May 17th, 2020
Hello and welcome to season 2 episode 78 of The Berean Manifesto, brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 minutes, or so, we are going to be talking about what we have in common with camels.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke it’s recorded that as Jesus was moving on from a time of ministry in Judea that a young man ran up, knelt in front of Him, and calling Him “good teacher” asked Jesus what good he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him what any rabbi worth their prayer cloth would, to keep the commandments. The young man asks which ones to follow and Jesus starts listing the Ten Commandments. But in all three Gospels, before Jesus can finish the list, the young man insists that he’s kept all these commandments since he was young. Jesus tells him that he’s still lacking in one thing. The eager young man asks what he lacks. Jesus tells him to go and sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. This will get him treasure in heaven and he can come and follow Jesus. The young man leaves grieved because he had lots of stuff.
Then Jesus tells the disciples that it’s hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God depending on what Gospel you’re reading from, then continues, (Matthew 19:24 & Luke 18:25) “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.” The disciples are astonished by this revelation because they were convinced it meant that nobody could then be saved.
We talk on The Berean Manifesto about understanding cultural context, and this is one of those moments. In walled cities there was traditionally a small “gate,” more of a door-sized stone passageway really, in Jerusalem this was known as the eye of the needle, that could be used to enter the city after the city gates had closed for the night. For the poor, who carried nothing more than a walking stick and a food pouch, this wasn’t a problem. But for people like the rich young man above, they would load everything they needed to sustain the same quality of living as they had back home onto the back of a camel, or camels. If they reached the city after the gates had closed for the night, then the rich had a difficult choice to make. They could leave their camels and the bulk of their possessions outside the city walls and slum it for the night, they could set up camp outside the city walls and run the risk of falling prey to beasts or villainy, or they could un-burden their camel, carry the stuff through the small passageway themselves, and then navigate the camel down onto its knees and try to manipulate the camel through a passageway of stone-built for something the size of a human. Without the prodding and manipulation of the camel’s human counterpart, that camel is never getting through that entryway.
Jesus tells the disciples that when it sounds like he’s saying that no one can be saved, this is exactly what He’s saying. (Matthew 19:26) That being saved is an impossible feat for mankind alone, but with God all things are possible. Which takes us back to the young man’s question from before about what good he could do to inherit eternal life. To which the long and short of the answer is, nothing. There is nothing we can do of our own power to be saved. It’s a faith issue (Hebrews 10:9-10), you confess with your mouth that, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you are saved. You’re made righteous by the belief of your heart and saved by the confession of your mouth.
The deeper message of what Jesus appears to be teaching here is that, like the camel with the eye of the needle, it’s impossible to make it into the kingdom of God burdened by the riches of this world. Not because money and things are inherently bad, but because humans are worshipers by default. Inevitably those worldly possessions become distractions from God, or worse, they become idols.
In Exodus 20:4-6 CSB God commands, “ Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.  Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers' iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands.”
In hindsight, this commandment is very telling. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God and that salvation is by faith alone. Lower gods within our reach and idols take faith out of the equation. When we begin to worship television, celebrities, sports teams, civic duties, religion, and religious relics we become the burdened camel who can’t make it through the eye of the needle.
In the last couple of episodes, we talked about The Sabbath, first the letter and history of the law of The Sabbath, and then the Spirit of The Sabbath and the importance of what it is for us today. In those episodes, we read from John 5 where Jesus tells a man who’d been disabled for thirty-eight years to pick up his mat and walk. The man was healed, and the Jews of the area had a problem with this since it was on the Sabbath. Further along in that chapter Jesus is still speaking to this crowd who took offense to healing on the Sabbath and in John 5:39-40 CSB He says, “ You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me.  But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.” Jesus is telling them that even though salvation was standing right in front of them they couldn’t see it because they had made an idol out of the Scriptures. What God meant for good, to point to salvation, mankind had elevated into an idol.
So, what idols have you set up in your life? What are the things in your life that you need to unburden for the sake of your faith?
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”