Who Then Can Be Saved

Who Then Can Be Saved: Mark 10:23-31
Pastor John Nicholas
Sunday November 8, 2020

Not much of an introduction is needed here as the text will be further exploring the relationship of the rich to the kingdom of God.  Specifically building on the rich young ruler.


23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Jesus looks around at His disciples.  Looking to see the reaction of the rich man walking away.  Looking for the moment to continue teachings.  What are the disciples thinking at this moment?  They would certainly know the teachings of the Old Testament that riches were seen as a blessing.  For example, Job 1:10 describes how God had blessed Job.

Job 1:10 (NASB)

10 Have You not made a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.

Whereas the description of the man indicated that he had land/real estate Jesus has now used the general term for wealth.  Bringing the disciples into a broader understanding of the word and His teaching.

Jesus loved the man by showing him the love of his heart.  Showing him how far away he actually was from the kingdom of God.  Jesus gave him what he was missing and the man had walked away.  The rich young man was wrapped up in carnal things.  Things of the world.

When Jesus exposes what has just happened by saying ‘how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God it had to be somewhat of a shock.  It just didn’t make sense.  How could this man who kept the commandments and had great wealth not be part of the kingdom of God?

Jesus emphasizes that it is with great difficulty that the rich enter the Kingdom.  That the effort that will be needed to attain the kingdom for these seems insurmountable.  And they have the example right here.  Perhaps they can still see the man walking away.  But when confronted with the kingdom contrasted to his wealth he chose wealth.  He chose that thing which he valued more.  He chose the thing in which he trusted most – his wealth.

As the good teacher Jesus is saying that wealth itself can be that millstone that drags a man down to the depths.  Away from the kingdom of God.  That wealth can be a curse when it becomes your idol, your god.  And once this thing has become a god, an idol, in a person’s life it does not give up its throne easily.


24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

The disciples are astonished by Jesus’ words.  And Jesus continues to astonish them.  The words He uses here are even harsher than the ones before.  He tells them, without qualifiers, how difficult it is to enter the king of God.

The rich man walked away because his wealth was seated in the throne room of his heart.  It was the ruler of his life and his servitude to God, following the commandments, was just an add on.  A form of penance to demonstrate worth and piety to God.  While still worshipping his wealth.


25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Here is the crux of Jesus’ teaching.  He sets forth an impossibility to emphasize his point.  That it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven.  Using the largest known beast of burden in the area.

(You may have heard the eye of the needle being a reference to a gate in Jerusalem and that camels would have to pass through it on their knees due to its low height.  Of course this leads to the idea of penance.  Please note that there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed and that the idea that one did only shows up in some minor writing in the 9th century (800+ years after Jesus taught this).)

Don’t miss this.  Remember that the rich young ruler had just asked about what he could do to gain eternal life.  It was a question of ability.  The next action.  The next box checked to make sure he got in.  And Jesus revealed the heart of the man.  The impossibility of the task at hand for the man.

Here Jesus is again addressing the issue of a wealthy man’s ability.  That not only is it hard for this man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, it is impossible.  It is impossible for a man like this to earn his way, to work his way into the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, it would be much easier than the impossibility of a camel going through the eye of a needle is much easier.

This is quite a statement.  For those that believe they are right before God it should cause them to take pause.  It is certainly causing a stir here.  it is a surprise.  There is an upheaval of thought here in what Jesus is teaching.

And why is this important to the church in Rome?

Perhaps to some degree, if we think about the rich young man, and the rich of this time in general we can see a bit more.  If we think about what they are able to do which others can’t.  They don’t need to worry about where they will sleep.  Or what they will eat.  Or how they will afford clothes.  Or their standing in the community.

In short it is easier for them.  Except for one thing.  All the things that wealth would allow them entrance to this one thing it will not.  The scales that have been tilted in their favor before are not swayed in this occasion.

Jesus just said that in this case the Kingdom of Heaven will not only elude them that they will find it impossible to gain entrance into it by their own volition.

Jesus has said that the wealthy are like these incredibly large animals before an impossible small entryway.  Regardless of the increased effort and ability the camel will still find that it is beyond the realm of possibility that it can go through the eye of the needle.  In fact, standing before the needle, the camel probably cannot even see the opening.

Like great size, great wealth prevents passing through the narrow way to the Kingdom of God.  The wealthy, the proud, those who thought they were blessed perhaps aren’t in good standing like they thought they were.

But what is the lesson?  A caution here, we shouldn’t just draw a circle around wealth it is merely the object used in the lesson.  But it will take a few more verses to work this out.


26 And they were even more astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

The disciples were even more amazed.  When Jesus said that it would be hard for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God they were stunned, because wasn’t wealth a blessing from God?  A sign that you were approved?  And now Jesus said that it was impossible for them to enter the kingdom.  The disciples response also adds another element to what is happening here.  Not only does this seem to be a ‘rich’ problem but it is a problem for all.  Who can enter if those who are ‘blessed’ can’t.

In fact Jesus has introduced them to the impossible.  Like the law, Jesus was pointing to the impossibility of the task at hand.  He has set the bar impossibly high.  He has set the bar where it actually is.  So far beyond what can be comprehended that the answer to the rich man was the lead into the impossibility.  The rich man had outwardly accomplished the law but inwardly his heart was far from it.

And now, with Jesus’, continued teaching the object of the kingdom of God has been placed exactly where it belongs.  This realm that is the habitation of the only true God, righteous and holy, is being realized for what it is.

Jesus’ teachings have taken on a seriousness here.  Jesus has shown them how ludicrous it is to believe that one can work their way to heaven.  To that realm that is inhabited by the Holy.  The realm of the sinless.  That there was never an object of work that could allow entrance to the sinful man.


27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Note – (Eternal life, salvation, entrance into the kingdom are all equal, used as synonyms)

The light has clicked on for the disciples, although probably not fully.  They have recognized the situation and have rightfully assessed their situation.  The impossibility of getting there on their own volition.

But God.  the great conjunctions in the scripture.  But not with God.  This entrance into eternal life is impossible for man.  Jesus is always pointing to the impossibility with man.  That no man can find the entrance, nor if he could, could that man work his way through it to God.  But, as Jesus says, these things are possible with God.  God has the ability to get a sinful man into His kingdom.

As we spoke last week of the sermon on the mount we must again introduce this teaching here.  In Matthew 5:3 Jesus tells who the kingdom of God belongs to.  We read that, “blessed are the poor of spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3 (NASB)

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These ones are the ones who gain entrance into His kingdom.  Those that have a poor spirit.  There must be something of those of poor spirit to gain entry to be contrasted with the wealthy who cannot gain entry.  Now I will propose to you that it does not have to do with wealth itself, however, the wealth can point to the issue of the heart.

Let’s take a look and think through the issue with the wealthy of this era first.  What happens with the wealthy? With wealth, property, as we spoke before, there comes a certain self-reliance, the ability to do whatever you want.  They would have homes with servants.  They have the ability to go places and do things.  To eat and drink with no restrictions.  They sit at the seats of honor.  They are respected.  They have power.  Perhaps a certain pride or arrogance is shown in the behavior.  Maybe not necessarily.

Now let’s look at the characteristics of the poor of this time.  They would have nothing.  They would be found at the gates of the city.  Waiting for someone to throw them a coin so they could eat.  They would have no place to sleep except the street or an alley.  They own nothing except what they have on their back.  They are in the elements with no protection.  They are entirely dependent on the charity of others.

The wealthy are self-reliant and the poor are totally reliant on others.  The wealthy can do for themselves.  The poor can do nothing for themselves except wait.  The wealthy have homes and the poor have none.

And Jesus has said that it is impossible for the rich to gain entry into heaven and the contrast is that the poor of spirit will have the kingdom of heaven.

So now we need to look at what it means to be the poor of spirit.  When we examine this we will find that the poor of spirit are those that recognize their state.  That they are like beggars before God.  That like a beggar their cloak is spread out before God waiting on his sustenance.  That the one who is poor of spirit is fully and completely reliant on God and God’s grace and mercy towards them.  And theirs will be the kingdom of Heaven.  Those who know that they are nothing before a righteous and holy God.  These who realize they can do nothing to gain entry to heaven.

We can begin to see the issue at hand.  The rich man and the wealthy.  That their issue is that they do not realize that they too need to be like beggars that is why they can’t get to the kingdom of God.  They have it all and don’t realize the need for God.  They have it all and don’t realize that it came from God not from themselves (so no one can boast).

This is why it is impossible for man and possible with God.  God is the only one who can know the heart of man and change their heart of stone to a heart of flesh.  One that can receive God.  To recognize their beggar status before the Creator.  Ezekiel 36:26 says exactly this.  That it is God that will do this thing that is impossible for man.  He will change the heart and enable them to see themselves as beggars.


28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and have followed You.”

Peter the leader.  Peter the spokesman for the 12.  The response by Peter says many things.  First of all he points to the fact that they have physically become dependent on Jesus.  That they have left all to follow Him.  This is in opposition to the example that they had seen with the rich young man.  They had given up what they had.  The rich young man had kept everything. They had followed and the rich young man had walked away.

Look at Matthew 19:27, Peter asks, “what then will there be for us?”  Since there was no rebuke by Jesus, no correction I believe there is a certain amount of innocence in Peter’s response.  They have just been hit with a lot of information.  Children being blessed, rich men who keep the law not getting into the kingdom of God, the difficulty to get into heaven.  A lot to process.  And Peter is pointing out that unlike the rich young ruler we have given up everything to follow you Jesus (didn’t Jesus choose them?  Just saying).  Looking for validation that they are on the right track.  That they have not missed something.  Again they may not be seeing the impossibility of the call of Jesus.  That it is his work not theirs.

Matthew 19:27 (NASB)

The Disciples’ Reward

27 Then Peter responded and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”

V29, V30

29 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 farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,

30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

This is a key teaching.  He is pointing to how He will separate you from those things that control your heart.  That there is nothing more valuable and worth seeking after than Jesus.  Jesus is worth more than your possessions or your family.

Matthew 10:34-39 tells us the same thing.  That He will Jesus will separate the believer away from those things that divide the man.  It is necessary for the man to take up his cross and follow Him.  That to lose this life is to gain Christ.

Matthew 10:34-39 (NASB)

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I came to turn a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36 and a person’s enemies will be the members of his household.

37 “The one who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

38 And the one who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

39 The one who has found his life will lose it, and the one who has lost his life on My account will find it.

Look at Matthew 16:21-23 when Jesus tells the disciples that He must suffer and die.  And Peter tries to stop Him.  Peter being worldly focused and he is rebuked by Jesus.  Jesus puts them on right thinking in the next few verses – Matthew 16:24-26.  Specifically in v26 where He specifically deals with the problem of things.  That to gain more things at the expense of your soul is foolishness.

Matthew 16:21-26 (NASB)

Jesus Foretells His Death

21 From that time Jesus began to point out to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem and to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised up on the third day.

22 And yet Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”

23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.”

Discipleship Is Costly

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.

25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

26 For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul?

As Jesus continues that those who follow Him will gain what they could never have before.  Putting aside the things of the world for Him gains entrance to a new family.  Look at Mark 3:31-35 where Jesus points to the new family.  The true family.  Not a family of blood but a family of His blood.  That to gain Christ and the gospel is true gain.  Not loss.

Mark 3:31-35 (NASB)

31 Then His mother and His brothers *came, and while standing outside they sent word to Him, calling for Him.

32 And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they *said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.”

33 Answering them, He *said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?”

34 And looking around at those who were sitting around Him, He *said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!

35 For whoever does the will of God, this is My brother, and sister, and mother.”

Note though that Jesus does not skip over the truth that persecution will come.  Look to John 15:18 where Jesus points out that the world hated Him first so the world will hate them also.

John 15:18 (NASB)

Disciples’ Relation to the World

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.


31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

This is the role reversal.  A warning against seeking one’s own self interests.  That the worldly way is not the way of the Kingdom.  Think back to Mark 9:34, remember how they were privately discussing who was the greatest?  And what does Jesus say in Mark 9:35, “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:34-35 (NASB)

34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Notice how Jesus’ teaching is entirely opposed to the worldly ways.  He is always pointing to the ways of the kingdom of God and how the thinking of the disciples must be changed. That their way of thinking will be challenged.  This is most clearly seen in the parable of the talents in Matthew 20:1-16.  If you recall the wages are the same regardless of the amount of time worked.  God’s kingdom works differently than ours.

Matthew 20:1-16 (NASB)

Laborers in the Vineyard

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.

3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace;

4 and to those he said, ‘You go into the vineyard also, and whatever is right, I will give you.’ And so they went.

5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.

6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’

7 They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

8 “Now when evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, starting with the last group to the first.’

9 When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.

10 And so when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.

11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,

12 saying, ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day’s work and the scorching heat.’

13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?

14 Take what is yours and go; but I want to give to this last person the same as to you.

15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’

16 So the last shall be first, and the first, last.”

What have we heard here in this story of Jesus from ancient Palestine.  Does God hate the rich?  Certainly not.  We have many examples of wealthy people who are blessed throughout the scripture.  For example Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia the dealer in Purple.

So God doesn’t hate the rich.

Because the poor can be obsessed with wealth too.

A caution though.  To claim to be a follower and to be blessed with much and not help is a serious problem.  Look at 1 John 3:17 – we are to help other believers.

1 John 3:17 (NASB)

17 But whoever has worldly goods and sees his brother or sister in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God remain in him?

And if God doesn’t hate the rich and we had a number of verses speaking against wealth then what does it mean?

Perhaps we need to look at the disciple’s response to truly understand the application here.  What did they say?  “who then can be saved?”  Not how can rich people be saved.  Not how can people with a lot of property be saved.”  But who can be saved?  Of all the people they can think of, who can be saved?

Here is the crux – and here is where we should see ourselves.  Not only because we live in the wealthiest country in the world and that even many of the poorest of our society still exists in the top 10% of the world’s wealth.  But who amongst us can be saved?

The issue started with wealth but it wasn’t just wealth.  Wealth was the barrier and continues to be the barrier for some.  It was the barrier because the trust was in the wealth.

Remember it started with an ability issue.  What could the man do to get the kingdom of God.

The answer – he couldn’t do anything.  The entrance to the kingdom is not by mans ability.

That is what we must look at and think about.

Who then can be saved?

Am I saved?

And how is it so?

Because salvation is not dependent upon my works.  Many of us even treat church attendance as a work.  As some form of penance to get right before God?  Just like the rich young man.  What more can I do.

Yet this does not get us salvation.  This does not make us right before God.  We need to examine ourselves and see where we stand.

Has our heart been changed?  Has the love of our lives been reoriented?  Or have I just added Jesus to everything else?

Remember Matthew 5:3 it is the poor of spirit who will gain the kingdom of Heaven.  The ones who know that everything that they have, including salvation, comes from God.

Remember that Jesus is always pointing to the impossibility of the work of men.  Always pointing to it.  Not only from the point of men not being able to fulfill the law but also in the miracles He performed.  Demons cast out, withered hands made new, the blind can see.  Jesus is always pointing to what man could not do and what He can do.

So as the poor of spirit we need to be beggars before the only righteous and holy God.  We need to recognize that God’s infallible and inerrant word tells us the way we are.  That we have desperately wicked hearts that only God can understand (Jeremiah 17:9).  And that it is God who does the impossible.  It is God who replaces our heart of stone and replaces with the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB)

9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else

And is desperately sick;

Who can understand it?

Ezekiel 36:26 (NASB)

26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

What is impossible with man is possible with God.

So when we examine ourselves do we realize that we enter the kingdom stripped of everything?  That the narrow way requires that we are naked of all our pride and wealth before a righteous and holy God.

These verses are not about selling everything and giving it to the poor in the hopes that it is enough to be seen as righteous before God.

These verses are about the heart of man and his inability to fix it.

It is about the impossibility of the works of man to save.  It is about the ability of Christ to do these works to save sinners.  To change their hearts.

Jesus is an all or nothing proposition.  You can’t have Jesus and keep your idols.  You can’t have Jesus and keep those things that are opposed to Jesus.  It is not Jesus plus something else.  It is just Jesus.

Pray, Observe, Apply.

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