Treasure in Heaven
Matthew Lesson #111
February 28, 2016
“Father, we’re so thankful that we have the guidance, the comfort, the instruction, the reminders from Your Word, that we come to learn about who You are; we learn of Your grace, Your goodness, Your provision for us; and we learn how we are incapable of saving ourselves, and that we can only live the spiritual life as we walk in dependence upon God the Holy Spirit.
Father, we pray that as we study Your Word today, that we will each be challenged by God the Holy Spirit in terms of how we need to be more focused on our spiritual life, that we may understand that our mission is ultimately to grow to spiritual maturity, so that we can apply Your Word in every realm of thought, activity, and endeavor, that we can glorify You, and that we will demonstrate in our lives that Your will, Your plan is good and perfect and excellent.
Father, we pray that You would open our minds to the truth of Your Word this morning. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are in Matthew 19, and we’re down at verse 16. But in order to have a little review (because this is one of those challenging passages, I’ve thought, “Well, we ought to be able to zip through this is a couple of weeks”), the more I’m digging into it, the more there is to find, especially when we get into the latter part of this episode where we focus on rewards.
So it all gets set up, it’s all in an integral unit. And unfortunately, as I’ve stated almost every time we’ve gone into this, because of the way our Bibles chop things up in terms of chapters and verses and even if you have study Bibles, they will come along and insert headings for different sections and sub-sections. And often, because of the way these sections, these—what they call pericopes—are divided, we tend to isolate them.
When you study systematic theology, they’ll cite these sections, but often they’re taken out of context. A lot of times, because they are not approached from a verse-by-verse perspective, the way in which all of these parts are integrated into the whole of a section of three or four chapters (as I’ve shown in the last couple of weeks), we miss some of the point.
So I want to go back again and remind us of a couple of things. As we look at this today, we’ll be reminded that the focal point of this section from verses 16 down through 30 focuses on verse 21, where Jesus is focusing on having treasure in Heaven.
That’s really one of the key phrases to help us understand that Jesus isn’t talking about how to be justified—that is, in Paul’s terminology, how to be justified so that when you die you go to Heaven.
He’s not talking about that. He’s using these words and phrases in a fuller sense, talking about rewards, talking about inheritance in the Kingdom, which goes beyond just being present in the Kingdom.
Now we often talk about salvation in terms of three stages:
1. In Phase 1 justification, we’re justified by faith alone, and we simply trust in Christ as Savior, and instantly we’re credited with Christ’s righteousness. God sees Christ’s righteousness in us and declares us to be justified.
2. Phase 2 is a process. It’s the spiritual life. Now the problem we’ve got in theology is that for centuries, the predominant views have not drawn a distinction between that which is germane or necessary for spiritual growth and that which is necessary for spiritual birth.
These terms “birth” and “growth,” of course, are analogous to circumstances in our individual lives. That which is necessary for birth for anyone to be born physically, for the pre-birth nourishment and preparation of the child in utero, is very different from that which is necessary for nourishment and health after birth. Before birth, the child is fed and nourished through the umbilical cord in the womb. After birth, the nourishment is taken in orally.
So there is a difference. There’s a distinction. That which applies to Phase 1 in the birth of a physical baby is very different from that which is necessary in Phase 2. And yet throughout the history of Christianity, these have not been distinguished very well.
So what you often hear from people are comments about looking at somebody’s life and saying, “Hmm, that person says this, that person says that, this person lies, this person’s involved in extramarital affairs, this is this, this is that, how can they be a Christian?”
Well, what you’re doing is you are looking at Phase 2 criteria and trying to determine Phase 1.
A lot of people, I believe, are going to be in Heaven. They’ll be surprised and other people will be surprised. There may be a few people who are surprised that you’re in Heaven, but that is because we have mixed criteria.
This really began to develop early in the history of Christianity in the second century, as works became seen as evidence of regeneration. But the Bible never puts that forth as a truth or as a doctrine.
As the theology that became known as Roman Catholic theology became solidified in the early church and into the Medieval Period, this became the standard. The only way that you could know if you were justified was how you lived.
So justification in Roman Catholic theology is not a point in time when a person believes in Jesus, receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God declares them to be justified. In Roman Catholic theology, justification and sanctification are almost synonymous, and they are both processes.
So their way to become justified over time is to participate in the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, and each time you do, God measures out a little bit of the merit from the treasury of Christ. How much is enough becomes the important question, and nobody knows how much is enough. So you’re constantly, as it were, working your way to Heaven.
That theology was broken by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 officially, and formally when he nailed the debating points, the 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.
When that happened, what he was basically challenging is this theology. It wasn’t as crystal clear in Luther’s mind at that point, but he had a hotshot, a young protégé named Philip Melanchthon who came along and helped him understand what we now would call a free-grace understanding of the gospel. It got muddied a little bit later on in Luther’s life, but for a period there, if you read his writings, he’s very clear that justification is distinguished from sanctification.
Calvin understood that also, that they were distinct, but Calvin muddied waters later on because the blow-back from the Roman Catholic Church, their counter argument was, “Well, if people are saved by grace, then what threat do you have to keep them moral, to keep them obedient, to keep them under control? If they’re just saved by believing in Jesus, then what’s to keep them from living like an unbeliever?”
So even Calvin succumbed to the pressure, and they fell back to this view that how you live is evidence of whether or not you’re saved.
But the Scripture makes a clear distinction between justification and sanctification or the spiritual life. We’re justified by faith alone, and in the Church Age a walk of obedience by means of God the Holy Spirit is Phase 2. Phase 3 is glorification.
So the Scripture uses this term “saved” in three different ways. People just tend to think that anytime they see the word “saved,” it’s a reference to justification.
As we get down into verse 25, Peter is going to hear everything that goes on with the rich, young ruler and say, “Well, who then can be saved?” He’s not talking about getting into Heaven when they die. They are already there. The Twelve are already there, as I’ve pointed out.
So we have to distinguish from being saved from the penalty of sin, and being saved from the power of sin, because the word “saved,” SOZO, can mean to be healed, to be delivered, to be rescued, to be rescued from a physical disaster, to be rescued from a spiritual disaster. It has a broad range of meanings. In glorification, we’re saved from the presence of sin. There are two ways to be glorified.
I’ve chided Rick King. Rick, as you know, obviously has the gift of pastor-teacher, and Rick did a great job when he was covering for me when I was in Kiev. You may not know this, but that was the first time he has ever stood in the pulpit and taught adults.
That’s what a congregation is all about—giving opportunities to these guys who are just getting started in ministry so that they can learn. But I chided him a little bit because he misspoke a couple of times.
I told him Jim Myers gives me a hard time all the time, and I give him a hard time whenever we misspeak because that’s part of the problems of being in the pulpit. But Rick made the comment that there’s only one way to be glorified, and that’s to die.
So I sent him an e-mail and I said, “There’s one other way. Can you guess?” It’s the Rapture. I just wanted to clarify that.
So this is the issue. Now for Phase 1 it’s very clear in Scripture that it’s faith alone.
These Romans passages we’ve looked at already. Romans 4:3, going back to the Old Testament, Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God.”
It doesn’t say anything about believing and doing anything, and the grammar in the Hebrew indicates that this occurred sometime in the past, probably before the Genesis 12 narrative with Abraham began.
So he “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Paul infers and draws the application from that, that the person “who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly.” It’s faith alone that brings us justification.
Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,”—not believe and follow the law, not believe and do good. It is faith alone in Christ alone.
In Galatians 2:16, Paul is countering the influence of the Judaizers in Galatia who were saying, “No, no, no, it’s not just faith alone. You have to also obey the Law.”
Now that’s important, because the way some people want to take Matthew 19 and the rich, young ruler episode is that Jesus is saying something positively about obeying the Law in order to be saved.
So in Galatians 2:16, Paul says, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
You want to say to Paul, “Well, tell us what you really think. Can you be more clear?” He completely excludes the works of the law from justification.
In Titus 3:5, he says it’s “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”
Ephesians 2:8–9 says we’ve “been saved through faith—and it’s, verse 9—not of works.”
So it’s very clear that the Scripture teaches that works are excluded from Phase 1 justification. If this isn’t about justification, then it has to be about spiritual life or sanctification.
Now I’ve pointed out, and I’m going to hit these briefly just in case there’s somebody who hasn’t been here the last couple of weeks, but there’s a series of synonymous phrases. It’s rare to find this many is one passage.
“Such is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 19:14. The rich, young ruler asks how he can have eternal life or enter into life, but Jesus understands—and this is so important—that he’s not asking about how to be justified, but how to be perfect; that is, the word doesn’t mean flawlessness or sinlessness, but how to be complete or mature. He’s asking for maturity.
Jesus properly understands what he’s asking for. It’s we who misunderstand.
Peter says, “Well, who then can be saved?” He understands it too. He’s using saved in terms of Phase 2.
So these are important phrases.
Then at the very bottom here, what Jesus talks about is “coming to Him,” that He tells the rich, young ruler to “come follow Me.” That is always spiritual life, spiritual maturity, discipleship language. It’s not how to get justified language. It’s how to be saved from the power of sin language. It’s discipleship.
We saw this same thing last week in these parallel phrases between the different accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And Mark adds “taking up your cross and following Me.” That’s discipleship, not how to get justified.
So Jesus uses this language all through Matthew: follow Me, follow Me, follow Me—all in terms of discipleship.
When the rich young ruler comes along, he says in Matthew’s account, “What can I do or what shall I do to obtain eternal life?” which means to possess it, to hold on to it.
It is parallel to what is asked in Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
We have seen that “inheritance” often refers to rewards, and not to justification. These are two distinct issues, and even as a number of very muddled commentators will point out, it’s very clear from verses 23–30 in this chapter, that we’re talking about rewards.
We’re not talking about justification, but they don’t get that precise, so they get the waters all muddy.
Colossians 3:24 says, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” The Bible is very clear that how we get to Heaven when we die is to believe in Jesus Christ alone, and that is the basis.
But also the Bible goes on to teach that our position, our privilege, our capacity, and our responsibilities in Heaven, in the kingdom, will be determined by our obedience in this life, our discipleship, our spiritual growth, and our spiritual maturity.
The Bible says that we are saved as a free gift. Justification is a free gift. But rewards are earned. Rewards are earned.
The topic at the end comes to rewards when Jesus says in Matthew 19:28, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration”—now that’s almost a message in itself—“in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory”—notice He’s not sitting on the throne of His glory now. That’s Amillennialism, and it’s Progressive Dispensationalism.
Jesus now is at the right hand of the Father. He doesn’t sit on His own throne until He comes at the Second Coming. When He comes then, it’s regeneration. It is the renewal of all things. It’s the time of refreshing that Peter refers to in Acts 3, and “in the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is rewards, not justification.
So when he asks about eternal life, as I pointed out last time, we have to understand that in this context, life was something promised to those who obeyed the Mosaic Law. But we know from Galatians 2:16, which I quoted earlier, that nobody was saved by the Law. It’s talking about life, post salvation life, life in this life, life in the future.
We looked at Ezekiel 20:11, “… if a man does [them], he shall live by them.”
Again and again in Deuteronomy 4:1, 4:40, you obey the commandments so “you may live.” You obey the commandments so you “prolong the days of your life.”
Deuteronomy 5:33, “… that you may live.”
Leviticus 18:5, “by which”—that is, by obedience to the law—“a man may live if he does them.”
So the question that he is asking is not, “How do I get justified?” He understands that already. He’s asking, “How do I get this life that’s promised in the Law; that is promised to us?”
He approaches Jesus in Matthew 19:16, “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ ”
If you notice on the slide, the top verse is from the NKJV, and the bottom verse is from the NASB. You’ll notice one word that’s different, and that is the word “good,” modifying teacher.
There’s a textual discrepancy here. In two or three critical, older manuscripts, you don’t have the word “good.” But in the vast majority of manuscripts plus many other manuscripts, you do have the word “good.”
You also have the word “good” modifying teacher in the Mark account and the Luke account. So it seems best, both from external evidence as well as internal evidence, that the word “good” there is to be understood.
Now some people have raised the issue in terms of Jesus’ answer when He says in verse 17, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God,” that this implies that maybe Jesus is saying that He’s not God.
I don’t think that’s what’s going on here at all. What He’s saying is, “Do you really understand who it is that you’re talking to? There’s only One good, that is God. If you’re going to call Me good, then do you understand that I’m God?” He’s asking him, “Do you really understand who I am and who you’re addressing, and are you willing to submit to My authority?”
So in verse 16, as we’ve said, he says, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” He’s asking the question not about getting into Heaven but about realizing the promises of life.
That is how Jesus responds to him in Matthew 19:17. Jesus says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life …”
So he asked, “What can I do to have eternal life, what can I do to inherit eternal life,” in Mark and Luke.
And Jesus’ response is, “… you want to enter into life.” So we see that these are parallel phrases, and Jesus says, “Keep the commandments.”
Now if you don’t address this correctly, you will think that what Jesus is trying to do is show him that He can’t keep the commandments. But as I’ve tried to point out for the last three weeks, that runs counter to what the Old Testament says.
The Old Testament clearly recognizes that if you keep the commandments, you would have life. That’s not the gospel, that’s not how you were justified, but that’s how a justified Old Testament believer was supposed to live.
So “entering into life” here is growing spiritually, and it will be clarified when we get to verse 21, that this is what it means to be spiritually mature, and what it means to have treasure in Heaven.
Not that Church Age believers are under the Law—I want to make that clear. We are not under the Law. We’re under grace, but there are still mandates in the Church Age for the spiritual life. It is not a period antinomianism where we say, “Oh, goody, goody, I’m saved so I can just do whatever I want to.” That’s what Paul counters in Romans 6.
“If you want to enter into life, if you want to experience the fullness,” Jesus is talking to the rich, young ruler who’s under the Mosaic Law in the Age of Israel and the dispensation of the Law. This is not something that would be applied to the Church Age believer in terms of the Law.
In fact, the Mosaic Law gives us a pattern for many things. It gives us a lot of implications, but it is not directly applicable to the Church Age believer because we’re not to go to the temple to bring sacrifices.
Even in the Old Testament only the Jews were expected to obey the Mosaic Law. It wasn’t even for Gentiles in the Old Testament. It was to demonstrate the life style of a kingdom of priests as an example to the Gentile nations in the Old Testament. But the promise was that they would have a fullness of life, that they would have an abundance of life.
This is also what Jesus is talking about in John 10:10 when He said “I don’t come like a thief to kill and destroy. I come to give life (that’s justification life), and to give life abundantly, richly, fully.”
That is the spiritual life, spiritual maturity.
So Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. And the rich, young ruler says, “Well, which ones? Which ones do I keep?”
Now that would seem like a pretty good question because the rabbis, even by this time, have categorized all of the mandates and prohibitions in the Mosaic Law and identified 603 outside of the ten in the Decalogue in the Ten Commandments. So there are 603 other commandments.
So he’s asking, “Well, wait a minute. Which ones are the most important ones? How do I make sure that I have fulfilled them?”
It’s interesting that Jesus immediately goes to the Decalogue in order to answer. That’s because—and it’s important to understand this—that the way the Mosaic Law is structured, the Ten Commandments are like the preamble to our constitution. They’re basically defining the basic dos and don’ts upon which everything else, the other 603 commandments, are built.
So there are two tablets to the law:
There’s the first tablet, which relates to the commandments, the first four commandments related to obedience to God, prohibition against idolatry.
The second tablet of the law, which are commandments 5–10, and by the way, Jews categorize them differently than Protestants, and Protestants categorize them differently than Roman Catholics. So everybody has ten, but how they divide the ten are different. That’s just for your information.
So Jesus just focuses on the second tablet—the commands that are related to human behavior towards other human beings. He understands that the rich, young ruler is devoted to God. He is not an idolater, and he is seeking to obey the Lord.
So Jesus comes along, and He focuses on the foundation of the Law. Remember, Jesus said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Once again we see that He is not antagonistic to the Mosaic Law.
In other places in Matthew, He has already repeated three of these commandments:
Matthew 5:21, He quotes the commandment, “You shall not murder.”
In Matthew 5:27, He affirms the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”
And in Matthew 15:4, He affirms the commandment, “To honor your father and your mother.”
So He repeats three of these and adds to them. He quotes from the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments, in that order, because those are prohibitions.
Those prohibitions are “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not bear false witness.”
Then He puts in the fifth commandment. Why? Why does He take them out of order? Because the fifth commandment is a positive, and He’s going to add one other commandment, which is also a positive commandment.
So He gets the negatives up front, and then He adds the positive: “Honor your father and your mother.”
Then He adds a commandment from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus, in Matthew 22:37–39, when He’s asked what are the greatest commandments, will summarize the commandments in terms of two:
Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and He summarizes the second tablet of the Law as loving your neighbor as yourself, Leviticus 19:18.
Jesus adds these, and tells him what these are. The young man, not with a sense of irony, and I don’t think with a sense of pride (for I think he believed rightly or wrongly that he has endeavored to fulfill this to the greatest of his ability), but somehow he senses that he’s not really experiencing this rich, full, abundant life that the Law seems to be promising him.
He knows that something is missing. He’s not doing it right. And that’s what Jesus is going to point out. The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Now Jesus doesn’t say, “No you haven’t. The point of the Law is to show you’re a sinner.” He doesn’t question that, although Jesus is going to point out something that is lacking. That’s the point of His answer in verse 21.
This is really the crux of this whole section, the centerpiece of it. Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
So, He sets up a condition, “If you want to be perfect.” Now we have to understand what that means when He says, “If you want to be perfect.”
That doesn’t mean flawless righteousness. We only get that by trusting in Christ as Savior, imputed righteousness. Jesus isn’t talking about that.
Many times in our translations, the Greek word TELEIOS, or one of its forms, is translated “perfection,” and we think of that in the sense of flawlessness or sinless perfection. But that’s not the meaning of the word. It never has that connotation in Scripture.
The idea in TELEIOS is that something is complete, something that is whole, something that is mature.
This is one of the keys that unlocks this passage and helps us understand that Jesus knows that his question is related to maturity, not related to regeneration or justification. If you want to be perfect, Jesus says there are three things that he has to do.
Now since salvation is not by works, Jesus can’t be talking about justification. He says, “Go sell what you have and give to the poor.”
Now the knee-jerk reaction from modern anti-materialists, Marxists, socialists and others … and legalists, and esthetics, is that somehow there’s spiritual virtue in poverty, and that somehow people who are poor are more spiritual than those who aren’t. That’s not biblical. That’s not Biblical for a number of reasons.
In fact, if we look in the Scriptures, we see examples of a number of extremely wealthy believers. In the Old Testament, we can think of Abraham. Abraham was incredibly wealthy. Joab was probably wealthier than Abraham. He was probably the Bill Gates of his generation in terms of being the wealthiest on the planet.
You can look at others. You can look at David, you can look at Solomon as ruler, but you can see a number of people in the Old Testament who were believers and were incredibly wealthy.
In the New Testament you have a number of people who are wealthy, and they gave from their wealth to support the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ during His time on the earth.
The family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were probably fairly well to do. They were probably part of a rather small but active middle class in Judea at the time.
You have a reference to a wealthy wife of Chuza in Luke 8:3.
You have an example of Joseph Arimathea and Nicodemus who were, even though they were secret disciples, they were both fairly wealthy.
Zacchaeus was also wealthy. He gave away half his wealth plus made restitution.
That shows that when Jesus is talking about “go sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” that’s a distinct command that He’s giving to the rich, young ruler. With Zacchaeus it was half. With others He doesn’t even mention that.
One thing we’ll get to not until next week, but when Peter responds, he says, “Look, Lord, we left everything. We left everything and followed You. We left our houses, we left our wives,” but they didn’t sell them. They still had those businesses that they could go back to, and they did to some degree.
So there’s this false comparison here—the idea that you need to give up everything or sell everything. The disciples certainly didn’t sell everything or give it to the poor.
This is not a universal command. Jesus is giving specific instruction to this individual because of his mental attitude, and that is that he’s got something in his life that is keeping him from truly following Jesus or being obedient to the Lord.
Now every one of us have things like that in our life. Some of them are details of life, like this detail of life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with possessions. In fact, in 2 Timothy we’re told that it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil. It’s not money.
Christian ministries have flourished over the years because God has not only given a number of believers the gift of giving, but I’ve seen a lot of people who have the gift of giving also given the ability to make money, and they give out of their abundance to support many ministries.
Most ministries flourish on the small gifts of lots of different people, but there are wonderful people who God has blessed materially and financially who have not only benefited a lot of cultural things, museums, ballet, opera, things of that nature, but they give out of the wealth that they produce. They give a tremendous amount to support churches and to support missionaries. They recognize that what they have is to be used for the glory of God.
This rich, young ruler, though, has misplaced priorities on his details of life. Now for other people, your details may be different from his details, but those details keep us from fully being obedient to the Lord.
In Hebrews, we are told that we are to lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us. So there are details of life which trip us up, and there’s also sin, personal sin that we’re really fond of. In fact, they’re so much of part and parcel of our character, that we just can’t imagine what we would be like if we couldn’t hold on to those particular sins. They make us feel good and happy, and so they work for us, we think.
But in either case, what Jesus is saying is that if we’re going to follow Jesus, you can’t look back like Lot’s wife. You can’t look back like the person who wanted to come and be a disciple who said, “Well, following you is a good deal, but my father’s about to die, and I’ve got other things to do.”
He’s not ready to 100% follow the Lord. That’s what Jesus is pointing out here. He’s not saying there’s inherently anything virtuous about poverty, because there is nothing virtuous about poverty. Virtue has to do with character, not possessions.
The problem is that this is for this young man, this is the thing that is keeping him from growing spiritually. This is his distraction. Yours and mine may be something else.
So Jesus says, “Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” That is, if you can get past this one obstacle, then you’re going to grow even more spiritually and you’re going to mature, and there will be rewards.
That this is the centerpiece of this whole thing, I’ve pointed out before, is the chiasm of this whole section from Matthew 19:14 down to verse 30. The centerpiece and the chiasm is this section; inheriting eternal life, obtaining treasure in the time to come.
This connects us back also to the Sermon on the Mount. A number of things that are said in this section are parallel to what is said in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking to His disciples about what they should do in terms of spiritual growth, and what is expected of them as disciples.
He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So Jesus is saying “this is what you need to do. You need to focus on spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. If you want to be a disciple, then you have to focus on storing up treasure in Heaven and not focusing on treasure on earth.”
“Your treasure on earth (for the rich, young ruler) is a distraction. That’s where your heart is. It’s really there.”
Jesus is pointing that out to him not because, as I’ve said, He’s against possessions or wealth or money, but because He is focusing on THIS individual’s problem.
1 Timothy 6:10 was the verse I was quoting earlier. It’s the LOVE of money (not money, that’s often misquoted), that is the root of all evil.
What’s interesting here is to look at the response, the reaction of the disciples.
In Matthew 19:23–24, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, 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.”
Now this is interesting imagery. This was a proverbial statement at that time—that if something was impossible, then it was described as trying to put a camel through the eye of the needle. A camel was the largest mammal in Judea and Palestine at that particular time.
There was a parallel rabbinic statement that spoke about an elephant going through the eye of a needle, but that rabbinic statement came out of Babylon or modern Iran. They had elephants over there. The largest animal in Judea was a camel. So it was just an expression of something that was humanly impossible.
Now there have been some people over the years who’ve tried to say that what this is talking about is not the eye of a sewing needle, but a gate. I’ve got a picture here.
This is from a small gate, looking at it from one side and looking at the other side. This is a small gate. Off to the left here is a large city gate. This is in the wall just to east of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So it’s under the Russian Orthodox Church.
If you go to Israel with me, we always go down there and take a look at this. Instead of having them open up the large gate to let people in, and especially after dark, they would let them in through this little gate.
So it came to be thought of that this was what Jesus was talking about—that this was called the “Needle Gate.” However, there is no evidence at all in ancient literature that this was ever called a Needle Gate.
Not only that, but the word for needle that’s used in the text is the word that’s used for a sewing needle.
So it’s very clear that Jesus is using this idiomatically and saying that it’s impossible for someone who is distracted by the details of life, in this case wealth, but distracted by their details of life, to enter into the fullness of life and the richness of the Kingdom.
The disciples, in next verse say, “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ ”
Now what’s interesting here is you have a couple of different words that are translated “greatly astonished,” which is a little bit strong, but not as strong as in the original.
The first word that’s translated “greatly” is a Greek Word SPHODRA, which literally means vehement or violent. So it’s vehemently something or violently something. This is about as superlative a language as you can use.
Then the next word is the word EKPLESSO, which is translated as “astonish.” It means to be amazed, to be flabbergasted, to be gob smacked.
Their mouths drop open, they’re speechless. They can’t comprehend. They can’t process what Jesus has just said. It just doesn’t make sense to them because Jesus doesn’t want some of us, He wants all of us. To be a disciple, you’ve got to be committed to spiritual growth and to following the Lord wherever that takes you.
Then Peter says, “Then what then must we do in order to be saved?” He doesn’t mean justified, he means so that we can grow. Who can do it?
Jesus’ response is that with men, this is impossible. You can’t do it on your own. You can’t pull yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps. But with God all things are possible. We can only do it by walking by the Spirit.
One thing is necessary, and that is we have to decide that that’s what we want. Are we going to follow Jesus or not? Are we going to be playing a game with God spiritually? Or are we really going to be serious about our spiritual growth?
Because when we’re serious about our spiritual growth, the promise is not only abundant life in this life, but riches in Heaven and treasure in Heaven that are used to glorify God, not the personal accumulation of wealth, when we arrive in Heaven because of obedience to Him.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to be challenged by this text and so many others—that we’re called to spiritual growth and maturity. The end is not getting justified. That is simply the beginning. The next issue is what do we do after we’re saved? Where are we going to go with this salvation?
Are we really going to be serious about spiritual growth, or are we just going to play games? Are we just going to show up at church once a week or listen to Bible studies once a week, or are we going to be serious about making biblical study, learning Your will, learning Your Word the number one priority in our life.
We’re all busy. We all have many different things to do, many other responsibilities in terms of family, in terms of career. But one thing matters, one thing lasts forever, and that is our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity. The challenge in this passage is to set aside the things that distract us from spiritual growth so that we can focus on that which truly matters for eternity.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone listening who has never come to grips with the good news of Christianity, never understood that salvation is not by works, that it is solely on the basis of faith in Christ, that You will have made that clear to them in this message.
The instant you trust in Christ as Savior, you have eternal life and that life can never be lost, but the next issue after you trust Christ, and a separate issue, is what are you going to do with that new life?
Father, we pray that we will all be challenged by what we studied today. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”