Impossible Possibilities

Posted: April 14, 2014 in Mark

Mark 10:23-31, “Impossible Possibilities”

Sometimes, it seems that we’ve forgotten the definition of the word “impossible.”  In our culture, “impossible” is less of a fact and more of a challenge.  Putting a man on the moon was impossible, but we did it on July 20, 1969.  Breaking the 4-minute mile was impossible, until it was done by Sir Robert Bannister in 1954.  We even have personal goals, some of which seem impossible, until we actually achieve them.  We look at something that is undeniably hard, and we call it “impossible,” when really we’re laying down the gauntlet of something that is achievable with enough hard work and dedication.

But there are some things that truly ARE impossible.  It is impossible for humans to fly without assistance.  It is impossible to escape death.  And it is impossible for man to take himself to heaven.  Entering the kingdom of heaven (eternal life in the glorious presence of God) is not merely difficult to achieve on our own; it is absolutely impossible.

That statement flies in the face of every single non-Christian religion in the world.  Every single other religion (including the practice of modern-day Judaism) claims the opposite.  They obviously do not all agree on how people go to heaven (or even on what heaven looks like), but there’s no doubt that they claim that people CAN go there on their own.  If they just do enough of the right works (whatever that may be) – if they just demonstrate enough of the blessing of God (however they imagine Him), then men and women can be assured of their place in eternity. 

Yet not according to Jesus.  According to Jesus, that idea is absolutely false.  He says that entering heaven on our own is not merely difficult (or even supremely difficult); He says that it is impossible.  And as He does, He shocks His disciples in the very core of their being.

Let’s remember our context.  In Mark 10:23, we’re actually picking up in the middle.  Not in the middle of a conversation, but an event.  The (now-infamous) rich young ruler has just turned away from Jesus’ offer of discipleship and eternal life, and no doubt everyone watching and listening were just as stunned as the young man was.  What Jesus had asked of this young man was hard: he was to sell everything he had, donating the profits to the poor – and then he was to come, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.  Only when he was completely surrendered to Jesus in faith would he have the assurance of treasure in heaven, and eternal life.  It was a tall order, to be sure (especially for someone who had so much wealth), but it was no different than what He had asked of any of His disciples.  They had all left their families, their careers, and their belongings to come follow Jesus in surrender and faith.  Yet given the exact same offer by Jesus, the young man responded in the negative.  He went away sorrowful, not willing to submit to the cost of discipleship.

That’s where Jesus picks up.  Perhaps the young man was still in earshot; perhaps not.  But it became a profound teachable moment for the disciples who had witnessed it all.  If they were shocked at how the young man turned away from Jesus, that was nothing compared to what they were about to hear from Jesus’ lips.  Their whole theological system of eternal security was about to be flipped on its head.  They were about to encounter impossible truths, both regarding the entrance into the heavenly kingdom, and the reward that awaited them when they arrived.  Thankfully they were in the presence of the God who makes the impossible, possible.

Mark 10:23–31
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

  1. Notice Jesus’ action here.  He “looked around and said…”  There is purpose here.  Jesus is intentional in this.  What He is about to share is not some sort of off-the-cuff statement.  Jesus purposefully grabs their attention, and wants to be sure that they are carefully listening as He shares a truth about the kingdom that He knows they won’t be expecting.
  2. And what does He share?  The difficulty of entering the kingdom of God.  Specifically, the difficulty that wealthy people have in entering the kingdom of God.  This would have been absolutely shocking to the disciples (as we’ll see in vs. 24) – so shocking that they probably were not certain that they had heard Jesus accurately (which is one reason He likely felt the need to repeat Himself).
  3. What’s the problem with riches?  Nothing, unless it becomes the basis for your assurance of heaven, or even the assurance of God’s favor upon your life.  Money is just money.  The problem comes when we begin to look at it wrongly.  The 12 disciples were not any different from any of the rest of their culture on this point (and not much different than our own!) in that they viewed wealth as a sign of God’s favor.  In their view, rich people had vastly more assurance of entering heaven, because they had already shown themselves to be blessed by God.  To many people even today, this sounds normal.  We’ll even speak in these kinds of terms, saying “God blessed me with a raise,” or “We’ve really experienced the blessing of God in our finances.”  To be sure, all good gifts come from God, and we want to thank God for every single bit of provision He has given us.  Yet the implication is that “money = blessing,” and thus “poverty = something else.”  Is money always a blessing from God?  It’s hard to say “yes” when we re-read Jesus’ words in vs. 23, and when we look at them in light of the rich young ruler.  In that case, money was an obstacle to receiving God’s blessings; the young man’s wealth certainly did NOT bless him eternally.  In fact, the Bible specifically tells us that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, causing some to even wander from the faith (1 Tim 6:10).  Obviously money is just an inanimate object – it’s amoral.  But greed or too much focus upon it can become a tremendous stumbling block that keeps someone from following Jesus.  THAT is certainly not a blessing!
  4. What’s the problem here?  Again, it comes to an issue of heavenly assurance / eternal security.  If anything other than Jesus is your measure of eternal security, you have a HUGE problem.  Money certainly cannot be that measure.
    1. Wealth could imply that we’ve earned heaven.  To look at wealth in that way would assume that God saw something in us that was worth blessing.  Wrong. That’s self-righteousness.
    2. Wealth could be a tool that we use to attempt to buy our way into heaven.  After all, wealthy people have more opportunity to give to missions, give to the local church, help the poor, etc.  If they can give more, they can receive more from God.  Wrong.  That’s bribery.
    3. Wealth could be our metric to assure ourselves that we are on the right track.  I.e., as long as I’m getting richer, I must be doing something right.  After all, God wouldn’t bless me materially if I didn’t prove myself capable of handling it.  Wrong.  That’s legalism.
    4. Wealth can never be used as a measure of our eternal assurance.  That’s not why God gives it, nor why He takes it away or withholds it in the first place.  Our heavenly assurance is found first, middle, and last in Christ Jesus alone.  NOTHING else!  If you’re going to heaven, it’s not because you’re inherently worth it – it’s not because you found some secret of convincing God to look past your sin – it’s not because you’ve kept all of His commands the right way.  Nobody can do any of those things!  If you’re going to heaven, it’s because you’ve placed all of your faith in trust in the Lord Jesus, having turned away from your sins, and knowingly placed yourself solely in His hands.  Ephesians 2:8–9, "(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast." []
  5. With that in mind about riches, don’t get the wrong idea.  The Bible certainly does not show wealth as a guarantee of heaven, but it never condemns wealth in general.  The Bible shows us many people who were blessed by God.  Some were extremely poor, and others were extremely wealthy.  The patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all among the richest men in Canaan during the times they lived there.  David was an extraordinarily wealthy man as the king of Israel, and his son Solomon was the richest man in history.  In the NT, we see people like Joseph of Arimathea, or businesswomen like Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14) who came to faith and served those who preached the gospel.  Some wealthy people had great faith, who did wonderful things in their worship of God.  Yet the Bible also shows some extremely wealthy people doing some very evil things.  Most of the kings of Israel and Judah were men who rejected God, and yet they were extremely rich.  The Pharisees were generally men of wealth and influence, as was Pontius Pilate, and yet they colluded to send Jesus to the cross.  Their wealth did not make them righteous, nor evil.  Rich people are just people.  Some follow the Lord, and others don’t.
    1. Wealth isn’t an indication of godliness; faith & character is.  We need to stop looking at external circumstances as a measure of God’s blessing on us, and on each other.  It’s not someone’s external situation that shows whether or not they are walking with the Lord in faith; it’s the faith & character they demonstrate as they handle the various things the Lord allows them to walk through and endure.

24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!

  1. To say that “the disciples were astonished,” is likely an understatement of epic proportions!  How struck were they by this statement?  Mark uses the same word later in Ch 10 to describe their reaction to Jesus’ third major (and most detailed) prophecy about His coming suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Think about that for a moment.  The disciples had the same reaction to this news about eternal security as they did about the cross itself.  It was that ground-shaking for them.  (AT Robertson) “A look of blank astonishment was on their faces at this statement of Jesus.”  This was something simply beyond their comprehension.  Again, that’s no real fault of the disciples…they simply thought the same as every other Jew did at the time.  They thought that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and thus wealth would provide a greater assurance of heaven than someone might have otherwise.  This is wrong, but it was the same thinking as everyone else – and the same thinking that had endured for a long time.  All the way back to the age of the patriarchs was the era in which Job lived.  Job was one of the wealthiest men in the Middle East, when God allowed Satan to take his wealth, take his children, and strike Job with terrible sickness.  Job’s friends came to comfort him in his grief and loss, and as long as they kept their mouths shut, they were fine.  But the minute they started to speak, they spouted off the same line of thinking as the disciples & the rich young ruler.  They questioned Job’s integrity, thinking that if he had been truly righteous, God would have continued to bless him with health & wealth.  Job must have done something to deserve his trials, though the Bible makes it clear he had not.  Of course, God vindicated Job & chastised his friends.  But it all goes back to the same root.  When heavenly assurance is based on external things, then only the healthy and wealthy have any assurance of eternal blessing.
    1. This same thinking not only prevails in non-Christian religions, but has even crept into the church.  There are some who blatantly teach that material prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing upon your life, and if you want to know that God favors you, then look at your health and your bank account.  It is absolutely false, and actually veers into the category of heresy.  It’s completely the opposite of the gospel of grace, which shows that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any works that we have done, nor by any things that we have.
  2. Again, this is all earth-shattering to the disciples, and just to emphasize the point, Jesus says it again.  He does not condemn them for their false thinking (after all, this is the theology that they had been taught over generations).  He continues to call them His “children,” but Jesus does not permit them to remain in that false thinking.  He says again “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God.”  Depending on your Bible translation, you may have a shorter version of that statement.  (NASB) “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”  In that version, it’s not just the rich that have a problem; it’s everyone.  The clause regarding “for those who trust in riches” is not found in the oldest manuscripts, though it is found in the majority of them.  Considering the surrounding verses specifically point out the rich, it’s not difficult to conceive of Jesus including the detail here as well.  It IS hard, especially “for those who trust in riches.”  If your trust is in wealth, then it’s not in the Lord Jesus.  If your assurance of heaven is based in your bank account, then where does the cross and resurrection fit in? Again, that’s a system that is founded in self-righteousness, bribery, or legalism (or all of the above); not in faith and total dependency on the finished work of Christ.
    1. That said, the greater point is true that it is hard for ANYONE to enter the kingdom of God.  It’s not only the rich that have a difficult time going to heaven; it’s everybody.  There is not a single person that does not need the Lord Jesus.  No one is good enough, no one is smart enough.  Everyone has sinned, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  There is no one perfect, and perfection is the standard.  Someone’s humble poverty no more assures him of heaven than someone’s riches.  External circumstances make zero difference for heaven.  To go to heaven, we must be saved, and we can only be saved if Someone saves us.  That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. How hard is it to enter the kingdom of heaven?  It’s impossibly hard…vs 25…  

25 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.”

  1. There’s been much conjecture from some about a supposed gate in Jerusalem named “Eye of the Needle,” in which it was so low that the only way a camel could enter is if it got down on its knees and crawled in.  Thus (so say these teachers), what Jesus was saying is that a rich man needs to humble himself before God in order to enter the kingdom.  Not only is that factually incorrect, it totally misses the point.
    1. During Jesus’ day, there is absolutely zero historical evidence for a gate known as the Needles’ Eye.  Apparently, one may have been built during the middle ages, but that was almost 1000 years after Jesus spoke these words.  When Jesus taught this, there were only normal gates, and normal camels could walk through all of them.
    2. Even the supposed application is completely illogical.  What camel driver would possibly force his camel down on its knees to try to drag it through a gate, when he could just ride over to the *next gate* that didn’t have any issues?  To force a camel through wouldn’t be an act of humility; it’d be an act of stupidity.
    3. Historically, this illustration did not even originate with Jesus.  There is a similar statement in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud: “They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.”  The context is different, as is the animal.  When the Jews were captive in Babylon, elephants were the largest animals seen; when they came back to Judea, camels were.  Jesus is using an illustration already familiar with the disciples in order to help His teaching make sense to them. 
    4. Again, it totally misses the point.  When Jesus is illustrating the difficulty of entering the kingdom, He’s not saying that it’s hard, but doable; He’s saying it’s absolutely impossible.  Mark’s word for needle has nothing to do with a gate, but with sewing.  Luke’s word has to do with a surgical needle.  Try threading a camel through that!  I don’t care how much it “humbles” itself; it’s not going to fit!  Big camel + little needle = impossible…truly impossible.
  2. Remember this is their system of assurance.  Abraham was rich, and he went to heaven.  David was rich, and he went to heaven.  (Never mind about Manasseh or Ahab who were rich & evil!)  Not only did the wealth of men not give them any assurance of entering the kingdom; it doesn’t even give them a foot in the door.  You’d have better luck forcing “Spitty” the Camel though your Singer sewing machine.  The disciples just had their theological worldview rocked…

26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”

  1. The disciples may have been “greatly astonished,” but there’s no question they got the point.  They understood exactly what Jesus was saying.  If all a camel needed to do was kneel, they would have likely rejoiced at that, knowing that anyone could kneel in humility.  Instead, they came to the opposite conclusion: if the rich can’t save themselves, then no one can.
  2. Notice the progression here.  The disciples were “astonished” in vs. 24, and then “greatly astonished” in vs. 26.  They could not believe their ears, even when Jesus said it twice.  They understood Him correctly; they just couldn’t believe He was actually saying it.  Not only did the rich not have guaranteed assurance of heaven; they had impossible obstacles to overcome.  And if it was impossible for the rich, how much more impossible would it be for anyone else?
    1. Have you ever read something in the Bible that just blew your mind so much you had to read it twice – and then, you still weren’t sure if you read it correctly?  God is often well beyond our expectations.  God is often far bigger than the theology we’ve constructed for Him.  This is one area (among many!) in which we need to let God be God & let His word be His word.  There are many people who have a certain theology they hold to, and then view all of Scripture through the lens of that theology.  If there is a verse that doesn’t quite fit, they find an interpretation that tries to explain it away.  For instance, some say that they don’t believe that God extends the offer of salvation through Jesus to the entire world, and that only the chosen elect of God are truly offered (and given) salvation through Christ.  But to get there, they need to re-write John 3:16 in their minds to say, “For God so loved [the elect in] the world…”  Others say that they do not believe in predestination whatsoever.  Yet they have to try to explain away Ephesians 1:5, where Paul writes that God “predestined us to adoption as sons.”  And the list could go on & on, trying to explain away the spiritual gifts, or to take away any limits on the gifts – trying to claim that God universally saves all, or trying to claim that God takes away all manner of choice & free-will, etc.  Beloved, let us not make the same error.  We need to let God be God & let His word be His word.  Let us receive God’s word with gladness (even though we may be astonished), knowing that God has all authority to describe Himself even in terms that we may not fully understand.
  3. So the disciples conclude that salvation is impossible.  What does Jesus say in response?  He agrees.  Vs. 27…

27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

  1. Jesus again looks purposefully at them, and totally agrees.  Salvation is more than hard; it’s impossible.  It’s impossible for man to be saved of his own account.  Whether he’s rich or poor, whether he is comparatively good or outstandingly evil, it is impossible for man to be saved – period.  Not hard – not difficult, but doable.  In answer to the question “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers “With men it is impossible.”  IOW, no one.  Left to ourselves, no one among men will be saved.  Not a single human being has the capability to save him or herself.  There is nothing you can do – there is nothing you can say – there is no sacrifice you can bring, nor enough money to place in the offering box that will give you entry into the kingdom of heaven.  “Impossible” means exactly that: no possibility.
    1. That goes against everything that people are so accustomed to thinking.  We want to believe that our good can outweigh our bad, but Jesus says it’s impossible.  We want to believe that there is some secret we can learn that if we apply it to our lives, will get us there.  Jesus says there is nothing.  There is not a single thing men or women can do to guarantee our own salvation.  All of us have sinned – all of us need to be saved, and none of us can save ourselves.
  2. It’s impossible in all cases, but one exception: the Lord God of the Universe has to intervene.  And He does!  “All things are possible” with God.  How so?  Because He’s God!  He is the Omnipotent Creator.  Nothing is too hard for Him!  It’s impossible for humans to save themselves, but it’s not impossible for God to save them.  That’s the whole point of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is exactly what sets Christianity apart from every single other religion in the world.  So many people think that all religions basically teach the same thing, and they’re wrong.  Biblical Christianity is extraordinarily different.  It’s not what Man can do to save himself; it’s what GOD has done to save Man.  Other religions has Man striving to approach God; Christianity shows God approaching Man.  Other religions show Man making himself righteous; Christianity shows the impossibility of such a thing.  There is not a single thing we can do to clean ourselves up, or to buy God off.  We are totally at the mercy of God, and that’s exactly what God extends to us when He sent His only Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sin & rise from the grave.  It is impossible to be saved, unless God intervenes, and Jesus is the ultimate Intervention. 
    1. At this point, you need to ask yourself if you’ve received of Jesus’ salvation.  Are you trusting in your efforts to save you, or Jesus?  Heaven doesn’t come any other way. 
    2. If God can provide impossible salvation, what stops us from taking all other things to Him in prayer?  He can raise the dead to life (He proved it, through Jesus!).  He can raise dead marriages to life – He can heal the sick – He can humble the hardhearted – He can exalt the humble.  God makes the impossible, possible.

28 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

  1. Some have accused Peter of being a little ego-centric here – as being a bit too focused on material things.  It’s certainly possible, but I believe we need to give Peter a little slack, and definitely give him the benefit of the doubt.  This seems to be a natural comparison with the rich young ruler.  After all, Peter and the other disciples did leave everything to follow Jesus.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John all had successful fishing careers, and at least James and John stood to inherit the business from their father.  Matthew was likely making money hand-over-fist (if unethically) as a tax-collector. And those are just the disciples with which we’re familiar with their trade.  They left all of that behind (including possible wives and children, not to mention their extended families) to follow Jesus in an itinerant ministry.  They didn’t know what they would eat from day to day, nor where they would sleep.  They had given up all material comfort and physical security to be in the presence of Jesus.  Considering that Jesus had offered the rich young ruler treasure in heaven, if the man did something similar, it seems only reasonable that Peter would be curious as to the treasure that awaited him & the others.
  2. BTW – to leave everything and follow Christ is not a special form of discipleship; it IS discipleship.  Mark 8:34–35, "(34) When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (35) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it." []  That wasn’t just something that Jesus taught prior to the cross – that’s what Jesus and the apostles taught after the resurrection.  When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He told us to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe everything He commanded (Mt 28:20).  That’s leaving everything to follow Jesus.  When the Jews saw the miracle at Pentecost, and were struck to the heart after hearing Peter preach of Jesus, they asked what they needed to do to be saved, to which Peter told them to repent & be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  (Acts 2:38)  The 3000 Jews who did this understood exactly that it meant leaving everything behind to follow Jesus in faith.  They had to make a public break with the Jewish authorities who had ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, and potentially be cast out of the synagogue.  Yet they all did it, because it was worth it.
    1. This is what Jesus calls all of us to do.  We are to leave everything we are behind, and follow Him as our Lord and King.  What that looks like might look different than what it looks like in the life of someone else, but this much is the same: there is a complete surrender and dependence upon Jesus.

29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.

  1. There will be people who lose literally everything for Jesus.  They will lose jobs, inheritances, family relationships, and more.  Jesus was under no illusions to the contrary.  Some people would make tremendous sacrifices in their desire to follow Jesus as a disciple.  Especially in the area of families.  Brothers would be turned against each other, and children would be disowned by the parents, among other things.  Yet they would willingly do it, in spite of the sure heartache and pain that would come as a result.  They counted the cost, and they determined the cost was worth it.
  2. Why?  For Jesus and the gospel.  There is no other reason that could make it worthwhile!  Think about that for a moment.  People will sacrifice all sorts of things to achieve certain ends.  Jesus doesn’t make any guarantees about any of that.  It’s not that anyone who gives up their family finds a hundredfold more family; it only applies to those who do it for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s.  There are many people who are willing to sacrifice their families for the sake of their career – Jesus makes no promise to them.  They might excel at the workplace, but they inevitably end their lives in regret.  There are many people who are willing to sacrifice their families for their dream – but dreams can remain unfulfilled, or they can be unfulfilling.  The only sacrifice that guarantees a blessedness is when we sacrifice everything for Jesus and for the gospel.  We can lose everything we have now for Jesus, and know that we gain far more both now and in eternity.
    1. Make no mistake that people do exactly that.  It may be hard for us to imagine in the United States, but this is what happens around the world every single day as people come to faith in Jesus Christ.  They are disowned by their parents – they are cast out by their husbands – they are persecuted to the death even by members of their own families.  And they do it for no other reason than Jesus.  Jesus is the only reason that makes it worthwhile.
    2. What people do for Jesus’ sake is no more than what He did for our sake.  He didn’t just leave a home; He left the glory of heaven.  Jesus knows exactly what this kind of sacrifice is like.  He even knows the full extremes of family rejection.  Not only was Jesus rejected by the very people that He came to save, but He was rejected as He hung on the cross.  When Jesus became sin, God the Father forsook His only begotten Son.  Jesus knew it and cried out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  This is what He did for us.  This is what He did for you.
  3. It is indeed sacrifice, and it would seem to be horrible news – but it isn’t.  It’s wonderful news!  People do it for Jesus’ sake, and for the gospel’s.  It’s for the GOOD NEWS that Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost!  It’s for the GOOD NEWS that God the Son has come to reconcile us back to God the Father.  That is gloriously good news!  That alone makes all the sacrifice worth it.  But amazingly, Jesus says that there is more…even beyond the wonderful news of forgiveness.
    1. Family may be lost for Jesus’ sake, but in Christ, more family is gained.  Not just a few; a hundredfold!
    2. Inheritances (lands) may be lost for Jesus’ sake, but in Christ, more is gained.  There is no lack of provision for the believer in Jesus Christ.
    3. Futures may be lost for Jesus’ sake, but in Christ, eternal life is gained.  It’s assured. The very thing that the rich man asked for, and what the disciples believed the rich man had is what Jesus promises to those who surrender everything to Him in faith.  Eternal life is not found in wealth or in actions; it’s found in Jesus & the gospel.  Give up everything – for what?  For Jesus’ sake & the gospel.  THAT is where eternal life is found, and that is the only place it IS found. 
  4. Note: Family & inheritances, etc. is gained “now in this time”; not only in the future.  It would seem totally impossible. After all, if we give up family, how do we gain family?  Easy: we’re born into a new one.  When we ask for Jesus to be our Lord & Savior, as we ask for His forgiveness, we receive a new spiritual birth & we are born into a new family.  We have more family member than we can possibly count, in every country around the world!  Everywhere you go, you’ll find brothers and sisters in the Lord.  We have access to lands and homes through generous hospitality.
  5. There is one other thing that is guaranteed here in this life: “persecutions.”  There is sacrifice in following Jesus, and there is suffering in following Jesus.  But even that is worth it.  Jesus is completely up-front about it, and doesn’t sugar-coat it at all.  There is much blessing in following the Lord, but there is also guaranteed suffering.  The Bible tells us that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  Jesus told the disciples that in this world they would have tribulation, but to be of good cheer because He had overcome the world (Jn 16:33).  When someone becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, he/she is guaranteed reward that seems impossible in its scope: a hundred fold increase in family & eternal heaven.  But we’re also guaranteed to walk the same path of our Savior, and that includes suffering.  Just as Jesus had said earlier, we have to pick up our cross and follow Him.
    1. Again, just like Jesus.  Jesus does not ask His followers to do anything He Himself has not already done for us.  He endured the scorn and hatred of the world.  He endured persecutions unto death.  But He also received glory that is (and will remain) unequaled among all people throughout all time!

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

  1. It’s a fitting conclusion to what Jesus taught, though it’s not unique to this situation.  Matthew shows this verse in the same context, while Luke shows it in a different one.  Jesus will say something similar again later in Ch 10, when dealing with the ego-driven ambition of James and John.  Obviously, the truth applies to many situations, and there’s hardly any doubt this was said many times by Jesus during the course of His ministry.
  2. It’s a paradox: supposedly conflicting ideas that are nonetheless true.  Of course, that’s been the whole of His teaching here.  Salvation being impossible to achieve was a conflict in the ears of the disciples.  Families growing by multitudes after families are given up for the sake of Jesus is a paradox on the issue of reward.  Discipleship meant that those who followed Jesus had to lose everything, but it also meant that those who followed Jesus would gain everything.  Rich, poor, whatever – it applies to everyone across the board.  It applies to the rich young ruler because his wealth made him “first” in this life, while also stumbling him from the kingdom & thus making him “last” in eternity.  It applies to the disciples because they had left everything now, becoming “last,” while they would be “first” in eternity as their utter dependency upon Jesus assured that they would enter the kingdom of heaven.
    1. It even applies to Jesus.  As the ultimate “first,” Jesus willingly made Himself “last” – only to be exalted by God the Father and be made “first” once again (and for all time).

So what is impossible?  Heaven is.  Eternal security, outside of Jesus is.  People don’t go to heaven because they are rich – people don’t go to heaven because they are poor.  They can’t earn their way in, buy their way in, or slide their way in.  If anyone is trusting in anything outside of Jesus to find eternal life, they are going to be shocked when they finally see Him face-to-face.  Far better to be shocked with the true words of Jesus now, than by the truth of the situation later.

Salvation is impossible.  BUT…God makes the impossible, possible.  God intervened, and Jesus is the ultimate intervention.  WE cannot take ourselves to heaven, but Jesus can.  When He died on the cross and rose from the grave, He did everything that we cannot do for ourselves.  Jesus paid the price for our sin, He died the death that we deserved, He reconciled us to God, He achieved forgiveness of our sin, and He guaranteed life in eternity.  All of that is impossible for man, but possible with God.  Why?  Because God makes the impossible, possible – and He does so through Jesus.

Even beyond forgiveness, God even gives impossible rewards.  It seems insane to give up our lives and families and securities today – yet that’s what discipleship is, when we do it for Jesus.  And when we do, we find exactly the thing that we gave up: life, family, eternal security.  All of it is found in Jesus, because He makes all things possible.

So where is your trust?  Where is your assurance of eternal life?  For someone approaching Jesus for the first time (like the rich young ruler), perhaps this is something you never considered before.  Perhaps (like the disciples), you had a different notion of eternity, thinking that you could get there if you just worked hard enough and proved yourself worth it.  Jesus DOES want you to go to heaven, but He makes it absolutely clear that you can’t take yourself there.  HE has to be the one to do it.  It’s impossible with man, but not with God.  God makes the impossible, possible.  You have the opportunity receive of that impossible possibility today…

BTW – this isn’t just a truth for people newly coming to Jesus, but for all of us – even those who have been walking by faith in Jesus for years.  Peter needed this same assurance, and he had been living with Jesus day-in and day-out.  It costs everything to walk with Jesus, but the cost is worth it.  There is suffering now, but there is also reward now.  We experience life with Jesus today, and life with Jesus in eternity.  What seems impossible can be taken to the God, for Whom all things are possible.  He is our trust, and He is our all-in-all.  Take it to Jesus, and remain there.

  1. John Warren Jr. says:

    “We must live a life of faith and holy confidence in God and his grace: ‘I see what comes of men’s trusting in the abundance of their riches, and therefore I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever—not in the world, but in God, not in my own merit, but in God’s mercy, which dispenses its gifts freely, even to the unworthy, and has in it an all-sufficiency to be our portion and happiness.’ This mercy is for ever; it is constant and unchangeable, and its gifts will continue to all eternity. We must therefore for ever trust in it, and never come off from that foundation.” — Matthew Henry, on Psalm 52.

  2. timburns says:

    Amen! Great words!

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