One of the best things about reading about Jesus is how surprising He often was. He never seemed to do quite what His disciples, the religious leader, or even His family, expected. It is as if His straight and perfect path, the one that absolutely honored the goodness of God, kept rubbing up against the crooked confusions and deceptions that the rest of humanity fall into and live out of. The story for today is one of those stories. It is famous because it is beautiful, and it has the power to help us reset what we think is important with what God says is important.
In the midst of Jesus’ teachings, some of the people started bringing their children to Him so He could bless them. The disciples tried to stop the parents. Why bother the Lord with these kids? But when Jesus saw them come between Him and little ones, He rebuked His men. He said:
“‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”
Wow. Imagine that moment for a second. What was the expression in Jesus’ voice when He said this to His disciples?
Jesus took each of the children in His arms. He lay His hands on each one and blessed them, giving them His time and attention.
What do you think was the expression on His face when He looked at the children? Can you imagine His kindness, acceptance, and embrace? Can you imagine being one of those children, or bringing your own children to Jesus and watching His love for them?
It is interesting that Jesus taught us to call God our Father. That is what happens when we put our faith in Him. We become the children of God. The Lord Jesus is keeping the entire universe going (see Colossians 1:13-20). He knows how many hairs are on the head of every person in the world (see Matthew 10:29-31). Yet when you come to Him, He has the same response to you that He had towards those kids. You have His full attention.
Do you remember the story of the praying widow? Do you remember the story of the tax collector who cried out in humble repentance? The Lord honored them for how they came to God. Now children were the model for the relationship God wants to have with His faithful ones. When we talk about being childlike, we think of the sweet trust that we see in kids: the way they seek out the help of adults, depend on them, take them by the hand, freely express their love and freely express their need for love. Childlikeness is one of the most disarming and tender things in the universe, and it has a powerful effect on the heart of God.
As Jesus began to journey on, a young man came running up to Him. He was from a very rich family who were rulers in the nation of Israel. As he drew near, he knelt down in front of Christ and said, “‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”
Jesus answered, “‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good, if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’”
“‘Which ones?’” the ruler asked.
Jesus said, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The young man said, “‘All of these I have kept.’”
Jesus looked at him and was filled with a great love for him. Then He 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.’”
Wow! What a bold thing to ask of someone! Yet what an amazing privilege. What a glorious invitation! Jesus had been among thousands upon thousands of people as He travelled all over Israel. Yet the only other times we see Him inviting someone to follow Him was when He invited the disciples.
Yet when the young man heard him, the excitement on his face fell to disappointment. He rose up and walked away sad. The cost was too high. For you see, he was tremendously wealthy with great properties, and he couldn’t let them go. Not even for Jesus.
What a heartbreaking story. This young man could confidently proclaim that he had earnestly obeyed the Law of God. He was truly devout, and since Jesus believed him, we can be sure he was being honest. The Spirit didn’t warn Him otherwise. All of those Laws from the Old Testament were given to the Jewish people to prepare them for the coming of Jesus, their Messiah. Yet now that this young man stood there, face to face with the Lord, he faltered.
It is interesting that when Jesus learned that the young man had truly obeyed the words of Scripture, He was filled with love for him. Obedience, purity, seeking after righteousness…while we will never be perfect in any of these things as we walk this crooked world, we can have the deep joy of knowing that our efforts profoundly delight the heart of Christ.
Imagine walking away from the Lord after seeing that look of love in His eyes. Imagine the heaviness of heart, the disappointment in himself…the stark, new awareness of what was really important to him.
This story can be a powerful moment for each of us to consider what our choice would be if we were faced with the same decision. All that we have is from the Lord. If He asked you to give it all up to follow Him into some new obedience, what would you do?
As Jesus and the disciples watched him walk away, the Lord said, “‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven!’” How sorrowful Jesus must have felt to watch the young man leave. Yet He understood the heart of humanity caught in the grip of “having things.”
The disciples were stunned! The Jewish people of their day believed that the rich were wealthy because they were good. They assumed that God had blessed them because they were better than everyone else. This can often be true today as well. How often do people assume that someone who is rich or talented or powerful is so because they are better, smarter, or more spiritual than everyone else?
Yet here was Jesus, speaking with total authority about why things work the way they do. He almost made it sound like wealth was an unhappy burden! How could that be?
Well, the character and emotional strength of most men and women is too weak to withstand the temptations of wealth. It is intoxicating and deceiving. Their money and property and ease, the social status and influence and lack of want that it brings, are like a bondage that keeps them from living for God’s Kingdom, which is where true, living wealth really exists. Jesus understood the vast splendor of God’s Kingdom. He understood how impoverished this world is by comparison. From God’s perspective, anything that keeps someone from the wealth of Heaven is crippling.
Think about how freely a child is able to come to Jesus! Think how desperately the widow knew her need…the tax collector’s repentance was beautiful next to the reluctance of this rich young ruler (see Story 151 for both stories). The freedom of a child, the desperate dependence of the widow, and the humble repentance of the tax collector are the signs of true, heavenly wealth. They are gifts from the Lord, great treasures that aid His children in coming to Him with right hearts. In God’s view, people that are rich in this world are often very poor. But those who know their need for God and cling to His hope are bathed in eternal riches!
Jesus went on:
“‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell 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.’”
Wow. Do you know how big a camel is? They can weigh over 1,500 pounds! Jesus picked the biggest animal that could be found in Israel. Do you know how small the eye of a needle is? It is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle! The disciples were shocked to hear this. “‘Who, then, can be saved?’” they asked. If even those they had grown up believing to be the people on the fast route to salvation were hopeless, what chance was there for anyone else?
“‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” Jesus answered.
Then Peter jumped in and said, “‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’”
Jesus’ answer is absolutely stunning. If we really read it, and we really think about what it means, it is a breathtaking truth:
“‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”
Wow. After all of Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this must have been a great relief! Not only were His disciples going to be welcomed into eternal life, they were going to have commanding roles to play! What Peter said was true, he and the other disciples had left everything. They had stood by Jesus even when the most powerful men in the land were plotting to have Him killed. They served long hours with no pay, allowing their faith and knowledge to be challenged every day as they walked in the presence of the Son of God and confronted all of their own misconceptions and confusion. And for them, there would be a magnificent reward.
Can you picture it? At the end of days, God is going get rid of the Curse completely and make all of Creation brand new. At that time, the Lord’s twelve disciples will sit on their own thrones and act as judges over their nation. Wow. They had not left their homes and lives for nothing. Their reward would be far more than they could ask or imagine.