It’s Harder Than You Think

It’s Harder Than You Think | Mark 10:23-27

“Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! ” But the disciples were astonished at His words. Again Jesus 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.” So they were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved? ” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:23-27 HCSB)

The difficult we do immediately but the impossible takes a little longer. This quote, which has appeared in various forms, seems to have originated out of the French Revolution. It was originally stated as “If it is difficult, it is done. If it is impossible, it shall be done.” The quote then appeared in the writings of multiple people over the next several hundred years and was quoted in Readers Digest in 1939 and attributed to philosopher George Santayanna. However, listen to this quote from the New York Sun in 1942: Many of the slogans that have been heard since December 7 have lacked both spontaneity and appeal. Some have been particularly lacking in home-grown qualities; they might have been manufactured anywhere in the world. Though it is obviously custom-made, the training slogan of the Ordnance Department of the Army sounds as though it were made in America. “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”

It would be hard to overstate how deeply pride permeates the human soul and it would be impossible to overstate how deeply pride permeates the souls of most Americans. It is so deeply a part of our culture and heritage that we often fail to see it. No doubt, it would require a very skilled surgeon to remove all of its tendrils. Fortunately, Jesus is that skilled at soul surgery. Last week (, Jesus confronted a rich young man about his wealth and its strangle hold on his life when the young man asked Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him, “You must go sell all your possessions, give to the poor and then you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow Me.” But he walked away from Jesus very sad, because he had great possessions and was unwilling to obey Him and sell them. Obviously, he loved his wealth and what it afforded him more than he loved God and he wanted those things more than he wanted eternal life with God.

That’s a very sad commentary on one’s spiritual life and outlook towards God, but it’s one that is often repeated in our modern American culture. We are SO obsessed with what we possess that we don’t realize how it possesses us. We live in, what I call, a “microwave” culture of quick or instant gratification. We have little or no concept of living for or planning towards the future, especially a future that involves eternity. Jesus tells us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” but we are so focused on today and what we want and feel in the present that we ignore His admonition about our future in eternity. Don’t misunderstand me, this includes those of us who don’t consider ourselves wealthy. This is less about how much you have and more about how it has a hold on you. You can be obsessed with wealth and getting/having things and still be very, very poor.

After the young man walks away, rejecting Jesus’ call to sell out and follow Him, Jesus turns to the disciples and says: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” This astonished the disciples and their sense of astonishment is indicative of how their culture viewed wealth. A wealthy man was considered by this first century Jewish culture to be blessed by God. We still do, too. What a paradox: “whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it… 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.” It is hard to enter the kingdom of God… because we do not welcome it like a little child. More on this in a minute.

So, here are a couple of tough questions… How are your possessions impacting your ability to obey and follow Jesus? Do you consider your success, status, power, position, achievements and possessions to be proof of God’s blessings and approval of your lifestyle?

Be honest, we all struggle with this issue. There’s nothing new in what Jesus tells the disciples. It has been an issue since the creation of mankind and his rebellion in the garden. Just take a look at the struggle between Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because he thought that God favored Abel due to the sacrifice that Abel offered up. But God accepted Abel’s sacrifice not because of what it was (meat/fat versus produce/grain) but because of Abel’s desire to please God and Cain’s desire to please and advance himself. We seek God’s approval and we mistakenly believe that what we accomplish and possess somehow indicates that He has given His approval. It’s a bit like looking at the weather over our heads and attributing it to God’s blessing on our lives and our moral choices. When the weather is foul then God must not be pleased with us and when it is fair and sunny He must be thrilled with our thoughts, attitudes and actions.

Actually, we tend to act more like Cain. We look at the Abels around us and we despise them and their simple, unconditional love for others and God and we seek to eliminate them. Why? Because they make us look bad. We see them as weak and we take pride in being tough, strong, unrelenting and unforgiving. I mean, we even protect our stuff with lethal weapons.

Yeah, I went there. I know that’s a hot topic among most conservative Christians, right now. Gun possession is our right, right? Well, let me be very blunt here. It may be a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but if you choose to follow Jesus then you surrender those rights to being obedient to Him. So regardless of what the law says, if your possessions are so important to you that you must defend them with deadly force then there’s little question you are acting like the young man who valued his possessions more than he valued God, His kingdom and following Jesus.

Yet, He says: “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(Matthew 5:43-48 HCSB)

You aren’t sons of your Father in heaven when you simply love your neighbor and hate your enemy, when you’re kind to those who are kind to you. God causes the sun to rise on those who deserve it and on those who don’t. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. We cry out “God bless America” and then we believe that because we have an abundance of resources that He must have heard, smiled at our assumed holiness and righteousness and opened up Heaven’s windows and poured out His blessings. And yet, we tend to love only those who love us and hate those who hate us. What? That doesn’t look like God. Even tax collectors and godless Gentiles are that righteous. Don’t be like them, be like HIM!

I know that’s hard to hear, but that’s the point. “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.” That includes those of us who are relatively wealthy even though we don’t think of ourselves that way. By the way, it also includes those of us who consider ourselves to be politically conservative. Let me paraphrase a passage we considered a few weeks back: “If your possessions, gun rights, political affiliations or personal aspirations cause you to sin, it is better to abandon them, to cut them out of your life and throw them away, and to go through life without them than to hang onto them and wind up in hell’s fire.” (See Mark 9:42-50)

What? How dare you! That’s heresy. Is it? What Jesus told that rich young man wasn’t JUST about wealth. His wealth just happened to be “the one thing” that he was unwilling to abandon in order to sell out to God, obey Him and follow Jesus. What’s your one thing? For some it is wealth, for others it is power, position, or political clout. For some it is their inalienable right to pursue personal happiness while defining their own identity or gender. For others it is fame, recognition, physical beauty, strength or athletic achievement.

I’ll ask that question, again. What’s your one thing? What are you unwilling to turn loose of in order to sell out to God and follow Jesus?

Yes, “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 (or any person who is depending on themselves) to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more astonished. “Then who can be saved?” Ah, that really IS the question. Who? If not the rich, famous, powerful and physically beautiful then who? Who can possibly be saved?

Note: There have been false claims in the past that this reference by Jesus about a camel and a needle’s eye is referencing some gate in Jerusalem’s wall by that name. (In fact, I’ve read these references in past study and mistakenly included them in old sermons.) The idea was that there’s a small pedestrian gate in the city wall where a camel would have to be unloaded of his burden, get on his knees, lower his neck and crawl through this proverbial gate called the “eye of the needle.” There’s no historical support for this gate’s existence and the oldest reference to such a gate only goes back to the 11th century AD. There are also variant copies of the New Testament where the word for camel (Greek: kamelon) is replaced with the word for rope (Greek: kamilon). This is clearly an error (intentional or unintentional is unclear) by a scribe who changed one letter and made the “impossible” more plausible. The reading would have been changed to read: “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

So, who can possibly be saved? With men it is impossible. Humanly speaking, gaining entrance into the kingdom of God, being saved or inheriting eternal life is impossible. In case you didn’t catch that, it is impossible for ANY man to gain entrance into the kingdom of God on his own. That includes you, me and every other human – no exceptions. Simply put, you don’t earn your way into God’s presence. Why? Because we are all unrighteous and guilty of disobedience or sin. Jesus says that we must be born again, a second time: once physically and once spiritually (see John 3:1-21).

Excerpt: “But how can anyone be born when he is old? ” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born? ” Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:4-6 HCSB)

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t stop there. “With men it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.” If salvation depended upon man, it would be impossible. But it doesn’t depend on man, it depends on God. And with God the impossible is always possible. Salvation in God is possible because God does it, you don’t. “Who then can be saved?” Anyone who is willing to come to God like a little child with no wealth, fame, power or personal goodness and receive His gift, the gift of life. Eternal life, life like it was meant to be: centered on God, desiring and seeking His will and obediently following Jesus.

So, if it is a gift from God and not contingent upon or based in personal worth then why did I call this message “harder than you think”? Because it is. Most of us are simply unwilling and unable to abandon our personal worth and value and accept God’s gift of unmerited love. We’re unwilling to lay those things aside and put our need for and love of Him above our own sense of worth or identity. We have this mistaken notion that man’s struggle with self identity and self worth is something new and always based in gender or sexual orientation. That’s simply not true. Man has always struggled with his sense of identify and worth regardless of what he bases it in.

The young man in last week’s story walked away from Jesus because he refused to abandon that which gave him a sense of identity and value (see vv. 21-22). He refused to throw down his possessions and to find his identity and worth in his Creator. In essence, he loved the man he saw in the mirror more than he loved the God who would die for him. It’s harder than you think. I see it every day. I hear people say, “If God doesn’t love me like I am then I can’t love Him.” But, He DOES love you like you are He just loves you too much to leave you like that.

Listen, what they are really saying is: “If I can’t love God on my own terms then I can’t, I won’t love Him.” Let me ask you, who is God in that relationship?

With men, it is impossible. But not with God. With God, all things are possible. Come to God on His terms and you will discover that His love invades all of those dark little nooks and crannies of your heart. He takes your self worth and transforms it with Himself – IMAGO DEI – made in His image. Your worth is wrapped up in His worth, priceless. It’s harder than you think, but it’s not impossible. Not with Him.

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