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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Holy Challenge of Being Blessed
Text:Mark 10:23-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 100:1,2,3,4                                                                   

Ps 50:8,11

Reading – Mark 10:17-34; Mark 12:41-44

Ps 49:2,3,4

Sermon – Mark 10:23-31

Hy 77:1,2,3

Hy 85:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, here’s a situation that probably many of us can relate to. You’re young, and it’s your birthday. Your parents give you a birthday present every year, but this year it’s extra special—maybe because you’ve turned thirteen, or because you had a really good report card. They give you the gift, and it’s amazing: just what you wanted, but hardly dared to ask for! A new bike, maybe. A pellet gun. Your own tablet. You’re busily unwrapping it, grinning away, and then it comes: a warning voice. “We’re giving this to you, but it means you have to be responsible. You have to take good care of it. When you use it, you need to respect other people’s property. It’d be nice if you’d also let your siblings play with it sometimes.” It’s a gift with a challenge. A blessing for you, but a responsibility.

Isn’t that the way with so many gifts? Not just the gifts that other people give us, but the gifts of God? God blesses us, and He takes great delight in blessing us! But God has something to say as we receive his gifts. He says, “You need to be responsible with this. I’m letting you have it to use and enjoy, but you have to use it my way. Because in fact,” God says, “what I’m giving you is really still mine. It’s on loan to you.” That gives us the challenge to steward all of God’s gifts in a way that honours and pleases him.

We’ve all heard Jesus’ words from Luke 12, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (v 48). That principle has many applications, like when God tells us about the gospel of salvation, or when God grants us gifts like faith or wisdom—from the person who has received these things, God expects much gratitude and faithful service. It’s true also in relation to our material blessings, our house and money and property, our food and drink and clothing: what God gives puts us under obligation. We’ve got a calling now.

It doesn’t mean that there’s strings attached, or that God is a fickle giver. It means that God always wants the recognition that He’s worthy to receive. He wants worship, He wants our labour, He desires true thanksgiving. This is our theme,

Receiving God’s blessings always comes with a holy challenge:

      1) the danger of earthly riches

      2) the possibility of salvation

      3) the way to a lasting reward


1) the danger of earthly riches: It’s impossible to separate our text from what comes just before it. This is how our text begins, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’” (v 23). And He says that because of the young man He’s just met and spoken to.

Their encounter had started in a promising way. For the man “came running, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’” (v 17). It’s not often we see a person who’s so eager—in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has met lots of opposition. But here’s a keen disciple: running, kneeling, pleading. And it sounds like he’s already well on his way to eternal life. He tells Jesus that he’s been a faithful Israelite. He’s kept the commandments and honoured his covenant obligations, even from his youth.

Now, sometimes people cast a shadow over this young man, and they say that he was trying to earn his way into heaven. Keeping the commandments was just “ticking the boxes” for him, they say: he knew what he had to do. What then should we make of Jesus’ attitude toward him? “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v 21). This young man is not some hypocritical Pharisee. This is not a proud legalist. This is someone who desires to serve the LORD, but who is making one fatal mistake: he loves his wealth more than God.

Jesus knows this, so He calls the rich man to repent, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (v 21). This is his holy challenge. He needs to use his riches to help those who are needy. And for him it’s not enough to simply toss some money in the collection bag next Sabbath day, or to set up a bigger monthly payment to the temple accounts. He needs to give all of it away, every last denarius.

It’s a dramatic challenge. And why? Jesus takes the same approach that He does in chapter 9, when He says: “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell” (v 45). Sell all, and give to the poor—cut these riches out of your life—for that alone will show that the rich man is rejecting his idols and his greed. That will show that he’s depending on God as the one basis of his security. And that alone will heap up his treasures in heaven.

But the man can’t do it. How troubling is the outcome in verse 22, “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He can’t accept Jesus’ challenge, because it will cost him too dearly. And he walks away in deep distress.

So this is why our text begins as it does, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’” (v 23). Notice that He “looks around” at his disciples—it’s like a dramatic pause. He wants to impress on them this lesson about riches, that having wealth can make it so hard to love God like we should.

Before getting too much further, it’s important to understand what Jesus means by “riches.” The word is a general term for material wealth, one that describes lands and houses and money. It doesn’t mean “millionaire.” It doesn’t mean “luxury.” Yes, Jesus has just spoken to a man who had “great possessions,” but this teaching isn’t just for him. It’s for all of God’s people who have material things, for the teenager with his own bank account, for the prosperous businessman, and for the pensioner.

For a person can have very little to his name—just a modest income, and only a few possessions—and yet his attitude toward money can be completely wrong. We can be nearly broke, and still so far from the kingdom because of how we treat earthly things. So let each one of us listen carefully to Christ’s words, and apply them to ourselves.

Possessions can make it hard to enter God’s kingdom. Hearing this, “the disciples were astonished” (v 24). It’s even said twice in our text that they were amazed at Jesus’ words about the wealthy (also in verse 26). Why the shock? Probably because everyone regarded wealth as a sign of God’s favour. If a man was rich, then he was more than likely a righteous person, and God was blessing him for his obedience. You can find that teaching in the Old Testament, God’s promise to give material blessing to those who walked in his ways. So, people concluded, the more prosperous the man, the more godly—someone who was certain of entry into the kingdom. But now Jesus is saying exactly the opposite: amazing!

He repeats it in verse 24, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” So what is it about material things and money that makes them a spiritual danger for us? Why can God’s blessings become a curse?

One reason is that material possessions fasten a person’s heart onto this world. It’s always easier to latch onto something we can see and hold. So when we have wealth, or some earthly things that we cherish, our interest can get divided. Suddenly we’ve got bigger stake in this world, and we just wouldn’t want to give up this blessing, or what it offers.

The story is told about a man who once visited a beautiful castle in England. He was taken on a tour of the whole place, shown its dozens of luxurious rooms and acres of lovely grounds. Then he went home and with great excitement he told his friends all about it. And then after a while he paused and he said, “These are the things that make it difficult to die.” We get attached to stuff. And it doesn’t take a castle or a sailboat to grab us and hold us.

Another reason that earthly riches hold danger is that they can change our values. It can make us think of so many things in terms of price. What does it cost? Is this worth my investment, and will it put me ahead? And when we look at everything in those terms, we forget that there’s so much of value beyond money. There are things that have no price—and these are the things that need our attention.

That’s a third way wealth can choke us, and it’s the most serious. It’s when what we have competes with the place of God. Material things can absorb our love and attract our dependence. That’s the question of life, isn’t it: to whom or what do we give our devotion? Will we rely on the LORD as our one security? Will He be our greatest treasure and truest delight? Will I sleep well at night because of God, or something else?

Having money is a special challenge in this regard, because of how closely we associate money with security and pleasure. If you have money, then you can be secure, because that money gets you a home, and food, and medicine. And if you have money, you can also afford enjoyable things: times for leisure, nice holidays, the things in life that interest you. Security and pleasure—two things that money offers, but what only God can truly provide.

So no wonder Jesus says, “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” (v 25). That’s pretty hard: it’s actually impossible! Now, sometimes people try to soften this verse, to offer rich people a bit more hope. They say that there used to be a very narrow alley in Jerusalem called “The Needle’s Eye,” and that sometimes merchants would try to drive their camels up the alley—and get stuck almost every time. But sometimes they could make it, if they unloaded their camel and squeezed it through. So it could happen! Problem is, there’s no evidence that such an avenue ever existed in Jerusalem. Like Jesus did other times, He’s exaggerating here to make a point.

And the point is impossibility. How narrow is the eye of a needle, and how wide and cumbersome is a camel—it simply won’t go through; it’s like trying to park your RV in your mailbox. Christ says that we cannot get into the kingdom if we’re hanging onto our riches. We cannot be saved if we’ve made possessions more important than serving God, if our comfort in life is based on our resources and not the gospel.

This is true in relation to many things, of course. Jesus has already spoken about the need to detach ourselves from our favourite temptation, or the need to cut family ties if they keep us from whole-hearted service. But in many ways our possessions remain the acid test, the truest indicator of how things are with our heart. Have we become attached to our money and our goods? Or do we trust in God? And then will we show that we trust God and thank God by using God’s blessings in God’s way?

There’s a line in Lord’s Day 10 that relates to this. There we confess that the doctrine of God’s providence teaches us to be “patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity.” Sounds good. Yet it’s been said that while many people can stand firm under adversity, few can stand firm under prosperity. Adversity often leads a person to rest in God more truly, because we learn to cherish what really matters. But prosperity tests us in a different way. God might put wealth into our hands, make us seemingly secure from an earthly point-of-view. He blesses us, and then He asks, “Do you still cherish me above all?”


2) the possibility of salvation: For a second time the disciples are amazed. Jesus has been pessimistic about the wealthy entering the kingdom. So the disciples ask each other, “Who then can be saved?” (v 26). Their thinking was this: If wealth is a sign of God’s favour on obedience, but even the wealthy struggle to be faithful, then it doesn’t look good for anyone. The disciples have something wrong of course. Having earthly riches does not guarantee that you are an obedient child of God—the Old Testament said that too. Think of how the Psalmists complain that the wicked are prospering. God gives his gifts widely, to the righteous and the wicked alike.

But while they’re wrong about the rich, the disciples are right about something else: Being saved is hard work. They’d just met that young man, keen to learn, eager to follow. With complete sincerity he’d spoken about obeying the law of God, and Jesus had not contradicted him—he was obedient. If ever there was a good candidate for the kingdom, it was him! Except for this one point: he couldn’t give up his earthly possessions. He was so close to the kingdom, yet so far.

Yes, if he failed, what about everyone else? Who can pass the test of giving up all for the kingdom? Who can ever do enough for God? Jesus knows their thoughts, and He intervenes with a declaration that is both humbling and comforting, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (v 27).

Look at the three pieces of that: “With men it is impossible.” If salvation ever depends on our efforts and sacrifices and service, then it’s not going to happen. No one can enter the kingdom on his own two feet.

“With men it is impossible, but not with God.” At every turn we are hindered by our weakness. We let blessings become curses, and we quickly give our trust to another. But Jesus will not leave us in ruin. He reveals the solution to the greatest challenge that we’ll ever face, and the solution rests with God.

For with God all things are possible.” God says that the person who trusts in his saving power and steadfast love is able to enter the kingdom. For the LORD makes possible all things that are necessary. He gives us the faith to believe in Him, He give us the grace of forgiveness, and He gives us renewal of life. To be sure, being saved is still hard, because it means that our sin has to be paid for, and it also means that we must take up our cross daily and follow Christ.

It’s hard, but with God it’s possible. And how is it? It’s no coincidence that in the very next verses, Jesus makes this startling prediction. He’s going to Jerusalem, and this is what He predicts will happen there: “The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and scourge him, and spit on him, and kill him. And the third day He will rise again” (vv 33-34).

This is how salvation will occur. This is how the impossible becomes possible. No rich man, no poor man, no middle-class man, can enter God’s kingdom on his own. We’re all carrying too much baggage to enter that gate: the baggage of our sin, the evil we hold onto, our load of guilt. But Christ frees us. He suffered and died and rose, to bring all his believers into life eternal. Here is the greatest reason for thanksgiving—that we have a great Saviour.

When we listen to our text it’s interesting to ponder whether the rich man was still around, within earshot. He’d gone away, but how he needed to hear these words! He’d been given a holy challenge with regard to his great riches, and he couldn’t do it. But here is how he could do it: by knowing Jesus, not just Jesus the good teacher, but Jesus the faithful Saviour—Jesus, who laid down his life to redeem his own.

When we’ve caught a glimpse of that great treasure in Christ, we can start to look at earthly things in a different way. God has blessed you, and God has given you his gifts—maybe a lot, maybe a little. But these things aren’t the real riches. It’s Christ. It’s only through believing in Christ and doing his will that we can enter the kingdom.


3) the way to a lasting reward: Peter is listening to all this, and as usual his mind is working so fast that his tongue has to jump into action. He says to Christ, “See, we have left all and followed you” (v 28). He can’t help but compare his own situation with the rich man’s. They’ve just seen a man turn down Christ’s command to follow, but what had Peter done? Remember chapter 1: Jesus had called, and “they immediately left their nets and followed him.” So it was true, Peter and the others had made a great sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. They had left homes and livelihoods to go after Christ.

Hard to know, but maybe Peter is thinking that he’s due to get a nice prize, that Jesus should really appreciate how much they’ve given up. But as always, Christ turns this into a lesson for everyone. For He says that any of his followers will need to make sacrifices. You will lose things as a Christian, even things that are dear and precious—you will have to lose them for the sake of loving Christ.

Jesus talks about leaving “house, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children and lands” and doing so, “for my sake and the gospel’s” (v 29). You can hear that the challenge that went out to the rich man and to the twelve disciples is the same one that goes out to every person: You have to show that you’re willing to give it up, to leave it behind so that you can serve Christ your Lord.

And maybe we’d say that we could: “If I had to, I would. If it came down to keeping my house and my job or staying true to God, I’d made the right call. Or if I had to love God above loving my family, I could do it.” There are Christians in the world who are faced with this choice, who are forced to make agonizing decisions in times of persecution: deny, or lose everything. Other believers undergo immense hardship like this when they do missionary work in foreign and hostile countries.

It’s impossible for us to relate to that, to really imagine being in that situation. But Jesus challenges us not one bit less. Remember that receiving God’s blessings always comes with a holy challenge. Where we are today, with what we have today, Christ speaks to us: “Are you showing that loyalty to me is your greatest loyalty? Even in the little things of each day, do you show that nothing is more important to you than the gospel?”

Let’s be clear that this priority can definitely come out in the regular moments of life. In fact, if the priority of Christ isn’t seen in your ordinary things, then it will not be seen in your notable moments and the really big decisions. We show that we’re living for Christ in the way that we do all things, in the way that we handle all things.

Also that ordinary thing called money. We earn an income. We have resources, and there are things that we like. So do we show in this area a true spirit of thankful sacrifice to God? In our spending, and our giving, can we answer to God? Are we willing to give up something that’s valuable, because we know that Christ is more valuable?

Like the rich man learned, it is far easier to hold onto it. We think that holding onto money means security. But how wrong we are! It’s through giving it up that we gain God’s lasting reward. This is what Jesus says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (vv 29-30).

You will be reimbursed many times over. In God’s economy, his people never lose. Those who give, end up gaining. Even those who sacrifice it all—like that widow at the temple, giving her last two pennies—these will gain far more. For instance, Christ says that those who follow him receive a family, which is so true? In Christ we have more brothers and sisters than we can ever meet. And we receive houses, says Christ, because homes are opened to Christians wherever they go, as other believers show hospitality.

Point is, Christ pledges a lasting prize. Like He said to the rich man, “If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven.” That’s not a bribe, but a challenge. Because we have to know that being a follower of Christ is a costly thing. You might say that being a Christian requires us to put our money where our mouth is. If you’re going to talk about faith, then you need to back it with actions. And then those who truly follow Christ like this can greatly rejoice. Because for us there’s far more to come: eternal life, and a place in God’s kingdom.

For that gift we’re so thankful. So may we show our thankfulness: with gifts for the Giver, and service for the Saviour!  Amen.  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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