CHRIST IS NO MAN’S DEBTOR
Peter began to say to him, “Look now! We have left everything and have become your followers.” Jesus said, “This is the truth I tell 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 sake of the good news who will not get it back a hundred times over in this present time–homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands–with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Peter’s mind had been working, and, characteristically, his tongue could not stay still. He had just seen a man deliberately refuse Jesus’ “Follow me!” He had just heard Jesus say in effect that that man by his action had shut himself out from the Kingdom of God. Peter could not help drawing the contrast between that man and himself and his friends. Just as the man had refused Jesus’ “Follow me!” he and his friends had accepted it, and Peter with that almost crude honesty of his wanted to know what he and his friends were to get out of it. Jesus’ answer falls into three sections.
(i) He said that no man ever gave up anything for the sake of himself and of his good news without getting it back a hundredfold. It so happened that in the early Church that was literally true. A man’s Christianity might involve the loss of home and friends and loved ones, but his entry into the Christian Church brought him into a far greater and wider family than ever he had left, a family who were all spiritually kin to him.
We see the thing actually happening in the life of Paul. No doubt, when Paul became a Christian the door of his home slammed in his face and his family disowned him. But equally without doubt there was city upon city, town upon town, village upon village in Europe and in Asia Minor where he could find a home waiting for him and a family in Christ to welcome him. It is strange how he uses the very family terms. In Rom.16:13, he tells how the mother of Rufus was as good as a mother to him. In Phm.10, he speaks of Onesimus as the son whom he had begotten in his bonds.
It would be so of every Christian in the early days. When his own family rejected him he entered into the wider family of Christ.
When Egerton Young first preached the gospel to the Red Indians in Saskatchewan the idea of the fatherhood of God fascinated men who had hitherto seen God only in the thunder and the lightning and the storm blast. An old chief said to Egerton Young, “Did I hear you say to God `Our Father’?” “I did,” said Egerton Young. “God is your Father?” asked the chief. “Yes,” said Egerton Young. “And,” went on the chief, “He is also my Father?” “He certainly is,” said Egerton Young. Suddenly the chief’s face lit up with a new radiance. His hand went out. “Then,” he said like a man making a dazzling discovery, “you and I are brothers.”
A man may have to sacrifice ties that are very dear in order to become a Christian, but when he does he becomes a member of a family and a brotherhood as wide as earth and heaven.
(ii) Jesus added two things. First, he added the simple words and persecutions. Straightaway these words remove the whole matter from the world of quid pro quo. They take away the idea of a material reward for a material sacrifice. They tell us of two things. They speak of the utter honesty of Jesus. He never offered an easy way. He told men straight that to be a Christian is a costly thing. Second, they tell us that Jesus never used a bribe to make men follow him. He used a challenge. It is as if he said, “Certainly you will get your reward, but you will have to show yourself a big enough man and a gallant enough adventurer to get it.” The second thing that Jesus added was the idea of the world to come. He never promised that within this world of space and time there would be a kind of squaring up of the balance sheet and settlement of accounts. He did not call men to win the rewards of time. He called men to earn the blessings of eternity. God has not only this world in which to repay.
(iii) Then Jesus added one warning epigram–“Many who are first shall be last, and the last first.” This was in reality a warning to Peter. It may well be that by this time Peter was estimating his own worth and his own reward and assessing them high. What Jesus was saying was, “The final standard of judgment is with God. Many a man may stand well in the judgment of the world, but the judgment of God may upset the world’s judgment. Still more many a man may stand well in his own judgment, and find that God’s evaluation of him is very different.” It is a warning against all pride. It is a warning that the ultimate judgments belong to God who alone knows the motives of men’s hearts. It is a warning that the judgments of heaven may well upset the reputations of earth.
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