“What’s In It For Me?”
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 19:25 (Holman) When the disciples heard this, they were utterly
astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”
Their question was not idle curiosity intended for speculative debate. They were dazed by Jesus’ stunning newsflash. It was unheard of for anyone to warn the rich, to feel sorry for the wealthy, or to hint material possessions could disqualify the rich from anything. The Twelve had to process this bombshell.
Like others in their day the disciples felt the rich had fewer temptations than others did. “They already have everything. What more could they want?”
It was believed the rich could be close to God much more easily than others could. The reasoning was, since God made everything, and the rich had lots of things, it was a foregone conclusion that prosperity proved God’s favor.
This put every rich person in Israel in a heady position. They and all who saw them assumed they were automatically special to God. Obviously, Jesus disagreed. He saw danger lurking in things. The more stuff we have, the riskier. The disciples were learning that Jesus’ Kingdom was like none other before it.
Matt. 19:26a But Jesus looked at them and said, . . .
To further enforce His thunderbolt, Jesus set aside every distraction, and froze His gaze on the Twelve. It was a dramatic moment. He stared at them, as if to say, “Look at Me. Focus. Make sure you get this one right.” Jesus, dead earnest about what He was about to say, expected their full attention, and ours.
Matt. 19:26b “With men this is impossible, . . .”
A shocking pronouncement for twelve adherents of Judaism. I wonder if Jesus paused at this point to let the disciples catch their breath after they gasped out loud. Jesus, in order to arrest attention, sometimes stated things strongly, yea shockingly. He would then proceed to give the qualifiers, as He did here.
Matt. 19:26c “. . . but with God all things are possible.”
The stated impossibility is absolutely true, but can be overcome. The qualifier is, the rich and all others do have recourse to God. Conversions are possible; holiness is attainable; each one is an utter miracle, a trophy of grace.
The vast majority of people, whatever their religious persuasion, believe salvation has to be earned. They think good deeds somehow buy merit with God. Our text destroys this myth. Works-righteousness is an impossibility.
This was a recurring theme in the writings of Paul. In Romans 3:23-24 the Apostle dealt a fourfold axe-blow to the root of salvation by works. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (1). They are justified freely (2) by His grace (3) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (4).”
Our wrong thinking about the method of salvation begins often with a misunderstanding of human nature. Our culture extols the inherent goodness of people; this despite the fact the depravity of humans is the one Christian doctrine proved millions of times every day all over the globe.
People love to extol the virtues of our race, but before embracing it, step away from a liberal pulpit, a new age lecture-hall, and a philosopher’s armchair. Walk outside. Examine the real world. Opening our eyes is all we need to do.
This was what enlightened the theologian Karl Barth. He was raised in a culture that taught the innate goodness of people; the world was getting better and better. But then he walked across a WWI battlefield and saw the stacks of dead bodies. This forced him to re-think the book of Romans, on which he later wrote a commentary that helped continue the demise of postmillennialism.
“With men this is impossible,” our Master said. We see it everywhere. The young start strong, only to learn later they are very weak. Even the best sense in themselves the capability to do the worst. Selfishness is rampant. Good resolutions are made to be broken. People can’t stop chewing their fingernails, or quit overeating, much less do enough to earn God’s favor.
Is there good in us? Of course. We still contain in ourselves a vestige of what we were before the Fall, creatures made in God’s image. We also have in us a spiritual flaw too deeply engrained for to us correct on our own. We can’t mend this. We can’t reach low enough to get under our lostness, and lift it out.
I say this not to cause despair, but to turn us to God for repair. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The context here is salvation. Only God can save us because He alone can change a heart. Salvation is a creation, a resurrection, a new birth. Only God can do this.
Matt. 19:27 Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?”
The Twelve had essentially done what Jesus asked the Rich Young Ruler to do. They forsook all. But to the best of their memory they did not remember hearing a “treasure in Heaven” (v. 21) clause in their contract negotiations. Peter was wondering, ”What’s in this for us? What rewards will we receive?”
Peter’s question did not upset Jesus. Some say we should be so grateful for salvation that we ought to never think about rewards. This may be ideally true, but in real life we are not robots or automatons. Salvation does not dehumanize us. For centuries, Peter’s question has been echoed by believers.
Peter voiced the question on behalf of the disciples who had left all. I wonder if Matthew wrote it on behalf of believers he knew were suffering.
The Bible books were not written in a vacuum. Their audiences were in the future, and in the present. They wrote for us, but also for their first readers.
Was Matthew thinking about the multitude of poor believers in the early church who were hurting for their faith? He probably knew many of them were hunkered down, and wondering, “What do we get for this?” It’s as if he were saying, “You are not the first to wonder if the prize was worth the cost.”
Peter was not wrong to voice a question that from time to time all the committed have faced, including our best heroes. Moses left the palace and suffered with his people because “his attention was on the reward” (HB 11:26). Paul rejoiced, knowing “the crown of righteousness” (2 TM 4:8) was reserved for him. Jesus endured a cross “for the joy that lay before Him” (HB 12:2).
It is okay to ponder and consider the rewards of our faith, but we must not go overboard with it. The system goes awry when this becomes the main thing.
We err if we love Jesus due to things. We are to love Jesus first, knowing rewards are there as consolations, as sidelights to the relationship, as God’s gifts. Love for Jesus must always be the main motivation driving us forward.