Scripture: Psalm 121; Mark, chapters 9-10
Mark 10:17-27 (NASB):
As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT GIVE FALSE TESTIMONY, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”
And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But he was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and said to them, “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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
This is a familiar passage. That means that it has been read and interpreted many times in many ways. Like much of Scripture, we tend to interpret it in ways that are comfortable to us. Many of us would say, “I’m not wealthy” – thus assuming that Jesus isn’t talking to us. The disciples weren’t wealthy, but they were shocked at what Jesus said. They knew the Old Testament and all of the promises of God’s blessings for the righteous, so they put two and two together and got six. God blesses righteous people; rich people have been blessed; therefore, rich people are righteous.
The man who came to Jesus was rich, but he obviously was looking for something more. “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Why would he ask that unless he felt that something was missing? Jesus tells him that he knows the commandments; in other words, “you know what to do.” The man tells Jesus that he has kept them from my youth. In Matthew’s account, he adds, “what am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20).
The answer is shocking, both to the man and to Jesus’ disciples: Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. That shocked the man because he was one who owned much property. Mark says that the disciples were amazed at His words. It seems clear that they had not heard this sort of teaching before.
But they had. We don’t know how long the man had listened to Jesus, but the disciples had heard him. “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). This truth is at the center of Christian discipleship. In order to truly follow Jesus, we have to deny self. In fact, Jesus says “take up your cross” – a call to die. For the man, this meant getting rid of the one thing that was keeping him from dying to himself – his riches. But the fact is that it is just as hard for those who are poor to die to self, because we are born with self on the throne.
Jesus makes this clear in the way He teaches in this passage. He starts by saying, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” But He doesn’t stop there. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Not “hard for the rich” – it’s just hard! In fact, with people it is impossible. On our own, we will not – we cannot – deny self and die to self.
But not with God; for all things are possible with God. The man could have gone and sold everything as Jesus said, but he wasn’t willing. He was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving.He couldn’t do it on his own, but all things are possible with God.
Over the last few weeks our church has been studying Luke’s account of Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. We’ve particularly been talking about what it means to deny ourselves – to completely surrender to Jesus. It’s hard for all of us, because we’re all born in rebellion against God. We all believe that we are in charge of our lives, and we don’t surrender that control easily! But if we’re going to follow Jesus – REALLY follow Him – we have to surrender control.
Our other reading for today is Psalm 121, which begins by asking, “Where does my help come from?” The answer is simple: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It doesn’t come from my possessions. My knowledge and abilities won’t save me. No matter how much I may own, no matter how many friends I may have, the time will come when I am face to face with something that is overwhelming. In that moment, my possessions and my friends can’t help me; in those times, only God can help.
And the best way to face those times is to know God and trust Him before they come. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
Father, thank You for the ways You are at work in our lives. You provide what we need each day, just as You promised. You lead us in paths of righteousness; You deliver us from the evil one. You have offered us life and hope in Your kingdom, but we have to surrender our kingdoms to You. Help us today to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. He has walked this path before us, and He will lead us safely home. Amen.