“Leaving All for the Sake of Christ”
CXL. Expositions of the Gospel According to Luke
June 7, 2015
28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Lk 18:28-30)
The disciples are feeling spiritually vulnerable. They have just heard Jesus say that salvation is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It is “impossible with men” yet “possible with God.” Where, then, does that leave them? What is their status in relation to God and eternity? Peter, typically the spokesman for the disciples, raises the issue:
And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” (v. 28)
Peter’s claim in verse 28 is a direct answer to Jesus’ requirement in verse 22. Jesus demanded of the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have …and come, follow me” (v. 22). Peter responds, “We have left our homes and followed you” (v. 28). That is, have we not forsaken the idol of
temporal wealth, left all behind, and followed you? Have we not done what is necessary in order to “inherit eternal life” (v. 18) and be “saved” (v. 26)?1
So it is that we continue to deal with the question of life in the next world, of life beyond the grave, of eternal salvation. That eternal life, begun in verse 9 with the parable of the pharisee and the publican, is still the topic at hand is clear from verse 30, where Jesus assures those who abandon all to follow Him of “eternal life.”
For what purpose do we come to church Sunday by Sunday? Is it to hear some wisdom about how to get along better in this world? Is it so that we might receive some tips about how to have a better marriage, how to manage our money, how to get out of debt, or how to discipline our children? The Bible certainly has wisdom to impart in all of those areas. However, the Bible’s ultimate concern is not with this world, but with preparing for the next; it’s not about temporal things, but eternal; it’s not about the body, but the soul. The discussion of eternal life goes on, as Jesus interacts with Peter and the disciples and as perhaps even the rich young ruler listens in.
29And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29, 30)
Jesus’ response, says Green, affirms Peter’s understanding of “what constitutes discipleship and qualifies one for eternal life.”2 He doesn’t correct Peter or redirect him. “You’ve left all? That is precisely what I demand.” Salvation requires total commitment; it requires total surrender of all that we are, all that we have, and all that we hope to be. All our dreams and aspirations are laid on the altar of Christ and sacrificed. We leave it all behind.
Listen to the voice of Christian commitment as we hear it in the Bible. The Christian is the one who can say, “I have been crucified with Christ” and so “It is no longer I who live” (Gal 2:20). This is not just true of an apostle. “For you have died,” the Apostle Paul says to the whole church at Colossae and to us, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). He says to the Roman congregation that we were buried with Christ by baptism (Rom 6:4; cf. Gal 5:24; 6:14). “Our old self was crucified with him” (Rom 6:6) and we now have a new life that is “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:4, 11). He says to the whole church at Corinth and to us, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19).
“Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21) means unqualified commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord: commitment without reservation; commitment without negotiation; commitment without retaining elements of autonomy; without protected spheres of self-will; commitment with total abandon. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isa 55:7).”No corner (is) left for the least sin to skulk and save its life in – he must ‘forsake all,’” says Gurnall.3 The whole “way” of sin is to be forsaken. “Forsake all or none,” Gurnall warns. “Save one lust and you lose your soul.”4
Peter has understood Jesus correctly. Let us hope that we have as well. Don’t think of the gospel as fire insurance. Don’t seek salvation with half-measures. Jesus demands everything of us. This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be saved. I hand my life over to him to do with whatever He wishes. I obey his commands, I believe his instruction, I go where He sends. This is not an ascetic ideal, as though there were some inherent evil in material things and value in poverty. Rather Jesus is teaching his disciples to reorient their lives in light of the kingdom of God. They (we) are to live lives of total sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. What exactly this means will differ from person to person. As we lay our possessions and dreams on the altar, He may hand them right back. The details are not uniform. Some will be missionaries and ministers. Others will work in business, in professions, or as workers. Yet total commitment is demanded of all.
Worth it now
Yet, what Jesus requires is more than worth it. What He promises more than compensates for what He demands. “Truly,” Jesus says, underscoring a solemn promise. Those who have left all (represented by houses and spouses and siblings and parents) “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” will be rewarded richly “in this time,” in this age (kairos). Those inclined towards cost-benefit analyses should know, the benefits far outweigh the costs. They will receive “many times more, “not merely a little more, “in this time.”
Personal gain should not be the motive for following Jesus. If one is enlisting as a disciple of Jesus for the sake of worldly benefit, one is missing the point. Christian discipleship is not about material profit. All such is to be renounced when we become Christians. Yet, God will not fail to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 14:19). The disciples, says Gooding, will be “abundantly compensated for any loss (they) may incur for the sake of the kingdom of God.”5 The “many times” in Luke is a “hundredfold” in Matthew and Mark (Mt 19:29; Mk 10:30).
How is this so? It doesn’t appear that things work out in this way. Instead we see serious Christians denied promotions because of objections to unethical business practices. Instead we see serious Christians shunned and ostracized. Instead we see serious Christians persecuted and martyred. How can it be that Jesus promises abundance and compensation “in this time?”
First, we need to understand Jesus to be speaking in an equivalent sense. For example, when a young man goes to seminary, he typically assumes a life of poverty, or if not poverty, a life of scarcity. I could move my entire life, all my worldly possessions, minus my books, in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, when I was a newly graduated intern at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, Florida. After five years as an assistant, not much had changed (1981-86). Yet, a family would go on vacation, and I would find myself living in their mansion with a swimming pool in the backyard. A minister would resign, and I would move into a luxury home, the church’s manse, with yet another pool in the backyard. I ate like a king because so many people had mercy on the pitiful single minister. I had many homes though I had left my home in California.
I had many mothers. No one could replace my mother, but when I had to live in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in order to serve a Pasadena church as an intern or take Hebrew at Fuller Seminary, wonderful Mrs. Lamoreaux was like a mother to me. Every day I packed a turkey breast sandwich on sourdough bread. I was living in a beautiful home in Arcadia, California. In Coral Gables, Mrs. Billings was like a mother to me. This, of course, was before she became my mother-in-law. Yet there I was, living on Granada Blvd. in Coral Gables with yet another swimming pool and meals to suit a king.
I left home. I left my mother and father and sisters. Yet I had father figures like J. I. Packer and J. A. Motyer in my seminary years in England, and David Wells in my years in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Through the church God has provided thousands of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers over the years. The church is meant to be a community in which the life of the new age is seen, where the new relationships and the sharing of resources more than compensate for the losses we incur in following Christ. David Livingston (1813-1873), the great Scottish missionary who was the first European to explore the interior of Africa, paid a dear price for his labors. He was weakened almost to death by tropical diseases including malaria. He was attacked by a lion, who half tore off his arm. His wife died of a tropical disease. His health was ruined. Someone once said to him “What sacrifices you have made!” He answered, “Sacrifices? I never made a sacrifice in all my life.”6 I don’t know a serious Christian who wouldn’t agree. We lose nothing. All sacrifices are but privileges. The apostles left their persecutors “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Second, the promise of Jesus for this life must be taken in a “spiritual sense,” as J. C. Ryle says. “The meaning is,” he explains, “that the believer shall find in Christ a full equivalent (spiritually) for anything he is obliged to give up for Christ’s sake.” 7 What we find in Christ of peace, joy, comfort, and rest more than counterbalances our losses. The Apostle Paul says “we rejoice in our suffering” (Rom 5:3). He is “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor 12:10). “Consider it all joy,” James tells us, “when you encounter various trials” (Jas 1:2). “For it has been granted to you,” the Apostle tells the Philippian church and us, “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). Persecution was seen as a privilege. “He who voluntarily loses all this for Christ’s sake,” Calvin explains, “will have greater joys in this life than if he had kept them, and above all a reward is laid up for him in heaven.”8
This, then, is how we are to regard the losses and crosses of Christ’s disciples. Granted that believers are often persecuted, scorned, and martyred, and even if they don’t lose their lives, they often lose their spouses, children, houses, and jobs. Think of the suffering Christians in the Middle East. Think of the suffering Christians in Africa. Calvin’s answer:
I reply that if anyone rightly assesses God’s present grace by which He alleviates the miseries of His children he will confess that it is to be preferred to all the riches of the world.
He gives to His people peace in the midst of trials, even a peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7). He gives His people joy in the midst of troubles, even a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet 1:8). He gives His people contentment in the midst of both prosperity and deprivation (Phil 4:11ff). The “God of all comforts” extends His comfort to His afflicted and suffering people (2 Cor 1:3-7). True, His people suffer in this world. “Yet God,” says Calvin,
gladdens His people, so that the bit of good which they enjoy is far more to them, far sweeter, than if apart from Christ they possessed immense riches.9
Mark even adds, “with persecutions” that we might understand there will be suffering (Mk 10:30). “Yet,” continues Calvin, “so sweet is the flavoring of the grace of God which gladdens them that their state is more desirable than the delight of kings.”10 We cannot outgive God. How He pours out His blessings on those who abandon all to follow Him!
Worth it then
What about eternity? Eternal life. Eternal life (aiōnion) is not merely unending life. It is also a qualitative idea. It is abundant life (Jn 10:10). It is life of the “age (aioni) to come.” It is life in the kingdom of God in which all that is evil and corrupt, unjust and unfair, harmful and painful, heartbreaking and sad will be abolished. In Matthew’s gospel the new age is called the “new world,” or literally the “regeneration” (paliggenisia, Mt 19:28). So great is the life to come that the Apostle Paul can say,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18)
The benefits, the blessedness of the next world so overshadows any loss in this world that the subject of sufferings shouldn’t even be brought up. They are “not worthy to be compared.” Current suffering is “light momentary affliction,” and can only be considered such because our suffering contributes to “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).
Eternal life is the consummation of all the spiritual benefits that we enjoy now partially. Now our peace, the peace that Jesus imparts, the peace of God, is mixed with anxiety and with stress, even legitimate anxiety and stress (Mt 11:29; Phil 4:7). The Apostle Paul is burdened with the “care” for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28). Then our peace will be perfect, undiluted, complete, without a hint of fear or worry.
Now our joy is mixed with sorrow and sadness. “Sorrow upon sorrow,” is what the Apostle Paul anticipated if his friend Epaphroditus should die (Phil 2:27). He is “sorrowful” yet “always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). Then our joy will be undimmed by tears. Those tears will be dried. There will be no more “mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Rev 21:4). Joy will be unmitigated, pure, overflowing, unimaginable, a joy of which all the pleasures, all the occasions of happiness, all that delights in this world are but a distant, vague shadow of the blessed joys of God. Heaven is more a person than a place; it is where the God is whose presence is the fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).
Now the promised “rest” of Jesus is wonderful, yet it too is incomplete (Mt 11:28, 29). We are wearied by our work in this world and wearied by our sin and mistakes and errors. We end our days exhausted by both our labors and recreations. Then we will enter into God’s rest (Ps 95:11; Heb 4:1ff). Then our rest will be complete. Then the rest of which we get only a glimpse in this world will be perfect, uninterrupted, and complete. Then service of God will only refresh. Then there will be time, endless time, to behold the inspiring “beauty of the Lord,” which will surpass by infinity all the beauties of this world put together (Ps 27:4). Then we will taste of the Lord and see that He is good, better than anything that we have ever tasted, all worldly tastes together being only a distant shadow of the taste we will have in God (Ps 34:8). Endlessly we will feed upon the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35). Eternally we will partake of living water (Jn 4:10).
Is it worth it to abandon all to follow Jesus? Is it worth it to surrender all for the kingdom of God? Indeed, all losses and crosses “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom 8:18, NASB).
“The unspoken thought is, ‘Have we qualified for entry to the kingdom?’” (Marshall, 688).
Gurnall, Christian in Complete Armour, I:513.
Cited in Barclay, 239.