Date: August 19, 2018
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Matthew 19:13–19:30
It is interesting what a change of perspective will do. On one occasion I realized this in a memorable way. I had recently begun using an iPad for my notes. And as I sat in the pew with my customary eagerness mixed with nervousness, I was fiddling with the button. To my surprise, all of the colors on the screen changed. I had a picture of Christie and me on the wallpaper, and it looked nothing like it did five seconds prior. I thought something was seriously wrong with my iPad. Before preaching, I was deeply concerned. Later that afternoon, after some research, I discovered that I had put my device in inversion mode. I had inverted the colors to a negative color mode.
What was a comical story for me serves as a picture of the effect Jesus is having on those who would hear his words. When he teaches about the kingdom of God, he is putting our world into inversion mode. He is flipping the script about what we value, love, pursue, and identify with.
““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3–12)
His kingdom is upside-down. It’s inverted.
And this is what we see in our text this morning. And it is where we should feel the weight of what Jesus is saying. Remember, he is not simply a teacher with clever sayings and admirable ethics. He has come to bring a revolution. He is the king who overthrows the governing principles of our lives by means of his own death and resurrection for our sins.
Those who come to Jesus with childlike trust will be received and advance in the kingdom beyond those who are self-dependent and cling to earthly treasures.
Outline: Four kingdom surprises from Jesus
Are you the type of person who trusts your gut? I think most of us do, some more than others, perhaps. But, most of us operate with a strong trust that things are the way we think they should be. And, if we are honest, our perceptions are shaped by our convictions, our environment, and our experiences. But, following Jesus regularly unsettles our way of thinking and living. He can upset the apple cart of conventional thought.
This is one of those occasions.
We see in verse 13 that some children were brought to Jesus. These were likely younger children but not necessarily infants. And they were brought, most likely by their parents to Jesus. It was customary in this day to bring children to rabbis for a blessing. The blessing would include laying hands on them and prayer (v.13). So in our passage, we have multiple parents bringing children to Jesus for this blessing.
But the disciples are not so welcoming. We read in verse 13 that the disciples rebuked them. That is, the parents. They expressed vocal and likely physical disapproval of this interruption. You can just imagine the overconfident disciples breaking ranks, stepping forward and heading off the swell of parents crowding in on Jesus with their children. We don’t know their motives. Perhaps they felt like they couldn’t be delayed on their way to Jerusalem. Maybe they didn’t see the value in the delay, stopping for the kids. We don’t know.
But we do know what Jesus thinks. He uses this incident to teach us about the kingdom of God and about how he views children.
Look at what Jesus says to his disciples as they are rebuking the crowd, in verse 14, “but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”” (Matthew 19:14)
Jesus corrects them and then, in verse 15, he lays hands on them to bless them. He welcomed them, blessed them, prayed for them, and then left.
What are we to make of this? Well there are two quick observations I want to make and then we can talk about what Jesus means by what he says in verse 14.
First, observe how Jesus treats children.We notice throughout the gospels that children are frequently around Jesus. And, Jesus shows interest in them. He observes them, speaks of them in his teaching, and welcomes them to himself. What’s more, the parents of these children feel comfortable with Jesus. He radiates such goodness that they trust him to hold and bless their children. This is one area where we see how un-Christlike many who regrettably serve in leadership in the Roman Catholic church are. The widespread abuse of children over a long period of time in no way reflects the character of Jesus. As our Lord walked the earth he was kind, welcoming, and pure with the children.
Second, he welcomes them to himself. We see the disciples receiving some corrective training here on the fly. But as we do, we learn about the value of doing spiritual good to children. There are two extremes that can tempt us today with how we treat children in the church and in the home. On one side, we can make life all about the kids, turning them into idols. This is where everything revolves around them and the parents or ministry workers do little else than focus on children. Then there is another temptation. This is to not pay as much attention to children. It’s to see children as an impediment to what we older people want. Kids don’t really count as much as us adults. I think that both temptations are present here because they are baked into the cake of our lives, living here in America in 2018. But, particularly here in Boston, we need to be careful that we are not shaped by a secular understanding of children that views them as unimportant or impediments to achieving our goals. As Christians—parents or not—we must see children the way Jesus did, with value, dignity, and potential. Therefore, we must work to prioritize evangelism, training, shepherding, and time with children. We want to train them, like Timothy, from a young age to know and love the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15).
As one has said, “To him the children are not to be despised or kept away; they are important, and indicate the way into the kingdom.”(Michael Green)
Okay, those are my two quick observations. Now, what does Jesus mean when he says, in verse 14, “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven“?
Does this mean that the kingdom belongs to children? I don’t think so. The children here are a metaphor for the type of humble trust required to enter the kingdom.
D.A. Carson encapsulates this well, “Jesus does not want the little children prevented from coming to him (v. 14), not because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, but because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those like them (so also Mark and Luke, stressing childlike faith): Jesus receives them because they are an excellent object lesson in the kind of humility and faith he finds acceptable.”
Jesus is teaching his disciples about what he values. And no doubt this would have been quite a surprise for the disciples and the crowd around him. It would have been surprising on one hand to hear a rebuke of a rebuke. Jesus permits the children to come to him after they attempted to prevent them. He shows his love for children. And then it would be surprising to hear Jesus speak of the children as the model for the type of humility and dependence that he is looking for among those who would follow him. In a similar vein, the Psalmist speaks of the trusting child sitting contently with her mother. “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1–2)
Do you have faith in Christ? I don’t simply mean, do you believe that he existed, but do you love him? Do you treasure him? Do you trust him?
Is your faith more reflective of a child’s trust or of a working professional? What I mean is, is your life characterized by childlike faith or of a compartmentalized, sanitary, and coldness that comes from being distracted? Jesus wants us to take a tour of the nursery and look at the kids. Maybe volunteer in the nursery and learn from the kids. Maybe, Moms and Dads, look at your kids. They instinctively reflect the type of humble devotion that Jesus wants to characterize your trust in him.
Our next surprise comes in verses 16-22. Jesus has another interaction that teaches us about how to enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus has a visitor. We learn a few things about the man from the text. He was a rich, young, man. In Luke 18:18 we read that he was a ruler. More than likely he was a religious lay leader, perhaps even a Pharisee. In Mark 10:17 we read that he ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him. But, as we’ll see, this guy ends us walking away from Jesus with great sadness.
Now before we go through this, let me ask you, what do you suppose is the reason why this stories follows the interaction with the child? Matthew is drawing a surprising contrast. The children more closely reflect what is required to be kingdom citizen than this successful, evidently moral, religious man did. This is certainly a surprise.
Let’s look at the interaction.
The man has an important question. Look at verse 16, “Teacher, what good did must I do to have eternal life?” This is an important and common question. I suspect that even some of you have asked this question. What do I have to do to go to heaven? How much good do I need to do to outweigh my bad? Have you asked this question? It will be very important for you to have this question answered by Jesus here. Follow along with the conversation.
Jesus picks up on his question about “goodness” and answers,
“And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”” (Matthew 19:17)
This is an interesting way to answer the question, isn’t it? The young man displays a common error when thinking about how to be right with God. It is an overestimate of our goodness and our ability to do good and it is an underestimate of God’s goodness and what he requires of us. He thinks he is better than he is and he thinks God’s standard is lower than it is. There is a faulty pre-understanding in the whole question. He is like a Dad who has been playing basketball with his kids on a low hoop, dunking on it and dominating the competition, and then he goes and walks up to Lebron James and challenges him to a game of one on one. He may be dominating against the fiver year-olds, but he is no match for the professional. He is thinking far too highly of himself and not high enough of the other. So too it is with this man—and so many today—we think too highly of ourselves and our ability to do good and judge God’s standard with too low of a standard.
So Jesus points him to the Law of God. In verse 17, he says, if you want to enter life, or enter the kingdom, then keep the commandments.
The man answers, which ones? This man is very familiar with the Law, and he wants to have a conversation about his obedience to them. But notice, there is a restlessness in him. He knows that he has not kept the Law of God perfectly.
Why do you suppose Jesus takes the man through some of the ten commandments here? It is because the man needs to shrink. He is too big. He thinks too highly of himself and not highly enough of God. The purpose of the Law is to reveal God’s character and by doing this is reveals our sin. It is like a mirror that reflects our imperfections and lack of conformity to what God requires. And by this revelation of sin, the Law of God prepares hearts to receive Christ as Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24).
So as this man is questioned by Jesus, let him question you also.
In verses 18-19 Jesus walks the curious man through the commandments. But, notice something interesting as we read through them. See if you can catch what Jesus is doing here.
“…And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Matthew 19:18–19)
Jesus skips the first four commandments and then leaves off the tenth (you shall not covet). He covers five through nine. And then he adds in Leviticus 19, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
This guy was religious and rich. Which is not a problem in and of itself. There were many godly wealthy men in the Bible. The issue here is the way in which he loved God’s gifts more than he loved God himself. He was tethered to earthly things instead of being tied to God by faith.
You might think that Jesus would have just gone straight for the tenth commandment then on coveting. But he doesn’t. Not yet.
The man answers, confidently but still curiously in verse 20, “The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”” (Matthew 19:20)
You can almost see him not even bat an eye. Yes, Teacher, I’ve done this. I’ve checked the boxes. It’s all completed. Perfect. What else you got?
Okay, Jesus says, give it all up. Look at verse 21.
“Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.””(Matthew 19:21)
Here is the tenth commandment. You love your stuff. You can break this commandment by desiring other people’s stuff or selfishly refusing to give to others. Jesus is saying, You are not perfect in God’s eyes. You aren’t good.
Notice another thing, Jesus says, if you would be perfect. He is saying, You can be perfect. You aren’t good in God’s eyes but you can be. You aren’t perfect but you can be. What does he mean by this?
He is getting after the concept of righteous or blameless before God. If you want to be what God requires of you, then I have something for you to do.
What is it? In Luke’s account of this story he includes Jesus saying,“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
That sounded like three things, not one. Sell, distribute, and follow. That’s three. What does Jesus mean by one thing you lack?
This is important. Don’t miss this. The weight of Jesus statement is not on, sell your possessions, but, on follow me. The man’s identity in life was bound up in his possessions and power; what he had accomplished defined him. So Jesus presses on his sin and shows it here with this challenge: give it all away and come to me. Give it all up and follow me. Come find your identity, accomplishments and life in me.
Jesus is not saying you will be perfect if you sell your stuff and money—as if that is all it takes to go to heaven. But he is saying that we must part with anything that captures our hearts, stands as our identity, and serves as our functional god—if we want to follow him. But in order to follow Jesus, we must drop our gods. We must repent. It’s as if the man is standing before Jesus with his arms filled with stacks of hundred dollar bills and Jesus says, Here, take my hand. Come follow me.The man can’t extend his hand because his hands are full. He is holding his god he can’t take hold of anything else.
Instead of being attached to money and stuff, Jesus wants us to be attached to him. Jesus is saying you can be perfect if you have me.
But how do the mechanics of this work? How can he be perfect if he follows Jesus? How can we be perfect if we repent—drop our gods—and follow Christ? Is Jesus saying that if we follow Christ then we instantly become perfect?
Yes. And, no.
Practically speaking, when someone trusts in Christ they don’t get zapped with perfection. This does not mean they do not change, but it does mean there is still change that needs to take place. Practically speaking, the follower of Christ still has sin to deal with. She is still not measuring up to God’s Law. She doesn’t love God and neighbor perfectly. She still struggles.
But, she is perfect. How? The Christian is positionally perfect. What I mean is in God’s sight the believer stands blameless before God in Christ. This is the reality of the doctrine of justification. If someone turns to Christ, if you repent of your sin and trust Jesus to be your Savior and submit to him as your king, then you are declared perfect in God’s sight.
How is this? Is this some type of accounting trick? No! It’s the great exchange. In his life, Jesus lived perfectly obedient to God’s law. He obeyed all of the commandments without any flaw. He loved God and neighbor without ceasing. And then he went to the cross to pay the penalty that law-breakers like you and I deserve. It was there upon the cross that Jesus, affixed to the wood through the nails, fully satisfied the wrath, the judgment, the penalty of what our sin deserved. There upon the cross, God was judging Jesus—not for what he did for he never sinned—but for what we did, for we always sin. God treated Jesus like he should have treated us. He judged Jesus in our place. Why? So that he could treat us like Jesus deserved. He charges my sin to Jesus account and charges Jesus righteousness to my account. Through Jesus, God removes the wrath due us for breaking the Law and he credits his perfect righteousness to us that Jesus earned by keeping the law.
In this way, we become perfect in God’s sight. God justifies—declares righteous—the ungodly by faith. God declares us perfect in his sight, even though we broke his law.
The man asked Jesus a question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
The answer to the question is this: Follow Jesus.
When Jesus says to the rich, young, ruler, One thing you lack, he is saying, You need me!
This is amazing grace. Why is it amazing? Because it is so contrary to our nature and so perfectly suited for our need. We don’t want a free gift, we want to work. We want to earn it. But, it is perfect because we can’t earn it. We don’t have the ability to. It’s impossible. So here is Jesus with the perfect remedy: righteousness for the unrighteous. It’s amazing grace!
How does the man respond? Look at verse 22: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:22)
I am sure Matthew’s intended contrast is clear. The humble, childlike faith in verses 13-15 is contrasted to the proud, worldly, money loving man in verses 16-22.
Those who come to Jesus with childlike trust will be received and advance in the kingdom beyond those who are self-dependent and cling to earthly treasures.
It was riches after all that was this man’s impediment. He would not let it go. In the old days men on ships would seek to leave the troubles of the world behind and jump off the ship holding a cannonball to their chest. The result of course was their death. If they would’ve let go of the weight they could have been rescued. But they did not. So too, countless people, refusing to let go of the weight of personal sin, sink down into the depths of despair. Clinging tightly instead with a firm grip upon their identity, influence, accomplishments, honor, or comfort, they cannot cling to Christ. In a twist of bitter and painful irony, in the end, the love of self destroys them
To my non-Christian friends, you have Jesus render the verdict on this moral man in Matthew 19. He was speaking to him but he could be speaking to each of us. He says, you are not perfect in God’s eyes, but you can be.
What is it that is keeping you from Christ? What is it that you are clinging to that is more precious than even your own soul? Won’t you let it go? The great physical has diagnosed your soul, you are deathly ill. But the one who has said this, also says, calls people with the power that called Lazarus from the dead.Come forth, he says. Arise, O dead Lazarus! Breath in the air of life and forgiveness!
The One thing you lack is exactly the thing that Jesus offers.
It is a tragedy that this man heard Jesus words and walked away. Like a man dying of thirst, he came to a reservoir but turned away. Or like a hungry woman refusing to eat, and rather starve instead. This man, choosing to cling to his gods rather than to the true God, leaves filled with sorrow and grief.
And this is a great burden of gospel ministry. Certainly many of you have spent hours in conversation with friends trying to persuade them to take the medicine of the gospel, only to have them reject it. In the midst of the discouragement that accompanies their rejection, there are questions. Why Lord? Why won’t they believe?
Jesus provides us with an answer. Look at verses 23-24
“And Jesus said 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.”” (Matthew 19:23–24)
Jesus says, it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, Jesus is not saying heaven is for people who are financially poor and not those who are wealthy (consider the fact that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and others were wealthy). But instead, there are great challenges associated with someone like this rich man. It is hard for him to shift his allegiance away from himself and unto God alone. His grip on his stuff is very tight.
To make the point Jesus deploys a vivid word picture. He talks about a camel—which would have been the largest animal in the region—fitting through the eye of a needle—something extremely small. Some people have said that there was a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle where camels had to drop to their knees to enter. This concept did not develop until a thousand years after the time of Christ. And, it would miss the point. Jesus is not saying it’s merely difficult, but without the grace of God it’s impossible.
To answer our anticipated question, Why do so many walk away, rejecting Christ? Jesus says, It’s really hard to believe.
Then the disciples ask a good question in verse 25,
“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:25–26, ESV)
And this is logical, if it’s impossible then how?
Jesus’ answer, with man it’s impossible, but with God it’s possible.
In other words, salvation does not come through human striving, obedience, law-keeping, recycling, reducing your carbon footprint, eating organic, being baptized, coming to church, giving money, being moral, or any other means. It comes by the grace of God.
God requires absolute allegiance to him with the humble trust of a child. This comes by God’s sovereign and gracious work in our lives. In the end, nobody chooses God, he chooses us. We don’t reach out to him, he resurrects us. We don’t make the first move, he does. We are dead in sin, helpless and hopeless, and he draws near to us. Listen to a few of these verses that remind us of this truth.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”(John 6:44)
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”(1 John 4:10)
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”(Ephesians 2:1–5)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3)
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”(2 Corinthians 4:4–6)
“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12)
“and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:14)
If you are here today and are a Christian it is because God has taken the initiative and powerfully and graciously worked in your life. The infinitely holy God has made you his concern and made you alive. He has overcome your sin so that you would believe.
And likewise, if you are here and are trying to work through what you believe about Jesus and the gospel, I want you to see that this same sovereign God who clearly teaches us that salvation is his work. He saves us. He also says to us,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””(Matthew 11:28–30)
Don’t be discouraged by God’s sovereignty, be encouraged. Because, if it wasn’t for his sovereignty then none of us could be saved. We could never—would never—overcome our sin.
This is the third surprise in the text: we are saved by his gracious power and pleasure. Salvation is impossible, otherwise.
The final surprise comes in response to the question from Peter in verses 27-30.
Peter answers Jesus with the question that points back to the rich young ruler. He is basically saying, Jesus, we have left it all. What do we get?
The Lord replies in verse 28-30,
“Jesus said to them, “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.”(Matthew 19:28–30)
This goes into the passage that we’ll study next week, so we’ll refer back to it. But for now, see that Jesus’ answer to the question does not have to do primarily with this present life but rather our life to come.
He points his disciples ahead to the reveal of all things. What does this refer to? It is his return when he will come again to judge the living and the dead and usher in his eternal kingdom.
Then he talks about judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a tough passage to understand. We are not quite sure if Jesus is talking about just the Apostles judging the twelve tribes of Israel, that is Jewish people who have rejected Christ. Or, perhaps he is saying that the entire church will stand with Christ in the judgment to condemn the nation of Israel for its rejection of Christ. In light of the flow of the book of Matthew, marching on to the cross where Christ will be rejected and crucified, it seems that this is what he is talking about. The church will stand united together in the judgment against those who reject Christ. And, as we do, we know it will be the only difference between us and them is the sheer grace of Christ.
Notice again, that Jesus reminds the disciples that all sacrifice and service in the name of Christ is worth it. He lets us know that God sees all that we do in his name and he will bless us in the life to come. Most of all we will inherit eternal life.
You might be asking, how does this type of teaching intersect with contemporary American theology that encourages you to live Your Best Life Now? The answer is, it doesn’t. Jesus promises that our best life is the one to come, not here and now. Our blessings are primarily spiritual before they are physical. The soft-prosperity gospel that so many preach today eclipses the longing for a heaven of tomorrow with the expectation of a heaven today.
Jesus does the opposite. He surprises Peter and the disciples a bit here. He doesn’t promise any rewards here. Instead, he lifts their gaze to the fast approaching, eternal day where they will rightly be blessed according the gracious and generous King’s accounting.
Jesus concludes here with a short statement, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30)
What does he mean by this? Well, he is inverting things. He is showing that in the final assessment, there are going to be surprises. In eternity, things will be quite different. Like the rich man who is first in this world, he will be last. And the disciples, who seem to be last in this world, they will be first. Jesus flips conventional wisdom and values up-side-down.
And, he is just the person to do this, isn’t he? After all, Jesus is the one who is first but became last for us.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11)
Jesus inverts our perspective. Therefore, we await the fullness of the coming kingdom. And until then we live by the words of John, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”” (John 3:30)