What is impossible for people is possible with God. Such a declaration—underscoring at least His omnipotence, if not His willingness and His love—is fundamental to a biblical portrait of God. We often think of God’s omnipotence in the context of overt miracles like parting the Red Sea or the Virgin Birth. But the Bible teaches God also demonstrates omnipotence in the saving of sinners. There are at least two reasons this must be the case. First, God is perfectly holy, and we are not; indeed, we cannot meet His high standard on our own and so we need a perfect alien righteousness that comes to us apart from our efforts or initiation. Second, our hearts are spiritually dead, rebellious, and God-hating by nature. How is this to be remedied apart from the sovereign, overcoming power of God? The answer, to the renewed mind, is obvious.
Following His eye-opening encounter with the rich young ruler, our Lord turns to the crowds and to us to underscore the impossibility of salvation—apart from the overcoming, conquering, awesome power of the living God.
A. The Impact of Wealth on Salvation (vv. 23–25)
The young man has just left, devastated he is cut off from salvation but unwilling to part with the idols that make him most need it. Turning to His men and to the crowds that have surrounded Him (v. 1), our Lord does not waste the object lesson that has just occurred: How hard it will be for those with riches to enter the kingdom! For entrance requires forsaking of idols, and those who refuse to forsake them will not find mercy but condemnation and wrath (Rom. 2:6-11; cf. James 2:13).
Does this make you uncomfortable? Does it even sound a bit like Jesus is embracing asceticism or some notion of wealth redistribution? He isn’t, but He is saying something that attacks our fallen tendency towards unbelief. First, it’s important to recognize that neither money, nor material things, nor an abundance of either, are bad in themselves. Paul’s verse has often been horribly misquoted: It is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of it (1 Tim. 6:10). So Jesus is not telling everyone to forsake material wealth and live in a cardboard box to be closer to the kingdom! Rather, He is attacking the tendency of those flush with material resources and all the power/provision/privilege they afford to trust in themselves and what money can do for them, rather than in God alone. Money isn’t the problem. Things aren’t the problem. The problem is a fallen heart that prefers money and what it can do for us, and the things it gets us, more than the God who gives us life and breath and everything (cf. 1 Timothy 6:18), and who is worthy of every moment of our lives in worship and obedience.
Sadly, it is frequently the case that the more money and possessions you have, the more likely you are to trust in yourself and what you’re able to do, rather than being forced to depend on God as your Provider and Deliverer. And if you don’t trust Him for material things, how will you trust Him for things you can’t see—like salvation? The love of money is antithetical to faith in Christ. We are to trust that God will meet our needs and satisfy us, not stingily hold on to money to protect ourselves or buy ever more things that do not satisfy.
Be free from the love of money. Use it to bless others. Having a nice home is not wrong—your home is a key area of ministry and should be beautified and cultivated within your means—but do not be enslaved to the love of things. Eternity depends on it.
The disciples are shocked by this because their culture taught riches were automatically a sign of God’s blessing. Moreover, the wealthy could easily buy the best animals for sacrifice, and sacrifice more frequently. How could it be that wealth could be an obstacle to entering heaven?
But rather than allay the shock, our Lord simply expands the statement: What is particularly hard for the rich because of their unique challenges to wholehearted faith is hard for all people because of our inherent depravity and bias against Jehovah God. And by “hard,” our Lord does not mean “rather challenging, but doable if you work at it.” No—it is as impossible as threading a camel through the eye of a needle (v. 25, a statement that despite the best efforts of commentators was intended by Jesus to be taken quite literally).
This terrifies us, and rightly so. Rescue from hell, right relationship to holy God, freedom from sin, all the blessings of life as it should be with the removal of the Curse—all of this is impossible? We have no hope? Is God simply cruel?
No indeed. Our Lord has set us up for the only possible hope there is.
B. The Sobering Effect on the Disciples (v. 26)
The 12 are astonished at Jesus’ statement, to put it mildly. The Gr. term, used five times in Mark, describes utter, stupefying, shocked bewilderment. Here, it is also in the imperfect tense, which means this reaction was ongoing, protracted. Evidently Jesus did not resolve the tension for them right away. If salvation is not merely difficult, hard, but impossible…who on earth can be saved? If even the rich with all their resources are especially cut off from salvation, what hope is there for anyone else?
Jesus does not leave them bewildered for long.
C. The Sovereign Truth Proclaimed by Jesus (v. 27)
Jesus fixes His gaze intently on them, with the idea that He is looking them right in the eyes and holding the gaze. He wants them to get this. He wants them to drive this down into the depth of their souls. They will, after all, be His emissaries and representatives to a lost world that is in desperate need of this impossible salvation, and they need to understand how it works if they are to have power and endurance in proclaiming it to the nations.
Jesus does not walk back His statement. Salvation will always be impossible if it is based on human righteousness and effort. We cannot repent, believe, or persevere in obedience on our own because we are too fallen, depraved, and spiritually dead. We have no hope in our own power and never will. We just can’t be good enough, much less overcome our inborn depravity. But what is impossible with men is eminently possible with God! Hallelujah!
God opens the eyes.
God makes Jesus look irresistibly beautiful and glorious.
God convicts of our innate sinfulness.
God grants repentance.
God shows us the Bible and its gospel are infallibly true.
God grants faith.
God gives us the perfect righteousness of His Son by faith alone.
God enables us to persevere in faith and holiness, without which we will not enter heaven.
God keeps us saved.
We have a responsible part to play—we repent, we believe, we persevere, we choose to obey—but why do we do it? Because God in His sovereign love gives us a new nature, gives us the ability to believe and repent and persevere and obey. He enables it, so He gets the glory, not us. Left to ourselves, we are spiritually dead, rebellious, and God-hating. Once conquered by the omnipotence of a God determined to save, and we have a new nature that believes truth, hates sin, and loves Him. What a glorious miracle of divine grace!
This is possible with God because all things are possible with God. We must not stretch the latter phrase to illegitimate places—Jesus was not talking about winning money on a game show or getting a Corvette—but neither should we illegitimately limit it. Salvation is possible because God does not have the limitations in any area that we do. He can do all that He wills. We might will something but be limited by any number of factors. But God can do the hardest, most miraculous thing—save a rebellious sinner!—because anything He desires to do, He is able to do. The subcategory (salvation) is possible because the larger category (all that He wills) is possible.
God offers a fallen and rebel world by grace alone what that fallen world could never do for itself. Rather than casting off rebels, God in His kindness does all for them! God exalts Himself to be merciful; He delights in being lavish and extravagant and is slow to be angry. Here is your hope, for time and eternity! The One who can do all things exerts His omnipotence for the undeserving and ill-deserving! How can He not with Christ give you all good things?
O sinner! Throw yourself on His mercy, turning from your sin and trusting Christ’s promise to save you, forsaking your own righteousness and exchanging your will for His, coming under the security of His Lordship. Drear Christian friend, stand in awe of your salvation—how Christ conquered the stubborn rebellion in the deepest places of your heart—and anticipate by faith the blessing and deliverances He will yet work for you. The mountain is moved by divine sovereignty, not by our effort. Look, to Hum, trust Him, and know His omnipotence as it works for you and not against you because of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.