2) You can’t give to others what God wants to give through you now.

You may not agree with me, but Jesus words are my source. Just like Jesus’ teachings were not accepted because they went against the grain of centuries of teaching in His day, so my words – though I am using the Bible as my source – will not be accepted. Some may even say that I am twisting Scripture, but let me prove my point with one further example – John 3.16.
The promise is to have “everlasting life” or “eternal life” depending on the translation. The verse does not end in “go to heaven.” However, the reality is that many people would rather focus on heaven, than focus on God. That is idolatry. As I have said countless times, I don’t care where I am after this life as long as it is with Jesus. If Jesus said heaven will pass away, then He won’t be there (at least in the current heaven), and I don’t want to be there either.

Again, we have a choice. Do we listen to Jesus even if it goes against what we think is true? The rich man at the beginning of our story did not trust Jesus – He trusted in himself and his possessions. And he walked away sad. We need to listen, to study, and to honor Jesus – not allow our pride to get in the way of finding the truth.

And that leads to our JOURNEY letter for this week.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere.

Revering Jesus means putting, and keeping Him, in the proper place. When we are able to do this, we are truly ready to carry out the opportunity that is set before us this week.

OPPORTUNITY: Be thankful for the blessings you have been given. But realize eternal blessings await all who are willing to sacrifice their desires and follow Jesus instead. When we do this, we not only find ourselves being blessed by God, but we find ourselves able to, and desiring to, bless others as well.

Learn to embrace a Kingdom-perspective over a church or a personal one. (Matthew 6.33)
Live with an eternal mind-set rather than being anxious about the day. (Matthew 6.25-32)
Love others because they are a part of God’s blessing to you. (Mark 10.30)
Lead others to change their mind about heaven and to focus instead on God and His Kingdom (Mark 1.15).

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