“Looking at them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.” Peter began to tell Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.” “I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:27-31 HCSB)
Many of you know that I am a bi or multi-vocational pastor. For those who don’t know, in addition to pastoring this church I also work another full time job to make a living and to provide for my family. I have been a pastor for almost forty-five years and have always worked in addition to pastoring a church. You might be surprise to learn that most churches in Oklahoma (85%) and across America are small (less than 125 in attendance) and have multi-vocational pastors. Though I am not a tent maker, like Paul, I do work in a service field as an Information Technology administrator and support specialist for a ministry related financial organization. I mention this only to illustrate that serving in ministry often involves making sacrifices and it often means doing things differently.
Different is just expected when you’re following Jesus.
Do you remember elementary school? I recently drove by the school where I went to kindergarten and first grade – Eugene Field Elementary School in Tulsa. It has changed, a lot! In fact, the old school is gone and a new school has been built in its place. I’m not really surprised by that. It was an old building when I was there, at least it seemed old to me. Everything and everyone seems old when you are five or six years old. Now, I am old – but I digress. I can remember my kindergarten teacher calling for us to form a line as we prepared to go outside and play. Everyone would be excited and everybody wanted to be at the front of the line and nobody wanted to be last, at the end of the line.
Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at this great reversal of personal values that Jesus demanded of the rich young ruler. However, not just a reversal of values for the young man in Mark’s story but also for you and I. If we want to “inherit eternal life” or be a part of the “kingdom of God” then we must also be willing to come to God like a small child, abandon everything that defines us and proves our self-worth and humbly follow Jesus in absolute obedience. An impossible feat? Absolutely! But what is impossible with man is possible with God.
Peter and the other Apostles have been listening and considering Jesus’ words. Become like a child to enter the kingdom. It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom. Who then can be saved? With man, this is impossible but not with God. With God, all things are possible. Then Peter blurts out, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.” It would be easy to miss the emphasis in his words, but don’t you miss it. LOOK! In the old King James, it is translated as BEHOLD. It means that Peter wanted Jesus to pay attention to what he was about to say: “We have left everything and followed You!”
You can somewhat understand Peter’s point because Jesus has just said that it is really, really hard for those who cling to wealth to find the entrance or their way into the kingdom of God. Why? Because they think they deserve it, they’ve earned it. Look at me and my wealth, my power, my position. Surely God has blessed me and will welcome me into His kingdom. Surely God wants and needs people like me in His kingdom.
While Peter wasn’t saying those exact words, he does seem to be implying that he and the other eleven disciples deserve some recognition, some honor, some position, some blessing for having left everything to follow Him. Look at what we’ve given up to be a part of this ministry of Yours! There’s no doubt that Peter and the other Apostles have given up many things to follow Jesus, but just how much sacrifice have they made? Have they truly “left everything” to follow Jesus? Better yet, what have we really given up to follow Jesus? Anything?
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I know the disciples certainly sacrificed to follow Jesus. Honestly, even at this early stage of being Jesus’ disciples, they have already given up much, much more than most of us will ever give up to follow Him. But there will be more they’ll be asked to give up – a lot more sacrifice is coming for this group.
That’s the part of this lesson that really ought to cause us to catch our breath and rethink how we are living for Him. You can’t even have a casual reading of the New Testament without recognizing the sacrifice of the early church in their efforts to follow Jesus in complete obedience. While the Apostles all left their jobs and families to follow Him, those early days were not anything like what would follow. Stephen, one of the first deacons, was stoned for his miracles, preaching and teaching (see Acts 6:8 – 7:40). Then James, John’s brother, was executed by Herod (see Acts 12:1-2). The people were so pleased by that, Herod had Peter arrested and was going to execute him at the next Passover, but God intervened and rescued him (see Acts 12:3-5). Eventually, all of them would give their lives as a sacrifice for the gospel and the privilege of dying as a follower of Jesus.
Privilege? You call dying for Jesus a privilege? While the disciples couldn’t quite conceive of that idea, at this point in their walk of faith, they would come to see and understand dying for Him in that way. Their faith and understanding of the kingdom grew and matured very rapidly following the resurrection, the early development of the church and the eruption of deadly persecution. Are we able to conceive of this idea – the privilege of dying for Jesus and the gospel – at our current stage of discipleship? It is easy to say we are willing to die for our faith, but it is quite another thing to actually do so, willingly. I find it hard to believe that someone would be willing to die for their faith when they aren’t even willing to become a humble servant and really live out their faith in obedience to Jesus.
Back in our focal passage, the key to understanding this passage is in Jesus’ response to Peter’s “behold” statement. So, we need to listen and understand it clearly. Jesus responds with one of His “amen” or “verily, verily I say unto you” responses. He then tells them that “there’s no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time..”
There it is, they will receive 100x more of those things they’ve lost “now at this time”. First, this is obviously one of Jesus’ hyperbolic responses and is intended to both comfort and surprise or shock the disciples. Whatever they have given up to follow Him will be given back to them 100 fold – houses, brothers, and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions. I’m going to deal with the persecutions separately, but still being given 100 times more of those things they’ve lost, at this time. Now. In this present age.
There are many, in our modern world, who read this and understand it in a literal sense. You give up your house for Jesus, you will get 100 homes in return. Guaranteed. Jesus said so! Then they take it an apply it to anything and everything. “Just send $100 to our ministry and watch God give that back to you one hundred fold – 100 times 100 is 10,000. God’s going to bless you with $10,000. Just believe, brother! Let your faith multiply and make you wealthy by supporting our ministry! Why, if you really want to prove God to be faithful, don’t give $100 give $1,000 or give $10,000. Be really bold in your faith and send us $100,000 and watch God bless you as He multiplies that 100 fold – $10 Million! Just believe…”
Let me be very direct in my response. These people are nothing more than scammers – wolves in sheep’s clothing. If you really think this is what Jesus meant when He made this statement then I would challenge you to go back and read this chapter, again. 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. Besides, if this really worked like they claim it does then the scammers would be following their own advice and they would be making these same sacrifices for God. Obviously, they aren’t making any sacrifices for God.
By the way, I don’t want you to send any money to our ministry. I want you to give yourself, body, mind, heart and soul, to God. When you do that, then you will be willing to give up to Him whatever He asks. I firmly believe Jesus: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear?’ …But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” (Matthew 6:31, 33 HCSB)
How will God provide these things? If He doesn’t literally give you 100 times what you’ve given up then what does He give and how does He give it? He does this through the fellowship of the church and other believers. This is exactly what we see unfolding in the early church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. If your family disowns you because of your faith, then He gives you a new family in Christ – hundreds of brothers and sisters. If you give up your home to be obedient in His call to mission work, then the doors of a hundred homes, the homes of other obedient disciples, open up to you as you sacrificially serve and follow Him. Right now, at this time!
But, obedience not only comes with the blessings that God promises but also with the persecutions He anticipates. Why persecution? Because the truth is hard for us to hear and accept and we would rather believe a lie and suppress the truth. Because we believe we would rather have 100 times more money, prestige and power than to have a large family of fellow believers who are willing to share their lives with us. Because we all care more about ourselves than we care about other people, at least we do until we are transformed by the Spirit of God and born a second time (see John 3). So, persecutions are expected for the one who faithfully follows Jesus.
Then He adds, “and eternal life in the age to come.” I’m not going to go over all of this, again, but remember that eternal life is as much or more about the quality of life than it is about the quantity or longevity of life. Life as it was meant to be. Life filled with the power, presence and blessings of God as we follow Jesus together. Brothers and sisters loving one another, sharing with one another, caring for one another as we faithfully follow the One who calls us to be servants, just like He is a servant. To be willing to die for one another? Yes, absolutely. But also willing to live in peace with and for one another. Life, as it is meant to be.
Finally, “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” What exactly does that mean and what does it imply for the disciples and for us? Let me use a simple illustration to explain. Do you remember being in kindergarten or first grade? When the teacher would call for us to “get in a line” we would jump up and try and form a single file line, but it didn’t look much like a single file line. We got better at being “single file” as we got a little older, but then we began to vie for position. Who would be first and who would end up as the dreaded last person in line. We still do that, don’t we? Everybody wants to be first and nobody wants to be last.
Jesus is calling for the disciples to recognize this tendency in themselves and for us to recognize it in ourselves. But not just recognize it, sacrifice it to Him. You see, the fulfillment of His promise of 100 times more blessings is dependent upon the obedience of disciples in recognizing this tendency, dying to self and finding abundant life in Him. It means disciples being willing to move from the front of the line to back of the line as humble, obedient servants willing to die – not only at the hands of someone else for their faith, but also dying to self in complete surrender – for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
At the heart of this statement, that many who are first will be last and the last first, lies the sinful heart of man. Many of us are vying for first place in this life and we are going to find ourselves standing in last place before a holy God. But there are many who are willing to take that last place in the line as they sacrifice and give themselves and their possessions away. They are going to be shocked when that same holy God calls their name and asks them to step to the front and He rewards them for their humble obedience and service to others.
Just remember what Jesus said, “I assure you, there is no one who has left… who will not receive… But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
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