For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 29, 2006
This chapter begins with Jesus confronting the Pharisees about a very important question: divorce. Jesus first responds to their question by saying, among other things, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." The Pharisees push Him farther, asking why then God allowed for divorce in Moses' law. Jesus responded:
"Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."(19:8-9)
God never intended for people to divorce. He wants people to stay together for life. Now later in the New Testament Paul gives us additional instruction regarding divorce, but it does not nullify the overall teaching Jesus was giving us here. I hear lots of people say something like, "I love them, but if they ever cheat, it's over." What about the verse that says if a man (or woman, of course) looks at someone else with lust, they have already committed adultery in their heart? No marriage would be safe if people applied this passage to the extreme. Now I'm no expert on the subject, of course, but the bigger point is that God wants people to work things out and be committed to each other, even if it is painful. There comes a time when working things out is impossible. I understand that. But our society takes marriage so flippantly, and that is not God's plan at all.
Let's move on. Next we find the story of the rich young ruler. A man came running to Jesus and asked Him what he should do to gain eternal life. Now I must say that if he were to come to 99 percent of Christians with that question, either they wouldn't know what to say or (and I would probably include myself in this one) they would lead them through a plan of salvation they learned in Sunday School, get them to pray and then tell them they're saved.
That's not what Jesus did. First of all, He asked if he had kept the Law. Instead of admitting that he was indeed a sinner, he said that he had kept the whole Law since he was a little boy. Then Jesus tells him to go sell all he has and give it to the poor, and then follow Him. Of course the man went away.Then Jesus makes a startling statement to His disciples:
"Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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."(19:23-24)
The disciples were astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Centuries of Jewish tradition said that rich people were rich because they had gained favor with God. They were not unlike today's health and wealth preachers who tell people that if they're poor, it's because they don't have enough faith or they aren't doing enough good works. Jesus puts that idea to rest. God does not care about our material wealth. He is more concerned with our spiritual wealth. We'll come back to that in a second.
Then Peter makes a bold statement: "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?" (19:27) Most of us would have responded, "You'll get nothing with that attitude." But that's not what Jesus said:"Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.(19:28-30, ESV)
Not once in the Bible will you find Jesus or anyone else telling us not to seek heavenly rewards. Keith Green was a wonderful songwriter and musician, greatly used by God, but I believe he was wrong when he wrote this phrase in his song 'Lord, you're Beautiful': "Help me to never seek a crown, for my reward is giving glory to you." Hebrews 11 is more than the chapter of faith; it is the chapter of heavenly rewards vs. earthly rewards. Abraham lived in tents, but he looked for a city in the heavens. Moses saw that it was "more profitable" to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin. God has no intention of cheating us out of happiness. He just wants us to enjoy it in eternity when we will never lose it and it is not mingled with sorrow like everything good is here on earth.