The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 10:23 “And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard 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 man to enter the kingdom of Gold.’ 26 And they were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 Looking upon them, Jesus said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’ 28 Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, 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 farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first.’” (NASB)
Last week we read about a rich young sincere, well-intentioned man who wanted to be the best and all he could be in order to please God and inherit eternal life. “What must I do to be saved?” He asked. Jesus told him to obey the second table of the Law. He thought that he had already done so and was looking for extra credit.
In response to the claim of a righteousness based on the Law, Jesus told the man to everything that he had and give it away to the poor, the follow Him. In other words, Jesus invoked the nuclear option – the First through Third Commandment. V. 22 “At these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.”
This morning’s Gospel lesson picks up where last week’s left off. As the rich young man walked away from Jesus, Jesus look around at His disciples and said 23 “How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God!”
I suppose these days the common reaction to a rich man being turned away from something, anything would be cheered. Serves him right. Rich men are rotten people who don’t deserve to be treated well.
For some time now Americans have bought into class warfare. As a result of jealousy, greed, and government policies like a progress tax code, the average modern day American tends to look at wealthy people as greedy people who exploit the common man and government loop holes to line their pockets. It is rather ironic that so many young people who think they are entitled to anything they want, are among the most envious when it comes to other people who have so much of what they want.
The culture of first century Israel had a different view of wealthy people. While the Old Testament condemned people who amassed wealth illegally or by exploiting the poor, people in the ancient world thought rich people who had gotten rich by their own smarts and hard work were favored of God. The places of honor places on earth and in heaven were reserved for rich and morally upright people who supported religious institutions and the community. The disciples would have been impressed with the rich young man. They would have thought that he was a prime candidate for the heavenly express.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Jesus said, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Once again, Jesus was turning the world of expectations upside down for the people of the 1st century. The response of the disciples illustrated the point. 26 “And they were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’”
Jesus, God’s Word, and biblical theology still runs counter-culture to what people say, think, and believe. When you actually tell people what Jesus, the prophets and apostles, and true Christian teach and preach, what right and what is wrong it is nothing less than shocking to people. It is truly hard work to become a right thinking Christian and most Christians find every excuse not to learn to think rightly about heavenly things.
That is what He did when Jesus explained the predicament of the wealthy. The disciples wondered out loud how it would be possible for anyone to be saved if a rich morally sound do gooder couldn’t get to heaven.
But the teaching in today’s Gospel is not so much about being rich in light of the Law and the call of the Gospel. After all poor people can cling to what little they have with the same decree of passion as a rich man can cling to his many things, rather than trusting in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit above all else.
The prognosis gets worse. Not only for the rich young man, but for all of us. Jesus began with the universal and when to the particular. He first said, “Children, how hard it is to enter into the Kingdom of God!” It is not just the rich man who has a problem. You do to! Then for the purposes of driving the point home, Jesus applies the Law to this particular case. “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.”
Scholars debate over the translations of Jesus’ statement and His reference to the eye of the needle. And there is good reason for it. When Jesus first spoke the statement did He speak it in Aramaic or Greek. The word in Scripture is gamla which if spoken in Aramaic can mean “rope” or “camel.” How did camel get attached to the word gamla? Ropes were made out of camel hair. An Aramaic lexicographer named Mar Bahlul from the 10th century Mar Bahlul records that the word gamla means “a large rope used to bind ships.” If Jesus spoke in Aramaic then a more accurate translation is, “It is easier for a rope (of large ship) to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” If Jesus spoke in Greek, then the translation of camel stands.
As for “the eye of a needle” portion of Jesus’ answer, we don’t know for sure whether Jesus was talking about the eye in a sowing needle (which admittedly works with the rope translation) or was He referring to a opening in Jerusalem’s wall like the one depicted on the front of the reading insert. At night the large gates would be closed and these small openings could be used for one person at a time to enter the city. Such an opening would not allow a camels through. I don’t think I could fit through one of these openings. That’s how small they are.
Whichever translation you might favor, Jesus’ lesson is the same. When it comes to salvation, “with men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Human beings can’t earn and work out their own salvation. Salvation is God’s work, not the work of any sinful human being. You just can’t do it. That is the point. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are God’s work and a gift to us.
We hear that statement quoted a lot. “Nothing is impossible for God.” I don’t want to say it is wrongly used. In common usage though it is very generic and somewhat sloppy. The Scripture is much more precise that than. Always is.
The phrase “nothing is impossible for God” appears twice said in the New Testament. The first is when the Angel Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary and tells her she will give birth to the Son of God. She doesn’t know how that is possible since she is a Virgin. The reply, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
In this passage this morning we have “all things are possible with God.” Both statements are spoken in the context of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is true, nothing is impossible with God. But when you hear that, the first thing that ought to come to mind, is that Jesus did what was possible for Him but impossible for you, namely earn your salvation.
At this point in the conversation Peter says something stupid, again. He falls into the same trap the rich young man. He thinks he chose to follow Jesus, gave up earthly wealth to do so and in so doing has done something good to earn his place in the Kingdom of God. “Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’”
In the Gospel of John when the disciples thought they had done a great work in following Jesus, Jesus told them, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.”
Here in this circumstance it was enough to tell Peter all those who have been called into Christ’s service and service the Gospel that they are gaining infinitely more than they lost as part of the gift of salvation. The Gospel and the forgiveness of sins is the gift that keeps on giving. So the disciples think they have given up a lot to follow Jesus. The rich young man had just given up everything associated with the forgiveness of sins and the heavenly kingdom to keep his earthly trash.
Not only does Jesus make the impossible possible, sinners into saints and death into life, but He also turns loss into gain and the last and least into the first and greatest. He turns everything around. The rich man and Peter thought they could do something to make God more pleased with them and earn their way. They wanted to work for it. Jesus calls us to rest from these kinds of labors. Hebews 4:10-11 “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen