"Losses and Gains"
(Delivered Sunday, December 16, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This passage tells of a question that the apostle Peter asked of the Lord. As so often was the case with the twelve disciples, Peter was the one who stepped forward to ask questions; while the rest stood behind him awaiting the answer. And, of course, this passage also tells us of our Lord's gracious response.
But to fully appreciate this question, and the answer that follows, it's important to know the context. You see; when we come to this passage, we find that the disciples had just been witnesses a remarkable event. And it was that event that prompted the question.
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This event occurred as Jesus and His disciples were walking on the road while on their way to Jerusalem. Our Lord had already told them that He was going there to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21). He was telling them that He was on His way their to take up His cross.
And then, Jesus went on to tell His disciples that they themselves must be prepared to do the same for Him. He said,
Jesus was making it clear to the disciples that following Him was not going to be an easy path. It would involve losses and sacrifices. But it also involved the promise of rewards to those who were faithful to follow Him along that hard path.
I suspect that, though they didn't understand fully the things Jesus had said to them, these things were nevertheless rolling around in their minds. And while on the way to Jerusalem—with these strange words of our Lord in their thoughts—a rich young ruler ran up to Jesus.
This young man was the very picture of morality and success. He was, from all appearances, the finest of men. And yet, he knelt before Jesus and implored Him to answer a question that plagued his soul: "Good Teacher, what must I do that I may have eternal life?" (Matthew 19:17).
The disciples watched as Jesus set the law of God before this moral young man. And the man insisted that he had obeyed God's law from his youth. What was still missing? Jesus revealed that missing element when he told the man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (v. 21). And as a result, the man walked away sorrowfully; "for he had great possessions" (v. 22). Clearly, this rich young ruler could not fulfill Jesus' basic requirement to be one of His followers. He could not deny himself and take up his cross. He could not 'find' his life by 'losing' it for Jesus' sake and at Jesus' call. He loved his riches more than he loved God.
All of this shocked the disciples. It caused them to take inventory of themselves, and to discover that they in fact had given up everything to follow Jesus. It's only natural that Peter would then turn to the Lord and say, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?"
And if you have become a follower of Jesus—and if you have found that it has indeed cost you to follow Him—perhaps you would want the answer to that question yourself! What about those of us who obey Jesus' call to follow—and who suffer loss as a result? What shall we have?
It's an important question. And Jesus answers it for us in this passage.
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Before we look further into our Lord's answer to this question, I want to go on record as saying that I don't believe Peter was out of line in asking it. You'd be surprised how many Bible teachers and commentators have condemned Peter for having done so. "Peter was messing up again", they've said. "A truly devoted follower of Jesus should never be concerned about such things. We should only be concerned about giving ourselves to the Lord without regard to anything we may get from it. To have asked such a question just goes to show how immature and selfishly motivated Peter still was."
I, however, respectfully disagree. First of all, I note that when Peter had asked this question, he and the others had already given up everything for Jesus, and had already been following Him for some time.
Do you remember the way Peter and some of the others began their journey with the Lord? Luke tells us about it in his Gospel:
Long before Peter had ever asked the question in our passage this morning, he had already fallen before Jesus and confessed his utter sinfulness and unworthiness. And when Jesus graciously called him and his friends James and John into His service, they "forsook all and followed Him". Perhaps Peter and the others hadn't given up as much as the rich young ruler was being called upon to give up. But of what they did had, they forsook all and followed Jesus. I believe we should remember that before we condemn Peter for asking this question.
What's more, I believe that before we condemn Peter for this question, we should take careful note of the fact that our Lord didn't condemn him for it. He certainly could have. We know that our Lord had rebuked Peter for other things he said—in fact, very sharply at times! But we don't get the sense that Peter was rebuked in any way for having asked what he and the others would have for having forsaken all and following their Master.
Some have rightly said that it would be wrong to make this our primary focus—what we will receive for our service to Christ. When we serve our Lord and obey His call, we should never make our obedience contingent on what we will get out of it. He gave His all for us in mercy when we could give nothing to Him; and grateful love demands that we should be willing to give our all to Him in return. But I don't believe that we would be wrong in wanting to know what the rewards of faithful service to Him are—especially when He condescends to tell us!
Perhaps it's best to say that, from the standpoint of those early disciples, it was not at all wrong for Peter to ask. But because he asked, from the standpoint of our walk by faith today, we no longer need to ask. We can take the Lord's answer them as His once-for-all-time answer to us.
So; this little passage teaches us an important spiritual lesson. It contains something that our Lord obviously wanted us to know; and that the Holy Spirit graciously preserved in the Scriptures for our edification. It is that we can safely suffer loss in obedience to the call of Jesus, because He promises that we will gain back whatever we forsake many times over. No one who gives up all to follow Jesus will ever end up a loser!
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First, let's look closer at this passage and notice something that it honestly tells us . . .
1. THERE ARE LOSSES THAT COME WITH JESUS' CALL (v. 27).
There's no false advertising here. To say 'yes' to Jesus' call may mean saying 'no' to the legitimate comforts and securities that this world has to offer. Clearly it did so for Peter and the others. They were able to say to Jesus, "See, we have left all and followed You." And Jesus doesn't correct them for having made this claim.
In the cases of Peter and his brother Andrew, it meant leaving their fishing business behind. Many of us who have heard the Lord's clear call to enter into His service have had to leave behind a profitable career or business. Some have had to leave behind a vocation that, in this world's eyes, is far more respected and desired. Some have had to forsake the use of their skills and talents in money-making fields, and apply them to the Lord's service in ways that the world doesn't notice or value.
In the case of James and John, their sacrifice was even more difficult. They not only had to leave their fishing business behind—because they were partners with Peter and Andrew; but they also had to leave family ties behind along with it. Matthew tells us that when Jesus was going along by the Sea of Galilee,
We don't get any sense that they wrongfully abandoned their father. Zebedee isn't presented as having objected. But there's no question that they had to make the tough decision to leave their father behind, along with the trade their father had taught them, and perhaps even a family business that took many years to build, in order to answer Jesus' call.
Or take Matthew himself—the man whom the Lord used to record these words for us. He was a tax-collector—a man who took taxes from his own Jewish kinsmen on behalf of the Roman government. His occupation was not only a notorious and despised one; but it was also very lucrative. When he was through paying-off the required amount to the Roman government from what he collected, the rest was pure profit. And yet, we read that Jesus saw him sitting at the tax office as He walked by; and told Matthew, "Follow Me" (Matthew 9:9). It was up to one of the other Gospel writers to point out that humble Matthew "left all, rose up, and followed Him" (Luke 5:28).
In verse 29, Jesus indicates that His call to service may require that some very precious things be left behind. He suggest that some would have to leave "houses"—the places that not only represent security and provision for the future, but that also provide comfort and safety and rest. Jesus Himself felt this; because He said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20).
Some would have to leave "brothers or sisters". Our Lord certainly knew what that was like; because the Bible tells us that "even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:5). Others would have to leave "father or mother" behind. Many can testify that following Jesus has put them at odds—sometimes irreconcilably—with their closest family members. In some countries and cultures, it involves being set outside the family forever.
Some would have to leave the comforts of their own immediate family circle. Some would have to leave children behind. In the translation I'm using, it says that some may even have to leave the comforts of a wife behind; and though not all copies of Matthew's original text contain this, Luke clearly and incontestably has Jesus saying this in his Gospel (Luke 18:29). I don't believe that the Lord ever calls a man to abandon his rightful responsibilities to his wife and children. But rather, I believe this would most likely mean that a man may be called serve the Lord rather than to even marry and start a family. As Jesus said, there are some "who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matthew 19:12). Paul even encouraged those who could do so to stay single and give themselves undistractedly to the Lord's service (1 Corinthians 7:6-8, 32-35). But it is also sadly possible that becoming a follower of Jesus Christ may put a wedge between a believer and their unbelieving spouse. A new believers' faith in Jesus Christ may be so deeply resented by that unbelieving husband or wife that they "depart" (1 Corinthians 7:15); and a follower of Jesus must be prepared to pay even that price.
Some would have to leave "lands" behind—which would have been an unthinkable thing in the Jewish culture. Land was the earthly inheritance of each Jewish tribe—and of each family in that tribe. To leave land behind would be to leave behind a connectedness with one's own earthly past and one's own earthly future.
There have been many who have followed Jesus who found themselves at the fork of a difficult decision; and who have found that following further with Him required that they willingly forsake some of the most precious and valued comforts of this world. And what's more, there have been many who have found that these things were taken from them against their will—that is, forcibly and violently—because of their commitment to Christ. Hebrews 10:34 speaks of those who were commended because they "joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven." Others, Hebrews tells us,
Jesus was honest about all this. When He first called His disciples, He warned them,
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It truly does cost to follow Jesus. It's the most expensive adventure a man or woman could ever sign up for. It most definitely involves a loss of many of the comforts and pleasures of this world. So, it's a fair and reasonable question that Peter asked of the Lord; "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?"
It's a question that Jesus graciously answers. Matthew says that He answered "them". In the original language of the Bible, He speaks in the plural, to them all. I believe that He answered not only for their sakes, but for ours also.
And in His answer . . .
2. HE PROMISES TO RESTORE A HUNDREDFOLD TO THOSE WHO FOLLOW HIM (vv. 28-29).
The first thing we should notice is that Jesus' answer is solemn. He says, "Assuredly I say to you . . ." (v. 28). And that's a phrase from our Savior's lips that should never be taken lightly. All that our Lord and Master says is true; but here, He calls our attention in a very emphatic way to the truth of what He is about to say. It's a once-for-all-time answer to this important question; and it's one that you and I can trust in.
Then, we see that part of Jesus' answer is spoken specifically to the twelve disciples. Historians tell us that every one of the twelve died a martyr's death for our Savior—with the exception of two. Judas Iscariot, of course, went out and hanged himself after he betrayed the Savior. And John, the beloved apostle, survived an attempt to take his life and went on to die at a very old age in exile. But all of the others, historically, died at the hands of those who opposed them in the preaching of the gospel. They gave their all for Him; and He promises to give them a unique position in His kingdom. He says, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (v. 28).
He tells them that this will happen at a time He calls "the regeneration". The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is in Titus 3:5; where the apostle Paul speaks of God's mercy in saving us, "through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit". In that case, the word refers to a personal work of salvation, in which God causes someone who believes on Jesus to become "a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). But here, in our Lord's answer the disciples, He speaks of something that has a much broader application.
"The regeneration" is stated by Jesus to be that time "when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory". That's a reference to our Lord's Messianic reign upon the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. Daniel 7:13-14 speaks of this time when it says;
The apostle Paul spoke of this time as truly a "regeneration" for all of creation. He says;
I believe that the Bible teaches that it will be a time when the glories of the Jewish people, under the rule of the glorious Son of King David, will be restored on the earth. As Paul says of his kinsmen, "if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15). Jesus Himself will rule on earth as the King of the Jews; and it will be His twelve apostles who will serve Him on twelve thrones—judging the twelve tribes.
Who will be added to the number of disciples to sit on those twelve thrones, since Judas will not be among them? Will it be Paul, as some believe? Or, as others suggest, will it be Matthias—the disciple we find in the first chapter of Acts who took Judas' place? What will that glorious reign on earth look like? How will all of this work out? I don't know. But I look forward to finding out; don't you?
It will be the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to the remaining eleven of 'the twelve'—just before He went to the cross: "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30).
They continued with Him—even in His trials. They laid their lives down for Him as His appointed "sent-ones"; who heard the message of the Gospel from His own lips, and then passed it on authoritatively to the world. And He lets them know that He will not forget them. They will be remembered for everything that they gave up in His service. They will be rewarded with eternal honor in His kingdom.
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But that's the promise to the twelve apostles. What about those of us who have believed their message, and have gone on to follow Jesus as they did? Jesus has a promise for us too. He goes on to say, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (v. 29).
Jesus' promise is a broad one. It applies to "everyone who has left" the comforts and securities of this life to follow His call. And when we read how this promise is recorded in other Gospel accounts, we see that it comes in two parts. The first part applies, as Mark has it, to life "in this time" (Mark 10:30); or as Luke has it, "in the present time" (Luke 18:29). Right now—at this time, as we live for Jesus on this earth—He promises that we shall receive "a hundredfold" of that which we have left for His name's sake.
Now; I don't believe we're to take this in a strictly literal sense—as if we will have "a hundred fathers" or "a hundred mothers". But I have learned something wonderful about the Body of Christ. In a sense, I have—right now—countless "fathers" in the older saintly Christian men who bear a kind and godly influence in my life. And I have countless "mothers" in the older saintly Christian women who love me with motherly love.
A follower of Jesus may be called upon to give up the comforts and security of "houses" and "lands"; but in the family love of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, he or she can enjoy the comfort and security of the countless "houses" and "lands" of other brothers and sisters who share hospitality and the comforts of life with them. “[N]either did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own,” the Bible tells us of the early Christians; “but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). Many may have had to leave "brothers" or "sisters" behind; but they have countless other brothers and sisters with whom they share loving fellowship and the hopes of eternity.
I hesitate, of course, to suggest that anyone who leaves a wife behind can expect to have a 'hundredfold'. But even if our faithfulness to the Lord causes the loss of the bond of the closest family circle; we have the Lord Jesus Himself as our "spouse"; and we have the infinite fellowship of the children of God as our family members.
John Wesley was a man who 'sacrificed' much for the cause of the gospel. But it was his own personal testimony that he never once, in all his long life, felt he really sacrificed anything for the Lord—because the Lord gave it all back to him a hundredfold. Whatever it may cost you or me "in this time" to follow Jesus, we have His promise that we will receive from His hand—multiple times over—whatever it is that we had to forsake.
And the second part of our Lord's promise to us applies to life, as Mark has it, "in the age to come" (Mark 10:30). Jesus says we will "inherit eternal life" (v. 29). The greatest reason to follow Jesus Christ is because He is the pathway to eternal life! As Peter himself once wrote, we have been a living hope through the resurrection of Christ, “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). We gain back everything in life that we give up in order to follow Jesus faithfully; and when it's over, we gain life eternal with Him!
We give up for Jesus what we cannot keep, in order to gain with Him what we cannot lose! Following Jesus is the greatest deal in the universe!
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Now; before we come to a close, I believe it's important to stress that this isn't a promise for just anyone who gives up anything. Many people have "left" the comforts of life in order to pursue a self-imposed, pseudo-spiritual, monastic life of asceticism. And that accomplishes nothing. Such behavior is nothing more than presumption; and it gains no favor from the Lord.
Jesus makes it very clear that we aren't to lay aside the things of life on our own initiative. Rather, we are only to do so in response to His call. Peter, James, John, Matthew, and the others, left everything behind when Jesus called them! He goes before us—beckoning us as it were; and we "follow" Him only where He leads. In verse 29, Jesus applies this promise only to those who leave the comforts of this life "for My sake"; or as it is in Mark's account, "for My sake and the gospel's" (Mark 10:30); or as it is in Luke's account, "for the sake of the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:29).
But the main point is this: When He calls us to follow; and when that call to follow involves leaving behind the comforts and security of the things of this world, you can safely let those things go. We can confidently suffer loss of all things at the call of Jesus; because He promises that we will gain many times over whatever it is that we forsake for Him.
Is He calling you in some way today? Trust Him! No one who gives their all for Him will ever end up a loser.
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