|THE PRIORITY OF BEING LAST
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 2, 2018
If you are able - please stand with me as we come before God’s word together and as I read for us our passage for this morning - from Mark 10 - starting at verse 17.
And as He [Jesus] was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”
And he said to Him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult 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.”
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left everything and followed You.”
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
I was reminded recently of some advice given to pastors when approaching familiar passages like this one. You need to have a really good introduction and a really good conclusion and to keep the time between those two really really short.
That was the introduction.
Verse 17 records that Jesus sets out on His journey. What journey?
Jesus - Who has been ministering in the villages and towns of the outback of northern Israel is now moving towards Judea and Jerusalem - to the capitol and the cross. To what will be His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem - and His rejection - sacrificial death - and then 3 days later, His resurrection.
Last Sunday we left Jesus in Perea. Which is the area just east of Judea and just east of the Jordan River. Jesus pauses there before crossing the Jordan. Last Sunday we looked at some of the ministry of Jesus there in that area.
Mark records that as Jesus is setting out again on His journey - moving from Perea to cross the Jordan River and then on to Jericho and eventually up to Jerusalem - as Jesus sets out on His journey a man comes up to Jesus - kneels before Him and asks Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Mark doesn’t reveal a whole lot to us about who this man is. Reading through Matthew and Luke’s accounts we can piece together a more complete image. We know that this man was probably a rich young aristocrat. He’s probably wealthy - powerful - a man of influence. Maybe a member of some ruling council. Maybe in a local synagogue. Maybe in the Sanhedrin. He is someone who has done well and is doing well.
He is also very religious.
As this man has been listening to Jesus teaching about what it takes to enter the kingdom of God - what it means that Jesus is the Christ and how we’re to respond to Him - 2nd quarter instruction. And as this man is listening to Jesus teach he’s sensing that there is something which he does not yet possess. Something that he is seeking after. Something that Jesus offers.
So he comes to Jesus with this question.
Which is a question that anybody who has ever pondered what comes next after death - whatever religion they are a part of - whether they believe in God or not - or gods - or joining some kind of cosmic consciousness or going to an actual place - or if they believe in resurrection or reincarnation - it’s the same question: Can I know? Is there any assurance for me in what will come next?
Tied to that question seems to be an understanding that what we do now will have an effect on what comes next. Do good now and what comes next will also be good. We hope. Goodness leads to assurance.
So he comes to Jesus with this question. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher” - which may be an attempt at flattery or just pure respect for Jesus as a teacher. Maybe recognizing that Jesus is more than just you’re average Rabbi.
And Jesus - who’s God in the flesh and blood of our humanity - Jesus doesn’t deny that He’s good. Because He is. There’s no one more “gooder” than Jesus.
But notice that as Jesus responds to this man, Jesus immediately begins to challenge this man’s understanding of “goodness” by pointing him to God. No one is good except God alone.
When we say that God is good that’s not simply saying that God does good things. Like when someone visits someone who’s sick or takes them a meal or something. We say, “Oh, they did something good.”
God is goodness. There is such an absolute moral perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting or defective in it, and nothing can be added to make it better. He is good and He is always acting in goodness towards His creation. That’s Who He is.
Jesus immediately challenges this man’s understanding of “goodness” to get him thinking about what true goodness really is. Goodness isn’t what we do - even if we are a “good teacher.” Goodness is who we are. True goodness which is only found in God Who alone is truly “good.”
It’s important for us to see that while this man is asking a religious question the core issue he’s really dealing with is not about religion. It’s not that he’s lacking in the good works prescribed by his religion. This man is lacking assurance because of his heart level response to God.
Which is Jesus’ point: It’s not about your being good. It’s about your heart level response to God.
Which is why Jesus goes down this list of commandments that prescribe moral goodness towards others.
“Do not defraud” is Ten Commandment number... ? It’s not. Jesus didn’t say they were and it’s not. It may be Jesus working in a practical application of #10 “Do not covet” which would have really caught this man’s attention.
To defraud has the idea of using some kind of deception that cheats someone out of what’s rightfully theirs. Which might be a particular temptation for someone who’s wealthy and wanting more - coveting what someone else has - and having the power and resources to plot ways to get it.
Jesus - in going down this list - is connecting with this man’s view of how one obtains eternal life. What his religion taught him about goodness.
Which came from a messed up understanding of what Moses had taught in Deuteronomy 30. Which is a study for another time. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
But in Jesus’ day the Jews had twisted Moses around so that they thought that as God’s people they already were good enough and that salvation was theirs to lose only if they failed to continue being good enough.
And people thought that being rich was a virtual guarantee that you were good enough. Meaning a man’s wealth is evidence of God’s blessing. God’s blessing because God approved of the good this man was doing.
This Jewish man was doing good works and he was wealthy. Which is the thought process behind the response. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
Which is an astounding - mic drop and we’re done - kind of statement. Without hesitation this man affirms his own goodness. And from the perspective of 1st Century Judaism - and a ton of people from then to now - this is one righteous dude. Extreme good. He’s “in” with God.
We have to admire this guy. For sure people back then did. He’s a ruler - maybe in the synagogue - maybe in the Sanhedrin - what was like Congress and the Supreme Court rolled together. His goodness is recognized.
Here’s an open-hearted - morally excellent - young man. Since the point in a young Jewish boy’s life when he became responsible to live by God’s commandments - he’s been obedient. He’s been sincerely seeking the Kingdom of God.
And yet... he admits that there’s something still lacking. He’s tried everything religiously that he knows how to do and he’s still coming up short. He doesn’t have what Jesus is teaching about. He is desperate to know God’s favor now and forever. To live with that assurance.
“Just give me that one last good work that I need to do to get what you’re talking about.”
Jesus observing him and his answer - speaks to him in love. Jesus sees through to the heart of this man and He still loves Him.
There should be some encouragement in that for us.
Jesus responds with grace. He doesn’t nail the man for his self-righteous theology. Jesus lovingly goes to the core issue of the heart. Jesus challenges this man’s self-focused theology. The idol of his own works and his wealth. Ultimately trusting himself and his own efforts at providing assurance - security now and forever.
Jesus tells him: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,
Instructions that Jesus follows with a promise: and you will have treasure in heaven; Do this and you’ll have reward in heaven - what it is that you’re wanting assurance of.
Then Jesus invites him: “...and come, follow Me.”
Hearing that the man’s whole demeanor changes. It’s an emotionally crushing reality. He goes away sorrowful - grieving. The word in Greek has the idea that he’s feeling the pain mentally and emotionally and physically.
Why? Because he owned a lot of stuff?
No, he’s feeling it because of what all that meant to him.
How often do we know the right thing to do and yet we heart level struggle with doing it. Yes?
To follow Jesus means admitting that everything he’s done to this point - his own goodness - is worthless when it come to earning God’s favor. He knows that to follow Jesus means exchanging his wealth - what he’s trusting in - exchanging all that for total trust and dependence on God.
In John 17 - Jesus praying - Jesus distills the essence of eternal life: “This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)
Then in verse 23 we can almost see Jesus standing there watching this man slowly walk away. And Jesus turning. Seeing His disciples. Jesus makes this sad observation: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
We’ve had just about 2,000 years to process what to us is a familiar account. So this may not seem so revolutionary to us.
But the disciples are amazed by that statement. Jesus’ statement about “how difficult” was turning their theology upside down as well.
The disciples are getting this in real time in a culture that had forgotten that salvation had always been by grace alone through faith alone.
If the rich - who must be doing good works and whom God is obviously blessing for it - if the rich have no guarantee of heaven then who does?.
But, it’s not about wealth. It’s about righteousness. It is about what it means to be made right before God as God says it means to be made right before God.
Jesus gives this metaphor about a camel and the eye of a needle. Which people go on debating about. Is Jesus talking about a gate in the wall of Jerusalem or was that a well known proverb that Jesus is using? All of which is irrelevant and misses the “point” anyway….
Jesus using the metaphor is illustrating for the disciples what they’d missed in the conversation Jesus had just had with the man.
Compared to others - wealthy or not so wealthy - compared to others everyone could be considered wealthy by someone else. It’s all a matter of sideways perspective and comparison. People comparing people with people. But wealth isn’t the issue. Being right before God is.
So compared to God - comparing us and God - God Who alone is good - compared to God no one is good enough no matter how wealthy they are or how good they are. And therefore - no one can enter the kingdom of God by their own wealth or goodness.
The disciples are not just astonished. They are “exceedingly astonished” -meaning mind popping blown away. And so they asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?
Jesus looks at them. Meaning Jesus looks directly at them. Makes sure He has their 100% undivided attention - and Jesus comes out with one of the most significant truths in all of Scripture.
Let’s read it together: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
There are two truths in that statement that we must slow down and make sure we’re tracking with. Two truths that are foundational to life - now and forever.
First Truth: With us… impossible. To come to salvation and to follow Jesus in living life as God intends for us to live life - for us - is impossible.
That’s a hard lesson for us to learn. Isn’t it? Way too often we’re like that young man - seeking but trapped by our own pride - trusting our understanding of life.
For 3 years Peter followed Jesus around Judea and Galilee and Samaria - traveled dusty roads - almost drowned trying to walk on water - sleeping under the stars - watching Jesus - listening to Jesus - learning from Jesus - learned what moved Jesus’ heart.
Peter knew Jesus. Knew what He sounded like. What He felt like. Knew the color of His eyes. The color of His skin. Knew what it was like to hear Jesus laugh and to hear Him weep. Knew if He snored at night. What His favorite foods were. That’s knowing someone.
The night Jesus was betrayed - standing out on the Mount of Olives - what did Peter say to Jesus? “Even if everyone else deserts you I won’t. Even if I have to die with You I won’t deny You.” (Matthew 26:33-35)
That night Peter learned - as the rooster crowed - as Peter three times denied that he even knew Jesus - Peter learned that with us… impossible.
We can say to our self, “Self, I’m regenerate. I’m a follower of Jesus. I’ve got the Holy Spirit within me. I’ve got Jesus helping me. I can do this. I’ve just got to pray harder. If I have more faith. If I’m more committed. More disciplined. More dedicated.”
But, we know - because of our actions - the things we hear coming out of our mouths - the things we feel deep down - what flashes through our minds - that we live in failure. Despair. Constantly struggling against sin. We realize that we’re lacking. Inadequate to live the life we’re called to live.
We can fight against this. We can choose to deny it. But it’s a truth. A reality we can’t get around.
Paul writes in Romans 7 - the chapter where Paul confesses his own struggle with this truth. Paul writes in Romans 7 that what he wants to do he doesn’t do. In reality he ends up doing the very evil things that he doesn't want to do. I will to do what is right but I can’t do it.
Then in Romans 7:22 - Paul writes: “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” (Romans 7:22 NASB)
Put simply: God’s law - the very commands that Jesus quoted and this young man lived by - God’s written down standard of how we’re suppose to live - God’s law simply points out that we don’t have what it takes.
Paul writes - that’s something to be joyful about. The honesty of God - identifying our illness. At least knowing what’s wrong. We’re sick - struck down by this terminal disease of sin. Joyfully we agree. We need a cure.
That’s a humbling lesson for us to learn. More than just intellectually saying, “Yeah. I understand that.” But living out that truth in how we live our lives. We need to agree with God. With us… impossible.
Second Truth: With God… possible. What is impossible with men is possible with God.
We need to ponder the implications of that truth.
God - by His almighty power - God creates all that is - everything that we see around us and beyond - this world - light - plants - animals - fish - planets - stars - everything - simply because He wills it. God - by His power - creates mankind. Us.
God says to Abraham - His creation, “I am God almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1). God teaching Abraham what it means to live life trusting in God’s power.
The almighty God does this over and over in the lives of His people. Noah building an ark. Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt. Abraham journeying to Canaan - sacrificing Isaac. Joshua leading God’s people into the Promised Land. David unifying a kingdom. Solomon building the temple. Nehemiah rebuilding a wall.
When the angel Gabriel speaks to Mary - tells her that she - a virgin - will conceive and bear the Son of God. Mary asks, “How?”
Gabriel tells her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
From Genesis to Revelation - there’s example after example - the testimony of men and women - God’s people - who have trusted in the almighty God to accomplish the impossible in them and through them. And He has. Done what is impossible for us.
1 Corinthians 6:14 says that God - by His power - has raised Jesus from the dead - and God - by His power - will raise us from the dead.
Andrew Murray - the great South African Evangelist of a few generations back - Andrew Murray wrote this, “The whole of Christianity is a work of God’s omnipotence.” (1)
Our very ability to know God - to enter into a saving relationship with Him - to be made right - righteous - good enough - before Him - it all comes because the almighty God wills it to be so.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Grab this: It’s God - Who by His power - God Who accomplishes what He wills to accomplish in us and through us - even the very basis - the possibility of a relationship with Him.
From our side - weakness - inadequacy - failure.
From God’s side - omnipotence - adequacy - victory.
That’s a huge lesson for us to learn. More than just intellectually saying, “Yeah. I understand that.” But living out that lesson in how we live our lives. What we need is God Almighty - His power - at work in us to accomplish what we cannot.
There’s a faith adjustment question here: If all things are possible with God. Why are we still trying to do the impossible?
Work is killing us. The attitudes of people we work with. The environment we work in. Our income is shrinking. The bills are due. We’re struggling and stressing because we think the total responsibility for all this is on our shoulders.
We’re trying everything we know how to do to keep the family together - to save our marriage - to deal with the kids - aging parents - we’re struggling and stressing like the answers are all up to us.
We’ve got wounds and hurts and issues and sins from the past - anxieties and stresses and psychosis that keep nailing us mentally and physically - tearing at us and dragging us down - we’re torn by guilt and depression as if the only answers lie within us and we’ve got to get it all sorted out.
We’re trying so hard to live good morally upright lives. Living the way we know God wants us to live. To serve Him. To find meaning for our lives. For a few hours on Sunday we pretend we’ve got it all together. But we struggle - as if a relationship with God depends on us.
Paul - writing to the Corinthian church about the ultimate issues in life - our inadequacy and failure and the inevitable death - Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Why are we trying to do the impossible - if victory over all that is impossible for us - if victory has already been made possible by the Almighty God through His Son Jesus?
It’s not about wealth. It’s about righteousness. What God gives to us in Christ.
Eternal life not only has God as its goal. It also has God as its source and beginning. Salvation - righteousness - the kingdom of God - eternal life - those only come to us when we - by faith - throw ourselves before the mercy and grace of God Who alone is able to give them to us.
Then, in verse 28, we read that as Peter is trying to process all that he’s thinking about his own life. And so Peter states - what probably the others are thinking - Peter tells Jesus: “See, we have left everything and followed You.”
We’ve left our businesses - our nets - our boats. We’ve left our families and our homes - Capernaum and the Galilee - everything that’s comfortable and familiar to us. We left all that to follow You.
Mark records that Peter “began” to say that to Jesus. Meaning that there probably was a question coming. “So, what assurance do we have that all that sacrifice is worth it?”
Or we might ask: Following Jesus means setting aside a whole lot of seemingly really cool ways that other people are living their lives. Some of them pretty successfully. And following Jesus means being misunderstood and living counter culture. Which can end up being pretty harsh. Is it really worth it to follow Jesus through life? To live life God’s way?
Jesus responds to the question by affirming Peter and reassuring the disciples. What Jesus tells them is an encouragement to them and to us.
When we sacrifice everything God doesn’t leave us hanging. Following Jesus - following after God - God’s return on our sacrifice is staggering. A hundred fold. Meaning immeasurably beyond whatever it is that we’ve let go of to follow Him.
Jesus gives Peter examples of that means.
There are promises for this life. Relationships and resources. Even in the midst of the worst of what Satan may throw at us - and he will. God gives us to each other and what we need to follow Him together through all that for His glory.
So many people are living life alone or lonely - living in fear of not having what they need to do life or to finish well - and they have no assurance that life is nothing more than a meaningless existence that ends at death.
Immeasurable are the blessings of God given to those who follow Jesus.
Jesus concludes: But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Coming first in the world - wealth and power and doing good things even with the best of intentions - is no guarantee of eternity with God.
Meaning it’s not about the sacrifice. It’s not about what we do to earn God’s favor. It’s about the priority of being last.
The total life encompassing - choices we make - heart level priority of letting go of anything that keeps us back from being 100% “all in” following after Jesus - whatever that might require of us - by being totally trusting and dependent on God for whatever He graciously chooses to bless us with for His glory.
Processing all that…
Jesus was inviting this young man with all that he came to Jesus with - and Jesus is calling His disciples with all that they had sacrificed - Jesus is inviting them to set aside their old ways of viewing the world and the kingdom of God and to see things through new spiritually sensitive eyes. To calculate what things are really worth using a heavenly calculator.
How immeasurable - how worth it - is what God blesses us with in Christ.
In life - there are only two priorities to choose from. Which one is yours?
The priority of being first: To pursue goodness and the kingdom of God and eternal life with God by our own efforts and means and abilities. What ultimately falls short and comes up empty and has damnable consequences.
Or - The priority of being last: To sacrifice everything. To let it go. To trust God to be God - for Him to the be the basis of our goodness and righteousness - and the assurance of our life with Him now and forever.
1. Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender, The Moody Press, 1897
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.