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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Rich, With Children

Matthew 19:13 - 20:16; Mark 10:13-31; Luke 18:15-30

 

 

The two passages we will be examining today are usually taken separately, but it is clear from the context that they happened quite closely in time. Perhaps our attitudes about them separately might benefit from the comparison.

The Children

Matthew

Mark

Luke

(Mat 19:13-15 NIV) Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. {14} Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." {15} When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

 

(Mark 10:13-16 NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. {14} When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. {15} I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." {16} And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

 

(Luke 18:15-17 NIV) People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. {16} But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. {17} I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

 

The custom of the time was for mothers (recall the status of women in this society) to bring their children to be blessed by any prominent rabbi. The rabbi would lay hands on them and pray a prayer of blessing.

The concept is not as unfamiliar as it might seem. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court justice, relates a story of a young man who went up to him to shake his hand. “You don’t know how it feels,” the young man said, “to shake the hand of a man who fought at Gettysburg.” “Oh yes I do,” replied Holmes. “When I was a boy, I shook the hand of a man who was with Washington at Valley Forge.” A rabbi’s blessing carried something of the same feeling.

The Symbol for Humility

Christ had a way of teaching in symbolic actions. The method is highly effective. I recall one particular manager who was taught such a lesson. He took the last cup of coffee from the pot. One of the secretaries admonished him to make the next pot. He refused, explaining how important he was and, after all, what do we have secretaries for? While he was ranting, his boss (a vice-president) walked in and without a word made two things: the next pot of coffee – and the point.

Children were the most humble members of that society. Christ has already made the point that of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-5). By taking charge this way, he tells us that the humble are his concern. It is a symbolic lesson.

The disciples’ reaction

It is tempting to look at the disciples and imagine all sorts of wicked thoughts. But I think the truth lies elsewhere.

·         The disciples thought they were doing a sensible thing. They were keeping petty details away from the boss. After all, he is too important to deal with such trivial things. This is a good example of a good thing getting in the way of the best thing.

·         But indeed, what is trivial? What is petty? When I was a young manager, I thought tasks and technicalities important, and people less so. I’m an old manager now, and people grow more important every week. Perhaps this is just the judgment of the young?

·         The key to the difference is just this: knowing the Master’s mind. How often have I complained that my people did just what I asked them to do – but not what I wanted them to do. Knowing His mind is crucial to doing His will.

Jesus’ reaction

Mark’s Gospel records that Jesus was “indignant.” The word is sometimes translated “sorely grieved.” Why? I suspect it comes from deep in the heart of God. Throughout the Old Testament the concern of God is to be the defender of the widow and orphan and the help of little children. Of such, he says, is the kingdom. It is as if the disciples had not only missed the point, but also had (after three years of teaching) completely misunderstood who He is.

It brings up the point: how many of us are willing to pay attention to the important things before the important people, and have no time left for the humble and small. We are impressed with Oz the great and powerful and ignore Dorothy the small and weak.

The Rich Young Ruler

We now meet one of the saddest characters in the New Testament.

Matthew

Mark

Luke

(Mat 19:16-22 NIV) Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" {17} "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." {18} "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, {19} honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" {20} "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" {21} Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." {22} When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

(Mark 10:17-22 NIV) As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" {18} "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. {19} You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" {20} "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." {21} Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." {22} At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

(Luke 18:18-23 NIV) A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" {19} "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. {20} You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'" {21} "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said. {22} When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." {23} When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.

 

Why did he ask?

The fascinating thing about this man is that he asked the question. The tragedy is in his response. One must ask: why did he ask? The answer is quite simple: something was missing in his life. But what was it?

·         Like Linus in Peanuts, he was sincere. This is no hypocrite. But sincerity alone is no guarantee of eternal life. The Thuggees, the sect in India which gave us the English word “thug,” sincerely believed that murdering travelers sent them on their way to a better life.

·         Nor was it a lack of obedience. Christ does not challenge his statement that he has kept the commandments. He has known the joy of the obedient life.

·         Ultimately what was missing was his willingness to pay the price. He would not risk all on God; only a part of him was available. Something else came first in his life.

·         He has missed the opportunity of a lifetime. “He is no fool if he would choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.”

The reaction of Jesus

One of the most fascinating aspects of this story is the reply Jesus gives. We will return to his first answer. Please, however, note how Jesus handles the commandments:

·         He does not quote all the commandments – only those which deal with the relationships between people. He omits any reference to any of the commandments which deal with the relationship between God and man.

·         He does not quote the commandment about envy – which is typically the sin of the have-nots against the haves.

·         So what is the lack in this ruler’s heart? It is the lack of the relationship with God. He has behaved well toward his fellow man. He is not willing to face his God.

This is clearly shown in Jesus’ initial reaction: “Why do you call me good?” The issue is not “goodness.” The issue is perfection itself. Only God possesses perfection, and only God possesses eternal life. By reminding the ruler of the goodness of God he is telling him of what he seeks.

He is also placing before him the ultimate in choice. The man before him is God in the flesh, or so He claimed. That claim may be denied, but can it be ignored?

The instruction

So now Christ tells the answer:

·         Get rid of the thing which stands ahead of God in your life: the money. But this is not sufficient.

·         Then, follow me. No great feat of service, no grand sacrifice. The sacrifice is not even in the money: that’s just disposing of the obstacle. The service is simple: follow me.

Hard for the Rich Man

Jesus now proclaims a doctrine which, to the disciples, was astonishing.

Matthew

Mark

Luke

(Mat 19:23-30 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. {24} Again I tell you, 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." {25} When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" {26} Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." {27} Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" {28} Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. {29} And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. {30} But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" {24} The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "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 God." {26} The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" {27} Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." {28} Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!" {29} "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel {30} will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. {31} But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! {25} Indeed, 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." {26} Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?" {27} Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." {28} Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!" {29} "I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God {30} will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."

False Doctrine: Salvation by Works

The disciples are rooted in an Old Testament conception (and still a very valid one today): God blesses those who honor him. Whether by “natural” causes (the “Protestant work ethic”) or by the supernatural, it is the clear teaching of the Old Testament that money can be taken as a sign of God’s favor. But kindly notice the logic:

·         If God favors you, he will (in some sense) make you wealthy. That does not mean, however, that wealth is automatically a sign of God’s favor. It may be. It may also be a snare permitted by God.

·         This also does not imply a bargain, for God works by grace. He is the heavenly Father, giving good things to his children.

Moreover, the blessing of God is not really riches; it is the right amount of money!

(Prov 30:8-9 NIV) Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. {9} Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

The Peril of Wealth

In speaking of wealth, our Lord most frequently cites its perils:

·         In the parable of the seed he cites two perils --

·         The worry over money, and

·         The deceitfulness of money – the sense of false security money brings.

·         There is also the trap of our society. If you live in the richest country in the world, you tend, like sheep, to act like it. Sometimes our wrong attitude about wealth is just following along.

·         Our Lord also speaks of two masters – and the impossibility of serving both. It has been well said that “money is a fine servant but a poor master.”

·         God also is clear about the problem. Money tends to promote self-reliance rather than God reliance.[1]

·         Finally, there is one of those ultimate questions: is it really your money? You think so? Is the answer the same in a hundred years?

Who, then, can be saved?

The disciples then ask (thinking still in terms of the good works this man has done, and the blessing of wealth) who can be saved? Jesus does not correct them for presuming that wealth is a sign of favor – rather, he points to the power of God. Yes, even a man so good that God blesses him that much cannot make it – by his own works. But with God, nothing is impossible.

The disciples are still not reassured. What, after all, will happen to them? They’ve left everything to follow Jesus – and no one has showered them with gold. Jesus reassures them that God does not balance his books at the end of any single day.

He goes on to lay out the supreme principle of how God acts towards us:

(Mat 20:1-16 NIV) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. {2} He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. {3} "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. {4} He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' {5} So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. {6} About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' {7} "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' {8} "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' {9} "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. {10} So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. {11} When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. {12} 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' {13} "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? {14} Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. {15} Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' {16} "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

There is a reason this parable is told at the end of this incident. The disciples have asked how a man that good could miss the kingdom of heaven – and if so, what hope have they, the poor? Jesus makes it clear that entry into the kingdom of God does not depend upon good works – but upon the loving grace of God. It is his kingdom. He gives it to whom he pleases. He pleases to give it to those who throw aside all barriers (including their pride, little children) and give themselves wholly to His Son, Jesus Christ.


[1] Deuteronomy 8:17-18

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