Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jesus and the Rich

Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem.  He was going there to proclaim his authority over the city, but also to be killed by the leaders.  Nevertheless, he made it clear that he was heading toward Jerusalem.  Some of the Samaritans, who thought the temple in Jerusalem was not of God, was angry at Jesus because of his focus on the city, but Jesus ignored them.  Every step drew him closer to the cross, and he called everyone who followed him to take up a cross for themselves.

As Jesus was walking to Jerusalem, a young man stopped him and asked a question, “Good Teacher, what do I have to do to gain eternal life—to enter God’s kingdom?”  It seemed at first that the man was just trying to test Jesus so Jesus said, “Don’t flatter me.  Only God is ‘good.’  And as far as your question goes, everyone knows how to have eternal life, you don’t need to ask me about that.  Follow the commands from God—Don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness, honor your father and mother—you know all that.”

            The young man replied, “Yes, I know all that.  I have been keeping these commands all of my life.  Are you telling me that there isn’t anything more?”  Jesus then saw that the man was sincere and he desired to help him in any way he could, “If you want to be sure of God’s kingdom, then do this—sell off everything you have, then take that money and give it all to the poor.  At that point, your reward in heaven is guaranteed.  Once you’ve done that, follow me.  I am going to the cross, and anyone who would come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  Come.” 

            However, the young man walked away in mourning because he had many possessions and to get rid of them all was very difficult.  He didn’t know he could do it.  Watching the man, Jesus mentioned to his disciples, “It is very hard for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom.”  The disciples were surprised at this, so Jesus said, “Are you surprised?  It is so hard for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom, that it would be easier for me to take a camel and put it through a needle’s eye than to get a rich man into God’s kingdom.”  The disciples were shocked and said, “Then can no one be saved?  Can no one enter into God’s kingdom?”  Jesus nodded and said, “It is just about impossible.  But the things that are impossible for people are more than possible if God is with you.” 

Peter's boat, still at the Sea of Galilee
            Peter, though, thought about what Jesus said to the wealthy man and asked, “Lord?  You told that man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.  But we didn’t sell our possessions.  We left them, yes, but they are still sitting there waiting for us.  And I had no intention of selling them.  Will we gain God’s kingdom?”

            Jesus replied, “Don’t worry, Peter.  Anyone who gives up what they have for me and for the gospel—whether it be their family, their homes, their land or their job—will gain more, much more.  Those who surrender all for me will gain more family, more homes, more land and more work—and more persecutions.  And in the end, they will gain eternal life.”

            A little while later, Jesus was travelling through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.  As he was passing through, a huge crowd surrounded him, blocking the streets.  There was a very wealthy man in Jericho named Zaccheus.  He was a chief tax collector of the Romans, and that and his wealth indicated that he had cheated money out of his fellow Jews.  Because of this, he was ostracized by all of his people, they wouldn’t even go to his house or greet him. 

            Zaccheus, however, greatly desired to be right with God.  And he figured that Jesus was one of the last chances he had to repent and make peace with God.  So Zaccheus tried to get through the crowd to meet Jesus.  But he was so short, no one even noticed he was trying to get through.  Frustrated, Zaccheus decided that even if he had to look foolish, he would meet Jesus.  So Zaccheus went ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree, and then waited for Jesus to pass it. 

            As the crowd passed, they laughed at him, but Zaccheus didn’t care.  One of those from Jericho whispered to Jesus, “This is Zaccheus, the chief tax collector of Jericho.”  That was all Jesus needed to know.  He said, “Come down Zaccheus.  I need to stay at your house today.”  Zaccheus thought that was great—he was finally having the change to make his life right with God.  But some others didn’t think it was great.  They said, “Doesn’t he know what a terrible sinner this man is?  Why is he even talking to him?”

            Zaccheus heard the accusation and said, “I say that beginning today I will give half of what I make to the poor.  And on top of that, I will do just as Moses’ law commands and give back four times as much to anyone whom I have stolen from.”  Jesus was impressed and said, “You see—today Zaccheus has come back from sin and is once again a child of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.”

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