After hearing the illustration of the camel and needle, Jesus’s disciples were greatly astonished. You could even say they were flabbergasted to hear Jesus teaching that the wealthy would find it impossible to receive salvation.
Because they and many others had wrongly equated wealth with salvation!
And in their perplexity they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?”
You see, the disciples still had a lot of the Pharisees’ beliefs in them. They and the Jewish people had grown up in the school of thought that blessings or wealth were often associated with the favor of God.
But Jesus said that these things and the love of them often get in the way of a person’s love for God. Therefore, those who had such possessions, power, and prestige were more difficult to reach.
Why? Because such individuals can be self-reliant and have no room for God or the things of God.
They falsely believe that they have earned all they have, excluding God and His gracious provision on all accounts. Such people are usually self-indulgent and self-gratifying. They do what they please and not what God desires for them to do with what they have been given.
God is completely out of the equation in their minds and hearts and actions. Sadly, they are often so unaware of Him and His presence. And though they often do good things in the eyes of the world, these things are empty in God’s eyes. They are void of His presence and are often self-serving acts of glorification for themselves. Therefore, they receive their rewards here on earth, forfeiting heaven’s rewards and promises.
But Jesus offered hope! He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). It was a reminder that salvation has nothing to do with man and everything to do with God. Even the making of a decision for Christ comes from God Himself.
It is God who initiates a relationship with us, for on our own we would not seek Him.
We learn this truth through Romans 3:10-18 where Paul says:
As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’
Apart from Christ there is no good thing in us.
And therefore there is nothing we can do to earn His love or salvation. Nothing, that is, but to accept His free gift of salvation and eternal life. There is but one way to heaven and that is through faith in Christ and His redeeming work of salvation on the cross.
Anything and everything else falls short of His glory and therefore is a counterfeit. Something which the Devil would love for you to believe in.
And then it was dear sweet Peter who spoke his mind and raised the question, “Jesus we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
So what Peter was asking is something we all (if we were really honest) have asked at one time or another in our Christian walk.
Lord, if I leave it all to follow you, if I let go of my places of entertainment, my drinking, my circle of friends, what will I receive in return?
Peter had left his family, he had left his fishing business, he had left it all in order to follow Jesus and he wondered what his sacrifices might bring.
Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for asking such a question. Instead, He promised Peter and the others that they would be gathered with Him. And at the renewal of all things, referring to the new heaven and the new earth, each one will reign with Him, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
In verses 29-30, Jesus promised that everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, or fields for His sake will receive a hundred times more in this life. (The gospel of Mark includes, “and will inherit eternal life.”)
And then Jesus added this: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
He then taught them with a parable about a land owner.
The land owner went out early in the morning and hired men to work for him. He agreed to pay these men a denarius for the day’s work and they went out and did what they had been hired to do.
About the third hour, he went out again and saw others with nothing to do and he told them that they too could come work for Him. But this time he just said he would pay them what was right. These workers trusted him to be a fair man and they went to work.
Again, about the six hour, and at the ninth hour, the land owner did the same thing. And again at the 11th hour, well into the work day, the land owner went out and found still others standing around with nothing to do. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” They replied, “Because no one has hired us.”
Maybe these are people whom the gospel has not yet reached. Or those who have simply failed to respond but now it has become clear that their lives are empty and without meaning. Now they respond to the work the land owner has for them. You see where this is going, right?
When evening came (the end), the owner of the vineyard (God Himself) sent out His foreman (the Holy Spirit) to call the workers so that they may receive their wages. He started with the last ones first. To them He gave a full day’s wages, though they had worked the least. And so the others, who had been hired first, thought they would receive more.
But instead, each one received exactly the same–the agreed upon amount of one denarius–and they began to grumble against the landowner. They complained that He had made the others who had come after them equal to them who had born more of the burden, working more hours and in the heat of the day, suffering for longer.
But land owner (God) responded to one of them:
‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.