Last week we talked about buying the pearl. The pearl of course refers metaphorically to the kingdom of heaven, and we asked ourselves are we diligently pursuing that purchase.
I want to talk to you today from Jesus’ comments, during his encounter with the rich young ruler, a man who was not willing to do whatever it took and pay whatever it cost to buy the pearl. Here’s how the conversation went, and what Jesus said about it:
Matthew 19:16-29 (NIV)
16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." 27 Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" 28 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
The disciples were astonished by what they’d heard Jesus say to the rich young ruler. Remember, the disciples are still learning about how the kingdom of God worked, and at that time in Jewish history, being rich indicated that you had earned the favour of God, so it would have seemed that this guy really measured up.
But Jesus is shooting down any suggestion that this guy was saved and on his way to heaven, so they start to panic a bit, and ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers them by saying, “in and of yourselves, nobody”, which I’m certain did nothing to curb the panic. But then he restores their hope and tells them that with God, it is possible to be saved.
And then Peter jumps into the conversation, trying to get a confirmation from Jesus on whether or not the twelve disciples have done enough to inherit eternal life. He had just witnessed an intense conversation, and he knew that he and the other disciples had done exactly what the rich young ruler refused to do.
Jesus answers him by saying not only have you done enough, but I want you to know that you have some thrones reserved in heaven with your names on them. Because you’ve followed me so completely, you are going to rule in heaven with me.
Now, verse 29 is where you and I come into the story; Jesus now moves on past the rich young ruler, and his twelve disciples, and starts to talk about everyone. Everyone includes you and me, and Jesus knows we have also have had to make choices, will have to make choices to seek first his kingdom. Sometimes those choices are difficult and demanding.
I know one such citizen of the kingdom, who has made those difficult choices. His name is Hector Hunter. He lives in Havana, Cuba, and he told me his story over dinner at a restaurant in downtown Havana.
When the Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro took hold in 1959—a revolution that insisted that all Cubans, Christians included, should live for the state first and every other allegiance second—Hector was a teen-aged bible college student, preparing to serve God as a pastor.
Those leading the revolution knew that there would be certain people that would not easily align with the new state first ideology, and so they allowed a 24 hour period for those opposed to the revolution to leave with the clothes on their back, nothing else. It was as simple as climbing a over a wire mesh fence to a free zone, where they would board boats and sail to freedom in the United States.
The devoutly Christian Hunter family, including teen-aged Hector, decided together that they would leave Cuba, and quickly made their way to the designated zone and began to literally climb the fence to freedom. Mom, dad, brothers and sisters, all gotten over first, with Hector making sure they had safely climbed over before he began to also scale the fence. As he was halfway up the twelve-foot fence, God spoke to Hector’s heart. He spoke clearly, and he spoke firmly, instructing Hector to jump off and stay in Cuba, telling him, “I have a work for you to do here”.
So through the fence, a teen–aged boy, with only seconds to explain, said good-bye to his family knowing full well he may never see them again. Making the choice to seek God’s kingdom in pastoral ministry though it cost him everything.
His church was soon planted with other hurting, desperate and confused people. In time the church grew to be a congregation of several hundred people—a crowd that was bothersome to the state officials, who certainly understood from there own revolutionary strategy how strong a people united under one philosophy could be.
So they paid a visit to Hector’s church, told him that they would not stand for a public gathering that large, and ordered him to break the church up into many smaller churches around the region. Unknowingly, God had used the godless Cuban government to launch a church planting movement through a young obedient pastor. The church today has now grown, with the assistance of the Cuban government who hoped to abolish religion, by multiplied hundreds.
The choices that you and I have to make may not be as dramatic as this story I’ve told you, or other stories that you may be able to tell me, Yet throughout the course of our lives we are faced with many choices for Jesus sake and for the sake of his kingdom.
Sometimes the choices we are faced with do include leaving our home and familiar people and surroundings as God leads us for his purposes. Those types of sacrifices very obviously fit the promise Jesus is making in Matthew 19.
But there are less obvious choices we make that also fit this ideal. For example:
The choices you make in how you will or will not spend your time.
The choices you make in whom you will or will not date.
The choices you make in whom you will or will not marry.
The choices you make in what you will or will not study.
The choice you make in where you will or will not work.
The choices you make in how you will or will not spend your resources.
The primary choices that we make in life will be multiplied to our benefit, both here and eternally, when made for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom.
Pastor Hector Hunter saw God’s kingdom expand exponentially because of his sacrificial choices, and you and I have no idea the ripple effect of our sacrificial choices in the world around us. Some we see, many we don’t.
You may have thought at times, “ I try to live a sacrificial life, yet I see those around me who seemingly make no sacrifice, who seem to live a pretty prosperous and happy life, they seem to be enjoying the hundred fold blessing, not me”.
I believe that this was partly what Peter was thinking as he watched this well heeled, well dressed, and powerful young man walk away from his conversation with Jesus? Do you think that maybe Peter was wrestling with the same question that we sometimes do when he asked Jesus “what’s in this for us?”
You know when Peter asked that question, there was an element of “what have we earned” behind his words. And of course the disciples hadn’t earned anything; everything that they would ever receive was because of God’s grace. Still Jesus didn’t jump all over Peter and he doesn’t jump all over us for the same question that can float around in our minds. God understands that his followers do make sacrifices and that we deserve an answer.
Jesus goes on to promise Peter, as he promises us, blessings to come that will far surpass any sacrifice that we might ever make. And they are blessings that will easily surpass the benefits of financial wealth and material possessions. Peter and the other disciples, in that incredible moment of conversation, were promised a throne. You and me won’t get a throne—there are only twelve of those, and they are reserved. But we will be rewarded in ways beyond what we can imagine.
This final portion of the chapter, verse 30, is fascinating. By stating that many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first, Jesus is eliminating any notion that the rich, the powerful, the great, and the prominent, will continue to hold onto their status eternally.
These words should put our hearts at ease by reminding us that God is aware and that God is fair. He will never forget our sacrifices, and that He will ultimately, by His grace, reward justly. Never forget the promise found in Matthew 6:33 (ESV) “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“
Pastor Craig Eagle