************ Sermon on Matthew 19:23-24 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 16, 2005
"Bellyaches and Camels"
NOTE: Credit for my explanation about "camels," "hard" and "easier" needs to go to Dr. Richard Wevers, my Greek Professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Topic: GivingWe would have to say that Marquis de Lafayette had the opposite attitude of the rich young man in our Bible reading. The Marquis knew that real love is often measured by our willingness to let go of what we possess. He knew that the thing we grip most tightly in our hands is the very thing God sometimes asks us to hand over to Him.
Marquis de Lafayette was a French general and politician who joined the American Revolution and became a friend of George Washington. An influential man in the U.S. and France, Lafayette was also a man of compassion. The harvest of 1782 was a poor one, but the manager of his estate had filled his barns with wheat. "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat," said his manager. "This is the time to sell."
Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the villages and replied, "No, this is the time to give."
A careful look at what Jesus says in the passage in front of us shows us what real giving is, what it means to give gracefully, and how hard it is for us to give gracefully.
I Something Missing
A Most of us know the story in front of us very well. A rich young man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" When the young man is told to keep the commandments, he replies, with obvious self-righteousness, "All these things I have kept."
Here was a rich young man who kept himself pure – morally pure, spiritually pure, ritually pure, sexually pure. He did not murder. He did not commit adultery. He did not steal. He did not give false testimony. He honored his father and mother. He showed love to his neighbor. He did not allow himself to be contaminated by the wicked ways of the world. Instead, he conformed his ways and his life to God's law. We would have to say that this rich young man was exceptional. Because, as most of you know, rich young men tend to be spoiled, selfish, and wicked. For example, look at Kobe Bryant or Mike Tyson. But this rich young man did not fall into this kind of trap.
B Now notice what he asked Jesus: "What do I still lack?" He obeyed all the commandments, yet he did not feel saved. He obeyed all the commandments, yet he had no assurance of eternal life. He obeyed all the commandments, yet his heart and soul and mind were troubled about the future life, his future life. Here was a young man who, from the outside at least, had it all together. Yet, this young man knew that something was missing, that some vital ingredient was absent, that something additional was required in his life.
This young man is a reminder to each and every one of us that a work's righteousness is never enough. This young man is a reminder that no amount of holy living can assure us of salvation and eternal life. This young man is a reminder that something is missing in our life if all that we do is keep the law.
C In a very strong and startling statement, Jesus told the rich young man what was missing, what was lacking, in his life. Jesus said,
(Mt 19:21) "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Do you know what was missing in the rich young man's life? Do you know what was lacking? Do you know what vital ingredient was absent? What was missing, what was lacking, what was absent was a proper attitude towards possessions on the one hand and towards Jesus on the other.
The rich young man lacked a proper attitude towards possessions. His attitude was one of ownership rather than stewardship. He viewed himself as the owner of his possessions rather than as the manager or steward. He viewed his possessions as his to do with and play with as he wished rather than as God's to use for the kingdom and its righteousness. He counted his net-worth and self-worth in terms of dollars and cents. His identity as a person was wrapped up in his possessions.
Do you know what happens when you have this kind of attitude? When you have this kind of attitude, then your possessions end up owning you instead of you owning them. When you have this kind of attitude, then your purpose or mission in life is to watch over your possessions, to protect your possessions, and to add to your possessions. The rich young man was so obsessed with his things that he became their servant or slave.
The rich young man also lacked a proper attitude towards Jesus. He did not serve Jesus. He did not follow Jesus. He did not have faith in Jesus. Of course, an improper attitude towards possessions can only mean an improper attitude towards Jesus. When you worship possessions or money there is no room to worship Jesus too. Remember the words of Jesus? He said,
(Mt 6:24) "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
II Bellyaches and Camels
A Jesus knew about the rich young man's struggle with possessions. He knew what was lacking in this man's life. He knew and understood why the rich young man went away sad.
Then Jesus said to His disciples something that amazed and astonished them:
(Mt 19:23-24) "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."These words remind me of the story of a rich television evangelist dying in his mansion.
Subtopic: Perils of
His flock gathered round to ask him for his last wish. "Before I die," he said, "I would like to take a ride." And they asked the rich pastor what he required for that final ride before entering the kingdom of heaven. He said, "I would like a very small camel and a very large needle."
Today I want to do something different. Usually all the discussion, lessons, and sermons on this story focus on the teeny-weeny eye of the needle. Today, I want to focus on the camel.
B As far as I know no one in this congregation has a camel or two in their backyard or barn or shed. In fact, compared to Jesus' audience, we don't know much about camels. Our lack of knowledge prevents us from hearing what Jesus is saying to us.
Someone once said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Maybe that is why they are such odd and clumsy looking creatures. What is important about them, as far as our story is concerned, is that they tend to complain and hiss intensely and loudly when they are forced to carry a load. Camels love to groan and grunt in complaint and displeasure whenever they are forced to their knees to be loaded and then forced back to their feet after they are loaded. Camels are so complaining and rebellious that to make them kneel for their load and then stand up with the load requires much whipping and beating. And, the whip is again needed to make the camel start walking or running. Only when we know this about camels are we able to understand the meaning of the words translated as "easier" and "hard" in our text. Let me add that camel leather is so thick and covered in so much hair, that the whipping doesn't inflict any damage.
C Now Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The Greek word for "easier" comes from a word meaning "to whip" or "to beat." So a more literal translation of verse 24 would be, "It takes fewer blows to make a complaining camel bend down and become small enough to go through the eye of a needle than it does to get a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Or, to expand on this, "You know how camels grunt and moan when they are forced to bend to take on their loads. What if a camel had to get down so small that he could get through the eye of a needle! Imagine how much complaining and grunting that would take! And how much one would have to whip that camel to make it bend that low! Well, even that would take less beating and produce less groans, sighs, grumbling, and sullen looks than it does for a rich man to give up everything he holds so dear and to adopt the values, posture, and attitudes that citizenship in God's kingdom demands."
D Jesus also said, "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." The Greek word translated as "hard" is a very uncommon word in the New Testament. Specifically it means "having a sensitive stomach" or "being troubled by a stomach ache." Generally, it is used to mean someone who, like a camel, does a lot of bellyaching. It refers to someone who is hard to please, someone who always complains and whines, someone who always finds fault, someone who is constantly cranky and dissatisfied, someone who always looks gloomy and sullen. We all know people, don't we, who are like camels? We all know people who sigh, moan, and complain no matter how blue the sky, how warm the sun, and how rich God's blessings. With this in mind, a more literal translation of verse 23 would be, "Oh the moaning and groaning, the bellyaching, the sighs and complaints of the rich before they will submit to God's rule and His kingdom."
Don't forget, our story began with the rich young man. The rich young man reminded Jesus of a camel. Like a camel, he was not willing to do what he needed to do without loud complaints and groans. Like a camel, he was willing to obey only when beaten and whipped.
III The Grace of Giving
A It is now becoming clear what our passage is telling us about giving. When it comes to giving, Jesus is telling us not to be like camels. When it comes to giving, Jesus is telling us not to complain and hiss and bellyache.
You have heard the expression, "Give until it hurts." For the rich young man the very thought of giving already hurt. And, I am afraid that for most of us the thought of real giving is also a painful experience. Let's face it, real giving – not just five dollars or fifty dollars or even five hundred dollars – but real giving hurts. Real giving as the rich young man was asked to do, is no fun for us. Yes, we enjoy giving gifts to friends or family – especially when we see their joy and delight in the gift we give them. Yes, we feel good about putting money in the collection plate for the hungry or for the victims of the tsunami in South East Asia. But how many of us love sacrificial giving? How many of us are willing to give all that we have to the work of the Lord?
Topic: GivingThat's the kind of giving the Lord asked of the rich young man. That's the kind of giving the Lord expects of us.
Subtopic: Scriptural Rules for
An African convert who loved the Lord earned money by making and selling a special kind of bean cake. She had always been conscientious in her giving, but after suffering a severe foot injury in an accident her income ceased. It was many long months before she could resume her work.
Eagerly she awaited the day she could sell her tasty cakes again. She promised the missionary that she would give one-third of her earnings to the Lord instead of just 10 percent. She said her goal for the first week of business was to make a profit of 3 shillings. The missionary was surprised, therefore, when the woman returned after only 2 days with one shilling as an offering for the Lord. "You surely haven't earned 3 shillings already!" he exclaimed. The woman was perplexed by his response. "Do you think I would give my Lord the last of the three?" she asked. "This is the first one and it belongs to Him -- the other two I make, will be for me."
B The best example that we can point to, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the One Who above all else gave sacrificially. He gave of Himself. He gave of His glory when He descended from His throne in heaven above and took on flesh. He gave of His blood when He died upon the cross for our sins. He gave His life.
C None of us, by ourselves, have the ability or the desire to do this kind of giving. Did you catch the words of Jesus? He said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." In other words, we need God's grace before we can give gracefully. It is only when we follow Jesus that we are able to give the way God wants us to give. It is only when we follow Jesus that we can stop being like camels.
I want to conclude with an incident in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:
Topic: FaithBassanio is a picture of the Christian. Like him we are to be willing to risk and give all that we have for the Lord and His kingdom. And, we are to do so without the complaining and hissing and bellyaching of the camel.
Subtopic: Blessings According to
Portia, the beautiful and wealthy heiress, had many noble suitors. But her father's will decreed that her husband would be the man who chose the right chest out of three. One was made of gold and carried the inscription, "Who chooses me shall gain what many men desire." Inside was a skull (which symbolizes the fact that gold hides corruption). The second was made of silver and carried the inscription, "Who chooses me shall get as much as he deserves," and inside was the picture of a fool. The winning chest was made of lead and held Portia's picture. On the outside was the inscription, "Who chooses me must give and risk all he has." Only Bassanio picked the chest of lead and won the hand of Portia, because he was willing to risk and give all that he had for her.
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