[To help with our thinking generally at this time of the Giving Review, I have produced another edited and slightly modernized piece from the "Expository Thoughts" of J. C. Ryle. The Victorian first Bishop of Liverpool is always challenging on the subject of money and this life in the context of eternity. His own wealthy father was bankrupted when Ryle was in his twenties. This had a profound effect on his own thinking and the course of his subsequent work. The following is Ryle on Mark's Gospel chapter 10. 28-34 (I am quoting the NIV version) - David Holloway]
28 Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."
The first thing which demands our attention in these verses is ...
The glorious promise which they contain.
The Lord Jesus says to his Apostles, "I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."
There are few wider promises than this is the Word of God. There is none certainly in the New Testament which holds out such encouragement for the present life. Let every one who is fearful and faint-hearted in Christ's service look at this promise. Let all who are enduring hardness and suffering for Christ's sake study this promise well and take comfort from it.
To all who make sacrifices on account of the Gospel, Jesus promises "a hundred times as much in this present age". They will have not only pardon and glory in the world to come; they will have even here on earth hopes and joys and practical comforts sufficient to make up for all that they lose. They will find in the fellowship of Christians new friends, new relations, new companions that are more loving, faithful and valuable than any they had before their conversion. Their introduction into the family of God will be a full compensation for exclusion from the society of this world. This may sound startling and incredible to many ears. But thousands have found by experience that it is true.
To all who make sacrifices on account of the Gospel, Jesus promises "in the age to come eternal life". As soon as they put off their earthly body, they will enter upon a glorious existence and in the morning of the resurrection will receive such honour and joy as pass human understanding. Their light affliction for a few years will end in an everlasting reward. Their fights and sorrows while in the body will be exchanged for perfect rest and a conqueror's crown. They will dwell in a world where there is no death, no sin, no devil, no cares, no weeping, no parting; for the former things will have passed away. God has said it, and it will all be found true.
Where is the Christian who will dare to say in the face of these glorious promises that there is no encouragement to serve Christ? Where is the man or woman whose hands are beginning to hang down and whose knees are beginning to weaken in the Christian race? Let all such meditate on this passage and take fresh courage. The time is short. The end is sure. Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Let us wait patiently on the Lord.
The second thing which demands our attention in these verses is ...
The solemn warning which they contain.
The Lord Jesus saw the secret pride of his Apostles. He gives them a timely word to check their proud thoughts. "Many who are first will be last, and the last first."
How true these words were when applied to the twelve Apostles! There was among those who heard our Lord speak a man who at one time seemed likely to be one of the foremost of the twelve. He was one who appeared more careful and trustworthy than any. He was in charge of the [money] bag and controlled what was put in it. And yet that man fell away and came to a disgraceful end. His name was Judas Iscariot.
However, there was absent from our Lord's hearers that day one who at a later period did more for Christ than any of the twelve. At the time when our Lord spoke he was a young Pharisee, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel and zealous for nothing so much as the Jewish Law. And yet that young man in the end was converted to faith in Christ, was not inferior to any of the Apostles and laboured more fully than all. His name was Saul [then, Paul]. Well might our Lord say, "Many who are first will be last, and the last first."
How true these words were when we apply them to the history of the Christian Churches!
There was a time when Asia Minor and Greece and Northern Africa, were full of professing Christians, while England and America were heathen lands. Sixteen hundred years have made a mighty change [Ryle was writing in the 19th century DRJH]. The Churches of Africa and Asia have fallen into complete decay. The English and American Churches are labouring to spread the Gospel over the world. [Now in the 21st century there is another 'mighty change'; other parts of Africa and Asia are seeing the growth of the church, with the Western Churches seeing decline - DRJH.] Well might our Lord say, "the first will be last, and the last first."
How true these words appear to believers when they look back over their own lives and remember all they have seen from the time of their own conversion! How many others began to serve Christ at the same time as themselves and seemed to run well for a season. But where are they now? The world has got hold of one. False doctrine has beguiled another. A mistake in marriage has spoiled a third. Few indeed are the believers who cannot call to mind many such cases. Few have failed to discover by sad experience that "the last are often first, and the first last."
Let us learn to pray for humility when we read texts like this. It is not enough to begin well. We must persevere and go on and continue in well-doing. We must not be content with the fair flowers of a few religious convictions and joys and sorrows and hopes and fears. We must bear the good fruit of settled habits of repentance, faith and holiness. Happy is the one who counts the cost and resolves, having once begun to walk in the narrow way, by God's grace never to turn aside.
The last thing that demands our attention in this passage is ...
Our Lord's clear foreknowledge of his own sufferings and death.
Calmly and deliberately he tells his disciples of his coming passion at Jerusalem. One after another he describes all the leading circumstances which would accompany his death. Nothing is reserved. Nothing is kept back.
Let us mark this well. There was nothing involuntary and unforeseen in our Lord's death. It was the result of his own free, determined and deliberate choice. From the beginning of his earthly ministry he saw the cross before him and went to it a willing sufferer. He knew that his death was the payment needed that must be made to reconcile God and man. That payment he had covenanted and promised to make at the price of his own blood. And so, when the appointed time came, like a true guarantee, he kept his word and died for our sins on Calvary.
Let us always praise God that the Gospel sets before us such a Saviour, so faithful to the terms of the covenant, so ready to suffer, so willing to be reckoned sin and a curse in our place. Let us not doubt that he who fulfilled his promise to suffer will also fulfil his promise to save all who come to him. Let us not only accept him gladly as our Redeemer and Advocate, but gladly give ourselves, and all we have, to his service. Surely, if Jesus cheerfully died for us, it is a small thing to require Christians to live for him.