Following Jesus is not a reliable way to wealth, health and earthly security. But Jesus is unequivocally promising his disciples that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.
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Matthew #69. Matthew 19:27-30
27Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us? ”28Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.29And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life.30But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matt 19:27-30, HCSB)
After the encounter with the rich young ruler, and the discussion about the difficulties of riches, Peter points out to Jesus that he and the others did what the rich young ruler was unwilling to do. In all of the Gospels, the disciples are usually portrayed as very human and fallible. In some ways, this is both a very human moment for Peter, but also a touching one. Peter sees the rich young man keeping his great wealth. But he, and James, and John, and Matthew, and perhaps some of the others, left thriving businesses to follow Jesus. They didn’t have the same kind of wealth as the rich young man, but at least those four certainly appeared to have viable livelihoods until they started following Jesus. You almost get the sense that as Peter watches him walk away he wonders “Did I do the right thing? Was this guy smarter than me?” I don’t see Peter here as a failure, or dense. Instead, I think he is just being very real. He left an actual business, and actual way of making a living, for something very insubstantial: faith. Peter was a fisherman. You can see fish, you can smell them, and you can trade them for coins that you hold in your hand. He owned boats and nets and sails and oars – real things that hold real value for people. But you can’t see faith, you can’t smell it, and you can’t touch it physically. You certainly can’t trade it for money. It is only natural for him to be insecure from time to time. It is only natural to wonder: “What kind of future can I really have, when I have left everything that might have given me security?” Following Jesus can feel very lonely at times, especially when you see others who are not as “sold out” as you are, and yet they appear to be thriving in this life.
Especially in these types of sermons, I feel a little funny pausing to ask for your prayers, because I have all these fine words about giving up everything to follow Jesus. But the truth is, we all need help in that journey, me no less than anyone else. We don’t do this on our own. So I do deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry of Bible Teaching. I believe the Lord works when we invite him to, so please invite him to work in and through this ministry, and to provide for us. Thank you!
It seems like these days, most Christians make one of two errors when we start talking about Jesus rewarding his followers. The first error, I mentioned last time: the prosperity gospel. Some people, calling themselves Christians, teach that following Jesus is a way to wealth, health and prosperity. We considered this in the previous message in this series. But there is another error. For some Christians, perhaps because of the falsehood represented by the prosperity gospel, it has become “unfashionable” to talk about being rewarded for faith. However, clearly, in our passage for today, Jesus promises rewards to those who make sacrifices for him.
Mark and Luke record Jesus as also saying that his followers will receive some of these rewards “in this time” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30). In fact Mark has, “now, in this time.” I think there are three things to consider about this.
First, there are a few main Greek words for “time.” One is hora which is literally, “hour.” Another is hemera which is literally “day.” A third is kronos, which you may recognize in English as the root of chronological, or chronograph. It refers to specific moments. A fourth word is kairos which is used to designate a special or proper moment in time, as in “My time has come.” Kairos is the word Jesus uses in Mark and Luke. So it isn’t necessarily “chronological time” (that would be kronos) – it is the proper time, the right moment in which the apostles will receive their reward.
Second, let’s suppose for a minute that we should take it literally as “in this very moment.” The fact is, Peter and the others did not receive literal houses and fields and so on in that moment, nor did they literally receive them during their lives on earth. But it could be something like this: at the moment they made their sacrifice for Jesus, their reward in heaven was set apart, and reserved for them. So, in a sense, they received their reward immediately, but they had no way to make use of it until after they had died and gone to be with Jesus. By the way, this does not contradict the first point.
A third idea is that in following Jesus they found 100 times the joy that they might have had with the families that they left in order to follow the Lord; they found 100 times the peace and security that they might have had from possessions and money; They found, leaving home for Jesus, that they were at home anywhere in the world in his presence. That sort of reward begins now, in this life, and continues on in eternity.
I think it is clear that Jesus is not speaking literally. When he says they will receive brothers and sisters, I highly doubt that he means their mothers will conceive and give birth to more siblings for them. But they did indeed find relationships with other Jesus-followers that became as close and wonderful as those between brothers and sisters. They did not receive literal houses; and yet, within a very short period of time they could go to almost any city in the Roman empire and find a house where they would be welcomed, where the Jesus-following owners would invite them to stay and be refreshed.
By the way, I have found this true in my own life, going all the way back to my childhood as a missionary kid. We left behind friends, uncles, aunts, and grandparents when we went overseas. But we found people there who are now just as close and dear to us as our blood relatives. I have many “aunts and uncles,” dozens of “cousins.” I too, have houses all over the world where I know I would be welcome. In terms of relationships, I have already been richly rewarded for following Jesus.
I could even say the same, in terms of “fields.” I don’t love cities. We live in a semi-rural area, on ten acres of land. Ten acres is really nice – much better than the tiny little lot we came from, but we do have neighbors on either side of us, probably 100 yards away or less. Shortly after we moved here, we met the man who owns 400 acres and a tall hill, running up against back of our property. He invited us to go hiking on his land anytime we wanted to. His is a beautiful piece of land, with trees and rocks and little creeks and from the top of the hill, views that go on for twenty miles or more. One day I was hiking up there, and I prayed, “Lord, why can’t we have all this?” (yes, sometimes I’m that shallow). I don’t hear audible voices from God, but sometimes I get a sense of a “conversation” between He and I. What I heard that day was: “What is that you want here that you don’t have? Did you want to pay to keep the meadows mowed? Did you want maintain the fences or pay taxes on the land?”
I realized that I “had” the land in any way I wanted it – which was simply to roam around and explore and look at wildlife and views. I don’t own it, of course, and I’m deeply grateful to my neighbor for letting me hike there, but I don’t have to own it to enjoy it. So sometimes, when we give up ownership for the Lord, he gives us the enjoyment of things we don’t own. And frankly, I probably enjoy my neighbor’s land more because I don’t have to maintain it.
Now, I don’t want to get too caught up in material things. I am saying that Jesus promises some sort of sense of being blessed for following him, even here and now. But of course, the main reward is spiritual things, not physical. I also think it is clear that many times scripture uses things we can see and touch – like fields, houses, brothers and sisters, to describe spiritual truths that we cannot fully grasp, this side of heaven. So, for instance, part of our reward in the spiritual realm, will be something sort of like a house is to us in physical realm. It isn’t necessarily an actual house, but maybe something like the joy and security and rest you get from a physical house will be given to you in some way (100-fold, says Jesus!).
Again, following Jesus is not a reliable way to wealth, health and earthly security. But Jesus is unequivocally promising his disciples that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.
At first, the promise seems a little, well, underwhelming. We give up real things like houses and fields and boats and money, and we get insubstantial things like love and joy and peace. We give up things we can hold and smell and touch for things that we don’t actually “get” until after we die. But stop and think about it for a minute. We know that everyone dies. In the entire history of earth, no one has ever managed to take a single physical thing from this world with them when they die. So we know that whatever we accumulate here – the things we smell, and touch and hold – are temporary, and useless to us after we die. But Jesus offers us rewards we can have even after death. It’s like he is saying, “If you give me your monopoly money, your pretend money, I will give you solid gold ingots.” We are trading the temporary for the eternal, and that’s a darn good trade. As missionary-martyr Jim Elliot said:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.
Jesus says something else here, in verse 30, that I find tremendously comforting:
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
At first, I felt ashamed that these words comfort me, but, as usual, Jesus is saying something very profound and important. As a Christian, it is a great temptation for me to compare myself to others, especially when I’m feeling insecure. Peter might have been comparing himself to the rich young ruler. The young man kept his wealth, and Peter gave up his own. In this life, it appeared that the young man had made the wise decision, and Peter the foolish one. Peter had nothing, the rich man had everything. But Jesus says, “things are not always going to be the way they seem right now. Those who appear to be making it here and now, those who are ‘winning’ by the standards of the world might actually be ultimately losing. In the same way, those who appear to be ‘last,’ the losers, they might be the ones coming in ‘first.’”
What I get from this is that it is pointless to compare yourself with others. We can’t see, here and now, whether who is really “getting ahead.” As much as we might feel like we are being left behind, left out, the opposite may be true.
I think it is important to remember that this life is not all there is, and that sometimes, the greatest rewards are the hardest to quantify. Jesus is telling us that he will not forget what we have given up for him, and he will not fail to reward it, starting now in some ways, but more fully in the Life to come.