Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Too Rich to Make It to Heaven?

“‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God…. With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’” 
- Mark 10:24-25, 27

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when it happened, and Matthew, Mark and Luke all document the account. A man ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees in front of him and asked him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, the man wanted to know what he must do in order to make it to heaven someday. Matthew tells us that the man was young. Luke tells us that the man was a ruler, and all three gospel writers tell us that the man was rich--very rich.

So, the rich young ruler wanted Jesus to tell him what he must do to make it to heaven. Did he need to make ten pilgrimages to Jerusalem? Did he need to give alms to twenty beggars? Did he need to have perfect attendance at synagogue? Certainly there were a few hoops that he needed to jump through, something specific he could do to secure his ticket to heaven. So, how did Jesus answer this young tycoon’s question?

Surprisingly, Jesus didn’t at first. Jesus started by responding to the man’s question with a question of his own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” First and foremost, Jesus wanted the rich young ruler to understand that nobody on this planet is truly “good.” God alone is “good.” Next, Jesus pointed the man to the Ten Commandments, specifically commandments five through ten: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud (a paraphrase of the tenth commandment “Do not covet”), and honor your father and mother.

The young man must have been grinning from ear to ear as he responded, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus had just told him what he already knew: He was very good at following rules and obeying laws, and if law-keeping could possibly get anyone to heaven, it would get him there. But then Jesus burst the rich young ruler’s bubble as he turned to him and lovingly said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark tells us in Mark 10:23, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

As the rich young man walked away Jesus spoke these infamous words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The twelve disciples couldn’t believe their ears. They knew without a doubt that it is impossible to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle. So, in shock, they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?”

With this simple statement the disciples were expressing a popular belief in their day, the belief that everything in life comes easier for the rich, including salvation. The disciples (just like most of us today) were convinced that life was much easier for the rich. For example, it was easier for the rich to put food on the table, to pay the bills, to cover medical expenses, to find friends, and to receive justice in a court of law. And in their minds it seemed clear that if all of these other things in life came easier for the rich, so too did salvation. After all, the rich could afford to give extra large tithes. The rich could afford to sacrifice as many animals as necessary to atone for sin. The rich could afford to bribe rabbis or priests or whoever else they needed to bribe in order to receive a “Fast Pass” to heaven.

But in a few quick seconds Jesus blew that faulty theology out of the water. Jesus revealed this truth: When it comes to heaven, it is impossible for a rich man to get there. Why? Because neither the rich man nor the poor man are truly “good.” Both the rich man and the poor man are sinners who stand guilty before a holy God, and God’s justice requires that they be punished. Therefore, there are no hoops that any person (rich or poor) can jump through in order to make it to heaven. Working our own way to heaven is “impossible.” Earning heaven is “impossible.” Jumping through enough hoops to make it to heaven is “impossible.”

But not with God. With God all things are possible. Jesus provides a way for both the rich and the poor to make it to heaven: by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, this is the truth that the rich young ruler refused to accept. He was prepared to do whatever it took to secure his own salvation as long as it didn’t require him to rely upon someone else. He was willing to kneel before Jesus, but he refused to relinquish control of his life to Jesus. He walked by sight and refused to walk by faith. So, he made his choice. On that day he had to choose one God to serve: Jesus or his money.  Sadly, he chose his money.  And he went away in despair having turned his back on the only one in the universe who could secure his place in heaven: Jesus. I hope and pray that you won’t do the same.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. To hear Pastor Dane’s messages or for more information about the church, visit Services can be viewed on the church's Facebook page:

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