Reading Mathew 19:27-30
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[b]when the Son of Man will sit 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 lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[c] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
I suspect the verse that popped into everyone’s head, as the Gospel reading was shared, was “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” I must admit that when I read this it reminded me of all those times when children push into the front of the line and then the teacher or leader would say something along the lines: ‘No pushing now! Remember the last shall be first and the first shall be last!!!’ We’ve all heard it! However, I’m not totally convinced that is what Christ meant when he said it.
Just to bring you up to speed. This set of events happens directly after Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. You know the wealthy chap that asks Jesus “What must I do to receive eternal life?” After hearing Jesus’ response the man went away disappointed! The very thing he was asked to give up was the very thing that, in his mind, defined him as a worthy man! To this date we don’t know if he did what Christ asked! Even tho there was a suggestion that it was near impossible for him to comply. Jesus does indicate, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
So todays Gospel reading starts with Peter making a statement saying: “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” I’m only guessing but I have strong suspicion that Peter was trying to suck up to Christ or at the very least make a point that he has already done what was asked of the rich man.
He made me think of a child in a class who has completed all the work before the teacher has had a chance to explain it to the rest of the class and he/she is intent on telling everyone that the task has been completed.
What Christ then reveals is both inspiring and perhaps a glimpse of the things to come and as a result Peter, along with the other disciples, gets a rather mammoth responsibility!! This is what Christ says: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[b] when the Son of Man will sit 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 lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[c]and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first”
I have to admit that when Christ shares about eternity it excites me. It excites me because we, if we choose to follow Christ, are being reassured that there is something waiting for us after our earthly death! But I don’t know how I would react if Christ turned round to me and said! ‘Right here you go! I have a nice throne for you to sit on. Oh and by the way I want you to be a judge of a whole people group!!!’ It almost seems like Christ was saying to Peter: ‘Ok then clever pants! You think your so cleaver you then teach the class!’ If I’m honest if Christ gave me that kind of responsibility I think I would cry!!!
But in all seriousness, Christ never says anything by chance. He shares “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[c]and will inherit eternal life.” We know from our experience with the rich young man that following Christ is not easy and the more you have the harder it is to give up and I’m not just talking about material wealth and possessions.
A number of weeks ago I was given the opportunity to attend an evening with the Bishop of Bermuda. It was organised by a good friend of mine who had significant links into the business world and he wanted to give some of his friends, and colleges, a chance to hear the Bishops testimony and then provide an opportunity for all in attendance to ask the Bishop any questions they wanted. One of the questions asked, got me pondering. A businessman asked the Bishop: “Why do I need Christianity when I’m in a great place professionally, I have money to spend and I’m enjoying life!” Now I forget what the Bishops response was. I’m sure it was inspired. But his question started me to think about what he had asked and I came to the conclusion he was right. If your comfortably well off and enjoying life. Then considering your eternal outcome becomes less of a priority.
This experience really did clarify what Christ was trying to communicate when he said, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person 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.” I smugly thought I was in the camp of Peter “Look at me I’ve given up so much to follow the Christ! What do I get for being obedient?”
But as I started to think about todays reading in more detail I started to think about Christ’s response to Peter! There is reward for those who give up! Not just possessions but relationships and places of safety.
I couldn’t help think about the situation I find myself now. Without going into detail there are times that Christ calls us to give up something or move on and I’m in that place. Now I wouldn’t consider myself a materially wealthy man. However the comfort of my home and the relationships that I’ve built over the years are again being challenged and its funny the older I get the more difficult it becomes to respond to Christ’s call. I always thought it would be the other way!
The first time I moved house. It was exciting I had never done it before. I was moving into something new. The second time it was less exciting the memories of packing boxes and living in chaos for weeks rested in the back of my mind. Now the thought of moving again I find myself that I’m in a place where you become so comfortable you really start to question what Christ is asking of me! BANG! I am the rich man! I’m the one who is struggling to move on! Peter and the disciples did give up so much and Christ indicates the responsibility and reward they will expect in the new world. But I can’t even get to that place. I find myself challenged about what is expected of me when choosing to follow Christ. I wonder if you can relate?
Just before I wrap up I want to share a story with you. A story that was told to me by my South African theology lecturer, back when I was in college. It goes something like this:
There was a Sunday church service in session. The building was full of people who were dressed up in there Sunday best. The preacher was in full swing and everyone was listening intently to what he was saying. Suddenly in the back of the room a door opened and in walked a young man. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He had long hair that hadn’t been combed but was being held back with a bandana. He also had no shoes on displaying rather dirty looking bare feet. Everyone turned there heads to look and as you can imagine people started to stair and whisper!
The preacher continued to preach and the young man walked down the isle looking for somewhere to sit. People started to shuffle around and it became apparent that there was nowhere to place himself. Before long the lad was at the front of the church and as he realised there was nowhere to go so he decided to sit down on the carpet in front of the preacher and listen. People couldn’t believe his cheek.
A few moments later there was a creak and a cough as a more senior gentleman got up from his seat. He was well presented and as he shuffled into the isle people noticed he had a walking stick. But instead of assisting him to walk he held it in both hands. As he walked down the isle towards the front of the church people started to wonder what was he going to do? Was he going to throw the young man out? Or was he going to give him a piece of his mind for being so poorly presented in a house of worship? As he continued to walk even the preacher came to a halt to see what he was going to happen. Who could blame the old man it was all he knew! When he got to the young man. You could hear a pin drop in the church. The elderly gentleman looked down at the new face, he smiled, and despite it not being easy for a man of his age he used his walking stick to lower himself down to sit next to visitor. They then both looked at the preacher and the service continued.
To be a follower of Christ we will be called to sacrifice some of the things that we might consider close to us. Not because Christ wants us to suffer, not because it secures us a place in heaven but simply because our home isn’t here in Bermuda, or in the west, or on this earth. This life is just a journey to the new world that has been promised to us. To me this scripture serves as a reminder that there will be times when getting up out of the pew and walking across the room to sit with someone who is different to you no matter how uncomfortable it makes you is what we are called to do. If we truly follow Christ then we know that there is hope!
Let me leave you with this from a commentary:
“The heavenly inheritance is not given as earthly ones are, but according to God’s pleasure. Let us not trust in promising appearances or outward profession.”
In other words it is God who allows us to eternally live and his judgment is not formed on what we look like now and how we think world perceives us. It formed through His Grace, His love and His Mercy.
The last line of todays Scripture says “But many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This has nothing to do with whether we push in at the front or out of humility we let others go before us and don’t get me wrong it’s a awesome principle to uphold. It all to do with our relationship with Christ are we walking down the isle on our journey alongside Christ or are we stuck in a place of comfort. Because it’s those who are walking will be the ones who will eventually arrive in the new world.
So the challenge is simple. Let us be people who choose to walk alongside Christ no matter the earthly cost. And if Mathew 19 is anything to go by we can come to the understanding that it is not as easy as the challenge sounds. No journey was ever completed by people who weren’t prepared to head towards the destination. But there is a promise of a new world. And yes we will arrive at different times, and in different places, in the line. But if you are moving with Christ as your guide then you will arrive. Be encouraged….Amen.