Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps after last week’s Gospel reading you felt a little like the disciples feel in today’s reading. Maybe you—like me—had a little twinge of fear, something like what Hebrews says: “Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” (4:1). The disciples have a little of that fear, that they might seem to have failed to reach the promised rest of eternal life, just as the rich man seems to have failed when Jesus told him to go, sell everything, give to the poor, have treasure in heaven, and follow Jesus. The man went away sad, because he had a lot of wealth.

And then Jesus looked around and said, “How difficult it will be for those who are rich to enter into the kingdom of God.” And the disciples are amazed. Then Jesus tightens the noose: “Children, how difficult it is to enter into the kingdom of God!” And now the disciples are “exceedingly amazed.” And they don’t ask the question you might expect them to ask. You might expect a different response, in light of Peter’s words about having given everything up—and they have, as Mark tells us. They left behind their nets, and James and John left behind their father. Matthew tells us he left behind his tax collector’s table. You might expect, in light of that, for the disciples to say, “Well, then we’re in good shape. Because we’re not wealthy. We’re not rich. We don’t have a lot of stuff. We already gave it up to follow You, Jesus.”

But they don’t say that. They say, “Then who is able to be saved?” They’re asking the right question. Because they see that Jesus is not just excluding the rich from the possibility of entering the Kingdom; He is excluding everyone. Yeah, it’s impossible to put a camel through the eye of a needle. But it’s no less impossible to put a mouse through it. A mouse is smaller than a camel, but neither of them are going through the eye of a needle. It’s not the amount of wealth that’s the problem, it’s the one who’s trying to hang on to it. It’s not that the man couldn’t sell everything he had; it’s that he didn’t follow Jesus. In another place Jesus says the same thing in a different way: Whoever tries to hang on to his life in this world—all the stuff we call “our life”—will lose it. And, sooner or later, we will, without a doubt, lose it all. But whoever loses his life in this world, for My sake or for the Gospel (the same words Jesus uses here) will keep it, because his life is in Christ. His treasure is in Christ (Mark 8:35).

For people, this is impossible, as we already know from the sadness of the rich man. It is not possible for people. No one is able, of themselves, to be saved. I believe that I cannot—that no one can—by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But God is able. With God, all things are possible. And so the only one who can do it goes through the eye of the needle on the cross. The only one who can goes through death and comes out the other side into resurrection. Impossible for us; but for the one who is God and Man, He is able to do it.

And then He gathers you to Himself, puts His holy Name on you, and brings you with Him through death and into life. You, indeed, follow Jesus where He goes. You are in Christ. It is impossible that you would not be where He is, if you belong to Him. And He reassures Peter of this very thing. Peter says, “Look! We have given up everything and followed You.” Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever has given up lands, houses, mother, father, brothers or sisters, children will receive in this life a hundredfold mothers, sisters, brothers, children, lands, houses—with persecutions.”

And so it is that we often must leave behind things and people because we bear the Name of Christ. So one Christian might say, “I can’t work on Sunday morning,” and not get a certain job. Another might not get as much wealth, as much success, as much fame, simply because the Christian life requires serving his or her neighbors in a different way. And, as we know, around the world, Christians often are separated from things and family because of Christ. A Muslim who is baptized might not only be disowned by his family, but might also be under the threat of death for apostasy.

But Christ gives a promise: that one will find in the Church a hundredfold brothers, sisters, mothers, houses, and lands, along with the persecutions that will always accompany the Church in this age. We have joined a family that is much bigger than any in this world, stronger than blood. It is a family joined together by the water of baptism, the blood of Christ. It is a family as large as the communion of saints, as wide and broad as the Church. In Christ, we find everything we have lost and everything we gain. Seek first the Kingdom of God, Jesus says, and all these things will be added to you. You will receive a hundredfold in the Church now, and in the age to come, eternal life. Which is exactly what that rich man was seeking: to inherit eternal life. And Jesus says that where He is, there is eternal life, because He has made us all His brothers and sisters, following Him, heirs with Him of eternal life, and all the riches of His kingdom. Impossible for us, done by Him.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/19/18

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