The ultimate question ever posed by humanity is arguably what can we do to receive eternal life to be enjoyed in a place known as heaven, or put differently, what must we do to be saved?
24 Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
26 Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’
27 Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’
28 Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’
29 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
The context of today’s reflection is Jesus response to the wealthy ruler who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. After the wealthy ruler confirmed he had kept 5 of the 10 commandments relating to his behaviour in his horizontal relationships with his fellow citizens, Jesus then tested his loyalty to his vertical relationship with God by asking him to give up his wealth and follow Jesus, something he was unable to do.
The comparison, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than the rich to get into heaven, was a strange one for me, but not unexpected given Jesus first century audience! The meaning is not difficult – it is impossible for those with wealth to get into heaven. Interpretations of the first century meaning of the camel going through the eye of the needle vary, but the answer is simply resolved by the translation from the Aramaic, which could mean camel or rope, and rope makes much more sense in the context.
We could easily make the mistake of thinking we don’t fall into the wealthy category, but in comparison to most of Jesus audience, we are all wealthy. John McArthur explains that this comparison emphasised the impossibility of anyone being saved by merit. Since wealth was deemed proof of God’s approval, and those who had it could give more to God, the rich were thought to have a better prospect of gaining enough divine favour to get into heaven. By saying it was impossible for those with wealth to get into heaven, he was saying it is impossible to earn your way into heaven on the basis of merit.
The people then asked the right question – Who then can be saved i.e. inherit eternal life?
Jesus responded with one of the most profound statements in the Bible, “What is impossible with humanity is possible with God” In other words, it is impossible for us to be saved of and by our own actions, to do enough good deeds to get get God’s approval.
The classic question I was once asked by a Christian was what would you say to Jesus if you stood at the pearly gates and he asked, why should I let you into my heaven?
Well, based on the above passage, we cannot say “I was basically a good person, tried to live a good life, didn’t murder anyone or commit adultery etc.” We’re back to the answer given by the wealthy ruler!
So what does Jesus say to put us out of our misery? It is the second half of the statement, “what is impossible with humanity is possible with God. And that is, only God can save us and cause us to inherit eternal life. We know now on this side of the cross that Jesus did it by taking our brokenness and sins upon himself when he died on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sins, was raised from the dead by his father God, and has inherited eternal life for us, now sitting on the right hand of God. This is also known as the good news of God’s grace, that he undertook to save us and will come back one day to wrap up this age and bring us to himself. What an incredible love has God shown to us by giving us his only Son, and that as we believe in him and what he has done for us, we too can inherit eternal life.
Head: One of the greatest human desires is this yearning to live beyond this life. The good news of Jesus is that we can enjoy eternal life with him, but that it cannot be earned, only received. Think of some of the ways you have tried to earn favour with God?
Heart: Meditate again on this free gift of eternal life in heaven offered by Jesus until your heart is filled with awe at the love of Christ.
Hands: If the gift of salvation, and eternal life in heaven is free, what can we do in response to what God has done for us in Jesus? Reach out to someone who is maybe struggling in their faith and encourage them to reflect again on the good news of what God has done for us through his Son Jesus.
Prayer: Thank you God for saving us from our brokenness, from death and making peace with us by giving us the precious gift of your Son Jesus; that Jesus would take our place, pay the penalty for our sins, and be raised to life eternal with you. For the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, and that joy was to bring many sons and daughters to glory. Lord we are forever grateful for this gift of eternal life, help us to live our lives forever honouring your name. In Jesus name. Amen.
A song to listen to: Blessed Assurance
Living Church – Creek Road