And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
How do we get to heaven?
It is part of our human nature to believe that we can climb to heaven by our own merits. Our nature runs from God and sets up for itself its own way of doing things. Adam would rather hide from God after transgressing the holy command, and so also you and me. But no human just hides; we build for ourselves and create for ourselves our own gods. This all comes down to the first commandment: You shall have no other gods.
First, let’s ask the question, “What is a god?” Consider these words of Martin Luther (taken from the Large Catechism),
“A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” [Large Catechism, Part 1, Paragraph 1]
What are some examples of what we make into our gods instead of the true Triune God? (money, sports, cars, significant others, etc.) Jesus isn’t saying that rich people can’t enter heaven; He’s identifying a false god that is captivating the trust of people. These same people–you and me–can’t direct our fear, trust and love in the right place, namely to God. Thus Jesus says, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” It isn’t impossible, but it is very difficult. What has made this so difficult? What does God forbid in the first commandment? (Look up Isaiah 42:8, Matthew 4:10, 1 Corinthians 8:4, or 1 John 5:21) Can money and possessions still be idols to us today? None of us is immune. We are all sinners and we all break the first commandment. If that were the end of the story, it would be impossible to enter the kingdom of God.
But with God, it is not impossible. He has sent a savior to you and me. This is where it all gets really interesting. Our God isn’t a thing fashioned by hands, carved from rock or wood or distant from us. Our God is a human just like you. Instead of being distant and observing from the stars above, God came to where you are and took on flesh and blood. And as a man, tempted in every way like you, He kept all the law of God perfectly for you. He feared, trusted and loved God above all things. You wouldn’t be able to please God if it wasn’t for Jesus and His work. This Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit, washing you of your sin and planting faith in your heart. That faith clings to the cross of Jesus and doesn’t let go. In faith, you hear the Word of God and keep it. Because of Jesus, you are righteous before the Father and free from your sin. (Look at the Third Article of the Creed and talk about the gifts by which the Holy Spirit enlightens us.)
What does it mean to fear God?
Do you know anyone that believes in a god that is not the triune God? See Matthew 28:20 and John 5:23.
Can rich people enter heaven?
Consider: Psalm 34:1-4, 17-18 (Introit for the Day)
O God, Your divine wisdom sets in order all things in heaven and on earth. Put away from us all things hurtful and give us those things that are beneficial for us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Published October 2012