Summary: 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. Apart from allegiance to him by faith, there is no salvation.
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.