The question before us today is without a doubt, the most important question in the world. We find it articulated by the rich, young ruler in vs 17. And it is understood to be main thought of the whole passage. The question asked by the young man is this: “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It is a question that should be of concern to everyone here, to everyone in every age. It is the question of the ages. If you have not asked this question yourself, then you are either naive in hoping that it is immaterial, or you are hiding your head in the sand.
I was speaking to an older gentleman the other day. And he was burying his father this weekend who had just died at age 93. Though this man did not claim to be religious, or claim to be a Christian, still he seemed to get the crux of the issue. He said there has to be more life after this. There has to be a heaven and hell. And then he added, either you are going to get to heaven by virtue of becoming a born again, as he called us, or you are going to have to try to keep all the dictates of the Catholic Church and hope for the best. I think I will bet my money on being born again.
Because that is essentially what the Lord is teaching here. There are two incidents that are presented for us by Mark in his gospel. The first incident illustrates that in order to enter the kingdom of God you must become like a baby, you must be born again. The second one illustrates the way you will not enter the kingdom, and that is pictured through the self sufficient of the rich, young ruler.
Let’s start by looking at the first one, which is that of the parents bringing their babies to Jesus. And the disciples think that is an interruption, a nuisance to Jesus’s teaching. But Jesus is indignant at the disciples, and says, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The translation says children, but Greek scholars tell us that the word indicates infants.
Now we often see people bring infants to church to be blessed and dedicated to the Lord. We don’t practice baby baptism here, but some people have used this passage as a text to justify that sort of thing. We don’t do it here, but we will have a baby dedication service if asked, where the parents bring a newborn to be blessed and consecrated to the Lord. However, neither such service is a means of salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, as the Bible clearly teaches. So it’s impossible for the baby to be saved until such a time as they can exhibit saving faith.
However, I will say that this text, at least in my mind, offers additional assurance that babies who die before the age of accountability, will go to heaven. Jesus says without qualification that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these infants. We don’t know exactly how long this benefit is for every child, it may vary from child to child. But the Bible would seem to indicate that the age of 12 is the age of accountability. And this principle of very young children being accepted into the kingdom upon premature death is verified elsewhere in the scripture. You will remember when David’s son born to Bathsheba died, David said, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” He indicated that the baby would be in heaven and he would see him there. So I think this text is further assurance of that principle.
But the principle as stated by Jesus is much broader than just limited to babies however. Note the next verse, vs15 “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” The indication in the previous verse that the kingdom of God belonged to SUCH as these, that is people who could be characterized such as these babies, is now expanded to include whoever comes like a child. So entrance into the kingdom of God is not limited to infants, but to whomever becomes like an infant.
So the question is then what characteristics do children have that are spiritually desirable and able to make someone acceptable to God? Well, you simply have to imagine an infant. I remember our children well when they were infants. For my wife Susie, that was her favorite time with the kids, when they were helpless and unable to even hold their head up. But for me that was a nerve racking time. I found their complete helplessness unnerving and practically terrifying. I had no idea why they were crying, or what might be going on.
So I would have to say that what Jesus means when He says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, is that for one they are new born. When Nicodemus came to the Lord at night he asked some very similar questions as the rich young ruler asked. In John 3:3 Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” So Jesus is saying that it’s necessary to enter into a new birth, to become like an infant. Jesus goes on to explain to Nicodemus that there was a physical birth and a spiritual birth. Nicodemus thought that Jesus was talking about going back into the womb again, but Jesus revealed He was speaking of a spiritual rebirth which He compared to being born again.
Now the main characteristics of a new born we have already alluded to; they are helpless, they are utterly dependent upon their parents for sustenance, they are unable to fend for themselves in any way. They are unable to make a living, to own property. They are completely dependent. And as such they are a great illustration of the characteristics of a person who becomes born again spiritually. One who would enter the kingdom of God must first realize that everything that they possess, everything they could do through their own efforts, are completely ineffectual in accomplishing entrance into the kingdom of God. We must realize our helplessness, our hopelessness, and our utter dependence upon the Lord. We are unable in ourselves to provide for ourselves spiritually, to gain spiritual life. Eternal life then is something that we are born into, but not through our own efforts, but being born of God.
So having said these things, having established this principle for entering the kingdom of God, Jesus illustrates the love of God; how God lavishes His grace upon them accepts such as these by picking up the children one by one, and laying His hands on them and blessing them. Such is a picture of the experience of the Christian life. We enter into a familial relationship with God our Father and receive the blessings of being sons and daughters of God. And since God is eternal, and the source of life, then we that are born of God have eternal life as well.
The next incident that Mark records for us in the meeting of the rich, young ruler, provides a sharp contrast to that of the children. The children came to Jesus in their helplessness and dependence and they are accepted into the kingdom. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus in his wealth and self sufficiency and he goes away crestfallen that he cannot enter the kingdom.
Let’s look more closely at why the rich, young ruler was not able to enter the kingdom of God. I keep referring to this man as the rich, young ruler, but Mark doesn’t call him that. Mark just calls him a man, we have to get the rest of the descriptive terms from the other gospel accounts. But all the gospel writers say that he was rich, that he owned much property. The fact that he was young may not have a lot of bearing, but the fact that he was a ruler indicates that he was a religious ruler of a synagogue.
Notice that he comes running up to Jesus. That may be an indication of his youth. He is excited to meet Jesus. He is anxious to find out the answer to a question that is obviously important to him. Those are all good qualities. We should all be anxious to know the truth concerning the kingdom of God, and recognizing that Christ is the source of truth is an important first step. Jesus Himself declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by Me.” So it is a good first step for this young man to come to the Lord with a sense of urgency.
And Mark adds that this young man knelt before Jesus. As a ruler of a synagogue, this would indicate a willingness to humble himself, and a reverence for Jesus. This also is a good beginning, but Jesus is going to seize upon that reference to Him as “good” in order to get this man to see who He really is.
But although his sincerity and urgency and reverence are commendable, it still falls short of what is necessary to gain eternal life. That raises an important point that needs to be stressed. Many people are impressed to come to the Lord for a variety of reasons. And according to popular opinion, you just need to come as you are and be sincere, and have some degree of belief in God, and God will accept you. But Jesus makes it clear that sincerity alone is not enough. Only the truth can make you free. So Jesus questions him in vs18, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
And that is the crux of the issue. Yes, we are saved by faith in Christ. In John 3:15 we read that “Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But believes what about Jesus? That is the essential question. What Jesus is pointing out is not that He isn’t good, and only the Father is good. But rather if He is truly good, then He must be God. A lot of people are willing to say that Jesus is good, He is a good teacher. He was a mystic, a shaman, a spiritual guide. But Jesus never claimed to be just a teacher or a prophet. He claimed to be the Son of God. He told Philip, “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father. I and the Father are One.” He told the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Therefore, either Jesus is God, and is Good, or He is a megalomaniac, He is an evil imposter. But He cannot be good unless He is God, because He claimed to be God.
Before you can gain entrance into eternal life, or the kingdom of God, you must recognize that Jesus is God. He is the way to salvation. And it is only through the grace of God that we might come to know God and be accepted by God and receive eternal life. A good man, even the best of men, could not by his death atone for anyone’s sins, even his own. Only God can atone for the sins of the world.
The problem though really wasn’t whether or not Jesus was good, but that the young man thought he himself was good. He was what you might call a good person. He was religious, he had his head on straight, he was moral, he was sincere, he was all the things that we think constitute goodness. In his mind, I’m sure he didn’t think that he needed to be saved, he just needed a little something extra to insure that he was going to have eternal life. If you compared him to practically everyone else around, he was the upper crust. He had no outward failings. If anyone could go to heaven, it would be someone like him. And its’ evident that he thought of himself that way.
So Jesus turns the conversation to the standard of goodness. The standard of righteousness. God’s standard of righteousness is not by comparing you to your neighbor, or your husband, for that matter. According to our standards, we are all righteous. But Jesus turned him to the standard of God’s righteousness, which is the law, or commandments.
Jesus said in vs.19 “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And notice how quick the young ruler answered, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Now I’m sure he was sincere. But I am also certain that Jesus, knowing all things and able to know his heart, was more than aware of the ways in which this man fell short of those commandments. But the Lord would allow his answer to stand, and move him from the second table of the law to the first table. The second table deals with mans’ actions towards man. The first table of the law deals with man’s actions towards God. Had the young man been in attendance at the Sermon on the Mount, he would have known that Jesus equated hate with murder, and lust with adultery and so forth. But rather than address those internal shortcomings, Jesus brings his attention to his relationship with God.
Vs. 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Notice in bringing his attention to his relationship to God, Jesus first demonstrates God’s love for us. We would have no chance of eternal life were it not for the love of God. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life.” God’s love comes first in our relationship with God. We love, because He first loved us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In any relationship we might have with God, it must be predicated by the fact that God first loved us.
Secondly, if God loved us, then we must love God. Jesus said in another place that the foremost commandment was this; (Mark 12:30) “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.” So the question Jesus posed to the young man was this; if you think you keep the commandments, then here is the foremost commandment. And if I am good, then I am God. And if I am God and you love Me with all your heart and soul, then you will do what I command you. And this is my command, “God and sell all you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.”
Now no matter how you look at this statement, this is a tough thing to do. Imagine if that were it. Imagine if the only way to enter into heaven was to sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow Christ. If that were truly the only way to become a Christian, then I dare say that none of us here today would really be willing to make that sacrifice. Would you be willing to sell your stocks, your cars, your houses, your jewelry, etc, etc, and give it all away to poor people? I think not. I think all of us would be like the rich young ruler and walk away from this church crestfallen, knowing that we were not willing to give it all up to God.
So then, according to this standard of righteousness, none of us can be saved. This young man’s refusal to sell everything exposed three sins against the commandments. First, He did not love the Lord with all his heart, mind and strength. Secondly, he sinned by holding onto idols in his life. You cannot serve God and wealth. His possessions were his idols. And thirdly, he sinned against the second foremost commandment, which is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If he truly loved his neighbor as himself he would have acquiesced to the Lord’s request. In one simple statement, Jesus exposed the young man’s hypocritical adherence to the law. And He has also exposed ours as well. There is none righteous, no not one.
Then who can be saved? That is my cry, and the cry of the disciples. And Jesus does not make it any easier for us. He turned to the disciples when the young man left crestfallen and said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” I would have half expected Jesus to stop the young man as he was walking away and saying to him, “Hey, come back! I was just kidding! It’s not really that tough. I would never ask you to sell everything and give it all away. I was just using hyperbole! I was exaggerating! Lighten up, salvation is free for the asking!”
But no, Jesus states that it is hard for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. And the disciples are amazed, so Jesus repeats it again in vs24. But notice this time He does not add the phrase “for those who are wealthy.” In this verse, He seems to include everyone.
But then for the third time, Jesus declares this principle by analogy, saying in vs25, “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.” If there is any doubt, we should have none after three such statements. Jesus has just said that it is practically impossible for a rich man to be saved. Period.
So the disciples are amazed at this statement, and understandably so. I am amazed by this statement. I am terrified by this statement and you should be too. Because we are all rich in this world’s goods, and though we may wish we were richer, none of us would wish that he were poorer.
So the disciples ask the second most important question in the world, in vs.26, “Then who can be saved?” If none of us are willing to leave everything and follow Him, then who can be saved? If the disciples question makes you cry out in anguish, then the Lord’s answer should make you cry out “Hallelujah!”
The Lord’s answer is found in vs27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Notice, Jesus broadens it to all people, not just rich people. With people it is impossible to keep the commandments. With people it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” It’s impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God on their on merits, regardless of what they might do, because none of us can measure up to the standard of God’s righteousness.
But the good news is that Jesus Christ has measured up to the standard of righteousness. He is good, and He is righteous. And because He loves us, He has offered up Himself to be our substitute, and God has put the penalty for our iniquity on Him, and transferred His righteousness to us. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “God made Him who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” With God it is possible to enter the kingdom, because Jesus has paid for our sins and transferred His righteousness to us, so that by His grace we who believe in Him might be saved. That is the gospel of the kingdom of God. The good news of the kingdom. God has made our citizenship in heaven possible through Jesus Christ.
Peter though is not thinking so much about what Christ has done for them, but rather what they have done for the Lord. He’s still thinking of the rich young ruler who couldn’t leave his money to follow Jesus. And so he says to Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” That’s a rather bold statement. They had left much. They left their nets. They left their homes. But there were times that it would seem they returned to their fishing, and to their homes. So I can’t help but wonder if there is not a hint of the same sense that the rich young ruler expressed when he said that he had kept all the commandments since his youth.
But notice that Jesus does not rebuke Peter for over stating their commitment. But rather Jesus would seem to commend whatever sacrifices they had made, even if it was only temporary. In vs29 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, but that he will 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. “But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”
This statement must be understood figuratively to be understood correctly. The point Jesus is making is that there will be a reward for what we give up here on earth for the sake of the kingdom of God. Paul said, “all the things which were gain to me here on earth, I gladly count as rubbish for the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as Lord.” There is great reward in following Jesus. But here in this earth it may be spiritual blessings in exchange for physical. There will also be persecutions. Jesus said elsewhere, “In this world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” And when we overcome this world, we will grasp hold of eternal life, and all that eternal life promises; an abundant, fulfilled life in the presence of the source of all life and blessedness. So all of the blessings that this world offers will one day pale in comparison to the blessings we shall enjoy in eternity.
However, Jesus adds one caveat to that future promise of rewards, which will be looked at more thoroughly later, and that is He says “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This was the qualifying remark regarding the apostle’s reward. All who sacrifice for the Lord will be rewarded, but God’s way and timing of rewarding may not match up with man’s way and timing of being rewarded. When God rewards, He judges with righteous judgment. He sees the heart, the motive, and the sacrifices that were made that may have not been noticed by man. Man judges according to outward appearances. But God judges according to the heart. Thus many who have seemingly achieved great things for the kingdom according to man’s perspective, may find themselves on the end of the line in the judgement to come.
And that should be an encouragement to all of us. Because not all of us have great resources, or great talents to use for the Lord. But we will be judged by what we do have, and as we are faithful in little things, He will be faithful to reward us with better things.
Last Wednesday, Joe mentioned at Bible study prayer time that a man who he worked with had passed away suddenly. It turns out that I knew this man, and had worked for him at one time. We were just about the same age. And though I didn’t see it, one of my coworkers used to say that he thought we could be brothers because we looked so much alike. But if we did, that’s where the similarity ended. This man, that I’ll call Dave, was at the top of the company ladder, while I was at the bottom. I remember working in his beach house, and being a little envious of a lifestyle like he had, with a million dollar beach home fully furnished whenever he chose to come to the beach. He seemed to have everything, and I seemed to have very little in earthly wealth. I was literally sweeping floors and taking out trash in this company, while trying to start this church. And I will confess I sometimes felt like Peter must have felt. “Lord, I’ve given up so much to follow you. What’s my reward?”
Well, Dave passed away suddenly last week from a heart attack. And I don’t know his eternal destiny. From my perspective, there was nothing about him that led me to believe that he was a follower of Christ. But one thing I do know, the beach house, and the cars and the bank accounts and profit sharing is still here, and Dave is not here. He is in eternity. And in light of this passage we looked at today, I wonder what his reward will be? Did he receive eternal life through faith and trust in Jesus Christ, or did he enter into eternal damnation and separation from God for refusing to let go of the things of this world?
What about you? What are you worshipping today? What do you hold more dear than love for the Lord? As you examine your life today in light of the word, let us remember the question Jesus asked back in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”