Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 17, 1990
Maybe you’ve heard some televangelist say something like this:
“God loves you and He wants you to be rich. After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He wants to share the wealth with you. You don’t think an earthly millionaire would let his children eat poorly or wear shabby clothes or drive old clunkers, do you? Neither will your heavenly Father. What is it that you want? Name it and claim it! Believe it and receive it! You are the King’s kids and the king isn’t going to let you have anything but the very best.”
That’s a very popular point of view in our day. It’s often called “prosperity theology” or the “health and wealth gospel.” Those who promote it appeal to several different passages of Scripture, especially this one:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).”
The interesting thing is that Jesus said that in a context that puts riches in a negative light. It was the story of the rich young ruler. You remember how he ran up to Jesus back in verse 17 and knelt down before Him and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And after some interchange between them, Jesus said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).
Why did Jesus say that? Is there salvation through philanthropy? If so, He was contradicting the Bible and everything else He taught, particularly what He said to Nicodemus in John 3 about believing in Him and receiving eternal life. You don’t get salvation by doing anything. Jesus taught that salvation is from believing on Him, putting our total trust and confidence in Him. Why then, this strange answer to the rich young ruler?
In order to receive eternal life, a person has to be willing to acknowledge his sin and his need for forgiveness. This rich young man had no concept of sin or sinfulness. In fact, if you look back to the context, he insisted that he had kept the law perfectly from his youth. What a ridiculous thing to say! Nobody had ever done that. But that’s what he thought.
So Jesus had to expose the sin of his life in a way that he couldn’t deny—particularly the sin of covetousness and materialism. Jesus nailed him.
Now there is nothing wrong with having money. But this young man, evidentially, loved his money and the things that money could buy. He was all wrapped up in it. Greed had an iron grip on his life. He was depending on his money; he was trusting in his money. That’s why Jesus talked to him about that very thing. His money was more important to him than God, and he was unwilling to admit that.
“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22).
That’s when Jesus turned to His disciples with some well-chosen words about the peril of temporal riches. It’s the subject of Mark 10:23-27. The peril of temporal riches.
The Peril of Temporal Riches
“Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” Literally, He said, “those having things.” That a summary of our entire culture: those having things. We’ve become a society of expensive gadgets. A hundred years ago there were probably no more than a couple hundred things a person could buy for his own personal use, today there are literally tens of thousands of such things, and most of us own a good many of them. The problem is that eventually we cease possessing these things and they begin to possess us. They run our lives. They become the center of our lives. In some cases, they become more important to us than God Himself. The God who made us for Himself.
If that was a problem in Jesus’ day, you can see how much more of a problem it would be in our day. And yet the disciples even of that day were shocked about what Jesus said. See it in verse 24? They were astonished. “The disciples were amazed at His words.”
The commonly held opinion of the Jews of that day was that wealth was the evidence of God’s favor. Now here comes Jesus saying that wealth could actually keep a person from God’s favor and out of God’s kingdom. They are astonished at His words. So Jesus repeats it; He wants to be sure they get the message.
“But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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’” (Mark 10:25).
That’s probably Oriental hyperbole. They spoke in those terms commonly. But the fact is that this is impossible; it just can’t be done. The camel was the largest animal in Israel in that day. The needle’s eye was one of the smallest things people had to deal with in daily life. You just can’t get the largest through the smallest. It’s impossible.
Now attempts have been made to weaken what Jesus said. I’ve read it in several books, particularly those on Bible problems. For example, beside the gate to an ancient city there was a smaller gate, sometimes called “the needle’s eye.” It was used for foot traffic in the evening after the main gate was closed. To get through, a camel would have to be unloaded, then get down on its knees to crawl through. Some say that’s what Jesus meant: It’s hard, but not impossible. But most Biblical scholars dismiss that explanation.
Another explanation is that the Greek word for camel is only one letter off from the Greek word for rope, particularly the rope that held a ship’s anchor. Maybe one letter got changed, so what He was actually saying was that it was hard to thread a rope through the eye of a needle. But scholars dismiss that as well. There is no manuscript evidence at all for the change of that one letter.
Jesus is saying exactly what it sounds like He is saying, folks. He’s saying that humanly speaking, it is impossible for a rich person to be saved. Now if you’re fairly well to do, hold on a moment. Don’t get up and walk away.
Think it through for a moment. Let’s think of the problems. Riches do have a tendency to generate pride. I’m not saying every rich person is proud; I’m just saying it has that tendency. It might make you think, “I must be pretty smart or pretty talented to have made this money.” Pride can hinder us from taking a lowly place before God and admitting to Him our sinfulness and our need for His grace. Riches do have a tendency to fill us with pride, which could keep us from God.
Furthermore, riches may tend to cultivate an independent spirit. “I can buy anything I need and I have enough money to pay for anything I want, therefore I can certainly give enough to the church or pay God off in some other way to buy salvation.” So we may refuse to accept it in His way: as a gift of His grace to the undeserving.
In addition to that, sometimes riches can tie a person to this world. Jesus assured us that our hearts would be where our treasure is (Matthew 6:22). If our major interests are on this earth, we may not have much time left to think about eternal things. Riches could crowd out the time we give to the Lord.
Besides that, riches can generate selfishness. However much we acquire, we want just a little bit more, for our security, or our ego, or our influence with others. Our struggle to get more just snuffs out the time we give to God, and sometimes even our need for God.
Oh, there were good reasons for Jesus saying what He said. Of course, that didn’t help the disciples a whole lot. They may have wanted to be rich themselves. Most people want that. And they may have wondered whether they, even they, could be saved. They couldn’t believe what they heard. It says they were astonished beyond measure.
“The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’” (Mark 10:26). If a rich person can’t be saved, then who can?
Without batting an eye, Jesus looks straight at them, and for all practical purposes, He says, “Nobody.”
Nobody can be saved. See it in verse 27? With men, it is impossible. As impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle. Impossible. ...But, not with God.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:27).
For with God, all things are possible. You see, none of us can do anything to secure our own eternal salvation. Rich or poor, we cannot do one single thing to earn our salvation. So this is a great revelation of God’s matchless grace: with God all things are possible.
God can do what we cannot do, you see. He did what was totally impossible for us to do: He paid the debt by sending His Son to Calvary’s cross, laying upon Him the guilt and condemnation that our sins deserved. He made possible our eternal salvation—something that with us, was totally, completely impossible.
So the question before us at this point in the story is: Have you acknowledged your sin? Have you acknowledged that according to God’s word there isn’t anything you can do to secure your own salvation. But take a place of lowliness and need, and cast yourself upon His mercy and receive His gift of eternal life by faith.
Have you done that? Have you received the Lord Jesus as your own personal Savior from sin?
Well if that issue is settled—and it was, evidentially, in the disciples’ minds—we’ll go back to what was said to the rich, young ruler. The disciples wanted to go back to what was said in verse 21, about giving up everything and selling everything and giving it to the poor, and following Him.
They knew that they had left all and followed Christ. They knew it couldn’t earn them eternal life now, but maybe it ought to earn them something.
“Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’” (Mark 10:28).
In the Matthew account of this same story, he adds, “What then shall we have?” (Matthew 16:27).
Peter’s question provides the transition of Christ’s comments from the peril of temporal riches to the promise of true riches. That’s the subject of verses 28 through 31.
The Promise of True Riches
“’Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life’” (Mark 10:29-30).
Sometimes serving the Lord Jesus requires sacrifice. According to Jesus, some may have to give up owning a house. Some may need to leave brothers and sisters, mother and father; or lands or farms. That latter bit represents a secure income. For us, it would mean a job and a regular paycheck. Some may have to do that.
I should mention that the New King James version includes the word “wife.”
“So Jesus answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, 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’” (Mark 10:29-30, NKJV).
Some have noted that it does not appear in the early manuscripts. But it does appear in the Luke account of this story in every ancient manuscript.
“‘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 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life’” (Luke 18:29 NIV).
So Jesus obviously said it, even though it may not appear in Mark’s account. A man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and minister to her needs faithfully, and look out for her best interests before his own. But there may be times, Jesus is saying, in the cause of Christ and by mutual consent, he has to be separated from her for a time.
Furthermore, while parents have a responsibility to love their children, to raise them properly and to build into their lives the things of Christ, and instill in them the eternal principles of God’s word, sometimes, for the cause of Christ, they may have to away from their children for a short time.
Now that’s no excuse for fathers and mothers to neglect their God-given responsibilities. No excuse whatsoever. But that’s what Jesus said. That’s a sacrifice. That’s giving up a great deal.
But Jesus assures us that the rewards for such sacrificial giving are abundant, immense, phenomenal; a hundred times more than we could ever give. Right here in this life, He says. And that’s where the prosperity people, who claim that Jesus wants you to be rich, really cling.
One of them writes, and I quote (but I will not give the name because I don’t like to call people’s names, but I am quoting): “You give a dollar for the gospel’s sake and a hundred dollars belongs to you. You give 10 and receive 1,000. You give $1,00 and you receive $100,000. Give one house and receive a hundred houses in return, or one house worth a hundred times more. In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”
A televangelism program appeals to widows to send them $100, even taking it out of their rent or medicine budget if they need to, and God will reward them with thousands of dollars in return. Is that what Jesus had in mind here? No!
I don’t think those pitchmen actually believe their own stuff. If they did, they would be sending the widows $100 so the Lord could give them the thousands in return. My own feeling is that they willfully distort the message of this passage for their own personal gain.
Remember that Jesus has just put riches in a negative light. Don’t forget that. Do you think He would now contradict Himself? Notice also that Jesus mentioned mothers and brothers here, not just material goods. No one is likely to receive 100 mothers or 200 brothers in return. Why don’t the prosperity folks talk about that part of it? It’s quite evident that Jesus is speaking figuratively here.
When the disciples had to give up their houses for the sake of the gospel, many other believers would open their homes to them as they shared from place to place, preaching and teaching and discipling and training. If they had to be temporarily separated from their families, many other families in the family of God would minister to their needs for fellowship and support. And God would take of their families. In other words, if God asks some sacrifice of us for His sake and the sake of the gospel, He will more than make it up to us.
That is true. If He asks some sacrifice from us, whatever it is, He will more than make it up to us. He will meet our needs. If you don’t believe that, ask the people who have given something up for the cause of Christ and they will assure you that the spiritual blessings have far outweighed the sacrifice. Some of the missionaries I know get downright impatient with us when we start going on and on about the sacrifices they’re making. They will interrupt, sometimes with righteous indignation, saying, “We haven’t given up anything. God has more than blessed our lives to compensate for whatever we may have given up by the world’s standard.”
Yes, Jesus wants you rich, no question about it. But not necessarily financially wealthy. He wants you “rich toward God.” That’s the way He phrases it in Luke 12:21. It’s a matter of loving Him and serving Him, doing His will and living in His fellowship, and bringing glory to His name. That’s being rich toward God.
You know, if Jesus was promising material prosperity, He certainly didn’t set a good example, did He? There were times when He had no place to lay His head, He said (Matthew 8:20). On one occasion He had to perform a miracle to pay the modest half-shekel Temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27). He didn’t even have that much. When He hung on the cross, the Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing, which seemed to be the total of all His earthly possessions (Matthew 27:35). And He evidentially left no estate because He had to commit the care of His mother to a friend, even while He was dying on the cross (John 19:26-27).
In His teaching He warned about storing up treasures on earth. In the parable of the sower He talked about the deceitfulness of riches (Mark 4:1-20). He explained on another occasion that a person’s life consists of more than the abundance of the things that he possesses (Luke 12:15). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man dies and goes to hell and the poor man named Lazarus is taken into the presence of God into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19-31). If Jesus wanted His followers to prosper financially, it would seem strange to tell a story that condemns a rich man and exalts a poverty-stricken beggar.
Somebody has observed, and I’m quoting: “Every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. And every time He teaches about the use of money, He counsels His disciples to give it away.”
That’s a strong statement, but I think it would stand close scrutiny. I want to read it again, because it may shock some people.
“Every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. And every time He teaches about the use of money, He counsels His disciples to give it away.”
You probably feel the way the disciples did that way. Astonished. The purveyors of the perpetual health and wealth message have either totally missed what it says, or have purposefully distorted the whole spirit of Jesus’ teaching.
The rest of the New Testament bears out what Jesus taught. When Peter and John confronted the lame beggar at the gate of the Temple, Peter spoke for them both and said, “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6). Well that’s a far cry from what the prosperity theologians, who have built huge financial empires at the expense of their followers.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless” (1 Corinthians 4:11). That’s the apostle Paul. If Jesus wanted all believers to be financially prosperous, the great and godly apostle Paul missed out. He missed it completely and I find it hard to conceive of. God has blessed some believers with considerable wealth. He has blessed them with an unusual ability to make money, and that’s good. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. So long as they realize God is the one who gives them the ability and the opportunity, and so long as they are good, responsible stewards for what God entrusts to them. But when our primary goal in life is to get rich—when that’s what we think about and pour our energies into—then we’ve fallen into the devil’s trap. And that’s not my idea; that’s what Paul said.
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).
Prosperity theology amounts to little more than a spiritual get-rich-quick scheme. It encourages people to give in order to get. That, my friends, is unmitigated, unabashed selfishness. It’s using God. It’s trying to manipulate Him to get what we want, rather than worshipping the Lord for who He is: for His great grace and goodness, and majesty and worth.
Paul had some rather uncomplimentary things to say about doing that. In 1 Timothy 6:5 he talked about people “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” I’ve never read a more apt description of prosperity theology. People who think godliness is a means of gain. What does Paul say about them? They have depraved minds and they have deprived of truth.
As someone has put it, “God has promised to meet all of our needs, not all of our greeds.
It may be increasingly difficult in our generation to distinguish between the two. But it is a fine line that God wants us to prayerfully seek and faithfully walk. His richest blessing will be upon the people who do.
Go back to that promise in Mark 10:30, please. There are two little words there that we haven’t talked about and we do need to. The prosperity theologians hardly ever mention these two words. I’m talking about the words, “with persecutions.” You see them?
“...will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
It’s easy to read the verse and miss them, isn’t it? You see, God’s purpose for our lives is not to make us wealthy, but to make us holy. And while God promises to meet our needs abundantly when we sacrifice for the cause of Christ, He also makes it clear that the world isn’t going to like us very much. In the world, you will have tribulation. The people who are of the world are going to do everything they can to make it unpleasant for holy people—people whose lives conform to the standard of His word. So it shouldn’t surprise us when people don’t like us. That doesn’t mean we ought to become unpleasant, ornery people—negative and judgmental—or isolationists. We should be the most generous and loving people on the earth. But if our lives are holy, they aren’t going to like us. And that shouldn’t concern us a great deal, because our primary reward is not in this life anyway.
While eternal life is the present possession of the believer according to the Bible, and while we get to enjoy many elements of that eternal life right here and now, the full enjoyment of it—of what is ours in Jesus Christ—awaits a future day. You see, Jesus said it right here in this verse: “And in the age to come, eternal life.” And that’s not something that’s designed to keep us satisfied in this life with little or nothing. Christianity is sometimes accused of being that. It’s the sure promise of the One who came from heaven’s glory, who returned there to prepare a place for us and promised to return again and receive us unto Himself.
That’s His promise. And when we enter that inheritance, we will experience and enjoy true riches to the fullest, in the very best sense of that term: True riches.
These words of Jesus do leave us with a challenge, however. Are we willing to lay our lives on the line for Him? To do His will, whatever He asks us. To yield ourselves totally to Him, give whatever He asks of us. I can’t tell you what that is. That’s between you and God. But give whatever He asks of us, then trust Him to minister to our needs in His own way.
Are we willing to do that? Many of you have done that. Some of you have given of yourselves far more than anyone will ever know. You haven’t broadcast it and you haven’t gotten a lot of glory for it. You just keep on sacrificing. You remain in the background, and quietly and faithfully give of yourselves and of your substance and of your time and of your energies, for the glory of the Lord Jesus. The concluding verse of this discourse should be an encouragement to you:
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).
You see, there are going to be some surprises when the rewards are doled out in glory. God sees things a little differently. He sees the attitude of our hearts, the motives of our lives.
So will you get that straightened out this morning if you haven’t done so? Will you yield your life to Jesus Christ, just lay it on the altar? Not to get anything back for it, but because He’s the God of all grace, who deserves our best, who deserves our all. Will you yield your life to Him? Just because you love Him.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe you’ve never put your trust in the Lord Jesus as your Savior from sin. We talked about that earlier in the message. Jesus said to Nicodemus one night, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Have you recognized your need? Have you acknowledged your sinfulness? Have you by faith entrusted yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation? If you have not done that, we invite you to do it right now. Settle it today.
Let’s bow our heads and our hearts prayerfully in His presence.
Bowed prayerfully, may I ask you if you’d like to make that decision today? I’m assuming there may be some here who have never done this. Will you do it today?
Receive the Lord Jesus as your own personal Savior. Turn from your sin to the Savior for forgiveness and eternal life. Seal it in prayer right now. In the quiet of your own soul, you talk to the Lord.
Lord, I’m a sinner and I believe Jesus died for my sins and paid the penalty I should pay. Lord, I’m trusting You as my Savior. Come into my heart. Give me that gift of eternal life that You promised.
Christian, have you given Him your all? Have you yielded yourself fully to His control? If there is any question, settle it right now. Not to get anything back, but because He deserves it. It’s our greatest act of worship.
Father, I pray that You will work in our hearts today to accomplish Your own good pleasure. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.