Difficult Verses 10: Matthew 19.23-24

can you see the camel through the eye of the needle! | Flickr

It has been a long time since I have done a Difficult Verses post (actually five years since the last one, which can be found here), but I have resurrected this series due to an excellent question I have been asked on Matthew 19.23-24:

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

As we have been focusing on prosperity this week, these verses by Jesus do seem to cut across the idea that God wants us to prosper (3 John 2), that God delights in our prosperity (Psalm 35.27), that God has given us the power to obtain wealth (Deut. 8.18), that Jesus became poor so that we can become rich (2 Cor. 8.9).  So within that, when there seems to be a contradiction in Bible truths we need to look deeper.

Let’s start by putting these two verses into context and look at what happened before and after Jesus said this to his disciples.  Before, Matthew 19.16-22:

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

This man asked the wrong question.  His mentality was that he could earn his way into heaven   He thought there was something he could do to get eternal life.  So, this man had a wrong point of view.  Mark 10.21 gives us a little piece of information about this man that Matthew and Luke do not – it tells us that when Jesus looked at him, he loved him.  So, that is the foundation of this account – Jesus loves rich people.  He loves rich people, poor people, sick people, healthy people, cursed people, blessed people.  Jesus loved the rich young ruler while he was rich and young and a ruler.  So, having money does not put you in a place where Jesus stops loving you.  It also means that everything that Jesus does and says next is out of love!

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

Jesus now wants to correct his wrong thinking, and help him see that you cannot get into the kingdom of Heaven by being a good man.  This man was propserous, a ruler, confident in his goodness, but he had no idea he needed a Saviour.  So Jesus here is rightfully using the law, as a standard we cannot possibly meet, to help someone realize they need a Saviour.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

So Jesus throws some laws out there to give the man a standard to help him realize he needs a Saviour.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

The man responds with a strong self-righteousness, I have kept those laws, I do that, I am a good person, just tell me what to do and I will do it and get the kingdom.  That attitude is obnoxious to heaven, it is pride and arrogance, and sometimes riches cause people to be more self reliant and more self righteous.  Their ability to make money makes them justify themselves and their morality.

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

So Jesus then gave this man an instruction.  Now, let’s get this out of the way before anything else – this instruction is not for everyone.  Not all of us have to go and sell all we have to be perfect.  I can prove this through the life of a very short man, called Zaccheus.

Read Luke 19.8 and 9:

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

Zaccheus gave away half of his goods, that is 50% not 100%.  And yet Jesus said salvation came to his house.  Not once in the book of Acts is giving away all your goods to the poor is used as a sign of salvation.  But this man did not come cut to the heart, he came wanting to do something to get the kingdom.  He came self-reliant, so Jesus gave him an impossible instruction.  Jesus got to the heart of this mans’ problems, his emptiness, his reason for coming to speak to Jesus – he had an idol and it was called material things.  That was his god and he could not turn his back on it.  At this point he should have fallen on his knees and cried out to Jesus for salvation by grace, but he couldn’t.

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

This man is the only person in the Bible to walk away sad from Jesus.  That is so sad, but it was not because of the possessions he had, it was because his possessions had him.  He couldn’t bring himself to call on the name of Jesus, and walked away from the Lord.

Now remember that the Lord loved this man, he looked at him and felt nothing but love for him.  In addition, do not forget the divine principles that Jesus has taught the disciples over and over – sow and you shall reap (Mark 4), give and it shall be given to you (Luke 6.38).  Jesus wasn’t trying to make a rich man a pauper, He was trying to get a rich man to stop using the world’s system of making money and start using the God system, and this would have in time made him even richer, and meant he would have had salvation and peace with God at the same time.  Now that is a heart of love.

We cannot forget that our blood covenant with the Lord includes prosperity, the Old Covenant also includes prosperity, and Jesus is the one who prospers us.  If that young ruler thought about the Word rather than his wealth, he might have remembered his Bible say “he that gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will surely pay him back again” (Proverbs 19.17).  Jesus was offering this man the business deal of a lifetime but the man was too carnal and money-obsessed to see it!  He assumed what a lot of us assume, Jesus wants us poor and weak.

In addition, look at those words “follow me”.  Those words are only used by Jesus when he is calling the apostles.  Maybe Jesus was aware he would need a new apostle soon, maybe he was aware that he needed a new apostle who had the ability to handle money.  Just speculation, but it is interesting.  He would have been pretty well suited for the job – honest, never lied, never stole (isn’t that one up on Judas), and knew how to prosper?

So, as the man walks away sad, Jesus uses this whole event to teach his disciples a key principles about the kingdom:

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Now despite all the nonsense I have heard about really tiny camels (some people say it is the Greek word for rope – it’s not) or really really big needles (some people say there is a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle, there isn’t), the truth is Jesus is saying that it is impossible to enter God’s kingdom if you have money.  He is not saying a rich man cannot get saved – think about this, if you die, you go to Abraham’s bosom, and Abraham was exceptionally rich.  Every Jew listening knew that rich people could be saved – they know about David, Solomon, Mordecai, Esther, Daniel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and so on and so forth.  But Jesus was saying they struggle to “enter the kingdom of heaven”.  In other words, this man struggled to give and receive, he struggled to handle money the God-ordained way.

A few years ago I was in America and had no money, there were four of us there, and we had no money to pay for hotels and food.  On Sunday morning in church, someone gave me $100.  That is not enough to make me rich, that is not enough to pay my bills or pay my travel and so on.  So I gave it in the offering.  The next morning another minister gave me over $2000 as an offering.  That was my harvest.  That is God-given principles to increase.  I knew I was poor, so I gave my way out of poverty.  The options were pretty clear to me.  But the problem is rich people rely on their money and do not like to give it away like that, because they have never learned to make money in a godly way.

Now want I want you to see as well is what comes after this, because it is illuminating:

25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?

26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?

28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Notice first of all that the disciples were stunned.  We have this false assumption that Jesus and his disciples were broke.  That is not true, Jesus was wealthy and so were most of his disciples.  Peter was a professional fisherman, he owned more than one boat, and had servants.  He was a business man doing very well for himself.  When Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, they wer stunned.  Now, stop being religious for a few minutes and think about this – Peter wouldn’t be caring about Jesus saying this if he was broke.  He was concerned for himself when he heard Jesus, and he points out that he has left everything to follow Jesus.  Which is true, Peter walked away from his business and his nets and left it all behind to follow Jesus. so Jesus tells him that he will be taken care of by God.

Jesus warning about rich men has nothing to do with the money we make as we prosper in the kingdom, it is referring to people so embedded into the world’s system of prosperity they cannot give, they cannot invest in the kingdom, they cannot follow Jesus.  Let’s look at Mark’s account of this:

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

Read that very carefully, we get hundred times what we give up now in this time – not in heaven when we die, but right now.  That is a lot – you see every person, whether poor or rich – has to make a decision, you need to take some of your income and start giving generously.  The more blessed you are the more you should give.  There are so many reasons for giving to the kingdom of God, but one important reason is that it reminds you that God is the source of your increase, God is the one who provides for you, God looks after you.

We have to be a channel for giving, Jesus did not just know that, He did it, and He wanted to see this young man who he loved get in the same flow and obtain the same blessings and grace.  Jesus was such a big giver that when Judas went to betray him, everyone assumed he was going to do more giving!

Do you want a hundredfold return on your money?  Then give it to God and let God multiply it.  No business venture or bank will offer this kind of return, so praise Jesus for offering this kind of return to His family.





Published by Tree of Life Church

We are a growing network of growing churches, with services weekly in Dagenham, Guildford, Watford, Croydon, Brentwood and Dorset. We are also planting churches in Cambridge, Suffolk, West Midlands and Hemel. Find out more at www.tree.church, www.tree.church/youtube and www.tree.church/app.

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