I was teaching from Mark 10.23-31 in a seminary class this morning, and it came home to me with fresh power while I was teaching. So I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot and put something down on paper – or at least on the screen.
Jesus says in vv29-30 that anyone who has had to leave house or family or lands for his sake and the sake of the gospel will receive one hundred times as much back. What does he mean?
Let’s be careful not to spiritualise away what Jesus is saying here. He’s not talking about treasure in heaven, because first of all he says ‘now in this time’; then he spells out that he is talking about things in this life – the very things that had been sacrificed: ‘houses, family and lands’; and then he goes on to say that in the age to come the person will also receive eternal life – so the ‘hundred times as much’ is something different from eternal life, something that is for this age.
And let’s be careful not to take these words in a crass literalistic way either, as if this is teaching some sort of health and wealth prosperity gospel. Jesus is not promising that if you leave your house for his sake you will come into ownership of 100 houses.
So what does it mean? Jesus is speaking about the wonderful earthly blessings that come with joining the Church. You are becoming a member of a worldwide community of love and fellowship.
One of our friends was converted at the age of 17, and was told by her mother (it was a single parent family) one Lord’s Day morning that if she insisted on going to church she would not be allowed to come back home. Our friend went to church and returned home to find her belongings sitting on the doorstep. But this young woman, who left her home and her mother for the sake of Jesus, has found a new family in the church of Christ – countless mothers and brothers and sisters all over the world waiting to receive and welcome and love her and to share everything with her.
Haven’t you experienced that in some measure? You know that you can go to any country in the world and you will find Christians who will open their homes to you and place all their worldly goods at your disposal!
I heard a story some years ago that illustrates this so well. The missionary Helen Roseveare was on a speaking tour of the USA which involved many stops. She had very little money, but had been provided with a book of tickets for each flight. In the middle of her tour she arrived at the next airport on the itinerary very early in the morning only to discover that the next ticket was missing from her book. Unfazed she immediately asked the clerk at the airport to open the local telephone directory (remember those?!), scan down the names until he came to the first ‘Reverend gentleman’ listed in the book and then to call him. ‘Just explain the situation and everything will be fine.’ More than a little bewildered, the clerk found a Reverend and dialled his number. After a brief conversation she put the phone down looking even more dazed than before. ‘He is coming straight here and is going to pay for your missing ticket.’ That particular story has an even more wonderful dimension, because it turned out that this pastor had been a drug addict in Afghanistan years before who was converted through reading a book Helen Roseveare had written. He came to the USA and trained to be a pastor and ended up being the one man out of millions who was called that morning to help Dr Roseveare! He obviously had special reason to get out of bed in the middle of the night to come and help this lady – but the point still stands doesn’t it: Dr Roseveare knew that she only needed to find a Christian and she would get the help she needed.
Isn’t that just exactly how all Christians are meant to treat one another? It’s what the pagan Caecilius said of the early Chrstians: “They love one another almost before they know one another!”
This promise of a hundred times as much brings an implied challenge to each of us, doesn’t it? ‘A hundred times as much’ doesn’t just happen miraculously. That man who came to help Helen Roseveare wasn’t an angel. This promise is only fulfilled as we the people of God open our homes and our hearts to other believers in need. Is that what you’re doing? Do you think of your home as not just for you and your family but for all God’s people? Are you ready and willing to do anything for a fellow Christian?
And are you ready to do more than simply help if you’re asked? I suspect none of us will turn away someone who asks us for help, but are we actively looking out for people who might need help? And especially those who have given up things for Christ’s sake. The man who has stopped going out drinking in the evening but who now sits at home lonely each night. The woman who has broken off that relationship because of the temptations it was putting in her way. Rosaria Butterfield made that plea so powerfully in her book ‘Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’ – those who leave the acceptance and support and hospitality of the homosexual community need and ought to find the church a hundred times more loving and hospitable. Are we doing all we can to ensure those who have made sacrifices for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s have something in the fellowship of the people of God that is a hundred times better?