Money. We think about it a lot probably more than we’d care to admit. Money has a lot to do with how people feel about their lives. On a national scale we frame the health of our Country in terms of our economy, international trade, stock market, national deficit, and employment/unemployment. Apart from our Nation’s defense this is a primary topic of concern. So money is a controlling element in the culture of our Country. One of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination to run for President has a platform almost solely based on his success with money. Money is on the minds of Alaskans. The dropping price of oil is regularly on our minds and in our conversations. Money specialists will say on a personal level that money controls everything about you; your opportunities, your aspirations, your dilemmas, your despair, how much your work, how you relate to others, where you go, what you think about. Money in general carries great power in the world we live in.
Money is the core subject of nearly half of Jesus’ parables. It’s been said, “one is every seven verses in the New Testament are about money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money.”
Jesus warns people ten times more about money then he does about the dangers of immorality. Money is meant to be a tool not a scoreboard where we measure ourselves to others. It is a life draining god to many. Here are a few verses that make this point:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Mark 4:19 ESV)
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 ESV)
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28 ESV)
A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
(Proverbs 28:22 ESV)
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV)
…nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1Corrinthians 6:10 ESV)
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1Timothy 6:9-10 ESV)
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure bin the last days.
(James 5:1-3 ESV)
“Who are these verses speaking to?” Are these verses simply for the uber-wealthy? The Bible is not that selective. Who’s considered wealthy? Americans. Depending on the metric used, some make the case that America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. I understand that in general people have debts but comparatively speaking most people in our country are better off than how Kings lived 200 years ago.
So, if we are in spiritual danger, eternal danger of trusting wealth to our own ruin how do we NOT do this? Since, “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction…those who enter…are many!” (Matthew 7:13)
Prop: Jesus explains why trusting in wealth brings ruin
1. Trusting in wealth is a false sense of security (vv. 23-24)
This begins Jesus’ teaching from what’s just happened. Remember a young and very successful man has just rejected Jesus’ offer for eternal life. The man was a very rich, young, ruler in the synagogue. This was a man who Jesus had just exposed, before a watching crowd, a self-made and underneath of the surface self-righteous man. This man thought he had passed the smelter test from the 10 Commandments, an honest man who gained his wealth by honest means. But Jesus exposed something very subtle that is very much embedded in our Country’s culture. His wealth was his security and though he recognized he was still empty and insecure about his eternal future he was not willing to let go of his financial security for Jesus! Verse 22 says he became “Disheartened” and “sorrowful.” “A progressive darkening” over this man’s face [Hughes]. Jesus exposed that he will not simply be an add on to a person’s life, like some pocket chain idol or good luck charm!
Jesus’ next few words teach us something very important about money that we need to see. Though having wealth can become a temptation that ruins the soul and does so with great subtlety it in and of itself is not evil. Just as having money does not mean you are right or not right with God, lacking money does not mean you are not right or right with God.
Jesus “looked around” eyeing the crowd around him and targeting his disciples. Then he says his first watershed statement, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). The “kingdom of God” is synonymous with going to heaven. This is “eternal life” and forgiveness from sin. Jesus plainly states that to get there is “hard.” There is such a perception in our Christian culture that it is “easy” to get to heaven that this seems irrelevant or something that we are tempted to say, “This cannot apply as our Gospel.” But, it does. Entering into God’s Kingdom from our perspective shouldn’t be boiled down to “Add on” rituals like “signing up” at church or being part of a family that’s always been Christian. Anything that comes under the category of “Add on” actually disqualifies a person from entrance!
What Jesus addresses here is confusion or misunderstanding that the disciples still were under. Verse 24 says “the disciples were amazed at his words” (v. 24). So, Jesus, with loving affection, reiterates his point. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus is exposing the false idea that having money (success) is synonymous with having divine blessing! This was the common believe within the synagogue. This was rabbinic tradition. If you were wealthy then you could buy the best sacrifices to offer to God! Wealth is the reward of God.
By the way, this was the exact train of thought Job’s counselors (friends) used with him. Job, one of the top 3-5 wealthiest persons narrated to us in Scripture had lost everything (money, livestock, family) and this signified God’s judgment! This was the Ancient version of the “Health and Wealth, Prosperity” Gospel!
Jesus was teaching the exact opposite. Jesus’ point is that “wealth” makes it harder to turn to the one true requirement for eternal life, “helpless dependence.” Remember David’s words in his Psalm of repentance? Psalm 51:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16-17 ESV)
You can have money but it is a false security if you think it means you are right with God. Or that you can use it to physically save you.
2. Trusting in wealth is an impossible way to be saved from sin (vv. 25-27)
Jesus sinks his point in with an illustration or word picture. This is a famous one because it clearly makes his point. Verse 25 has been batted around as you know all for the purpose of sandpapering down the hard edge Jesus meant to convey. Several people have come up with what they call the “Needle Gate” as an entry point for a stripped down camel to crawl through with enough effort.
This is a way of saying, “Look rich people can get into the Kingdom too! They just need to strip down their trust in their money!” This actually misses Jesus’ point altogether. Of course rich people can go to heaven. Nobody is saying they can’t. Men like Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea all had money and all went to heaven.
Jesus’ point? Money doesn’t get you there! Trusting it keeps you from going there!
Jesus uses the same hyperbole used in the Jewish commentary, the Talmud. The Talmud says something like, “it is easier for an elephant to go through an eye of a needle.” In the Middle East, the elephant was the largest animal so that was used there. In Israel, the largest animal in use was a camel, so Jesus used the camel. The point is that using physical wealth to buy spiritual wealth is ridiculous. Nobodies saying money – having it or not – isn’t powerful! It is! But money is NOT powerful to save your soul or to solve your SIN problem. How do the “disciples” respond? Verse 26 says, “…they were exceedingly astonished” and questioned, “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26). The disciples were “overwhelmed.” “Then who can be saved?” is the same as asking “If this rich, young, ruler, who is squeaky clean, and who has demonstrated integrity and success, cannot be saved then who on earth could?”
Look, Jesus needed to do something before he could offer some hope. He needed to first demolish one perspective before he had freedom to build a new one! Laying out the Bad News he now gives the Good News. Verse 27 says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v. 27). This is nothing new but so important to understand and in light of our culture defined by money! You can boil all this down with Ephesians 2:9.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:9 ESV)
So, if you have nothing to do with entering the kingdom of God then why even talk about this? Some of you might say, my mind says, “If it’s all up to God” then rather than being concerned with my eternal future, I will just throw my hands up and walk away. On the other hand, you might be like Peter, who did not take this approach. Peter wasn’t passive. Instead, Peter puts it all on the line and throws himself up on the exam table! He’s saying I think I’m in!
3. Trusting in wealth is how not to experience satisfying joy in life (vv. 28-31)
Verse 28, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28). The beauty of this moment is not that Peter’s doing everything right. In fact his boldness should probably raise some questions about his humility. Remember when James and John wanted to ensure their position in the kingdom on the right or left hand of Jesus? What’s beautiful to note is that when you understand that you cannot save yourself, what’s “impossible with man,” then you see that Jesus is giving his children grace all the time. Jesus gives grace to get us in and to keep us in!
Verse 29 is more of this grace. Jesus is saying, that people who release the security of the world’s wealth to follow Jesus, that they are trading up! Verses 29-30 describe what happens when you come into the church. You may lose a close relationship with family members here but you gain relationships with spiritual family member in the body of Christ.
I like Jesus’ math. He does not say 100 percent more, but hundredfold more! One house gone; but a hundred doors open! One brother in the flesh lost; but a thousand brothers in the spirit, whose love is deeper… [Hughes]
This was the story in Acts 2 at Pentecost where the Israelites made their yearly pilgrimage from their Jewish settlements outside Jerusalem. The Spirit of God descended and connected people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds and lifestyles and made them family. Have you ever noticed how money is what connects or disconnects blood families? With the church the connection is based on the Spirit God and love for Christ. This is the kingdom experienced now and for all “eternity.” This is an amazing promise.
Verse 31 caps this off, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 31). A fare case can be made that this isn’t talking about “rich” people being last and “poor” being first. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 19:30 -20:1-6 clarifies Mark’s point! Jesus tells the story of people working varying hours: One hour, three hours, five hours, and eight hours. All different amounts of labor but for all the same pay!
Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:10-16 ESV)
Jesus’ point is that everyone represented here gets into the kingdom by grace! Only by grace! Not amounts of works! Thus the Gospel is the great leveler. One person said in terms of the kingdom, “Everyone crosses the finish line at the same time.”
How do you know if you are gripped by the power of money? Money is very powerful? —
“Do you struggle to give large amounts of money away?” — “Do you look down on others who have more than you do who do not appear to work as hard as you do?”
Do you care about these questions? If you do than this is a good sign that you do not want to be ruled or enslaved but money’s power!
On a personal note, I’ve talked to several in our Alaskan community who wonder whether or not their job is going to still be there within our AK economy. This is where this hits home. God is our provider, not our bank account. He promises to provide for our needs but harder more desperate times cause us to turn and see the value of the greater Provision.
Remember that moment back up in verse 21 when Jesus confronted the rich, young, ruler? It says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21). This is a very rare moment in all of Scripture. This kind of specific and personal compassion from Christ to this man meant something.
Jesus’ love for this man may very well have been him resonating with this young man’s decision he had to make. Jesus had made a decision 30 plus years earlier. Jesus, himself was a young man. He had ruled from heaven’s wealth on heaven’s throne for all of eternity past! He chose to leave it all to sublimate his majesty and become poor so he could give himself away. He gave his All so people could be forgiven and truly rich. Jesus was the ultimate Rich, Young, Ruler!
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
Trusting in wealth is the path of ruin. Let this kind of trust go and turn yourself over to complete trust in Christ. It’s clear from our text that it’s impossible to do this of your own power. Jesus clearly states this. But God can make it possible.