Investing in Eternity: Matthew 19:16-30

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As we continue moving through Matthew’s gospel, we come to a question that sounds simple on the surface, but one that we often complicate much more than necessary. Also in this passage, we discover one of the most impossible analogies in the entire Bible, but even with its impossible nature, Jesus tells us that under certain conditions, what is described is indeed possible.

Let’s dive into this passage and discover what we can learn from Jesus’ teaching. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 16, Matthew tells us that:

16 A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?”

17 Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”

18 The man asked, “Which commands?”

Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone; you must not be guilty of adultery; you must not steal; you must not tell lies about your neighbor; 19 honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

20 The young man said, “I have obeyed all these things. What else do I need to do?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich.

Let’s pause briefly here, because I want to draw our attention onto something that is easy to miss. While Christians are always quick to point out that our faith saves us, everything in the structure of this passage is about obedience.

Jesus first frames the commands about honoring our neighbors as being central to obtaining eternal life. I’ve heard some people theorize that Jesus was cut short before moving to include commands from the first portion of the Ten Commandments, but the way Matthew frames this conversation, I don’t see this as being likely. Instead, Jesus wraps up this set of commands with the overall theme and command to love your neighbor as you love yourself, which isn’t part of the Ten Commandments, but it is a good summary statement for the commandments Jesus quotes.

From the way this man frames his request, he senses there is more, and he pushes Jesus for more details. I believe from the way this man answered the first response, and from Jesus not really touching on this other angle, that this man likely kept the other commandments from the Ten Commandments that Jesus didn’t mention.

Jesus shifts focus with His next response and He tells the man that the next step is selling what he has, giving the money to the poor, and that will give him treasure in heaven. I don’t believe this is the only time Jesus challenges someone to give their stuff away, but it is interesting in my mind how Jesus frames this challenge.

With this challenge, Jesus knows that the biggest distraction we have away from God is our stuff and our money. I believe Jesus does want this man to be one of His disciples, but Jesus can see the tug of this man’s money on his heart. If this man wasn’t wealthy, or if this man’s wealth was not a significant part of this man’s focus, either Jesus wouldn’t have challenged this man to give away what he had, or this man would have happily dropped everything to follow Jesus.

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t ignore the necessity of faith in Him and the importance of following Him. Instead, Jesus frames this as being perhaps the easiest of the decisions, while the most difficult decisions needed are the ones focused on obedience and on keeping our focus on God above our stuff.

After this man left sorrowfully, verse 23 tells us:

23 Then Jesus said to his followers, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Yes, I tell you that 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.”

25 When Jesus’ followers heard this, they were very surprised and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “For people this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Peter said to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. So what will we have?”

28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, when the age to come has arrived, the Son of Man will sit on his great throne. All of you who followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And all those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms to follow me will get much more than they left, and they will have life forever. 30 Many who are first now will be last in the future. And many who are last now will be first in the future.

In this passage, we often focus on Jesus’ challenge that it is impossible for those who are rich to enter heaven, or that Jesus gives an opening for God making the way possible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom. Other people focus in on how the eye of a needle might refer to a narrow gate in one of Jerusalem’s walls, while other people exclaim that no evidence for such a gate exists.

Instead of focusing on any of these ideas, one big theme present in this entire passage that is often overlooked is the role of sacrifice in our salvation. In this passage, the more we sacrifice for God, the greater our rewards.

We can see this theme in the first portion of this passage, when the man leaves sorrowfully because he is unsure if he is willing to sacrifice that significantly. We see this theme present in the part where Jesus challenges His followers about the difficulty of getting into heaven, whether one is rich or not. Jesus’ message about it being impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven rings true because someone who is wealthy hasn’t given up everything they have for God. While God can make a way for a rich person to be saved, the way to salvation is through sacrifice, similar to how Jesus challenged the rich man in the first portion of this passage.

In the last section of this passage, Peter reminds Jesus what the disciples have sacrificed, before asking Jesus what their rewards will be. Jesus frames the rewards for sacrificing things in this world for Him as being rewards that will come in the age to come. This is the age after Jesus has returned as King. At this time, everyone who has sacrificed for God’s Kingdom will be rewarded with much more.

The message of this passage is about sacrifice and focus. Those who sacrifice in this life who are focused on and invested in the age to come will be rewarded infinitely more than those who focus on and invest in this life while sacrificing the next. Through Jesus, God has made the way for our salvation, and Jesus challenges His followers to sacrifice in this life and to keep our focus on the age to come!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I regularly challenge you to do, continue intentionally seeking God first in your life. Choose to sacrifice things in this life because you are focused on the age to come, and remember that when we give up something in this life, God has a much better reward for us in the life to come. God hasn’t called us to live counter to His character, His will, or His law in this life. Instead, we are called to place God’s will, God’s law, and God’s desires ahead of our own.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word, for anything at face value. Instead, test everything you read and hear through the lens of what the Bible teaches. If it is a spiritual truth, it will be validated or discredited through the Bible’s teaching. If a belief, teaching, or tradition contradicts the Bible, reject the belief, the teaching, or the tradition before ever considering rejecting the Bible.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 35: In a challenging passage, discover how most people miss a really big theme while being too focused on the details of one or more smaller concepts. Discover how wealth doesn’t contradict God, but how it might reveal a misplaced focus. God is not hostile towards those who are rich, but He does have a challenge for them regarding where they have placed their focus.

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