(A) Introduction. Read: Luke18v24to34 See also: Mt19v23to30 and Mk10v23to34.

This passage, following on from Jesus' encounter with the rich, young ruler and linked to it, deals with some fundamental differences between the Master and his disciples. The differences are so marked that it is a wonder the Twelve were disciples at all!

Jesus and his disciples differed on four subjects:

(1) God's favour.

Jesus said: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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." The disciples responded by saying: "Who then can be saved." Lk18v24to26.

The disciples thought that health and wealth were a mark of God's favour - so if it was hard for a rich man to please God - who could? (The disciples obviously didn't get the point of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. See exposition on Luke16v19to31.)

There is some excuse for the disciples believing what they did:

(a) The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were blessed with material wealth.

(b) Moses told the Israelites that if they fully obeyed the Lord their God they would prosper. "The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock - the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Dt28v3to6. Moses also spelled out the consequences of disobedience: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Dt28v15.

(c) The message of the Minor Prophets was that Israel experienced material loss because of unfaithfulness to its God. See Hos9v1and2.

Today, many Christians speak as if wealth and success are blessings from God. This is not what Jesus taught! He knew that wealth could be a hindrance to entry into God's kingsom and effectiveness within it.

Riches are a curse rather than a blessing for three reasons:

(a) Prosperity engenders a 'feel good' outlook. A person might attribute his success to God. He may say, "God has greatly blessed me." What goes unspoken is the belief: "God must be pleased with me to give me so many good things. What have I to be concerned about?"

So riches of all sorts can lull a person into believing that all is well with their relationship with God. Complacency and presumption, those twin enemies of progress in the Christian life, often accompany success.

(b) The wealthy and influential may think they have something to offer God - that they will be an asset to the kingdom. Their experience and expertise will advance the cause of the kingdom. This regrettable attitude is even encouraged by the way Christians make a fuss of the rich and famous. James had something to say about this: Listen, my brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James2v5. (See exposition on Jms2v1to13.)

Wealth and influence make it that much harder to be poor in spirit and broken hearted.

(c) Men and women who reach the top are often self-sufficient and self-reliant. They work hard for their success. It is richly deserved! So like the young ruler such people may feel they can earn the right to be part of God's kingdom. But, of course, they cannot. Jesus said that we have to become as a little child to enter the kingdom. We have nothing to offer God. The sinner must rely on his grace.

Jesus knew that riches and possessions were not necessarily a mark of Divine favour because:

(a) He, himself, was poor. Paul wrote: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2Cor8v9.

When James and John asked for positions of power and prestige in his kingdom Jesus told them: "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mk10v43to45.

Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus was poor - so poor that unlike the foxes and birds of the air he had nowhere to lay his head - God was well pleased with him. The Father declared his good pleasure in the Son at his baptism and transfiguration. "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Lk3v23. (See exposition on Luke3v21to37.)

(b) Some of the greatest Christian saints have been poor - none more so than the apostle Paul - who went about in rags! Paul did not believe his poverty and problems were a mark of God's disfavour. He knew that he had fought a good fight, finished the race, kept the faith and that the Lord would reward him with a crown of righteousness.

(2) The rewards of commitment.

In order to understand what Jesus taught about this subject we need to refer to all three synoptic gospels.

(a) Peter wanted some reassurance about the nature of his future reward. He asked Jesus: "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Mt20v27. (The question is implied but not stated in Luke and Mark.)

What did Peter expect? It is obvious from the gospel record that he and the other disciples hoped for status, power and glory within an earthly kingdom. This was certainly the hope of James and John when they asked Jesus to be seated on his right and left hand when he came into his glory.

(b) Jesus' reply indicated the rewards for following him were more than the apostle's imagined:

    (I) For themselves. Jesus said to them: "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 sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Mt19v28.

    This is one of Jesus' obscure sayings and has puzzled Bible expositors for centuries. What was Jesus referring to by the expression, 'renewal of all things'? I don't believe Jesus was referring to the judgment at his Second Coming. There will be neither Jew nor Greek then! Even if all God's people is meant by the 12 tribes of Israel Jesus will need no help in the judgment. He is the one who judges: "Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father." Jn5v22and23. Also Acts10v42.

    It is possible the expression, 'at the renewal of all things,' refers to Pentecost and the beginning of the church. Jesus was on his throne in heaven by then - the living head of his church. However, the apostles were the earthly leaders of God's renewed people in the early church. They literally acquired a new family with all the privileges and responsibilities that went with it. The Twelve even received the proceeds from the sale of lands and property. They were never in want of hospitality.

    (II) For anyone who suffers loss for Christ's sake. Jesus promised that his followers would receive far more in this life than they lost. "No-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age ... ." Lk18v29.

    This is an amazing assertion! I wish it was easy to find testimonies on the Internet to the truth of this promise. I am thrown back on my own resources! I can't say that I have made many sacrifices for Christ's sake but I can think of two. For twenty years I gave up three weeks of my summer holiday to serve as sports organiser at a Christian camp. The experience enriched me in two ways. I made my closest Christian friends at that camp and I was used to save at least two young persons. There is nothing that adds value to a Christian's life more than to be an instrument of God's saving grace. When I was 42 my mother died leaving me to look after my father who had Parkinson's disease. After two years he got so bad that I gave up my teaching post as Head of Geography to care for him. I did this because I loved my father and also because his life had been dedicated to God's service. When my father died I quickly got another teaching job in a small school in rural mid-Suffolk. I received something in that school I had never had before - a lot of love from my pupils. I am sure it was a reward from God for doing what he wanted. It was a great gift!

    Not only will Christians who suffer loss for Christ's sake be blessed in this life but they will receive "in the age to come, eternal life." Mk10v30.

(c) Jesus also issued two warnings to his disciples. Both are recorded by Mark. Jesus warns:

    (I) That persecutions will accompany the blessings in this life. See Mk10v30.

    (II) That those who seem most blessed in this life will not necessarily be the most decorated in the life to come. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Mk10v31.

    Jesus said: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Mt6v2.

(3) Heading for trouble.

(a) When Jesus announced he was headed for Jerusalem the disciples were astonished and his other followers afraid. They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Mk10v32.

We can understand the disciple's astonishment and fear. Jesus was ill equipped to take on his enemies. He wasn't marching at the head of an army. The disciples probably thought Jesus should remain in Galilee and build up a power base there. Jesus seemed to be walking into trouble. Jerusalem was the place where his opponents were strongest.

Many have despaired of the well being of the church through the centuries. Its enemies seem so strong and well organised. Surely Stalin and the Soviet State would eradicate Christianity. They failed! Surely Mao tse Tung and his fanatical supporters would strangle to death the weak church in China. They failed. In Britain a weak, declining and disunited church faces an onslaught from militant secularists, aggressive liberals and a biased media. They, too, will fail. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's church.

(b) Jesus strode ahead of his disciples - alone - courageous, confident and resolute. My father used to say - combining passages from the New and Old Testaments: "Jesus set his face steadfast as a flint to go to Jerusalem."

Jesus knew God's will and he was determined to do it. No-one was going to stop him carrying out God's great plan of redemption.

(c) The disciples to their credit still followed on. They probably shared the attitude of Thomas who, when Jesus made know his intention of going to Bethany after Lazarus had died, said: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Jn11v16.

Innumerable Christians in all ages have followed in the footsteps of the disciples and gone into danger for the sake of Jesus and his gospel. In so many parts of the world there is no let up in the perils facing Christ's disciples.

(4) Saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

(a) The information Jesus imparted.

Jesus told his disciples about his impending ill treatment, death and resurrection with the result: The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. Lk18v34. Luke could hardly be more emphatic.

Three observations:

    (I) I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples. Jesus was quite often ironic. He sometimes spoke in riddles or mashals. (See exposition on John16v17to33) On other occasions Jesus said something outlandish to shock people into thinking. For example, he told his supporters that they needed to eat his body and drink his blood. I am not always sure of the meaning Jesus intended notwithstanding the help given by my several commentaries and the Holy Spirit.

    The disciples didn't know whether to take Jesus literally or not. They could not conceive that the Messiah's premature death could be in the will and purpose of God. The Twelve were also becoming reluctant to ask for clarification. I think there was something about Jesus' steely determination to go to Jerusalem that made him less approachable. It is significant that he walked a little apart from the disciples.

    (II) We need to ask: Why didn't Jesus explain to his followers in detail the necessity of his death and resurrection? They were familiar with the sacrificial system. They knew what a sacrifice was and why it had to be made. Jesus actually spent most of his time teaching about the nature of the kingdom. He did not give any straightforward instruction about the purpose of his sacrificial death. It was left for Paul to do this.

    It is possible that the disciples would have left Jesus if he had spelled out to them what his saving work entailed. They were not longing for a saviour from sin but a saviour from the Romans. The Twelve had no desire for a sacrificial lamb but for a conquering king. Perhaps, Jesus himself wondered if he could achieve all that the Father wanted.

    It remains true that people want many things of Jesus. There are many Jesus - the revolutionary Jesus, the hippy Jesus, the Muslim Jesus, the left wing Jesus, the capitalist Jesus, gentle Jesus meek and mild, the militant Jesus, the idealistic Jesus ... . When we call him SAVIOUR we call him by his name.

    (III) Another question that requires an answer is: Why did Jesus tell his disciples anything at all about his death and resurrection? I think it was to help the disciples after the event. It was something they remembered later and indicated that Jesus was not a victim of circumstance. Jesus did not walk naively into trouble. He went to Jerusalem prepared for the outcome - an outcome that was in the will and purpose of God. It meant Peter could pronounce in his great sermon at Pentecost: "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead ..... ." Acts2v23and24.

(b) The knowledge Jesus possessed.

Jesus knew what his mission was - to save, to redeem at measureless cost. His sacrificial death makes it more possible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus said: "What is impossible with men is possible with God." Lk18v27.

An explanation:

    (I) The death of Jesus highlights man's sinfulness - the sinfulness of rich and poor, Jew and Roman, good and bad. All conspired in one way or another to get Jesus crucified. The cross is the greatest antidote to complacency. If men conspired, both rich and poor, to put Jesus to death then all need saving.

    (II) Jesus paid the price to redeem us from sin. He paid the price no-one else could pay, however rich or influential they might be.

    Jesus, and only Jesus, could offer the perfect sacrifice for sin. It was the very most mortal man could offer. But it was only a sacrifice. It did not fully satisfy God's commitment to justice! Its acceptance depended upon God's grace.

    No-one can pay their way into the kingdom. We all, rich and poor alike, have to depend upon Christ's mercy, God's grace and the Spirit's quickening power.

    (III) The resurrection shows that God was satisfied with what Jesus offered at Calvary. The Father accepted the price Jesus paid to atone for our sin and set us free to enter his family. What is good enough for God should be good enough for us ALL.