Did any of you receive a ticket this morning? If so, hold it up! Would one of you read what it says? Well, let me add my congratulations. Isn’t that wonderful everyone? These five people will be entering the kingdom of God. WOW! Isn’t that incredible? Don’t we all rejoice at the blessing given to them? But let me ask you a question. According to these tickets, who is not entering the kingdom of God? Raise your hands. Too bad! Oh well, we only had five tickets. I guess the rest of us won’t be able to enter. We’ll be left out in the cold while these five enter the glorious kingdom of God. Is that right? Well wait just a minute. Is that what those tickets actually say? They say, “Congratulations! You are granted entry into the Kingdom of God.” But does that mean that the rest of us will not be granted entry? No, the ticket doesn’t say anything about us one way or another. These tickets only refer to the ones that are holding them. We just assumed that these tickets referred exclusively to them, when they don’t do anything of the sort. They don’t say that only those with a ticket will get in. They don’t say you must present your ticket to gain entry. They only congratulate these five for their promised entry into the kingdom of God.
Many people in reading our Gospel text for this morning have made the same mistake. When Jesus says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” and when He says, “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.” We too easily jump to the conclusion that Jesus is referring to how wealth can make it more difficult to enter the kingdom of God. This passage has been used throughout the history of the Church to justify the forswearing of worldly goods in order to be more worthy to enter God’s kingdom; it has been used to sanction attacks upon the wealthy and justify efforts take from the rich and give to the poor (after all wealth corrupts the soul so it is for their own good that we take away their wealth and give it to those more deserving). But this text isn’t actually talking about the undeservedness of the rich over the poor at all. In fact it is doing just the opposite. Jesus here is correcting a misunderstanding about the blessedness of wealth in the minds of His disciples.
You see, the common view in that day – and today as well for that matter – is that wealth is a blessing from God. Life is hard; it can be painful and full of sorrow, but for the wealthy the hardship is less, things are easier when you have money. So God, being just and fair, blesses those who deserve blessing and punishes those deserving of punishment. If you are suffering, you must deserve it, and if your life is sweet, you must have earned its sweetness. That just makes sense. So when – in last week’s Gospel message – we read about a rich and righteous man who goes away discouraged when Jesus tells him that he lack only one thing and to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor and come and follow Him. It makes no sense to His disciples.
In that man’s mind – and in the mind of the disciples – his wealth was a result of his righteous living, a sign of his worthiness to enter the kingdom of God. When Jesus said to him, “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.’” He expected Jesus to say, well done! You may enter into eternal life. After all, he was rich and his wealth was a sign of God’s pleasure at his piety.
But Jesus says no. He says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” He says, “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.” This was incredible for the disciples to hear. The text says that they were amazed at His words and exceeding astonished. He has just told them that the ones they thought most likely to earn their place in the kingdom of God were as far from entering as a camel going through the eye of a needle.
But don’t make the common mistake of thinking like Peter that those who gave up their possessions had a better chance to earn their way. Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Look at us Jesus. We’re not like that rich man who could not give up his wealth for you. We’re better than that. We’re more worthy than him. We left everything to follow you. This means that we will inherit eternal life, right? But think carefully about Jesus answer. He 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.” Think about that for a moment. He is not saying that the giving up of possessions for Jesus qualifies you for eternal life, in fact He says that we will receive a hundredfold of what we gave up. We will become like the rich man who left discouraged, but that wealth will not bring joy, pleasure and ease, for we will receive it with persecutions, hardship, and suffering.
It is not the having or the loosing of wealth that makes one worthy. It is not an easy life or a persecuted life that makes one worthy of eternal life. There is nothing you have or don’t have that can make you deserving, and there is nothing you can do to make you deserving. Jesus said, “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This rich and righteous man first in the eyes of the world is made last by his trust in his own righteousness and the wealth he perceives as the blessing of God. These disciples who have left everything to follow Jesus are first in their devotion and commitment to the kingdom of God, but that does not make them more deserving of it. In fact, Jesus tells them that they too will be last. The pride of their poverty will be replaced with the wealth of the world and with persecutions.
You see, you can’t get there from here. You cannot earn your way to the kingdom of God; you cannot by your ticket. All you can do is follow the one who can get you there and even that following does not make you worthy to enter. So, what do we do? Do we throw up our hands and say with the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” No! Do not be discouraged. For Jesus looks at us and He says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” We follow Jesus because He is God the Son; we follow because He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He died on the cross for the very sin that leads us to rely on our wealth; on our piety; on our poverty and He rose from the dead, conquering death and becoming for us the gate to the kingdom of God; the door to eternal life. So no, there is nothing we can do to enter the kingdom of God; to enter eternal life. Not through our righteousness, not through our wealth, not through our poverty can we enter. But rejoice, while for us it is impossible, all things are possible with God. He has said it and He has done it. By the grace of the Father, through Faith in Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven and eternal life in the kingdom of God is yours.