We were chatting to family and friends this afternoon on a Zoom call. The family is in the USA and the friends are in the UK. It’s always great to catch up this way. We speak about family, we laugh and joke and we get into spiritual matters. Today we brushed on the topic of “impossible”, with one referring to the “eye of a needle”. The concept was likely a current proverb in Bible times. Even the Jewish Talmud speaks of an elephant passing through the eye of a needle. The Scripture where we read the phrase is Matthew 19:24:
Mat 19:24 “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.”
To understand what Jesus was saying in His use of the “proverb”, we need to look at the passage. Please read Matthew 19:16-30. A man (young–verse 22) comes to Jesus with a great question. It seems as though behind the question the young man already had his answer because he felt he qualified. He quickly asks Jesus which commandments he must obey in response to Jesus’ statement, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Jesus is “The Master of Spiritual Education” by firstly giving the man the Second Table of the Commandments in verses 18-19 … “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Immediately the man falls into a trap, saying all these commandments he had kept. He sees the literal application, but being spiritually blind he could not see the spiritual application. Take the first two Jesus speaks of and compare it with Matthew 5:21:
Mt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
Jesus evaluates anger with murder.
Mt 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Here Jesus equates a lustful look with adultery. He could not keep two of the last six commandments! In his state of learning the Scriptures, this man responds:
Mt 19:20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
He truly believed he was guiltless of breaking the commands of God … to the point he proudly asks, “What do I still lack?” Now Jesus deals with the First Table of the Commandments. He picks up the issue of idolatry!
Mt 19:21 Jesus answered, “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.”
Now look at the next verse:
Mt 19:22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Did you see the idolatry here? His great wealth was his ‘god’ and he could not part with his ‘god’. Now, look how Jesus uses the proverb:
Mt 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”
Some commentators have understood the proverb to refer to the gate in the wall around Jerusalem. Camel owners would push and pull and after great difficulty get the camel through the wall … but Jesus is using this proverb to show the impossibility of a camel going through the actual eye of a needle … a needle used for thread.
Mt 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
This question comes from a lack of spiritual understanding, so:
Mt 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
What Jesus means is that if any one loves wealth (the idol), that wealth will keep him or her from trusting Jesus. Naturally this would be true for any idol that is loved more than Jesus! In verse 26 we find the phrase “with God”. The word ‘with’ literally means ‘beside’.
You take your stand ‘beside’ the world’s view on wealth and riches, and it’s impossible to be saved. Yet, take your stand ‘beside’ God on the matter of wealth and then what was impossible becomes possible!
Trusting God seems impossible for so many. They ask, “How will I survive financially?” “How will I ever make ends meet?”
When you take your stand besides God, what seemed impossible to you by human standards becomes possible … because God is “able” and as you depend upon Him the pathway into the future is possible. Verses 27 and 28 apply to Jesus’ apostles:
Mt 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
But verse 29 and 30 applies to us:
Mt 19:29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
To grasp these two verses, you need to remember that Jesus was dealing with idolatry … the young man was dominated and controlled by his great wealth. He needed to shift his love from his idol to God … and he could not do it! He was first in the Jewish queue of respectability … yet became the last in Jesus’ “required spiritual qualifications for heaven” queue.
The word ‘left’ in verse 29 seems to imply putting the house, family, business or career into second place. That is, put aside everything you have made an idol out of and put Jesus first (note verse 29 … “for my sake”). Then, He will make the impossible possible for you and you will be saved for eternity. Included in “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” is any idol (thing, substance, person, relationship, profession). In Jesus, the impossible is possible.
Dear Lord, mercifully help me never to put anything before You. Help me to prove my love for You in all of my life … for Jesus’ sake and Your glory. Amen.