We are in a series of lessons that Jesus is giving to explain what it means to follow Jesus. Mark 10:13-31 brings us to another passage where Jesus teaches a difficult lesson about following him. It should be of note to us that Jesus never makes following him simple or easy. Rather, as crowds come to Jesus, Jesus continues to express them the meaning of true discipleship. Let us notice the scene that Mark records for us in Mark 10:13.
Those Who Are Low Enter the Kingdom (10:13-16)
The crowds are bringing their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. However, the disciples rebuke the crowds for bringing the children. We need to remember that in the first century, children were without status and certainly considered not worthy of Jesus’ time. It is interesting that the disciples did not learn from what we saw back in Mark 9:34-36 where Jesus told the disciples to be like a child and welcome them. Notice that Jesus does not approve of what the disciples are doing. Jesus did not elevate himself. Jesus welcomes any status, particularly the lowly. No one should be excluded in coming to Jesus. Jesus does not care about person’s status, power, or any other social marker. Jesus is welcoming the poor in spirit. Jesus blesses the lowly and humble. This has been the continuing message of Jesus that the last will enter the kingdom. Be a servant of all to be a disciple of Jesus. This is the first key to enter eternal life. The lowly will enter.
Those Who Trust In God Enter the Kingdom (10:17-22)
The second key is given to us in verses 17-22. A man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him, asking him what seems to be a great spiritual question. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man seems to have the posture of humility and seems to ask a deep spiritual question. But we know what Jesus knows the hearts of people. Jesus begins by challenging the question this man asks. “Why do you call me good?” In essence, Jesus is asking this man if he understands what he is saying. Only God is good. Goodness only belongs to God. We are not good. No human is good. The apostle Paul declared this in Romans 3:10 and the following verses. “None is righteous, no, not one.” So Jesus wants to cause this man to think about what he is saying. Goodness belongs to God. Goodness is not defined by our human achievements. Now we will see how this fits in the rest of the discussion.
Jesus continues by quoting the commandments to this man. He has asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer is to keep the commandments. To have life you need to do all that God has commanded. Now I want us to think about that response for a moment. Imagine coming to Jesus and asking him what we must do to inherit eternal life. Now imagine the answer is to keep God’s commandments. Do all that is written in the law. What would be your response? What should be your response? Listen to this man’s response in verse 20. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Immediately this shows that this man is not lowly in heart. He does not see his sinfulness. He does not see that he falls woefully short of God’s law. He looks at God’s law and thinks he is doing it. He thinks he is good. He thinks he is righteous. This is easy to do and we have the tendency to do this. We have a smaller set of God’s laws that we look, think we are keeping them, and therefore we are going to inherit eternal life. Today in the world the list amounts to nothing more than not killing someone. In the religious the world, the list amounts to nothing more than going to church every once in a while. But the answer is that we are accountable for all the law. It is not pew sitting. We must do all that God has said. This person does not see that he has fallen short of God’s law. The purpose of God’s law is that we would know sin and see how far short of God’s law and glory we truly are.
So Jesus helps this man see this. In verse 21 Jesus looks at this man and loved him. Jesus loves this man and that is why he says what he says. He tells him that he lacks one thing. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus attempts to reveal to this man what is truly in his heart. Notice the man is not excited to follow Jesus. Rather, he was disheartened by the saying. He goes away sorrowful because he had great possessions. Jesus found this man’s problem. He had great possessions in which he was trusting in himself and his wealth rather than on God. His wealth was what mattered to him. He was fine with not murdering, committing adultery, or stealing. But God is always probing for our idols. This is an area of great danger. Listen as Jesus teaches his disciples after this man chooses to not follow Jesus because of his wealth.
Those Who Do Not Trust In Riches Enter the Kingdom (10:23-31)
“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23 ESV)
The disciples are stunned by what Jesus said. But Jesus wants to make sure they understand so he says this again in verse 24. “How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Then, to make sure they are understanding this truth, Jesus says, “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” (10:25). Now they are exceedingly astonished (10:26). They are so blown away by this that they ask, “Then who can be saved?” The reason they ask this is because it was believed that riches were an indication of divine favor. Yet Jesus just said that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom.
We do not realize it but riches interfere with us entering the kingdom. To say this another way, we cannot trust in our riches and enter the kingdom of God. We cannot depend on our riches and depend on God at the same time. It is important to consider the question Jesus asks this man because it is a question that we must consider for ourselves. If Jesus told us to our face to leave everything, sell the possessions we have, and come follow him, would we? Would be sell our cars, sell our homes, quit our jobs, have an everything must go sale, and walk with Jesus? You see that this is the kind of trust and dependence that Jesus is looking for. We breathe a sigh of relief because we think Jesus did not ask us to sell our possessions, as if that makes it acceptable for us to trust in our riches. We are supposed to be looking at what God’s law are and make changes. We are to see how woefully short we fall and this area might be the area we fall short the easiest. We need to consider what trusting in our riches looks like. We need to hear Jesus saying that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. There is nothing easy about entering the kingdom and, friends, we are rich. If we have enough for tomorrow, then we are rich by the scriptures’ definition. If we had nothing, would we believe that God would take care of us. There is one way to know. The way we use our money shows if we trust God to give us more or not. Do we think we are providing for ourselves or do we realize that God has richly blessed us? Do we panic about money or believe that the Lord will provide? Do we worry about what we will eat in the future or what we will drink in the future or what we will wear or where we will live in the future? These things reflect if we are like this man or not. Are possessions our idol?
So the disciples cannot believe that the rich would have a very difficult time entering the kingdom. So they ask who can be saved. Listen to this important response by Jesus. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (10:27). This is a precious truth. Salvation can only come through God. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us! No one can be saved by their own efforts. No one can be saved by their obedience to God’s law. The gift of salvation is provided by the Lord through Jesus. We cannot be saved without the Lord.
Now this leads Peter to chime in with an important consideration. Peter says in verse 28, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” In essence, we have done what this man has failed to do. We have sold our possessions, left everything, and followed you. Now it is important to consider what Peter means. We know that Peter still had a boat because we see them fishing in it later. “Leaving everything” must mean that they gave up anything and everything that was a roadblock to authentic faith and trust in God (cf. 9:42-50). Whatever stands in our way a full commitment to the Lord must be sacrificed. Peter declares that they had made that sacrifice. Listen to what Jesus says in verses 29-31.
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, 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29–31 ESV)
God knows what has been sacrificed for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. There are a lot of sacrifices we will need to make. There are many obstacles that stand in our way of entering the kingdom. But God rewards those who give all for the kingdom. Those who enter the kingdom forfeit the life of wealth in this life. Those who enter the kingdom give up anything for the Lord.
You will notice that Jesus speaks of two rewards. Jesus says that those who make this sacrifice will be rewarded with eternal life in the age to come. I think we understand this reward and put our hope in it. We are not looking at this life but are looking for eternal life with our Savior. But notice that Jesus says there is a reward in the present age. There are present blessings. Should we think that Jesus is saying you are going to get rich now if you follow him? Is Jesus saying you will have great wealth now if you give your wealth now? I do not believe this is what Jesus is saying. From what we know, none of these disciples experienced great wealth in this life. But that God will provide for you in your time of need. God is going to take care of you. Somehow and some way God is going to give you what you need for this life.
Notice Jesus describes the new family you receive in Christ. This is something we are supposed to be for each other. This is what we are to grow together toward. We are to be each other’s brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. We see this in the book of Acts as Christians cared for each other and helped each other. Further, Jesus says that you will receive houses and lands. But again this seems to picture that God will provide for us what we need and that this new family we have in Christ will provide what we need for each other. We also see this in the book of Acts where needy Christians were given what they needed because other Christians joyfully sold their possessions to help them. This is the very picture of the failure of this man. Will you depend on God to provide for you or will you depend on self?
Therefore, the kingdom is inside out. We live for Christ’s kingdom and not for this world. Success in this life is not success in the kingdom. Success in the kingdom of God is not success in this life. It is impossible for the two to go together. So we must ask ourselves: what will we not give up to follow Jesus? What will we not give up for the kingdom? Sometimes the thing we will not give up is happiness. We are going to be happy at all costs rather than sacrificing ourselves for entering into the kingdom.
Sometimes we will not give up wealth. We need to think about what trusting in riches looks like. What does it look like except that we look for comfort and hope in our possessions and in this life rather than in God? Riches are dangerous because they bring us superficial happiness rather than true joy in God. Riches distract us from what is truly important and truly valuable.
True repentance is recognizing our unworthiness, acknowledging our sinfulness, and turning from it. It is the rejection of living for this life. Belief is trusting in God for our provisions and for our salvation. Believing means we would never trust in ourselves for anything whether physical or spiritual. Only the lowly and broken receive the grace of God and enter the kingdom. With people, salvation is impossible. But with God all things are possible.