We studied the first part of this passage before Easter and the conversation between the rich, young ruler and the Lord Jesus Christ. The rich, young ruler asked the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life; and in the course of studying this passage we considered three views which people hold about the way to inherit eternal life with God. The first way is the way of the law which say that if we keep the law, and if we’re good enough, then God will accept us into his heavenly kingdom. But the problem with this view is that none of us is able to keep God’s law perfectly and perpetually; every day we break God’s law and every day we fall short of doing his will. None of us is ever good enough.
Then there’s the way of irreligion, which says we can do what we like. We can do what we like and do whatever we please. It doesn’t really matter what we do, because in the end, because God is love, he will overlook our faults and failings and accept us. But the problem with that view is that in this story, the Lord loved the rich, young ruler, but even though he loved him, he let the man walk away. The Lord loved him, but the man remained outside of Christ’s kingdom.
So, there’s the way of the law and there’s the way of irreligion. What’s the third way? Well, it’s the gospel. And the word ‘gospel’ means good news; and it’s good news because it’s about what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. He’s the one who kept God’s law perfectly and perpetually on our behalf; and he’s the one who gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins and shortcomings. And through faith in him, we’re pardoned by God for all that we have done wrong; and we’re accepted by God as righteous in his sight; and therefore the Lord Jesus Christ has opened up the way for sinners like us to come into God’s kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom which will never ever end. And so, we’re to receive the kingdom like a little child, because just as little children must rely on their parents and others for everything they need, so we’re to rely on Jesus Christ the Saviour for everything we need in order to receive everlasting life in God’s everlasting kingdom.
That was what we thought about the last time. Today I want us to concentrate on the second half of this passage and the very important conversation which took place between the Lord Jesus and his disciples. And really there are two main points for us to consider today. And the first one is this: Salvation is God’s work. Salvation is God’s work.
After the rich, young ruler left, the Lord Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them that salvation is hard for us. In fact, it’s so hard, it’s impossible. Look at verse 24:
Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.
Now remember, entering the kingdom of God means receiving eternal life, because his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; and all who belong in his kingdom will live with him for ever. And entering his kingdom also means being saved: we’re saved from God’s wrath and from the punishment we deserve for our failure to keep God’s law perfectly and perpetually. Do you want to be saved from God’s wrath? Do you want to be saved from the condemnation you deserve for your disobedience this past week? Do you want to have eternal life? Do you want to enter the kingdom of God? Well, it’s hard, the Lord Jesus says.
How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.
And it’s not only hard, but — according to verse 27 — it’s impossible. The Lord said:
With man this is impossible.
So, it’s hard; it’s impossible; we can’t do it.
And this is the same point we made last time. Here is this man who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He wanted to know what he must do in order to be saved or in order to enter the kingdom of God. And the Lord referred him to the commandments. Have you done these? Well, the man thought he had:
Teacher, he declared. All these I have kept since I was a boy.
That’s what he thought; but the Lord was able to show him that he wasn’t able to keep the greatest commandment which is to love the Lord our God; and he wasn’t able to keep the second greatest commandment which is to love our neighbour. He wasn’t able to keep those two most basic laws, because he loved his wealth more than he loved the Lord and more than he loved his needy neighbour. And so, he walked away without eternal life.
Enter the kingdom of God? It’s hard. Receive eternal life? It’s impossible. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Do you remember the Larger Catechism says? I quoted from it last time where it sets out for us the way of the law. It says:
Life is promised on [the law] being fulfilled.
But none of us can do that. We haven’t kept the commandments perfectly and perpetually; and we can’t keep the commandments perfectly and perpetually because all of us are sinners who sin naturally. And so, relying upon ourselves, relying on what we can do, relying on keeping the law, none of us can be saved; none of us can receive eternal life that way. The Larger Catechism says:
Life is promised on [the law] being fulfilled and death is threatened on it being broken.
That’s the way of the law. And so, the disciples ask the question:
Who then can be saved?
And the Lord’s answer is:
With man it is impossible.
People think that they can do certain things and God will accept them. But the Lord Jesus taught us that it’s harder than we think to enter God’s kingdom. In fact, it’s so hard, it’s impossible.
Hard for the Rich
Just to underline the impossibility of entering the kingdom, the Lord Jesus referred to the rich; and he tells us in verse 23:
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
The disciples were amazed at this saying. So the Lord went on to repeat it by using hyperbole. I mentioned that word before a few weeks ago. Do you remember what hyperbole is? Hyperbole means using exaggeration for effect. Someone says:
We were going at a million miles an hour.
They weren’t really going a million miles an hour, but he’s trying to convey to you how fast he was going. And the Lord wanted to convey to us how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. And so, he said:
It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
The camel was the largest animal in Palestine, while the eye of a needle is something tiny. Well, if you’ve ever had to sew a button on your shirt, then you’ll know that it’s hard enough to get a thread through the eye of a needle. Threading a needle is hard enough; but squeezing a camel through the same opening is impossible. It’s impossible. But if you think that’s hard, then it’s harder still for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
And notice the reaction of the disciples in verse 26: they were even more amazed when they heard the Lord say this. And, you see, they were amazed and astounded at this saying because in Bible times it was assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favour. Wealth was a regarded as a blessing from God which he bestowed on those he looked upon with favour. That’s what everyone thought. And of course, if you read the Old Testament, you’ll see why people thought that way. For instance, in the book of Genesis we read how God blessed Abraham and made him a wealthy man. Or think of King Solomon: God was pleased when Solomon asked God for wisdom and not for wealth. And because God was pleased with him, he gave Solomon not only wisdom, but also wealth: God gave him riches and honour and made him fabulously wealthy. Riches were a sign of God’s blessing.
Think now of the opposite. Think of what happened to Job who lost his wealth. And when he lost his wealth, his friends assumed — wrongly it turned out — but they assumed that he had done something to displease the Lord who had therefore taken away his wealth as a punishment. In Bible times people believed that God blesses the people he loves with wealth.
Now, if wealth was a sign of God’s favour, then it seemed obvious that of course the rich would be first in line to enter the kingdom of God. They were the ones God favoured. They were the ones he loved. God had already given them treasure here on earth. So he was bound to give them treasure in heaven. That’s why the disciples were astounded at the Lord’s statement. If the rich — who seem so blessed by God — can’t be saved, then what hope is there for the rest of us? And the Lord’s answer is this: There is no hope for the rest of you. It’s not only hard to enter the kingdom. It’s impossible for you.
Now, that is really bad news. It’s really bad news. And it would be awful news, if it were not for the next words which the Lord Jesus said to the disciples. Verse 26:
With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.
It’s impossible for us, but not for God. Salvation — the Lord Jesus was saying — is not something we do ourselves. It’s not something we achieve. The man who asked Jesus, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ was thinking in entirely the wrong way. It’s not what we do; it’s what God does for us. He saves us. He rescues us. He delivers us from our sin and misery and he brings us into his kingdom and gives us eternal life. It’s all his work.
Now, remember the different ideas about how we receive eternal life? The the way of the law says:
If I do this, then God will accept me.
It’s the wrong approach, because it’s saying that salvation is something I do. It’s my work. If I do this, then God will accept me and give me eternal life. And the way of irreligion says:
It doesn’t matter what I do. God will overlook my faults and failures.
And that approach is also wrong, because it says no one — not even God — has to do anything. God just ignores our guilt. He looks the other way. But the gospel says:
God has done everything necessary to save us from our guilt and from the punishment we deserve. He’s done it all for us by his Son Jesus Christ. He’s worked it out completely and entirely. And whoever believes in Christ the only Saviour, who gave up his life to pay for our sins, whoever believes in him is pardoned by God and receives from God the free gift of eternal life.
Now, which way do you want to follow? The way that says, ‘Try hard to be good’? But in the end it only leads to despair, because it’s impossible for us to enter the kingdom of God that way. None of us is able to obey the law perfectly and perpetually. We can try, but we will never be good enough. And so it leads to despair.
Or you could go down the road of irreligion. It doesn’t matter what I do, because in the end God will love me and overlook my guilt. But look, this man in the Bible passage didn’t get into the kingdom, even though Jesus loved him. And so it too leads to despair. We’re shut out of God’s kingdom.
The only way to follow, the only way that leads to eternal life, is the way of the gospel which says:
God has done everything necessary to save you.
Rely on the Lord Jesus, and what he has done, and you will be saved and have eternal life. And this way leads to joy. We don’t have to struggle hard to please God. We don’t have to try hard to win his good favour. We’re not constantly wondering if we’ve done enough. Instead we can rejoice, because we know that the Lord Jesus has done it all. He obeyed for us, doing what we could not do ourselves. And he died for us, taking our punishment in our place. And he was raised for us and now intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. And he promises to return one day and to gather together all who trusted in him so that we might be with him for ever and for ever in the life to come.
And so, you’re to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because the only way to be saved from the coming wrath and live for ever with God is by believing in his Son who has done all things necessary to bring us to God. Believe in him and you will be saved; believe in him and you will have eternal life.
That’s the first main point today: Salvation is God’s work. We cannot save ourselves, but he saves us from the coming wrath and gives all who believe in Christ the Saviour everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
Well, in verse 28 Peter said to the Lord:
We have left everything to follow you.
He’s referring back to what the Lord said to the rich young ruler in verse 21 where the Lord told the man to sell everything he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. That’s what the Lord told the man to do; here’s Peter saying that they’ve done the same.
And they had: when the Lord called Peter and his brother to follow him, they were working as fishermen. But when the Lord called them, they left their nets and followed the Lord. He called James and John, who were also fishermen, and they left their father and their nets and followed the Saviour. Then there was Levi, a tax-collector. No doubt he was a wealthy man, but when the Lord called him, he left his business behind and followed the Lord. His disciples had left everything to follow him.
And when people are converted to faith in Christ today, often they have to give things up. Perhaps a young person is converted and finds that there are some friendships they have to give up, because those old friendships are not helpful, now that they want to follow the Lord. Others who are converted find that their former friends no longer want to know them, now that they believe in the Saviour and their lives have changed.
And, of course, many believers around the world are rejected by their families and neighbours whenever they believe in the Saviour. Those who turn to Christ from false religions are often rejected by their parents and siblings and their neighbours because they’ve given up their former faith. Around the world, believers lose their jobs because they belong to Christ. Around the world, believers lose their freedom, and even their lives, because they belong to Christ.
And, of course, the Lord can call his people to leave their homes and to go overseas as missionaries; and because of the call of God on their lives, they must leave behind their families and friends and their homes and work, and go wherever the Lord sends them. And so, here in verse 29, the Lord refers to those who — for his sake and for the sake of the gospel — have left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields. Interestingly, he doesn’t refer to leaving wives. No doubt the reason for this omission is because earlier in the chapter he made clear that God’s will is for husbands and wives to remain together. However, believers may be called by God to give up their parents and their siblings and their children and their homes and their businesses for the sake of Christ and his gospel.
But look at what the Lord says: Even though we may have to give up these things, the Lord is no one’s debtor; and he will recompense his people by returning to them in multiple ways what they have had to give up for him. Look at verse 30 where he says they will not fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: they’ll receive homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields.
In what way do we receive those things? Well, look around you. Look around you in this church and you’ll see God’s family which the Lord has made you part of. Here are your spiritual parents and spiritual siblings, your brothers and sisters in Christ. Here are people who will help you when you’re in trouble; and who will comfort you when you’re in distress. Whenever God converts us to faith in Christ, he doesn’t leave us on our own, but he adds us to the church, where we benefit from the fellowship of his people as we learn to love and share with one another. Let me quote from our Church’s Confession of Faith and from the chapter on the communion of the saints. It says:
All saints are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his Spirit and by faith, and have fellowship with him in his grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. United to one another in love, the saints have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are under obligation to perform such duties, public and private, as promote their mutual good, in both spiritual and temporal concerns.
Christ has united us together in love so that we will love and support one another and help one another in spiritual and practical ways. So, even if we’re called to give up everything for Christ, he does not leave us destitute or in distress, but he surrounds us with our fellow believers in the church to help us.
But then the Lord also warns us that with all of these good things, we can expect persecution. Do you see that near the end of verse 30? In this present evil age, believers can expect persecution, because the Devil is against Christ and his church; and he will stir up opposition towards us in his efforts to destroy our faith and to cause us to wander from the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. And so, we’re not to be surprised if the world hates us.
But finally, not only can we expect suffering in this life, and not only do we benefit from the fellowship of God’s people in this life, but we can look forward to receiving from our Savour in the age to come eternal life. Do you see that at the end of verse 30? We can expect temporal blessings now and everlasting life in the age to come.
And so, why do we need to worry? Why do we need to worry? Whatever we face in this life, we know we can trust in our Heavenly Father and in Christ our Saviour to help us and to provide for us. He has promised to take care of us in this present age. And when the end of our life in this world comes, we don’t need to be afraid of the grave and death, because the grave is only the doorway into the presence of Christ our Saviour.
If you trust in the Saviour, then you know he will look after you in this life. And if you trust in the Saviour, then you can look forward to everlasting life in his presence. Why should we be afraid? Why should we be downcast? What should we worry when our present and our future are in his hands?
The Lord Jesus warned that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Do you know why it’s particularly hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? We need to understand this; and the young people at the beginning of your working life need to understand this, so that you don’t make getting rich the aim of your life. It’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, because they’re continually tempted to rely on their wealth for peace and safety and security:
As long as I have my money, I’ll be okay.
But whoever trusts in anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ will never ever enter the kingdom of God and have eternal life. But those who trust in Christ for eternal life, know they can trust in him for everything, including their daily needs in this present age. And so, trust in him, because he’s the one who loves you and will give you all you need for this life and all you need for the life to come.