7. Wealth in the Kingdom Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor Matthew 19:16-30 16 October 2022
In this passage we watch a young man walk away from Jesus because he chooses his earthly possessions over eternal life. Jesus warns us how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. As a church, how are we preventing one another from stumbling (18:6) in this area?
A businessman man stops his sports car to get some money out of the ATM. He withdraws a large sum, puts it away in his wallet, then he turns to go back to his car.
Out of the shadows, a large and imposing man appears. Pointing a gun at the business-man he says in a gruff voice, “Your money or your life!”
The business-man instinctively puts his hand to his back pocket, where he has just put his full wallet. He looks left. He looks right. He says nothing.
The mugger speaks louder. “I said, your money or your life. What’s it going to be?” The business man says, “Give me a moment, I’m still trying to decide.”
In our Bible passage today, a rich man comes to Jesus. And Jesus asks him that same question – your money or your life.
This morning we’re going to be thinking about what it means for us as rich people to follow Jesus without anything else getting in the way.
Our passage says it’s a difficult thing for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, so we need to ask God to help us listen and learn from this passage.
So why don’t we pray and then we’ll open the passage in detail.
Our loving heavenly Father, as we open your word today, help us listen carefully to your Son. Help us to do what is right when it comes to the wealth you have given us. Help us grow in this area as a church, to have kingdom priorities as we look forward to the treasure of eternal life with you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
It’s good to remember where we’re up to in our Teaching Series in Matthew.
It’s our pattern here at Yountville Community Church to spend most of the year working our way carefully through sections of the Bible, sometimes whole books. That means we get a balanced diet of Old and New Testament, and it also means we allow God to set the agenda with the topics that are raised as we work methodically through books of the Bible.
In our section of Matthew that we’re working our way through this fall, ch17-21, we’ve had some confronting topics. Sin, hell, forgiveness, divorce. And this week money, and the cost of following Jesus.
It would have been much easier to preach the three verses just before our passage – when Jesus blesses some little children, and says ‘the kingdom belongs to such as these.’ But I’m saving them for another day ;-)
Just so you know, I think there are three big ideas from the passage today. Riches. Risk. Reward.
First one... Riches
Our story happens as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s on his way to fulfil what he had predicted back in chapter 16.
That is, that the Messiah must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, that he must be killed and on the third day to be raised to life.
Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem, crowds of people are still following him. He’s healing and teaching.
And this young man comes to Jesus with a question. Verse 16
“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
I’ve been wondering all week about the man’s motives in asking the question. In the first half of the chapter, somebody had come to Jesus with a question to test him.
And so we wonder with this young man. Is he testing Jesus as well?
When you read Mark’s account of the same moment, the young man falls at Jesus’ feet, as if he is desperate to know what he has to do to be saved (Mark 10:17).
It’s not as clear here in Matthew. The young man asks:
“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus plays with him a bit, and says “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one
who is good. (i.e. God)”
Of course, we know that Jesus is the Son of God, but the young man obviously didn’t. He calls Jesus, Teacher, as if he is just one of the rabbis.
Maybe the young man asked all the rabbis the same question. But it’s a serious question – how can I be sure that I’ve done enough? How can I be certain I’ve done enough good things to get eternal life?
Jesus asks him about his religious law-keeping. And in v20 the young man says he has kept all the commandments that Jesus named. (reading from v17)
[Jesus says:] If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” [the young man] inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:17-20) He is a religious young man. He knows the commandments, he’s morally upright as far as the
law is concerned.
But he knows there is something he still lacks.
“What do I still lack?” he asks Jesus. What more do I need to do to get eternal life? PAUSE
There might be some people here today asking Jesus the same question. What do I need to do to be saved? Tell me, and I’ll do it!
Well Jesus tells this guy something he didn’t expect to hear. (v21)
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Jesus says, it’s your money or your life.
He says to this man: you can choose your earthly wealth, but you won’t find eternal life. Or you can give it all away, sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor and you’ll have eternal life. What will you choose – treasure here on earth in this lifetime, or treasure in heaven for all eternity?
It’s a tricky verse, isn’t it?
Because if it’s a command for all of us, then we all need to go out and sell everything before we can follow Jesus. Is it saying that all Christians need to take a vow of poverty?
It makes me think of my friends who are missionaries. We have close friends who are missionaries in Cambodia, and Chile, and one who used to be in a predominantly Muslim country.
When you go as a missionary with the company the belong to, the company takes this verse very seriously. My friends each had to sell all their worldly possessions except what would fit into their car.
Can you imagine?
For them, that was part of following Jesus wherever he would send them, and not being tied
down by the things of this world.
Which I think was the problem for the rich young man in the passage. Jesus literally called him to come, and follow him on the journey to Jerusalem, which would later be followed by the journey of the apostles to take the gospel to Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. Following Jesus on that particular day probably would have changed what this young man did for the rest of his life. But he was too tied down by his wealth. He was too invested in this world, in this life, to see the clear pathway to eternal life opening up before him.
No, he looked at his stuff and said, that’s too much for me. Too great a cost. I could never give up... my things.
And he walked away from Jesus sad. Presumably he walked away from eternal life. 4
So is this a command for all of us? A vow of poverty?
I don’t think so. But I do think it’s a warning.
There’s a risk for all of us that our wealth can get in the way of our relationship with God.
Interestingly when Jesus questioned the young man about keeping the commandments, Jesus didn’t ask whether he had kept the first and second commandments – you shall have no other gods before me, and you shall not to make idols and bow down to them.
It seems the rich young man had allowed his wealth to become a rival god. He probably didn’t intend it that way. He was morally upright, a religious man.
But it was like Jesus had warned in the Sermon on the Mount:
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
This passage warns us about our own relationship with our wealth. Most of us here have great wealth, especially compared with the developing world. But even in American terms we are very well off.
And so I think we are to see ourselves in the rich young man, or at least the risk of us being like him. Religious and rich. Caught between two rival gods where there is only room for one.
Jesus says (v23)
“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
It would be easier, Jesus says, to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
How easy is it for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? Impossible.
Jesus is saying that it is hard, if not impossible, for rich people to enter the kingdom of God.
People like us.
And so we have to examine our hearts when we read a passage like this.
For me I was brought up worshiping the god of money. I’ve been a Christian more than half my life, but it is a constant tension for me.
I imagine it is for you too.
So how do we live as rich disciples of Jesus?
Well I don’t think this passage is telling us to take a vow of poverty.
Although one of the best ways to loosen money’s grip on you is to give some of it away.
Some years ago we had other friends who were about to leave as missionaries to South America. I had left my job to go to Bible college, to Moore College. We had kids and a mortgage, and no income, and we were paying inner city rent. I was stressed about money. And these missionaries showed up at our door with an envelope with $100 in it. The husband said, we want you to have this. We know that God always looks after us, and we want you to remember it too.
I was so thankful for the money – it really did help. But more than that, I realised that these people who had sold everything were still able to give out of the little they had left. Because they trusted that God would provide for them. I learned a valuable lesson that day.
It’s not that God promises to rain money down on us if we give some of it away – that’s the lie of prosperity preachers. Rather it is that we can trust him, like little children trust their parents to provide their daily meals. My missionary friends are ok financially, even though they gave me that money. And we can trust God that he will provide what we need, when we need it.
Book: Beyond Greed
In the back of this very helpful book about Christians and money, Broughton Knox, a former Moore College principal writes about the two reasons we don’t share our money. The first is greed, and the second is fear, because of a lack of trust in God.
The other obstacle to sharing our money is fear. We are frightened that we will leave ourselves short if we give it away; not short perhaps in the present, because we can estimate that, but in the future with all its uncertainties. The answer to this sort of fear is faith in God’s faithfulness in the future. It is he who has given us our present
possessions and he has promised that, if we seek to do his will, he will give us what we need when we need it.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in v29, when he says
everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
I’ll come back to that verse if we have time, but Jesus says we can trust him to look after us if we follow him...
That’s one way to loosen money’s grip on you, to give some of it away.
Another way is to learn contentment. The Apostle Paul talks in Philippians 4 about learning to be content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil 4:12)
Another chapter at the back of this book (Beyond Greed) is by Sandra King, former missionary to France. She talks about taking deliberate steps to practice contentedness, including the idea of not keeping up with the Joneses, and not buying anything new for a period of time.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the expression, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ means constantly comparing yourself with your neighbours, and making sure that your standard of living matches theirs, so that you don’t feel socially inferior.
The metaphorical Joneses might not be your neighbours, but people at work, or at the school gate, or perhaps even here at church, that you feel you have to keep up with to fit in socially. It might mean making sure your house looks like the others in the street, or the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the places you go for vacation. But you feel like you have to keep up, or you’ll be socially inferior.
Is that a Christian way to view possessions? Was that Paul’s way when he said he had learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance?
The advertising world is based on making us feel discontent with what we have. That way we’ll always want to upgrade, update, go bigger, better, faster, shinier.
For lots of us, there is a huge pressure to upgrade when the newest shiny thing is released. The other one still works fine, but...
I think a lot of us become slaves to the shiny screens in our pockets. Slaves to the expensive plans and repayments. Slaves to the shiny world they launch us into. I think there is a big discussion to be had about devices in the life of Christians, maybe something you can discuss in your Small Group this week.
As rich followers of Jesus, I think we need to be careful not to be pulled into the shiny world of upgrades... the world of keeping up with the Joneses.
An alternative to always upgrading is to decide not buy anything new for a time.
A couple of years ago our friend decided not to buy anything new for a year, that is, no new clothes or toys or books or furniture. They would just stick with what they had, and if it broke, they’d make do. They survived the year, and in fact, like other people who’ve tried the experiment, it has changed the way they think. It might change your relationship to consumerism. It might just give you some space away from the noise of advertising to find contentment in simple things.
Jesus says it is very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven... And so as a church, as a rich church, we need to be careful not to cause one another to stumble in this area, nor to let anyone wander away from the flock because of their great wealth. We need to find ways to talk helpfully about money.
Because it’s not impossible, Jesus says, for the rich to be saved. Hard, yes, but v26, ‘with God all things are possible.’
And it will be worth it, Jesus says.
Peter asks a question about whether there will be any reward for those who have done what Jesus asked the rich man to do.
Peter says (v27), ‘We’ve left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’
So Jesus paints a picture for them, of the new heavens and the new earth, and he calls it “the renewal”. The Son of Man, that is, Jesus, is seated on his glorious throne, and around him the twelve apostles will somehow share in his judgment. For the apostles this is their reward.
But look at v29. There is a reward more broadly for all who have followed Jesus faithfully.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
What does that actually mean? Well Mark says we will receive those blessings in the present age. But Matthew just leaves us with what we read in v29. In the context, he’s talking about treasure in heaven, which fits with what he promised the rich young man back in v21. Heaven will be so amazing that it outweighs any cost we might feel on earth to follow Jesus.
The message for rich people, then? Could you imagine it better than what you already have? A life so fulfilling that it makes your current wealth look pitiful by comparison.
Weigh the two, your treasure on earth and your treasure in heaven. Which is more impressive? Which should you seek after?
And for those of us trying to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle – that is struggling with the lure of wealth and the loving call of Jesus, what do you need to do to make sure you choose Jesus?
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Shall we ask for God’s help?