What it means to have Jesus as King

A Christian friend of mine called Matthew went from university to a first job in a bank in London and within months he discovered all sorts of dishonest and illegal things going on. And he knew his immediate boss also went to church, so he went to him to say he was planning to resign. And his boss asked why, and Matthew told him what he’d discovered and his boss said he was aware of it, too. So Matthew said, “How can you stay? Why don’t you move?” And his boss said, “Part of me would like to, but then I think can’t afford to because…we’ve got an expensive house with a big mortgage, the kids are all in fee-paying schools, and we’re so used to our standard of living, I don’t think we could give it up.”

So, two professing Christians; one able to trust Jesus and so live for him by leaving that bank, whereas the other showed every sign of trusting money and so living for money in a way that meant he couldn’t leave. And tonight’s passage in our series in Mark’s Gospel is mainly about a man like Matthew’s boss because he was rich. And, as we all do by nature, he looked to his money (and all it can buy and do) to make him feel secure and looked after and in control. And then Jesus met him and said, “I’m actually the only one who can really make you secure and look after you and who’s really in control – so you need to switch your trust and commitment to me” but he couldn’t. And that’s because money (and all it can buy and do) so easily acts as a God-substitute, where we look to it for a whole lot of things that only God can actually give us. And Christians aren’t immune from that, and making wrong choices as a result. And God gave us this part of his Word to keep us from that or call us back from that. So would you turn in the Bibles to page 846. That will land you in Mark 10. And before we go further, let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, Thank you that we have these words in Mark’s Gospel, which you spoke when you were here on Earth. And knowing you are back in heaven, but with us by your Spirit, please would you speak through them to us tonight. In your name, Amen

So, look in the Bible at Mark 10.13 and you’ll see the heading: Let the children come to me, and look on to Mark 10.17 and you’ll see the heading: The rich young man. So, as I said, this is mainly about the rich man, but Mark has front-ended it with this bit about the children as a contrast because the children are a picture of the right attitude to Jesus, whereas the rich man is a picture of the wrong one. So Mark 8 onwards, that we’re covering in this series, is all about what it means to have Jesus as King of your life. Or as Jesus put it, what it means to be in his kingdom. So here’s the first thing from tonight’s passage:

1. To have Jesus as King…you need to receive like a child (Mark 10.13-16)

Look down to Mark 10.13:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.

Presumably because they thought children weren’t important enough for Jesus. They thought children were nobodies, and didn’t merit Jesus’ attention. So they wouldn’t have run Sunday groups like Scramblers, Climbers, Explorers, Pathfinders. You’d need to have been at least CYFA age before they thought you were worth that. Mark 10.14:

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

So Jesus was saying “Little children such as these can relate to me as King – and I want them to”. Now at best the culture back then cared for children but thought they were unimportant, at worst it didn’t care for them at all. So what Jesus said here was radical. And what he’s saying is that children (even little children) can relate to him as King. So if we’re parents now or in the future, we need to know that at every stage our children can relate to Jesus as King, and he wants us to help them do so. And if we’re doing children’s ministry now or in the future, we need to know we’re not just providing child care so parents can concentrate in church. We need to know that all the young people in our groups can relate to Jesus as King, and he wants us to help them do so. But Jesus also uses the children as a picture of the attitude we all need if we’re to have him as King. Look on to Mark 10.15:

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

So what attitude like a little child’s do you need in order to have Jesus as King? The answer is you have to receive, because if there’s one thing children are brilliant at, it’s receiving. I mean parents, thinking back to your childen early on, how often did they say “Mummy, Daddy, what would you like me to cook you for supper tonight?” They didn’t, did they? They said, “What’s for supper tonight?” because they’re receivers.

When our twin daughters Beth and Ellie were still toddlers, I remember the Sainsbury’s check-out, with them in the trolley seat, and this vast load which was mainly for them. And they never offered to pay. It was always on my card. Because children are great receivers – they have to be, because there’s so much they can’t do for themselves. And Jesus is saying here “If you want to have me as King, you’ve got to be like that – you need to receive that as a gift.” And that’s because relationship with him requires that all the ways we’ve failed to live for him as King are dealt with. And that’s not something we can do for ourselves by trying harder or trying to make up for our sin. That’s something only he could do – by paying the price for our forgiveness when he died on the cross.

So if you’re close to coming back into relationship with Jesus, but saying, “I’m not good enough” then you need to know, none of us is or can be. And you need to receive his forgiveness for how you’ve not been good. That’s the way in to relationship with God. And if you’ve already come to Jesus, then never grow out of this attitude. Because as you go on as a Christian, you assemble this spiritual CV of being more like Jesus wants you to be, and sharing the gospel with others, and serving him in church and CU and so on. And you can slide into thinking that those things are now partly why he keeps accepting you – that you’re now partly paying your own way in relationship with him. But that’s not true because even the best of our lives is not what it should be, let alone the worst. And moment by moment we’re acceptable to him only by continuing to receive what he did for us on the cross. So the words of that hymn will be true till our dying day:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your cross I cling.
Naked, come to you for dress,
Helpless, look to you for grace.
Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

So, to have Jesus as King you need to receive like a child and that’s what the rich man we meet next couldn’t do. Look on to Mark 10.17:

And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit
eternal life?”

So little children are a picture of receiving. But here’s a grown-up who didn’t want to receive relationship with God. He wanted to achieve it. After all, he was used to earning what he had, and naturally thought he could earn acceptance with God by being good enough. So look how Jesus deals with him. Mark 10.17-18, this man had said:

…”Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life [ie, heaven]?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

I.e. ‘Let’s clarify who is good and defines good’ because by calling him Good Teacher, this man clearly thought Jesus was up to defining the kind of goodness he’d have to do to inherit eternal life. And of course, as the Son of God, Jesus was up to defining that. But at this point, Jesus wasn’t openly declaring himself the Son of God. So he turned the conversation to where God his Father had already defined what is good – in the Old Testament law. So Mark 10.19-20:

You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’”And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from
my youth.”

And I take it this man was sincere but naïve. He genuinely thought he’d kept God’s standards, but only because he hadn’t thought very deeply. So hearing the commands Jesus picked out, he’d have thought “Murder? No! Definitely not done that. Adultery? No, never literally done that. Stealing? No, never robbed a bank”. But then Do not defraud. Why did Jesus deliberately slip that in from outside the ten commandments, where the others come from? Was it to make him think hard about how he became rich – at what expense to principle and people? And finally, Honour your father and mother. Why that one last, and out of order with the others from the ten commandments? Was it to make him think hard about one of the relationships we find hardest in life – where we so easily neglect and hurt the people we owe the most? Mark 10.20-21 again:

And [this man] said to [Jesus], “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him [because he was sincere, even if naïve], and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

So that’s saying the one thing this man lacked was Jesus. “You lack one thing. You need to leave what you’ve trusted in and lived for so far in life, and come, follow me.” So just think about that. This man came to Jesus asking, “What can get me eternal life?” And Jesus’ answer is, “Only I can. You need me to get you that.” Because remember, heaven is only the wonderful place it is (only free of everything that spoils life here) because everyone there is living for God and Jesus as King, doing their will perfectly. And the only way any of us can be there in Jesus’ kingdom then, is if we’re forgiven back into relationship with him as King now, so that he can begin to change us into people who do God’s will – and who’ll one day be able to do it perfectly in heaven. But to have Jesus as King, you need to receive like a child. And that’s what this man couldn’t do. Then the second thing from tonight’s passage is that:

2. To have Jesus as King…you need to leave what you’ve trusted in and lived for so far (Mark 10.21-27)

And for this man, that was money and all it can buy and do. And we see that from what Jesus calls him to do in Mark 10.21:

…You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

So when Jesus calls us to come to him, he’s calling us to trust in him and live for him as King. Which means, at the same time, he’s calling us to stop trusting in and living for whatever’s so far been number one in our lives – whatever our God-substitute has been. And for this man it was money, because like that banker I began with, he looked to his money and all it can buy and do to make him feel secure and looked after and in control. And because he believed his money really could do all that for him, he wouldn’t let it go. Which is what Jesus elsewhere called (Mark 4.19):

the deceitfulness of riches

Because, for example, our savings and pensions and investments do look so secure don’t they – they do look as if they’ll be there for us and give us control over our futures. In fact in The Week magazine there’s just been an ad for an investment company which runs:

Let us look after your money so your money will look after you.

Which gives money that personal, God-like quality, doesn’t it? But those of us who’ve suffered pension fund scandals or negative equity or business losses know that’s just the deceitfulness of riches. So, Mark 10.22-24:

Disheartened by the saying, [this man] went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

And in Mark 10.24, Jesus was saying that the rich are only a particular case of the general rule, because there are many God-substitutes we look to, to make ourselves feel secure and looked after and in control. For some, it’s a relationship. For others, it’s achieving success and recognition – whether academically, or in sport, or in our career or whatever. For others, it’s exercising power – making it to the top, becoming captain, or whatever. And so on. And Jesus doesn’t say it’s difficult for us to leave trusting in and living for those God-substitutes. He says that, left to ourselves, it’s impossible. Look at Mark 10.25-26:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle [how possible is that?] than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Which is saying that, by nature, we distrust God to give us ‘our best life’ (to use the jargon), and we trust God-substitutes, like money, instead. And Jesus is saying it’s impossible for us, left to ourselves, to overcome that distrust. But it’s possible for God. And he does that as he enables us to see what he and the Lord Jesus did for us at the cross, paying for our forgiveness, loving us that much. And when you do see that, you begin to be able to say, “If he did that for me, why wouldn’t I trust my life to him? Surely I can trust that anything he asks me to give up is something that isn’t good for me anyway? And surely I can trust that any cost of following him is going to be compensated for, and worth it in the end?” So, to have Jesus as King you need to receive like a child; and you need to leave what you’ve trusted in and lived for so far. But this rich man could do neither. He walked away, because he thought the cost of following Jesus was too high – that he’d be the loser. Which brings us to the third thing here:

3. If you have Jesus as King, you’ll receive far more than you’ll ever leave or lose for his sake (Mark 10.28-31)

So picture the scene. There’s stunned silence as this would-be disciple walks away, having declined to leave everything he’s so far trusted in and lived for. And Mark 10.28:

Peter began to say to [Jesus], “See, we have left everything and followed you.

Now what’s Peter doing there? Is Peter bargaining? Is he saying, “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you – so you owe it to us to come through with some big, compensating blessings.” Perhaps like the Christian who says, “Look, I gave up that non-Christian boyfriend or girlfriend – so you owe me a Christian spouse”. Or like the Christian minister who says, “Look, I gave up a successful secular career to do this – so you owe me a successful, sizeable ministry.” Or is Peter feeling insecure? Is he saying, “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you – so what are we left with?” Perhaps like the Christian who gives for the first time really seriously and sacrificially to support ministry or see a new church planted and then begins to doubt the wisdom of not holding on to at least a bit more of those thousands of pounds. What are we left with? Or like the Christian who takes a moral stand for Jesus at work and loses their job or at least their career prospects. What are we left with? Or like Joe & Sarah Potter, Bible translating out in Mozambique with their four boys, having given up a UK standard of living and healthcare and education and opportunity for their children; and having given up normal contact with family and friends back here. What are we left with? Well, look what Jesus promises, Mark 10.29-31:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

So Jesus knows that some things will have to be given up, or given away, or lost in the course of living, as he puts it, for my sake and for the gospel. But he says in Mark 10.30:

You will receive far more than you’ll ever leave or lose for my sake.

And Jesus says some of that will be in this life, not least through our fellow-believers. So I remember when I first moved up here to lead the student ministry, I knew no-one in Newcastle. As far as family and friends down south were concerned, it was as if I’d gone to the North Pole and they’d be lucky to see me alive again. But my first Sunday here, a godly couple invited me to lunch, and at the end of lunch, they said “We want you to know that we’d like you to think of us as your Geordie parents and that our door is open to you any time.” And that was amazing, and they’ve been a home from home all my time here.

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers…

Has that been your experience? That we receive in that kind of way far more than we ever leave or lose for Jesus’ sake? Which doesn’t mean it’ll be a bed of roses – Mark 10.30 says this life will be with persecutions as well. But that’s why, at the end of that verse, Jesus says the ultimate blessing, and ultimate compensation for whatever we leave or lose for his sake, lies beyond this life in heaven. So if we’ve received him, and left off trusting our God-substitutes, what are we left with? The answer is Jesus and all he can give us – both now and into eternity. And when we’re thinking clearly, that beats everything, doesn’t it?

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