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Kingdom Living - Possessions

Children, rich people, needles, camels... sounds like a bad reality TV show! What does it all mean and does it all relate to eternal life?

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

We pick up in chapter 19 with another “repetitive” teaching. We just looked at being like a child in chapter 18, and Jesus teaching that we must have               as a child. [what is that blank?] 

‌This is the second time since Jesus started his journey towards Jerusalem that children were brought to him, the second time the disciples object and the second time Jesus used children to teach about the kingdom. 

Matthew 19:13–15 CSB
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Leave the little children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After placing his hands on them, he went on from there.

‌The last time, Jesus pulled a child to him. This time it appears that some adults, most likely parents, were bringing their children (and infants) to Jesus so he could put his hand on them and bless them. This is a pretty common thing for a leader of a clan and then later for rabbis to do. For instance, Joseph put his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh when he blessed them (Gen 48)

The disciples rebuked the parents. THEN, Jesus instructed the disciples about how they should treat the children, with a double statement for effect - both positive and negative:

Let them come

Do not hinder them

Then he said, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. That is an interesting statement. What are these children doing that is so significant that the kingdom belongs to them?

It is that they are the outcast of society? Maybe. 

‌MAYBE there is more… hold that thought and we will come back to it. 

Jesus DID place his hands on the children (and blessed them) and they left there and headed towards Jerusalem once again.  While they were traveling, a man approached Jesus:

Matthew 19:16 CSB
16 Just then someone came up and asked him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

‌We do not know much about this person. We find out later in this passage that it was a man who had a lot of possessions. We find out from Luke’s account that he was a ruler and very rich (Luke 18:18-23). Thus, this passage and person are often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler.

In contrast to the Pharisees who are introduced as those that were trying to trap Jesus, this man seemed to actually come to Jesus with a question having less destructive, and perhaps even sincere motives. 

‌Matthew 19:17 CSB
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he said to him. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

‌“The commandments” come from the one who is good - from Yahweh himself. If you want to achieve what God offers - eternal life - then you must do all that God says - keep his commandments.  

When you think of the commandments, what comes to mind?

Of course, the 10 Commandments or 10 Words are the most popular. However, there are around 613 commands in the Torah!   Did Jesus mean the man had to keep all 613 of them?

‌Matthew 19:18–19 CSB
18 “Which ones?” he asked him. Jesus answered: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.

‌Jesus goes right to the Decalogue. 

‌First 4 are about our relationship with God. Then they go in this order:

‌#5 - Honor parents

#6 - Do not murder

#7 - Do not commit adultery

#8 - Do not steal

#9 - Do not bear false witness

‌Laws 5-10 demonstrate how we love our neighbors. Jesus names off 5-9 and then adds, “love your neighbor as yourself” which is NOT in the decalogue. It comes from Leviticus 19:18. 

Matthew 19:20–22 CSB
20 “I have kept all these,” the young man told him. “What do I still lack?” 21 “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard that, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

‌OBVIOUSLY, this is the call of everyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus, right? Sell everything and take a vow of poverty, right? OF COURSE NOT! This teaching was about how this man, who may have been very religious and even a very good man, still could not keep all the commandments. 

We skipped over 5 of the 10 Words. 

#10 - Do not covet your neighbors stuff

#01 - Do not have any other gods than Yahweh

For this man, who had much money, that money was more important than his relationship with Yahweh. His money and possessions were his god. I am sure the young man gave alms to the poor, and I am sure he thought that was enough. However, there was something he still lacked.  He obviously did NOT love his neighbor as himself, because if he did he would want to give to his neighbors so they could have what he has. 

‌The man left “grieving” because the price tag was literally too high. I have a feeling that conversation haunted him from that day forward. 

Then Jesus made this statement:

Matthew 19:23–24 CSB
23 Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.”

‌Why is it harder for rich people? Is it because riches are evil? Riches are not evil - the LOVE of riches is:

1 Timothy 6:10 CSB
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

‌WHY, then, is it harder for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom than someone who is poor? Because they tend to trust in their wealth more than God. They do not need God - at least in their minds - which is why the Beatitudes did not include them in the list of those who receive the kingdom. The kingdom belongs to those who understand their need for God and trust God for everything, including their “daily bread” as we are taught to pray.

Then Jesus mentioned a camel and an eye of a needle.

How many of you have heard this phrase before?

I have heard this explained three ways:

The word for Camel and Rope come from the same root word and are very similar. Some believe this passage should read it is easier to put a piece of rope through the eye of a sewing needle.  I find that a stretch I am not willing to make - as the word used here is translated “camel” everywhere else it is used in the NT. 

‌Some have explained that there is a gate in Jerusalem that is called the “eye of the needle” that a camel, if totally unloaded might be able to lay down and get through. 

How many of you have heard of the eye of the needle gate in Jerusalem? 

‌Here is a photo of needle gate provided by the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/matpc.22730/

‌It is interesting that you can book a tour on trip advisor to visit the needle gate. 

Here is a photo from a Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem that claims to have unburied the eye of the needle gate.

Yet there is a surprising lack of Biblical or extra-biblical evidence for the existence of such a gate. I cannot find any Jewish historical evidence. The earliest reference we have to anyone mentioning something like this was an 11th century English writer. 

Needle  - If it was a place or a gate it would generally be called the same thing using the same words when referenced. Matthew and Mark refer to the needle as a sewing needle (ῥαφίδος). Mark used this word to talk about sewing a new patch on an old wineskin (Mrk 2:21) John described Jesus tunic as a single woven piece “without needle” in John 19:23. Luke uses a totally different word for needle (βελόνης). So different authors are using different words for needle, which you generally would not do for a location. 

‌In addition, there are other gates mentioned in the NT and they have the word GATE with them. For these reasons I have a hard time accepting this as the intended meaning here, though I have heard this taught quite a bit. 

The third understanding, and the one I adhere to, is the most literal translation that Jesus meant a literal camel and a literal needle used for sewing. 

The idea is rabbinical hyperbole. Teaching with exaggeration. Jesus will use this same type of hyperbole later when addressing the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem: 

‌Matthew 23:24 CSB
24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat but gulp down a camel!

‌We will probably look at this later, but it is the idea of picking a small bug out of your drink and swallowing a camel without notice. A very small insect (gnat) and a very large animal (camel). An obvious exaggeration to make a point.

Here, we have the smallest opening (eye of a sewing needle) and the largest animal (camel). 

It is meant to show the impossibility. 

I want to read the rest of the chapter, but I just want to hone in on a few key points for today’s teaching. ​

Matthew 19:25–30 CSB
25 When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter responded to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in 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 because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

‌I think many commentators have looked for a way for this to not seem so impossible. However, Jesus even uses the word “impossible” (ἀδύνατόν) in verse 26. That was the point. What is impossible (ἀδύνατος) for men is possible (δυνατός) for God. It is impossible for men to enter into eternal life on their own. However, with God that is possible because of grace. 

‌The disciples were astonished. Why?

Here the astonishment is caused by the general Jewish belief that riches actually signified favor with God, who blessed the piety of the family with earthly rewards. So for them the rich young man with his superficial piety was in reality one of God’s chosen. His wealth “provided the possibility of both deeds of charity (almsgiving) and leisure for the study of Torah and the pursuit of righteousness.” If it is impossible for such a one to enter the kingdom, who can?

Peter asks a legit question, and Jesus answers in such a way as to drive home the point that living for the kingdom and for the life that is yet to come is FAR MORE important that living for the things of this world. 

We need to live with the end in mind. 

Verse 30 keys in on a summary teaching of this entire section, beginning with the children:

Matthew 19:30 CSB
30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

‌In the disciples own understanding and reactions in these passages, we have who THEY think will be the first and the last. 

The many who knew and kept the torah, and who had great wealth and position had “obviously” received the blessing of God and therefore should be a part of the kingdom. 

The children, who are the least of society and perhaps a hindrance to their goal of getting to Jerusalem, were certainly not the ones who belong in the kingdom. 

Jesus FLIPS that COMPLETELY!

The rich young ruler is sent packing and we are left to assume that he would not enter the kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, placed his hand on the children and blessed them and said the kingdom belongs to ones like them. 

‌The first in the disciples’ perspective became last (rich young ruler) and the last in the disciples’ perspective became first (the children). 

Exalting Jesus in Matthew The Little Children and the Rich Man (Matthew 19:13–30)

In one story Jesus received people—children—and then in the next story, to our surprise, Jesus rejected someone—a rich man. Or consider this from the perspective of the disciples: Jesus received those whom the disciples thought He should reject, and He rejected a man the disciples thought He should receive.

I think one of the keys to this passage is a very subtle use of words. 

Matthew 19:16 CSB
16 Just then someone came up and asked him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

‌The word “have” is to hold, possess, own. This is a person who had many possessions, but the one thing he did not possess was eternal life. Jesus replied this way:

‌Matthew 19:17 CSB
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he said to him. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

‌He never says the man can possess life, but that he can enter into it.  Later he says this:

Matthew 19:21 CSB
21 “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

‌That word perfect is also the word for “complete”. Jesus is basically saying, “your collection of possessions is incomplete. If you want to have completeness, if you want to fill the gap in your collections, get rid of your collection and start a new one, a collection that matters to Yahweh. 

Jesus taught this in the sermon on the hill:

Matthew 6:19–21 CSB
19 “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

‌The man wanted to know what he could DO to POSSESS what he wanted. Our works, our money, even our acts of charity do not and cannot earn our way into heaven. 

The greatest gift of all is the eternal life that the wealthy young man asked for in v. 16. He wanted to earn it by works, but Jesus makes it clear one can “inherit” it only from God.‌

The root issue goes very deep. It actually goes back to the very beginning of mankind. Jesus gave us a pointer back to beginning when he mentioned the end. He referred to the future time to come as “the renewal of all things”. That means there will be a time in the future when things will be made new AGAIN, like they once were. That is a pointer back to the garden. 

For us to grasp the root problem here we need to go back to chapters 2 & 3. 

Genesis 2:15–17 CSB
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

‌You are familiar with the 2 trees I hope. The tree of LIFE they had access to but the tree of the knowledge of good and bad was off limits. 

Genesis 3:1–7 CSB
1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4 “No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

‌The woman and man had a choice to trust Yahweh and receive from him the blessings he had for them, including life and the knowledge of good and evil, OR they could do what they actually did - covet and TAKE/POSSESS what does not belong to them. This struggle has been at the heart of man from the beginning: do I trust God and obey him which will lead to life, or do I TAKE what I want for myself believing that I can have it and possess it on my own. 

The rich young man wanted to POSSESS eternal life and wanted to know what good deed HE could DO to grab hold of it. However, to receive eternal life you must be willing to trust and follow God and allow him to pass it along to you. 

Ephesians 2:8–9 CSB
8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

‌There is nothing we can DO to earn eternal life. It is a gift from God, a blessing from Him, to those that will humble themselves before him. 

There are many people today that believe they can earn their way, “do” enough good things to get eternal life. You cannot. 

There are even more people that think they “good” enough to be accepted by God, yet only God is good. You are not. 

There are even more people that have fallen into the trap of the rich man in trusting in their wealth and possessions for their security and believing the myth that the pleasures of this world are what matter. The are not. 

The PREMISE of the question the young man asked is good, and we should also stop and ask, “What can we do to inherit eternal life?”. God has answered that, and it is NOT by keeping the law perfectly like the young man thought he could do.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to keep all the law, but Jesus knew he man was not able. That is why Jesus came to earth in the first place! He was the child who was promised that would undo the death sentence that Adam & Eve brought on mankind when they “took” what God wanted to give them. 

‌Galatians 3:19–22 (NLT)
19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised...21 Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. 

‌Jesus came as the one who provided a way for “renewal” or “new life”. And now, after the death and resurrection of Jesus to life, we have the option to enter into life WITH HIM by placing our faith - our very lives - in his care. 

‌John 3:16–18 CSB
16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

‌I asked you to hold on to the thought as to why the children are in this section of teaching and why Jesus would say that the kingdom belings to ones like them. I want to wrap this all up with this final thread:

Chapter 18 began with children: and a reminder to be humble like them.

Chapter 19 has an interlude where the children are brought to Jesus and he blesses them. 

Chapter 19 ends with “the first will be last and the last first”. 

‌Mixed in the middle of all of that is the arrogance of the disciples who wanted to know who was the greatest; the self-righteousness of the Pharisees that wanted to trap Jesus to discredit him, and the rich man who wanted to do something really good so he could possess eternal life. 

The children and the KEY to these passages. While adults vie for importance and position, while grown men and women fight to protect what they have from threats, and while they pretend to live for God yet live for stuff instead, it is the HUMILITY of the children that brings the BLESSING of Yahweh and makes them members of the Kingdom.

It is the same for you and me today. 

What can we do to receive eternal life? HUMBLE ourselves. Stop trusting that we know the best way and trust God’s way. Allow HIM to define good and evil and follow what he says is good. Believe that he sent Jesus to die for my sins and yours, and that he really does love you and me that much!

Become small in the eyes of the world so that you can be become big in the eyes of the God who made you. 

THIS WEEK we should wrestle with these questions:

Are there things that we would NOT be willing to give up for God? If so, they are idols and we need to burn them. 

How can we become better at truly loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Am I trusting in something other than Jesus for my future and my life? 


Kingdom Living - Possessions