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Mark 10:23-31 – Possible with God

If you recall, our last study covered the interaction between the rich, young man who asked Jesus a question. He had run up to Jesus and asked what He could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus never answered his question, but He eventually told him to sell his possessions, to give the proceeds to the poor, and then to take up his cross and follow Jesus. This prescription would not give him eternal life but would put him in a place where he could learn from Jesus unencumbered by his wealth. Sadly, the man was too attached to his wealth to take such a step. So, he left Jesus with great sadness. In today’s passage, we will look at the conversation Jesus had with His disciples after the young man left.

  1. What does it say?

    When you read through these verses, it is easy to see two parts. In the first part, Jesus talks about how it is hard for those who trust in riches to enter God’s kingdom. In the second part, Jesus talks about the blessings of leaving all to follow Him.

    The truth about those who trust in riches (Mark 10:23-27)

    After the rich man left unwilling to give up his wealth, Jesus looked around and spoke to his disciples. He said that it was hard for those with riches to enter God’s kingdom. The disciples were astonished to hear this. Jesus repeated the idea again. He addressed them as children and said that it is hard for those who trust in riches1 to enter God’s kingdom. He also said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom. The disciples were astonished at what He said and talked among themselves, asking who then could be saved. Jesus looked at them and told them that it was impossible with men but not with God. With God all things are possible.

    Jesus was talking about people who have riches and trust in them. It is very difficult for them to enter God’s kingdom. This surprised the disciples and caused them to wonder who could be saved if the rich could not be. Jesus made it clear that it is impossible with men but not with God.

    The truth about those who trust in Jesus (Mark 10:28-31)

    Peter told Jesus that he and the others had left all and followed Him. Jesus told them a truth. No person existed who had left his house, brothers, sisters, parents, wife, children or lands for His sake and the sake of the gospel, who would not receive a hundred times as much now and eternal life in the age to come. They would have these things along with persecution. But many who are first will be last and the last first.

    When Peter noted that they, unlike the rich man, had left everything for him, Jesus responded by promising a multiplied blessing for those who left people and possessions for His sake and the gospel. Those who left all for Him would receive 100 times more of what they had left now and would have eternal life in the future. But he also noted that there would be persecutions and a reordering of importance (first will be last).

  2. What does it mean?

    Wealth can be an impediment to entering the kingdom (Mark 10:23-25).

    Do you remember how Jesus had responded to the rich man in the previous paragraph? He loved him and instructed him as to what he should do. When the man showed his emotional attachment to his wealth, Jesus noted how hard it was for rich people to enter God’s kingdom. He said that it was like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle. Numerous ideas have been suggested to explain this unusual phrase (a real camel, a large cable, a small entrance gate, etc.).2 Whatever the case may be, Jesus was referring to a seeming impossibility. A love for wealth often makes it impossible for some people to enter God’s kingdom.

    What is the kingdom? We should understand the kingdom in two ways. First, God’s current kingdom is His spiritual rule over those who have submitted to His leadership. Second, God’s future kingdom will be revealed during the millennial kingdom when Jesus rules the world for 1000 years. While the second will eventually happen, let’s keep our focus on Jesus’ rule over our lives right now.

    What was Jesus saying? Jesus was showing that those who are controlled by their love of wealth have a very hard time submitting to God’s rule in their life now. Just as the rich man was unwilling to give up his possessions to follow Jesus, so many wealthy people have a hard time leaving their wealth for Him. Wealth is the impediment that keeps them from entering God’s kingdom.

    Wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing (Mark 10:24,26).

    The disciples were astonished when Jesus told them that rich people, and those who trust in their riches, have a hard time entering God’s kingdom. When Jesus repeated and amplified that statement, the disciples were even more astonished. Rich people have a hard time entering God’s kingdom? How can that be?

    Why were they surprised? “The dominant Jewish view was that riches were an indication of divine favor and a reward for piety.”3 In the Old Testament, God blessed people like Abraham and Solomon with great wealth. Because of that, it would be easy to think that the wealthy are always rich because God approves of them. Abraham was the friend of God. Solomon was rewarded by God. The rich, young man who had come must have been blessed by God, right? Not necessarily. Riches are not always a sign of God’s blessing.

    Wealth is not an impediment to God (Mark 10:27).

    After seeing their astonishment, Jesus told His disciples that it is impossible with men but not with God. All things are possible with God. What He wanted them to know is that God is able to overcome any impediment to someone entering God’s kingdom. He can change their heart’s focus and make them see what they should do. But this is something that can only be accomplished by God.

    Wealth can be measured in different ways (Mark 10:28-31).

    After Peter noted their acts of devotion to the Lord in leaving everything for Him, Jesus noted that those who leave all for Him will be rewarded with much more than they have left for Him. He talked about leaving people and property and receiving a hundred-fold4 or the highest return for what was left behind.

    What are the dividends? When someone leaves all and follows Christ, there is the possibility that he will lose friends, family, and possessions. But Jesus promised that what was lost would be eclipsed by what God replaced them with. I am of the opinion that Jesus was using hyperbole to describe what God would give. It was another way of saying that God would provide much more than was lost. The family lost would be replaced by a family made up of many other believers. The wealth lost would be replaced by God’s provision through what He provided and what others shared. What seemed at first to be a great loss but abundantly replaced by God.

    But these dividends would also include persecution. Edwards says this about persecution. “Its presence in the list reminds disciples that Christian existence is not utopia, and Christian faith is not an insurance policy against adversity and hardship.”5 The Bible elsewhere says, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). This is one of the dividends that comes along with God’s faithful provision. As Christians proclaim the truth of the gospel, people will be offended, and persecution will happen. This is seen in how people treated the disciples and Paul in the Book of Acts. They were beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and some were even killed because of their faithful proclamation of the gospel.

    What is the end result? Jesus was not looking for people to follow Him simply for getting 100 times more than they left. He wanted them to know that persecution during this lifetime would be a part of their lives. But He also wanted them to see beyond the troubles to what lay ahead for them—eternal life. All those who have repented of their sin and put their trust in Jesus will “not perish but have everlasting life.” We know from the rest of the Bible that this eternal life will be with God in a perfect environment. Read Revelation 21-22 to see a full description of what that will be like.

    Rev. 21:4 – “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

    1 Cor. 2:9 – “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

    As James Edwards says, “the reward of eternal life makes the sacrifices of discipleship look insignificant in comparison to the lavish blessing of God.”6 In other words, the end result is much better than anything that is left behind to follow Jesus.

  3. How does it apply?

    Remember the cost of following Jesus.

    Peter brought up the fact that they had left all to follow Him. That was true. Peter and three others had left a profitable fishing business. Matthew had left his lucrative tax collecting job. They were now following Jesus with no guaranteed income, food, or shelter. They had compared what they were doing to the call of Jesus and responded in the right way. They left all because they knew Jesus had what they needed.

    Are you willing to follow Jesus no matter the cost? While we are not required to quit our jobs today and follow an itinerant preacher walking from town to town, there are other things that we should consider. As you consider your life, are you living for yourself or for the Lord? Are there certain things that are holding you back from giving your life completely to Him? For some it is riches. For others, it is… Whatever it is, will you consider giving that over to the Lord today? The cost may seem big at the moment, but when you realize all that God gives in return, you will see that it is worth the cost.

    Remember that everything you have is from God.

    Jesus said that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom. He also said that “with men it is impossible.” In reality, it is impossible for any man to enter God’s kingdom on his own. It may not be riches holding us back, but we have sins of our own that do hold us back. We have a sinful nature that rebels against God and doesn’t want anything to do with Him. Because of that, we will never turn to God on our own. Thankfully, what is impossible with man is possible with God.

    Eph. 2:4-5,10 – “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”

    God was merciful toward us. God loved us. God gave us life through Christ. God did it for each of us who have believed. If you have been saved, don’t ever forget that it was God who did it and not you. Be sure to thank Him for that today.

    Remember that can God do the impossible.

    When Jesus told the disciples how hard it was for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom, He also told them that God could do what is impossible. Rich or poor, slave or free, smart or simple—none of that matters. God is able to save anyone despite their impediments. Do you know how He is able to overcome our impediments? Hiebert sums it up nicely. “On the basis of the atonement, He can provide the perfect righteousness which man can never attain; through the work of the Holy Spirit, He can bring men to a change of heart, leading unwilling and sinful hearts to accept the divine provision.”7

    Can you think of someone too far gone to be a part of God’s kingdom? With men, it is impossible. There is nothing that we can do. But God can do what seems impossible. He can save anyone because He is God. So, don’t ever think that someone is too far gone to be saved. Pray for them. Present the gospel to them. And then let God do His work changing the impossible to the possible.

Conclusion

The disciples had a wrong view of who would be part of God’s kingdom. At first, they thought that wealthy people were closer because they were obviously blessed by God with wealth. But they quickly learned the truth. The fact is that wealthy people have a hard time leaving all to follow Jesus. Then Peter piped up and reminded Jesus of what they had done. They had left all while the young, rich man had not. Jesus recognized this fact and promised blessings (along with persecution) for those who followed Him. But then He ended by saying: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Perhaps this is a good way to end the message. You may be a Christian who has left the world to follow Jesus. Just don’t think too highly of yourself. Instead of putting yourself high on the list, don’t even focus on that. Just be faithful to the Lord. Serve Him with your life and be thankful for all that He does for you.

Bibliography

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1951, orig. 1946.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Footnotes

  1. See Lenski’s commentary on the textual variant here. pp. 440-41 ↩︎
  2. “Commentators have tried to eviscerate the force of this inimitable saying by suggesting that the original Greek meant ‘rope’ instead of ‘camel.’ Not only is there no textual evidence for such a reading, but it is equally impossible for a rope to go through the eye of a needle. Not is ‘the eye of the needle’ a small city gate through which camels might enter Jerusalem by kneeling — as though the rich may enter the kingdom of God if only they humble themselves. There is no evidence for this legendary gate until the ninth century A.D.” Edwards 314. ↩︎
  3. Brooks quoted by Hiebert 290. ↩︎
  4. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/hekatontaplasion ↩︎
  5. Edwards 316. ↩︎
  6. Edwards 317. ↩︎
  7. Hiebert 292. ↩︎