That last several bible study posts we have been looking at the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. We started by looking at the original context and the most likely meaning. Then we looked at two ways that Christians often get money wrong. Next we looked at our own generosity and finally we talked about what I would consider the main point that we can apply; that is do we own our life or does God?
In this last post on this story I want to consider something that I think often gets lost when we read this. And that is the last part where Peter and Jesus talk about the disciples and what they have left to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus’ teaching on how only God can let people in and that if you don’t surrender all to Him you won’t get in, Peter responds. You can see the wheels turning in Peter’s head. He says, “We have left everything to follow you. What will there be for us?”
Let’s just stop here for a minute and appreciate that Peter just asked the Christ what is in it for us. It’s an amazingly bold question. At first blush it may seem like an inappropriate one. Who is Peter (who are we) to ask that. Just obey. But actually it’s a pretty fair question. They really have left everything. And they haven’t even realized all that they are about to leave.
Jesus doesn’t take offense at all to the question. He answers Him saying that at the renewal of all things the apostles will sit on the twelve thrones of Israel and that everyone who has left houses, fields brothers and sisters, wives and children** for my sake will receive 100 times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.
This raises some interesting questions about heaven that we don’t talk much about in Christianity. Actually we don’t talk about heaven hardly at all. I don’t have space here to do a whole post, or several on heaven and why we don’t talk about it. But I think we should talk about it far more.
But what this conversation between Peter and Jesus tells us that everyone will not be equal in Heaven.
Now before you get too uncomfortable let me say that we are all created in God’s image. We have equal value. But pretty much nothing else is equal if you think about it. We don’t have equal conditions. We don’t have equal opportunities. We don’t have equal skills or talents. No matter what we do we won’t have equal outcomes. That’s just not the way it works. Jesus didn’t change any of that.
What Jesus did was demonstrate time and again equal value and equal dignity of each person regardless of condition, lifestyle up to that point, skills, talents, monetary or societal status and so on. He challenges viewing people’s worth based on any of that, because God doesn’t. That’s one way in which many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.
But that’s not the only way. You see there will be many who think that they are first in the Kingdom for whatever reason will be last and vice versa. In fact there will be those who think that they are in the Kingdom who will not be. We should not presume our place. Ever.
At the same time we can be expectant. Jesus tells us in several different ways to store up treasure in heaven not on earth. In other words don’t work for earthly reward but for eternal reward. This means that there will indeed be reward.
This makes us in our current culture and indeed in our current Christian culture very uncomfortable. But I think we should be even more uncomfortable. By ignoring these truths we can become complacent in our faith. If we will all be the same, all get the same reward, why sacrifice more? Why should I store up treasure in heaven if my treasure will be the same as everyone else’s anyway.
What we need to understand is that there won’t be competition or jealousy in heaven. We’ll all be with God. Our cups will be 100% full. But we are not all the same size cup.
I heard a pastor one time give an incredible analogy to explain this. It’s the only place I’ve ever heard it and I’m convinced that God straight up gave him the analogy.
Last year the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl. It was the first time in 50 years. Now let’s say that there are three men at the game – actually in attendance at the Super Bowl. The first man is a Chief’s fan. They are his NFL team. He’s from Kansas City and watches most games. He even attends a couple of times a year. The second man loves the Chiefs. He has rooted for them his whole life. He is a season ticket holder and goes to every game. He watches every away game on TV. He can tell you every player on the team. He has a lot of Chief’s gear. He’s waited a long time for this. The third man lives and breathes the Chiefs. He’s old. He’s been a season ticket holder since the 60’s when the Chiefs came to Kansas City. He remembers the last Super Bowl they won. He has gone to every home game ever. He went to games when they were terrible during the 80’s. He can tell you about every player the Chief’s have ever had and all their statistics.
The final whistle blows. The Chiefs have won. The confetti falls and everyone is going crazy. The fist man is so happy. He can’t believe he is here for this. It’s the greatest thing ever. The second man is emotional and overcome with joy. He maybe shed some tears of joy. He wasn’t sure they would ever win a Super Bowl. This is an incredible high. The third man though . . . honestly I’m not even sure how to describe this. His whole life is in this. It is as if he, and not just the team won. Indescribable emotion – all good.
All three men are there. All three are full. None wish they were the other. But wouldn’t you want to be the third guy?
If we get to heaven it’s going to be good. For all of us. We’re not going to envy anyone or feel like we are missing out. But friends, why not work to be the third guy?
**Some manuscripts here imply that leaving wives and children means not getting married – choosing celibacy for the Kingdom which I would suggest is probably a fair reading.