Opening illustration: One dark and stormy night, a gang of thieves broke into a jewelry store, but they were on a mission with a difference. They didn't steal a thing. But they carefully went round the whole shop and switched all the price tags. Then they left. The next day, the staff came in, and because the thieves had been so careful, nobody noticed they'd even been there. Customers came and people were spending huge amounts of money to buy cheap junk, while others were paying a couple of dollars for jewelry worth thousands of dollars. Someone has switched the tags on our planet. We are continually bombarded with a different set of values from those of the Kingdom of God.
Let us turn to Matthew 19 and see the values and tone Jesus sets for entry into the His Kingdom!
Introduction: When we become so attached to the things of this world, we become blind to the treasures that await us in the Kingdom of God. We might think it is obvious that we would all choose eternal glory with God than to choose temporary materialistic provision, but whenever we are reluctant to let go of something (work, fame, sports, drugs, etc.) to pursue God, we are in the exact same unfortunate state as the rich young ruler. If we cannot see beyond the things of this world and allow ourselves to become overly attached to these things, it would indeed be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for us to enter into God's Kingdom.
What does it take to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
1. The Obstacles (vs. 23-24)
Jesus was not saying that there will be no rich people saved--the Old Testament is filled with samples of wealthy people who surrendered to the will of God and remained wealthy and who will have a share in the kingdom. But in the days of Jesus the people had come to accept the teaching that the rich would automatically be in the kingdom, primarily because their richness was seen as a clear evidence of God’s blessing on their life (and poverty was seen as a punishment for sin--the poor were called sinners). But Jesus here made it clear, that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom.
For the Disciples of Christ the truth of the Gospel must not be confused with notions of the world, the current ideas of wealth and prosperity. Wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing on a person; and poverty is not necessarily a sign of God’s judgment. Believers must not evaluate spirituality on the basis of worldly standards. In the age to come the righteous will be rewarded with a share in the reign of Christ. But those rewards will be given by God to people for faithful service, and not necessarily to people who had wealth and power here. To please God believers must follow Christ wholeheartedly, and make doing the will of God the top priority in their life. If God grants them wealth (as he did with Solomon), then that is fine; but if getting wealth overrides the commitment, then there is a real problem. If making money, or a name, become the primary goals and leave no room for serving Christ, then being a success by the world’s standards will mean that they are a failure with God and will not have the rewards of the faithful.
The saying compares the difficulty to that of a camel going through the eye of a needle. Today, tour guides in Israel/Palestine love to tell tourists that the eye refers to the eye gate, a smaller gate in the big gate, and that a camel has to get down and squeeze through--a sign of humility. But there is no support for that view at all. Jesus’ point is that it is impossible with men--and that is how the disciples understood it.
2. The Saved – only possible with God (vs. 25-26)
The theme of God’s sovereign grace underlies the whole passage. No one should ever say, “I have been obedient to the LORD and therefore he should bless me this way or that.” Salvation is by grace; rewards in the life to come are by grace; and all of it is the decision of God alone.
They ask who then can be saved, from an earthly perspective. The point is that it doesn't matter if you are rich or poor - the offer of salvation is the same for everyone and it is always is a question of the heart.
Riches display security and encumbrances - the popular opinion then and today is that you don't need God if you have all this! So the poor are immediately saved because they don't have these encumbrances? No! They have other obstacles - it may be a desire for more money for example - that keep them from God.
There are lots of rich people in the Bible so being rich is not a sin in itself, but temptations to the rich are more manifest and subtle. To fix our eyes on Jesus we need to move aside our encumbrances enabled by the riches of this life.
No one can be saved by themselves. This is made clear in Ephesians 2:5. God can and does enable people the power to leave all and come to Christ even though this is humanly impossible.
3. The Cost (vs. 27-30)
Jesus was not calling for people to ignore their duties to take care of their families; but he was calling for a radical shift in priorities and commitments. The practical message to the person who is considering becoming a Christian is clear: completely surrender your life and your substance to Christ. To surrender to Christ means that one must put Christ first in all things. If wealth, or position, or life-style, or family hinders one’s loyalty to Christ, then that has to be dealt with radically. The radical discipleship Jesus taught does not allow for people to serve God and mammon; their loyalty must be to him first. Salvation is by God’s grace, through faith; and that faith is a radical commitment to follow Christ as Savior and Lord.
There is something very cheering in this promise. Few in the present day, excepting converts among the heathen, are ever required to forsake homes, relatives and lands on account of their religion; yet there are few true Christians who have not much to go through in one way or another if they are really faithful to their Lord. The offence of the cross is not yet ceased: laughter, ridicule, mockery and family persecution are often the portion of an English believer. The favor of the world is often forfeited, places and situations are often periled by a conscientious adherence to the demands of the Gospel of Christ. All who are exposed to trials of this kind may take comfort in the promise of these verses. Jesus foresaw their need, and intended these words to be their consolation.
We may rest assured that no man shall ever be a real loser by following Christ. The believer may seem to suffer loss for a time when he first begins the life of a decided Christian; he may be much cast down by the afflictions that are brought upon him on account of his religion. Let him rest assured that he will never find himself a loser in the long run. Christ can raise up friends for us who shall more than compensate for those we lose; Christ can open hearts and homes to us far more warm and hospitable than those that are closed against us; above all, Christ can give us peace of conscience, inward joy, bright hopes and happy feelings, which shall far outweigh every pleasant earthly thing that we have cast away for his sake. He has pledged his royal word that it shall be so. None ever found that word fail: let us trust it and not be afraid.
If we back up to verse 21, we see Jesus dealing with the same theme. He tells the young man that if he wanted to be perfect he would have to sell all and follow him. Jesus was answering the question of the young man concerning what he had to do to find eternal life. The answer, essentially, was to come (by faith) and follow Jesus. But since the wealth was going to be the hindrance, he needed to sell it all and give it to the poor. By selling off his wealth and giving it to the poor the young man would not only be removing a competing element for his devotion to God, but also show that he was being obedient to the law, for loving the neighbor as the law said would require him to do something for those in need. Unfortunately, he had a divided heart--he could keep the external commandments, but he did not want to surrender his life to the Lord and radically change his priorities and practices.
The word “perfection” throughout the Old Testament has the basic idea of undivided loyalty and complete obedience to the will of God. And what Jesus was demanding for entrance into the kingdom was just that, true discipleship, meaning, and a complete surrender of the self to Jesus as the Savior. To enter into eternal life requires surrender to the claim of God on the life, explained clearly through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, to obtain eternal life a person must realize his or her sinfulness in not measuring up to the goodness of God (the commandments have not all been kept; we are not perfect), and surrender to the will of God revealed in Jesus Christ (receive Jesus as Savior and Lord).
What is clearly revealed here is that doing the will of God must ultimately find expression in following Jesus. You cannot do God’s will and not follow Christ. That is because throughout the Old Testament the promise of the coming of the Messiah was the will of God. And, apart from allegiance to him by faith, there is no salvation. The rich young man’s compliance with the commandments was worthless, because it did not include surrender to the will of God in Christ Jesus.
• Salvation is not obtained by good deeds (Matthew 19:16)
• Salvation is not obtained by works of the Law (Matthew 19:20)
• Salvation is not obtained by natural talents, resources or abilities (Matthew 19:23-24)
• Salvation is obtained by a free gift of God (Matthew 19:26)
• Salvation is a reward or inheritance bestowed on those who unselfishly give up all things for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:28-29)