“Cost of Aspirations”
We are covering verses 13-31 of Mark 10 this morning. Please turn there if you haven’t already. We are coming off the heels of Jesus’ teaching regarding temptations to sin in chapter 9 and his teaching to restore a biblical view of marriage, divorce and remarriage at the beginning of chapter 10. Perhaps you have seen (as I have) that when you are immersed on secular culture, the claims of Scripture appear to be radical. And indeed the call to follow after Christ is certainly radical. That is why an honest look at the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus do not allow a casual application of them. You’re either “all in” or not at all it would seem.
And yet there are those who would think that we can mix bits of several religions or philosophies that also include a little Jesus. To this point, and in our passage, we see that he demands all exclusively. There can be no competing allegiances to him. Everything else is idolatry.
So I believe that it is accurate to conclude that the call to follow Christ is one which translates into radical life change. It is a life characterized by its distinctness from secular culture. This doesn’t mean we dress in camel skin like John the Baptist or Elijah and eat locusts. It means that the change in our hearts reveals itself in our decisions, priorities, and commitments. Our plans no longer revolve around getting smashed on the weekend, pursuing fame or notoriety, or accumulating great wealth. “We” are no longer at the center of our lives. But “He” is. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, this study in Mark’s Gospel pertains to everyone. One of the things people discuss is the nature of preaching. Is preaching for the believer or the unbeliever? The conclusion is that if it’s about Jesus, it’s for everyone!
The Christian can continue to examine his heart and see if his life reflects the call of Jesus to discipleship. The unbeliever can hear the exhortation of Jesus to repent and believe because the kingdom of God has come near! I think the text this morning also has some very relevant material for both the Christian and the one who still needs to comprehend the call to follow Jesus. Let’s read the passage as we get underway.
And so we begin with a passage on children coming to Jesus. It is possible that Mark includes this section following the section on divorce because children often are affected in these cases. I think that there is more of a connection with the previous chapter where the disciples were discussing who the greatest were in the kingdom. And then Jesus references the receiving of children.
The first point of the sermon is “Gatekeeping.” If we see a close connection between the accounts found in Mark 9.33-37 and 38-41, I believe we conclude that the disciples were beginning to think a little too highly of themselves. They were already trying to stop people from ministering in Jesus name. To which Jesus taught them a lesson in partnership for Him. But it wouldn’t be hard to see, right? If you put yourself in their sandals, you could certainly get caught up in all the hype. After all, you have been summoned by Jesus to be among his closest friends. You have witnessed his authoritative teaching, the miracles on multitudes and individuals, the casting out of demons and the challenge of the religious elite. And yet you forget that you did nothing to deserve your current position. But this doesn’t happen with Christians today.
The disciples perhaps extended their role to bodyguards of Jesus. You can almost see Peter with the earpiece. It’s almost like your rubbing shoulders with the Prime Minister or the President and you’re becoming accustomed to creating space for Jesus and protecting him. They were constantly bombarded with crowds imposing upon Jesus and the Pharisees challenging and children. Those pesky children! “Can’t they see we are important people with important business!” And here we are this morning.
In these times, the children were without status. They were not viewed very highly. And here it seems the parents were bringing their small children to Jesus so that he might touch and bless them. And the disciples rebuked the parents and hindered the children from coming to Jesus! And Jesus let them have it! In fact, he was indignant!
The disciples probably thought they were doing him a favor by protecting him so that he could do “real ministry.” I’m afraid this sometimes happens in the contemporary church as well. I know that I am thankful that we have many here that consider the children here important enough to teach them biblical truth. We do not view children’s ministry as inferior to adult teaching.
And so Jesus lays into the disciples. He orders them to let the children come and warns them against hindering them anymore. And then he adds this curious remark, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” What does he mean by this? Does Jesus mean that only children inherit the kingdom of God? No. I think that he means that they have their rightful share in it. Remember, this would have been a radical understanding given their “non-status” in their culture. To even children belongs the kingdom of God.
And then Jesus says, “truly, I say to you.” This is a way for Jesus to indicate, “Everybody listen up! I am going to say something that demands your immediate attention!” Jesus uses this introduction in statements such as John 3:3 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:5 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 3:28 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” The times that Jesus uses these statements is when he wants to seize an opportunity to communicate a significant spiritual truth. It is in these times that he conveys promises or warnings about spiritual rewards and penalties. And here Jesus uses it in a situation regarding children. This is radical.
And here is the truth he wishes to communicate: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” We will see that the terminology “kingdom of God” is the same as “eternal life” that we will come to in the next section. And we would see the connection if we were to look back at Mark 9:45, 47 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” So they are synonymous concepts. And they refer to salvation. Look below at verses 25 and 26. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
Why would Jesus say that whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child shall not enter it? There are some who have said that that the kingdom of God requires the innocence and humility of children. I considered this. But then again, I have children. And like me, they are as selfish and non-innocent as they come. Humble, not really. I don’t think this is what Jesus is aiming for. I believe it is at least one and maybe both of the following. As already mentioned, it could be coming to Jesus with no status. Often times people come to him with their credentials, either positionally or morally, and think that this can at least contribute to their salvation. “I’ve served as a deacon in the church for many years.” “I’ve given thousands to charity or the church.” “I am a good person.” Remember, Jesus has just indicated that “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Come with no earthly status.
To come as a child indicates the trust that a child has. Think of how a child trusts adults. Don’t they have complete confidence in adults? They rely on their parents for everything – food, shelter, clothing, advice. In the same way, believers in Jesus emulate this same trust. We come trusting fully in him for salvation. We bring nothing to the table. And he delivers everything!
So, here the disciples were doing a bit of gatekeeping. Perhaps unintentionally. But I think that it has some lessons for Christians and the church. Don’t we sometimes want to regulate who comes to Jesus? Now we probably also don’t do this intentionally. But do we sometimes favor adults over children, prominent people over street people, or according to nationality? We must ensure that we do not hinder people from coming to Jesus. He is for all the nations, all social and economic classes, adults and especially children.
At the same time, however, there is some “gatekeeping” that needs to be done. We need to make sure that people are indeed coming to Jesus and not for something else. In fact, Jesus does some of this in the next section.
Verse 17. The next point is “So Close and Yet So Far…” And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up… Mark doesn’t give more details here. But the other gospel writers help us out a bit. Matthew adds that he was a young man. And Luke informs us that he is a ruler. And they all indicate that he was wealthy. So this man was a young, wealthy ruler – a prominent and influential person.
Now this interesting. I know we have some natural evangelists in the room – always ready to share your faith. Even if you’re not an evangelist, you understand the responsibility and expectation to share the gospel with others. So perhaps you’ve talked with a co-worker or friend or family member about Jesus. Maybe you’ve done some street evangelism and had some very positive results. I need to ask, has anybody ever had somebody run up to you and kneel and ask “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you think that this would be an opportunity to share Jesus? Some opportunities are bit more challenging – how to turn a hockey discussion to Jesus. But this one is pretty straightforward.
What would you do here? By all appearances it seems as though this guy is a genuine “seeker.” He’s asking the right questions. He knows about eternal life. Wouldn’t you take him right to John 3.16 here. Oh yeah, it wasn’t written yet. What will Jesus do?
Can you imagine what the disciples are thinking? A wealthy young ruler. So they likely knew about him. “Awesome. This guy is going to trust in Jesus. He is an influential guy. We can get him saved and put his picture on Christianity magazine so that he can influence others for Christ. And he’s got money. We’ve got this church building project coming up and we’re not meeting our budget. This is great!” And then Jesus says, “why do you call me good?” Would you be like “What! Jesus. What are you doing? Let me handle this one. Look, I’ll lead him through the sinner’s prayer and get him to sign this commitment card and get him in our baptism and membership classes…” Don’t you see this happen a fair bit? Some Hollywood actor or football star or musician has an emotional experience and talks about Jesus. They are thrust into the limelight before there is any follow-up or discipleship. And then they abandon the faith of fall into grievous sin and they end up with a negative testimony for Jesus.
I want to say this carefully. I think we need to feel a certain tension here. We just saw how the disciples were hindering people from coming to Jesus. But sometimes we make it too easy. There are many who add Jesus without repentance. Watch how Jesus does it. He does Way of the Master Evangelism method on the man. He brings the man to the Law. He wants to know if the man has the right understanding of “good.” And Jesus uses good theology! He indicates that no one is good except God alone. And the implication is that man is not good. But this man believes he is. Somebody’s wrong! My money is with Jesus. The man suggests that he has kept the commandments. Even if he has kept all these things (not sure if anyone has honored father and mother perfectly), Jesus says that if you hate your brother, you are guilty of murder. If you lust after a woman, you are an adulterer. And so forth. The truth is this man would not acknowledge his sin and need of a Savior. He thinks he’s all good and maybe just needs a little tweaking to ensure eternal life.
You can’t have eternal life until you die to self. You cannot know the good news without the bad news. Remember Romans 7? Paul said that the Law is good because it showed him his sinfulness. If he did not come to grips with his depravity, he would not have known salvation! The Law exists as God’s standard of good so that we can understand our inability to keep it. God doesn’t set us up for failure. He sets us up for Jesus!
And the man in this account does not see Jesus – though Jesus sees him and loves him. Isn’t this an interesting thing to include here? Jesus looked, loved and said. Don’t you think it is important for us to emulate this? Christian ministry is involved in the lives of people. If we don’t see them, we cannot reach them. And what about love? Do we love people? How about regardless of their response? Jesus had to know that the man would walk away. And yet he loved him.
If Jesus loved him, why did he charge him with such a difficult command? Why didn’t he just love him into the kingdom? I’ve heard people say this. What does that look like? Do we understate what repentance and belief are? That’s no good. Because they never become citizens of the kingdom. Love declares the whole gospel! Love calls you to give up everything and follow Jesus. We know from Scripture that the criteria for trusting Christ is not selling everything you have. People elsewhere have houses and possessions. This was a test of the man’s heart. And he failed the test. He thought he could “do” something to inherit eternal life. Fail. The man did not acknowledge his sin. Fail. He was not willing to sacrifice the earthly for the eternal. Fail.
Sadly, I think that Christians and the church has made it too easy for people to trust Jesus. Yes, I meant to say that. If Jesus is merely a means to an end, we fail. Jesus is the end! Jesus is not the solution to good health, a happy marriage, or your best life now. Repentance and belief is more than including Jesus in your life, asking him into your heart, saying the sinner’s prayer, raising your hand at a Crusade… though it can be part of this. It is from the song I Surrender All: “all to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give; worldly pleasures all forsaken. Or When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
And then these same people that come through “easy believism” are scattered throughout the churches and they are puzzled when there are calls for sacrificial ministry in the church or sacrificial giving. This makes sense, right? If Jesus is a means to end then it stops with you or me. “I didn’t sign up to help in the nursery or teach kids or share my faith downtown. I just wanted Jesus to make me happy and get me “eternal life.” We never got to the book of Galatians 2:20 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And so “easy believism” often translates to a non-committed church.
The third point is “Eternal Investment.” This point originates in verse 21 when Jesus provides the man with a glimpse of the eternal perspective. He says that if you sell your things and give to the poor you will have an unfading investment kept in heaven. But the man didn’t get it. He walked away sorrowful.
And the disciples must have been a bit confused. Jesus likely realized this when he looked at them and concluded, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed and apparently speechless because Jesus had to repeat himself, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” He then includes this illustration to prove his point about camels and eyes of a needle.
This is only a guess. You’ve heard this account before. Have you ever viewed the rich person as yourself? Don’t we always think it’s somebody else? I found that we all probably have some artificial gauge on the line where the “wealthy” mark is. And it never points to us! Am I right? One of the commentators brought this to my attention when he included this, “‘Wealth’ is relative: even those who would consider themselves poor in modern Western society live at a level which would have been unimaginable to most of Jesus’ hearers, and remains so to many in other parts of the world today.” Perhaps we need to stop pointing the finger at someone else.
Again, the disciples were exceedingly astonished and replied that if it is less difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom, then WHO can be saved?” Finally, Jesus got it out of them. I think that this is where he wanted to land.
Jesus’ response to the question exceeds the radical statement regarding the camel and the needle. Jesus says that with man it is impossible to be saved. Because of the sin of Adam, man cannot earn his salvation. The man came looking for something to do to inherit eternal life. He then asserted that he had kept the Law perfectly. And then didn’t obey the Lord’s command to sell everything and follow after him.
Apart from Jesus Christ, this is who we are. Ephesians 2:1–3 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” We’re not pretty good people that just need a little “tweaking” to inherit eternal life. We are in dire need of a Savior!
William Hendrickson, in his commentary, writes this: “When he now tells them, “With men this is impossible,” he means exactly that. At every point, beginning, middle, end, man is completely dependent on God for salvation. Of himself man can do nothing.” All seems lost and then we continue with our text. Verse 27. After Jesus says that salvation is impossible with man, what is the next word in the ESV? “But” But not with God. All things are possible with God.
Ephesians 2 does the same thing. Paul had just indicated that we were dead in our sins. And we get to verse 4 and the next two words are “But God.” Given the first three verses, I have come to love those two little words, “But God.” Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones says that, “With these two words we come to the introduction to the Christian message, the peculiar, specific message which the Christian faith has to offer to us. These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel. The gospel tells of what God has done, God’s intervention; it is something that comes entirely from outside us and displays to us that wondrous and amazing and astonishing work of God…”
John tells us in his gospel that we need to be born again from above. Ephesians 2 continues and says that we are saved by grace through faith which is also given by God. We don’t contribute a whole lot to our salvation folks! This all kind of climaxes here. Coming as a child to Jesus – utterly dependant and trusting. We are not good enough… cannot do good works or carry out the Law. Our only hope is Jesus. God has intervened into our state and has provided Jesus. And in our story he is headed to the cross where this will all come to its fulfillment.
Peter kind of understands. He says, “Jesus, we have left everything and followed you.” He’s right. I’m not sure if I would have pointed that out. But again, it serves another teaching moment for Jesus. “Truly, I say to you,…” Jesus reaffirms that discipleship involves a cost. But then he also graciously provides us with the eternal perspective.
Anything that we sacrifice in this life, will be carried forward into eternity. What does this particular sacrifice include here? It’s probably understandable how our faith in Jesus will alienate us from family. Many of you know this firsthand already. Some may leave houses for mission fields or live more modestly so that you can use your income to further the work of God. I remember being really challenged by a Bible professor who took extreme measures so that he could give more to missions. He would do things like turn off his heat in winter and use more blankets so that freed up more money for the gospel.
Though he is under no obligation, God provides the sacrificial life with eternal rewards. I heard someone say that the “health and wealth” message is not completely wrong. They just have the timing wrong. We will experience blessing upon blessing someday. But that day comes only when we enter the presence of our Lord Jesus. This life is a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. I think it was C. S. Lewis who said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” That pretty much sums up this text.
It may be that you’ve come here because you wanted to hear about Jesus. If you haven’t yet trusted him, I don’t want to make it easy for you because I don’t want you to have a false sense of security. However, the demands of Jesus for this life bring the greatest joys imaginable. Following Jesus is not a life of drudgery or monotony. It is a life that is filled with challenge and adventure. You learn what it means to be dependent on him. And you witness radical changes in your life that will last for eternity. It may cost you everything, but the returns are unfathomable. Give your life to him today.