A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Among many of the city of Pittsburgh’s claims to fame is the iconic Klondike Bar (even though it was actually invented in Mansfield, Ohio). Originally the chocolate-covered ice cream bar was only available at Islay’s stores, best known for their ice cream and chipped chopped deli ham, and restaurants in the western Pennsylvania/northeastern Ohio region. In the 1980s, Isay’s began marketing the Klondike Bars nationwide with a series of television commercials which included the catchy jingle, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” You may have seen these, or the inevitable parodies that emerged, where an off-camera announcer would wave a Klondike bar at a passing person on the street and ask what they would for one. Some of the responses include clucking like a chicken, making monkey noises, and even standing against a wooden board with a chalk outline while having knives thrown at them. Apparently, the correct answer is that people would do quite a bit for a little free ice cream.
As a rich young man walked away from Jesus and the disciples, no one could believe what had just transpired. Just moments earlier the enthusiastic young man had run up to Jesus and asked for the secret of the kingdom, the one thing he must do to inherit eternal life, and amazingly, Jesus provided a loving answer to his question! But the man did not celebrate his discovery nor thank Jesus for His honesty, rather he left with his tail between his legs, grieving the fact that he had ever come to Jesus at all. Rather than approving the man’s righteous living and assure him that his position in the Kingdom was indeed already secured, Jesus directed him to give everything away and then invited him to come and join the disciples as they followed Jesus. Now that the man knew what to do, he had no excuse, but the cost of following Jesus was just too great a price to pay.
Before they continued on their journey, Jesus took a moment to assess the situation and found that the rich man was not the only one who was disheartened at Jesus’ words. Jesus understood that the disciples adhered to the same religious philosophy of the young man, a philosophy which saw wealth as a sure sign of blessing from God and poverty as nothing but a curse. In a repudiation of this line of thinking Jesus proclaimed, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Our English translation of the Greek text tells us that the disciples were “amazed” at Jesus’ difficult words, but it is more accurate to understand them as “terrified.” They did not have the mental categories to properly process this teaching, which Jesus doubled-down on by telling them that entrance into the kingdom of God is exceedingly difficult. In fact, Jesus told them, it would be easier for a half-ton camel to pass through the microscopic eye of a needle than for even the wealthy to enter the kingdom. To this the disciples cried out in fear, “Who then can be saved?” To which Jesus assured them, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
These are some of the most famous words of Jesus, and we often find them printed on inspirational coffee mugs and the cover of devotional journals. We love to quote them to each other as reminders that God can do all things. And while that is certainly true, it is important to remember here that Jesus is specifically referencing salvation. He is saying that it is literally impossible for anyone to secure their own place in their kingdom. There is not enough money in the world to give away, not enough time in the day to do good. We do not contribute anything to our own salvation, and anything that encourages complete self-dependence is dangerous.
Commentator R. Kent Hughes writes that even today, “We think the rich to be overprivileged; Jesus said they were underprivileged!” Now, contrary to what some suggest Jesus did not hate the wealthy or seek to establish some sort of forced wealth distribution system. But Jesus did speak on wealth and money more than any other topic. It was important to Him because He understood that money could easily become a great barrier to the kingdom. When we don’t have money, we are constantly thinking about how to get more. When we do have money, we are constantly thinking about how to get more. As those who have acquired wealth will attest, there are great disadvantages to wealth. But regardless of whether we have much or little, the love and pursuit of money is an insatiable desire that easily consumes our thoughts and our hearts.
Salvation is just as impossible for the rich as it is for the poor alike. Jesus warns that having money can not save us, just as having none can not save us. What are those in poverty called to do? Trust in the Lord and look to Him as our only hope of salvation. What are those with wealth called to do? Trust in the Lord and look to Him as our only hope of salvation.
When Peter heard these hard words of Jesus, he thought of himself and asked, “What about us?” Each of the disciples had literally or figuratively dropped their nets and walked away from their former occupations in order to follow Jesus. While the fishermen brothers did not have much to begin with, some, like Matthew the tax collector, had accumulated wealth. But regardless of what they had given up, Jesus promised that they would never regret their decision. In the economics of the Kingdom, they were sacrificing nothing in order to gain everything. There is simply no comparison.
When we recognize the value of the Kingdom of God, the “hard sayings” of Jesus become rather simple. Regardless of the size of our accounts or portfolios, every follower of Jesus is called to be a good steward of what the Lord has entrusted us with. We should not be consumed with earning as much as possible or only satisfying all of our earthly desires, but instead seek first to invest in His Kingdom work, the things of eternal significance, and hold with an open hand anything that prevents us from doing so. Jesus promises that no matter what, we will never look back on our lives and lament the fact that we were too generous towards God, for it is impossible to out-give the one who has given it all.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are abundantly generous. Forgive us for the times we become consumed with the pursuit of wealth and material things rather than pursuing You and investing in Your Kingdom. Allow us to see Your surpassing worth and to trust that You will always care and provide for us. Open our eyes to the opportunities You give us to impact eternity with our time, talent, and treasure and help us to love You with all of our hearts. In Your priceless name we pray, Amen.