Conversations with Peter: Who’s first or is it Last?

Mark 10:17-31 is our next destination in our Conversations with Peter.  Except it’s not so much a conversation with Peter, as Peter really only makes a statement to Jesus.  It’s the response that Jesus gives that is truly remarkable though.  This passage is one of the most often misquoted and misused verses in the Bible, and there are quite a few.  The passage is often used by Socialist/Communists/New Democrats even to justify wealth redistribution, it’s also used as a justification to guilt people to give away their worldly goods in the name of Heaven.  Personally, I don’t think Christ was saying either.   Why, do you ask?  Well, buckle up, butter cup, I’m about to dig into it and explain.

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

We’re going to stop here for the moment and unpack this a little.  In the previous conversation, we saw Jesus coming off the mountain into a mess.  Once he dealt with that mess it was time for HIM and the disciples to move on, the beginning of Chapter 17 shows that they moved into the region of Judea, where as was customary, crowds found HIM and HE taught them and, once more HE was challenged by the Pharisees  who asked HIM a question about Divorce to trap HIM.   I’m not going to get into that topic in this blog, but divorce wasn’t something that GOD wants for HIS children, but it also is a part of life.  At the same time, JESUS also dealt with HIS disciples trying to limit access to HIM by trying to deny parents who wanted JESUS to bless their children.   Verse 14 states that JESUS was, well, pretty mad that the Disciples would do that, and verse 15 stands as a foundational standard of Christianity:  Faith Like a child.   

In verse 17, Jesus is wrapping things up and about to leave when HE’s stopped by a guy running up to HIM and asking a simple question, the question everyone asks when they eventually come to a point when they are curious about salvation: What must I do to have eternal life?   Jesus gives him a quiz , mainly on the 10 commandments, and the gentleman’s reply is, well, to me at least, a little arrogant.  He says he’s kept the 6 that Jesus named since his youth.   Why do I say it’s arrogant?  Well, the murder, adultery, and stealing commandments I can say would be a no brainer since any moral, civilized human being tries to adhere to those three, it’s the other three, the honor your father and mother, love your neighbor, and don’t give false testimony I doubt.   We all lie (at some point), everyone disobeys their parents at some point, and loving your neighbor….some of those neighbors are really hard to love.   However, this guys seemed sincere and eager, to the point that his sincerity touched JESUS, but Christ also knows our heart, and HE dug right at the root of this guys life, his identity.   Its says that when Jesus told him to give away all his money and follow HIM, he couldn’t do it because he was very rich…LOADED in fact.   You see, I don’t think it was that he was greedy, but that he had placed his identity in his wealth.  He was the rich kid, the one with the connections and coolest stuff.  He was probably sincere in his desire to follow CHRIST, but if it meant inconveniencing himself then maybe following Christ wasn’t so much a good idea.   Christ wasn’t expecting him to give up everything, but HE was expecting him to give CHRIST his identity, to go from being THE MAN, to being a child of GOD.  Humans have a tendency (I know I do) to create our identities by the things we do/like.   Money, Sports, jobs, status, stuff, sex, passions, hobbies, they all become a part of our identities.  Christ doesn’t want to be a part of our identity, HE wants to be our identity.   We are to be CHRIST followers, not “well I sorta am kinda a christian especially on Sunday and Wednesday” kind of people.   We are to be ones who follow CHRIST daily.   That’s a hard call.   That’s the expectation Jesus had of this guy, not to just give up everything because it was a good thing to do and GOD hates money.   NO!!   Give up everything and follow Christ, and watch how HE blesses you in return.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Again, Jesus isn’t railing against the rich here, HE’s making a statement on identity.   Generalizing things a bit here, but rich people quite often find their identity in their money and status.   They can’t buy their way into Heaven, so when the question is asked “Who can be saved”, the answer is quite obvious:   Man can’t do it on his own, but with GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!!

Now here we come to Peter’s big moment:

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “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 30 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Peter, being Captain Obvious pipes up and says, We’ve left everything already, to follow you.   To be honest I’m not really sure how to take that statement.   Was it said in pride and self-justification?  Or was a statement made in humility and trust?   Maybe it was a combination of both, but he put it out there.   What was Jesus’s reply?   Three things:
1.   If you give to me, I’ll bless you more than you can imagine.

       2.   Expect persecution

       3.  God doesn’t honor as man honors.

The last point is probably one of the most interesting statements CHRIST has made to this point.   Verse 32 says that they  were on their way to Jerusalem, and when JESUS said this, they were astonished.   What does it mean the first will be last, and the last first?   It’s simple, yet complicated.   Christ doesn’t honor like humans do.   We expect men who do great things publicly to be honored publicly.   That’s their reward, God’s method is counter-intuitive to that.   HE expects HIS children to not expect public honor, and to not do great things for public approval or even personal honor, but to do it because they are children of GOD and are looking only for HIS approval.   GOD honors those who honor him.  That’s the lesson HE was teaching here, not one of wealth redistribution or fake humility or religion, but honest worship and identity in CHRIST.

That’s this weeks (well, actually its last weeks since I was a lazy butt and didn’t post one), I hope it made sense to you and encourages you.

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