And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23 ESV)
This Sunday concludes a discourse Jesus gave to his disciples about the multifaceted nature of discipleship in the Kingdom of God. What began as an argument among the disciples regarding who was the greatest ended in a sermon, complete with vivid illustrations, about serving Jesus Christ. While some disciples would ultimately give their lives for the cause of the gospel, others would go on to live seemingly normal lives in the midst of the world. However, every disciple, whether a martyr or not, must have the same, cross-bearing, self-denying mindset as he lives for Christ. Such a mindset would come to bear on all aspects of life, including marriage, children, and possessions. Mark puts all of these together in the first half of chapter ten. Our passage will now focus on that last part – possessions – and how a disciple of Christ approaches it differently than the rest of the world.
Every day we’re bombarded with advertisements, slogans, and campaigns that try to show us what we lack and promise us that we would be better off if we purchased some product. Perhaps no group of Christians in history has to deal with the onslaught of consumer culture more than modern American Christians. Many of us have stuff piled upon stuff – our closets and garages filled with excess. We go to the pantry looking for snacks while eating a snack; we have food delivered to our houses at the push of a button; we have wireless access to the entire world through several devices dispersed throughout our homes. True, many have debts, such as college loans and mortgages, and some are living below the poverty line; but overall, most of us are well taken care of and have access to wealth in an unprecedented manner.
In the first century, such wealth was not common. However, as the Apostle John tells us, “all that is in the world . . . . pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16) is nothing new. Today, it’s an iphone; in the Age of Exploration is was gold and spices; in the medieval period it was relics and land; and in the first century it was power, servants, cattle, and a good surplus of food. Man’s natural, sinful bent is toward having lots of stuff, no matter what century he finds himself in.
In Mark 10:17-31 we find Mark’s account of the so-called Rich, Young Ruler, a man we see also in Matthew and in Luke. In each account, he is said to have come to Jesus on his own, asking him what thing he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, knowing this man’s true intentions, recites the second table of the Law to demonstrate what he lacks. This young man, who seems to have had everything was actually found wanting. Jesus used God’s law to demonstrate this fact.
The law of God reveals God’s standards of holiness and justice. Rich and poor are both found guilty before it. As we read from the law and find that we are covetous, lustful, dishonest, murderous idolaters at heart, we come face to face with God’s judgment. At that point, like this young man, it becomes clear to us that we have a choice to make: either we let go of everything that holds us back and follow Christ or we reject the gospel, to our great shame and ultimate demise. Mark tells us that this young man went away disheartened. To be clear, we don’t know if he ever repented, but we can be certain that if he did not, no amount of money would grant him an entrance into the kingdom.
Seeing this, the disciples were confounded – “Who then can be saved?” What an interesting question given today’s evangelical climate. In many churches around our country, we’re told that entering the kingdom is as easy as 1-2-3, repeat after me. People are told to come to an altar, raise a hand, and sign a card, and they are good to go. But in this text, Jesus specifically says, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Difficult? I thought it was easy!
This passage will strip away any lingering thoughts that you can somehow earn God’s favor if you just try hard enough. It will challenge your idea that “all you need to do” is make yourself believe. It will wake you up to the biblical truth that entering God’s kingdom is so difficult, so profound, so earth-shattering, that it takes God himself to make it happen! As Jesus said, “All things are possible with God.” Jesus demonstrates just how narrow the gate to the kingdom is so that when all seems hopeless, he can reveal to his disciples that God, and God alone, is capable of doing this miraculous work!
Prepare to be challenged and encouraged this Sunday as we approach this text. May the Lord use it to show us the temporal nature of our possessions and give us hearts that are ready to let go of them if called to do so. And may the Lord show us that rich or poor, with much or with little, God is the one who does the miracle of bringing his disciples into his glorious kingdom.